Please check out the Hippeaux's weekly posts at SNY affiliate, It's About The Money.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Fantastic Thoughts: "American League teams don't even carry five outfielders." (Outfield Preview)

It's a fantasy baseball tradition.  The vast majority of leagues require each team to carry five active outfielders.  So, while it may appear that that this position is loaded with excellent options at the beginning of your draft, it probably won't feel that way by the time you're making your fourth and fifth selections, especially if you're playing in an AL-only or large mixed league.  It's wise to get a stud early (in the first three to five rounds).

This is also one of those positions that doesn't necessarily jibe with the ever-popular "high-risk/high-reward" strategy.  Sure, I'll advocate a good many young up-and-comers, as I would at any position, but I'm also a big fan of ho-hum veterans that can be had in the late rounds or for very little money.  Nobody gets revved up about Hideki Matsui, J. D. Drew, and Jermaine Dye anymore, but for years they have been mortal locks for 20 HR, 150 R + RBI, and an average that won't hurt you.  You'll find such numbers quite satisfactory from your fifth outfielder.

Rather than rank 100+ outfielders, I'll provide my top forty and then a few pools of players who are can fulfill certain roles.

1. Ryan Braun (Brewers)
2. Justin Upton (D-Backs)
3. Matt Kemp (Dodgers)
4. Carl Crawford (Rays)
5. Matt Holliday (Cardinals)

No matter how you rank them (I'm probably higher on Upton than most), everybody in this quintet is going to be gone by the end of the second round.  You can't go too far wrong with any of them, but the first three are especially scary, as none are older than 26.

6. Nick Markakis (Orioles)
7. Curtis Granderson (Yankees)
8. Grady Sizemore (Indians)
9. Adam Jones (Orioles)
10. Jayson Werth (Phillies)
11. Shin-Soo Choo (Indians)

This may seem like a reach for some of these guys, but they are all "five-tool" players in their primes, for whom 30/30 seasons are not a terrible stretch.  The potential for that kind of across-the-board production makes them very tempting.  Choo very quietly had a breakout effort in '09, with 20 HR and 21 SB, to go along with a .300 average and 80+ runs and RBI.  With two full seasons under his belt and an improved Cleveland lineup around him, he could turn into an MVP candidate.

As a baseball fan, I hate that Curtis Granderson is a Yankee.  But as a fantasy owner, I am downright buoyant.  If Johnny Damon can hit 20+ bombs with the help of the new right-field porch in the Bronx, Granderson could have an outside shot at 40.  No matter where he hits in the New York order, Grandy is going to see better pitches and have more run-producing opportunities than he did as the leadoff hitter in Detroit.

12. Ichiro Suzuki (Mariners)
13. Manny Ramirez (Dodgers)
14. Carlos Lee (Astros)
15. Jason Bay (Mets)
16. Bobby Abreu (Angels)

None of these guys are spring chickens, but they are still fairly safe plays as your #1 or #2 outfielder.  Some people will be wary of Bay because of his move to Citi Field and some will be wary of Manny because of his unusual late-season slump.  Let them worry away.

17. Carlos Beltran (Mets)
18. B. J. Upton (Rays)
19. Josh Hamilton (Rangers)

Here is the first tier of "injury risks."  There was much ado about Beltran's offseason surgery and the the uncertainty of the timeline for his return.  Upton struggled throughout last season and had another operation this past winter.  And, of course, Hamilton has been consistently creaky throughout his career. That said, all three of these guys, when happy and healthy, could very easily jump from the top twenty into the top five.

20. Carlos Gonzalez (Rockies)
21. Torii Hunter (Angels)
22. Andrew McCutchen (Pirates)
23. Hunter Pence (Astros)

A lesser version of the second tier, guys who possess high-end speed and power.  McCutchen and Gonzalez are perhaps primed to jump into the top ten, but both will have to prove that the can reproduce (or even improve upon) their second-half surges.  Gonzalez was among the best in all of baseball during the waning months of '09, as he hit .320 with a dozen homers and a 992 OPS in about 200 plate appearances after the All-Star Break, then batted .588 (!) in the NLDS.

24. Shane Victorino (Phillies)
25. Brad Hawpe (Rockies)
26. Andre Ethier (Dodgers)
27. Jacoby Ellsbury (Red Sox)

From a few guys with speed and power, to some guys with speed or power.  Clearly, I'm not among Ellsbury's biggest fans, as I've seen a number of pundits ranking him well into the top ten.  And, yes, if your league prioritizes the stolen base, he's a monster, but I'm unimpressed by his overall stats.  Even hitting leadoff for a powerhouse lineup in Boston, Ellsbury has yet to score 100 runs in a season, because his OBP remains mediocre (.355 in '09).  He hasn't shown any indication of increasing power (.415 SLG in '09) and with the additions of Mike Cameron and Jeremy Hermida, he may see a small decrease in playing time.  There's still plenty of time for the 26-year-old to prove me wrong, but he probably won't find his way onto any of my teams in 2010.

28. Chris Young (D-Backs)
29. Carlos Quentin (White Sox)
30. Jay Bruce (Reds)
31. Alex Rios (White Sox)
32. Alfonso Soriano (Cubs)
33. Vladimir Guerrero (Rangers)
34. Magglio Ordonez (Tigers)
35. Corey Hart (Brewers)

Another tier of guys coming off poor performances, but with proven talent.  Young, Quentin, and Bruce have plenty of time to re-establish themselves, but Magglio, Vlad, and the Fonz may be mired in permanent decline.

36. Denard Span (Twins)
37. Juan Rivera (Angels)
38. Jason Kubel (Twins)
39. Raul Ibanez (Phillies)
40. Johnny Damon (?)

On the other hand, here we have a quintet of players who had breakout campaigns in '09 or, in the case of Damon and Ibanez, had career years deep in their thirties.  It might seem logical to rank them ahead of the guys in the previous tier, as they've recently "proven" themselves, but I am skeptical for one reason or another of their ability to duplicate.  With Damon, obviously, he will suffer from moving away from the a perfect situation in New York.  Ibanez will be 38-years-old and, after a stunning start to the season, he slowed dramatically in the second half, posting a 250 point drop in OPS and a 75 point drop in batting average.  Perhaps Span was merely a late-bloomer, but he never showed the kind of patience in the minors that he demonstrated last season and there are still not indications of developing power.  Jason Kubel and Juan Rivera, though producing at unprecedented rates, still missed time with injuries, as they have consistently throughout their careers.  In '09, both missed about 25 games, which is not big deal, but they are just as likely to miss 50, 80, or 100 in 2010.

Seductive Sophomores:

These are players who have been in the league for two years or less.  None of them burst onto the scene particularly dramatically, but all have shown enough skill that they are likely to begin the year in the staring lineup and it is reasonable to imagine that they could mature into very valuable commodities.  Don't overpay for potential, however.  If you can get one or two of these guys on the cheap to fill out the back-end of your outfield, that's great, but don't make the mistake of selecting them in front of top forty players who have much lower risk.

Colby Rasmus (Cardinals)
Julio Borbon (Rangers)
Dexter Fowler (Rockies)
Nolan Reimold (Orioles)
Travis Snider (Blue Jays)
Kyle Blanks (Padres)
Matt Joyce (Rays)
Cameron Maybin (Marlins)
Lastings Milledge (Pirates)
Chris Coghlan (Marlins)
Will Venable (Padres)
Tony Gwynn Jr. (Padres)

Most of these players will be popular, youthful sleepers.  A fair number of fantasy pundits have noticed that Borbon, Fowler, Snider, and Blanks had solid showings in the second half.  My rankings, however, might surprise you; especially, my low opinion of NL Rookie of the Year, Chris Coghlan.  (There are good reasons why Andrew McCutchen won the BBA version of the award.)  Keep in mind that Coghlan will no longer be eligible as an infielder.  As good as his '09 campaign was, he didn't display the kind of power one expects from their left-fielder (9 HR), and didn't run like a premier leadoff hitter (8 SB in 13 attempts).  In roto leagues, Coghlan's production may be limited to runs and batting average, which makes him a somewhat middling choice at this position.  Now, I certainly could be wrong, and the 25-year-old might build upon his thrilling introduction to the league, but keep in mind that Rookie of the Year winners are not sure-things.  In the last decade, sure, guys like Pujols, Ichiro, Han-Ram, and Ryan Braun won the award, but so did Eric Hinske, Angel Berroa, and Bobby Crosby.  Somebody will reach for Coghlan in your draft or auction, because they've witnessed ESPN and MLB Netword fawning over him.  Let him go.  Guys like Joyce, Borbon, Milledge, and Maybin have just as much upside, and will be available at a significantly reduced cost.


These are "one-category" threats, though some may be able to help in batting average and/or runs as well.  In points leagues, unless your point system prioritizes the stolen base, they are very mediocre picks, but in roto leagues they can go a long way toward helping you dominate a category.

Michael Bourn (Astros)
Nyjer Morgan (Nationals)
Juan Pierre (White Sox)
Rajai Davis (Athletics)
Drew Stubbs (Reds)
Carlos Gomez (Brewers)
Brett Gardner (Yankees)

Nyjer Morgan can fly.  Most people have yet to experience the awesome spectacle of him tracking a fly-ball in the gap.  It would give Kenny Lofton goosebumps.  The Pirates were unable to commit to Morgan, mainly because they knew Andrew McCutchen was their future center-fielder, but the Nationals happily handed him the gig and with spectacular results.  In only 49 games, Morgan stole 24 bases, scored 35 runs, and batted .351.  He's got zero power, but hitting atop a fairly decent lineup (the Nats can score runs, look it up), he could have a Chone Figgins-esque season.


These are sluggers who are fairly safe bets to get 20+ HR (assuming regular at-bats), but have weaknesses (usually low batting averages and high strikeouts) which can be costly in some fantasy formats.  They are only good picks if you are desperate for power and can afford the risk that go with them.

Nelson Cruz (Rangers)
Pat Burrell (Rays)
Mike Cameron (Red Sox)
Rick Ankiel (Royals)
Garrett Jones (Pirates)
Jack Cust (Athletics)
Wladimir Belentien (Reds)
Josh Willingham (Nationals)
Jeff Francoeur (Mets)
Ken Griffey Jr. (Mariners)
Andruw Jones (White Sox)
Jonny Gomes (?)

If I were persuaded to take interest in one of these busters, I would lean toward Cameron or Belentien.  Cameron is past his prime, at the age of 37, but it's been five years since he posted less than 20 HR and he may still be good for as many as a dozen steals as well.  The move to Boston is lateral, as both the Brewers and Red Sox have thunderous lineups and play in power-friendly ballparks.  Balentien is riskier, as he will have to fight for at-bats, at least early in the year, but he has incredible power potential (did you know he hit the longest homer in the majors last season), is only 25-years-old, and plays at the Great American Smallpark.  If Wlad's discipline continues to improve, his power numbers could skyrocket.  He had a .526 slugging percentage in half a dozen minor-league seasons.

Safe Plays:

These are veteran outfielders who consistently produce solid, though unspectacular numbers, roughly .275 - 75 R - 20 HR - 75 RBI.

Michael Cuddyer (Twins)
J. D. Drew (Red Sox)
Hideki Matsui (Angels)
Vernon Wells (Blue Jays)
Nick Swisher (Yankees)
Ryan Ludwick (Cardinals)
Cody Ross (Marlins)
Nate McLouth (Braves)
Carlos Guillen (Tigers)
Jermaine Dye (?)

What is there to say, really?

Handle With Care:

These are players with high-end talent or potential, but who have had major injury problems throughout their careers.  It is possible that, given 120-140 starts, they could provide you will serious production, especially considering how cheap they come.  However, when drafting such a player, you should not plan on relying on him too heavily.  Make sure his is low on your depth chart and that you have back-up options in mind.

Milton Bradley (Mariners)
Elijah Dukes (Nationals)
Xavier Nady (Cubs)
Conor Jackson (D-Backs)
Coco Crisp (Athletics)
Jose Guillen (Royals)

I like to gamble as much as the next guy, but I won't be handling more than one of these guys at a time.  I've rolled the dice on Bradly and Dukes in the past, with mixed results, and I'll do it again.

Lying in Wait:

These are players who are likely to begin the season on the bench or even in the minor leagues, but could be called into action soon, either due to injuries or ineffectiveness.  Given such an opportunity, I believe these player have a higher than average likelihood to succeed.

Jason Heyward (Braves)
Austin Jackson (Tigers)
Delmon Young (Twins)
Fernando Martinez (Mets)
Ben Francisco (Phillies)
Eric Patterson (Athletics)
Felix Pie (Orioles)
Jeremy Hermida (Red Sox)
Eugenio Velez (Giants)

Heyward and Jackson are being given the inside track for everyday jobs, but those lingering Johnny Damon rumors suggest both the Tigers and Braves have offers on the table.  That said, even if they each do manage to make the major-league roster, temper your expectations.  Unless you're in a keeper league, a 20-year-old rookie is probably not a good bet over a 35-year-old journeyman.

In non-keeper formats, I'd be more interested in Young, Hermida, and Pie.  These are the Heywards and Jacksons of a few years hence.  Oddly, most people have forgotten how excited they were when they hit the scene.  Each of them is still in his mid-twenties, so perhaps the "breakout" could still happen.

No comments: