March 20, 2012
Resident Fantasy Genius
Fantasy Tier Rankings: NL Outfielders
These are the National League outfielder rankings for 2012. Check out our previous closer, AL starting pitchers, NL starting pitchers, catcher, first base, second base, third base, and shortstop installments.
As a reminder, five-star players are generally going to be your star-level producers that will be selected within the first couple of rounds, usually worth upward of $30. Four-star players are the next step down, worth more than $20. Three stars are worth more than $10, two stars will be in the single digits, and one star will be roster-filler and late-round fliers. Of course, this is just a general guideline. While the rankings will generally follow PECOTA, I will deviate when I feel strongly that a player will over or underperform his PECOTA projection.
I’ve also decided to give my choice for a value pick in each tier—a guy who I think will be worth more than your leaguemates do, or a guy who I believe stands a good chance of beating his PECOTA projection.
For reference, the dollar values were created by our PFM using a league format of 12 teams, 5x5 scoring, and 23-player rosters—broken down as C (2) 1B (1) 2B (1) 3B (1) SS (1) CI (1) MI (1) OF (5) UT (1) P (9)—and $180 of the $260 budget allocated for hitters and $1 minimum salaries. A minimum of 20 games needed to be played at a position in the previous season to qualify. We’ll be providing values for both mixed leagues and AL-only/NL-only leagues. While this is the industry standard format, your own league structure may differ, in which case you can customize the PFM to your own needs.
Also, please note that for players who are eligible at multiple positions, the dollar values listed are representative of their most valuable position. So for a guy like Emilio Bonifacio who qualifies at shortstop, his dollar values aren’t directly comparable to Carlos Beltran if you’re drafting him as an outfielder. His ranking, however, is indicative of where he would fall as an outfielder.
This is an easy first tier, perhaps with the surprise that Upton makes the cut. I’m significantly more bullish on Upton’s power than PECOTA. I’d easily take the over on that projection and even on 30 home runs. His raw power is immense. He opened 2011 with some concerned about the shoulder injury that ended his 2010 season early and for which he spent the offseason rehabbing (it’s possible this even hindered him a bit in the early going), so a 40-homer campaign would not surprise me one bit. He was my top target to anchor my NL-only team, but his high price (equal to Braun) forced me out of the bidding.
Five-Star Value Pick: Upton.
This is a boring group, but in a good way. These guys are all excellent, stable producers, so you shouldn’t have much hesitation drafting any of them. CarGo, McCutchen, and Stanton all have upside left, although I’m wary about Stanton. Between his spring wrist and knee injuries and the new ballpark in Miami boasting deeper fences than the team’s old home, Stanton is a guy I’ll likely be passing up in all of my leagues this year.
Four-Star Value Pick: Michael Bourn might be the biggest surprise of this group, perhaps accentuated by the fact that he ranks highest of the group in terms of PECOTA NL-only value. While I feel he might wind up closer to 60 steals than the 50 PECOTA has him down for, that’s still leaps and bounds ahead of number two on the list: Jose Reyes’ 41 projected steals.
Jason Heyward is the first guy on this list that is much out of line with what PECOTA predicts, and for those who saw my LABR NL team, they know I like Heyward. His performance was affected by injuries last year, and he’s just so talented. He has excellent bat speed, good power, and a great pedigree. It’s risky if you pay too much for him (I paid quite a bit in LABR), but he’s got Five-Star potential.
I love Michael Cuddyer in Colorado. I’m not the only one, as he’s become a very trendy pick in expert leagues. He went in the seventh round of the FSTA mixed league in January and for $27 in LABR NL, and I really like him to best his PECOTA. Going from the tougher league to the easier one and a pitcher’s park to an extreme hitter’s park, good things are in store for Cuddyer.
Three-Star Value Pick: Dexter Fowler is going in the 19th round of Mock Draft Central drafts, and that’s much too low. He hasn’t been able to make it through either of the past two seasons without being demoted, but he’s always been good upon return. The skills are there; he just needs to maintain consistency in displaying them. For the price he’ll cost, the upside is well worth it for a speedy leadoff man in a good lineup.
The first half of this tier is comprised of aging and/or injury-prone players, half of which will have quality seasons; the other half will fall on their faces and/or fail to reach 300 plate appearances. Don’t ask me which will be which.
The bottom half of this tier, however, is full of lots of interesting guys, either undervalued or breakout candidates. I’d love to fill the majority of my outfield spots in an NL-only league from this tier.
Lucas Duda is a pet player of Rob McQuown, and it’s easy to see why. The guy has a lot of power, and the fence shift in Citi Field will only aid that. Despite his lumbering size, he also manages good strikeout rates, so he shouldn’t be a hindrance in anything but steals.
Emilio Bonifacio is projected for just 32 steals over a full season after stealing 40 last year, but the addition of Ozzie Guillen to the bench could conceivably shoot him up toward 50. Obviously counting on that is unwise, but that’s what the potential is here. Guillen loves speedy guys, and he loves to let them run.
I’ve discussed why I like Ryan Ludwick before, and I managed to snag him for $7 in LABR NL.
Two-Star Value Pick: I don’t understand why more fantasy players aren’t onto Jon Jay. While he’s not outstanding anywhere, he’ll contribute across the board and will have center field all to himself in St. Louis this year. Plus, when (yes, when) Rafael Furcal and Carlos Beltran get injured, he’ll likely find himself batting first or second in front of some very good players.
There’s a lot of mediocrity here and only a few guys who figure to be undervalued. If you’re in an NL-only league, you’ll want to avoid picking more than one or two outfielders from this tier.
Jason Bay is a tough guy to evaluate. He’s tempting when you consider that the Mets are moving the Citi Field fences in and that one study found he’d have doubled his home power production had those changes been in place from the site. On the other hand, he’s injury-prone, aging, and BP2012 notes that his bat speed is decreasing. I’ll take him for the right price.
I talked about why David DeJesus could be undervalued when he was traded to the Cubs over the winter, so I’ll direct you there.
One-Star Value Pick: Marlon Byrd. Fantasy owners will look at his injury-shortened 2011 and discount him, but his injury was a freak thing, and he should be okay this season. He’s one of those guys that (as you surely know by now) I love because while he doesn’t do anything exceptionally, he does lots of things well enough. Those little things add up.
With over 1,600 player comments in Baseball Prospectus 2012, you might find it difficult to read through them all before draft day arrives. To help you out, I’ll point you toward some of the most insightful comments for this position. These are the guys that I’d highly recommend flipping to in your copy of the book and reading before you sit down at the draft table.
Be sure to read the BP2012 comments for these NL outfielders: Jason Bay, Brandon Belt, David DeJesus, Lucas Duda, J.D. Martinez, John Mayberry, Logan Morrison, and Jayson Werth.