What do you do with Jose Altuve when you list the top 100 players in the MLB in 2021? MVP in 2017, All-Star in 2018, record 31 home runs in 2019 …. Then there was the iconic theft scandal, Pandemonium, and the dreaded 2020 season, in which he hit .219 (but rebounded in the postseason and hit .375 with five home runs in 13 games). He turns 31 in May. Altuve is ranked 57th in ESPN’s annual rankings.

What are you doing with Christian Yelich? 2018 MVP and batting champion, 2019 MVP runner-up and batting champion…. Then came the pandemic and the dreaded 2020 regular season, in which he hit .202 with 76 strikeouts in 58 games. The broken kneecap he suffered at the end of the 2019 season may be the reason. Maybe it was just a two-month lull. Our supporters expect a return to form in 2021.

And Marcus Semien? Third in the 2019 MVP voting, he struggled at the plate in 2020, left the A’s to sign with the Blue Jays, and will move from shortstop to second base. Semi-Indigenous people are ranked 68th.

The unusual and shortened 2020 season made top 100 rankings more impossible than ever. As a voter, I can attest to the difficulty of determining how much weight to give to what happens in 2020, or to ignore it, and then take into account the age of the player to predict what will happen in 2021. Based on these final rankings, I’ve assembled a completely underrated team – the players I think will ultimately prove they should have been higher or in the top 100.

 

MLB rankings: 86

Only three catchers are in our top 100 – J.T. Realmuto (27), Yasmani Grandal (85) and Smith – and Smith’s score is aggressive for a player who has only made 333 appearances in the Major League. However, if you ask me if it’s more likely that a catcher not in the top 100 will break through next year or that Smith will break through into the top 50, I’m leaning towards Smith, who hit .268/.363/.574 with 23 home runs in his limited time in the big leagues. He has a chance to become the best receiver in the world since the heyday of Buster Posey.

Who is the #1 MLB candidate for the 2021 season? Our experts have ranked the top 100 as opening day approaches.

Top 25: 26-50: 51-100

Snubs, Debate: Who’s next?

Compare Smith’s position with Bo Bichette’s at 41st. Bichette has a similar number of ground balls (340) and a batting average of .307/.347/.549, but Smith has more power and, with a higher number of walks, a higher OBP. Both play at a top defensive position. If Bichette deserves 41st, I’d say Smith deserves above 86. The only one who gets it for his performance in 2021: The Dodgers love Austin Barnes’ defense (remember, Barnes started four of the six games in the World Series while Smith served as DH), so Smith might only get 400 at-bats, especially without a DH in the National League.

MLB rankings: 82

Although Freddie Freeman and Jose Abreu are the reigning MVP winners, first base isn’t very deep, and I feel like the first seven to make the top 100 are definitely ranked, including a significant gap between Freeman (top 10 overall) and Abreu, the second first baseman at 43rd. Is that why Abreu is undervalued? Not really. Though he’s a deserving MVP winner in 2020, Abreu hit .275/.328/.490 in 2018-19 – not an impressive triple-slash line for a ball-hugging first baseman playing in a good ballpark. He’s also 34, which makes a repeat less likely (although he should be back in many races with this lineup).

As for Voit, I don’t think he’s that underrated or that he deserves to be ranked 30 spots higher, but look at this comparison to Abreu and Pete Alonso, the #48 player:

Voight, 2018-20: 905 PA, .278/.371/.541, 58 HRs
Alonso, 2019-20: 932 PA, .252/.350/.559, 69 HRs
Abreu, 2019-20: 955 PA, .293/.341/.534, 52 STD.

Foyt led the American League last season with 22 home runs in 56 games. That’s a pace of 59 hours over 150 games. I don’t think he’ll make 59, but 40 is certainly possible.

MLB rankings: Not classified

I included these two together because they are similar, a guy who tends to be underrated: They play good defense and get on base, but don’t have the power or number of stolen bases that would make them baseball fan favorites.

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Wong is a two-time NL Gold Glove winner, but the Cardinals surprisingly didn’t choose him with a $12.5 million option in 2021, and he subsequently signed with the Brewers. Among second basemen, Wong ranks fourth in batting average since 2018 – ahead of Altuve. Okay, so maybe B-R overestimates Wong’s defense. Wong still ranks sixth among second basemen (just behind Altuve) on FanGraphs, which doesn’t put as much emphasis on his defense. To be fair, Wong’s power declined in 2020 (.326 slugger), which explains the Cardinals’ decision, but I think the Brewers will be happy with their contract.

Fletcher is expected to play full-time at second base after playing all three positions in the outfield in his first three seasons. Second, he works as a Gold Glove favorite – I’d definitely take his 2020 winner Cesar Hernandez – and I love this trendy line in his 2018 OPS: .678, .734, .801. Fletcher hit a record .290 in 2019 and .319 in 2020 thanks to one of the best contact rates in the majors. That makes him a bit of an afterthought in this power era, but I think he can hit .300 all season.

MLB rankings: Not classified

Third base is deep, with 13 third basemen in our top 100, and no one seems clearly undervalued for their position. Kavan Biggio would have been my choice, but he slipped in at No. 95, while Hayes, of course, fell outside the top 100 because he only played 24 major league games. I have access to the top secret results of our votes, and Hayes almost didn’t make the list, but here’s my guarantee: He’ll be joining us next season.

Hayes’ premiership resume is limited but telling: When he was called up in September, he hit .376/.442/.682 with five home runs – arguably the best player in the majors in the final month of the season. Sure, he had a high BABIP and never hit with much power in the minors, but he hit the ball hard and continued his impressive spring training.

Hayes also has a solid defensive record, which has always been his selling point as a prospect, and that gives him a high lower bound. His ability to make contact means he has to hit for average. Based on what we saw last September and this spring, I think he can hit around .300 with 15-20 home runs and excellent defense. Hayes retains his rookie status for 2021, so he’s my pick for NL Rookie of the Year.

MLB rankings: 23

History has not been ignored – he finished 11th, 12th and 8th in the last three seasons. Placed in the MVP voting and making the All-Star team in 2018 and 2019, he was also MLB Network’s top 10 shortstop at all positions. However, he came in behind his former teammate Nolan Arenado in the national spotlight, and had to contend with the other three shortstops on our list.

2 Connected

I looked at the top 25 players in our rankings and added their baseball reflexes and 2018 WAR catch charts to see which players have the biggest difference between their WAR rankings and MLB rankings. The biggest difference is for Max Scherzer, but that’s understandable given his age (36) and the same number of appearances in 2020 (3.74 ERA). The story is as follows, with a 12 point difference. He’s in the prime of his life at 28, has power, can run (led the NL in steals in 2020 and is a good bet to go 30-30 in 2021), plays excellent defense (+20 runs saved the last two seasons), and has done so for three seasons in a row now.

MLB rankings: Not classified

How are the A’s doing? Despite a lackluster roster, they’ve made three consecutive playoffs, including a division title in 2020, and only the Dodgers, Astros and Yankees have won more games since 2018. They’ve had some great players, no doubt – Matt Chapman was one of the best in the game in 2018 and 2019, and we mentioned Semien’s spectacular 2019 – but they also do it with guys like Canha. He hit .265/.393/.483 over the past two seasons while starting games at all three positions of outfield, first base and DH.

Is he one of the top 100 players in the world? Probably not. Still, he’s a perfect fit for this team. Among players with at least 600 PA over the past two seasons, Kanya ranks eighth in on-base percentage and 12th in wRC+ (weighted points generated) – this wRC+ value is higher than Mookie Betts, Xander Bogarts, Ronald Acuna Jr. or Bryce Harper. In 2020, he played every day for the first time in his career and recorded the best walk rate of his career (though his power has declined since 2019, when he hit 26 home runs). He’s 32 years old, but he’s a good athlete and could be of service to the A’s again in a variety of roles.

MLB rankings: Not classified

The Padres acquired Grisham and Zach Davis for Luis Urias and Eric Lauer in a November 2019 trade with the Brewers that seems like a huge deal (especially considering Davis helped land Yu Darvish). Grisham was a first-round pick in 2015, but he developed slowly in the minors until the start of the 2019 season. He doesn’t look like a Central Polar because of his thick build, but Statcast’s numbers confirm that the Golden Glove he won in 2020 is that he doesn’t look like a Central Polar : He ranks 98th among best midfielders with an 88% success rate and top speed (96).

From fantasy to play to rest: Passan has a lot of thoughts on runners and teams that will be very successful next year.

Jeff Passan’s predictions for 2021

Grisham’s line of .251/.352/.456 in 2020 is a classic underrated profile: mediocre batting average, but good on-base skills and some pop while playing in the pitcher’s park. He also stole 10 bases out of 11. He’s an impressive all-around player, and given that he’s 24 and a late bloomer at the plate, I predict improvement in 2021.

MLB rankings: Not classified

There wasn’t a good veteran among right fielders – if you don’t count his salary, Jason Heyward has been a solid player the past two seasons – but Tucker is still a young player who I expect to do big things in 2021. We’ve heard about him as a first-round pick since the Astros selected him fifth overall in 2015, but he only got minor cameos in 2018 and 2019 before getting a permanent spot in 2020. In 58 games, he hit .268/.325/.512 with 27 extra-hits, stole eight bases and played good defense in left field (he will move to right field in 2021). Yet his season went completely unnoticed. Maybe it was a case of perspective fatigue. Tucker had a 30-30 season in Triple-A in 2019 and could be in the majors. That should get his attention.

MLB rankings: Not classified

I’m not necessarily advocating for Soler’s top-100 status – the DH really needs to hit hitting to earn that recognition – but he’s a good example of how to balance 2019 (in which he led the AL with 48 homers) and 2020 (in which he hit .223 with 8 homers and missed most of September with a bursitis injury). If we combine the two seasons, the following picture emerges:

It’s cool: .257/.348/.543, 56 HR, 132 OPS+
Marcell Ozuna : .272/.362/.525, 130 OPS+
Vladimir Guerrero Jr : .269/.336/.442, 109 OPS+
Eloy Jimenez: .276/.321/.527, 45 HR, 123 OPS+
Shohei Ohtani: 259/.328/.466, 109 OPS+.

Granted, Ozuna and Jimenez are outfielders, not great, and Ohtani may or may not add value as a pitcher, but Soler is not ranked, while Ozuna is 40th, Guerrero is 55th, Jimenez is 64th, and Ohtani is 73rd. I didn’t even count Giancarlo Stanton because he’s barely played the last two seasons, and he’s No. 1. 77. Here’s the thing: These players, like Soler, get almost all their value from the plate (with the exception of Otani’s pitching), but Soler has clearly overproduced the last two seasons without getting the same credit.

MLB rankings: 51

Here I pick five starting pitchers, all of whom are established veterans, rather than relying on young, non-Top 100 prospects (like Corbin Burns and Zach Plesac, who were excellent in limited innings in 2020). Regardless, Nola ranks 16th among starting pitchers, but has checked his ranking in several categories (minimum 350 innings) since 2018:

ERA: 8BWAR : 2BWAR : 6BWAR: 6BWAR: : 12BWAR : 8BWAR : 8BWAR : 2BWAR : 8

I understand that Nola’s best season of the three was in 2018 (17-6, 2.37 ERA), but it seems like he should be rated higher – especially when pitching in a tough park for pitchers with the Phillies’ porous defense behind him.

MLB rankings: 67

I already pointed this out during the off-season: Since the All-Star Game began in 1933, Hendricks ranks fourth in ERA (and second among pitchers) of pitchers with at least 1,000 innings pitched who never made the All-Star Team. It’s underrated! He has a career 3.12 ERA and his worst record over the last five seasons is a 3.46 ERA in 2019. He thrives on change of pace and excellent control (eight walks in 81⅓ innings in 2020), and because he doesn’t throw 95 mph or make monster pitches, he gets overlooked.

MLB rankings: 92

At least Marquez has moved into the back half of the top 100 this season, where he wasn’t a year ago. As I mentioned in my report on Marquez’s roster, he ranks eighth among starting pitchers in 2018 ERA on the road. The fact that he even ranks 92nd indicates that we know his ERA would be lower if he didn’t have to pitch half his games at Coors Field, but I think if he played for the Dodgers or Cardinals, he could be mentioned in the same breath as Walker Buehler or Jack Flaherty.

MLB rankings: Not classified

The best prospect since Mike Trout is at the top of our rankings. Where do the future stars of your team go?

Top 100 Outlook for 2021.

Evaluation of all 30 farming systems.

2021 candidates for divorce

Top 10 per team: AL | EN

My friends Eric Carabell and Tristan Cockroft have constantly discussed what to expect from Greinke in 2021 on the Fantasy Focus podcast. I support Eric: I think Greinke will be very good. Tristan is more concerned about his age (37) and declining velocity (his four-seam fastball averaged 88.1 mph in 2020). I think Greinke has even more in his tank. No one has started more games in the last four seasons, and while his ERA was 4.03 last season, his peripheral stats were still strong: 2.80 FIP, 67-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio, above-average whiff rate. The combination of longevity and track record means I’m not willing to bet against him at this point.

MLB rankings: Not classified

Your classic underrated pitcher: He’s on a bad team, plays on the west coast, doesn’t pitch hard, doesn’t strike out, and rarely appears in a comic book. Here’s a statistic that will probably surprise you: Gonzalez is tied with Greinke for the third most wins in the majors since 2018, behind Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander. So, three guys pitching for the Astros and one pitching for the lowly Mariners. No, Gonzalez isn’t the third-best starter in baseball, but he’s durable, he throws deep into the game, he showed precise command in 2020 (seven walks in 11 starts) and, yes, he wins games.

MLB rankings: Not classified

Only two batters appeared in the top 100, Brewers teammate Josh Hader (69) and Rookie of the Year Devin Williams (94). I honestly don’t mind being in the top 100 without a clue, unless it’s Mariano Rivera or Craig Kimbrel, but if you have to name one, shouldn’t it be Hendricks? Compare him to Hader the last two seasons:

Hendricks: 7-5, 1.79 ERA, 110⅓ IP, 6 HR, 3.53 win probability, added
Hader: 4-7, 2.85 ERA, 94⅔ IP, 18 HR, 3.48 win probability added.

I don’t know if Hendricks is as underrated as Hader. I understand that Hader’s strikeout rate is ridiculous, but he’s also become extremely vulnerable to home runs. His innings per outing dropped from 1.48 in 2018 to 1.24 in 2019 and 0.90 in 2020, as he became a more traditional closer (and a sign that Craig Council didn’t want to use him for longer outings because of home runs). So for me, Hendricks is the best in the business, based on what he’s done the last two seasons.

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