February 18, 2014
Fantasy Tiered Rankings
To read the previous articles in this series, follow the links below:
Today, our positional tier rankings series continues with a look at the outfield.
Players at each position are divided into five tiers, represented by a numerical star rating. Five-star players are the studs at their respective position. In general, they are the players that will be nabbed in the first couple of rounds of the draft, and they'll fetch auction bids in excess of $30. Four-star players are a cut below the studs at the position. They will also be early-round selections, and they are projected to be worth more than $20 in most cases. Three-star players are the last tier in which players are projected to provide double-digit dollar value in auctions, and two-star players are projected to earn single digits in dollar value in auctions. One-star players are late round sleepers and roster placeholders. The positional tiers aren't simply a regurgitation of last year’s values but rather try to offer some insights into what we expect will happen in 2014.
We retained last year's roster requirements for the positional tier series. Dollar values come from this year’s PFM using a 12-team, standard 5x5 scoring format, with 23-man rosters and the following positions: C (2) 1B (1) 2B (1) 3B (1) SS (1) CI (1) MI (1) OF (5) UT (1) P (9). The minimum bid for players is $1, and, as we did last year, we allocate $180 of a $260 budget to hitters. Players needed to play in 20 games at a position to qualify there. The PFM is customizable, so if your league uses a different format, you can adjust it to match your league settings and see how it impacts players’ dollar values.
Players with multi-position eligibility are listed at the position where it is most likely they would start in a standard fantasy league. For outfielders, only 1B/OF are listed in this series. While you might insert Ben Zobrist into your outfield at some point during the season due to an injury, it is unlikely you would use him there at the start of the season.
The star designation system for outfielders is tough because more than a few outfielders in the four-star tier could be promoted here using the $30-plus standard outlined above. However, given the elite standard established at other positions in the series, the decision was made to put Trout and McCutchen here and leave an arguably deserving outfielder like Carlos Gonzalez in the next tier. There is enough separation between Trout and McCutchen that the argument could be made for putting Trout in a super-elite tier all by himself, but with McCutchen being taken as high as no. 3 overall in some drafts, he shouldn’t be penalized for Trout being world class.
It feels like there is a little more separation this year between the elite outfielders and the four-star tier, which is another way of saying that there is some uncertainly here as well. Gonzalez only misses the five-star tier because of his less-than-elite numbers on the road, his struggles against left-handed pitching, and the odd time he misses due to injury, but he is still an easy first-round draft pick. If there weren’t so many unknowns surrounding Braun after his PED suspension, he would also be an easy five-star pick, but it is equally foolish to assume that he’s going to be the same player he was as it would be to assume that he will be a paltry shell of his former self. A $30-$32 bet is safer than a $40 one.
If you miss out on Trout, McCutchen, Gonzalez, or Braun, there is no shame in anchoring your outfield with one of these guys. They aren’t quite as dynamic as the top four, but then unless you’re grabbing Miguel Cabrera, this is going to true of any other position on the diamond. Nearly all of these players offer double-digit speed, while PECOTA projects even a speedster like Ellsbury for 14 home runs. All of these players have all around game or failing that (in the cases of Bautista and Stanton) have monster power.
PECOTA loathes Harper and sees a 2014 that is far from superstar caliber, but Harper was ninth in OPS among major-league outfielders (10th using adjusted OPS) in 2013 as a 20-year-old. He was a $22 player in NL-only over only 424 at-bats. Even if Harper stands still, he will be a high-$20s earner across 140 games.
Bruce can be overrated or underrated depending upon your league. If you are perpetually betting on the 40-50-home-run season that you have sworn since 2010 is lurking in Bruce’s bat, then you are most certainly going to be disappointed. On the other hand, if you are in a league that overly discounts Bruce’s batting average and believes that he is a disappointment because of the lofty expectations set upon him once upon a time, you’re in for a near lock for 30 home runs and 100 RBI. As the power continues to ebb out of the Majors, that counts for something, and puts Bruce in the four-star tier.
Four-Star Value Pick: Hunter Pence
Nearly all of the players in this tier could easily take a step forward and play their way into the four-star tier or slip and play down to the two-star tier. The three-star ranking is an admission of the uncertain outcome that many of these players have and an honest attempt to meet in the middle. You might be extremely happy with one of these outfielders as your primary go-to, but if you’re looking for a safer bet, you will definitely want to pull the trigger earlier than this in your draft.
Kemp and Puig are the most likely candidates for inclusion in the four-star tier, and could even bust all the way into the $35 stratosphere if everything breaks right. In Kemp’s case, most of this is a question of health, and betting on a full, elite season of Kemp is a poor bet at this point. Puig might be a superstar in the making, but his post-June .278/.366/.470 slash might be a more realistic barometer. His poor success rate on the base paths also makes the steals far from a certainty in 2014. If he doesn’t run as much this year, he’ll need to hit for a lot of power to get past this grouping.
Venable can’t make it to the four-star tier because he doesn’t generate enough RBI or run scoring opportunities. This shouldn’t stop you from taking him and enjoying that 20/20 goodness.
Billy Hamilton’s NL-only earnings aren’t a misprint; stolen bases can have that much of an impact in an only. Even if Hamilton crashes with the bat, all he needs to do is get on base 30-31 percent of the time to be an only league fantasy monster. The three-star ranking concedes the fact that he could get the bat knocked out of his hands as well as the idea that even in today’s steal starved context, having little if any value in HR/RBI does matter more in mixed formats.
Josh Hamilton is now the “other” Hamilton. Searchers for fantasy value are always asking if Hamilton is going to bounce back, but the reality is that he’s in a terrible hitters park and he’s older than people think. There is a little room for improvement this year, but don’t pay assuming a big leap is in the cards.
Three-Star Value Pick: Michael Cuddyer
There are different philosophies at work in different formats, but the two-star is a “safe” place to put pure speed players who don’t have game changing (50 stolen bases or more) capability in the category. To that end, a number of the players here are guys who are valued much higher in only than they are in mixed. Bourn, Revere, Pagan, and Gardner all fit the mold of players who could hamper your squad in a mixer but are almost essentially in an only.
The other side of this coin is power hitters who either don’t quite offer enough power or bring their teams down with batting average concerns. Willingham, Swisher, and Reddick all have a place at the mixed league table, but their deficiencies make them players that you want to target later in your draft rather than sooner.
Jackson certainly has enough potential to warrant inclusion in the three-star tier, but he has now had four seasons in the majors and the numbers don’t pop. The steals dropped to single digits last year and Jackson has never hit more than 20 home runs. We all want to love him, but at some point it is a losing strategy to pay for too much upside.
Speaking of upside, if Upton isn’t completely finished he could easily be a 15 home run, 30 steal player. The batting average won’t be anything to write home about, but there is a significant opportunity here if you are not risk averse (or if you need to take risks in a keeper league due to a weak freeze list).
Yelich has an incredibly high ceiling (it’s worth repeating the front office executive quote from the Baseball Prospectus annual that says “Yelich is the top bat for me in the minors; even better than (Oscar) Taveras"), but it’s more likely that the 20-25-home-run power in his bat comes later rather than sooner and—as with any young player—short-term failure is always an option. He’s worthy in mixed leagues but in non-keeper formats some caution is advised.
Davis obviously isn’t going to hit home runs on a bazillion home run pace, but it would also be foolish to write him off entirely. He has the potential to hit 20 or so home runs, and is probably not going to be a flash in the pan. That PECOTA projection above sounds like it’s in the ballpark.
Two-Star Value Pick: Michael Brantley
The one-star tier contains outfielders mostly below the threshold of standard mixed leagues. Many of the players here are possible platoon players and/or not full time options.
Based solely off of last year’s performance, Byrd is at least a two-star player, but a healthy amount of cynicism based off of his prior results is warranted. He is all but certain to slip, but if he can manage 15 home runs with a good batting average he would be one of the better hitters in this tier.
A few of the hitters listed here are in direct competition for jobs, and will rise or fall based upon how the season plays out. If Springer breaks camp, he would be a two-tier to start the season, but he is more likely to start the season at Triple-A. The Mets playing time battle between Young, Young, and Lagares will also influence how these players are ranked. These are the types of situations best avoided in mixed formats.
One-Star Value Pick: Ryan Ludwick