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February 16, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks in the Outfield

by Mike Petriello

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Rob McQuown's locked down in the BP server room right now, so I'm pulling double-duty by stepping in to cover outfield Value Picks this week. Relievers will run as scheduled on Thursday, and I'll do my best not to confuse the two in the meantime. Now let's try to figure out how many saves Jayson Werth will get in Washington, shall we?

Cody Ross may have hit 80 homers in parts of five seasons in Florida, but it's San Francisco where he'll never again have to pay for a drink after putting on his best Babe Ruth impression last October. The timing couldn't have been better for Ross, as it helped him go from a possible non-tender after three straight years of declining TAv to the recipient of a shiny new $6.3 million contract for 2011.

The contract and postseason heroics will get him plenty of playing time in the San Francisco outfield corners, but keep in mind what you're buying if you choose to go after him. Remember, Ross was so highly thought of last year that the Giants unintentionally got stuck with him on waivers, and with good reason: despite relatively constant BA, OBP and K/BB numbers over the last three seasons, his ISO has been on a nosedive since 2007. That's the end result of both a HR/FB rate that's been declining for several years and a 2010 that saw his flyball rate plummet. There's no fancy math involved there—if fewer of your flyballs leave the yard, and you're hitting fewer flyballs overall, you’re going to end up with fewer homers.

PECOTA's got him pegged for a .266 TAv (.259/.314/.431) with 15 HR, which not only sounds about right to me but is very much in line with projections I've seen elsewhere. (Though not, as I'm sure some will point out, in agreement with the GP11 image shown here, which I must admit seems excessive.) That means his value depends largely on the rules of your league. Ross still retains center field eligibility, and in leagues that require a differentiation between left, center, and right, that can still be worthwhile just due to the thin talent pool in center. However, in leagues that have no positional split for outfielders, 15 HR without steals or batting average isn't going to get you that far.

Staying in the NL West, we've got two Dodger outfielders who each bat lefty yet otherwise bear little resemblance to each other. Ethier was off to an MVP start last year, hitting .392/.457/.744 before fracturing a finger during batting practice on May 14. He rushed back after two weeks but it proved to be too soon: he couldn't top an 800 OPS in either June or July, before putting together an 846 mark over the last two months. Even with that early summer drought, Ethier finished with a career high .308 TAv. Fully healthy in 2011 and in the midst of his prime, it's not unreasonable to expect that level of production or better, and that's a top-15 outfielder.

If there's one flaw in Ethier's game, it's a near total inability to hit lefty pitching, bottoming out at .233/.292/.333 with three homers in 2010. At 29, it's unlikely that trend is going to reverse this year, though those in daily leagues paying close attention to the opposing starter could see an even greater return by pairing him with a part-time righty bat.

As for Gibbons, much was made of the heartwarming story that took him from decent early-decade Oriole to Mitchell Report pariah to out of baseball entirely to semi-triumphant return with his hometown team. That earned him a major-league deal with the Dodgers in 2011 to fight for time in an awkward job share with Marcus Thames and Tony Gwynn, a trio I've none-too-affectionately come to describe as "JaMarcus Gwybbons, Jr."

For the Dodgers, that's an arrangement that's full of "mights". Thames might hit lefties enough to overcome his atrocious glove. Gwynn might hit anyone enough to get his plus glove in the lineup. And Gibbons might hit enough to gain the lion's share of the playing time in the position. But despite all of those questions, here's what we know for sure: despite ostensibly being the starting left fielder of a team with playoff aspirations, Gibbons has no place on a fantasy roster in all but the deepest leagues. Remember, this is a guy who wasn't even all that good when he was good—often injured, with all of his fantasy value coming from power. It's now been six years since he hit more than 15 MLB homers, and at 34 it seems unlikely that changes now. Look elsewhere for your lefty power.

Say this about Hunter Pence—he's consistent. His TAv the last two seasons have been nearly identical at .285 and .284, and it's actually been three consecutive years with exactly 25 homers. His BABIP has been within a seven point range for the last three years, and even his line drive, ground ball, and flyball rates have remained nearly the same. Other than what seems to be a fluky boost to his walk rate in 2009, Pence has been essentially the same player for three years running, and it's no surprise that PECOTA sees more of the same for one of the few draftable Houston bats, projecting a .280 TAv.

There's more to fantasy than just TAv, of course, and Pence offers a rare blend of power and speed. Only two other outfielders besides Pence (Matt Kemp and Chris Young, though Shin-Soo Choo would have joined the group if not for injury with 22 of each) had at least 18 steals and 25 long balls in 2010, and adding that to the solid baseline that Pence has laid down easily makes him a top-20 outfielder.

Mike Petriello is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

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