As I’ve said before, these rankings function best as something like a cross between keeper preferences and dynasty rankings for those whose window of contention is open in the immediate future. Crucially, these rankings are mine alone. They no doubt vary from the opinions of other smart evaluators on this site, and that’s okay. Good, even. This wouldn’t be much fun if we all thought the same thing about every player and couldn’t learn from each other in the cases where we diverge.
Harper out-earned Trout in 2015. Trout’s stolen-base output has declined from 49 to 11 in the past four seasons and he was caught stealing on 39 percent of his attempts in 2015. The context around Trout could be putrid as early as right now and opponents have no real reason to let Trout swing the bat. Those are the reasons for reversing these two, and I think they’re all compelling. I still can’t do it until I see Harper play another healthy 150-game season.
There’s no denying the allure of Stanton. He crushed 27 home runs in only 74 games in 2015 and his batted ball velocity relative to the rest of the league looks like a mistake. The difference between his 97.73 mph average and second place Miguel Sano’s (94.45 mph) is the same as the difference between Sano and the 47th-best (Khris Davis, 91.17 mph). Still, I’d be lying if this ranking didn’t give me pause. Staying on the field has been a problem, and massive raw power isn’t enough in today’s game. Stanton will need to improve upon 2015’s career-worst contact rate if he’s going to justify this placement.
Pollock was fantasy’s best outfielder in 2015 and depending on your league size, it wasn’t particularly close. In a standard 12-team mixed league, our PFM says Pollock bettered Harper by more than a Lincoln and Harper by more than a 10-spot. Hitting in front of Goldy makes another top five finish in runs scored likely, which, paired with 30 steals makes him an elite option even if his power and average back up a bit. McCutchen was sitting on a .194/.302/.333 on May 1st, then hit .306/.416/.510 the rest of the way. Recall that he was nursing a knee injury throughout the spring when you wonder why his seasonal line looks faded. He won’t return top five value again if he doesn’t run more than he did in 2015, but there is still an incredibly high floor here. You can’t say enough positive things about Mookie Betts’ rookie season, despite the internet’s best effort.
This ranking of Springer assumes several things: that the approach and contact gains are real and he’s not the batting average liability he once looked to be, that his power-speed combination will hold, and most importantly, that he can stay healthy for six months. There’s a 25-25 season lurking, and he’ll pile up the runs if he keeps his spot atop the Astros lineup. Six of Marte’s 19 home runs in 2015 came in April, a month where his HR/FB rate was 50 percent. That provides some reason for skepticism regarding Marte as a legitimate 20 home run threat. On the other hand, Marte’s batted-ball distance is right there with some of the game’s best power hitters. If he can get his batted ball mix shifted around, he stands a chance of repeating 2015’s power production. In any case, he’s a five-category contributor in his prime. It took a couple iterations of this list before Blackmon found his rightful spot inside the top 10. In the end, it doesn’t make much sense to have Pollock all the way up at four if the still-pretty-wealthy-man’s version of him isn’t close behind.
Don’t let that 2014 linger; Davis is safer than you might think. He was no good in right field, but the O’s aren’t exactly brimming with superior defensive options. I’m not willing to dock him the few spots I would if I was certain he’d lose outfield eligibility. In other words, be prepared to dust off the “where’s Chris Davis?” outrage next February. Upton is somehow only 28. That’s two years older than George Springer. He’s going to play 150 games and give you steady production in the middle of a loaded lineup, including the 20-steal potential he’s shown everywhere except Atlanta. It’s difficult to doubt Martinez after he backed up that 2014 renaissance with a top 15 finish at the position last year. 35-year-old Bautista’s given us two consecutive full seasons but the two before that were injury-shortened. I have few questions about whether he’ll produce when he’s in there. This ranking is a hedge against his age. Ditto for Nellie.
Heyward earns the last spot in the top 15 because of his balance and the fact that he’s just now entering his physical prime. I don’t like Hamilton here any more than you do. The fact of the matter is he stole 57 bases in 114 games despite only getting on base 27 percent of the time. You don’t even have to squint to see a 70-steal season with full health and modest improvements in his batting average, which even the most pessimistic projection would grant. I’m not the biggest Cain fan and would have dropped him lower if it weren’t for the baseline provided by his speed and the fact that Ned Yost religiously penciled him in the three-hole in 2015. I’ll take the under on 12 home runs for Cain and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Revere outpaces him in runs, steals, and average. Revere is an elite contact hitter and Dusty will let him run.
Rounding out the top 20 are two 30-year-olds whose biggest contribution comes in the power categories. That they can fall behind some of the names above illustrates the changing nature of the fantasy landscape. I hope I’m wrong about Cespedes but I’m struggling to see why we should expect the guy from the second half of 2016 instead of the longer track record he laid down prior. Gonzalez hit 40 home runs last year and finished as fantasy’s 17th-best outfielder. If he only hits 25 in 2016, where does that leave him? Gomez struggled to stay healthy in 2015 and it showed in both the quality of his contact and the success rate of his stolen-base attempts. Those are not problems I expect to age well given his aggressive style of play both at the plate and in the field.
Polanco hasn’t quite delivered on the hype that accompanied his rapid ascent from full-season ball in 2012 to everyday major leaguer by mid-2014, but speed has floated his fantasy value in the meantime. He’ll play 2016 at age 24 and with some moderate development at the dish, could resemble his teammate Marte. He’s 15-30 waiting to happen, with prime real estate atop the Pirates’ lineup assuring him of a lofty run total. Yelich’s tenure as a big leaguer is only a year longer than Polanco’s even though it feels like he’s been around a while. Also 24 years old, the power isn’t going to come without an extreme redistribution of his batted ball mix, but I do still believe he can make a run at a batting title. I think Eaton and Yelich will put up very similar lines in 2016, with Yelich getting the edge for this three-year window by virtue of being three years Eaton’s junior. Placing Buxton here assumes he spends most of 2016 in Minnesota. Even if he doesn’t hit for power or average straight away, Buxton will run enough to be valuable. If he hits, this ranking could be 15 spots too low.
I’m terrified of the injuries, otherwise both would be 10 spots higher. I’m a huge believer in Brantley’s skills but it’s hard to know how the labrum surgery will affect his over-the-fence pop. His league-best contact ability will have him in the batting crown race regardless, likely with excellent contextual stats. Braun is reportedly behind schedule in his recovery from offseason back surgery. The 24 bags he swiped in 2015 already looked out of line with his recent history. Needless to say, I’m not expecting a 32-year-old with back problems to be an asset on the basepaths and I’m nervous about what the injury might mean for his production at the plate.
Conforto comes off an eye-opening 2015 debut that included a two-home-run game in the World Series. The Mets hid him against lefties in his rookie season, only allowing him 15 plate appearances against same-siders. They could choose to go that route again, given the bench depth and the fact that Cespedes shouldn’t play centerfield every day. That would put a dent in his 2016 value, but his power to all fields and potential move up the lineup provide reason for optimism. Dickerson shares the platoon concerns and his injury history—especially his recent bout with planter fasciitis—adds additional risk. He’s been productive when healthy though, and you should be careful not to dismiss Dickerson because of the move from Coors to the Trop. The latter was, strangely, the most favorable park for left-handed power in the major leagues last season.
This block is probably a job for the shruggy-guy emoji. There’s no questioning the raw talent in the pair of Cubans, and the combination of youth and explosive upside makes each a candidate to shoot up next year’s version of this list. That potential is accompanied by enough volatility to fall out of the top 50, so your guess is as good as mine. Puig’s 2014 success still seems to resonate with fantasy owners after an atrocious 2015, as he’s being drafted as a top 100 player. You’ll have to take the plunge and hold your breath if you want to him. Soler will come cheaper and is the more reasonable investment, despite the fact that he hasn’t shown he can produce over a full season. I’ll be honest, I had no idea Pederson hit .210 last year. I knew it was bad but I didn’t know it was .210 bad. Pederson walked at a 15.7 percent clip though, and that got his OBP all the way up to .346. It’s hard to figure why he didn’t run at all. There’s an enticing power-speed combination here and it’s nearly impossible to be as bad as he was in the second half again. He’ll turn 24 shortly after Opening Day and while his batting average is unlikely to ever be helpful, the normal course of development suggests Pederson won’t submarine the category on his own.
It appears I won’t own any Adam Jones shares in 2016. His 2015 totals in all five roto categories were the lowest they’ve been since 2011. That was in part because he missed a chunk of games for the first time this decade, a compensating factor to be sure, but not something to be categorically dismissed for a player on the wrong side of 30. Amazingly, he was more aggressive than he’s ever been, swinging more often that anyone not named Marlon Byrd. Perhaps more amazingly, he set a new career high for contact rate. Buying a three percentage point jump in contact rate for a free-swinger who got even looser doesn’t seem like a good idea at this stage of his career. Jones finished outside the top 30 outfielders last season, so while this ranking may seem like a slight, I think it simply represents Jones’ new normal. Peralta built on his unlikely 2014 success and settled in as Arizona’s primary cleanup hitter, providing a balanced roto line. The BABIP regression police generally come out in full force on relative unknowns like Peralta, and they’re not necessarily wrong. That average is going to come down some, but the power is real and the context is solid.
Assessing this class of player is, admittedly, a weak point for me. It’s not that I don’t value the aging but still-productive veteran; on the contrary, I almost always end up with one or two in my outfield. It’s just that I don’t make much attempt to differentiate between them, preferring to let market dynamics lead me to the best value. In drafts, that means pouncing when one slips a couple rounds while competitors search for upside or begin to draft for positional need. In keepers or dynasties where I have an opening, that means exploring which option requires me to give up the least and/or buying veterans on the cheap from rebuilders. I’d buy a category-based preference for one over the other depending on roster construction, but I don’t see much separation in overall value among this mini tier.
I’ll be back tomorrow with the next 60 outfielders, a list sure to contain more groups of indistinguishable veterans alongside some exciting young players that should enter the major leagues in 2016.