We’re getting close enough to the baseball season that it’s finally time to reveal my positional draft rankings. I’ve broken them up into outfielders, infielders, and pitchers, further separated by position; this week, we’ll look at the outfield.

The rankings are based on a combination of PECOTA’s forecasted statistics along with my own thoughts. I’ll have commentary to go along with many of the selections, but for now I’ll explain the things that were important to me in my decisions. First, VORP was a neat way of organizing the lists in order to get an overall impression of how PECOTA felt about a player. After that, looking at the statistics that were used in standard 5×5 leagues and trying to sort out who was more useful at draft time came next. I’ll also throw a platoon in at the end of each list that I think you should pay attention to if the situation merits it, based on PECOTA’s positional breakdown.

I used the Beta scores from the forecasts as well, to make certain decisions. For those unfamiliar with this part of PECOTA, Beta is:

A measure of the relative volatility of a player’s EqA or EqERA forecast, as determined from his comparables. The Beta for an average major league player is 1.00; players with Beta’s higher than 1.00 have more volatile forecasts than others (“riskier”), while Betas lower than 1.00 represent less volatile forecasts (“less risky”).

Basically, when there was a close call I trusted the forecasts that PECOTA seemed to trust more than others. There is one thing I would like to point out before I get into these rankings: when I draft, I do not sacrifice other statistics often just to build up a single category, such as steals. As a result, I may have some players like Carl Crawford ranked lower than you normally see them go. I prefer the player who is going to help you win four or five categories over the one who is going to dominate in a single one, which probably explains my distaste for Saves in a fantasy context. When I do pick players like that, I tend to do it later on in the draft instead of wasting an early pick on them. I’m willing to hear folks out via e-mail on the subject before I present the rest of the hitters, but for now, that’s the setup.

Left Field
Rnk  Name              AVG/ OBP/ SLG   HR   SB  RBI   R   VORP  Beta
 1.  Matt Holliday    .318/.383/.555   29   13  108  105  35.2  0.78
 2.  Alfonso Soriano  .278/.336/.544   35   17  104   89  31.0  0.93
 3.  Carlos Lee       .291/.348/.499   27   12  100   88  32.7  0.93
 4.  Adam Dunn        .261/.388/.549   36    7   97   96  35.8  0.91
 5.  Carl Crawford    .299/.343/.447   12   35   65   91  22.0  1.06
 6.  Manny Ramirez    .281/.381/.486   21    1   84   72  23.3  0.91
 7.  Pat Burrell      .263/.392/.518   25    2   74   71  28.1  0.82
 8.  Josh Willingham  .271/.365/.482   23    7   82   85  28.0  0.92
 9.  Hideki Matsui    .286/.367/.465   18    4   83   79  23.7  1.07
10.  Jason Bay        .267/.364/.486   25    9   82   85  26.1  0.92
PL.  Ryan Church      .268/.349/.472   16    5   59   56  21.3  0.77
PR.  Wily Mo Peña     .270/.341/.501   16    3   49   42  15.9  1.16

Matt Holliday is not only the best from a statistical standpoint, his Beta score of 0.78 should help you breathe easier about how guaranteed a performance like that is. Soriano gets a little extra credit from me since he can slot into center, although he’s the clear second choice for me regardless of that thanks to his power and speed, plus the ridiculous lineup the Cubs might field this year should help out his R and RBI.

The Astros lineup might not be as terrible as it normally seems to be, so that 100 RBI forecast for Carlos Lee, along with the batting average and the homers, is what puts him where he is. Adam Dunn is the better player in real life to me, but his low batting average hurts his value in the fantasy world. Carl Crawford doesn’t have the RBI or power numbers to bolster the rest of your stats, but he’s useful for average and steals, and he may be great in Runs, depending on how the Rays lineup shapes up.

Manny Ramirez and Pat Burrell can be swapped back and forth; both of them are power hitters who are going to gain a lot from the lineups they are in, but Manny will probably have the better batting average, though his slugging should be lower at this stage of his career. Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui are also close; I think Willingham may be a little better than this forecast. I’m not as positive about a return to form for Jason Bay as some others, including PECOTA, but there’s almost no one else who plays full time at the position after these others, unless you want to rely on Moises Alou surviving 140 games at age 41.

The platoon at the end is more intriguing to me than Matsui or Bay, to be honest. If Church and Pena combine for 600 plate appearances or so, you have yourself a hitter who slots between Burrell and Willingham on the list.

Right Field
Rnk  Name               AVG/ OBP/ SLG   HR   SB  RBI   R   VORP  Beta
 1.  Corey Hart        .288/.358/.528   26   22   83   92  35.5  0.96
 2.  Vlad Guerrero     .310/.370/.495   21    7   99   89  33.2  0.89
 3.  Magglio Ordonez   .306/.376/.485   19    5   88   83  31.1  1.14
 4.  Nick Swisher      .265/.373/.501   31    3   93   91  27.4  0.81
 5.  Kosuke Fukudome   .289/.401/.504   15    9   58   80  29.2  0.87
 6.  Jeremy Hermida    .284/.380/.485   19    9   71   80  28.7  1.09
 7.  Matt Kemp         .296/.349/.505   19   17   71   73  27.2  0.99
 8.  Lastings Milledge .289/.358/.478   13   15   50   57  22.2  1.06
 9.  Bobby Abreu       .276/.378/.435   15   18   69   91  19.0  0.84
10.  Jeff Francoeur    .284/.331/.474   22    8   84   75  18.2  0.95

I would have to think that the number of people who expected to see Corey Hart as king of the right field mountain in 2008 before last year comprise only a very small part of the fantasy world, but there he is. Hart has the homers, the steals, and the potential juggernaut offense around him to boost his R and RBI totals. He’s the clear choice to top this list. Vladimir Guerrero and Magglio Ordonez have both seen better days, but for reasons I’ll discuss, they are the next two in the rankings. Vlad’s the better hitter in my mind, but Ordonez has the better offense around him; choosing between the two comes down to how much faith you have in Vlad to stay on the diamond versus the Tigers‘ ability to drive in Ordonez.

Nick Swisher isn’t a better hitter than either Fukudome-based on what we know about them, at any rate-or Jeremy Hermida, but he’s going to a park that will boost his homers, and in many leagues he’s eligible in right, center, and first base; that’s huge in leagues with daily roster changes. If you guaranteed every hitter on this list 600 plate appearances in 2008, I would rank Matt Kemp and Lastings Milledge #2 and #3, respectively.

Bobby Abreu and Jeff Francouer both have very different merits. Abreu’s going to get on base in a good lineup, boosting his run totals while providing decent stat support in power, average and steals. Francouer’s going to have the power, and probably the batting average, and his lineup can help him out, but he’s much more dependent on batting average than Abreu to provide value to his team.

Center Field
Rnk  Name              AVG/ OBP/ SLG   HR   SB  RBI   R   VORP  Beta
 1.  Grady Sizemore   .277/.367/.488   25   20   90  103  38.0  0.81
 2.  Carlos Beltran   .276/.363/.501   27   14   92   92  44.0  0.90
 3.  Chris B. Young   .274/.352/.523   27   22   81   84  29.2  0.90
 4.  B.J. Upton       .270/.358/.446   18   30   67   88  28.5  1.04
 5.  Hunter Pence     .285/.344/.495   23   13   82   81  31.6  0.77
 6.  Jay Bruce        .269/.336/.512   29   11   99   91  29.9  1.00
 7.  Mike Cameron     .269/.356/.493   21   14   68   76  27.8  1.20
 8.  Andruw Jones     .256/.344/.486   29    7   92   77  27.9  0.97
 9.  Justin Upton     .271/.349/.471   20   18   78   92  19.2  1.13
10.  Ichiro Suzuki    .304/.346/.384    4   19   45   80  14.7  0.94

Sizemore and Beltran could be flipped back and forth; it really comes down to how much faith you have in Beltran to bump up his steals to totals we’re more used to seeing from him. I went with Sizemore as the top pick due to his age; it’s his age-25 season, so there’s a solid chance he’ll beat out his weighted mean in a peak year, reaching his 75th percentile or higher.

Behind that pair we have four kids, all in a row. Chris Young needs to work on his pitch selection and patience before he really earns that third spot, but PECOTA has a lot of faith in him. B.J. Upton probably isn’t going to hit for as high of an average as last year due to BABIP regression, but with his steals and the lineup forming around him, the fourth slot is a good spot to somebody with his talent. Hunter Pence has a lot going for him as well, but I would like to see him mirror his minor league walk rates in the majors before moving him higher than the fifth spot. Jay Bruce has a ton of upside this year, since his forecast has him with a .512 slugging despite a mere .269 batting average; if he somehow sneaks out a .285-.290 batting average, you’re going to be even happier with your selection-assuming Dusty Baker plays him.

Mike Cameron and Andruw Jones are two interesting picks, because Jones is coming off of a terrible season while Cameron is going to miss at least 25 games due to a suspension for a positive amphetamines test. The Beta for Cameron seems a little high for me; in that lineup, and out of Petco’s vast space, I think we’ll see him continue to produce. Jones should see a boost to his power with the move to Chavez Ravine, and his batting average is due to climb back up after last year’s BABIP disaster as well.

Here is where the list gets a little sketchy. Justin Upton at nine is a faith pick; there are a lot of players in front of him on the PECOTA rankings I left off of this list in order to put him here, because I think when all is said and done the D’backs will have a fine lineup that should boost some of his numbers. He’s not as good a pick as his brother right now, but he’s also younger than I am by a few years, and he’s the one already up in the majors full time.

Ichiro presents something of a problem for me. If you ask me tomorrow, I can’t guarantee I would rank him in the top ten at the position. His reputation screams that I need to, but as I mentioned last week, there are plenty of red flags saying you shouldn’t grab him. He doesn’t have much power, and though he can steal bases, if he his batting average doesn’t jump up in the league leaders he takes a serious hit in his value, especially with the Mariners having the lineup issues they look to have this year.

If you really need the steals, you might be better off waiting until later and jumping on a sleeper like Nate McLouth, or taking a chance on one of the young players on the above list. You just have to decide whether or not you think Ichiro still has a lot left in his tank, and if so, are you willing to prove it with an early draft pick? I’m not so sure that I can at this point.