The Z Files: Updated Top 20 Hitters

The Z Files: Updated Top 20 Hitters

This article is part of our The Z Files series.

In last week's Z Files, players exhibiting early-season contact rates significantly different than their three-year average were discussed, the notion being these are players to target or avoid for the rest of the season since we're far enough along that the difference in contact rates are predictive. The problem was, the names shared weren't as compelling as usual.

In the piece it was suggested not to get hung up on what the actual contact rate would be going forward, just assume a player fanning less than usual would continue to do so and vice versa. But it was also hinted that regression analysis could be used to pinpoint a new contact rate, which could then be baked into an updated, rest-of-season forecast for the hitting pool. By means of reminder, the manner contact rate impacts a projection was shown here.

Other factors that influence the rest-of-season expectation include playing time and team production. Keep in mind that playing time isn't only apropos for those getting more or fewer plate appearances than originally expected due to injuries and the like. If the team appears to be scoring more or fewer runs than initially projected, not only does that change the runs and RBI projections but affords more or fewer plate appearances as the lineup turns over more or less often.

The current run production is not assumed for the rest of the season. Just like the updated player forecast, the team's current pace is regressed against original expectations so

In last week's Z Files, players exhibiting early-season contact rates significantly different than their three-year average were discussed, the notion being these are players to target or avoid for the rest of the season since we're far enough along that the difference in contact rates are predictive. The problem was, the names shared weren't as compelling as usual.

In the piece it was suggested not to get hung up on what the actual contact rate would be going forward, just assume a player fanning less than usual would continue to do so and vice versa. But it was also hinted that regression analysis could be used to pinpoint a new contact rate, which could then be baked into an updated, rest-of-season forecast for the hitting pool. By means of reminder, the manner contact rate impacts a projection was shown here.

Other factors that influence the rest-of-season expectation include playing time and team production. Keep in mind that playing time isn't only apropos for those getting more or fewer plate appearances than originally expected due to injuries and the like. If the team appears to be scoring more or fewer runs than initially projected, not only does that change the runs and RBI projections but affords more or fewer plate appearances as the lineup turns over more or less often.

The current run production is not assumed for the rest of the season. Just like the updated player forecast, the team's current pace is regressed against original expectations so the production going forward is a weighted average of what's happened and what was expected. The weights are not linear. As the season progresses, what's happened becomes increasingly more relevant than what was projected.

What follows is my updated top 20 hitters, which will soon be incorporated into the site's updated composite rankings. It should be noted these are based on personal projections which don't always coincide with the site. The dollar values equate to a 15-team mixed league and are not prorated by the number of games.

20. Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros ($25): There are two factors driving this seemingly low expectation. The initial baseline was lower than many anticipated as Correa checked in as my eleventh overall hitter back in March. Perhaps more importantly, his strikeout rate is 24 percent as compared to 18 percent last season. The projected rate isn't 24 going forward, but it's greater than 18.

19. Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians ($26): Last season in 99 games, Lindor swiped 12 bases. So far in just 36 this year, he's already bagged half that. With running down in general, an increase in steals has a significant impact. Additionally, the Tribe are pacing to score 100 more runs than last season.

18. Eric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City Royals ($26): While contact is the skill that's stabilized the most to this point, at least some of the differences in others such as power need to be accounted for, just not to the extent of contact. Hosmer's power and running are up markedly over last season, so even after regressing his current .376 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) to produce a reasonable .295 expected batting average going forward, the added homers and steals jump him up.

17. Chris Davis, 1B, Baltimore Orioles ($26): Nothing to see here, Davis and his club are doing what was expected.

16. J.D. Martinez, OF, Detroit Tigers ($26): Here's another example of a ranking pulling in an initial baseline differing from the majority, as Martinez was my 21st-ranked hitter this spring. The small upward push is driven by an improvement in contact rate, up to 74 percent after sitting at 71 the past few campaigns.

15. Ryan Braun, OF, Milwaukee Brewers ($27): Who would have thought the complaint surrounding Braun was he's ranked too low and not too high? His contact is up to a career-high 84 percent, along with a bump up in power. That said, Braun's playing time still needs to be tempered. If you disagree and feel Braun should be given regular at-bats for the full season, he's in the top ten.

14. Charlie Blackmon, OF, Colorado Rockies ($27): This is a couple spots better than where Blackmon was ranked at draft time, as he's fanned a little less while the Rockies are pacing to score 94 more runs than last season. The jump would be even higher except Blackmon has sat versus southpaws a few more times than last year. With the distribution being so bunched (as evidenced by the tight dollar values) even 15 fewer plate appearances, equaling three games, makes a difference.

13. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks ($28): Uh oh. Considering Goldschmidt occupied my top spot, this drop is precipitous. Surprisingly, the Snakes are on target to put up a handful more runs than last season so this is all on Goldie. His contact rate is down a few percent which accounts for some of the drop. Curiously, the amount of hard contact he's making is way down which is the real culprit, dragging his BABIP down to .284, well below the expected .360 or so. The updated forecast regresses BABIP, but the drop in hard contact tempers that. We're not far enough into the season for the drop to be as predictive as strikeouts, so don't fret too much just yet.

12. Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates ($28): The Bucs are on course for 117 more tallies which should benefit McCutchen, both in terms of production and in getting him a few extra trips to the dish. However, like Goldschmidt, Cutch is whiffing more than anticipated and is also sporting a low BABIP. The difference is the Pirates fly-chaser's hard contact isn't as poor as Goldy's so McCutchen's average going forward isn't dropped as much as Goldschmidt's. Coming into the season McCutchen was 10th so losing two spots doesn't seem like much, but remember, if he was doing as expected, the team context would increase his runs and RBI organically, improving his rank, so in essence the drop is more like four spots than two.

11. Josh Donaldson, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays ($31): As a club, the Jays are pacing to score 239 fewer times than last season, which accounts for most of the reason Donaldson is out of the top 10. The small drop in contact and BABIP are influencing things as well. Most importantly, as alluded to above, the players are really tightly bunched. One more homer, run and RBI would push the hot corner man into the top 10.

10. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Miami Marlins ($32): The Fish's offense is a little better than expected which should benefit the slugger, but like a couple other National League studs, Stanton is whiffing just a little more in concert with a lower hard hit rate.

9. Kris Bryant, 3B/OF, Chicago Cubs ($32): To this point the Cubs lead the pack in terms of expected scoring, as they're pacing to push 257 more runs across the dish. This gets Bryant into the batter's box more often as well as helping his own runs and RBI. However, perhaps the least talked-about story warranting attention is his serious reduction in punchouts, as Bryant has upped his contact rate to 77 percent after beginning his career at 64 percent. The lower expected rate fueled an original ranking of 22, so landing in the top 10 is quite noteworthy.

8. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs ($33): Rizzo's ascension isn't as steep as his teammate since Rizzo started at 14th overall, but he too benefits from an overall club improvement as well as a drop, albeit smaller, in strikeout rate. Rizzo's power is up but this is balanced by running less. In fact, if Rizzo were running as much as last season, we'd be looking at a top-five batter.

7. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants ($34): The only position that gets a scarcity bump by my little black box is catcher so chances are my ranks will situate Posey higher than others. That said, he's down three spots from where he sat in March, primarily due to a small drop in contact.

6. Starling Marte, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates ($35): No, I didn't mean Ketel. The Pirates outfielder is whiffing at a normal rate so that's not the driving force behind a 14-spot improvement in the ranks. You may assume I'm not accounting for Marte's current .414 BABIP, but his expected average for the rest of the season is .293, just a little better than his career mark of .287. That seems reasonable. The overriding factor is 12 steals in 15 tries. Not only is Marte running more in a landscape of less running, he's doing so at an impressive 80 percent success rate which suggests he'll keep getting the green light. Marte is projected to have the sixth-most steals going forward, which pushes him well into the top 10.

5. Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros ($35): Those giving brownie points for positions may have the diminutive keystone-sacker even higher. What's keeping Altuve from a better rank is competing with four meat-of-the-order hitters that score nearly as many runs but knock in considerably more. Truthfully, to be ranked this high from the leadoff spot is a quite an accomplishment, considering the names to follow.

4. Manny Machado, 3B/SS, Baltimore Orioles ($37): There's already chatter that with shortstop eligibility, Machado could be the top overall pick in 2017. Shoot, he may make it regardless of position. Right now, he's less than $1 away. Machado's contact rate is better and his power is up which is reflected in the projection. But so is the fact he's 0-for-3 in attempted steals.

3. Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals ($37): Harper is doing pretty much as expected, though he's running more as he said he would. The algorithm is slow to account for that, pegging him with just eight more pilfers going forward. If he continues running, this will be captured and we could be staring at the top player in fantasy baseball. However, albeit in only nine chances, Harper's success rate is only 67 percent. He'll need to improve if he wants to continue to run.

2. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels ($38): The Halos are scoring even fewer runs than their disappointing 2015 campaign, which doesn't help the consensus top pick in March. His performance is status quo across the board.

1. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies ($38): Back in March, I expressed some fear Arenado was ranked too high, citing a spike in home run per fly ball percent (HR/FB) and an unsustainable .373 batting average with runners in scoring position that led to a bloated homer run and RBI total. I was half right as Arenado's current .308 with ducks on the pond is more in line with what's expected. However, he's maintained a 19 percent HR/FB and while putting more balls in the air, adding some homers. Additionally, Arenado's already-solid contact rate is up a few more points, which pushes him up to the catbird seat as that cascades into even more run production.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Todd Zola
Todd has been writing about fantasy baseball since 1997. He won NL Tout Wars and Mixed LABR in 2016 as well as a multi-time league winner in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. Todd is now setting his sights even higher: The Rotowire Staff League. Lord Zola, as he's known in the industry, won the 2013 FSWA Fantasy Baseball Article of the Year award and was named the 2017 FSWA Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year. Todd is a five-time FSWA awards finalist.
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