Friday, February 29, 2008

Draft Guide: Outfielders

As February draws to a close, so too do the Fantasy Hurler draft guides. With this final article, we'll be examining the somewhat mercurial outfield position.

If you've been engaging in draft research for the last few weeks, you've probably seen a familiar refrain in regards to this year's crop of outfielders. Namely, that this is a "shallow" year for the position. I have to politely disagree. While most drafts aren't going to be particularly OF top-heavy (meaning the first round or two), OFs will be disproportionately dominating draft selections in the early to middle rounds.

In most league formats, you're going to need at least three of them. While major league teams (obviously) need three OFs, too, you're going to see a wide range of quality from top to bottom. Additionally, more OFs are going to give you an opportunity for 5x5 fantasy output than at any other position.

If you've been reviewing our draft guide series, you'll probably have realized that very few players are likely to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases (24 players did it last year) ... let alone join the super-exclusive 30/30 club (three players did it last season). That's only 27 premium HR/SB-mongers to go around. And a disproportionate amount of these players are OFs.

Amongst players you'll actually be playing at corner infield slots (i.e., no Carlos Guillens), there are three legitimate candidates to go 20+/20+: David Wright, Alex Rodriguez, and Ryan Braun. They'll probably be the fourth, first, and twelfth picks in your draft, respectively. The catcher position is even more bereft. Russell Martin went 19/21 last year in a freakish number of at-bats and innings for a player who logged no time at DH or first base. I'd argue he's not really a risk to go 20/20 this year. Amongst MIs, there's quite a few more choices, but you're once again going to be paying a huge draft premium (and rightfully so) for the "big three" shortstops, B.J. Upton, Brandon Phillips, etc.

Basically, if you want to balance your team's power and speed combinations, it's going to be at the OF position. And everyone else is going to be looking to do the same thing. You can typically round out a roster with all-power or all-speed OFs, but you've got to be targeting guys who can do both. About 18 of the players on the Yahoo 25 were OFs: you want to be nabbing at least two or three of those candidates through the first five or six rounds.

Oh, and don't forget that guys who do not primarily play the outfield but are eligible there in most leagues (i.e., Lance Berkman, David Ortiz, Gary Sheffield, or Chone Figgins) have been previously discussed in the draft guide for their "primary position," or if they don't have one, our multi-positional eligibility guide.

Tier One (Rounds 1-4)

The cream of the OF crop is Matt Holliday. There's been some rumblings that he's moving down in the order so he can run more. Great. He was the second ranked player on the Yahoo "player rater" last year, and now he's going to run more? Let's be conservative and assume he steals only four or five more bases (he had 11 last year). Even he regresses a bit in every other category, he's a good bet to duplicate his '07 value. Other than RBIs (which has more to do with one's team than one's talent), he didn't exactly demolish his career norms in any particular category. We've seen a slow uptick in quality for the last two or three years. I'm expecting him to go in the top five or six selections of most drafts (A-Rod, Reyes, H. Ramirez, D. Wright -- then Holliday, Rollins, or Santana, in no particular order). I don't like to draft OFs in the first round, simply because you need so many of them and the drop-off in quality isn't usually that dramatic, but Holliday is simply too valuable to let slide past the middle part of the first round.

Alfonso Soriano is a bit underrated coming into this year. True, he's no longer 2B eligible, but he's gone 40/40 (!!!) in two of the last six years, with the last one coming in '06. He went 35+/35+ and 30+/30 in two of those other seasons, and he's never stolen fewer than 18 bases or hit fewer than 28 home runs since his first full season in the bigs. Soriano just turned 31, still bats lead-off (meaning he's probably going to keep running), and has demonstrated on numerous occasions that he has more than a bit of pride. He could have gone into "operation shutdown" last year after a horrendous start, but he battled back and ended up as a top-40 player in Yahoo leagues. Soriano is a terrific second round pick, and I'm definitely targeting him if I have the "bookend" selections. He won't make it to the late second round. If there's a caveat, it's that Soriano isn't a candidate to bat more than .300 ... if he even makes it near that.

Would it surprise you to learn that Carl Crawford is older than Grady Sizemore? It surprised the shit out of me. He's about a year older. Crawford is racking up AL stolen base crowns and has stolen 45+ (!!!) bases for five straight years. And most of those years he swiped way over 45. His runs, RBI, and batting average numbers have also been impressive. (His batting average is quite a bit higher than Grady Sizemore). However, he only hit 11 home runs last year. Not good, particularly considering that he'd been climbing for two straight years. Perhaps more worrisome is the lack of an explanation. He had fewer at-bats and games, but the drop wasn't severe enough to explain a reduction in homers from 18 to 11. Still, you can't argue with a 15/50 split, assuming you didn't draft for speed in the first round. Crawford isn't making it past the mid-second round, but he's not a first-rounder this year.

Another guy who gives you great HR/SB splits (notice a trend here?) is Grady Sizemore. It's easy to forget this guy is only 25. His three full years in the bigs have netted a .285+ average, home runs in the amount of 22/28/24, and 22/22/23 in stolen bases. That Cleveland lineup has driven him in between 110-133 times each of those years, and his RBI production has been in the 70s and 80s. He's a five-category contributor. I'm completely torn between him and Crawford, and if I'm in a position to draft one of them, I hope the other has already been selected.

Carlos Lee's nickname is El Caballo. Pretty cool nickname. I don't know how he received it, and maybe I don't want to know. In any case, El Caballo was the 20th ranked player on Yahoo last year. Lee is a four-category monster, and he's contributed seven years of 10+ stolen bases in his nine full seasons in the bigs, despite his bulk. He's averaging close to 100 runs, over 30 home runs, well over 100 RBI, and over .300 in batting average over the last two seasons. He's a right-handed hitter who now plays at Minute Maid Park (or whatever it's called now). He's been kicking around the NL Central, and he's the perfect OF to pair with a first round MI if a top notch 1B doesn't make it back to you.

I've never been a huge Carlos Beltrán, for the primary reason that I don't like taking players in the first two rounds of a draft that are actually "negatives" in one or more categories. Unless that category is home runs, and I'm drafting for speed (and even then, it irks me). Beltran's lifetime average is .280, but he actually hasn't hit that mark in five years. And in two of those years, he was below .270. That isn't a deal breaker, but it does make him less than a premier OF. If he was still stealing 30+ bases, like he was six years ago, I would be more forgiving. His home run totals all over map. A high of 41 in '06 with a low of 16 in 'O5? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? I think he'll go 29/19, just to be contrarian (he hit 33 last year). The runs and RBIss are there, so I figure he's a late second-round pick.

Ichiro Suzuki is the 12th ranked player on the Yahoo player rater. He "only" stole 37 bases and had a putrid six home runs, so I'm thinking his preposterous .351 average in 678 at-bats (holy fuck!) might have something to do with that. Basically, Ichiro solves a lot of Richie Sexson-size batting average headaches. Can he do it again? Probably, but I wouldn't count on it. He's only been above .325 three times in seven MLB seasons. Then again, he was at .350 or above in those three years. Hmmm. Tough call. He's probably a late second rounder, which means you have A-Rod, Reyes, or Ramirez on your team. Do you really need to draft another batting average/stolen base combination? If you have Reyes and Ichiro on one team, you've got some balance issues. Ichiro is clearly a need selection. He's a great value in round two if you drafted a complementary player in the first round. Otherwise, pass.

You may be wondering where Vlad Guerrero has been. I'm down on big-Vlad. A lot. Much of a fantasy writer's work is stat-based. I comb through tons of data trying to find patterns. Vlad is one of the very, very few players whom I am going to tell you to be wary of due to first-hand observation. The man looks like he's physically breaking down. I saw quite a few Angels games in person (season tickets) and on television last year. He looks like a shadow of his former self in terms of ease of movement and speed. His home runs were at a four-year low and he stole only two bases in '07. Then again, his stolen base "threatening-ness" has been largely a mirage. Seventy-seven of his 168 career thefts came in a two year stretch with Montreal back in '01 and '02. If he steals 10 this year, I'll be shocked. He refuses to DH part-time, and he can no longer play right field acceptably well. It's somewhat sad considering the highlight reel catches and throws he's made, but he looks a lot older than his 32 years. He's got a lifetime batting average of .325 and no missed time in the last few seasons, but it's coming. Soon. That swing and that style of play were not built to stand the test of time.

Magglio Ordonez has been healthy for two straight years after two injury plagued seasons. He's part of a stunning Tigers line-up, has a lifetime batting average of .325, and generally goes 100ish/25ish/100+ish over the last five years -- when healthy. Notice how health keeps coming up? That's the problem with Magglio. He was the number four ranked player on Yahoo last year ... and he'll probably be in the top 20 again this year if he stays healthy. He's 34 now ... man, that's a scary pick. I'll take him if he falls to the early third and consider it, on paper, a steal, but he scares the bejesus out of me.

Poor Adam Dunn. Nobody loves him. He's hit 40 or more home runs four straight years. Try finding someone else who's down that. Seriously. Try. What could it be? Maybe the soul-crushing .248 lifetime average? He generally chips in five plus stolen bases and eerily gets near 100/100 in runs/RBI every year. I think there's a big drop-off after Magglio, and Dunn probably slots in as a late fourth-rounder. If you've got batting average locked up, fire away! He did hit .264 last year, and cut down on his Ks (though he still struck out quite a bit). If he could somehow inch up to .270 or so, it would be great.

Alex Rios
is another sleeper. He'll be gone in the fourth round of most leagues. His home runs and stolen bases have gone up each of the last three years (24/17 last year), but he toils away in Toronto and flies under the radar. I'm thinking he busts onto the 30/30 radar this year in a Beltran-esque fashion. For a guy in his mid-20s to bat right around .300 the last two years -- nice. I think he's a more-rounded, better selection in many respects than Dunn, but he'll probably go after him.

Tier Two (Rounds 5-8)

Manny Ramirez may be the position player one could reasonably expect to put up first round numbers, yet be available later than round five. Why? Because he's a loco head case who keeps missing time for no apparent reason. Only 20 homers last year? He's closer to 40 than 30? Hmmm.... well, this is the last year of his contract. Figure he'll be gone in round four, but I'd want to snag him early in five. I don't need to discuss Manny's past offensive prowess, do I?

People love Curtis Granderson. I had him last year, but I'm not expecting a repeat of '07. a BA of .302? With 141 strikeouts? And no other year above .272? I'm seeing a regression to the mean. He more than tripled his stolen base output, but why is he going to want to run more with that lineup behind him? I'd say 20-25 home runs, 100+ runs, and 70+ RBI again are probably a pretty good bet. I'm thinking late fifth round.

Immediately after Granderson, I think you're going to see a huge run on outfielders. In fact, beginning with the late fifth round, I wouldn't be surprised if in most drafts another six or seven outfielder are selected before the middle of the seventh round comes around.

Nick Markakis, in only his second year, was a big-time five category producer. BA of .300, over 200 combined RBIs and Runs, over 20 home runs and near 20 stolen bases ... he's a sleeper coming into this season. A good grab in round five, but a true sleeper in round six or seven.

Torii Hunter gets little love. In his last seven years, he hit 23+ home runs in six of them (he was injured the seventh). You can count on him to steal 15-20 bases. Now that he plays for the Angels (who typically are near the chart in stolen base attempts amongst AL clubs), I'd actually expect those numbers to tick upwards. He's not flashy or young, but he's a solid four-category producer who won't hurt you in BA (.271 lifetime).

I'm not a big Eric Byrnes proponent. For one thing, I don't like to accuse players I've never met of steroid/HGH use (although I do love to insinuate it, hint at it, or imply it). After the age of 30, Byrnes demolished his career norms across the board in '06 and '07. Twenty-five stolen bases, then 50 the next year, after never stealing more than 17 in a season? Really? What, did he just now find the gym? Kind of reminds me of Brady Anderson's 50 home run season. One "track record" caveat that I can trace back to his early days is his lowly lifetime batting average of .271. His career is so all-over the place it's hard to project what he'll do in '08. Byrnes may be an absolute steal in the fifth or sixth round, or he may revert to the average big leaguer he once was. Draft accordingly.

Bobby Abreu is in a contract year, he's supposedly in shape (he looked Bartolo Colon-ish in April of '07), and he's been a consistent 20/20 player for a number of years ... maybe too many years, actually. But, if a drop-off happens, it probably won't be a in a walk season. He's 33, has a lifetime BA of .300, and is a sleeper in rounds five through seven.

Hunter Pence, assuming he avoids walking into any more glass doors, is a great 5x5 selection. He batted .322 and had 17 homers and 11 stolen bases in less than a full season. This artificially lowers his stats. I wish I had more than one year to work with, but I see him a sixth-round value coming into this year. If you can snag him later, great.

Corey Hart gets overlooked amongst all the quality NL Central OFs. Why? He's only 25, had a .295 batting average and 22+ home runs and stolen bases last year, and seemed to get pretty unlucky in the RBI/Runs department. Someone should grab him by early round seven.

Brad Hawpe seems like a clone of Corey Hart, except that he isn't a threat to steal more than five or six bases. Another good value pick.

Tier Three (Rounds 9-12)

Seems like Vernon Wells is running out of chances to duplicate his 2003 season, doesn't it? Off-season surgery, horrible '07 campaign ... look at him as a speculation pick in round nine.

Chris Young: Don't mix him up with Chris Young the pitcher! How do you hit 32 home runs and only drive in 68 RBI? How do you steal 27 bases when you have a .237 batting average and a sub .300 OBP? He batted in .100s with runners on base. Chris Young is a great selection if you have the likes of Ichiro slotted next to him. Keep that in mind.

Jason Bay played a semi-full season. He just stunk up the joint. Maybe he'll rebound a bit and turn into a ninth -ound steal. He's only 29. Or maybe he drank whatever Brian Giles took a few years back.

Delmon Young must have been a real clubhouse cancer to get traded, at the age of 22, to another AL team. He went 13/10 in home runs and stolen bases, but again: he's only 22! He hit .288 and had 93 RBI, and you have to figure the power is going to show up at some point. Nice power/speed sleeper.

Shane Victorino was amazingly fun to own last year. Thirty-seven stolen bases and 12 home runs are incredible value from the waiver wire, and he'll probably slide to round nine or ten. Pounce! He has a good chance of giving you sixth round value.

Remember Arnie's line in Predator, when the alien takes off the mask? Yeah, let's discuss Hideki Matsui. No speed. Oldish. Good for 25+ home runs, about 100 runs and 100 RBI, and maybe a .290 batting average. He's a tad underrated. Keep him in mind for the mid rounds if you need some sneaky power numbers.

Jermaine Dye is a few years removed from his obvious-then and obvious-now career year. He's a solid four-category producer, though a bit of an injury risk. Still has value.

Nick Swisher seems like the Eric Chavez of OFs. You keep thinking he's going to put it all together, then he tosses up a .262 average and sees his home run total drop by 12. I'd count on him being a negative in at least two categories. Simply a power source at this point. Maybe round eleven.

Matt Kemp, assuming Torre doesn't do something stupid, is a great sleeper. He went 10/10 in home runs and steals in less than 300 at-bats, and a .342 BA. He's not as good as he think he is, but if you can grab him in these rounds, you've got yourself a steal.

Jeff Francouer's batting average went way up (30 or so points), his RBI and run totals went up, and his home runs decreased from 29 to 19. Intriguing. That tells me he was pretty unlucky in the power department. Sleeper!

I actually become nauseated when I type Andruw Jones's name. Why would the Dodgers give this guy a two-year deal? Scott Boras must have incriminating photographs of every club owner and GM in baseball. His batting average has declined for three straight years and hit the triple twos last season (.222). He also lost a shitload of home runs, RBI, and runs. I wish I could find the video clip of Scott Boras on ESPN comparing Andruw Jones's impending free agency with "being able to sign Willie Mays in his prime." Jones is a pure power pick at this point, and you're hoping he'll rebound. I'm thinking round 12. Don't desperately grab him in round seven just because your first three rounds were Reyes, Ichiro, and Brian Roberts. (What were you thinking)?

Tier Four (Rounds 13-16)

At this point, every OF has serious deficiencies somewhere. Know your team's needs. By this time, you need to abandon your draft rankings and draft according to those categories which need to be addressed.

Pat Burrell is another sleeper. He'll kill your batting average (lifetime in the .250s), but assuming you can bear that issue, he'll give you good homer/RBI numbers in deep leagues. The Phillies lineup is deep and ... awesome ... so I'm hoping he puts it together this season. It's easy to forget he has six seasons of 24+ homers in the last eight years.

Raul Ibanez has three straight years of 20+ homers, a lifetime BA of .285, and he's batting in the heart of the Seattle lineup that should be putting a bunch of hitters on base in front of him. Good value pick.

Juan Pierre is strictly (NO!) a need (AVOID!) pick. He is a negative (HATRED!) in three (DIE!) categories. Zero home (COLLETTI'S FOLLY!) runs. Zero.

Johnny Damon has always been overrated. Now he may be a bit underrated. Twenty plus steals is nothing to sneeze out. Good fourth or fifth OF for deep leagues.

Jacoby Ellsbury is still a speculation pick, World Series heroics be damned. Project those totals outwards and you have a 40 plus stolen base and 20ish home run season ... but that's really dangerous to do with such a small sample size. He could be the steal of the draft, or this year's Chris Duffy.

Kosuke Fukodome says he wants to run more. Will he be Ichiro Suzuki, or Kazuo Matsui? Hideo Nomo, or Kei Igawa? He's a true gamble, but you have to like his team and the situation.

Adam Jones: Sleeper! I love me some Adam Jones. Don't miss out on his power/speed combination. I see a Kemp/Markakis/Hart style value in rounds 13-16.

Someone has to produce for the Marlins, right? Might as well be Jeremy Hermida. His home runs and BA have been trailing upwards, though the lack of any stolen base potential hurts.

Aaron Rowand is a solid fourth OF. Last year was a career year. He moved from a loaded Phillies lineup to the black hole that is the SF Giants. He's been above 20 home runs twice. He's a solid player, but don't suddenly think he's a seventh rounder.

Enough has been written about Ken Griffey, Jr. I refuse to add to the kerfuffle. He's been on my "do not draft list" for years.

Josh Hamilton is a nice story. In less than three hundred at-bats, he hit 19 home runs and batted .292. Sleeper!

Others of Note

It's not easy to find guys to bat .300, hit 15 home runs, and steal 15 bases. Randy Winn almost did it (he had only fourteen home runs). When filling out your roster, look for guys like him.

Jose Guillen doesn't need to get along with your family to be a fantasy asset. He's always playing for his life. Great pick in deep leagues. Twenty-three home runs, .290 batting average, 99 RBI? Why is this guy forgotten every year on draft day? Is it the fifteen game suspension?

Willy Taveras is another one category-monger: stolen bases. Late-round filler.

Michael Cuddyer had a great '06 (100+/24 homers/100+) and a lousy '07. He's off the draft radar for most folks, but I remember!

Gary Matthews, Jr. is a solid OF. You don't have to pay him that ridiculous, HGH-fueled contract.

Jack Cust: If you need power, pick him up on "specs." Don't count on a Roy Hobbs-esque season from him.

Garrett Anderson has about seven forks sticking out of him, he's so done.

Josh Willingham has 20 plus home runs the last two years. He has nothing else to really recommend him, but you need to find that fifth OF somewhere, right?

Michael Bourn is the poor man's Juan Pierre. Eighteen stolen bases in 122 at-bats? Sleeper steal pick.

Austin Kearns may someday deliver on his potential.

Mike Cameron is a bit of a sneaky 20/20 candidate. But he's really old. And he's suspended for 25 games. And his batting average sucks. But, he is a sneaky 20/20 candidate.

J.D. Drew. I hates him forever. Theo Epstein is completely overrated as a GM. Drew is exhibit "A."

Bill Hall will be 3B eligible soon. He had a great '06, lousy '07. Late round sleeper, if you average the last two years you're getting tremendous multi-eligibilty value.

Chris Duncan had 21 homers in less than four hundred at-bats. Plus, he'll be filling in for the soon-to-be-injured Albert Pujols. I kid, I kid. Good value pick.

Reggie Willits: see Willy Taveras, above.

Andre Ethier had no stolen bases, but decent homer and BA production. More late round rookie speculating to be found here.

Xavier Nady: Twenty home runs, less than 500 at-bats, young.

Wily Mo Pena: Puts on a great show at batting practice. Bad BA, big time power potential (13 in less than 300 at-bats last year), now playing full time in the new Washington park. Sleeper alert!

Joey Gathright/Dave Roberts/Jerry Owens: See Taveras, Willy, above. But worse.

People seem to love Jason Kubel. Seems like late-round filler to me.

Geoff Jenkins looks like Brett Favre. Bad batting average, decent power numbers every year. Filler at this point.

Milton Bradley: Always been productive, out for much of last year. One of your rare opportunities to pick up an end-of-draft OF who might seriously outperform his draft slot.



alfonso said...

About Eric Byrnes, it could be argued that playing in Oakland certainly contributed to his early low SB totals.

Anonymous said...

where's lastings milledge on your list? he's definitely better pick than jack cust.

Mike Bock said...

I only went 50-60 deep, figure Milledge is right around that bubble.

Stephen said...

Mike - any thoughts on draft strategy/player value in a league where there are specific outfield (ie LF/CF/RF) positions?

Mike Bock said...

I need to know the "games played" requirement. Assuming it's the Yahoo "five games" minimum, it's not that big of a deal. I'd say LFs are the most scarce position, but not by much.

Stephen said...

Yeah - it's the old 5 games started. Having played with this rule the last three years or so, it seems that RFs are a little more scarce. Probably doesn't mean you have to rush out and take Rios in the 2nd though...