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February 27, 2009

Fantasy Beat

Left Fielders

by Marc Normandin

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Left field is a unique position, since with few exceptions it is not a group that you'll pick from early in the draft. It's one of those positions that you can pluck complementary pieces from in order to balance your lineup. Have you already picked some power at an infield spot? Well then, jump into left field and snag one of the low-power/high stolen-base guys. Already used one of those first few draft picks on someone like Hanley Ramirez or Jose Reyes? Never fear, Carlos Quentin and Adam Dunn are here for you, ready to provide you with all of their home runs.

That being said, whether or not your personal rankings agree with my own will have a lot to do with your draft strategy. If you're an owner who drafts for steals early (I'm not, unless I luck my way into the aforementioned Ramirez), you're going to care about Carl Crawford more than I do, even though, as you'll see, I do think that PECOTA is unfairly giving Crawford the shaft this year.

One item of interest is the back end of these rankings: it's made up almost entirely of similar hitters with very low batting averages and some power, and they're (generally) ranked based upon how much value they will glean from the lineups they play in. Unless you're in an AL- or NL-only league, once you're that far down the list, these hitters will be more of a utility player or fourth-outfielder rather than starters; the bottom portions of these outfielder lists will be better in that regard than the back-end of the lists for shortstop or second base.

In order to make these rankings, I used the 2009 weighted-mean PECOTA projections as a base, and tweaked the results as I saw fit. This isn't a descending list of projected 2009 VORP by any means. Make sure you check out the players' 75th- and 25th-percentile forecasts on their PECOTA cards, as those may help you to make decisions between players you might be debating over.

Since this keeps coming up in the comments: I am ranking the players at their primary position; if you don't see a player here, it's because he's either not good enough or because he's been ranked at a different position. This allows me to cover more players for those of you in deeper leagues. There will also be one unified outfield list, but I'm going to cover each position individually first.


Rank Name              Team        PA  R  HR RBI SB   AVG/ OBP/ SLG  Beta
 1.  Ryan Braun        Brewers    661 105 37 109 15  .296/.362/.560  0.95
 2.  Alfonso Soriano   Cubs       596  90 33 103 21  .281/.348/.538  1.13
 3.  Manny Ramirez     N/A        580  86 30 104  2  .295/.391/.538  0.92
 4.  Carlos Quentin    White Sox  539  78 23  77  5  .273/.363/.485  0.99
 5.  Carl Crawford     Rays       569  76 10  54 30  .276/.322/.409  0.90
 6.  Matt Holliday     A's        608  89 23  89 14  .291/.366/.498  0.96
 7.  Jason Bay         Red Sox    626  90 26  96  7  .271/.364/.493  0.93
 8.  Adam Dunn         Nats       601  97 36  98  4  .262/.396/.541  1.02
 9.  Carlos Lee        Astros     572  81 25  91  8  .296/.359/.508  0.79
10.  Johnny Damon      Yankees    549  80 12  62 22  .280/.354/.423  0.91

Ryan Braun is one of those perfectly balanced players: he can hit for both power and average, he's in the middle of a quality lineup that gives him opportunities to both drive in runs and be driven in, and he may even sneak in those projected 15 steals along the way. He's one of the few left fielders on this list that I would go for very early in the draft (at least once the cream of the positional-scarcity crop has disappeared).

Alfonso Soriano has some of the same perks as Braun-plenty of power, great lineup, speed-but I'm not as confident in his ability to consistently hit for average. In addition, Soriano isn't worth as much as he was when he had center-field eligibility, which is a shame. He's still a very highly rated outfielder though, and another one of the players to consider taking somewhat early overall in your draft.

Manny Ramirez' ranking is obviously based on his being signed before the games begin to count. He will more than likely end up with the Dodgers if he signs, since it's the only team we know about that is still having that conversation. The Dodgers lineup isn't great, but if Manny is in it, it's closer to it; I may even expect more power from Ramirez than PECOTA is giving him credit for here, and that's not just based on his going nuclear during the second half again either.

Carlos Quentin's success in 2008 was largely due to calling US Cellular home: he was tied for second in the AL with 12 "Just Enough" homers, according to Hit Tracker, most of which landed right over the fence in left field during home games. That's not a huge problem, because Quentin is still with the White Sox, after all. His wrist injury causes me a little concern about his power, but not so much that I want to drop his rank down any further.

Crawford dealt with a hamstring injury in '08 caused by an ankle injury that he sustained in 2006, and he also missed seven weeks with a finger injury. PECOTA doesn't know he missed time with an injury, and it assumes that this was the start of a downturn in production; you know better though, and you should remember it, because the Rays finally have a very capable lineup. Crawford should get plenty of runs and RBI to go along with a quality average and loads of steals. I'm more apt to draft him this year than I usually would be because of the overall talent in the team's lineup.

Looking at Holliday, forget about his past history, we need to consider his changing home parks and leagues, and going uphill on both scores; he's moving from the most hitter-friendly park to one of the more pitcher-friendly parks. Coors increases BABIP substantially due to the dimensions and the lack of air pressure, while Oakland's expansive foul ground does a lot to cut into BABIP, so we're going to see a substantially different year from Holliday than we're used to. He may still drive in 100 runs in the middle of the A's order (if they can put enough runners aboard for him), but as PECOTA reflects, I'm not sure he'll hit .300, and he may take a hit on the home runs as well. Still a worthwhile pick, he's just not a "must own early" kind of guy anymore.

If Bay can pull the health trick for a second consecutive year, Red Sox fans and fantasy owners should be quite pleased. For all of those counting stats, I think PECOTA has Bay's '09 nailed, but I do have one concern: he hit just three homers at Fenway (one every 29 at-bats), and he'll need to pick up that pace to match PECOTA's expectations as well as my own, so here's hoping that was just a blip on the small-sample-size radar. Adam Dunn also qualifies at first base, but this projection hurts his value somewhat, as it's from Arizona. Moving to a less-friendly park in Washington, and into a much less productive lineup as well, will hurt his counting stats; he's already got a low batting average that drags down his value in fantasyland, so just be aware that you're not drafting that line above when you pick him.

PECOTA's Beta for Lee can be used as the perfect example for explaining how everyone should evaluate him. His line is like clockwork: good average, above-average power, plenty of counting-stat goodness. He's one of the safest picks on the board, but he's also a boring one in a way, because he's not outstanding in any one category either. Damon would have more value in center field, but between the steals and his place in a somewhat revamped Yankee lineup, you have to like him in fantasy. I may be overrating him a little here because of the steals, but I'm also assuming that his run totals (and maybe even RBI) will be higher than expected; he was driven in 95 times last year, and the Yanks are better set on offense now.


Rank Name             Team        PA  R  HR RBI SB   AVG/ OBP/ SLG  Beta
11.  Adam Lind        Jays       406  48 14  56  3  .272/.326/.458  1.07
12.  Pat Burrell      Rays       588  77 26  81  1  .236/.364/.454  1.17
13.  Delmon Young     Twins      577  70 12  68 16  .284/.325/.420  0.96
14.  Felix Pie        Orioles    492  65 13  55 14  .274/.333/.435  0.93
15.  Fred Lewis       Giants     450  65 10  47 15  .277/.354/.436  0.87
16.  Rick Ankiel      Cards      476  60 24  78  2  .258/.327/.488  0.82
17.  Josh Willingham  Nats       485  67 18  64  3  .266/.360/.466  0.87
18.  Raul Ibanez      Phillies   577  70 18  84  2  .276/.341/.450  0.86
19.  Jack Cust        A's        599  79 28  83  0  .234/.375/.456  1.02
20.  Chase Headley    Padres     491  60 16  61  4  .258/.345/.436  1.02

I think that by year's end Lind will be capable of consistently hitting close to the range of his 75th-percentile forecast (.289/.344/.494). I would love to say that you want him for his runs and RBI, but given that this is the first player from the Blue Jays that I've mentioned over the course of six positions, I'm not too confident in that assertion. He's an upside pick that you hope gets credit for the Jays' counting stats. Pat Burrell is going to miss Philadelphia, but as I explained a few weeks ago, he may not miss it as much as you expect. I think PECOTA is being a little hard on the batting average here as well, but if you look at his Beta, you can see that PECOTA isn't quite sure either.

Delmon Young is here for the sake of upside; until he starts showing better pitch recognition and a bit more patience, I don't have much faith in his ability to ratchet up the power game. He still has great potential, but I have a difficult time ranking him any higher than this until he shows something worthwhile besides a few steals and the potential for a high batting average. Felix Pie is in the same boat, though getting out of the situation in Chicago could be beneficial to him. If the O's leave him alone, I can see him reaching this forecast, but his greatest value may lie in helping to make some of the Orioles' pitchers tolerable by playing in an rangy outfield along with Adam Jones and Nick Markakis.

Fred Lewis struck out more last year, but he also focused more on pitches in the zone and ended up with some extra power because of it. If he can repeat that .150 ISO performance and steal 15 bases or so, he becomes useful as your fourth outfielder or a utility player. His BABIP was a little high last year, but if he can lower his strikeout rate to what we're used to seeing from him, he should be able to offset that regression. Rick Ankiel is listed as the Cardinals' starting left fielder, but he also has center-field eligibility. He's also the one guy left on this list with the most potential for putting up some epic R, RBI, and HR numbers, as he and the others below him are all no-average/all-power types.

Josh Willingham hasn't turned into a star, but he's a solid all-around outfielder who should be good for some decent numbers for fantasy purposes. The low batting average keeps him from being more attractive, and moving to the Nats' lineup won't do him any favors. A lot of things have to go right for Willingham to be a useful source of runs and RBI, so Dunn, Lastings Milledge, Ryan Zimmerman, and Elijah Dukes will all have to hit, and hit a lot, for Willingham to matter. I consider him to be more of an NL-only draft pick; there are better options in front of him for deeper leagues.

Raul Ibaņez won't get as much of a boost out of Philly as you might expect-Safeco is a terrible place for right-handers to hit, but it has a short porch in right field that left-handers like Ibaņez can take advantage of. Last year 13 of his 14 home runs at home went to right or right-center field, and Citizen's Bank Park has similar dimensions for him to try and repeat that trick. He's a safe pick if you miss out on the better hitters, but don't go out of your way to acquire him too early.

Jack Cust is ranked low because of the horrible batting average, and also because he led the American League in that "Just Enough" list I linked to earlier, with 16 of his home runs barely clearing the fence. His most important number is that home-run total, so if he can't replicate it, he'll lose a significant amount of his value. Still, he can be useful in AL-only leagues, or as a boost to your home-run production out of a fourth-outfield or utility slot, and I may be underrating him despite the "Just Enough" factor. Chase Headley might rank higher if he had shown something more during his time in the majors last year, and if he wasn't trying to learn how to hit major league pitching in the Anti-Coors out in San Diego. I would expect a bit more out of him than PECOTA does, but not enough to move him far up the ranks.

The "Just Missed" list for left field is a little boring. If you think that Eric Byrnes is capable of being productive, by all means, he's there for you to take, but he also doesn't have a guaranteed starting gig with Arizona any more (you have to love bench players that make eight figures per year). Scott Hairston would be a more attractive pick if you could guarantee he would have at-bats all season long, but with Hairston already splitting time with Jody Gerut out in center, and possibly losing out on more due to what the Padres hope is the emergence of Will Venable, he inevitably loses some value. It's a shame too, because he can hit, even at Petco. David Murphy needs to show that he can be an above-average outfielder again, but if he sticks in the Rangers' lineup he may pick up a ton of runs and RBI; enough to make him worth more than some of the other players at the back end of this list.

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Premium Article Royal Pain? (02/27)
<< Previous Column
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Catchers (02/23)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Spring T... (03/02)
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Premium Article Under The Knife: On th... (02/27)

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INCOMING ARTICLE LINKS
2009-03-23 - Unfiltered: Combined Outfield Rankings