MLB Barometer: Risers & Fallers

MLB Barometer: Risers & Fallers

This article is part of our MLB Barometer series.

Typically, I use this column to subjectively select a handful of players who have most impressed or disappointed me in recent weeks. Every once in a while, however, I like to take a more objective look, comparing a player's NFBC average draft position to his Earned Auction Value ranking. We hit the one-month mark of the season this past weekend, so that seems like a natural time to step back and take a look at who has objectively helped and hurt our teams the most.

This approach favors a slightly different set of players than does my usual column. When I have full control over which players to highlight, I'll select those who have provided value in more sustainable ways, and I'll prefer those whose underlying numbers match (or exceed) the surface stats that directly provide fantasy value. A pitcher with a 3.50 ERA but a 2.50 FIP and just one win is more exciting than one with a 2.50 ERA but a 3.50 FIP and five wins. But of course, in a standard fantasy setup, it's the latter arm who provides more value to our teams. An exercise like the one presented here helps keep me focused on the most directly fantasy-relevant factors, and I hope it serves the same purpose for you.

A few notes on how we'll do things this week. I'll be using players' NFBC ADP from March 11 (the first day after the lockout ended) through Opening Day. I've pulled the Earned Auction Value ranking

Typically, I use this column to subjectively select a handful of players who have most impressed or disappointed me in recent weeks. Every once in a while, however, I like to take a more objective look, comparing a player's NFBC average draft position to his Earned Auction Value ranking. We hit the one-month mark of the season this past weekend, so that seems like a natural time to step back and take a look at who has objectively helped and hurt our teams the most.

This approach favors a slightly different set of players than does my usual column. When I have full control over which players to highlight, I'll select those who have provided value in more sustainable ways, and I'll prefer those whose underlying numbers match (or exceed) the surface stats that directly provide fantasy value. A pitcher with a 3.50 ERA but a 2.50 FIP and just one win is more exciting than one with a 2.50 ERA but a 3.50 FIP and five wins. But of course, in a standard fantasy setup, it's the latter arm who provides more value to our teams. An exercise like the one presented here helps keep me focused on the most directly fantasy-relevant factors, and I hope it serves the same purpose for you.

A few notes on how we'll do things this week. I'll be using players' NFBC ADP from March 11 (the first day after the lockout ended) through Opening Day. I've pulled the Earned Auction Value ranking for stats recorded through Saturday, the actual one-month point, so any noteworthy Sunday performances won't be included. I've also chosen to rank the risers by the percent of the way they improved toward the No.1 spot, rather than by raw number of spots gained, as I'm more impressed by a player who jumps from 100th to 10th than a player who jumps from 600th to 400th.

Risers

Starting Pitchers

PlayerTeamADP RankEarned Value Rank% of possible gain
Chad KuhlCOL8617391.6%
Merrill KellyARI3773790.4%
Paul BlackburnOAK104511389.3%
Pablo LopezMIA1381689.1%
Kyle WrightATL4995688.9%

Pablo Lopez, Marlins: Lopez ranks this highly in part because his four wins tie him for the league lead, something which may not last, but he's also had a very promising start to the season in ways which should be more sustainable. While he won't maintain his league-leading 1.00 ERA, his 2.16 FIP (sixth-best among qualified starters) backs up the idea that he's been one of the best pitchers in the league thus far. He's gotten there by being essentially the same pitcher he's been across the past few seasons. Lopez isn't elite in any one area, but he's solidly above-average across the board. Among 56 qualified starters, he ranks 21st in strikeout rate (25.5 percent), 16th in walk rate (5.8 percent) and 20th in groundball rate (46.8 percent). That may not look particularly impressive on the surface, but it's actually quite rare to be that strong all-around. Only Clayton Kershaw, Aaron Nola and Kyle Wright can match all three marks. Durability remains a question, one that can't be answered after just one month, but Lopez is a great bet to produce at a very high level as long as he's on the mound.

Relief Pitchers

PlayerTeamADP RankEarned Value Rank% of possible gain
Dillon PetersPIT8358989.4%
Michael KingNYY7449687.2%
Adam CimberTOR86613185.0%
Keegan ThompsonCHC83112784.8%
Jorge LopezBAL63410583.6%

Jorge Lopez, Orioles: It's not hard to rise when you're coming off three straight seasons with an ERA north of 6.00, provided you're somehow still able to earn work. Lopez's only real appeal in draft season was that he could potentially win a spot at the back of the rotation despite that track record and would benefit from the deeper fences this season in Baltimore. That all changed when the Orioles traded closer favorites Cole Sulser and Tanner Scott to Miami, with Lopez surprisingly emerging as the top ninth-inning option. There aren't a lot of saves to go around in Baltimore – only three teams have fewer than their season total of five – but Lopez has all but one of them, and anyone with a true closing job is a very valuable asset these days. Lopez won't maintain anything close to his 1.20 ERA, but his career-high 24.2 percent strikeout rate and 52.5 percent groundball rate make him a reliable enough option for a team without much else going on.

Catchers

PlayerTeamADP RankEarned Value Rank% of possible gain
Jonah HeimTEX51813274.7%
Zack CollinsTOR76627963.6%
Francisco MejiaTBR43218856.6%
Austin BarnesLAD63531350.7%
Travis d'ArnaudATL22911749.4%

Jonah Heim, Rangers: Heim was justifiably an afterthought during draft season, as he was coming off a year in which he hit .196/.239/.358 and was stuck behind Mitch Garver on the depth chart. With the caveat that it's been just 46 plate appearances, given his role as a part-time backstop, it's hard not to take notice of Heim's .342/.457/.658 line so far this season. His plate discipline has been incredible, as he's walked 17.4 percent of the time to go with an 8.7 percent strikeout rate. He's also hit the ball harder than ever, with his 8.8 percent barrel rate and 47.1 percent hard-hit rate both sitting solidly above league average. He's still not a primary option, but the Rangers have given Garver six starts at designated hitter in part to keep Heim's bat in the lineup. How much of this he'll be able to maintain over a larger sample remains unclear, but he's at least put himself on the map in two-catcher formats.

Corner Infielders

PlayerTeamPosADP RankEarned Value Rank% of possible gain
Manny MachadoSDP3B211100%
C.J. CronCOL1B116398.3%
Rowdy TellezMIL1B3271396.3%
Nolan ArenadoSTL3B69495.6%
Anthony RizzoNYY1B177995.5%

Manny Machado, Padres: Machado has been a very good player for a full decade at this point, but it's been a bit since he was in the "best player in baseball" conversation. Judging by earned auction value, as well as by both fWAR and bWAR, he's earned that title thus far. He's dominated the traditional fantasy categories, ranking in the top 10 in homers (seven), runs (26), RBI (21), steals (six) and batting average (.385). A .432 BABIP has clearly inflated his average, though his .314 xBA is still excellent thanks to his 17.5 percent strikeout rate and 9.1 percent barrel rate. How often he'll keep running is perhaps an even bigger question, as he's on pace for 34 steals despite not swiping more than 14 bags in a season since 2015. I don't fully buy everything he's done and would probably sell high if you find someone who truly believes he'll close the year as the best player in the league, but he can fall a fair amount and still provide profit on his already high draft-day price.

Middle Infielders

PlayerTeamPosADP RankEarned Value Rank% of possible gain
Willy AdamesMILSS119794.9%
Brandon DruryCIN2B/3B/OF11897194.1%
Jazz ChisholmMIA2B/SS81693.8%
Owen MillerCLE1B/2B7936891.5%
Tommy EdmanSTL2B/OF991090.8%

Jazz Chisholm, Marlins: I think it's time for me to take an "L" on Chisholm. I was behind the pack on him during draft season, scared off by his poor combination of a 28.6 percent strikeout rate and 6.7 percent walk rate last year. I also wasn't convinced that his merely 56th percentile barrel rate would make him a true power-speed threat who could succeed despite that bad plate discipline in the way someone like Javier Baez has managed to do. What I didn't account for was just how much growth could still be ahead for Chisholm, who's just 24 years old. He's cut his strikeout rate to 24.0 percent this season while raising his barrel rate to 15.2 percent, suggesting that he's earned every bit of his .310/.354/.621 slash line. He's also one of just two players (the other being the aforementioned Machado) to record at least five homers and at least five steals. Going forward, I'll have to adjust my bias against players with very poor plate discipline when they're this young and this toolsy.

Outfielders

PlayerTeamPosADP RankEarned Value Rank% of possible gain
Taylor WardLAAOF6851298.4%
Brandon DruryCIN2B/3B/OF11897194.1%
Tommy EdmanSTL2B/OF991090.8%
Yadiel HernandezWASOF6506290.6%
Aaron JudgeNYYOF33587.5%

Aaron Judge, Yankees: Is the ball dead? If so, somebody forgot to tell Judge. I was high on Judge during draft season, but that was mostly due to the fact that he cut his strikeout rate to a very acceptable 25.0 percent without losing any power. His strikeout rate has actually jumped back up to a more typical 29.1 percent this year, but he's made up for that by absolutely clobbering the ball. He's managed a .283 batting average despite those whiffs, and his .316 xBA suggests that number could even rise higher. He doesn't give fielders much of a chance, as his 27.9 percent barrel rate and 63.2 percent hard hit rate both lead the league, while his nine homers are tied for first. This is a former MVP candidate we're talking about, one who's in a contract year, so it shouldn't be a big surprise if we get one of the best versions of Judge we've ever seen as long as he stays healthy.

Fallers

Note: I've excluded players who missed at least two weeks due to injuries, as it's not very informative to tell you that players don't provide much value when they're hurt.

Starting Pitchers

PlayerTeamADP RankEarned Value RankSpots Dropped
Charlie MortonATL86988902
Tyler MahleCIN125985860
Trevor RogersMIA90880790
Jose BerriosTOR71829758
German MarquezCOL252995743

Charlie Morton, Atlanta: Morton defied Father Time last season, finishing with a 3.34 ERA that he backed up with a 28.6 percent strikeout rate, 7.7 percent walk rate and 47.8 percent ground-ball rate. He fractured his fibula when he was hit by a comebacker during the World Series, however, and while that's probably less worrisome than a shoulder or elbow injury, the early returns suggest we should have been considerably more worried. Through six starts (the last of which wasn't captured in these rankings), he owns a 5.65 ERA, with his 17.2 percent strikeout rate, 12.7 percent walk rate and 36.0 percent ground-ball rate all representing dramatic steps back. The silver lining here is that his latest start was his best of the year, as he struck out five across five scoreless innings against the Brewers while allowing just two hits, but just how much of a bounce-back we should expect from him is hard to say. I'd try to hold onto him and hope the rebound continues, but optimism about players in their age-38 seasons isn't necessarily wise.

Relief Pitchers

PlayerTeamADP RankEarned Value RankSpots Dropped
Matt BarnesBOS216957741
Art WarrenCIN345978633
Dinelson LametSDP337967630
Jake McGeeSFG228797569
Alex ColomeCOL304823519

Jake McGee, Giants: Manager Gabe Kapler suggested shortly before the start of the season that McGee would enter the year as his top closing option, but that's not how it's played out thus far. The veteran lefty has recorded just two of his team's eight saves, and it's hard to see him earning many more unless his performance dramatically improves. His strikeout rate has plummeted to 10.3 percent, while his walk rate has jumped to the same number. His ground-ball rate has also fallen to 25.8 percent. All three represent career worsts (ignoring his five-inning debut in 2010), and they've unsurprisingly led to an 8.64 ERA. While McGee does have a strong track record, it's hard to bet on a bounce-back considering that he's 35 years old and that his 31 saves and 2.72 ERA last season hid the fact that his strikeout rate had already fallen to an un-closerlike 24.3 percent. It's hard to see McGee bouncing back to the point that he cuts ahead of Camilo Doval in the Giants' committee.

Catchers

PlayerTeamADP RankEarned Value RankSpots Dropped
Yasmani GrandalCWS100848748
Carson KellyARI266983717
Eric HaaseDET292785493
Christian VazquezBOS203592389
Luis TorrensSEA386759373

Carson Kelly, Diamondbacks: Kelly was poor in the short 2020, but swung a perfectly competent bat in both of the last two full season in 2019 and 2021. His performance in those two years was remarkably similar: strikeout rates of 21.6 percent and 20.6 percent, and barrel rates of 8.1 percent and 8.5 percent, leading to batting averages of .245 and .240. His numbers this year could hardly look more different. He's barreled just 2.7 percent of his batted balls while striking out 33.3 percent of the time, leading to a .105/.150/.123 line with zero homers and just a single RBI. Kelly hit the injured list with a strained left oblique Sunday, which could provide reason for optimism if it turns out the injury was affecting him all year. He'll have to see a huge improvement once he returns if he's to retain regular at-bats, however, as the arrival of highly touted outfield prospect Alek Thomas should push Daulton Varsho back behind the plate on a regular basis, which could significantly cut into Kelly's opportunities. 

Corner Infielders

PlayerTeamPosADP RankEarned Value RankSpots Dropped
Joey VottoCIN1B135974839
Jonathan SchoopDET1B/2B204958745
Miguel SanoMIN1B256943687
Cavan BiggioTOR3B301963662
Bobby DalbecBOS1B210786576

Jonathan Schoop, Tigers: Schoop is nothing special, but he's hit the 20-homer mark in each of the last five full seasons, and his eight homers in the short 2020 season translate to 22-homer pace. His 6.5 percent barrel rate over that stretch was sub-par, but when combined with a better than average 21.7 percent strikeout rate, it was consistently just enough to make him a fine real-life and fantasy option. His 19.6 percent strikeout rate this season is his best since his five-game debut in 2013, but it's come with an awful .134/.176/.196 slash line. A .158 BABIP undoubtedly has suppressed his numbers, but he also hasn't made good contact at all, posting a 1.3 percent barrel rate, third-worst among qualified hitters, trailing the likes of Nicky Lopez and Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Schoop doesn't provide the speed those players do, having never swiped more than two bags in a season, so he'll need to start making much better contact soon if he's to be worth rostering.

Middle Infielders

PlayerTeamPosADP RankEarned Value RankSpots Dropped
Jonathan SchoopDET1B/2B204958745
Whit MerrifieldKCR2B/OF32748716
David FletcherLAA2B/SS362892530
Josh HarrisonCWS2B/3B/OF330857527
Bryson StottPHISS361869508

Whit Merrifield, Royals: With the benefit of hindsight, we perhaps should have seen that Merrifield's status as someone worth targeting in the top three rounds rested on tenuous ground. Yes, he stole 40 bases last season, but a) we should regress outlier numbers like that by a fair amount, b) we should especially regress those numbers for 33-year-olds, and c) you have to get on base regularly to steal bases. The quality of Merrifield's bat probably should have faced more questions. His 91 wRC+ last season already matched his career low, and his 12th percentile barrel rate and sixth percentile hard hit rate provided no reason for optimism. For a player with a 6.1 percent walk rate, he really needs to hit his way on base to continue stealing. He's been awful so far this year, posting a wRC+ of 1 thanks to his .140/.183/.170 slash line, which has limited him to three steals. The good news here is that his batted-ball profile hasn't really changed, but the bad news is it wasn't good to begin with. His numbers will improve along with his .157 BABIP but probably not as much as his fantasy managers would like.

Outfielders

PlayerTeamPosADP RankEarned Value RankSpots Dropped
Eddie RosarioATLOF174981807
Whit MerrifieldKCR2B/OF32748716
Trent GrishamSDPOF145769624
Akil BaddooDETOF148687539
Josh HarrisonCWS2B/3B/OF330857527

Trent Grisham, Padres: Grisham's appeal comes from the fact that he does a little bit of everything, but there arguably should have been more emphasis on the "little" part of that phrase. In his first three years in the league, he hit .242 with 19 homers and 15 steals per 600 plate appearances, numbers that came with a below-average 6.7 percent barrel rate. That's a productive enough player, especially in today's speed-starved environment, but it doesn't move the needle much in any one area. The problem with players who fit this profile is that when they slump, they go from doing a little bit of everything to not much of anything, as they lack a carrying tool to keep them relevant. Through 29 games this season, Grisham is on pace for six homers and zero steals while slashing just .153/.272/.245. His strikeout rate has jumped a bit to 25.9 percent, while his barrel rate has collapsed to 2.9 percent. He should eventually pull himself out of this slump and produce at close to his mediocre career norms, but that doesn't look imminent given that he has one hit in his last six games.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Erik Halterman
Erik Halterman is a Deputy Editor for RotoWire, covering MLB and the KBO.
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