Back in March–which feels like it was back before water was invented–I posted the first iteration of my corner infielder rankings. Things have changed dramatically since then, so I’ve updated my rankings accordingly.
To give you an overview of my process, I began with ATC projections, which comprise the best of other projection systems. Then, I altered some projections based on my own assumptions about playing time and the five traditional hitting categories. For instance, I accounted for barrel rate by using hitters’ 2019 predicted home runs–which are home run totals I derived based on barrel rate, among other inputs–and projecting out my own 2020 home run totals.
With my final projections, I performed my own mock 12 team draft to derive player values based on z-scores. You can read more about that process in this excellent article by Alexander Chase. A z-score shows the relationship to the mean of a group of values, measured in terms of standard deviations—degrees of spread—from the mean. I took each corner infielder’s z-score for each of the five traditional hitting categories, summed them, and then ranked the players accordingly.
Z-scores are useful because, in a vacuum, Player A’s projected 15 HR and Player B’s 15 SB are meaningless and difficult to rank. They are only telling in relation to one another. For instance, if the mean for all draft-worthy hitters’ SB is 9 and the mean for their HR is 25, then Player A’s 15 SB are worth a lot more than Player B’s 15 HR. Z-scores reflect those relative values and allow you to rank without (1) having to eyeball differences in projections or (2) falling victim to your own biases.
Preliminarily, I’d note that many of the “NEW” players are just second-base-eligible hitters that were left off the last iteration of these rankings. I omitted them because the shallowness of the second base position meant that you’d be more likely to slot one of those guys into your 2B spot. Nevertheless, the people have demanded their inclusion and I am, after all, a man of the people.
Note also that, because this list is meant to fill the CI slot only, the second-base-eligible guys here do not get a bump for their eligibility at a separate, more shallow position. Thus, although I’d probably draft Mike Moustakas before Kris Bryant all else being equal, for the purposes of this list, he is ranked below Bryant pursuant to the z-scores. The inclusion of second-base-eligible hitters also explains why there are so few hitters who have moved up and so many more who got bumped down–meaning that I don’t necessarily like them less. Indeed, for example, with four additions to the list above him, Miguel Sanó “dropped” three spots; in reality, he actually leapfrogged a player on the old list.
Jump Their ADP
Notably, after Cody Bellinger, the next six corner infielders were lumped closely together by projected value. That means that the one I “like” the most is simply the one who ordinarily goes last per ADP: Anthony Rendon. Typical fantasy wisdom dictates that you take the last player in a tier, and Rendon fits the bill. (As an aside, please drop a comment if you’d like me to add tiers going forward.)
In effect, Rendon projects similarly to Freddie Freeman, Nolan Arenado, Rafael Devers, and Alex Bregman. All five hitters will likely be four-category studs. Sure, José Ramírez will steal several more bases, but, according to the z-scores, the others compensate for that by being otherwise elite. In my view, reaching for stolen bases is a folly exercise that puts you at risk elsewhere. It’s better to find more balanced hitters later in the draft to compete in the category.
Separately, last time, I wrote about my love for José Abreu. Although that remains true, he hasn’t budged in my rankings, so I’ll focus on another player I recommend targeting: Josh Bell. No, I don’t like him more than Abreu or Paul Goldschmidt; however, like Rendon, Bell represents the best value among the mid-round corner infielders. Since April 1, Bell has an NFBC ADP of 87, but ATC projects each of him, Goldy, and Abreu for between 231-241 PA, .271-.277 AVG, 11-12 HR, 28-32 R, 33-36 RBI, and 0-2 SB. These are similar players, yet Bell is available 20 picks after his counterparts. Bell is also available after some other hitters whom I like less: Manny Machado, DJ LeMahieu, Matt Olson, Anthony Rizzo, Eugenio Suarez, Yoan Moncada, and Josh Donaldson. I simply buy Bell’s breakout–and, therefore, his bullish projections–because of his 25th-best barrel rate, 27th-best hard-hit rate, and 26th-best average exit velocity on flies and liners (among qualified hitters).
Another guy to keep your eye on is Starlin Castro. With the added bonus that he can slot in at second base, Castro is currently projected to start for the Nationals and bat third, which means that, by sheer volume, he projects nicely relative to others. Compare Castro’s ATC projections with Yuli Gurriel‘s:
Does Gurriel’s marginal improvement–two runs, four RBI, and six points of batting average–outweigh Castro’s 2B eligibility? Even if so, might it be worth waiting 91 picks for Castro?
Consider also that Castro’s teammate Howie Kendrick could jump far higher up my rankings if he earns an everyday role with the Nationals, the chances of which Ryan Zimmerman‘s decision to sit out the season certainly didn’t hurt. A quick glance at Kendrick’s Statcast page reveals a sea of red that I can’t ignore: 98th-percentile xwOBA, 80th-percentile barrel rate, 98th-percentile xSLG, 89th-percentile Whiff%, 94th-percentile hard-hit rate, 92nd-percentile exit velocity, 91st-percentile strikeout rate, and 100th-percentile xBA. Need I say more?
Finally, I added a few fun prospects to the end of the list; namely, Kevin Cron, Ryan Mountcastle, and Bobby Bradley. Do they project better than some of the veteran-types who they replaced (e.g., Joey Votto, Evan Longoria, Kyle Seager)? No, because their playing time projections are, understandably, low. However, I performed this exercise from the perspective of a 12-team draft. And I asked myself, at the end of such a draft, would I be more likely to gamble on a breakout from a prospect or bet on one of the veterans? The answer is self-evident. If you’re looking for more analysis, I spilled quite a bit of ink on Cron and Bradley in a recent article. The tl;dr is that they hit the ball extremely hard in short stints at the MLB level last season, which is auspicious for their future performance.
My Do Not Draft List
Matt Olson has fallen five spots to the point where my ranking and his ADP are now incommensurate. And he hasn’t dropped as a result of the inclusion of any second basemen above him. Consider why while parsing through Olson and Eugenio Suarez‘s ATC projections:
These players have nearly identical projections, so grab the one you can get at a discount–which is typically not Olson. Also, bear in mind that, when a player has a batting average below a fantasy baseball league’s mean, he actually hurts your team more as he accumulates more plate appearances. And that’s exactly what’s driving Olson’s value down. With the abridged season, there’s just not enough time for Olson to separate himself in traditional counting statistics like HR and RBI so as to compensate for a poor batting average over 230 PA.
I also think I was too optimistic about Yoan Moncada the first go around. That’s not to say you should never draft him, but the price may never be right for me. I bumped his HR total up from the nine projected by ATC to 11 based on his barrel rate–a 22.2% increase–but he still rated out below many other corner infielders drafted after him. That’s the result of a middling .267 AVG along with a relatively low RBI total. To that point, I’d rather have Suarez, Machado, Rizzo, Bell, Goldy, or Abreu.
Finally, you should treat Hunter Dozier‘s breakout like a mirage. Although I do acknowledge that some of his gains were real, suffice it to say that a power-first bat without either a hitter’s ballpark, supporting cast, or matching barrel rate (only 78th-best among qualified hitters) doesn’t pique my interest. And even though he projects for more plate appearances than most of the other corner infielders at the end of my rankings, like Olson, Dozier’s batting average will hurt you across his 210 PA.