2014 Fantasy Baseball: Early Top 20 OF For 2014 Part I
When I began working on my outfield rankings, I decided, mainly due to boredom and my general sadness that there is no baseball at the moment, to do a top 20 instead of a top 10. I’ll be breaking them down into two posts, so this will post will only mention my top 10 outfielders. The previous positional breakdowns can be found by clicking on my name above the piece.
I want you to keep a few things in mind while reading this piece: Chris Davis was not excluded, he simply lost eligibility & I have a personal preference – like many of you I’m sure – to lean towards five category providers in the outfield. I lean that way at nearly every offensive position unless someone with one absolutely standout skill is available like Everth Cabrera or perhaps even Billy Hamilton.
Outfield, while it might not be quite as deep as it used to be, is still deeper than other positions due to the sheer number of players with eligibility. Let’s get to it.
The first few guys on the list can also be found in my overall top 10, so I’ll save you the chore of reading my opinion on them twice, if I can help it.
Surprise, surprise! Mike Trout holds the number one position. I’d be lying if I said I did not think about jokingly putting someone else there just so I could get cussed out on Twitter. Anyways, he’s the best player in the game. You all know this, he has the highest odds of anyone in the major leagues to finish as the top ranked player overall – not just in the outfield – in 2014. He’s the man, phenom, etc.
Andrew McCutchen – *inserts praise a little below the Trout line.*
Carlos Gonzalez’s value is all about health. If he’s healthy, then he’s one of the most formidable fantasy forces in the game. If he’s not, well, then he’s on the bench which does not help you. Drafting CarGo all comes down to one question: can you be satisfied with his production through 120 games and plug someone in the rest of the time? I can. Cargo for 120-games + whomever you get off of waivers during his inevitable DL stint is likely to be more valuable than anyone else you could take above him.
Adam Jones is a “bleh” option at this spot for me. I could not find anyone else that I could put above him. Fangraphs’ Eno Sarris has a nice piece regarding Adam Jones and his “boringly consistent production.” Eno mentions the warning signs in his game and I agree with him. For the time being though, until those signs become more dire, he’s safe bet to finish the season in the top 10.
Remember Jacoby Ellsbury’s 2011? What an awesome, completely unexpected, season. Ellsbury will likely never produce at that rate again – especially power wise. Ellsbury hit more home runs in that magical 2011 season than he has during every other season of his career combined (33 vs. 30). Ellsbury, however, is still extremely valuable in fantasy baseball. Most of his value is derived from his legs, and that value may be growing due to the decline in stolen bases in the game.
Bases are not being stolen anymore – at least relative to the rate that they used to be stolen at. Ellsbury’s – and other speedsters’ – skill set are becoming more and more important to our fantasy lineups.
Ellsbury’s game does not come without questions. I do not agree with the injury label that many people slap on him due to the fact that the majority of his injuries have been flukish in nature. I am interested to see where he ends up in free agency, mainly because, going somewhere like Seattle downgrades his power even further. All in all, Ellsbury should be a valuable asset in 2014.
I’m not sure that anyone saw Carlos Gomez’s 2013 coming. I sure didn’t. I was extremely skeptical of the power that he showed in 2012, but to my surprise he kept it and then some. Gomez saw his ISO climb from a career high of .202 to a new career high of .222. The fact that his power carried over might not have shocked some as much as the drastic improvement Mr. Gomez was able to make in his batting average. However, the drastic improvement seemed to be a little BABIP aided. His overall line came back to Earth in the second half.
Carlos Gomez is not a .300 hitter. Due to his skill set though, he doesn’t have to be. Gomez’s 2013 second half, if done over 162 games, would give him a final line of the averages above complete with 28 homers and 54 steals. Obviously, that isn’t likely to happen because playing 162 games is rare, and I have a hard time seeing him hit more home runs than he did in 2014. Essentially, I’m saying that I believe Gomez can, at the minimum, repeat his 2013 in every category except for average. He’s good and his fantasy value is somewhat buffered for me due to his high floor in the speed category. Even if the power slips a little bit, he can still swipe 40+ bags, which has value. If we were doing our rankings based on GIFs then Gomez would be number one without much of a discussion.
My infatuation with Giancarlo Stanton is, quite frankly, getting unhealthy. I just want him to be healthy. When he’s healthy, aside from Trout, I’m not sure there is a guy in the major leagues that is more “must see” than Stanton. Unfortunately, he cannot stay on the field. Stanton was a little overvalued last season. He was basically a late first/early second round pick. He obviously won’t be there this season, but is he even worth this spot? I believe so.
The main question around Mr. Stanton, in my eyes, is how much does his supporting cast hurt him? It’s an interesting question considering how historically bad the Marlins’ 2013 offense was. Only Pablo Sandoval saw fewer pitches in the strike zone than Stanton did in 2013. I’m willing to say, somewhat confidently, that the only reason Sandoval saw fewer pitches in the zone than Stanton is because he will swing at absolutely anything. I do not believe in lineup protection, at least unless there are extreme circumstances. The 2013 Marlins had extreme circumstances. Pitchers obviously pitched around Stanton a ton, which caused his walk rate to spike to 15%. Why wouldn’t you pitch around him? It isn’t like Ed Lucas or Placido Polanco are terrifying.
The good news is that even though he was seemingly pitched around, he still put up good power numbers. Stanton hit 24 homers in 504 plate appearances, which while below his career norms, is still impressive. Stanton was top 20 once again in home runs per plate appearance. You could argue that Stanton’s situation is similar to CarGo’s. Is he worth the investment when he’s nearly guaranteed to miss time. I lean yes, because the potential is immense, and the Marlins offense can’t be any worse – which should lead to more runs & RBI – right? Oh god, I hope they can’t be worse.
Bryce Harper, aside from Mike Trout, might have the highest upside in the game of baseball. Like so many others before him with his playing style, hello Grady Sizemore (sad face), his issue is whether or not his body will allow him to reach it. Harper’s playing style has been well documented so I won’t dwell on it too much, I just want to see the upside fulfilled.
What I will talk about his his ability to hit LHP and his plate discipline. I touched on it a little near the end of my overall top 10 rankings piece. I believe he can improve – and will – but I’d like to see progress this season. Harper’s plate discipline, on the other hand, is very good. He doesn’t chase much and he punishes basically every quadrant of the strike zone.
For a little context, an ISO of .200 or better is considered “good.” Harper had an ISO greater than or equal to .200 in every quadrant of the strike zone. He’s very good. To add in a little more visualization regarding Harper’s ability to drive the ball in all zones of the zone.
Harper’s home runs by year are shown above thanks to Bill Petti’s fantastic tool. The chart on the right, 2013, helps to back up the zone profile shown above, but it also gives us more of an idea of Harper’s power to all fields. Many power hitters can produce good ISO rates in certain zones, especially the outside zones, by being an extremely gifted pull hitter. Harper’s power is so prodigious that he does not have to pull the ball to get it out of the park.
If Harper makes it to the 3rd round, I’m snatching him up without question. Unfortunately due to the helium writers – like myself – will inject into his draft status ahead of time, he likely will not make it there.
Ah, to Mr. Braun we come. I’ll be honest, I’m hoping the vitriol over Braun’s suspension boils over into his ranking for 2014. I would love to have him on my team, especially considering he will not come with a first or second round price tag (guessing) in many leagues.
How much steroids helped Braun is an interesting question. I’m a huge believer in science, and what we can and can not prove through numerous tests. There is no doubt that steroids help in some fashion – otherwise players likely would not use them – but I do believe their effects can be greatly exaggerated. Ryan Braun is still a good player and I’m betting he will be good once he’s “clean” in 2014.
Braun has always had pretty solid plate discipline and nearly elite contact rates. 2013 saw more of the same in that regard, but his power seemed to be sapped a little. I’m not too worried about his bump in strikeouts, because his contact rates were basically unchanged. Braun’s 2013 ISO of .200 was the second lowest of his career. Fortunately for us, we have somewhat of a reasonable scapegoat to blame – aside from the obvious steroids answer. Braun’s 2013 was hampered very early by an injury to his thumb; it very nearly sent him to the DL in June. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a thumb injury of some sort hamper someone’s power production (see: Justin Upton, 2012).
I believe Ryan Braun will bounce back in 2014. He, more than likely, will not be as good as he was in 2012, or maybe even as good as he was in 2011. That’s fine. He’s aging and likely won’t run quite as much as he once did. Steamer, despite the down 2013, still projects a .293/.367/.513 line complete with 26 home runs and 16 steals in 130 games. If he hits those numbers, everyone will almost assuredly scream that he was a steroid fueled mirage, that’s fine just sit back, plug him into your lineup, and enjoy a productive season.
Jose Bautista will round out the top 10 for me and I’ll admit that he is the player on this list that I have the least amount of confidence in. That’s not meant to be an indictment of his skills, just that while most the above names can be five category contributors where Bautista cannot. Bautista, is probably second on this list in terms of raw power, behind Mr. Stanton. They’re similar players except that Bautista walks more – or at least has a longer track record of high walk rates – and strikes out much less. The only reason Stanton is above Bautista for me is age and Bautista’s wrist.
We’ve mentioned Braun’s thumb being a power deterrent. Bautista has had similar problems in the past, except they have been focused in his wrist. He underwent surgery to repair the sheath in his risk, but it still worries me a little heading in 2014. If he’s healthy and all reports state that he is doing just fine, he’s one of the games most prolific power hitters. He’s aging, so some decline in production should probably be baked into his draft position, but he should still be productive given that all of his skills (batting eye, contact, etc.) seem in tact.
The aforementioned GIF rankings would probably see Mr. Bautista slide in right behind Carlos Gomez.
It’s a damn shame things like that give us no value in fantasy. I want to live in a world where that counts as at least towards something.
I’ll be going through names 11-20 in my next piece. Please join me in the comments below and we can get each other through this cold off-season.