This is only the start of the conversation.
That's important to remember when you see how far apart Heath Cummings and I are in our initial rankings. The goal isn't to confuse you but to provide contrasting opinions. And in early November, you might get a little bit of both.
For this initial run, we worked independently, retreating to our own separate corners and only comparing notes afterward. Also, these ideas aren't fully baked yet. As we hear opposing viewpoints, weigh them against our own and give it a chance to marinate, we'll probably come closer together on some of these players.
And in those instances where we don't, it's just a testament to just how interchangeable many of them are. That's especially true coming off a year in which everybody who's anybody hit 20 homers and half of the presumed aces fell flat on their faces.
I mean, who really knows?
Catcher (using Rotisserie rankings)
Particularly in Rotisserie, I don't understand the reluctance to embrace Evan Gattis. I understand he's a flawed hitter, but a catcher who does anything right is of value. And he just so happens to do something better than anyone else at the position: He hits the ball a long way. He did so with greater regularity than ever last year, homering 32 times, and it was thanks in part to a big second half in which he hit .288 with a .951 OPS. Salvador Perez has trailed him by at least five home runs every year since Gattis has been in the league, and between Gattis' playing-time advantage as a part-time DH and superior plate discipline, I don't know what advantage Perez holds over him. So while many of the discrepancies between Heath and me could go either way, I'm not understanding this one.
I'm greatly conflicted over my Willson Contreras ranking, though, believing he probably is one of the five best hitters at the position, injured Wilson Ramos excluded. My fear is he won't get consistent enough at-bats with Kyle Schwarber returning and Miguel Montero still under contract, but already I'm beginning to rethink that stance, as I discuss here.
First base (Rotisserie)
Paul Goldschmidt over Anthony Rizzo ... Rizzo over Goldschmidt ... whatever. I prefer the added contribution of stolen bases, especially in the format that necessitates them, but it's not like you can go wrong with Rizzo. Goldschmidt's power numbers were uncharacteristically lacking this season, so maybe there's some concern there.
The bigger divide is Chris Davis, and certainly, I can understand why Heath sees the glass half full. It really comes down to which version of Davis you buy, because we've seen a different one each of the last four years. You can put the 2013 version that hit 53 home runs and nearly won AL MVP out of mind. He's not doing that again. But 2015, when he hit 47 home runs with a respectable .262 batting average? Maybe he has it in him still. He didn't have the best BABIP luck this year, after all.
I just wonder why you'd give him, knowing all the volatility that comes with his strikeout rate, the benefit of the doubt over someone like Edwin Encarnacion, who has provided steady second-round production each of the last five years? Encarnacion is a free agent this offseason, which does introduce some uncertainty. But more than for the guy who hit .221?
I could be talked into moving Davis up a spot, ahead of Jose Abreu, who we've come to learn over the past couple years doesn't measure up power-wise. But then again, I'm expecting as much as a 50-point difference in batting average between those two. Not an easy call.
Second base (Head-to-Head)
So little congruence here. Heath has put a little more emphasis on format than I have, elevating specialists like Matt Carpenter and Ben Zobrist, and while I think the 35-year-old Zobrist showed signs of decline in the second half, I can get behind the Carpenter love to some degree. His pre-oblique numbers probably warranted such a ranking. But again, it's a risk-reward thing. I presume the injury fouled up Carpenter's swing, but to bank on it when the alternatives are as good as Brian Dozier and Robinson Cano just seems unnecessary.
Heath departs from the format-specific approach with his ranking of Dee Gordon, who remains an elite source of one of the scarcest commodities in today's game, the stolen base. But remember: We're talking Head-to-Head points here, not categories, and stolen bases, while still valuable, are hardly essential in that format. Factor in this year's offensive explosion, and even 2015 Gordon, who led the NL with a .333 batting average, would have ranked only 13th at second base in this format this year. And what are the chances we see that Gordon again?
Heath and I also don't see eye to eye on Trea Turner and Jean Segura, but that's to be expected. Turner led all players in per-game production this year and Segura led all shortstops (which impacts his value at second base, too), but nobody saw either coming -- at least not to that extent for Turner. And so no one knows what to make of them now. I've lowered both in my rankings as far as I'm comfortable, given the upside. Heath's approach is just a little more risk-averse.
Third base (Rotisserie)
Things don't get interesting here until the sixth spot, where Heath has Anthony Rendon who ... yeah, isn't even in my top 12. I can't get too worked up about that one, though. The depth at third base is just crazy right now. From Kyle Seager on down is roughly the same tier for me, and that would include Rendon, who checks in at No. 13 (no, seriously). The gap between him, Todd Frazier, Evan Longoria and Justin Turner is especially thin -- a measly .04 points per game separated them in Head-to-Head leagues this year -- so ranking them comes down to who you think has the most room for improvement. I say Frazier, who deserved better than a .225 batting average this year, but I can understand the argument for Rendon, who we were all targeting in Round 2 as recently as two years ago.
We're pretty far apart on Jonathan Villar, but it's like with Segura at second base. Nobody expected him to do what he did this year, and so how much trust can you put in out-of-nowhere production? I think the chance to get 60 steals -- or, more conservatively, let's say 40-plus -- is enticing enough in a Rotisserie league that as long as you're not passing up early-round upside, which I believe both Seager and Alex Bregman to have, Villar gets the benefit of the doubt. I suppose Adrian Beltre has that kind of upside as well, but drafting a 38-year-old brings its own pitfalls.
Would you look at the harmony here? They're not identical lists of 12, but if inverting Xander Bogaerts and Francisco Lindor is the only separation in the top five, we're basically of one mind. I do think Bogaerts has upside is a little higher than Lindor, at least for Fantasy purposes, but I also think his 2016 was more of an illusion. I could go either way.
What's interesting to me is that Heath and I are on the same page with Villar and Segura here after having so much separation at second and third base, which tells me Heath is just as skeptical of players like Trevor Story and Aledmys Diaz, who also blew away expectations in 2016. I'm actually more confident in those two sustaining that level of production -- Story has the built-in advantage of Coors Field and Diaz makes contact at an exceptionally high rate -- but neither provides the steals Villar and Segura do, which is critical in this format.
I feel like the peripherals show Troy Tulowitzki sinking into decline and Addison Russell only scratching the surface of his potential, but we're working in subtleties there. It's not like Heath and I are in a different ballpark with either player.
Going a little deeper now. Looks like Heath has complete confidence in an Andrew McCutchen bounce-back, ranking him about like he would have if 2016 never happened, and the former first-round lock's strong finish keeps me optimistic as well. But his limitations are a little clearer now than during his prime. To put it simply, he doesn't run anymore, and since the 20-25 home runs he's liable to provide are par for the course these days, his batting average and on-base ability -- two areas where he didn't measure up this year -- will have to be what sets him apart. It's a higher mountain to climb than any faced by Ryan Braun, J.D. Martinez and Nelson Cruz, and for no more reward.
Of course, I'm the one clinging to the past with Jose Bautista, who might be a clearer case of decline at age 36, but his advantages in this format help soften the blow. He actually had more Head-to-Head points per game this year than both Starling Marte and George Springer, so my ranking feels like it's conservative enough. Besides, unlike McCutchen, Bautista missed significant time with injuries, which will often skew a player's numbers.
Mark Trumbo led the majors in home runs this year but has a spotty track record and will likely change teams this offseason. I thought dropping him to 20th, immediately after the stalwarts at the position, accounts enough for those variables, but Heath takes it a step further. It's part of a larger trend, though. Heath is the low guy on Trumbo, Jackie Bradley and Ian Desmond but the high guy on Justin Upton, which suggests he trusts the long-term track record of a player more than the most recent rendition. And I'll admit I may suffer from some recency bias, but part of it's deliberate -- factoring in public perception to avoid overpaying for a player -- and part of it's the recognition that, yeah, players change.
Of the four, I think Bradley is the best bet to sustain his 2016 performance, whether good or bad.
Starting pitcher (Head-to-Head)
I'm beginning to realize I'm in the minority in ranking Justin Verlander so high, but I don't think the divide between Heath and me is as great as it probably appears. You could make a case for any of my Nos. 6-9 in the sixth spot, but I'm going with Verlander since he was the one who put together a 1.96 ERA in the second half and the only pitcher, those four or otherwise, to come close to matching Max Scherzer in both innings and strikeouts this year. Heath's reasons for preferring Jake Arrieta aren't lost on me, but the right-hander went from being the 18th-best control pitcher among qualifiers last year to the 10th-worst this year. And I don't know why, which bothers me more than Verlander's track record.
And I'm sorry, but after spending the first 3 1/2 months of the season wondering what's wrong with Chris Archer, I'm not going to second-guess the version who lived up to my every expectation over his final 13 starts, compiling a 3.11 ERA with a 1.00 WHIP and 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings. It makes Archer one of the elite bat-missers in the game and definitively better than Carlos Martinez, who pitches more to contact and with similar control concerns.
Likewise, Heath's exclusion of Dallas Keuchel comes from a place of confirming his own suspicions. He didn't like the left-hander heading into his Cy Young 2015 season, and so he's understandably a little more critical of Keuchel's 2016. I liked where Keuchel was headed when he suffered his season-ending shoulder injury, though, and think even if he regresses to his 2014 numbers, he'll justify this ranking.
The one that really surprises me from Heath's list is Aaron Nola, and it might force me to rethink my own ranking of the 23-year-old, who I like but didn't think I'd have to prioritize after his 2016 ended with him compiling a 9.82 ERA over his final eight starts and then giving way to a sprained UCL. I suspect the two events were related and like Nola as a sleeper because of it, but if everyone does, then yeah, he'll obviously have to move up my rankings (to the point he won't be a sleeper anymore, naturally).
Relief pitcher (Head-to-Head)
I suppose I'm the one who has some explaining to do with Craig Kimbrel and Wade Davis, given that they're closing royalty. Another example of recency bias? I prefer to think of it as an abundance of caution -- one made possible by an abundance of alike options. Yes, the best Kimbrel and Davis can offer is better than the best Seung Hwan Oh, Jeurys Familia and Mark Melancon can offer, but Kimbrel is coming off some pretty horrific control issues and Davis a forearm injury. And what Oh, Familia and Melancon do is already good enough to justify the price tag.
Particularly in Familia's case, environment plays a role for me. I can understand why Heath ranks him lower -- he's just an average strikeout pitcher, as far as closers go, and put together a 1.21 WHIP this year -- but he also led the majors with 51 saves. And on a team built around pitching and winning the close games, those should never be in short supply.
Yup, I've excluded Andrew Miller. Heath hasn't, but then, Heath thinks Miller could become the Indians closer next year. If it hasn't happened yet, I don't know what would change it this offseason, but if something does, I'll obviously be moving him up to No. 1, not 12. Edwin Diaz, meanwhile, deserves to be in the elite discussion. The only rookie in history to average as many as his 15.3 strikeouts per nine innings (minimum 50 innings) was Kenley Jansen, and you know who's third on that list? Craig Kimbrel. You see where their careers have gone.