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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. Willson Contreras
2. Hector Sanchez
3. Buster Posey
4. Salvador Perez
5. Yasmani Grandal
6. Kurt Suzuki
7. Mike Zunino
8. Yadier Molina
9. Brian McCann
10. Wellington Castillo

One of the few dynamic young catchers in baseball, Willson Contreras’ fantastic .341/.383/.750 line since July 14 vaulted him to the top of the catching leaderboard. Contreras has largely earned that success, striking out in only 14.9% of his plate appearances while making a ton of hard contact to all fields. Contreras pulls quite a few ground balls and lacks great speed, so his BABIP may drop from its season-long .320, and his 16 home runs this season are already more than in any season of his professional career thanks to a somewhat inflated HR/FB rate, so Contreras likely remains a tier below the elite at the position for the remainder of this season. His power is not a complete mirage, though, as he has a .217 isolated power in the big leagues, and he hits in the middle of a still-loaded lineup. While Contreras is undoubtedly more valuable in keeper leagues as a future asset, he profiles as a top five or ten option at the position this season as well. Hector Sanchez has come out of the All-Star Break scorching hot for San Diego, launching extra-base hits with a ton of fly balls. Sanchez’s hard-contact rate is actually way down this season, though, and his extreme fly-ball approach would seem to make him exploitable long-term. While Austin Hedges is on the shelf with a concussion, Sanchez could be worth a flyer for owners desperate for a catcher, but his .244/.279/.377 career line and unsustainable nature of his current hot streak do not make him a particularly appealing long-term play. Kurt Suzuki has hit three home runs in only 17 plate appearances since the All-Star Break. Suzuki has long been a mediocre hitter (and defensive player), and with Tyler Flowers performing at an elite level, there is not much opportunity for Suzuki in Atlanta. If Flowers gets traded, then potentially Suzuki could be a deep-league flyer based upon his contact skills, but there has not been much reported interest on the Braves’ behalf of moving Flowers to this point. Any trade of Suzuki to a contender would likely still leave him in a reserve role down the stretch.

First Base

1. Justin Smoak
2. Marwin Gonzalez
3. Cody Bellinger
4. Yuli Gurriel
5. Travis Shaw
6. Josh Bell
7. Mark Reynolds
8. Joey Gallo
9. Mike Napoli
10. Eric Hosmer

Justin Smoak’s fantastic season has shown no signs of slowing down coming out of the All-Star Break, as he continues to distance himself from his previous mediocrity. Most encouraging about Smoak’s small second-half sample is his 12:12 strikeout-walk ratio that supports his newfound control of the strike zone. Smoak’s strikeout rate this season is below the league average for the first time in his career, while he has managed to maintain a batted ball profile that has long enticed front offices. Smoak may still not be perceived as an elite hitter despite having performed like one so far, but he does seem to have finally found the change in approach needed to unlock his long-obvious offensive upside. As I noted when evaluating Josh Bell last week, Bell’s pull-heavy, ground-ball approach has limited his impact as a hitter to this point in his career, but his use of the whole field as a prospect offered hope that he could develop into a strong contact hitter in time. In that sense, Bell’s last week was as encouraging as a single week can be. Bell sprayed low, hard contact across the field en route to a .458 BABIP. Should he continue to do so, he could emerge as a strong hitter in both the contact and power departments in the second-half, as well as conceivably being a potential buy-low in dynasty formats. One of the more underappreciated stories of this season has been Mike Napoli’s awful return to Texas. His chase rate has climbed to a career-high level, while (potentially relatedly) his contact rate is at a career-low level, unsurprisingly combining to result in Napoli’s worst ever strikeout-walk ratio. Napoli has hit four home runs coming out of the All-Star Break, with a 58% fly ball rate and a 64% pull rate indicating that Napoli is largely selling out for power at this point. More discouragingly, Napoli’s strikeout rate over the past 11 games is actually higher than his season mark, indicating that Napoli’s holes largely remain. He will likely continue to hit some home runs and accrue some RBI should Texas continue to give him playing time down the stretch, but with Texas on the fringes of the playoff race, it is worth wondering how much playing time they can continue to give to a below replacement-level player.

Second Base

1. Jose Altuve
2. Jonathan Schoop
3. Chris Taylor
4. Whit Merrifield
5. Cory Spangenberg
6. Marwin Gonzalez
7. Dustin Pedroia
8. Ben Zobrist
9. D.J. LeMahieu
10. Brian Dozier

Jose Altuve’s season line of .364/.429/.573 is absolutely ridiculous, although he has somehow managed to top it over the past two weeks. As I noted when recapping the first half of the season, despite a few negative trends in his profile, Altuve looked like the best second base option of the second-half, and his hot start has done nothing to diminish his status as one of the game’s elite hitters. On June 8, I casted doubt on Whit Merrifield’s ability to sustain his BABIP-supported May, and on the Royals’ ability to score runs as a team. Since then, Merrifield has run a fantastic .287/.324/.500 line while the Royals vaulted into the postseason picture. Merrifield has continued to use an all-fields approach, although he is now better supporting it with more authoritative contact. Merrifield’s recent success run has been more supported by a lack of strikeouts than by batted ball luck, and Merrifield’s fly-ball rate is at sufficient levels to make him a little bit of a home run threat, while not too high as to make him prone to a low batting average. On a team producing better offensively than it was at the beginning of the season, and with a seemingly more sustainable profile, Merrifield looks like a solid but unspectacular contributor across the board down the stretch. Cory Spangenberg has had a strong two weeks, with a .349/.417/.628 line propped up by a .429 BABIP. Spangenberg’s success has curiously been the product of a bunch of (admittedly well-hit) pulled ground balls, and while teams have been reluctant to shift him much this year, they almost certainly will shift him soon should he continue to demonstrate a pull-only profile. He has never hit for enough power to make up for his subpar plate discipline and below-average contact rates, nor has he stolen bases at rates commensurate with his minor-league totals. Given his lack of a standout tool and the Padres’ abysmal team-wide offense, Spangenberg can safely be left on the waiver wire.

Third Base

1. Nolan Arenado
2. Chris Taylor
3. Anthony Rendon
4. Cory Spangenberg
5. Marwin Gonzalez
6. Jose Reyes
7. Yuli Gurriel
8. Mike Moustakas
9. Matt Chapman
10. Alex Bregman

[the_ad id=”384″]Nolan Arenado had interestingly adopted a more opposite-field oriented approach leading up to the All-Star Break, although he has come out of the break pulling the ball once again. Arenado’s season-long contact rate is slightly down, and he has never been the poster child for plate discipline. However, he has long been one of the game’s better power hitters, and, given that there are no noticeable differences in his profile this season, he should be one of the best fantasy players in the league down the stretch. Jose Reyes’ jump onto the Player Rater was fueled nearly entirely by his legs, as he has paced all third basemen with three stolen bases since the break. Once an elite base-stealer, Reyes’ age has shown up both on defense and on the basepaths in recent years, and, while he still has solid speed for a third baseman, his .288 on-base percentage limits his stolen base totals. His low BABIP has largely been the result of a ton of weak contact and pop-ups rather than poor luck. His shortstop eligibility and stolen bases may make him a niche player for some desperate roto owners, but his complete lack of damage with the bat makes him best-served on the waiver wire. Rookie Matt Chapman has hit five home runs since coming out of the break, albeit only out of 10 hits. Chapman’s fly ball rate since July 14 is a ridiculous 70.4%; he has always been an extreme fly-ball hitter, and he hit 36 home runs in the minor leagues last season, so his power seems legitimate. On the other hand, Chapman has never stolen more than seven bases in any season, his strikeout rates in the minor leagues tended to hover around 30% (while his MLB strikeout rate currently sits at 35.8%) and the Athletics are likely to sell away the best veteran pieces of an already weak offense. As a result, Chapman may have trouble accruing RBI even if he continues to hit home runs. His power is real, but Chapman appears to be largely a one-trick pony offensively without a substantial adjustment to his offensive approach (one which could, of course, jeopardize his power output).


1. Didi Gregorius
2. Trevor Story
3. Marwin Gonzalez
4. Jose Reyes
5. Jose Iglesias
6. Manny Machado
7. Paul DeJong
8. Orlando Arcia
9. Andrelton Simmons
10. Javier Baez

Didi Gregorius has come out of the break blazing, running a .400/.429/.778 line since July 14. Gregorius’ line drive rate over that time sits at an unsustainable 33.3%, helping to explain his .371 BABIP in that span. His HR/FB rate of 29.4% is also due to regress, while his soft contact rate is about equal to his season-long 23.6%. Despite his undoubted regression, his batted ball profile is quite solid despite his shaky plate discipline. Gregorius has swung at a 58.7% clip, well above the league-average of 46.5%, yet he has managed to make contact at a slightly above-average rate. While his average exit velocity is subpar, his hitter-friendly home park and fly-ball approach should enable him to produce an above-average isolated power. Although he is unlikely to continue to produce at this level, Gregorius should be a top 10 fantasy shortstop for the rest of the season. Unlike Gregorius, Trevor Story has had a fantastic average exit velocity this season, although his results have been diminished by a 34.8% strikeout rate. Since the All-Star Break, Story has hit .325/.386/.675 with an obscene 73.1% hard contact rate. Obviously, Story cannot continue to crush nearly every ball that he puts into play, although more encouraging may be that his fly ball rate over that time has dropped to 26.9%. While Story certainly would like to make the most of his hard contact by elevating the ball, his extreme launch angle from earlier this season caused his already below-average contact rate to fall by four percentage points and his pop-up rate to increase by five points relative to last season, with his batting average plummeting in the process. His newer approach would seem to be better suited to maximizing results on his balls in play, although, even during his recent hot streak, Story’s strikeout rate was north of 30%. Story no longer profiles as the elite fantasy option that he was at times last season, but he should be more successful at reaching base and scoring runs in the second half than he was at the beginning of the season if he becomes a less extreme fly ball hitter.


1. Bryce Harper
2. Willson Contreras
3. Chris Taylor
4. Charlie Blackmon
5. Adam Jones
6. Whit Merrifield
7. Tommy Pham
8. Billy Hamilton
9. Michael Brantley
10. Michael Conforto

Bryce Harper comes into the second-half as likely the second-best position player in all of baseball. There are essentially no red flags in his offensive profile. His plate discipline metrics remain above-average (although he has gotten more aggressive this season, perhaps in an attempt to maximize his power output), he makes consistent solid contact and he drives the ball to all fields, resulting in a .335/.439/.633 season line. There is little reason to believe Harper is incapable of replicating that production for the rest of the season, given his promising peripherals and that he previously maintained this level of performance for an entire season in 2015. Chris Taylor’s breakout season has continued, as he has hit .523/.533/.909 since the onset of the second half. Long one of the most disciplined hitters in baseball, Taylor’s largest asset this season has largely been opportunity and a little bit of luck. He has good speed and drives the ball to all fields, so he should have no trouble hitting over .300 on balls in play, but his .426 mark is clearly unsustainable. Likewise, his HR/FB rate is much higher this season than ever before, and he does not profile as an elite power hitter in the future. That said, he should continue to reach base at a high clip, score and drive in quite a few runs, given that he is an integral part of the National League’s best lineup, and has promising enough batted ball data to think that he could hit for a solid batting average despite a relatively high strikeout rate. Taylor may not remain underrated for much longer, so, even with some ongoing regression, he should at least be added in all formats. After an average first half, Michael Brantley has come out stronger in the second half, running a solid .286/.367/.476 line with three stolen bases. Brantley established himself as one of the game’s elite players with a well-rounded skillset that involved solid plate discipline, elite contact skills and gap power. Encouragingly, all of those seem intact, despite Brantley’s slight downturn in results. His batted ball authority remains strong (a seeming indicator that the shoulder injury that cost him the 2016 season is truly healthy), his walk rate is fantastic and his contact rates, while down slightly, remain well above-average. The Indians’ offense should improve in the second half, and Brantley looks poised to reemerge as one of the league’s better outfielders moving forward.

Starting Pitchers

1. James Paxton
2. Jacob deGrom
3. Jon Lester
4. Sonny Gray
5. Mike Fiers
6. Chris Sale
7. Jose Quintana
8. Charlie Morton
9. Corey Kluber
10. Tanner Roark

James Paxton has dominated the White Sox, Astros and Red Sox in three post-Break starts. While his three wins are most responsible for his placement atop the positional Rater, and counting on wins is unwise, given the amount of luck that a pitcher needs to accrue those, Paxton’s performance has been phenomenal, most notably his 26:1 strikeout-walk ratio. Paxton’s fastball is getting more vertical movement than ever before, and consequently, is generating whiffs at a career-high rate. Couple that with a still dominant curveball and cutter, and Paxton now looks like a legitimate top-of-the-rotation arm should he remain healthy. Charlie Morton has struck out 24 hitters in his last three starts, continuing his transition from a pitch-to-contact ground-ball artist to a dominant strikeout pitcher, although he has managed to induce ground balls at an elite rate recently as well. Morton’s success has largely been the result of his holding the three MPH gain in sinker velocity that he made from 2015 to 2016, as he has seemingly not made any adjustments to his pitch mix or location. Given the uptick in his stuff, it seems that Morton’s success this season is sustainable. Given that he plays on one of the better teams in baseball, he should be able to tally some wins down the stretch should he continue to perform well. As with Paxton, Morton’s biggest question mark at this point is no longer inconsistent performance, but durability.

Relief Pitcher

1. Edwin Diaz
2. Roberto Osuna
3. Alex Claudio
4. Felipe Rivero
5. Kelvin Herrera
6. Alex Colome
7. Kenley Jansen
8. Addison Reed
9. Aroldis Chapman
10. Wade Davis

Each of the relief pitchers on this list have been propped up by high save totals. With the exception of Alex Claudio (whose poor velocity may force Texas to replace him in the ninth inning, despite the fact that he has a career 2.67 ERA), all seem safe bets to close for their teams moving forward, with team performance more important to their continued save totals than anything specific to the pitchers themselves.

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