2016 Fantasy Baseball: Outfield Not as Deep as Many Believe
When I tell you that five different outfielders launched 40 or more home runs last season, you might get the feeling that power runs deep in the grassy positions. But, consider that only seven players tallied 30 or more dingers. How many teams are in your league? 10? 12? This is why I never draft pitching in the early rounds. Power is something you have to bank, early and often. If I take Kershaw in the first round, I have a (temporary) advantage over my league-mates, but will there be even one 30 HR guy (at any position) available to me in the second round? Not likely.
There were 18 more outfielders who logged 20-29 HRs, so it’s not an all-or-nothing approach, and outfield provides the deepest pool of power hitters, but there is a big difference between an above ground pool and an Olympic-sized pool.
Let’s look at the other categories:
[caption id="attachment_103887" align="alignright" width="425"] More power and less speed is not necessarily a good thing from Brett Gardner. Photo Credit: Keith Allison[/caption]
- Batting Average: Fifteen outfielders hit .300 or better; 27 hit .290 or better and 35 managed at least a .280 average;
- RBIs: Only four hitters logged 100 RBIs or more; nine collected 90-plus RBIs; and 18 outfielders managed 80 or more RBIs;
- Steals: Billy Hamilton was the only one to reach 50 bases (57) and Charlie Blackmon was the only other to reach 40 (43); three others reached at least 30 and a total of 21 outfielders reached 20 steals or more;
- Runs: Seven outfielders scored 100-plus runs; 16 tallied 90 or more runs; 25 outfielders claimed run totals of 80 or more.
So using “buckets” of 20 steals, 80 runs, 80 RBIs, .280 average and 20 HRs as a measure, then we see that power (HRs and RBIs) are the categories with the fewest available outfielders (18), with batting average claiming almost twice that number (35). The steals and runs buckets count 21 and 25 players, respectively.
Therefore, outfield is not the bottomless well of players from which to choose, as we sometimes treat the position. Considering many leagues require five OFs (and a utility spot), it is increasingly hard to field a truly great outfield on your 2016 Fantasy Baseball team. Knowing that catchers, for example, are always drafted late (understandably) because of a lack of true Fantasy stars, drafting a Buster Posey high in the draft might actually be hurting your outfield.
In my first three rounds (in leagues with 5 OFs) I make sure to draft at least two OFs in the first three rounds, if not three. If I do draft two, be sure I’m drafting a slugging corner infielder in that other round. If you can bank 90-100 HRs in the first three rounds (especially with high-batting-average players) you’re further ahead than you realize.
Crush/Flush is generally not about those first three rounds of outfielders, unless I have a particularly strong opinion on one. Instead we need to comb the vast numbers of outfielders for potential value. Which player who stole 15 bases last year can provide me with 25-30 this season? Which player had an artificially high (or low) batting average based on a wild BABIP swing? Which young outfielder owns the skills to post outstanding Fantasy stats this year?
Here are the names that I’ve noticed this winter:
Jason Heyward – One of the biggest offseason signings of the winter, he makes the Cubs even deeper and more lethal. And calling him a FLUSH is a bit unfair. His numbers should rise a bit on the Cubs and he’s still just 26. But I don’t know what to make of a former power hitter turned five-tool player. Let’s compare him to Dexter Fowler, whom he replaces in Chicago. Heyward last season: 13 HRs, 60 RBIs, 79 Runs and 23 SBs with a .293 average and a .798 OPS; Fowler: 17 HRs, 46 RBIs, 102 Runs, 20 SBs, .250 and a .757 OPS. I’m not about to tell you that Fowler is a better offensive player, but in my CBS Sportsline league, Heyward was the 57th best player and Fowler was 77th. And Fowler will be 30 on Opening Day, so both skills and speed will begin to tail off in the next couple of seasons. I’m just not in love with Heyward around pick 55. If he steals 15 bases instead of 23 and his power numbers stay the same, you’re not getting your money’s worth (you’re getting Daniel Murphy) AND you’re passing on players such as Carlos Gomez, Matt Kemp, Freddie Freeman and Adrian Gonzalez, to say nothing of pitchers like Matt Harvey, Chris Archer and Sonny Gray. It’s probably my bias that five-tool players need to deliver five different categories at certain levels to meet their expected value. But I’d rather have any of the players I mentioned in the two sentences above than the complicated equation that is Jason Heyward’s value. Oh, and Fowler is trending around the #100 spot, so you can get many of Heyward’s numbers up to five rounds later. FLUSH
Brett Gardner – He’s one of the more interesting hitters over the last decade, as he has traded speed for an uptick in power as he reached his 30s – a logical approach. He’s been striking out a bit more as a “power” hitter (We’re talking 16 HRs or so), and his groundball rate climbed 3.6 percentage points (45.3 percent) while his fly ball rate fell 2.8 percentage points (33.9 percent). In addition, he had a disastrous second half, batting .206 after a .302 first half. More telling to me is information from Scoutables.com. His slugging percentage against fastballs 93 mph or greater has fallen the last three seasons (.415, .333, and .297) while it has climbed for fastballs 92 mph or slower (.473, .507 and .532). He pulled the ball less and hit the opposite way more (while straightaway was about the same), which I’d bet is a bat speed issue. He’ll turn 33 during the season, and he’s in the same ADP neighborhood as Kole Calhoun, Billy Hamilton, Dexter Fowler, Xander Bogaerts and Rougned Odor. Would you draft Gardner ahead of those names? I wouldn’t. FLUSH
Franklin Gutierrez – I don’t have strong feelings either way about him, but I did want to talk about him a bit. Gutierrez is the very definition of risk. Talk about great numbers in small samples, Gutierrez posted 15 HRs and 35 RBIs in 189 plate appearances (good for sixth in wOBA among all hitters with at least 150 plate appearances). Fifteen HRs was three shy of his 2009 total when he had 629 plate appearances. He’s 33 years old and prior to a rash of injuries from 2011 through last season, Gutierrez was a Fantasy tease averaging almost 15 HRs/15 steals. He returned from a chronic spinal disease around mid-season last year. Yes, a spinal disease. He’s a part-time player who flashed good power last year. He should be around after #250 in your draft. Then, and only then, do I CRUSH on him. The better approach, though, is to casually talk him up to competitors and hope someone jumps early on him. The steals won’t be there and his average is, well, average. But he might make for a late-round power source and bench option and see what happens. After #250, and only after 250, I say CRUSH.
Curtis Granderson – I crush on Granderson for his consistency but the Mets batting him leadoff maddens me. Yes, he draws a bunch of walks, so his On-Base Percentage (.364 last season) is usually about 100 points higher than his batting average. But he hits the ball hard, is a fly ball hitter and has hit 46 HRs over the last two seasons – out of the leadoff spot. So the good news/bad news is that he’s gold in leagues that use OBP instead of batting average, but the bad news is his 20-plus HRs will yield only 60-something RBIs in total (and 90 something runs most likely). He swiped 11 bags last year, which helps. I wouldn’t expect his .259 average to remain that high, but if it does, it’s because he’s sharing time or platooning. He’s getting selected around number 140 on average and can just as easily produce greater value than that, as he can become a forgotten man in Fantasy. I will think positively and hope the Mets move him to somewhere between third and sixth in the order against right-handed pitchers, cross my fingers, and say CRUSH.
Randall Grichuk – Grichuk is a free-swinger, and not a good contact hitter, but I’m willing to blame that on youth; he’s entering his age 24 season. He showed great power (17 HRs and 47 RBIs in 350 plate appearances). Because he walks only six percent of the time and struck out over 30 percent of the time, Grichuk might be prone to deep, prolonged slumps. As long as one of those doesn’t come in April, I’m intrigued to see a full season from him. I wouldn’t quite double his numbers over a full season, but I think his .276 batting average is only a little high; his .365 BABIP is partially a product of him hitting the ball so hard, so maybe that falls to about .350? He owns a fly ball tendency, is in a good lineup, and guys like him seem to blossom in St. Louis. CRUSH
Dexter Fowler – As of this writing, Fowler is still a free agent, which is curious to me. He boosted his power and run scoring with the Cubs while boosting his steals from 11 to 20. His batting average crashed a bit from .276 to .250, but that had more to do with a .351 BABIP in 2014. He’s a solid player – probably better in the “real” major leagues than Fantasy leagues, but in the 170-ish spot, I think he will have a lot to offer. Expect maybe 14 HRs, 85 runs, a dozen or so steals and a manageable .260-ish average. His two biggest suitors at this writing are the Rangers and White Sox, both of which provide great hitting parks and, especially in Chicago, a solid lineup to drive him in if he remains atop the lineup. CRUSH
Mookie Betts – It’s hard to crush on a guy whose ADP is 19; I’d be saying I’m virtually positive he’ll be Top 15 or better in value. So, I guess I’m saying I’m virtually positive he’ll be Top 15 or better in value. If you own a pick between 14 and 20, target Betts and don’t look back. A great contact hitter who has 20-20 skill (I say he’s 25-25 this year). He has a nice GB/FB balance that doesn’t make him one-dimensional. He owns power, speed, and plate skills. And he’s just 23. I say he’s an MVP candidate. Already. I would target him in Round 2 and draft huge power in the first round. CRUSH
Adam Eaton – I gave Eaton a lot of love last spring and then he hit .192 in April. Since his value previously came from average, runs, and steals with no power, I cut him loose sometime in May. Of course, the eventual league champion (who knew how much I loved Eaton) snatched him up – and he not only rebounded but added 14 HRs (he had one in 2014. ONE!). Being atop the White Sox lineup in a good hitter’s park helped him turn in a great season (his average finished at .287). I don’t see 14 HRs again; despite him cutting his GBs to “just” 50 percent. But he’s more aggressive at the plate and, perhaps knowing that his speed and steals will wane soon (he’s 27) he seems to be slightly re-inventing himself. At draft spot 110 on average, I really like Eaton as a solid contributor across the board. Even 10 HRs is good enough. CRUSH
Odubel Herrera – The Phillies Rule 5 draft pick was a pleasant surprise in his age 23 season. A minor league second-baseman, Herrera became the reliable everyday centerfielder in Philadelphia. Defense should keep him in the lineup (the club is talking about moving him to left field), so he’ll get the chance to hit .297 and swipe 16 bags again. I say the average is closer to .285 but I think he’ll push 25 steals. He’s a 47 percent GB hitter, but with a 30 percent FB tendency, he can match or exceed his eight HRs from 2014. You almost can’t lose on any pick near number 280. I’d even look for him around 250. Nobody watched the Phillies last year, so there won’t be a rush to get him. But a good average and 20 steals down there? Mark me for a CRUSH.
Ender Inciarte – Inciarte has had over 1,000 plate appearances over the last two seasons and he’s entering his age 25 season with a nice record already. He owns wonderful bat control, striking out only about 10 percent of the time. He doesn’t necessarily walk enough, but with good speed putting the ball in play is usually a good thing. He’s a good bet to hit between his 2014 average of .278 and last year’s .303, though I wouldn’t be surprised if he finds a way to grow that. He’ll steal 20 or so bases, and knowing he’s being drafted around 215, he nicely fits into a solid stolen base plan for most drafters. I like young hitters with good skills and solid experience. So that’s an easy CRUSH
Matt Kemp – Players who were once MVP-level performers who slide back a little bit, even if they are consistent, tend to get undervalued in drafts. Kemp is 30 so I wouldn’t predict a huge breakout, but I think his consistency should be respected. He drove in 12 more runs with two fewer HRs in San Diego last season. His average fell 22 points from to .265, but he hits the ball as hard as almost any outfielder, so I’d count on 24 HRs, 93 RBIs, 80 runs and a .275 average with about 10 steals. I’ll sign for that at his number 78 ADP for sure. CRUSH
Starling Marte – The hitter Fantasy players dreamed of arrived last year, with 19 HRs, 81 RBIs, 30 steals and a .287 average. With some extra at-bats he turned 13 HRs into 19 taters last year, but beware, his FB% dropped to just 23 percent from 29 percent and he’s a 50-plus percent ground ball hitter. He’s a very good talent, but not a great contact hitter with a heavy groundball tendency. If you can live with just 12-15 HRs and 30 steals near the middle-to-bottom of the third round, go ahead, but for me it’s too tentative to bank on. FLUSH
Joc Pederson – He was a breakout star in the first half for the Dodgers, then he was on milk cartons in the second half. So for 2016, a Fantasy player has to decide which version of Pederson will show this season and hold that vision. What I like: a 16 percent walk rate, a .262 BABIP that should soar well over .300 this season, and a 37 percent hard hit ball percentage (in line with names like McCutchen, Kemp and JD Martinez). I’m all in on Pederson, and I think his 165-ish ADP provides a Donald-Trump-like “Yuge” opportunity for value. He’s just 24 with great power. He owned a .346 OBP despite a .210 average. His BABIP will rebound to give him a .260-ish average this year, and I say look for his name around number 140, close your eyes, and draft with great confidence. And then keep him in 2017. CRUSH
George Springer – I flushed him last year because his underlying skills were, how shall we say this, terrible. He did show nice growth in skills, which will help him, although there is more work to be done. His power numbers dropped, as I thought they would, while his average surprisingly climbed from .231 to .276. Here’s the deal – he traded fly balls for line drives, which will bring down your HR totals and boost your average every time. He’s a groundball hitter primarily, but if he can get more fly balls it will be good news. If he stays healthy and on the field, you could be looking at a 25-25 season, but expect an average around .255. I just think number 32 is a bit rich, by a round or two. I understand the hope, but for me, at that spot, I gotta FLUSH.
Christian Yelich. I was ‘meh’ on his power last year and I’m ‘meh’ again in 2016. He’s a nice hitter with an average/steals profile. Sixty-two percent groundball hitters don’t explode in the power categories. Admit what he is and move on. FLUSH
Denard Span – Yes, hip surgery should scare anyone. But with almost vanishing expectations, and such good, patient plate skills, I’m salivating. When pick number 300 rolls around and he’s still on the board, I will gladly take a chance and stash him awhile if I must. CRUSH
Ben Revere – I love Ben Revere more than most Fantasy players. I play in a head-to-head league in which multi-hit games are nicely rewarded, and I owned Revere in 2014, when he led the National League in hits. Revere is almost a lock to hit .300, steal 25-plus bases and have a decent run total. He does not walk much at all, but he doesn’t strike out often either. He puts the ball in play and gets hits. Oh, and he’s hitting in front of Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth, so his run totals should soar. Based on his 100-ish ADP it’s not huge, but it’s a definite CRUSH.
Josh Reddick – Reddick was the somewhat rare example of a player whose average increased in the same season in which his BABIP fell. The reason was that he struck out less often and was more selective within the strike zone. Don’t be overly excited by his 20 HRs, as he decreased his fly ball production from 50 percent to 41 percent last season. He’s a better *hitter* than he used to be which will help his average, but it won’t make his past power a sure thing. I like Reddick around his ADP of 200, even knowing 20 HRs might be the ceiling. I do like his better approach at the plate keeping his average at least at .272. Oh, and he swiped 10 bases last year, FYI. CRUSH
Steve Pearce – I told you so. FLUSH
Aaron Hicks – Surely to be an undervalued or forgotten player this spring. He battled injuries last year, limiting him to just 90 games, but still posted 11 HRs and 13 steals. He showed good plate skills and growing patience. He’s a 20/20 threat when healthy and he’s in the Bronx now, and that short right-field porch his calling his name. ADP of 350? Aaron Hicks all day. CRUSH
Cody Asche – I love speculating on stars that initially fizzle but hang around. I’m not talking about Asche winning the MVP, and he may not even reach league-average totals for OFs. But he still owns talent, he hits in a small ball park, has a starting OF job, and makes decent contact. For me, 12 HRs in 456 plate appearances is worth keeping an eye on. An early ADP of 490? He’s not that bad, and in the last rounds of your draft and in April on the waiver wire, you have nothing to lose. CRUSH
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