February 10, 2015
Fantasy Tiered Rankings
Top 30 Outfielders
To read the previous editions in this series, follow the links below:
Our tiered rankings series continues with a look at the first half of the outfielders.
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 who 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 last 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, which means some of the players for whom you’re looking are located in a different tiered rankings list.
Too much fuss has been made over the increased strikeout rate for Trout. His 7.4 percent swinging-strike rate is still far below the league-average number of 9.4 percent. He also launched 36 bombs with 16 stolen bases. He’s a true five-category producer, while being borderline elite in all categories. If Trout doesn’t go first overall in your league this year, just do everyone a favor and disband it because it’s a joke.
Since the beginning of 2011, McCutchen ranks top-25 cumulatively in each of the five standard roto categories. That’s elite, and the Pirates batting order will arguably be even better in 2015, which could increase the run/RBI totals. Stanton, on the other hand, surprised everyone with 13 stolen bases last year. If he continues to run, he’s a fantasy superstar. At the very least, he has 40-homer potential with great run/RBI numbers. The batting average took a nice jump a year ago, too.
Gomez is a power/speed superstar, and now that his overall skill set at the plate has improved over the past couple of years, the batting average is no longer an anchor weighing him down. His RBI totals could take a hit in 2015, though, if the Brewers bat him leadoff.
Five-Star Value Pick: Mike Trout
If you’re going to pony up and pay for elite talent, don’t mess around. Grab the Omega Man and enjoy the dividends later. It’s not like you’re going to go wrong with anyone in the five-star tier, though. Stud-tastic.
Atop this tier, the first two players are essentially a toss up. Jones offers a bit more power, while Ellsbury swipes more bases, but the batting average should be similar between the two. For me, it becomes about nothing more than preference at that point.
Ranking Braun here may raise a few eyebrows because the 31-year-old hit .226/.295/.374 in the second half. Some want to make the discussion about performance-enhancing drugs, or a lack thereof, but the real story lies in the fact that Braun couldn’t hang onto the bat as the season progressed. The nerve issue in his thumb spread into his hand, and he reportedly had trouble even shaking hands without pain. The former MVP underwent experimental surgery in the offseason, which has him and the team extremely optimistic that the issue is behind him. He hit .298/.348/.515 in the first half, before the pain became almost unplayable, which seems to suggest if he’s anything close to 100 percent, he’ll be a fantasy stud once again.
Bautista and Gonzalez offer a couple second- or third-round gambles that could pay off handsomely. Their respective skill sets are well established. It becomes whether the age (Bautista) or injury (CarGo) concerns are large enough to scare you away on draft day. Puig, on the other hand, is an upside play with very little downside. If he can sustain the power he showed through the first four months of the season, he’ll be a borderline top-five fantasy outfielder.
Dr. Smooth was the best player the average fan didn’t know existed last year. He’s always controlled the strike zone and hit for average, the question surrounds the increased power production. Can Brantley hit 20-plus homers again? If not, he should still provide value in the other four categories, making the price worthwhile.
How much do you like paying for expected, rather than established production? The trio following Brantley intrigues fantasy owners by what they could be. Harper and Springer could be tremendous power/speed options, while Hamilton has the potential to lead the league in stolen bases by a comfortable margin with high run totals. None of these players are sure bets, though. Do you feel lucky?
Lots of talk has circulated this offseason that Marte is poised for regression due to his .373 BABIP. Well, he owns a career .363 BABIP in almost 1,300 big-league plate appearances and regularly eclipsed the .380 mark in the minors. Perhaps it’s time that we view this as a trend, rather than an anomaly that must change. As for Upton and Pence are concerned, they’re a pair of solid fantasy options in poor offensive ballparks. They have an established track record and owners should feel comfortable with their pre-draft expectations.
Will offseason moves benefit Matt Kemp and Jayson Heyward? Kemp finally returned to power in 2014, but fantasy owners are left wondering whether he’ll start running again in San Diego. He may be 30, but the power/speed combination of old could still be in there somewhere. Heyward has largely disappointed since his 27/21 season in 2012. He’s only 25 years old, though, and should benefit from the Cardinals’ Devil Magic that suddenly improves everyone who dons the uniform. Maybe it only seems that way.
Yelich is one of the game’s most exciting young hitters, but he’s been hidden in Miami, baseball’s forgotten kingdom. He’s expected to hit second or third this year, which should improve his RBI totals. The game is high-average and 20-plus stolen bases with moderate power. There’s upside here, too.
Four-Star Value Pick: Carlos Gonzalez
CarGo is currently being drafted 48th overall, according to NFBC. For a legitimate five-category producer who was considered a top-tier talent just a year ago, it makes complete sense to gamble on the bounce-back season. It’s not as if he’s a non-injury concern this year, but much like Johnny Cueto in 2014, take advantage of the fact that people have “forgotten” about Gonzalez and reap the top-five caliber performance if he can stay on the field. There’s too much surplus value here to ignore.
Blackmon is a bit of a worry, given his second-half decline, but he still benefits from the Coors Field Effect™ and should be a solid 15/15 guy. I have questions about his platoon issues and whether opposing pitchers figured him out after a torrid first half, but there’s still an attractive fantasy profile.
Cruz obliterated the league with 40 homers last year, but he moves to a brutal ballpark in Seattle. Fantasy owners have to take note. His power carries his overall profile. If that dips, he’s nothing more than mediocre… which is precisely what Jay Bruce was a year ago. He had hit 30-plus homers in three-consecutive seasons, but last year, the groundballs came and the power went away. The track record suggests he’ll bounce back, though. It’s dangerous to put too much stock in a single season’s worth of stats.
The whole world wept with joy when Revere connected with his first big-league homer in five seasons. It’s still nothing but stolen bases and batting average, but you can find power elsewhere. You can’t find 40-plus steals lying around in the later rounds. Alex Gordon is boring and average in fantasy. That’s fine. It’s just boring and I don’t really want to talk about him.
Dickerson and Calhoun are a pair of outfielders who displayed attractive skill sets for a portion of the season, but have yet to prove they can sustain top-20 production for 600 PA. Dickerson was a top-15 overall hitter in the second half, posting a .257 ISO and hitting over .300. Some platoon issues linger and one wonders how much the league will adjust the second go-round. Calhoun, on the other hand, annihilated the league in June and July. He even hit .346/.386/.568 in June with 10 extra-base hits. The 27-year-old has flashed 15/10 ability over the past two seasons. Does he put it together with an abundant run total in 2015?
Cespedes switches parks, and although fantasy owners would have enjoyed an entire year in Fenway, it doesn’t hurt his overall value to be in Detroit. Furthermore, Shin-Soo Choo has fallen because many fantasy owners apparently believe that he suddenly forgot how to play baseball in a year. Take advantage of the recency bias. Cabrera has hit .300-plus with double-digit homers in three of the past four seasons. Perhaps the collapse in 2013 was due to injury and not performance-enhancing drugs, eh?
Three-Star Value Pick: Melky Cabrera
As much as Choo makes sense for the value pick, Cabrera is currently being selected after Shoo in the average draft. He displayed the power and overall hitting ability that people thought he lost post-PED suspension. If the stolen base totals return to their 2011-2012 levels, he’s a wonderful fantasy option who will bat in the upper half of a suddenly loaded White Sox lineup.
J.P. Breen is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
Click here to see J.P.'s other articles.
You can contact J.P. by clicking here