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ESPN Player Rater Retrospective

It can often be difficult to place into context how well (or how poorly) certain players have performed recently. A glance at ESPN’s Player Rater, which attempts to quantify a player’s overall fantasy value by analyzing their performance in each facet of the game, can focus targets for fantasy owners looking for help on the waiver wire. Of course, when dealing with small sample sizes, a player’s results can be fluky, but placement at or near the top of these lists could be indicative of a substantive change to a player’s profile. Here are the top 10 players at each position for the past 15 days, according to the ESPN Player Rater.


1. Yadier Molina
2. Gary Sanchez
3. Travis d’Arnaud
4. Mike Zunino
5. J.T. Realmuto
6. Salvador Perez
7. Wilson Ramos
8. Christian Vazquez
9. Jorge Alfaro
10. Jason Castro

After having combined for ten stolen bases from 2013-2016, Yadier Molina is closing in on a double-digit steals season in one of the more surprising statistics of the year. This curiosity has kept him hovering around the top of the positional Rater all year, although his bat has remained solid as well. Molina continues to make contact at an above-average, although no longer elite, rate, and, over this most recent two weeks, he has utilized a fly-ball heavy, pull-oriented approach that suppressed his BABIP but allowed him to hit three home runs while still avoiding strikeouts. It is doubtful that this is indicative of any long-term change in Molina’s profile, but he offers a passable combination of contact and power to profile as a low-end fantasy regular. 2017 marks the second consecutive disappointing season for Travis d’Arnaud, who has slashed only .240/.288/.422 this year, which would appear to be the result of an eight percentage-point uptick in his chase percentage. That said, his walk rate is only ever-so-slightly below his career levels and his strikeout rate has actually dropped somewhat despite his making less contact, as a more aggressive approach has resulted in more early-count balls-in-play. Nor has this aggressive approach resulted in diminished contact quality, as his exit velocity and batted-ball authority are largely in line with his career work as well. It appears that the biggest reason for d’Arnaud’s poor season, beyond his always-questionable health, is simply poor luck, as his .251 BABIP is well below his career .268 mark. Nearly as encouragingly, d’Arnaud has only struck out twice in his last 35 plate appearances while maintaining that solid batted-ball authority. While this year may be a lost cause at this point, there are reasons to believe that d’Arnaud, if he can remain healthy, could bounce back next season. Another young catcher whose primary utility is 2018 and beyond is Jorge Alfaro, the Phillies rocket-armed rookie. Power has placed Alfaro on this week’s Player Rater, although all of his underlying metrics in his 96 MLB plate appearances are subpar, most notably his 12:0 strikeout-walk ratio over his last nine games. It has been a down year altogether for Alfaro, but he should get ample playing time next season, as he cannot be sent back to the minors next season without being placed on waivers, so his ample physical tools and opportunity could make him a late-round sleeper target for 2018.

First Base

1. Jose Abreu
2. Matt Olson
3. Rhys Hoskins
4. Wil Myers
5. Edwin Encarnacion
6. Jose Martinez
7. Travis Shaw
8. Freddie Freeman
9. Cody Bellinger
10. Brandon Moss

The White Sox’s rebuilding effort has done little to slow down Jose Abreu, who will eclipse 100 RBI for the fourth consecutive season despite a career-low 146 plate appearances with men in scoring position this year. Abreu’s contact quality is better than ever this season, and he offsets his aggressive approach with a rare ability to make contact for a player with his power. Because he is already 30 years old, the White Sox may consider shopping him (although they have given no actual indication that they plan to do so) to a team with a stronger first base need. (Given Greg Bird’s injury-plagued season, the Yankees may make some sense as a potential trade partner.) Such a move would only boost his fantasy value by giving him more opportunities to hit with runners on base. A move to Kauffman Stadium always seemed like it could be a difficult one for Brandon Moss, a low-contact, fly-ball pull-hitter whose maximum value was in racking up home runs. That has proven true this season, as Moss’ .208/.283/.443 line is underwhelming, particularly for a first base and outfield option. Moss has hit 22 home runs, but that figure is less impressive when contextualized against the backdrop of a league that has set an all-time record for homers in a season. His recent performance has been solid, as he has maximized hard contact en route to four home runs, and his strikeout rate is down by nearly ten percentage points from his season average. Even so, his approach is entirely to maximize home run output, and in a park that kills power and in an era where 20 home run hitters seemingly grow on trees, Moss’ value is greatly diminished.

Second Base

1. Jose Reyes
2. Dee Gordon
3. Trea Turner
4. Yoan Moncada
5. Ian Kinsler
6. Jed Lowrie
7. Whit Merrifield
8. Jose Ramirez
9. Asdrubal Cabrera
10. Anthony Rizzo

With regards to Jose Reyes, I noted last week that “his contact quality is uninspiring, depressing his batting average and power enough to make him only a speed-oriented bench player in most leagues.” That opinion largely stands, despite his .348/.444/.696 line since September 13, with an unsustainable line drive rate the biggest reason for that gaudy batting average. I named Jed Lowrie as a potentially undervalued second base option for the season’s second half, and he has indeed slashed a solid .280/.381/.459 since the All-Star Break. Unfortunately, Lowrie’s offensive value is nearly entirely derived from the kinds of statistics that are largely useless to fantasy owners. He was thrown out in his only stolen base of this half, he has hit only five home runs despite a propensity for well-hit fly balls, and his exceptional control of the strike zone, while beneficial for supporting his batting average and runs scored totals, does little to prop up his power or RBI outputs so as to make him particularly appealing to owners. In leagues that replace home-run totals with slugging percentage, Lowrie presents quite a bit more value, as his hard air-ball approach has resulted in 20 doubles since the break. In standard leagues, though, Lowrie seems to be the type of player who falls through the cracks despite being a quite good big leaguer. He lacks the impact power or speed to prop up a major fantasy category, and the fact that he plays in a pitcher-friendly home park does him few favors.

Third Base

1. Jose Reyes
2. Nicholas Castellanos
3. Yoan Moncada
4. Nolan Arenado
5. Josh Donaldson
6. Kyle Seager
7. Jose Ramirez
8. Travis Shaw
9. Freddie Freeman
10. Jeimer Candelario

[the_ad_group id=”2221″]Also listed as a mid-season target was Nick Castellanos, and his second-half surge has been much more conspicuous than has Lowrie’s. Castellanos has a .301/.331/.566 with 14 home runs since the break, having cut his strikeout rate to a well below-average 16.3% after striking out in 25.1% of his plate appearances in the first half. For whatever the reason, Castellanos seems to have finally found the turning point in his plate coverage that has long held back a breakout that always appeared to be imminent. His contact quality remains as strong as ever, and while Tigers’ hitters in general seem to have benefited from some inflated exit velocity data this season (perhaps a systematic effect of Comerica Park), Castellanos’ metrics stand out regardless. He has hit fly-balls at a 37.6% clip this season, down slightly from 2016, although his fly-ball rate this half has reverted to its previous levels, and he continues to drive the ball to all fields. Additionally, Castellanos almost never pops up, so if this improved ability to avoid the strikeout holds, he could hit for a high batting average on the strength of his ball-in-play results. To further support this as a potential breakout, Castellanos has this half, for the first extended period of time in his career, cut his chase rate to right around the league-average, perhaps the biggest reason for the decrease in strikeouts. To assume that this means that he has completely figured out Major League Baseball and has cemented himself as an elite hitter would be unwise, as pitchers will certainly counter-punch; that said, everything seems to be falling into place for Castellanos in a way that it never quite has before. Jeimer Candelario, Castellanos’ replacement at third base (Castellanos is transitioning into the corner outfield in Detroit, although that should have little impact on his fantasy value), has demonstrated an above-average feel for the strike zone, with solid strikeout and walk rates. Candelario’s contact quality is mediocre, however, and his .329 BABIP, while not outrageously high, is likely to drop some moving forward. At an offensive position, Candelario can, in all likelihood, be left on the wire for the rest of this season, despite his showing some nascent offensive ability.


1. Tim Anderson
2. Francisco Lindor
3. Jose Reyes
4. Zack Cozart
5. Trea Turner
6. Didi Gregorius
7. Trevor Story
8. Eduardo Escobar
9. Asdrubal Cabrera
10. Xander Bogaerts

Tim Anderson rates as the top overall player for this week, with his value a reflection of the absurd .418 batting average and seven stolen bases that he has picked up since September 5. While the stolen base uptick is certainly encouraging, since Anderson was somewhat curiously not stealing bases earlier on this season, the red flags in Anderson’s profile remain. Even as he has hit .418, his strikeout rate sits at an untenable 28.6% over the last two weeks, with his offensive uptick entirely the result of BABIP fortune. Anderson still never walks, and as the BABIP falls, the stolen bases and runs scored are destined to fall with it. He is arguably more attractive as a speed flyer now, given that he has shown the inclination to run again, but any sort of offensive breakout that the surface-level numbers may indicate he’s having has been unsupported by his underlying metrics. Trevor Story’s stat-line over the most recent two weeks interestingly do not much resemble the one that he was sporting at the beginning of the season. He has cut his strikeout rate recently to about the league-average, he is now hitting a ground ball for every fly ball, and his BABIP has jumped to unsustainably high levels. This is all in contrast to this season’s beginning, when Story had seemingly taken the fly-ball revolution too far to heart, resulting in boatloads of strikeouts and pop-ups that made him one of the game’s worst hitters. Whether the product of an intentional change or not, Story’s contact rate has ticked up as his fly-ball rate has fallen, and he has seemingly adopted a more balanced overall offensive profile. It seems unlikely that Story can continue to make contact a league-average rate (something that he has never done for an extended period in his big-league career), but if he can, he could be a quite dynamic fantasy player, given his shortstop eligibility, raw power and home park.


1. Matt Olson
2. Eddie Rosario
3. J.D. Martinez
4. Aaron Judge
5. Nicholas Castellanos
6. Rhys Hoskins
7. Mookie Betts
8. Carlos Gonzalez
9. Trea Turner
10. Ryan Braun

Matt Olson has gone on a Rhys Hoskins-type binge on the West Coast. His .280/.410/.840 line since September 5 has seen him laughably run a .500 ISO with a .179 BABIP. Of course, both of those numbers will normalize somewhat when Olson stops launching everything that he sees over the fence, but Olson’s fly-ball pull profile is indicated in those extreme figures. This kind of profile is difficult to pull off, particularly in Oakland, but Olson has done so thus far, largely thanks to his surprising ability to make contact. Whether that contact ability can be sustained is an open question, but Olson has clearly raised the perception of his upside with this incredible month. Arguably baseball’s worst hitter in the first half, Carlos Gonzalez has bounced back in a major way this half by boosting his hard contact rate by ten percentage points to a very solid 36.2% for this half. That figure is north of 50% since September 5, as Gonzalez now seems past whatever was completely sapping his power in the first half. Despite the contact quality and Gonzalez’s fortune of playing in Coors, however, owners should still be wary of believing that he has returned to being a top-end fantasy asset. His ground-ball rates continue to sit near 50%, depressing his home run totals, and his strikeout rate in the second-half has actually increased. While the increase in strikeouts is well worth the tradeoff so long as he continues to hit the ball hard, Gonzalez remains a flawed offensive player, one worth owning again but still not an everyday starter, particularly in road games.

Starting Pitchers

1. Corey Kluber
2. Justin Verlander
3. Stephen Strasburg
4. Carlos Carrasco
5. Mike Clevinger
6. Chase Anderson
7. Zack Greinke
8. Jon Gray
9. Aaron Nola
10. Jake Odorizzi

Corey Kluber’s run of utter dominance has continued in his most recent three outings, as he has gone at least seven innings with eight or more strikeouts in each, leading to an absurd 30:1 strikeout-walk ratio over his last 23 innings pitched. He has unquestionably been baseball’s best pitcher since the All-Star Break, and he is almost assuredly a top-three fantasy pitcher for the stretch run. As is the case with most pitchers at the top of the positional Rater, Kluber’s teammate Mike Clevinger has had some success in the win column recently, picking up the victory in each of his last three starts. He has failed to record more than six innings pitched in any of them, although he has struck out a stellar 27.9% of opposing hitters in that timeframe. Clevinger’s longstanding troubles with command have appeared yet again this season, as his walk rate is north of 10%, but he has largely offset that with an uptick in strikeouts, and he has the additional fortune of pitching in front of one of baseball’s best defenses and with the support of one of its best offenses and bullpens, so he should continue to prevent runs and accrue wins at a rate above the league-average. On the other hand, Clevinger’s high pitch counts have limited his ability to work deep into games (he has tossed only 114 innings in his 21 starts this season), his ERA is nearly a full run below his FIP, indicating some good fortune to this point, and his most recent two solid starts have come against Detroit and the Angels. There remain reasons for skepticism with Clevinger, and he is likely only a back-end option for the fantasy playoffs, but he remains available in over 30% of ESPN leagues and offers quite a bit of upside in three of the four main starting pitching categories. Jake Odorizzi has had a massively disappointing season in Tampa Bay, with a FIP 33 percentage points worse than the league-average. This is nearly entirely due to Odorizzi’s susceptibility to the longball, as his 2.03 home runs allowed per nine innings pitched ranks tied for fifth-highest among all pitchers with at least 100 innings. Never much of a ground-ball pitcher, Odorizzi’s ground-ball rate has dropped by seven percentage points to an abysmal 29.6% as his walk and hard contact against rates have spiked by three percentage points. Even Odorizzi’s recent success appears to be more of a mirage than the beginning of a trend. Despite a hard-contact rate against of a sky-high 37.8% in his last three starts, opposing hitters have only a .083 BABIP over that time. His strikeouts have ticked up recently, although his walk rate remains too high, and his ground-ball rate has remained subpar. So long as Odorizzi continues to allow boatloads of well-hit fly balls, he should remain off of fantasy radars, even if those most recent fly balls have died on the warning track rather than clearing the fences.

Relief Pitcher

1. Cody Allen
2. Sean Doolittle
3. Corey Knebel
4. Aroldis Chapman
5. David Robertson
6. Wade Davis
7. Yusmeiro Petit
8. Brad Hand
9. Greg Holland
10. Ken Giles

Each of the relief pitchers on this list, with the exception of David Robertson, have been propped up by high save totals. Robertson has been an elite set-up option in New York, but he is at least second in line for saves in a loaded Yankee bullpen. Petit has continued to see more high-leverage work, including some ninth-inning work, as a reward for his stellar season in Anaheim, but his role for Mike Scioscia seemingly remains flexible. In leagues where he remains available, he is worth grabbing, both for saves and for potential relief wins, which are, of course, incredibly difficult to predict.

Note: All player statistics, except as otherwise linked to, have been drawn from

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