We served the meat back when we talked about first basemen a few weeks ago, the dressed it up with some creamed spinach when we talked about the hot corner, and now we come with the potatoes. The importance of a good and deep outfield shouldn’t be a mystery to anybody, but it was certainly underscored in a bounce-back year for offense last season. In addition to remaining the place to go to grab the bulk of your steals, OF also produced both the third-highest slugging percentage and ratio of homeruns per plate appearance off the six positional groups. As you might imagine the field is fairly stratified, with specialists and well-rounded types aplenty, and those differences tug the position’s overall value production in different directions. But on balance this is an extremely important position to fill with quality, and given the scope of the field there are some significant and wild swings of value in the jump from standard formats to OBP and points leagues.
In case you missed any of the previous articles in this series, you can find those here:
Before you continue I’d advise you to check out J.P. Breen’s two-part standard-league rankings (Part One is here, Part Two here) for reference, as all of the valuation notes below are based off of those standard league rankings.
The depth here really shows in the opportunity to pad your team’s on-base percentage by stocking up on outfielders earlier in the draft. Thirty-two outfielders worked walks at a double-digit clip last year, and the eight percent overall rate for the position was the second-highest tally of the positional groups – an all-the-more impressive feat considering the volume involved. The “up” arrows can help you build up a nice OBP cushion, while the “down” guys hurt a lot more relative to the position’s strong overall contribution in this category.
Jose Bautista, TOR – Realistically I can just link what I wrote about Bautista last year and call it a day, as Bautista’s a one-of-a-kind type who is one of the best OBP league players year in and out. As usual he made a run at nine bucks of additional AL-only value last year, finishing as the third-best outfielder again. He’s 35, and that always makes for a dodgy investment proposition. But nothing in his under-the-hood metrics last year pointed to imminent decline, and he’s still a thoroughly elite option in this format. Standard: Four Stars, OBP: Five Stars
Joc Pederson, LAD – For all of Pederson’s difficulties adjusting to big league pitching once word got around town last summer, he posted the third-highest OBP value adjustment at the position, checking in below just Bryce Harper and Jose Bautista with an addition $8.50 of NL-only value. His 136-point spread between his on-base percentage and batting average was second only to Joey Votto among qualified hitters last year, and where his .210 average was the seventh-worst of any of the 144 outfielders to log 200 plate appearances last year his OBP ranked solidly above-average. As the numbers suggest, he’s one of the biggest movers on the entire OBP-league landscape and a borderline top-25 outfielder and a nice upside play for more. Standard: Low-Three Stars, OBP: High-Three Stars
Delino DeShields, Jr. – As a speed-primary contributor, DeShields’ overall value didn’t explode in OBP leagues relative to standard formats, but the skillset makes him incredibly interesting going forward. As a prospect, the questions about him always seemed to center around effort more than talent, and his carry-over of a nearly-eleven percent walk rate as a 22-year-old rookie marked an extremely encouraging sign that the talent could hang with the big boys. A should-be leadoff hitter with the ability to get on base at an above-average rate (over a high relative number of plate appearances, mind you), steal 30-plus bases at a minimum, and score the runs for what should be a strong lineup makes for an awfully tantalizing target as a high-OF3 in OBP formats. Standard: High-Two Stars, OBP: Three Stars
Dexter Fowler, FA – Fowler’s one of the poster boys for OBP value every year, but this winter is harder than most for projection purposes given his current and lingering unemployment. Fowler’s power outburst last year fueled much of his gain in year-to-year value, and it was the product of a more pull-happy approach than he’d ever shown in pre-Wrigley times. Whether it holds in his next homeland remains to be seen, but OBP leaguers have the luxury of a stellar walk rate to fall back on if things don’t work out, and he remains a borderline OF3 option. Standard: Two Stars, OBP: Low-Three Stars.
Jackie Bradley, Jr. – It’s still not entirely clear what Bradley’s offensive game is going to look like as a finished product, but odds are it’ll involve a lot of time on base. His .391 career minor league OBP was driven by a beautiful 12 percent walk rate, and after struggling mightily in his initial looks at big league pitching he began looking like that kind of hitter last year. He absolutely has the profile to put up a double-digit walk rate over a full season of at-bats, and he should be valued higher in OBP formats. Standard: One Star, OBP: Low-Two Stars
Others: As if they needed to, both Mike Trout and Bryce Harper improved their value significantly in OBP formats last year, with the latter cracking double-digits in additional NL-only value by walking a staggering 19 percent of the time…All we’re waiting on with George Springer now is health, as he’s continued to back up an outstanding power-and-speed profile with an impressive walk rate when he’s been healthy. Invest and hope for 600 plate appearances…It feels like an awful lot of thought has been put into what Shin-Soo Choo isn’t and can’t do since he signed his big-money deal, but lost a bit has been the reality of what he can do, which, more than anything else, is get on base at a stellar clip. He’s one of the stronger Three-Star targets around in OBP leagues…Now that we’re a couple of years removed from John Sterling destroying my will to live every time Curtis Granderson did something positive, I’m finally able to take a deep breath and appreciate him as a player again. But while the stellar approach has held into his twilight years, a notoriously fickle line drive rate cued his offensive resurgence last year. He’s a better bet to make in OBP formats to be sure, but managers shouldn’t jump him too far up the rankings…Matt Holliday has been Bautista-lite for a while now in OBP leagues, but the injury issues that cropped up last year (along with the extra year of mileage) keep him subdued farther down the ranks. He still makes a sizeable leap forward into three-star range as the risk equation tilts more heavily in favor of investment in OBP formats, however…Steven Souza’s command of the zone helps his moderate power and speed combination play well up in OBP leagues, where his contact issues (of both quality and frequency varieties) aren’t as crippling an issue.
Yoenis Cespedes, NYM – Despite his absurd run of dominance in Flushing, Cespedes saw his profile in OBP leagues take another hit last year, as his walk rate plunged for a third straight year to south of five percent. His chasing ways continued to get the better of him more often, and a contact rate that backed up in the wrong direction gave him more chances to chase. The risks in paying full freight for his post-trade run are magnified in OBP leagues, where he was already four bucks lighter last year. Standard: Low-Four Stars, OBP: Three Stars
Kevin Pillar, TOR – After last year’s outburst Pillar is the current poster boy for unheralded late-round senior signs made good. His power-and-speed combination was one of the best in baseball, continuing a long track record of steady production throughout his professional career. The one area in which the steadiness has been unwelcome, however, involves the art of getting on base. His poor walk rate last season was in line with his history of taking walks at a poor rate, and it lopped almost four bucks off his strong earnings in OBP leagues. The speed ensures he’s still a valuable target, but in OBP formats the ceiling is more modest. Standard: Three Stars, OBP: High-Two Stars
Ender Inciarte, ATL – I don’t like knocking 25-year-olds on the back end of a breakout season any more than you do, but Inciarte’s value takes a sharp hit in OBP formats, where the pressure to continue hitting .300 every year is magnified. It’s certainly something he could do—his all-fields approach and speed means the batted ball profile he generated last year can absolutely play. But his .035 OBP-AVG split was the fourth-worst among outfielders to log 400 plate appearances last year, and he came in as less than a $20 player despite the best-case-scenario season. Standard: High-Two Stars, OBP: Low-Two Stars
Rusney Castillo, BOS – Castillo’s one of the tougher guys to evaluate in all of fantasy baseball, as he’s shown little sustained production since signing, but he has also flashed an intriguing skill set and looks like a likely starter in one of the best lineups in the American League. The power potential seems like a sketchy projection, and he hasn’t shown much speed utility on the bases. Of biggest concern to OBP leaguers, however, is an extremely aggressive approach at the plate thus far. Given the uncertainties about what a good season from Castillo might look like, the further volatility of the OBP profile knocks him down farther in this format. Standard: Low-Two Stars, OBP: One Star
Others: Adam Jones is always good, but never quite as good in OBP formats, where he last year cost AL-only players three bucks of value. As he ages he’s a threat to be a bigger threat right quick…Corey Dickerson’s chronic foot condition and migration out of Coors (into at least a traditionally tough park for LH power, no less) already clouds his value in standard leagues, and last year’s barely-four-percent walk rate doesn’t help the equation in OBP leagues…Last year’s sub-five percent walk rate in his rookie season was out of line with Billy Burns’ minor-league record, but until he shows signs of his earlier approach translating into games at the big-league level it would be wise to keep on-base expectations in check…Marcell Ozuna has been a popular late OF4 upside play in drafts thus far, but his aggressiveness makes the potential surplus margin thinner in OBP leagues.
Here’s where the full brunt of the balanced power-and-speed production comes to bear for outfielders, as the position is rife with guys who can fill a box score any number of ways. The rate of doubles-plus-triples is on par with the middle infielders who live on such hits, while as noted the home run production stands in the top-half among slugging positions like first and third base. The position’s above-average cumulative strikeout rate (20.9 percent) leaves managers a little breathing room to aim for raw production with less of a concern for negative value hits. Lower-strikeout options who can do a little bit of everything shoot up in net worth in these formats, while higher-whiff rate guys get a bit of a reprieve provided they continuing producing enough total-base value.
Jose Bautista, TOR – Again, not much to say here other than reiterating that while Bautista’s batting average fluctuations and sporadic health issues are enough to keep him out of the five-star tier in standard play, they aren’t in a lot of alternate scoring systems, including points leagues. He posted a top-ten total base rate, while his whiff rate was in the 80th percentile for the position. It’s a dominant combination, and he’s worth the price of admission. Standard: Four Stars, Points: Five Stars
David Peralta, ARI – Perhaps more quietly than others, Peralta produced the 12th-best total-base rate last year while managing a position-average strikeout rate. He led the league in triples en route to 53 extra base hits on the season, leveraging his strong home park with a tailor-made approach to the power alleys. He has shown as a consistent, strong hitter in this very mold ever since his post-pitching renaissance began in 2013, and he makes for a solid OF2 target in points formats. Standard: Low-Three Stars, Points: High-Three Stars
Gerardo Parra, COL – With the playing time concerns cleared up now in the wake of Dickerson’s departure, Parra should be all systems go for points league investment. His skillset plays up nicely for points scoring regardless of where he plays, and those drool-worthy alleys in Coors do nothing but enhance that value. His tumbling walk rate over the last several seasons isn’t the best, but he strikes out at a solidly below-average rate, and an already-top-third total-base rate that can and should improve this year pushes him into OF3 territory. Standard: Two Stars, Points: Low-Three Stars
Carlos Beltran, NYY – Beltran didn’t crack out top 75, but he should be there comfortably in points leagues in spite of his old man-ness. He cobbled together a top-10 doubles rate among outfielders with 250 plate appearances, and his total base rate cracked the top 25th percentile for the position as well. Add in a well above-average strikeout rate, and this is one of the more appealing veteran outfielders around to target as an OF5—potentially even an OF4 if your league extends a bit beyond our standard 16-team model. Standard: Zero Stars, Points: Low-Two Stars
Others: As with most formats, Bryce Harper was a spectacle last year, and he got an even bigger boost in points leagues, where his league-average strikeout rate paired with an all-world total base rate to outpace anyone else in the game…A.J. Pollack’s elite (for the position) whiff rate solidifies him as a legitimate five-star option even if you don’t buy the higher-end projections for a repeat performance…Ryan Braun’s season in 2015 was tremendous news for managers employing his services in any league, points formats especially. He managed to pair a top-15 total base rate with an average whiff rate, while offsetting some of the latter with a solid walk rate that was in line with prime production. How many more seasons he’ll be able to piece together like 2015 remains to be seen, but he warrants extra leeway in points formats and still makes for one of the stronger Tier Four targets…A healthy Michael Brantley is a points-league monster, and owners outside of extremely deep leagues should be aggressive in continuing to value him as a top-25 option even with the missed time to come (Brantley plus a replacement-level guy for five to six weeks still works) and health uncertainties…Stephen Piscotty’s whiff rate was higher upon his initial jump to the majors last year, but he has always shown strong contact skills at every other stop up the ladder and the total base rate was top-20. Given the growth potential here he’s a nice points league target in the back half of the three-star tier.
Giancarlo Stanton, MIA – The downgrade here isn’t enormous, but it’s enough to knock him out of the five-star tier, and thus notable. The hamate bone has a nasty habit of robbing hitters of bat speed long after they return from the injury, and Stanton’s recovery last season already featured its share of atypical scar tissue issues. This is a more important risk factor for Stanton than just about any other hitter in a points league, as he needs to post the kind of Paul Bunyan power numbers a healthy Stanton produces in order to offset what has quickly become a strikeout issue. Stanton’s approach last year migrated great distances into the land of greedy sluggers, where in-zone contact rates dive as balls in play wander ever more frequently to the pull side. A sell-it-out approach is fine if you’re hitting the ball three miles an hour harder than any other human, but the margin for error is thinner here than I’d be comfortable with given the price tag. Standard: Five Stars, Points: Four Stars
Jorge Soler, CHC – Soler’s reign as a burgeoning fantasy monster took a hiatus of heretofore unknown length after an injury-riddled and uninspiring sophomore campaign. Big league pitchers exploited his aggressive approach with abandon, with lefthanders (and their changeups, in particular) giving him fits. Even modest progress in taming his contact issues may be enough for his extra base potential to ultimately win the day and level out his (potentially significant) value in points leagues, but given how he showed last year the path to respectability there won’t be one likely trod in a single season. There’s significant growth and adjustment needed here, and the risk attached to him not making big enough strides knocks his value down a few pegs in points leagues. Standard: Three Stars, Points: High-Two Stars
Khris Davis, OAK – A terrible strikeout rate, a bunch of flyballs, and poor exit velocity on grounders makes for quite the unholy trinity on which to pin one’s aspirations for base hit production. And now Davis, a right-handed homerun hitter by trade, fixes to call home the park that played fifth-toughest for right-handed hitters to homer in. That’s especially unfortunate for Davis, whose rate of doubles plummeted last season as hit batted ball tendencies became better known to the league. Dingers are things that are good, and he showed an ability to walk a bit more last year, but the points league price of Davis’ round-trippers is a lot steeper. Standard: Three Stars, Points: High-Two Stars
Steven Souza, TAM – I touched some on Souza’s contact issues in the OBP section above, but the (slightly) longer-form version involved generally poor and overwhelmingly pull-side contact. His struggles to put bat on ball, and his tendencies to pop up and roll over when he did, really put an unpleasant kibosh on his extra-base hit production. It’s possible his lingering hand issues fatally harmed his pursuit of the point of contact, but betting on a healthy rebound has to take longer odds in points formats where his strikeouts are absolutely crippling. Standard: Low-Two Stars, Points: One Star
Others: While his contact rate still came in well below-average last year, George Springer earns credit for gargantuan strides in slashing his whiff rate and posting a far more balanced batted ball distribution. The whiffs are still high enough to ding his topline value accordingly for the time being in points leagues, though another step forward this year and…hoo boy…Carlos Gonzalez was able to find his earlier-career strikeout sweet spot last year, but he didn’t get there by changing his approach for the better, rather increasing his swing rate overall at a fast clip than his contact rate sank. That both of those things happened is a poor future indicator, and although the topline numbers suggest a marginal benefit to his value in a points league, the trendlines and indicators suggest that the potential for a steeper decline trajectory should be priced in…Joc Pederson’s points league value is even tougher to pin down than his standard ranking. The strikeouts are an albatross any way you slice it, but beyond that if he didn’t hit one over the wall last year it was rarely good for extra bases. The volatility makes him a better play as someone else’s problem…
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now