The Z Files: Hitters I Rank Lower

The Z Files: Hitters I Rank Lower

This article is part of our The Z Files series.

Last week, I discussed players for which I am the most bullish in the RotoWire Roundtable: Top-300 Fantasy Baseball Rankings for 2024. This week, I'll focus on batters for whom I am least optimistic.

Player

Rank

Ave

ADP

ADP Rank

Todd

Jeff

Clay

Erik

Gunnar Henderson

38

35.5

29.13

29

45

22

38

37

Henderson is clearly an outstanding talent. Last season, he finished No. 45 on the Earned Auction Value Calculator. He could easily improve on last season's AL Rookie of the Year numbers, but he can also fall short, specifically in power. Expected numbers aren't the be-all end-all, but his xSLG was 21 points below his actual mark. My system is regressing Henderson's home run output just enough to drop him below where Clay and Erik rank him.

This is not to say Jeff and NFBC drafters are too aggressive. Formulaic rankings do a poor job of capturing upside. Henderson can continue to improve his contact, and he can run more. Paying to see if he does is a matter of drafting philosophy. Henderson also qualifies at third base and shortstop, which helps his cause. My research on multiple eligibility players shows the player doesn't earn more, but his flexibility allows a roster to add a couple bucks worth of production. As such, paying an extra buck, or jumping him up a few spots on a draft list, can still generate profit.

PlayerRankAveADPADP RankToddJeffClayErik
Adley Rutschman525954.83

Last week, I discussed players for which I am the most bullish in the RotoWire Roundtable: Top-300 Fantasy Baseball Rankings for 2024. This week, I'll focus on batters for whom I am least optimistic.

Player

Rank

Ave

ADP

ADP Rank

Todd

Jeff

Clay

Erik

Gunnar Henderson

38

35.5

29.13

29

45

22

38

37

Henderson is clearly an outstanding talent. Last season, he finished No. 45 on the Earned Auction Value Calculator. He could easily improve on last season's AL Rookie of the Year numbers, but he can also fall short, specifically in power. Expected numbers aren't the be-all end-all, but his xSLG was 21 points below his actual mark. My system is regressing Henderson's home run output just enough to drop him below where Clay and Erik rank him.

This is not to say Jeff and NFBC drafters are too aggressive. Formulaic rankings do a poor job of capturing upside. Henderson can continue to improve his contact, and he can run more. Paying to see if he does is a matter of drafting philosophy. Henderson also qualifies at third base and shortstop, which helps his cause. My research on multiple eligibility players shows the player doesn't earn more, but his flexibility allows a roster to add a couple bucks worth of production. As such, paying an extra buck, or jumping him up a few spots on a draft list, can still generate profit.

PlayerRankAveADPADP RankToddJeffClayErik
Adley Rutschman525954.835184563957

Before you Tweet, "Lord Zola hates the Orioles", give me a chance to explain. I don't hate the Orioles; I am against paying up for catchers in the current landscape. Rutschman is my highest ranked backstop, so he gets to represent his brethren. I am low man on the elite catchers but am on par with the group in the next couple of tiers. I'm probably targeting pitching in the area it takes to roster Rutschman. I'd rather be patient and attack the next few tiers where there are some options with solid floors, plus upside.

Putting things in perspective, Rutschman was No. 108 on the Earned Auction Value Calculator, so we're all expecting a better season. Sure, he's going to play a ton again, but Rutschman will be hard-pressed to match last season's 154 games and 687 plate appearances. It took an injury to backup James McCann and Kyle Stowers failing to hold the designated hitter job to pave the way for so much playing time. Not to mention, Baltimore now has the expectations of a deep playoff run, and depending on their place in the standings, they may opt to give Rutschman more rest down the stretch. He's essentially tied with Will Smith as my top fantasy catcher, but there is risk. This reinforces my plan to wait a bit and still be solid at the position.

PlayerRankAveADPADP RankToddJeffClayErik
Mike Trout99103.866.96312480105106

There really isn't much to say here; it's all about playing time and willingness to take on the risk. I've said this for a couple of seasons, and it continues to hold true. If anyone other than Trout exhibited his injury history, they'd be a fantasy afterthought. However, we're talking about someone in the conversation as the best player in MLB history, and who can still be a fantasy monster (even if he no longer runs).

The NFBC is drafting Trout in round five. Backing out the truncated 2020 season, the guy is averaging 104 games per season since 2017.

What if this is the season he stays healthy? Fear of missing out. It's all about FOMO.

Add in a replacement player when he's hurt, and maybe split the difference and draft Trout in Round 7. It's no longer, "what if he stays healthy?" but rather, "what if he only misses 20 games?"

PlayerRankAveADPADP RankToddJeffClayErik
Oneil Cruz116129.580.5779181100134103

Full disclosure, I have tweaked Cruz a bit since and am more in line with Clay's ranking. Cruz is a wild card. He has the tools, and was beginning to translate them to baseball skills, but then he lost almost all of last season. Strikeouts are an issue; how will they be affected after missing so much time? Will he run? Will the Pirates give Cruz some off days, especially early in the season? That's a lot of questions for someone drafted in the sixth round. I think the Round Table has this one right. There are ample shortstops available; it's not necessary to take such a big chance on Cruz. That said, long term, I am very optimistic.

PlayerRankAveADPADP RankToddJeffClayErik
Spencer Torkelson112139.5116.3311523198124105

I am a tad embarrassed to admit this, but it is mid-November and some things are going to slip through the cracks. I have Torkelson's batting average way too low, and since he plays a ton, it was torpedoing his ranking. The reason it was low has to do with MLEs from 2021 and 2022 that are no longer reflective of the current player. This is subjective, of course, but there are times when decisions of this nature need to be made. 

Even after backing out Torkelson's minor-league translations, I am still lagging the field a bit. There is clear optimism after he tore it up in the power department after the break. Over the proverbial first half, he posted a .228/.309/.402 line. Torkelson recorded a .238/.318/.498 line the rest of the way. 

I think it's a little aggressive to forecast his second half for a full season. I landed on .241/.315/.460 where I met the slug a bit more than halfway while recognizing he was unlucky with BABIP, hence a modest bump in average. Last year's xBA was .251, so I may still be light. The adjustment has me in lockstep with Jeff, and we're both a bit more bearish than Clay and Erik.

PlayerRankAveADPADP RankToddJeffClayErik
Jake Burger168179.3173.17170250189155123

I suspect this is mostly a park factor thing. I softened the effect of moving from power-friendly Guaranteed Rate Park to power-crushing LoanDepot Park, but Burger still was lowest in my ranks. Using 30 homers in a neutral park as an example, on paper a White Sox right-handed batter would club 32 long balls while the same hitter on the Marlins would swat 28 out of the yard. Last season, Burger blasted 34 homers, but the expected number was a couple shy of actual. This also feeds into my expectation.

A .246/.308/.469 line for Burger in South Beach feels reasonable. The other aspect is he hasn't displayed the ability to play a full season. He should have the hot corner on lock, but his 141 games last season were a career high, and with his plate skills (high K, low BB), he could lose time if he slumps. We're picking nits here, especially since 20 or 30 spots at this point in the rankings is akin to five or so in early rounds and about 10 around pick 100.

PlayerRankAveADPADP RankToddJeffClayErik
Jordan Walker120150118.711626393101143

Even after reviewing Walker's forecast and improving it, I'm still the most pessimistic of the group. I suspect it's a philosophy in that I recognize the talent and tools, but Walker still needs to demonstrate more evidence he can take the next step. He also has his ballpark working against him, as Busch Stadium traditionally squashes power and Walker doesn't loft enough balls to compensate. His playing time is also far from secure. 

Now for the other side of the coin. As I said above, formulaic rankings don't capture upside. There are plenty of David Peralta and Joc Pederson types to hedge a high upside play like Walker. That is, I wouldn't wait until the 15th round to draft him; I'd take the chance earlier. I just can't draft him inside round eight, which is where the NFBC and a couple of my colleagues rank him.

PlayerRankAveADPADP RankToddJeffClayErik
Nolan Gorman209227.5189.6186311178260161

Oh no, two Redbirds in a row. Lord Zola hates the Cardinals too, or maybe he hates all teams named after birds.

I also improved Gorman's ranking, and it's now more in line with Clay. Much of my lingering pessimism is similar to that of Walker, though Gorman is a flyball hitter; he just doesn't possess the exit velocity to overcome Busch Stadium, and his strikeout rate is too high. His defense also isn't slick enough to overcome a slump, which could cost him playing time. Both Walker and Gorman are examples of my mantra: sometimes, you must be willing to be wrong.

PlayerRankAveADPADP RankToddJeffClayErik
Brandon Lowe216238.8266256327208236184

With Lowe, it's all about health, and the realization the power he showed in 2020 and 2021 is probably not returning. He played 109 games last season, his second most ever. If I can bury Lowe on reserve, which is more likely to happen in a 12-team league, sure, sign me up. We're back at the point where it helps to get some speed from the middle infield, and even though Lowe was perfect in seven stolen base attempts last season, I'd like more.

Next up: A Round Table group update around Thanksgiving, after which I'll review the pitchers on which I am high and low.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Todd Zola
Todd has been writing about fantasy baseball since 1997. He won NL Tout Wars and Mixed LABR in 2016 as well as a multi-time league winner in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. Todd is now setting his sights even higher: The Rotowire Staff League. Lord Zola, as he's known in the industry, won the 2013 FSWA Fantasy Baseball Article of the Year award and was named the 2017 FSWA Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year. Todd is a five-time FSWA awards finalist.
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