This article is part of our RotoWire Roundtable series.
Last month, Derek VanRiper, Jeff Erickson, Tim Heaney, Todd Zola and I submitted our individual top 350 player rankings for 2017. These were then compiled into a composite top 350 ranking, otherwise known as the RotoWire Roundtable.
Here at RotoWire, our draft preparation begins the week after the regular season ends. Ranking players is typically the culmination of that prep, but this helps us starting thinking about where players fit among the player universe and how others perceive value. It's a lot of fun to do an early set of rankings, and with individual bias largely eliminated with a median composite, it will hopefully serve as a valuable tool for early drafters.
Paid subscribers can click here to go to the composite rankings page and choose which experts they want to include in the composite and see individual expert ranks.
We'll take a look at some polarizing players and hear reasoning from the different parties, and also take a look at players with relatively small ranges.
Xander Bogaerts (SS)
Optimists: Tim (23), DVR (24), Jeff (27)
Pessimists: Clay (48), Todd (48)
Simply put, I'm hesitant to include Bogaerts in the top three tiers at the position. Manny Machado is in a tier of his own, then for me it's Corey Seager, Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa bunched together in Tier 2. Jonathan Villar is next followed by Trevor Story, Jean Segura and Bogaerts in some order. To be clear, all are top-50 overall players. However, Bogaerts hit fewer balls on the ground in the second half (38.4% GB% in second half), instead hitting more flyballs while his K-rate leaped to 20 percent after the break. There was not the jump in power you'd like to see to compensate and he didn't steal a base over the final two months. Fatigue played a big part, but Bogaerts has to rely on a high average to return elite value -- and he'll be at the mercy of BABIP gods far more so if he doesn't get the ball on the ground with regularity. He is just entering his age-24 season, but there are concerns and enough depth at the position to keep him out of my top 40.
Giancarlo Stanton (OF)
Optimists: Jeff (25), DVR (28), Todd (28)
Pessimists: Tim (43), Clay (53)
Perhaps I'm incorporating too much recency bias into my rank -- after all, he helped sink the NFBC Main Event team James Anderson and I co-owned -- but the fire is dying here for me. There is enough baggage to weigh down the obvious upside. Of course, everything is relative and I will gladly take Stanton in the middle of the fourth round if he's there, but I'm getting the feeling I won't end up with any shares come draft season. He struggled in a major way against curveballs in 2016, batting .148 against the pitch (163 curveballs) according to Brooks Baseball. He hit .250 against the pitch in 2015 and .293 in 2014, which represents a disturbing trend. Then of course there is the obvious injury risk. I don't think you can really project him for more than 125 games -- he's averaged just 113.5 games over the past four years.
Ian Kinsler (2B)
Optimists: Todd (36), Clay (38), Jeff (43)
Pessimists: DVR (54), Tim (60)
This may seem like a "paying for last season's production" rank having Kinsler in the 35-45 range -- his ADP was in the 90s last year-- but he finished 2016 as the No. 23 ranked fantasy player, and I'm fine paying a premium for his floor. Sure, there are a plethora of solid middle-infield options, but you buy the high floor and keep your fingers crossed for something close to a repeat. If he's traded this winter, there's a chance a different team may want him to return to a more contact-oriented approach and not sell out as much for power, but Kinsler should provide useful tallies across the board regardless, and he allows owners to take a gamble or two later in the draft.
From Tim, the low man on Kinsler:
"I still value him as an across-the-board contributor. But I'm concerned about what exactly he's going to offer.
To achieve an increase in power, he became more of a hacker, posting career highs in strikeout rate and swinging-strike rate, and tying his career low for contact rate. And yet somehow his batting average finished at .288, which, despite him making more hard contact, doesn't seem sustainable if he wants to continue chasing 30 homers again. And runs scored -- the category that really defined him -- fluctuates so frequently, even when a player keeps the same lineup spot. When's that on-base percentage finally going to fall for someone who hasn't had a walk rate higher than 6.6% in the last three years?
It's hard to bank on him sustaining any of this as he turns 35 next year -- he's been healthy in his 30s, but I don't want to keep putting his numbers in Sharpie and get caught owning him when he falters. Again, a fine player as my seventh-ranked second baseman, but I'm not raising his floor based on what he did last year."
Andrew McCutchen (OF)
Optimists: Tim (38), Jeff (45), Todd (53)
Pessimists: DVR (75), Clay (90)
I hate to say it because I have loved watching McCutchen play the game, but I fear he's just a guy now for fantasy purposes given the new power landscape in baseball and the fact that he's no longer stealing bases. He's hit more than 25 homers just once in his career (2012) and he was caught on the basepaths more times than he was successful in 2016. Much was made about second-half resurgence, but McCutchen had a 115 wRC+ (64th among qualified hitters) in the second half, and four of his six September homers were against: Jake Thompson (1.7 HR/9), Jerad Eickhoff (1.4 HR/9), Frank Herrmann (4.2 HR/9) and Jimmy Nelson (1.3 HR/9). I hope I'm proven wrong as McCutchen seems like a genuinely good guy and is great for baseball, but I fear you're going to be disappointed if you take him in the third or fourth round.
Eric Hosmer (1B)
Optimists: Todd (55), Clay (62), Tim (65)
Pessimists: Jeff (81), DVR (86)
After going back and forth somewhat on Hosmer, I settled on him being a fifth-rounder in 2017. His 5x5 numbers did not stand out at a crowded first base position last season, but Hosmer hit a ton of groundballs (58.9% GB% -- second among qualified hitters) and those grounders will help him keep his BABIP high and in turn help his average rebound. Best of all, those groundballs did not come at the expense of his flyball rate -- in fact, his FB rate increased slightly from 2015 as he simply hit fewer line drives. His hard-hit rate remains steady and the increasing power makes the dip in contact rate acceptable. He's not taking as many pitches in the strike zone (70.5% Z-Swing%), and it's important to remember that a sore wrist over the final few weeks hurt his overall numbers.
David Price (P)
Optimists: Tim (41), Jeff (49)
Pessimists: Todd (70), Clay (77), DVR (80)
"Price lost 1.3 mph from his average fastball velocity in 2016 (all of his pitches clocked in a lower velos) and still managed to strike batters out at a nearly K-per-inning clip (8.9 K/9). The biggest change in his skill set was a spike in home runs allowed, which also aligns with the highest hard-hit rate of his career (34.8% in 2016, career 27.9%). Whether those changes are correctable remains to be seen, as the aforementioned loss of velocity gives him a smaller margin for error when his command is off. Price still has the makings of a very good starting pitcher, but he might be going the way of Cole Hamels, whose slide in ERA and WHIP is beginning to chip away at his overall rotisserie value."
Nick Castellanos (3B)
Optimists: Jeff (118), DVR (130), Clay (131)
Pessimists: Tim (200), Todd (222)
"Some see Castellanos' career high home run total despite missing seven weeks after the All-Star break and are optimistic for 2017. Sure, it's encouraging but a deeper dive reveals some warning signs. Castellanos' poor plate skills are showing no signs of improvement, capping his batting average. Further, he's a line drive hitter but he also hits more flies than grounders which is a bit odd. Without ground ball hits to buoy his batting average on balls in play (BABIP), even a little batted ball luck will torpedo his BABIP, hence average and associated run production. The third sacker is slotted to hit sixth, which isn't bad for RBI but poor for runs as the bottom of the Tigers order is suspect. Castellanos is generally drafted at a point I'm looking for upside and I'm skeptical. Or maybe better said I also see some latent downside. With all that said, I'd be remiss not pointing out his fly ball distance portends a power spike so if I'm wrong about the batting average downside, my colleagues could be pointing scoreboard on me come the end of the season."
Carlos Rodon (P)
Optimists: Tim (160), Clay (163), Jeff (165)
Pessimists: DVR (288), Todd (unranked)
"Leaving Rodon off my Top-350 was one of the toughest calls. Injecting a little game theory, there's a plethora of young, upside arms I want to have on my roster, then back-fill with some low-upside veterans that slip to reserve. For everyone I jump into my ranks, someone has to be pushed out. Rodon was victimized by a suspect drop in walk rate. It's pretty common knowledge that swinging strikes correlate with strikeout rate thus can be used in a predictive manner. Our friends at BaseballHQ have done similar research on the percentage of balls thrown correlating to walk rate. Long story short is Rodon's control gains are not fully supported by his ball percent. Admittedly, he probably belongs in my Top-350 but it's safe to say my rank will still lag the others."
Corey Dickerson (OF)
Optimists: Clay (150), Todd (176)
Pessimists: Jeff (215), DVR (219), Tim (241)
"I was more set on the power than anything else that he would carry over to Tampa Bay from Colorado, and he proved me correct. However, his batting average collapse showed Coors Field had plenty to do with his .300 clips. He's a one-category player who rarely hit higher than sixth last year. Maybe in the right situation in building my team, I'd consider him earlier than that, but across the board, he's nothing special, which doesn't help him in my rankings."
Yulieski Gurriel (3B)
Pessimist: DVR (295)
"At first glance, Gurriel impressed with an 8.8% K% in his first exposure to big league pitching last season. His strikeout rate during brief stops in the minor leagues were much higher, making it difficult to buy into him as an elite hitter with respect to how well he handles the strike zone. Already 32 years old, Gurriel looks more like a .275-.280 hitter with 12-15 HR pop than a typical above-average corner-infield bat, and while I expect his playing time with the Astros to be sure, I am hesitant to draft him as anything more than a late-round filler at the corner-infield spot in a deep (15+ teams) mixer."
Fairly Similar Rankings:
Max Scherzer, P, WAS (Average: 11.6, Range: 5)
Francisco Lindor, SS, CLE (Average: 24, Range: 10)
J.D. Martinez, OF, DET (Average: 39.8, Range: 10)
Chris Archer, P, TB (Average: 70.4, Range: 15)
Logan Forsythe, 2B, TB (Average: 162.8, Range: 31)
Marco Estrada, P, TOR (Average: 206.4, Range: 43)
Hernan Perez, 3B, MIL (Average: 221.2, Range: 49)
Julio Urias, P, LAD (Average: 233.8, Range: 33)
Tyler Naquin, OF, CLE (Average: 315.2, Range: 17)
Without further adieu, the first RotoWire Roundtable rankings for 2017: