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Player Rater Retrospective: Final Look

Player Rater Report

Each week this season, I have looked at ESPN’s Player Rater for the past 15 days to identify players surprisingly performing above expectations and to analyze the reasons for and sustainability of their overperformance. With the season all but complete, and nine of the ten postseason spots locked down, this presents a good opportunity to look back at the league’s top players this year as a whole.

As for the predictive value of this exercise, it is worth noting that the position most accurately predicted by last year’s results was, perhaps surprisingly, catcher, with seven of the ten catchers on this list having appeared on last season’s ranking as well. Unsurprisingly, outfielder and relief pitcher were the least predictive positions with three players at each making the list both this year and last. Of course, there are more everyday outfielders than at any other position, making it comparatively three times as difficult to crack the top ten, while relief pitching remains inherently volatile. It also appears that stolen bases is the least predictive year-to-year measure of success, with such players as Jonathan Villar, Ian Desmond and Wil Myers taking advantage of gaudy stolen base totals to vault them near the top of the 2016 lists but following that up with poor seasons in 2017. (Perhaps something to consider when evaluating Eduardo Nunez, Whit Merrifield or Jean Segura next season.) Following is the final 2017 Player Rater Retrospective, with the caveat that the remaining four days of the season could have minor alterations to the final order.


1. Gary Sanchez
2. Buster Posey
3. Yadier Molina
4. J.T. Realmuto
5. Salvador Perez
6. Willson Contreras
7. Welington Castillo
8. Mike Zunino
9. Yasmani Grandal
10. Christian Vazquez

Among catchers with at least 100 plate appearances this season, only Austin Barnes managed to put together a better offensive performance than Sanchez’s .283/.349/.541 line. Without diminishing Barnes’ sensational season, it is safe to say that Sanchez will be a much more desirable target for fantasy owners next season thanks primarily to his elite power, which plays even more friendly in one of the league’s best hitters’ parks. Sanchez is not just a bopper, though, with a contact rate hovering near the league-average and enough ground balls and line drives that he should be able to maintain a solid batting average as well, all while playing on one of the league’s best offensive teams. It is likely a stretch to say that Sanchez has any more untapped upside (if anything, his HR/FB rate still seems likely to drop somewhat), but he seems pretty clearly the top fantasy option for next season (and potentially beyond) due to the confluence of offensive factors working his favor. I have written extensively about Mike Zunino this season, continuously baffled by his offensive production despite a 36.9% strikeout rate. Zunino has made more solid contact and pulled the ball more than ever before this season, partially explaining his career-high HR/FB rate, but a four percentage point spike in his line-drive rate largely drove his surprising .353 BABIP. Unfortunately, line drive rate tends to fluctuate wildly across seasons, and Zunino has never been known for having good bat control, so it is likely that the line drives (and the batting average accordingly) will drop some next year. Still, Zunino seems likely to be drafted as a power-hitting reserve in most leagues, and his fly-ball pull approach has allowed him to hit for power throughout his career. On the surface, 2017 may have looked like a long-awaited offensive breakout, but it seems more likely to prove to be unsustainable, and Zunino largely profiles much as he has over the past few years: as a home run option at a thin fantasy position, but one who offers very little else offensively.

First Base

1. Paul Goldschmidt
2. Joey Votto
3. Eric Hosmer
4. Jose Abreu
5. Anthony Rizzo
6. Cody Bellinger
7. Ryan Zimmerman
8. Daniel Murphy
9. Freddie Freeman
10. Travis Shaw

It has been another quietly spectacular season for Paul Goldschmidt, whose all-around dominance has begun to garner some deserved attention nationwide. Goldschmidt is one of the league’s most well-rounded offensive players, combining contact, plate discipline, power and speed in a way that very few other players can match. Perhaps somewhat of a concern is that the first two of those categories went in the wrong direction this season, with Goldschmidt’s contact rate dropping by four percentage points and his chase rate spiking by four percentage points. As he now enters his 30s, Goldschmidt’s ability to make contact could potentially become a concern in upcoming seasons. This is not to say, however, that a decline is imminent, as Goldschmidt’s plate discipline metrics are still well above-average, his contact rates, while slightly below-average, are still at an elite level for a player with his power, and his batted ball authority is as strong as ever. Goldschmidt’s fly balls are up, helping him to hit 36 home runs, and his on-base percentage has been north of .395 for five consecutive seasons, helping him to score at least 100 runs in each of his last four healthy seasons. His stolen base totals are down somewhat this year, although he has a chance to eclipse 20 for the third consecutive season, another rare feat for a power-hitting first baseman. There are some early indicators to suggest that we may be at the tail end of Goldschmidt’s prime, but he should be a top ten pick in all leagues next season regardless, as any drop-off in production should be gradual for now. An underappreciated aspect of this season has been the surprising return of Ryan Zimmerman, who, after being one of baseball’s worst players last season, has been one of the best hitters on one of the league’s best teams at age 32. While much of this turnaround was a result of Zimmerman’s torrid April, wherein he hit .420/.458/.886, his .274/.332/.491 line from May onwards remains solid offensive production. Most remarkable, however, is how little some of Zimmerman’s underlying metrics have changed from 2016. His contact rates, plate discipline and batted ball distribution are largely identical, and, while his hard contact rate is substantially upwards to account for some of this improvement, much of his improvement has largely been better batted-ball fortune. Statcast’s expected weighted on base average metric, which attempts to quantify a player’s “deserved” batting results based on their strikeouts, walks and contact quality, estimates that Zimmerman’s massive underperformance last season was largely a reflection of poor luck. His improvement in hard contact this season indicates that he has legitimately improved as a hitter to an extent, but much of his improved results are simply a result of positive regression. That same metric, however, indicates that Zimmerman’s results this season have been too fortunate, and, entering his age 33 season, it would not be surprising to see Zimmerman’s offense regress. In particular, his home run total of 36 seems likely to fall, given that his HR/FB rate has been massively inflated this season. At a loaded position, Zimmerman profiles as a top 15 or so option next season, a clear rebound from where his stock sat just five months ago, but lower than his production solely this season would indicate.

Second Base

1. Jose Altuve
2. Dee Gordon
3. Jose Ramirez
4. Whit Merrifield
5. Anthony Rizzo
6. Brian Dozier
7. Jonathan Schoop
8. Trea Turner
9. Daniel Murphy
10. Eduardo Nunez

The league’s best second baseman, Jose Altuve has put together an MVP-caliber season in Houston with a stellar .348/.414/.554 with 24 home runs and 32 stolen bases. Despite this career-best line, there is reason to believe that this level of production was a product of some good fortune. Altuve’s actual contact quality has been largely pedestrian, and, while his bat control and speed are elite, expecting him to maintain a .373 BABIP is unrealistic. Of course, he has stolen at least 30 bases for six consecutive seasons (defying the Astros’ general team-wide trend to run less often), he hits near the top of the league’s best lineup, so he should continue to score runs, and he now has three consecutive seasons with at least 15 home runs, enough power to make him an elite hitter when considering his secondary skills. With second basemen as a whole taking a step back somewhat this season, Altuve is the rare player who clearly stands above the rest of the position, but there are reasons to be skeptical of using a top three to five pick on him next season. At age 28, Whit Merrifield broke out this season with an Altuve-lite skillset. Merrifield stole 33 bases, made a ton of contact and hit the ball to all fields, allowing him to hit .286/.324/.459 with 16 home runs, a line that looks legitimate when considering that neither his BABIP nor HR/FB rate were entirely out of whack. His gaudy stolen base total was unprecedented (rarely does a player set their professional high in stolen bases in MLB, where stolen bases are less prevalent than in the minors), and seems likely to come down, but Merrifield’s numbers as a hitter were entirely supported by his peripherals. Two potential drawbacks, however, that may make Merrifield more of a high-end reserve option than a true fantasy starter for 2018: Kauffman Stadium drastically suppresses power, so Merrifield’s 18 home runs this season seem about reasonable for next year, and, barring a massive payroll spike, Kansas City is set to lose arguably its three best offensive players to free agency, which could adversely affect Merrifield’s runs scored and RBI totals.

Third Base

1. Jose Ramirez
2. Nolan Arenado
3. Kris Bryant
4. Freddie Freeman
5. Eduardo Nunez
6. Travis Shaw
7. Chris Taylor
8. Anthony Rendon
9. Manny Machado
10. Justin Turner

Jose Ramirez has answered any questions about his breakout season last year by following it up with an even stronger one in 2017. Ramirez has leveraged the league’s fifth-lowest strikeout rate (only Joe Panik, Andrelton Simmons, Justin Turner and Yuli Gurriel were less likely than Ramirez to strike out in any given plate appearance) to a .317/.370/.583 line. Similarly to Merrifield’s, Ramirez’s balanced batted-ball distribution and contact quality make that line seem legitimate, although a .266 isolated power is well above anything that he had ever done before. Even if his slugging output falls off somewhat (and, even if this home run environment, Ramirez probably is not a true talent 30-homer type), he should be a perennial threat to compete for the batting title, steal bases at an above-average mark, hit 20-25 home runs per year and continue to score and drive in runs at an elite rate, both because he has the fortune of hitting in a very strong lineup and because his combined 98 doubles over the past two seasons should afford him plenty of opportunities in scoring position. Ramirez has become a legitimate superstar, one of the game’s 10-15 best players, and, barring another stellar postseason, he may wind up undervalued yet again next year, somewhat lost in discussions about the baseball elite. An unsustainable .362 BABIP has contributed to Chris Taylor’s career season, but he remains interesting as a potential mid-round target next season. Taylor has elite plate discipline, helping to prop up his on-base percentage, he hits a ton of all-fields line drives and he steals bases at a solid clip. Considering that he also offers some positional flexibility, he makes for a high-end reserve option at the very least next season. Taylor does not have great power (he is, perhaps, the most extreme example of the crazy home run season that we saw this year, as he entered the year with 24 home runs in 2,290 professional plate appearances before hitting 21 in 559 plate appearances this year, in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium no less) or speed, and his patient approach does result in a fair amount of strikeouts, so it may be a stretch to consider him a regular at any position except for shortstop, but his fantastic year has at least made him relevant in all leagues.


1. Elvis Andrus
2. Francisco Lindor
3. Trea Turner
4. Eduardo Nunez
5. Chris Taylor
6. Manny Machado
7. Alex Bregman
8. Marwin Gonzalez
9. Jean Segura
10. Andrelton Simmons

The closest thing that Elvis Andrus offers to a standout skill is his durability, as he has played in at least 145 games and drawn at least 541 plate appearances each year since 2009. Of course, injuries are unpredictable, but Andrus has proven remarkably able to stay healthy, making him as good a bet as any player in the league to continue to do so. After a subpar 2015, Andrus has managed to rebound with two solid offensive seasons, offering something near league-average power with above-average speed and a batting average near .300. Andrus’ plate discipline this year, however, disturbingly tumbled, as his chase rate increased by eight percentage points, causing his contact to fall somewhat. As a player with a strong propensity to pull ground-balls, he relies heavily on his bat-to-ball skills to buoy his batting average, and his runs scored and RBI totals both spiked this year and may not be sustainable. Andrus has shown some underlying cracks in the offensive foundation this season, but, at still only 29 years old, it is not unreasonable to believe that the plate discipline drop-off was more an outlier than a trend. Either way, however, expecting Andrus to be near the top of the positional Rater next season may be too optimistic. Alex Bregman’s peripherals are trending in the right direction, and he should be a relatively high selection next season. Bregman boosted his contact rate by ten percentage points from his abbreviated 2016 season while largely maintaining his batted-ball quality. Bregman does hit a large amount of pop-ups, which suppresses his BABIP, but his combination of bat-to-ball skills and plate discipline could make him a threat to hit 20-25 home runs and 35-40 doubles as soon as next season. In a loaded lineup that should offer plenty of opportunities to hit with men on base and with shortstop eligibility, Bregman is a dark horse candidate to top this list next season.


1. Charlie Blackmon
2. Aaron Judge
3. Giancarlo Stanton
4. Jose Ramirez
5. Mike Trout
6. Tommy Pham
7. Marcell Ozuna
8. Whit Merrifield
9. Justin Upton
10. J.D. Martinez

While much of the attention surrounding the Rockies justifiably goes to Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon has quite arguably had a better season than his superstar teammate. Blackmon’s .326/.397/.599 line with 36 home runs is stellar, a reflection of Blackmon’s above-average contact ability and all-fields power. Of course, I would be remiss not to note the impact that Coors Field has had on that line, but Blackmon’s production has been quite good independent of his park, and, given that Colorado looks like a potential contender again next year, there is little reason to believe that they would be willing to move Blackmon this offseason, meaning that fantasy owners would reap the rewards of the home park yet again in 2018. Even considering that Coors inflates BABIPs, Blackmon’s .366 mark is probably unsustainable, so he likely will not hit .326 again next year, but he avoids strikeouts while making hard contact, a good foundation only benefited by the extreme environment in which he plays. There was, arguably, no single player this year more interesting than Aaron Judge. After a strikeout-filled debut season, Judge entered the year with his stock down somewhat on most prospect lists and on the fringes of the Yankees opening day roster. Instead, he has been one of baseball’s best players, sandwiching a dreadful August swoon between two lengthy stretches of utter dominance. The only real flaw in Judge’s game is, of course, his contact, but his unprecedented raw power has more than allowed him to compensate for the ample swing-and-miss in his game. According to Statcast, no hitter in baseball has deserved better results this season than Judge, whose majestic home runs have gone to all fields and have allowed him to rack up runs scored and RBI at an elite rate. Judge’s BABIP this season may have been a bit higher than is sustainable, and he may be more of a .260 than a .285 hitter moving forward, but everything else here is real, and Judge should be one of the league’s stars for years to come.

Starting Pitchers

1. Corey Kluber
2. Chris Sale
3. Max Scherzer
4. Clayton Kershaw
5. Zack Greinke
6. Luis Severino
7. Stephen Strasburg
8. Carlos Carrasco
9. Gio Gonzalez
10. Robbie Ray

The top four pitchers on this list are widely regarded, in some order, as the four best pitchers in baseball, so it should be unsurprising to find that they are the only holdovers from last season’s positional top ten. Corey Kluber finished the 2017 season as the top player on the overall Player Rater. His 2.27 ERA was the main reason for this, as this was easily Kluber’s best season in terms of run prevention, and it may very well result in his second Cy Young Award. Kluber’s second-half has been examined ad nauseum, but the numbers are worth repeating. Since returning from the DL on June 1, Kluber has tossed 161.1 innings with a 1.62 ERA and a ridiculous 221:23 strikeout-walk ratio, utter dominance of the strike zone made even better by the fact that hitters struggled to make solid contact against Kluber even when they did the ball into play. He did benefit from some batted ball luck (opposing hitters had only a .263 BABIP against him this year, a credit both to Kluber himself and to his solid defense), but there is no way to fake this level of dominance. Kluber will be a top two or three option at the position next season. Had one been told of this list of pitchers prior to the season, Luis Severino would likely have been the most surprising, as he was coming off of a dismal 2016 season that had many people calling for his demotion to the bullpen. Instead, he has pitched like a true top-of-the-rotation pitcher, boosting his strikeout rate by eight percentage points and his ground-ball rate by five percentage points from last season, a fantastic combination of becoming simultaneously less hittable and better at suppressing solid contact. Severino lacks the track record of most of the other pitchers to crack this list, he pitches in a hitter-friendly home park and he does not have the fortune of having an elite defense saving runs behind him, so he likely remains a tier below the majority of the pitchers on here. That said, he just turned in an ace-like age 23 season with a legitimate improvement to his changeup, so his stock will deservedly be high next season, and he does have the benefit of one of the league’s best offenses supporting him.

Relief Pitcher

1. Kenley Jansen
2. Craig Kimbrel
3. Corey Knebel
4. Roberto Osuna
5. Alex Colome
6. David Robertson
7. Felipe Rivero
8. Greg Holland
9. Ken Giles
10. Wade Davis

Relief pitching remains extremely volatile year-to-year (and even during the year, as Roberto Osuna has demonstrated). Each of these pitchers looks like strong fantasy options for next season (except for maybe David Robertson, who seems to have no clear path to saves in New York), although free agency could impact the respective values of Greg Holland and Wade Davis, and underperformance will almost certainly impact at least two or three of these players.

It should be worth noting that the unsustainability of many of these performances is not to diminish their accomplishments or to make them seemingly poor options for next season. Each of the players on this list, almost by definition, had productive seasons in one or multiple areas, and each will garner deserved consideration from fantasy owners next spring, barring injury. These overperformances are only pointed out to caution owners to some extent on the year-to-year variability of certain statistics, and it is not coincidental that nearly all of these position players set their career-highs in home runs this season. Should the home run environment unexpectedly change again next season, that could have an adverse effect on some players more than others (say, Jose Ramirez would be more likely to be substantially impacted by a deadening of the ball than Aaron Judge). That said, there is no real reason not to expect home runs to continue to rise, so it is conceivable that players never viewed as strong power threats now consistently hit 25 home runs per season. How that impacts fantasy owners, if it does at all, remains an open question.

Note: All player statistics have been drawn from

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