The outfield is an interesting thing when it comes to fantasy baseball. Some leagues consider outfielders generically while others have specific positions. Some have only three starting outfield slots while others have five. Even if we agree on the rules, what one person would consider a left fielder, others would consider right fielders or center fielders. So, before we even get to real offensive value we will get to the rules of our game. I looked up left fielders with at least 180 plate appearances on Fangraphs and came up with this list as of June 16.
Some of these guys have played more than one position and will qualify on more than one list. If we list a player in left, then we won’t list him anywhere else. That might make center and right field a little short, but those are the breaks. If you have been following us before now, you know that real offensive value is the midpoint between batting average and what I call ISO2. ISO2 is isolated power and isolated patience added together. The league average for this metric has been hovering between .225 and .230. Recent calculations have it at .227 as of this writing.
This is important to point out because ROV was designed to look like batting average. The problem is that when someone sees a .230 ROV, they see a below average player when technically they would be slightly above average. We will divide players into three categories: elite starters, fringe starters, and look away. Keep the average ROV in mind when you look at the numbers or you will come away underwhelmed.
It would be ridiculous to call Colby Rasmus the best left fielder in baseball. In fact, most fantasy owners would probably want any of those other guys before Rasmus. However, I can tell you Rasmus was available in my league because I added him. Anyone that uses ROV as gospel is an idiot, but it can be a useful tool to identify underrated players. Rasmus definitely qualifies as one of those.
What is most important to note is the distance between the best and eighth best player in terms of ROV. There isn’t a whole lot of separation there. Matt Holliday is on the shelf and Rasmus himself is on bereavement leave, but I’m sure all of these guys are available via trade. You may have to pay a premium for Justin Upton and Starling Marte, but the numbers suggest you can get almost as much value out of the rest of them for less.
It’s also important to note that there isn’t a single guy above .290 in ROV. That is an indication that there are no studs available in left field. There are a number of good players available, so one should focus on value and remember that you aren’t going to have a stud at every position anyway.
In a previous article, I suggested that Chris Coghlan had no business being in the big leagues. That, of course, is a harsh assessment that was built around his fielding. In short, his hitting isn’t enough to sustain his bad fielding. If he were an average defender, then he might have a place, but even when you give him that, his offensive production is not up to par of a typical corner outfielder.
That being said, fantasy sports doesn’t care about defense, so you are looking at an above average offensive player. In point of fact, you have to wait until you get down to Michael Cuddyer before you see a below average offensive performer. That’s 16 guys that are above average or better by my count, and that doesn’t even count players that may be eligible in left field but are not shown here.
While you won’t get elite performance, you will get a solid performance from any number of characters. Also, keep in mind that ROV does not have a base running element. There are five players with ten or more steals and another with nine. So, obviously, some of these guys look better than these raw numbers would immediately suggest. In particular, Brett Gardner, Starling Marte, and Justin Upton play up with that speed element.
The look away label is probably a misnomer. Christian Yelich is just beginning to hit a little, so if someone in your league wants to give up on him, I might take him or her up on that. The others are fairly pedestrian as far as look away goes. Ben Revere offers speed and may see a bump in runs scored if he’s dealt to a contender. Otherwise, I wouldn’t give a warm bucket of spit for any of them.
Melky Cabrera is a special case. I might nickname him the moneymaker because he always seems to step up and play well when it’s time to get a contract. He signed a three year/42 million dollar deal on the heels of a 3.1 WAR campaign in 2014. His 2012 campaign was also a contract year. He had 4.7 WAR then. He signed only a one year deal, so the Giants signed him on the back of a 4.4 WAR campaign. These numbers are all according to baseball-reference. That same source has him with 17.0 WAR for his career. My quick math show him having 12.2 WAR in contract years and 5.3 in the other seven full seasons combined (he had -0.5 in an abbreviated rookie campaign). Heed my warning now, avoid Cabrera unless it’s a contract season.