We RotoGraphs positional correspondents will be updating our rankings in the following weeks. The purpose of this excercise is to show movement – despite the small sample size so far, players have showed us something to digest. Either they’ve shown they can be an every-day starter so far, or they’ve lost their grip on a job. Some movement is natural.
But we’re also probably going to change our rankings a little less than the average media outlet. We know that the last three weeks shouldn’t have changed too much about what we think about these players on a fundamental level. So if you see a slumping star ranked highly, take pause before emoting. He may still show he’s worth that ranking. The arrows are for players that have jumped tiers, since they are the most interesting anyway.
Okay, so obviously Matt Kemp is getting some serious BABIP love (.522), but there is something exciting about what the Dodger outfielder is doing right now. Kemp has struck out in only 14% of his at-bats. That also won’t continue (his career rate is 25%), but it’s still good to see. Last year, he set a career high with 28.2% of his at-bats ending in a K, and we were right to worry that his strikeout problem could get worse and suppress his batting average. If he strikes out closer to 20% of the time this year than to 30%, there’s no reason he can’t use his speed to put up a decent BABIP, and therefore batting average. Along with his power and speed, that makes him elite.
You could move Justin Upton up into the top tier for the same reasons that Matt Kemp moved, but it’s not quite the same story. For one, Upton’s career strikeout rate was worse than Kemp’s going into the season (29.1%), and he also doesn’t own quite the same speed (20 SB career seasonal high). So, it’s nice that Upton is striking out a lot less than normal (17.9%), but since his speed upside is more limited and his strikeout risk higher, he doesn’t have quite the same case for upward movement. Jayson Werth could drop – he’s hitting too few balls in the air and his power has suffered – but it’s still early going, especially for power numbers.
Colby Rasmus joins the tier along the same lines as Matt Kemp. He’s getting the same BABIP love, but the best news is that Rasmus is only striking out 21.2% of the time (25.6% career). Maybe because of this change, ZiPS projects Rasmus for a .272 average going forward, and that’s good enough to play his power/speed in any lineup.
This tier is sort of blah right now. Drew Stubbs is the superstar, but striking out 28.6% of the time. His batting average will likely fall, and when it does, he’ll fit right in with the other players in this tier. They all have a flaw or two, but they all will have some value on the right teams. Even Jose Tabata, who is looking flawless right now, isn’t a top option at the position. Tabata doesn’t have this kind of power (.207 ISO this year, .114 career) and once his power slows down, he’ll be the speed-first guy that he is at heart.
We’re going to move Martin Prado down a tier. Surely his high-contact game (1.4% walk rate, 8.8% strikeout rate) is being hurt by his BABIP (.258), but if he’s not going to hit 15 home runs or steal 10 bases, then he’s going to need to be batting-average lucky all year to be worth the investment. And this year it’s not looking like that will be the case for him. In 2008, Lance Berkman hit 29 home runs with a .312 batting average, and in 2009 he hit 25 home runs with a .274 batting average. He could do something that pro-rates out to that sort of production, albeit probably in fewer plate appearances. Surely running around in the outfield will hurt him eventually. Logan Morrison doesn’t have this kind of power (.327 ISO, .193 career), but if he ends up with 20 home runs and a decent batting average, his handful of steals and good runs totals will probably make him a decent number three. Alfonso Soriano is starting out hot enough to believe his power is still there, even if the batting average and steals are gone.
Ben Francisco is playing most days, and doing his .280/15/15-type thing. That’s useful, and probably more so than the statistics Carlos Lee will give you this year. Even if the BABIP (.246) normalizes, the trends are clear for Lee, and the power is waning. We’d love to move him below the toolsy young Cameron Maybin, but Maybin is striking out 28.8% of the time, so what you see is what you get. A bad batting average along with some power and speed. Jonny Gomes! Those six home runs are already in the bank, but maybe it means a nice powerful year will go alongside that bad batting average.