Puig's rest-of-season forecast

Plus answering your questions on Chris Davis, David Ortiz, Justin Upton, more

Updated: July 3, 2013, 3:35 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

I'm breaking the rules.

Hit Parade

Instead of getting right to this week's topic, readers "calling me out" on my rankings, as seen in Tuesday's 60 Feet 6 Inches, let's discuss a question that isn't among the ones below but surely is in the forefront of any fantasy owner's mind.

How about this crazy run by Yasiel Puig?

The No. 1 player on our Player Rater Last 30 split -- matching the number of days he has spent in the majors, entering Wednesday -- Puig has had a debut month that ranks among the best in the history of the game. For the second consecutive season, it's a rookie etching his name into the history books, and ESPN Stats & Information and Elias have some telling facts about Puig:

• His .443 batting average is the highest since 1900 by any player in his first 30 days in the majors (60 or more plate appearances), per Elias.
• His .436 batting average in June was the highest in a player's first calendar month since 1900 (minimum 60 PAs), per Elias.
• His 44 hits in June were the second most in a player's first calendar month since 1900, behind only Joe DiMaggio's 48 in May 1936 (minimum 60 PAs), per Elias.

At the same time, Puig's detractors will cite his "lucky" measures: His .513 BABIP, which leads the majors during the past 30 days, and his 36.4 home run/fly ball percentage, which is second highest (Pedro Alvarez leads with 37.5). They'll also point out that he has averaged just 3.24 pitches per plate appearances, fourth lowest during that span, and that is the area of worry to me.

[+] EnlargeYasiel Puig
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsYasiel Puig does look unstoppable now, but keep expectations in check.

Will pitchers begin working around him more often or attempt to fluster him with more breaking stuff? Perhaps. Puig will also inevitably experience some degree of regression to the mean in both his batting average and home run total. He is not going to bat .443 or hit 48 home runs in his first 162 career games.

Let's assume for a moment that Puig enjoyed success on batted balls in play at the major league average rates broken down by type (line drive, ground ball, fly ball, etc.) and quality of contact (hard, medium, soft). In that event, he would have batted .283 with only five home runs, rather than .443 with eight.

That's why any rest-of-season projection for Puig might have him batting in the .280s, rather than well above .300, and it's why he's a smarter bet for 10-12 home runs, rather than 20, in the Los Angeles Dodgers' remaining 80 contests. He could exceed those numbers, sure, but those estimate his safest odds. And that's really what projections are all about, forecasting the most likely outcome.

Perhaps that Puig moved up only to 50th this week, a rise of 10 spots, puts me in the "Puig detractors" camp. It's all a matter of your perception of his value …

… but that's exactly what today's column is about, right? Perceived player value, and your questions about mine, in the rankings below.

So let's get to it, as readers once again call me out on my hitter rankings.

Tom Sandhurst (@hashtagtom24): Chris Davis ranked 11 overall and behind Paul Goldschmidt and Joey Votto? Dude has been raking it legit style all season.

[+] EnlargeChris Davis
G Fiume/Getty ImagesChris Davis may be able to maintain this high level of offense all season long.

Well, he jumped ahead of those two this week, and I'm glad you asked the question because it had me looking more closely at Davis' value. To wit:

• His .471 wOBA (weighted on-base average, which weighs each hitting contribution in proportion to its actual run-producing value) ranks second.
• His .236 well-hit average (percentage of at-bats that result in hard contact) ranks eighth.
• His .372 BABIP is only 31 points higher than his career number in the category (.341), diminishing any claim that he has been fortunate in that regard.
• His 47.7 percent fly ball rate is a career high, and while that might hint at some BABIP good fortune, it also vastly improves his rest-of-year prospects in the home run category, alleviating most batting average concerns.
• He has a 29.8 home run/fly ball percentage, which is somewhat unsustainable, but his career number in the category is 21.8, per FanGraphs.

Upon closer inspection, Davis is on one of those absurd home run streaks, a la Jose Bautista in 2010-11, and it's impossible not to imagine him being at least one of the 10 best players in fantasy baseball the remainder of the year.

That said, Votto and Goldschmidt are right behind Davis and perhaps deserve more credit than you're giving them. Votto continues to flash some of the best plate discipline of anyone in the game, his 0.82 walk-to-strikeout ratio 11th best of 158 batting average qualifiers, and for the sixth consecutive (full) season, he has sported brilliantly balanced lefty/righty and home/road splits. His downside might be the most minimal of any first baseman, or really anyone in the game.

As for Goldschmidt, the advantage he provides comes in the stolen base category, his eight steals tops among any first-base qualifier this year. He's on pace for .302-39-135 numbers, and the improvement he showed against breaking pitches last season has extended into 2013, alleviating any major slump concern.

Ryan Appleton (@applejr35): How long are you going to keep Chase Headley so high on your list, while he wallows in mediocrity?

Concerns about Headley are fair -- he dropped another 11 spots in this week's rankings -- but I remain hopeful that the further removed he is from his absence due to a fractured left thumb, the more likely he is to recapture his 2012 form. As I pointed out three weeks ago, Headley's 2012 outburst was primarily a second-half development; he hit 23 of his 31 homers and drove in 73 of his 115 runs after the All-Star break. He's a better player than this, and I wonder whether he might simply be a second-half performer.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ortiz
Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty ImagesInjury concerns are the main reason David Ortiz's ranking isn't as high as some would expect.

Henry Sugar (@HenrySugar1): Never really liked him, but David Ortiz has been disgusting. You moved him up but 32 [is] still low. Could end up top-10.

Any pro-Ortiz argument is valid, as since the beginning of the 2011 season, he has .314/.405/.583 triple-slash rates and has averaged 37 home runs and 115 RBIs per 162 games played. That said, the primary reason I won't boost Ortiz into my top 25 hitters is a health concern. He has battled Achilles problems for a large portion of the past calendar year, even making a trip to the disabled list to begin this season, and at age 37, the risk of recurrence is likely to increase. Keep in mind that in both 2010 and 2011 his second-half numbers weren't as good as his first-half stats, and in 2012 he played just five games after the All-Star break.

Matt Mesisca (@Mesisca): Please justify your constant ranking of Michael Bourn in the top 15 outfielders, because I don't see it.

Well, he's not in my top 15 this week, nor was he during his stint on the disabled list in April for an injured finger, but I see your point.

That said, Monday's Consistency Ratings update (covering games through June) examined the overall decrease in stolen base production this season, and Bourn is one of the better candidates in the category. Even with only 56 games played and a disappointing 21-steal season pace, he's the No. 49 outfielder on our Player Rater. He also has 10 steals in 46 games since his activation, which puts him on pace for 35 per 162 games.

Andrew Mazurek (@02Maz): Why won't you buy into Daniel Nava? [He] can't even crack [your] top 150! [He's] on pace for 21-98 with [a] good batting average and lots of walks. Looks legit.

Nava has hovered right around the top-150 cutoff, making it some weeks and falling barely short in others, and a quick glance at his June numbers helps explain why: He's a .290 hitter with three homers, 16 RBIs, 16 runs scored and zero stolen bases. Using our Last 30 Player Rater split, Nava ranks 59th among outfielders, and at the Triple-A level, he was a .280 hitter with 17 home runs and 81 RBIs per 162 games played. He's fine as a back-of-your-roster type, but I simply can't see a 30-year-old outfielder taking a significant leap forward from this.

[+] EnlargeAJ Pierzynski
Jim Cowsert/USA TODAY SportsCan A.J. Pierzynski come anywhere close to the 27 homers he hit last season?

Matthew Zimmermann (@mZimm22): Other than Jonathan Lucroy and Victor Martinez's Player Rater Past 7, A.J. Pierzynski has outperformed your Nos. 6-12 catchers in [the past] 7, 15 and 30 days on the Player Rater. #NoLove?

Pierzynski is a fine No. 2 catcher even in mixed leagues, or a starter in AL-only formats, but he doesn't offer quite enough to justify a consistent top-10 ranking in standard mixed leagues. Predictably, his home run/fly ball percentage has regressed, going from his career-high 16.7 in 2012 to 9.7 this season, explaining his season paces of 14 home runs and 51 RBIs.

He's also becoming more of a liability against left-handed pitching, batting .260/.313/.351 against them this season, his strikeout rate 20.5 percent. That's no shock considering he's 36 years old, but it's something to keep in mind, as it makes him an attractive matchup play in daily formats.

Josh Wolfe (@Josh__Wolfe): Why no love in your latest rankings for Gerardo Parra? He's the 23rd outfielder on the Player Rater [as of June 27] and [is] not in your top 70!

Parra has slipped to 30th among outfielders on our Player Rater -- seven spots in six days -- a product of his .215 batting average, two home runs and one stolen base in his past 16 contests. He's actually the No. 61 outfielder on our Last 30 split, during which time he has .280, 2 and 1 numbers in those categories.

He is a serviceable fantasy outfielder, but he's not a consistently reliable option in mixed formats, due to the fact that his best skill -- defense -- doesn't count in traditional rotisserie leagues. His speed might be his most valuable fantasy asset; that he's 6-for-15 in that department this season is a concern. I can't see him batting higher than .280 with more than six homers and steals going forward.

@TheCover3: I love it how you keep hatin' on Jarrod Saltalamacchia (still not in your top 20 catchers) and yet he keeps raking. At-bats be damned, he produces.

Actually, he has wavered between 15 and 22 the past several weeks, checking in 16th this week, the difference between players in that range negligible. Saltalamacchia is the No. 13 catcher on our Player Rater, but that's also in a terribly disappointing year for catchers. Evan Gattis, who has appeared in only 53 games and not one since June 17, still ranks eight spots ahead of him.

Saltalamacchia's problem is that he's still platoon-limited, batting only .202/.270/.343 against left-handed pitchers since the beginning of 2009, and he's on pace for only 15 home runs, 10 fewer than he hit in 2012. Like Pierzynski, he's a worthy matchup consideration, but he's also not quite assured of as many at-bats nor is he as good a hitter as Pierzynski.

[+] EnlargeJustin Upton
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsJustin Upton has cooled off considerably after a hot start to the season.

Timothy Bennett (@thetwills42): Justin Upton? What do the numbers say? So frustrating. For where he was drafted, his production is [purely] awful and a season killer. I am too stubborn to believe he is a .250 hitter with all-or-nothing power numbers. Should I move on from him in a keeper league?

The numbers say Upton is struggling in two areas: pitches up in the strike zone and hard fastballs (those clocked at 93 mph and faster).

Pitches up: .167/.434/.333, 41.5 K%, 47 Miss%
Fastballs 93+ mph: .253/.349/.400, 39.5 K%, 33 Miss%

Considering Upton's history of struggles dealing with minor injuries -- his thumb problem of early 2012 comes to mind -- I think it's fair to wonder whether the hand injury that cost him two games in mid-June could have been bothering him more than he let on. He batted .188 with 35 K's in 101 at-bats during a 27-game span from May 24-June 21 then .375 with 6 K's in 24 at-bats since sitting out those two contests. Maybe rest was all he needed?

Though Upton will surely rank lower in my keeper rankings update than he did in the past, he's still one of the better assets in dynasty formats, as a 25-year-old with the prime of his career still ahead of him. I just hope he can stay a little healthier during those seasons.

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