keyboard_arrow_uptop

While the National League has a robust and deep pool of outfielders, as Keith Cromer previewed in the NL-Only outfield landscape last week, the American League is a different story. Last year there were 23 outfielders who earned at least $20 in standard 5×5 NL-Only leagues, while there were just 16 outfielders to earn at least $20 in AL-Only. In NL-Only and especially mixed leagues, owners are afforded the comfort of the wealth of options available in the outfield. However, in AL-Only leagues, the outfield pool isn’t quite as deep.

As an avid AL-Only player myself, I’ve dealt with this outfield pool in recent years. In one of my home leagues last year, I went so far as to spend five of my first seven picks on outfielders. I was fortunate enough to have the first pick, selected Mike Trout, and grabbed Jose Bautista and Max Scherzer on the next turn. I followed that with Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Abreu, and then Kole Calhoun and Leonys Martin when it came back around. Rarely does something work out so neatly, and the trick of stacking your outfield is perhaps easier to execute in an auction, though it would take patience. The strategy was sound and remains so, as long as you trust yourself to fill out the rest of your team.

If you can’t or don’t want to fill your outfield early, of course there are other paths to take. My advice is still to get involved early, do some damage (hopefully not to yourself), and get out while you still can, which I believe was also Billy Martin’s brawl strategy, but it stands nonetheless.

Below are the 2014 values for the top 15 AL outfielders in salary in the expert leagues CBS, LABR, and Tout Wars (as prepared by Mike Gianella). “Earnings” are based on Mike Gianella’s Rotisserie-style, 4×4 and 5×5 formulas he provided in his Retrospective Player Valuation article from November 20th.

Rank

Player

Salary

5×5 Earnings

+/-

1

Mike Trout

$46

$38

-8

2

Jacoby Ellsbury

$33

$31

-2

3

Adam Jones

$32

$29

-3

4

Shin-Soo Choo

$29

$10

-19

5

Jose Bautista

$28

$32

+4

6

Alex Rios

$27

$18

-9

7

Wil Myers

$25

$6

-19

8

Carlos Beltran

$24

$10

-14

10t

Yoenis Cespedes

$23

$24

+1

10t

Alex Gordon

$23

$23

0

11

Josh Hamilton

$22

$11

-11

12

Desmond Jennings

$21

$14

-7

14t

Leonys Martin

$20

$23

+3

14t

Shane Victorino

$20

$3

-17

15t

Brett Gardner

$19

$23

+4

15t

Nori Aoki

$19

$18

-1

15t

Coco Crisp

$19

$17

-2

As you can see from the table, spending on the top outfielders in AL-Only leagues last year was mostly a nightmare. Splurging on Mike Trout, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Adam Jones didn’t hurt, but only Jose Bautista, Brett Gardner, and Leonys Martin earned a profit greater than $1, and combined the group earned -$100. This group contributed to the lack of depth in this year’s AL outfield class as Wil Myers was traded to the NL after his sophomore slump and there aren’t many believers in Carlos Beltran, Josh Hamilton, and Shane Victorino anymore.

And then there’s Choo, who played through injuries after an outstanding season with the Reds in 2013. He posted a single season career-high 24 percent strikeout rate and .244/.348/.384 line against right-handed pitching, which was also the worst of his career and particularly damning for a hitter who has always struggled against left-handed pitching. His OBP dropped .082 points from his .423 mark in 2013 and he managed to steal just three bases in seven attempts after stealing 20 in 31 attempts in 2013. The good news is that he’ll be discounted this year and reports of his demise have been potentially exaggerated. PECOTA projects Choo for a .263 AVG with 14 home runs and 13 steals. He’s still a top 15 AL-Only outfielder.

Now let’s take a look at the best AL earners in the outfield from 2014:

Rank

Player

5×5 Earnings

Salary

+/-

1

Michael Brantley

$39

$14

+25

2

Mike Trout

$38

$46

-8

3

Jose Bautista

$32

$28

+4

4

Jacoby Ellsbury

$31

$33

-2

5

Nelson Cruz

$30

$17

+13

6

Adam Jones

$29

$32

-3

7

Rajai Davis

$26

$10

+16

9t

J.D. Martinez

$25

+25

9t

Melky Cabrera

$25

$10

+15

11t

Lorenzo Cain

$24

$9

+15

11t

Yoenis Cespedes

$24

$23

+1

14t

Alex Gordon

$23

$23

0

14t

Brett Gardner

$23

$19

+4

14t

Leonys Martin

$23

$20

+3

15

Torii Hunter

$22

$15

+7

Brantley hit .327 last year, after two seasons with AVGs in the .280s, on his way to earning the most valuable AL-Only outfielder designation. With reason to believe his AVG will take a step back as PECOTA projects him to hit .285, there’s an argument that Brantley isn’t a top five outfielder in AL-Only this year. One of the main reasons for this is that 2015 could be the summer of George.

I am, of course, referring to George Springer, who earned $13 in AL-Only leagues last year despite playing in just 78 games. Beyond the power potential he’s barely begun to tap into with 20 home runs last year, we’ve yet to see his stolen-base speed. Springer stole 45 bases between two levels in the minor leagues in 2013, though he stole just five bases in the majors last year. Springer strikes out too much to produce a good AVG, but his tools are almost too great to pass up.

Perhaps I’m lower on Lorenzo Cain than most, but he’s the last guy I would take ahead of the Desmond Jennings-Coco Crisp-Austin Jackson tier—or as I call it, the abyss. Cain has never come through on his power potential and had a .380 BABIP to thank for his .301 AVG last year. He’s also a health risk who saw 500 plate appearances for the first time last year. I’ll let someone else get all excited about the Royals this year.

Of the few players who turned a profit in the table above, Melky Cabrera has the best chance at repeating his production. Cabrera is a solid line drive hitter who hardly ever strikes out (10 percent strikeout rate last year) and that’s a much more reliable profile than that of J.D. Martinez, who strikes out a ton (26 percent strikeout rate) and depended on a .389 BABIP to drive his .315 AVG. Cabrera is also heading to a prime spot in the revamped White Sox lineup, which should be good for his runs scored total.

By the way, would it have killed Mike Trout to run more? Only 16 steals, what gives? Kidding aside, stolen bases in the AL have decreased slightly each year since 2011 and no AL outfielder stole at least 40 bases last year, though a few were close. Rajai Davis came close by stealing 36 bases, but what really drove his value was the regular playing time and his AVG. Davis saw 494 plate appearances last year, the most in a season since 2010 when he was still with Oakland, and hit .282, also his best since 2010. With a crowded outfield in Detroit after the Anthony Gose trade, the expectation is that Davis will serve mostly in a platoon role. No matter how it looks now, he has to be taken in case he falls into more playing time.

While it’s fun to see Torii Hunter still on this list, his power fell off in the second half (.138 ISO) and without a .352 BABIP in the second half he’d have been a complete zero. At his age and without the heart of the Tigers order backing him up, he’s not a fantasy target.

Was it good for you too? Let’s keep going as I’ll examine a few interesting AL-Only outfield targets for deep formats. “Earnings” are based on Mike Gianella’s Rotisserie-style, 4×4 and 5×5 formulas he provided in his Retrospective Player Valuation article from November 20th.

Kevin Kiermaier – Rays
4×4 earnings: $11 5×5 earnings: $10

Kiermaier has the speed to steal 20 bases easily, yet somehow he only stole five bases and was caught four times in 108 games with the Rays last year (he stole 11 and was caught only once in 34 games at Triple-A). More importantly, he was able to manage a .280/.339/.498 line in 285 plate appearances against right-handed pitching. That’s more pop than most expect from Kiermaier, but it’s clear he could put up a season with at least 10 home runs and 20 steals.

Jake Marisnick – Astros
4×4 earnings: $7 5×5 earnings: $6

Marisnick’s free-swinging ways are likely to keep his AVG down as he posted a SO:BB of 48:5 in 186 plate appearances with Houston and needed a .352 BABIP to hit .272. Still, he has the tools to be on the radar in fantasy, as there’s pop when he makes contact and he can steal bases.

Dalton Pompey – Blue Jays
4×4 earnings: $1 5×5 earnings: $1

After starting last year at High-A, Pompey debuted in the majors last September and seems to have the inside track on the Jays’ centerfield job. At 22, he’s still a bit of a raw talent at the plate, but the speed should play immediately.

Matt Joyce – Angels
4×4 earnings: $11 5×5 earnings: $11

While Josh Hamilton’s injury may open up some playing time early in the season, I have to imagine batting second between Calhoun and Trout against right-handed pitching is the best spot for Joyce’s value. Now that job could go to Erick Aybar while Hamilton is out (who knows for how long), and Joyce would bat fifth coming off his worst single season ISO (.129) of his career. Despite his low AVG, Joyce’s walk rate for his career is nearly 12 percent and he’d score a ton of runs if given the two spot in the order all year. All bets are off if the Angels decide to play him regularly against left-handed pitching.

The following players are still interesting deep targets, but are best suited as part of a total bargain strategy or reserve picks.

Chris Young – Yankees
4×4 earnings: $4 5×5 earnings: $3

Young became a True Yankee™ almost immediately as he blasted a walkoff home run against the Rays during his second week in pinstripes. He’s unlikely to become a good AVG hitter out of nowhere, but he showed he can get hot for a month and if he’s lucky he might get another opportunity this year. If he’s really lucky, maybe the Yankees will decide to retire his number.

Sam Fuld – Athletics
4×4 earnings: $14 5×5 earnings: $12

Fuld isn’t much with the bat, but his speed is valuable in deep leagues. If your league plays with caught stealing—I don’t know what kind of weird stuff you might be into—that’s even better because he’s efficient. Fuld had 21 steals and was caught just four times last year.