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If there is one thing NL-Only fantasy owners should take away from last season as we prepare for our 2015 drafts, it is that there is no need to reach for any NL outfielder and extend past your sheet value. In a 2014 season that saw 23 NL outfielders surpass $20 in fantasy earnings in NL-Only 5×5 standard scoring formats, 2015 brings promise that total could rise with the addition of a couple of AL transplants, a handful of bounce-back candidates, as well as several young players looking to take the next step and fulfill their promise. When preparing your draft strategy in terms of constructing your offense, patience will be the key to filling out your OF spots. As we often see with this position, outfield is where most of the great fantasy value plays sit in the middle-to-late rounds for savvy players to pounce on. That should hold true yet again based on the landscape of the NL outfield pool this season.

Leading the way in earnings last year among NL outfielders were a trio of fantasy studs who brought profits in all five standard 5×5 scoring categories. Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton, and Carlos Gomez all tallied $34 in those formats, and should be at the head of the class for targeted outfielders again in 2015. If not for late-season injuries to both McCutchen and Stanton, both had the potential to surpass $35 in earnings, a threshold no NL hitter reached last season. All three have an average NFBC ADP in the top 10, and of them, McCutchen is the surest bet to reach those earnings again.

The numbers speak for themselves: McCutchen led the NL in OBP (.410) and OPS (.952) last year, and posted his third consecutive season with greater than a .300 BA, .400 OBP, and .500 SLG. During those three seasons, he has averaged $37 in NL-Only 5×5 leagues. While he did not run as much last year, he had his best steal rate, swiping 18 of his 21 bases attempted. Entering his age-28 season, he is a fantasy star and is the top NL fantasy hitter, worthy of a $35 bid. Stanton and Gomez are just a slight notch below, but still warrant bids near McCutchen. Stanton is being selected ahead of McCutchen in many early drafts based on his ADP, but I still would take McCutchen based on his proven track record. Last season was the first time Stanton cracked $30 in earnings in his five-year career and I always will give the edge to a player who has a record of producing consistently. I will say this about Stanton; the speed he displayed a season ago by stealing 13 bases in 14 attempts is a part of his game we had not seen before. If he is given the green light on the base paths and can continue those success rates, a $40 season is not out of the question.

Because of the size of the player pool, and for a point of reference when preparing your outfield valuations, let’s take a retrospective look back to 2014 to see where auction dollars were allocated at the position. Below are the 2014 values for the top 15 NL outfielders in terms of salary in the expert leagues CBS, LABR, and Tout Wars (as prepared by Mike Gianella). “Earnings” are based on Mike’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

Andrew McCutchen

$38

$34

-4

2

Carlos Gonzalez

$35

$9

-26

3

Bryce Harper

$33

$11

-22

4t

Ryan Braun

$32

$22

-10

4t

Carlos Gomez

$32

$34

+2

6t

Giancarlo Stanton

$28

$34

+6

6t

Yasiel Puig

$28

$26

-2

8t

Jay Bruce

$27

$15

-12

8t

Hunter Pence

$27

$27

0

10t

Justin Upton

$26

$27

+1

10t

Starling Marte

$26

$27

+1

12t

Matt Holiday

$25

$23

-2

12t

Jayson Werth

$25

$25

0

12t

Billy Hamilton

$25

$27

+2

15

Allen Craig (1B/OF)

$24

$6

-18

When looking back at the results, I will go back to my earlier statement that there is no reason to wander too far off from your sheet prices on your top outfielders based on the delivered earnings in 2014. What continues to amaze me is the fantasy value that many still award Bryce Harper based on hype. Harper has been a $30 salary player the past two seasons, but has yet to crack $24 in NL-Only 5×5 earnings in his three seasons with the Nationals. Harper has only played in 218 games the last two seasons and he regressed in 2014, seeing significant jumps in his strikeout and BB:K rates, and a large decline in his slugging percentage. Despite this, his current ADP is 34, and among NL outfielders, Harper is being selected ahead of Carlos Gonzalez, Starling Marte, Matt Kemp, and Hunter Pence. I’m not sure I understand that rationale, but if others want to invest that heavily on potential, be my guest; I will sit back and take Hunter Pence, who year in and year out is one of the steadiest fantasy earners. I bought Pence in the CBS auction last year at $27, and will be targeting him again. If you have been following the NL-Only series, you’ll see a recurring theme of mine regarding valuing players with a proven track record of consistency. Pence has never earned less than $20 earnings in 5×5 Only leagues in his eight-year career, and rarely misses time, playing in 154 games or more in each of the last seven seasons. These are the players you build championship fantasy teams around.

Carlos Gonzalez is very similar to his teammate Troy Tulowitzki from the perspective of frequent injuries, but still a fantasy force in the limited time he does play. CarGo has only averaged 111 games the past four seasons, but has still managed three 20 HR/20 SB seasons during that time, and three $30 seasons in NL-Only 5×5 leagues. However, there are some concerns surrounding Gonzalez heading into 2015, as he is coming off knee surgery in August. It’s uncertain how healthy he will be to begin the season and the knee issue will almost certainly affect his SB totals. He cannot be relied upon as an early pick, and his bid values need to be tempered based on his most recent surgery.

Braun looked like a shell of himself last season, slugging 100 points lower than his career mark. We saw a spike in his BB:K rates, and he managed just 11 steals in his 16 attempts. Braun is also coming off thumb surgery, raising legitimate fears this will impact his overall fantasy numbers. Combine that with the speculation his past PED use led to inflated offensive numbers, you will need to be cautious with your bids on Braun. He is still a top-10 NL outfielder, but his days as a $35-$40 player are probably over.

The outfielder on this list that arguably has the best opportunity to make the jump to a $30 season is not Puig, but rather Starling Marte. Marte proved the naysayers wrong last year and followed up his sophomore season with an even better year in 2014. The critics point to his high strikeout rates and his reliance on BABIP “luck” as not being able to sustain his fantasy success. Marte’s high BABIP totals in the major leagues are not a small sample size, hinting that these higher BABIP numbers could be the norm based on his speed and ground-ball rates. It certainly helps explain the solid batting averages the past two seasons despite his poor BB:K rates. He missed 27 games last year but still swiped 30 bags and equaled his SB% from the previous year when he stole 41 bases. Marte’s AVG, OBP, and SLG have improved in each of his three seasons with the Pirates and despite the continued skepticism he slashed .348/.408/.567 in the second half with eight bombs. Marte has earned $29 and $27 respectively the past two seasons, so another step forward from a power perspective could make him that $30 player.

Now that we have completed that exercise, let’s now take look at the 2014 season for NL outfielders based on the top 15 earners:

Rank

Player

5×5 Earnings

Salary

+/-

1t

Andrew McCutchen

$34

$38

-4

1t

Giancarlo Stanton

$34

$28

+6

1t

Carlos Gomez

$34

$32

+2

4t

Charlie Blackmon

$30

$4

+26

4t

Ben Revere

$30

$18

+10

6t

Corey Dickerson

$27

$10

+17

6t

Billy Hamilton

$27

$25

+2

6t

Starling Marte

$27

$26

+1

6t

Justin Upton

$27

$26

+1

6t

Hunter Pence

$27

$27

0

6t

Denard Span

$27

$11

+16

12t

Yasiel Puig

$26

$28

-2

12t

Matt Kemp

$26

$23

+3

14t

Jayson Werth

$25

$25

0

14t

Christian Yelich

$25

$16

+9

The theme we see here is that there was no need to overpay for players to buy stats, and that the NL outfield was plentiful in speed—and you did not have to overpay for that category, either. Five of these players stole 30 bases or more lead by Hamilton’s 56 SB, two more stole 20 bases or more (Blackmon, 28 and Yelich, 21), and each of these players swiped at least eight bags. Blackmon was the biggest surprise of this list; there was little indication from his career scan he was capable of this type of fantasy production. Like most Rockies hitters (and his fellow teammate Dickerson) Blackmon had severe home road splits, but his second half drop off—264/.314/.384 with only five HR—is probably more indicative of the player to expect in 2015. Dickerson on the other hand has a better pedigree than Blackmon and looks like a mid-$20s player and top-15 NL OF option based on the park he plays in. Just do not use his 2014 earnings as a baseline for your bid price, as his .312 batting average was helped along by a .360 BABIP, so there could be a little regression.

The Padres offseason activity led to a complete makeover to their OF, as they added Kemp, Upton, and Wil Myers. When Kemp is healthy, we know he can be a fantasy game-changer, and we saw that in the second half last season, when he carried the Dodgers and fantasy teams with a .309/.365/.606 line with 17 HR and 54 RBI in 64 games. If you are concerned about the park effect, don’t be: Kemp has a slash line of .322/.372/.495 in 264 career PA at Petco Park. Kemp appeared in his most games (150) since 2011 last year and could emerge as a top-five fantasy outfielder, so bid confidently. As for his new teammate, Upton has also had success in his new ballpark, posting a career .291/.359/.541 line with 10 home runs in 46 games at Petco. Upton has earned $20 or more in NL-Only 5×5 standard scoring formats in six consecutive seasons, so expect that trend to continue. Lastly, Yelich might have the prettiest left-handed swing in baseball next to CarGo, but that has not resulted in home runs. His 61 percent ground-ball rate last year is not conducive to putting up prodigious HR totals, so don’t expect his power numbers to spike that much in 2015. While Yelich will never be a masher, he has flashed some power in the minors, so there is hope he can improve upon his HR:FB rate of 5.4 percent and possibly reach 12-15 long flies next year. Yelich is a future star, so his $25 in earnings last year could be just a glimpse of what we will see in 2015 and beyond.

As for the new faces coming into the NL from the AL, Nick Markakis and Myers are the headliners. As a veteran of competitive AL-Only leagues, I have an appreciation for Markakis and the value he brings. He never will wow you with stats, but rarely misses time (registering 697 PA or more in seven of the last eight seasons) and will quietly gather the counting stats we covet over a full season. He is coming off neck surgery this offseason, but reports are he will be ready for spring training. It should be interesting to see how NL-Only owners will value Markakis in 2015 drafts. Monitor his health this spring, and if he looks fine, target him as a mid-tier option. Markakis has never earned less than $14 in AL-Only 5×5 standard scoring formats in any of his nine seasons with Baltimore, and there is something to be said for that type of consistency. I am not in the “bounce-back season” camp for Myers after he suffered through an injury plagued 2014 season. Wrist injuries can take longer to heal (ask Mark Teixeira) so the power may not surface this year, especially in his new ballpark. His strikeout rates are a tad concerning, and not only is he changing teams and leagues, he is also changing positions, being asked to roam center field in San Diego, a position he has only appeared in nine games in the majors. If he struggles defensively and presses, you just hope it does not affect his hitting which happens with younger players from time to time. His reputation by name only along with moving to a new league where owners can bid on him for the first time will probably drive up his price, so you will be best suited to bow out and let those owners battle it out. Norichika Aoki and Dexter Fowler also bring their fantasy services to the senior circuit, providing additional depth at the position, coming off $17 and $15 seasons in AL-Only 5×5 leagues, respectively.

The NL outfield landscape this season also consists of several young prospects slated to assume everyday roles for their respective teams in 2015. Players like Joc Pederson, Gregory Polanco, Jorge Soler, and Yasmany Tomas all have high expectations despite limited big-league experience, making the player valuation process quite challenging. Polanco got off to great start last year upon his call-up from Triple-A, but then fell into a major slump and put up a .197/.247/.310 slash line in 156 plate appearances from early July to late August and was sent back down until the September call-ups. Pederson looked overmatched in his 18 games with the Dodgers, striking out 11 times in 28 AB with an anemic .143 SLG. Soler did hit five home runs in his 24 games with the Cubs, but the 22-year-old is very raw, and like Tomas, there are so many unknowns that it’s difficult to justify a healthy investment when there will be proven commodities available at a similar cost. If you are targeting one of these players, just be prepared that they will not come cheaply. Based on the current NFBC ADP rankings Soler and Polanco are being drafted much earlier than the likes of Werth, Marcel Ozuna, Span, Marlon Byrd, Carl Crawford, Michael Cuddyer, Khris Davis, and A.J. Pollock.

There are several outfielders below the upper tier like Jason Heyward, Matt Holiday, Crawford, Pollock, Ozuna, and Granderson who should offer solid production at reasonable costs. Granderson could be a great buy low candidate as he will be reunited with former hitting coach Kevin Long, where both enjoyed success in their years together with the Yankees. Granderson’s struggles vs. LHP throughout his career (.229/.299/.408) is well documented, but improved under Long’s tutelage. In his last year with the Tigers, Granderson slashed .183/.245/.239 vs. southpaws. In his first year with Long and the Yankees in 2010 his AVG jumped 51 points against lefties, and in 2011, he slashed .272/.347/.597 with 16 home runs against LHP. Combine that with the Mets moving in the fences in right center in Citi Field by another 10-11 feet, and that could result in a nice bounce back season for Granderson. Mark Trumbo could also be an interesting buy low candidate coming off a year where he missed half the season with a foot injury. He gets a slight bump in value with his dual eligibility at 1B/OF, and if he can remain healthy another 30 HR season is a possibility. That said, his poor batting average limits his upside so if he gets to the $18-$20 range you would be well served to walk away. Even in his three-year run with the Angels, he only cracked $20 in earnings in AL-Only 5×5 standard scoring leagues once ($21).

From a 4×4 vs. 5×5 value perspective, 4×4 should yield more earnings from the upper-tier outfielders available. There were eight $30 earners in 4×4 formats vs. five in 5×5, with Stanton having the greatest delta with a $5 bump in earnings in 4×4 leagues ($39 vs. $34). The earnings variance usually ranges from $1-3 for the top 25-30 outfielders and decreases as you go down the spectrum.

While we have covered many outfielders thus far, there are a handful of players not mentioned yet who are not as highly regarded, but can certainly be solid additions when rounding out your OF spots in later rounds. This is where some of the best values plays could emerge, and if you are able to snag this year’s Charlie Blackmon ($4 salary/$30 earnings), Drew Stubbs ($6 salary/$22 earnings) or Juan Lagares ($1 salary/$15 earnings) you’ll be the envy of your league. Below I will examine some deeper NL outfield plays that could make for interesting targets from a value perspective. Again, “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.

Jon Jay – Cardinals
4×4 earnings: $15 / 5×5 earnings: $15

Jay is usually one of the more unappreciated fantasy players come draft day, which is fine by me as he is my type of player. Coming off back-to-back $19 seasons in NL-Only 5×5 formats, he still received no love from the experts last season with an average salary of a meager $5. His average fantasy season the past four years is $17, and his .296/.360/.399 career line over his five big-league seasons illustrates his value. Following a .372 OBP in 2014, if he ends up seeing time in the leadoff spot for the Cardinals this year, the run opportunities will be plentiful in that line-up. He has not run as much the past two seasons, but can still be a 10 SB guy. Jay will likely be a bargain again on draft day, so target him late and pat yourself on the back for a job well done if you are able to snatch him on the cheap.

Chris Coghlan – Cubs
4×4 earnings: $16 / 5×5 earnings: $14

Remember when this former first-round pick was the 2009 NL ROY and the fantasy future was bright for Coghlan? It’s been a rough road since then, but Coghlan resurfaced on our fantasy radars last season proving to be waiver wire gold and a fantasy force in the second half. Coghlan put up lines of .376/.449/.600 in July and .318/.378/.500 in September and should see plenty of time in the Cubs line-up this year. His value will probably be low, which makes him a player target late in the hopes he can improve upon his 385 AB last year and churn out more earnings.

Angel Pagan – Giants
4×4 earnings: $16 / 5×5 earnings: $16

Pagan has been limited to 167 games the past two years to the frustration of his owners. Prior to the injuries Pagan was a steady $20-$25 player, so when healthy he provides the speed and batting average to make him a very desirable outfielder. With his recent injury history and the fact he will turn 34 this year, his value may be dropping (his current NFBC ADP is 293) making him a player to keep your eye on depending upon far he falls. Even in only 96 games last season, Pagan was able to amass $16 in earnings, so if you are able to get him later in drafts, he could prove to be a bargain.

Will Venable – Padres
4×4 earnings: $8 / 5×5 earnings: $8

Heading into last year’s drafts, Venable was a hot commodity coming off a 22 HR/22 SB season with the Padres on his way to a $24 season in NL-Only 5×5 leagues. However, a slew of nagging injuries halted his chance at repeating his 2013 success as he posted the worst statistical season of his career. With the acquisitions of Kemp, Upton and Myers, the former Princeton Tiger will be relegated to the role of a part-time outfielder. Venable did rebound in the second half, slashing .261/.333/.401 with six home runs and seven steals in 157 AB. Venable is a trade possibility, so you have to take that into consideration, but he is also an OF injury away from a 400-AB season, over which he could put up decent power and speed totals. Venable is another late-draft play who could provide a nice ROI.

Scott Van Slyke – Dodgers
Andy’s son has made a name for himself with his prowess against LHP, and his .315/.415/.630 slash line with eight homers in 108 AB vs. southpaws in 2014 has given the Dodgers a strong OF platoon option. That said, Van Slyke has also been serviceable when called upon to face righties, slashing .279/.353/.413 in 104 AB versus RHP last season. If Pederson struggles or Crawford continues his trend of missing big chunks of the season (average of 84 games played a season over the past three), Van Slyke could be in line for a big bump in playing time. Van Slyke churned out $11 in earnings in NL-Only 5×5 last year in only 212 AB, so he could be a sneaky-good end game play.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis / Matt den Dekker – Mets
Both of these 27-year-old outfielders will head into spring training trying to earn a spot on the Mets Opening Day roster as the team’s OF5. Nieuwenhuis has the edge, as he is a much better defensive player and is out of options, but den Dekker cannot be counted out for having a fantasy impact this season based on his power/speed potential. With Cuddyer’s injury history there is a good chance both could see time in the Mets OF this year. den Dekker provides more fantasy upside because of his speed, having posted two 20-steal seasons in the minors and swiped seven bags in 53 games with the Mets. Nieuwenhuis will probably receive more playing time for the reasons stated, and he did show some improvement at the plate, smacking 12 doubles and three home runs in 112 AB with the Mets, yielding a strong .223 ISO. Both are end game plays if you need to take a flier on an outfielder.

Ichiro Suzuki – Marlins
Suzuki signed a one-year deal with the Marlins this offseason to be their fourth outfielder. While the 41-year-old will probably not log enough ABs this season to attain the 156 hits he needs to reach 3,000 for his career, he will still get the playing time needed to provide some value in our world. Let’s not forget Suzuki did earn $12 last year in AL-Only 5×5 leagues in just 359 AB. Suzuki can still hit for a high average, and his 15-for-18 steal rate shows he still has some wheels. He’s certainly worth $1-2 in deeper in NL-Only leagues based on the speed.

Grady Sizemore – Phillies
Sizemore was retained by the Phillies this season on a one-year deal and should be a part-time outfielder for them in 2015. There is no pretending here that Sizemore can recapture any semblance of the fantasy force he once was, but if you’re down to your last OF or UT spot and need a warm body that might have a little value, Sizemore will suffice. He did hit five home runs and was 6-for-7 in SB opportunities last year, so a $1 flier is not the worst investment you can make.

Gerardo Parra – Brewers
Parra was dealt to the Brewers at the deadline last year, and will settle in as the Brewers fourth outfielder after agreeing to a one-year deal last month to remain in Milwaukee. Parra is more known for his defense now, but still has enough pop and speed to provide fantasy value in a reserve role. Based on his part time role he will be available at a modest price, and should see enough time to deliver double-digit fantasy earnings, a threshold he has achieved in each of the last four seasons.

Michael Taylor – Nationals
To alleviate any potential confusion, this is Michael A. Taylor, as opposed to Michael D. Taylor of the White Sox. Now that we have gotten that out of the way, let’s discuss Taylor’s potential fantasy contributions this season. Taylor ranks no. 57 on our Top 101 Prospects list, and debuted for the Nationals late last season after a .304/.390/.526 line with 23 home runs and 37 steals between Double-A and Triple-A. Taylor has the tools to be a fantasy star for years to come, but his impact this season is uncertain. Based on his contact rates, he could probably use some additional seasoning in Triple-A to begin the year, but with Werth’s shoulder surgery last month leaving his status for opening day in doubt, a strong spring could force the Nationals’ hand. Its likely Taylor will start the season in Triple-A, but he should see time in the nation’s capital this season, especially if Harper spends more time on the DL. Taylor is a nice end game flier, and strong grab-and-stash play in leagues that allow for reserves.

Jonny Gomes – Braves
After a disappointing season spending time on both coasts with the Red Sox and A’s, Gomes heads back to the NL after signing a one-year deal with the Braves this offseason. As it looks right now, Gomes will be part of a LF platoon with Zolio Almonte and will get the starts against LHP. Gomes is what he is, but he did hit 18 home runs in 279 Abs with the A’s in 2012, and 13 with the Red Sox in 312 ABs in 2013. Gomes could be a decent source of cheap power, so makes for a decent option late to plug in as needed, or OF depth in leagues that allow for reserves.

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jonathanroman
2/16
BP forgot to post the AL-Only Outfielders!
Slyke18
2/17
Hi jonathanroman, The AL-Only outfielder article was posted on the website this morning. Nick walks you through the AL outfield landscape heading into 2015 drafts. Enjoy!