Commentary

Hit Parade: Reviewing hitter rankings in revised Top 340

Updated: May 8, 2008, 10:38 AM ET
By Brendan Roberts | ESPN.com

"In auto parts, you're either growing or you're dying. There ain't no third direction." -- Big Tom Callahan, "Tommy Boy"

The same is true in rankings. A player is either growing (moving up) or dying (moving down), and sometimes it varies by the day. We see a great offensive performance or week of performances and think big things for a hitter. Or we see a player who is lost at the plate and are ready to write him off. So we at ESPN Fantasy decided it was time for a little perspective, a status check, if you will. We went through the arduous task of re-ranking our fantasy options and compiling them to create a brand-new top 340. The "trading season" has officially arrived, and I've already used that puppy to help me determine rest-of-season expectations for players in a few deals I'm working on.

The key word in the above paragraph is "compiling." Unlike on most fantasy sites, it's not one man's rankings -- which is a good thing. But I am going to use this platform to approve or complain about players who were moved up or down.

The five big risers (among the hitters) I'm on board with

Josh Hamilton
John Williamson/Getty ImagesJosh Hamilton is even exceeding the rather high expectations set for him this year.
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Red Sox (preseason rank: 191; May rank: 88). Coco, Schmoco. Ellsbury has proved he can be productive and, more importantly, steal bases (he has 11 swipes) even in a timeshare.
Xavier Nady, OF, Pirates (preseason: 264; May: 171). And he was 139 in my personal rankings.
Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers (preseason: 110; May: 50). He's in the overall top 40 in my book.
Derrek Lee, 1B, Cubs (preseason: 61; May: 20). Will maintain his Albert Pujols-like numbers.
Rick Ankiel, OF, Cardinals (preseason: 199; May: 145). And I think 145 is 30-plus spots too low for him.

The five big risers I'm not on board with

Casey Kotchman, 1B, Angels (preseason: 166; May: 126). I'm not sold yet, probably because I've owned the guy the past few seasons.
Michael Bourn, OF, Astros (preseason: 176; May: 114). I'm not so confident he hits enough to continue starting.
J.R. Towles, C, Astros (preseason: 342; May: 275). Ditto (even though 275 is not very high).
Conor Jackson, 1B, Diamondbacks (preseason: 207; May: 75). Unlike my colleagues, apparently, I don't think he's more valuable than Mariano Rivera.
Brad Hawpe, OF, Rockies (preseason: 123; May: 100). After his rough start, I locked him in at 123, while we moved him up 23 spots.

The five big fallers I'm on board with

Travis Hafner, DH, Indians (preseason: 37; May: 89). I can't even name the last extended period of time when Hafner actually lived up to his high draft status.
Akinori Iwamura, 2B, Rays (preseason: 189; May: 252). Showing that last season was a mirage.
Khalil Greene, SS, Padres (preseason: 162; May: 229). More details below.
Orlando Cabrera, SS, White Sox (preseason: 94; May: 119). He goes to Chicago, and suddenly he's Alex Cintron.
Jhonny Peralta, SS, Indians (preseason: 143; May: 181). Hmmm, looks like the middle tier of shortstops is declining.

The five big fallers I'm not on board with

Juan Pierre, OF, Dodgers (preseason: 116; May: 116). We apparently hate him, but he's still a base-stealing machine.
Frank Thomas, DH, A's (preseason: 160; May: 236). Apparently I'm not cut out for Blue Jays management.
Gary Sheffield, DH, Tigers (preseason: 63; May: 146). I'm not nearly ready to write off ol' Sheff yet.
Randy Winn, OF, Giants (preseason: 213; May: 242). At least he's still stealing bases.
Colby Rasmus, OF, Cardinals (preseason: 337; May: 367). I still think he will get called up and have an immediate effect. I have him just outside my top 300.

Hitter Rankings

Welcome, Nate McLouth! You're long overdue here. Note the new addition: I've added previous rank in parentheses.

1. Hanley Ramirez, Marlins (previous: 2)
2. Chase Utley, Phillies (3)
3. Jose Reyes, Mets (4)
4. David Wright, Mets (6)
5. Matt Holliday, Rockies (5)
6. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees (1)
7. Albert Pujols, Cardinals (8)
8. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (7)
9. Carl Crawford, Rays (9)
10. Ryan Braun, Brewers (10)
11. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies (12)
12. Brandon Phillips, Reds (13)
13. Prince Fielder, Brewers (14)
14. Derrek Lee, Cubs (16)
15. Lance Berkman, Astros (19)
16. Vladimir Guerrero, Angels (15)
17. Ryan Howard, Phillies (11)
18. B.J. Upton, Rays (20)
19. Mark Teixeira, Braves (17)
20. Carlos Lee, Astros (23)
21. David Ortiz, Red Sox (18)
22. Grady Sizemore, Indians (26)
23. Aramis Ramirez, Cubs (22)
24. Alex Rios, Blue Jays (25)
25. Chipper Jones, Braves (29)
26. Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners (21)
27. Nick Markakis, Orioles (24)
28. Carlos Beltran, Mets (27)
29. Magglio Ordonez, Tigers (28)
30. Miguel Tejada, Astros (NR)
31. Victor Martinez, Indians (33)
32. Torii Hunter, Angels (30)
33. Rafael Furcal, Dodgers (31)
34. Curtis Granderson, Tigers (38)
35. Josh Hamilton, Rangers (47)
36. Derek Jeter, Yankees (44)
37. Alfonso Soriano, Cubs (34)
38. Chone Figgins, Angels (37)
39. Manny Ramirez, Red Sox (36)
40. Brian Roberts, Orioles (46)
41. Justin Morneau, Twins (40)
42. Pat Burrell, Phillies (50)
43. Garrett Atkins, Rockies (32)
44. Nate McLouth, Pirates (NR)
45. Russell Martin, Dodgers (NR)
46. Carlos Guillen, Tigers (35)
47. Matt Kemp, Dodgers (NR)
48. Robinson Cano, Yankees (NR)
49. Geovany Soto, Cubs (NR)
50. Vernon Wells, Blue Jays (42)
Fortunes Rising

Rick Ankiel, OF, Cardinals: So I've figured out where I went wrong on Ankiel. I thought Ankiel was destined for a decent homer total but a low average, little speed … basically, not shallow-mixed-league material. The league will figure him out this season, I thought. But after watching plenty of Ankiel at-bats this season, I've realized the guy doesn't have consistent holes in his swing. Why? Because he's like Vladimir Guerrero. He hits bad balls. I just watched Manuel Corpas hit his spot -- outside and almost in the dirt -- on a slider, and Ankiel reached out, turned on it and drove it into the second deck in right field at Coors Field. I've seen the lefty swinger line inside pitches to left and hit blatantly high pitches for homers. And I've seen him swing right through pitches down the middle. I'm not sure there is any good way to pitch him. I'm seeing 35 homers with a .270 average, a lot of walks, 100-plus runs and 95 RBIs. Now that is mixed-league material.

Mike Cameron, OF, Brewers: He's off to a quick start following his 25-game suspension, but let's not forget this is the same guy whose batting average has fallen each of the past two seasons and is a career .251 hitter. Even in a more hitter-friendly park, I wouldn't want to own this 35-year-old in a mixed league.

Mike Jacobs, 1B, Marlins: Ask any uninformed fantasy owner why Jacobs won't continue his homer purge, and he'll spit off stat splits such as an inability to hit lefties and an unfavorable home ballpark. Not entirely accurate. Jacobs actually hit much better versus lefties than righties last season, and he hit 10 of his 17 homers at home. While neither split has played out that way this season, I believe they will slide back toward the median soon and Jacobs will maintain his fine start.

Fortunes Falling

Andruw Jones, OF, Dodgers: His ownership is down to 41.2 percent in ESPN leagues and still falling. I can't say anything here to stop it. Honestly, I can't argue all the droppage; I'm about to cut him myself in a shallow mixed league. But those of you who are sitting in fifth place or lower in your standings and have bench spots might as well throw him on there. He got off to a horrible start in 2007 and still managed to finish with 26 homers and 94 RBIs.

Ryan Garko, 1B, Indians: Don't give up on him just yet. Garko hit .255 last April with just two homers. Well, he hit .225 this April/May with just two homers. Last season, he rebounded by hitting .385 in May. This season, he has started May with five hits in his first 14 at-bats (.357). He's just a slow starter.

Khalil Greene, SS, Padres: I've looked for any reason to believe he will turn it around, but I'm just not seeing one. His struggles at home, which were evident last season (he hit .216 at Petco), have continued this season. And not only are his homers way down, but so is his doubles pace (from 44 to 24). He hit righties for power last season, but not average or OBP, which has caught up to him this season. If Greene ain't homerin', he ain't helpin', and I'm about to give up on him, especially after his 0-for-4, four-K performance Tuesday.

Pickups of the Week

Mixed leagues: Blake DeWitt, 3B, Dodgers: Y'all realize he is batting .295 with 14 RBIs in just 78 at-bats, right? And he started May with six hits in his first 12 at-bats. DeWitt is available in almost 97 percent of ESPN leagues.

AL-only: Ben Francisco, OF, Indians: Francisco batted .346 for the Tribe this spring but didn't make the team. He has talent and will get opportunities.

NL-only: Omar Quintanilla, 2B/SS, Rockies: He's no offensive prize, but you can do worse than a guy who will play regularly with 21 of his next 24 games at hitters' parks (11 at Coors, four at Wrigley, three at Citizens Bank, three at Chase Field).

Ballpark Watch

Nationals Park: Time for another status check, eh? Well, we're more than a month into the season, and Nationals Park ranks in the top 10 in Park Factor home runs. Just sayin'.

5x5 Watch: RBIs

Middle-of-the-lineup hitters who draw a lot of walks are good for major league teams and points-league owners, but all those free passes can hurt their RBI production in 5x5 leagues. For instance, Nick Markakis, the Orioles' No. 3 hitter, is batting a respectable .263 and has a .456 slugging percentage. However, he has 23 walks, which ranks in the top 15 in the majors, and is on pace to shatter his career high. In addition, his walk rate is at its highest (eight walks in 34 plate appearances) with runners in scoring position. All those walks during the clutch have left him with just 14 RBIs, which is as many as Brandon Inge and Ryan Sweeney (!) have. This is why lineup protection is important, especially for a No. 3 hitter. A player can't rack up RBIs if he is continually being pitched around when a guy is in scoring position.

Interesting Stat of the Week

Always looking for that extra piece of fantasy insight? We've got you covered. ESPN Fantasy experts Matthew Berry and Nate Ravitz provide you with all the fantasy strategy you'll need:
Listen to the Fantasy Focus Podcast
Corey Patterson, OF, Reds: In 2004, Patterson struck out a whopping 168 times for the Cubs. This season, he has whiffed just seven times in 90 at-bats, or once per 14.29 plate appearances. Now if only some of those balls in play would fall for hits.

Lineup Card

Alex Rios, leadoff, Blue Jays: Rios' move to the leadoff spot has gotten a lot of attention, but I think it's short lived. The team signed David Eckstein to bat leadoff, not ninth, and when Eckstein is healthy and hitting again, I see Rios moving back to the third or fourth hole. Considering he was stealing just as much in the middle of the lineup as he is now, and he'll get more RBI chances, I'd rather see him in the middle anyway.

Tip of the Week

I like to jot down my "25th man," the last guy on my roster, and/or keep that name handy in first-come, first-serve free-agent leagues. You never know when you're going to get news of a hot pickup, such as a closer change or a stud pitcher (Max Scherzer) moving to a starting role, and any hesitation about deciding whom to cut could mean the loss of that pickup in competitive leagues. I didn't follow this rule in one of my low-priority leagues in which I need saves, and Brian Fuentes was announced as the Rockies' closer. I rushed to my roster and hemmed and hawed as to whom I would cut. By the time I went to actually pick up Fuentes in this deep mixed league, he was gone. Just having that cut option already determined would have scored me Fuentes.

Fair Warning

Interleague play begins next week. Are you ready for it? I'll detail what I expect each team to do with their DH spot in next week's Hit Parade, but be thinking about it when you set your lineups this weekend.

Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy.

Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy. He has been covering fantasy sports as an editor and writer for more than eight years and was awarded the Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year award in 2006 from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. Roberts can be read in both the fantasy baseball and football areas at ESPN.com.

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