It’s 2020 on the Internet. Everyone loves lists and rankings. ‘You get a list, and you get a list, and you get a list!’ – my best really bad Oprah voice. But seriously, you can’t call yourself a fantasy baseball expert – notice the usage of ‘can’t call’ instead of ‘can’t be’ but we’ll get there after this year – without rankings. Plus, they’re fun.
The plan is to go 450 deep with overall player rankings, and then a different hitters list (250) and pitchers list (150). Why 450? NFBC rosters have 30 players, and if you’re in a 15-team league, that equals 450 players on rosters at all times. The purpose of these rankings is to rank overall value as it relates to the end-of-season player rater. Whether you think a position is deep or thin and how you treat that in drafts is up to you.
Today, we’ll ease into the rankings with what should be relatively easy – the top 20 overall for the 2020 season. Of course, it’s January 18th, so these rankings are, obviously, subject to change.
(fantasy slash lines: runs/homers/RBI/steals/average; numbers rounded up)
Draft Mike Trout and maybe he could win you a car.
No. 1 – Mike Trout – OF – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Razzball/Steamer projections: 122/43/109/13/.296
Current NFBC ADP: No. 2
Razzball Player Rater projection: No. 1
Razzball Player Rater 2019 season: No. 9
Quick thoughts: Did you think he wasn’t going to be No. 1? Well, this was actually the most difficult ranking of the initial 10 because a case can be made Ronald Acuna, Jr. gets the nod because of the strong possibility he swipes more than 30 bags. Not only is Trout safe and coming off another MVP season, he’s going to hit in a better lineup this season thanks to the addition of Anthony Rendon, eventual addition of Jo Adell, more Shohei Ohtani, and perhaps better injury luck for guys like Justin Upton and Andrelton Simmons. Plus, Joe Maddon’s arrival could lead to Trout being encouraged to be more aggressive on the bases.
No. 2 – Ronald Acuna, Jr. – OF – Atlanta Braves
Razzball/Steamer projections: 106/37/93/29/.283
Current NFBC ADP: No. 1
Razzball Player Rater projection: No. 2
Razzball Player Rater 2019 season: No. 1
Quick thoughts: Remember last year when people were discussing if Acuna, Jr. was worth a very early selection in drafts? Now the only debate is if you take him first, second or third. Only four players are projected to steal more bases than the superstar outfielder, and he improved his barrel%, BB%, xSLG, and xwOBAcon last season.
No. 3 – Christian Yelich – OF – Milwaukee Brewers
Razzball/Steamer projections: 108/35/96/23/.303
Current NFBC ADP: No. 3
Razzball Player Rater projection: No. 3
Razzball Player Rater 2019 season: No. 2
Quick thoughts: Hello, launch angle. Yelich raised his from 4.7 degrees in 2018 to 11.4 in 2019. He’s always hit the baseball very hard on average. Last year, he hit the ball on the barrel even more often, generated an almost identical hard hit%, and because he hit the ball more often in the air (11.3% increase in fly ball rate), the xSLG jump and homers followed. Oh, and he did this while also raising his BB%.
The expected numbers against breaking balls might be a slight issue if you’re desperately searching for something to talk you into taking the next couple guys ahead of him.
No. 4 – Mookie Betts – OF – Boston Red Sox
Razzball/Steamer projections: 121/33/96/18/.297
Current NFBC ADP: No. 4
Razzball Player Rater projection: No. 4
Razzball Player Rater 2019 season: No. 14
Quick thoughts: If you pick in the top three, you can’t get it wrong. Well, I suppose you could, but it would be really, really hard to screw up a top three selection. It’s like arriving to a Victoria Secret supermodel party and being the only guy in attendance. Beyond the top three, individual philosophy might begin to creep in. Personally, I subscribe to the “best available” argument in the early rounds before your roster is shaped from a positional sense.
Let’s stick with the theme of awesome outfielders that can do it all. Betts didn’t replicate his elite 2018, but he wasn’t far off, especially when you dig beneath and explore the expected statistics. The demise of the Red Sox is greatly exaggerated, and he’s going to hit in one of the best lineups in baseball.
If you want to swim with a t-shirt on and fear Betts being bothered by upcoming free agency, so be it. He’s excelled in Boston his entire career. I’m not worried about it one bit. There’s no reason to think he won’t hit for a high average with homers, a ton of runs, and more upside in steals and RBI. Remember, last season was the first full season of his career he didn’t steal 20 or more bags.
No. 5 – Francisco Lindor – SS – Cleveland Indians
Razzball/Steamer projections: 110/35/93/21/.289
Current NFBC ADP: No. 7
Razzball Player Rater projection: No. 5
Razzball Player Rater 2019 season: No. 24
Quick thoughts: Looking at Lindor and Yelich’s projections, they’re almost identical besides Yelich’s batting average being around 10 points higher. Lindor looks like a strong bet to provide homers, runs, RBI, and 20-plus steals with a batting average that will probably be closer to .300 than .270.
There are a couple things in the batted ball profile that are a tad concerning, like the big dip in xwOBAcon this past season. But there’s a good chance his 2020 looks more like 2018 than 2019. Regardless, Lindor is a safe bet for that very valuable power/speed combo. Reminder: he’s just 26 years old.
For the love of everything fantasy can the Mets get this guy some freaking wins?!
No. 6 – Jacob deGrom – SP – New York Mets
Razzball/Steamer projections: 15-9, 3.12 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 255 SO
Current NFBC ADP: No. 9
Razzball Player Rater projection: No. 16
Razzball Player Rater 2019 season: No. 28
Quick thoughts: A model of consistency that followed one of the greatest pitching seasons ever in 2018 with a terrific 2019, deGrom has now thrown 200 or more innings three straight seasons with back-to-back campaigns of 30-plus K% and 5.5 BB%. His average velocity across the board went up last season, and he’s improved curve spin away from being essentially perfect. deGrom has a career 2.62 ERA and 2.72 FIP.
Fortunately for fantasy owners and unfortunately for the Mets, deGrom’s workload ended with the regular season. The New York infield defense might be cringeworthy at times, but deGrom does such a good job of missing bats and barrels that it’s not enough of a concern to move him down. Surely, the Mets will actually get him more wins, right?!
No. 7 – Cody Bellinger – 1B/OF – Los Angeles Dodgers
Razzball/Steamer projections: 98/41/114/12/.284
Current NFBC ADP: No. 5
Razzball Player Rater projection: No. 8
Razzball Player Rater 2019 season: No. 4
Quick thoughts: I can’t shake Bellinger’s postseason out of my head. It was so bad. Small sample. Small sample. Small sample. Gosh, it was ugly. Small sample. Okay, I think I’m over it, especially after examining the changes made to spark a monstrous 2019 season. Chances are strong if you drafted Bellinger last year, you probably won your league.
He nearly improved his xBA from 2018 to 2019 by 100 points. That’s nutty. Even nuttier? He improved his xSLG from .433 to .638. On its own, that would raise some eyebrows because of the regression risk, but Bellinger has always hit the ball hard (similar exit velo the last three years; 2017 barrel% was nearly identical to 2019).
Plus, we can look at the significant decrease in K% and see the increase of contact in the zone and swinging at pitches in the zone along with increased fly balls and line drives. In 2018, Bellinger was -27 in swing runs, and +37 in take runs; those numbers improved to +5 and +47, respectively, in 2019.
The swing isn’t going to ever be confused with the easiest one to repeat, but he’s a plus athlete with a good eye and good hand-eye coordination that plays his games for one of the best developmental organizations in baseball. I admit that I’d agonize over taking him in this spot, but given his projections, skill, and talent, it’s where he belongs. Plus, the 15 or more steals and positional flexibility sweeten the pot.
No. 8 – Gerrit Cole – SP – New York Yankees
Razzball/Steamer projections: 15-8, 3.25 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 298 SO
Current NFBC ADP: No. 6
Razzball Player Rater projection: No. 9
Razzball Player Rater 2019 season: No. 5
Quick thoughts: I can’t recall seeing a power pitcher dominate quite like Cole did to close the regular season and then help get his team to the World Series. So, why is he the second pitcher on the list?
He’s coming off the biggest workload of his career; he moved from the Astros and the AL West to the Yankees and the AL East. That’s about it. And for crying out loud, he’s No. 8 overall. Moving along.
No. 9 – Justin Verlander - SP - Houston Astros
Razzball/Steamer projections: 16-8, 3.45 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 283 SO
Current NFBC ADP: No. 14
Razzball Player Rater projection: No. 14
Razzball Player Rater 2019 season: No. 3
Quick thoughts: Ranking a soon-to-be 37-year old pitcher here seems as spicy as Kate Upton’s Cy Young tweets. Surely, Verlander will get taken deep by old age, right? Well, he’s done such a good job of keeping his body flexible and in shape that it’s difficult to project a decline until actual signs of one appear.
Some might look at the 3.27 FIP and 3.18 xFIP last year, both increases, and wonder if those are the first signs, which is kind of ridiculous considering both numbers are outstanding. But Verlander’s ability to avoid hard contact, a skill, inflated those numbers because his BABIP was so incredibly low. Verlander’s xBA, xwOBA, K%, and BB% are nearly identical the last two seasons, and we’ve yet to see a velocity dip.
He’s going to throw deep into games because of the full arsenal of pitches, and he’s going to win a lot of games. Again.
No. 10 – Anthony Rendon – 3B – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Razzball/Steamer projections: 93/28/99/4/.284
Current NFBC ADP: No. 20
Razzball Player Rater projection: No. 48
Razzball Player Rater 2019 season: No. 7
Quick thoughts: Rendon is the best pure hitter in baseball. Ask Stone Cold Steve Austin if Rendon will exceed his .284 batting average projection, and you’ll get a hell yeah and maybe a beer shower too. He can hit for average and power; he can spoil a good two-strike pitch and smash a meatball; he can shorten his swing and go the other way, and he can gear up to pull velocity. And for the fifth straight season, his xBA, xSLG, barrel%, and xwOBA all improved.
While some projections might call for slight regression, mainly in the power department, I don’t see a reason – besides a new environment – to expect one of the game’s elite hitters in the prime of his career to regress. Hell, his xBA was identical to his batting average, and his xSLG was one point off his actual slugging percentage.
Oh, he’ll hit either in front or behind Mike Trout now. There aren’t many people in baseball better than Juan Soto. Trout is one of them.
Anthony Rendon hitting under .300? Not likely.
No. 11 – J.D. Martinez – OF – Boston Red Sox
Razzball/Steamer projections: 103/40/121/3/.302
Current NFBC ADP: No. 23
Razzball Player Rater projection: No. 7
Razzball Player Rater 2019 season: No. 27
Quick thoughts: I can’t figure out why more people aren’t talking about Martinez. Sure, his barrel% dropped slightly, but his xBA, xSLG, xwOBA, and xwOBAcon ranked in the top four% of baseball. Hitting in the middle of a great lineup with elite skill and production, Martinez will be a steadily awesome presence for batting average, runs, home runs and RBI.
No. 12 – Juan Soto – OF – Washington Nationals
Razzball/Steamer projections: 98/34/107/9/.291
Current NFBC ADP: No. 12
Razzball Player Rater projection: No. 17
Razzball Player Rater 2019 season: No. 16
Quick thoughts: The Nationals are, obviously, going to miss Rendon. How much will it impact Soto? We’ll see, but probably not much if at all. Soto’s barrel%, launch angle, average exit velocity, and xSLG all made sizable jumps last season while his zone swing and contact rates went up as well. For a 21-year old, he carries himself with rare poise well beyond his years, and has terrific bat-to-ball skill in the batter’s box with developing power.
He’s not a burner, but Soto is an instinctive player that swiped 12 bags in 13 attempts. There’s a chance that number goes up a tad.
No. 13 – Rafael Devers – 3B – Boston Red Sox
Razzball/Steamer projections: 99/33/108/10/.299
Current NFBC ADP: No. 21
Razzball Player Rater projection: No. 12
Razzball Player Rater 2019 season: No. 6
Quick thoughts: Devers enjoyed a breakout season, and is a legitimate candidate to finish in the top 10 in runs, homers, RBI, and batting average. Look under the hoof, and you won’t find the sexy underlying numbers of most position players selected around this time, which is a slight cause of concern. However, Devers was a mega-prospect, is just 23-years-old, hits in a great lineup, and has one of the best combinations of competitiveness and bat-to-ball skill in the bigs; he’s like the third base version of Juan Soto.
No. 14 – Trevor Story – SS – Colorado Rockies
Razzball/Steamer projections: 96/36/100/19/.280
Current NFBC ADP: No. 11
Razzball Player Rater projection: No. 11
Razzball Player Rater 2019 season: No. 10
Quick thoughts: Another speed/power guy, Story’s sprint speeds have remained near the top of baseball since 2016, and his launch angle and average exit velocity have remained similar those four years as well. With a career .347 BABIP, predicting a dip in that area to tank the already volatile batting average is ignoring his track record, consistent batted ball profile, and speed. As long as he runs, he should be one of fantasy’s top players again.
Hitting at Coors half the season is nice too.
No. 15 – Trea Turner – SS – Washington Nationals
Razzball/Steamer projections: 100/21/73/38/.290
Current NFBC ADP: No. 10
Razzball Player Rater projection: No. 6
Razzball Player Rater 2019 season: No. 26
Quick thoughts: If I had confidence Turner would play 150 or more games this season, he’d be a surefire top 10 overall player, despite just average to above average batted ball data, and maybe top five because of elite production in the most difficult area to find it – stolen bases. But he’s kind of like getting a brand new Buick Regal that had flood damage: it’s an awesome deal, but it’s not a Mercedes and is it going to run all the time?
No. 16 – Max Scherzer – SP – Washington Nationals
Razzball/Steamer projections: 15-9, 3.28 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 272 SO,
Current NFBC ADP: No. 17
Razzball Player Rater projection: No. 13
Razzball Player Rater 2019 season: No. 52
Quick thoughts: Watching Scherzer throw makes my body hurt, but all he’s done is throw a ton of innings with elite numbers over and over and over again since 2012. Sure, last season was the first time since 2009 he didn’t start at least 30 games, and he’s coming off a postseason workload heading into his age 35 season. However, Scherzer’s stuff was as dominant as ever with slightly higher average fastball and slider velocity, and an identical barrel rate to last season.
Hopefully drafting Harper means celebration in October.
No. 17 – Bryce Harper – OF – Philadelphia Phillies
Razzball/Steamer projections: 101/40/101/11/.258
Current NFBC ADP: No. 25
Razzball Player Rater projection: No. 28
Razzball Player Rater 2019 season: No. 21
Quick thoughts: Since 2015, Harper last season posted his best barrel%, average exit velocity, and xwOBAcon. On the other hand, there are some slight concerns with the increase in whiff% and decrease in contact rate (-10 swing runs compared to +49 take runs). Are you buying consistency in the batting average at this spot? No, but if the worse-case scenario is a ton of homers, RBI, runs, and some speed, that’s not a bad thing considering the upside for more isn’t unrealistic. Harper does a couple very important things about as well as anyone: he hits the ball really hard often, and he gets on base.
No. 18 – Alex Bregman – SS/3B – Houston Astros
Razzball/Steamer projections: 110/33/106/7/.287
Current NFBC ADP: No. 8
Razzball Player Rater projection: No. 18
Razzball Player Rater 2019 season: No. 8
Quick thoughts: Bregman has outperformed his batted-ball data consistently his entire career. Perhaps it’s possible his numbers take a slight slide in the wrong direction considering his barrel% and hard hit% are just above average. But he walks more than he strikes out, hits the ball in the air a lot, and is one of the best blends of confidence and skill in the batter’s box. Plus, the positional flexibility helps.
No. 19 – Fernando Tatis, Jr. – SS – San Diego Padres
Razzball/Steamer projections: 88/29/78/22/.265
Current NFBC ADP: No. 18
Razzball Player Rater projection: No. 37
Razzball Player Rater 2019 season: No. 115
Quick thoughts: I detailed in length the question some fantasy owners will have to ask themselves early in drafts, and perhaps as early as late in the first round: is Tatis, Jr. worth the gamble? Look at how many power/speed guys are already off the board, and then look at where the steals have to come from later in the draft. I love projections as much as anyone, but I don’t think the systems know what to do with Tatis, Jr.
No. 20 – Nolan Arenado – 3B – Colorado Rockies
Razzball/Steamer projections: 98/39/112/3/.297
Current NFBC ADP: No. 13
Razzball Player Rater projection: No. 15
Razzball Player Rater 2019 season: No. 13
Quick thoughts: If I was 100% confident he’d play his entire season with the Rockies, he’d probably move up a couple spots. Arenado has been a model of consistent greatness in fantasy and real baseball. Keep in mind, though, he’s never ranked better than 116th in max exit velocity, his underlying statistics aren’t as strong as his actual numbers, and his wRC+ is 21 points better at home than on the road. As a member of another team, he’s not in my top 20.
(Photos courtesy of MLB, AP Images)