This post is the latest in Ryan’s fantasy baseball position primer series. To view his primers for all other positions, click here.
OF Stock Watch: Rising
Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals
It only took four years for the former top prospect to finally figure the majors out. Gordon was outstanding last season in almost every category, hitting over .300 with 23 homers and 87 RBIs. As if those numbers were not strong enough, he scored 101 runs, stole 17 bases and hit 45 doubles. His strikeout rate dropped slightly, while he cut his infield fly ball rate in half over the last season.
All of these factors, combined with a new young heart to the Royals lineup look to favor Gordon over the next few seasons. Hitting leadoff in lineup that features Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas over the next year should make Gordon a lock for 100 runs.
Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees
Granderson is built for the new Yankee Stadium. In the past, Grandy’s dead pull approach was costly, but that was before the Yankees made him embrace who he was. Granderson still has great speed but now has the bonus of huge power numbers last season. His flyball rate was fifth highest in the majors last season at 48%, which can be a problem for contact hitters.
However, any fly ball hit to right field in the Bronx has a chance to reach that short porch. Granderson is in a perfect spot: surrounded by power in the lineup in a park that plays to his strength. Granderson will not provide you with a high average, but he will definitely give you speed and power numbers.
OF Stock Watch: Falling
Carl Crawford, Boston Red Sox
Crawford suffered the roughest season of his career right after signing the largest contract for an outfielder in MLB history. He had his lowest batting average, stolen base, RBI, and run totals in his last six seasons. It is hard to say that Crawford is done, even though his BABIP was at league average. Crawford saw a drop in walks and a rise in strikeouts, which kept one of the leagues most dangerous base stealers off the paths for much of the season. Expect him to bounce back this year, but do not treat him like you would have in past years.
Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners
Ichiro ended one of the most impressive streaks that baseball has ever seen last season, missing the .300 and 200 hit marks for the first time in his 10-year career. In the Mariners’ anemic offense, it is tough to see him again being able to fight off his decline at age 38. Do not expect him to score 100 runs anymore either, which is more a mark on the Mariners as a whole than Ichiro. Suzuki is still a great source of steals, but it is time to draft him as a simple speed pick because the days of contending for batting titles are over.
Big Outfielders Questions
Can Matt Kemp repeat his incredible season?
With all of the success that Matt Kemp had last season, it is hard to remember that, in 2010, the Dodgers’ star suffered a .249 average and was just 19 for 34 on steal attempts. There are two major stats that support that last season was not a fluke: his walk rate and his strikeout rate.
Kemp has long been known as a free-swinger, but, last year, he made minor adjustments in plate discipline, which led to a higher walk rate and lower strikeout rate. To go along with those improvements, Kemp also upped his line drive rate, which then improved his BABIP. Count on him this season. While he may not be the most valuable fantasy player again this season, it is hard to see Kemp falling off.
What should be made of Ryan Braun?
Now that Braun has been cleared of his suspension, what should his place be in the outfield rankings? I would put him and Kemp on the same level, even without the protection of Prince Fielder in the lineup. Braun has great power, speed and plate discipline. He has improved his walk and strikeout rates each year he has been in the majors, which is a credit to his adjustments at the plate.
Last season, he also made adjustments to improve his line drive rate and cut down on the number of groundballs, as well as cutting his pop-up rate in half. It is actually hard to think how much more Braun can improve this season, but he has a realistic shot of being the best player in all of fantasy baseball this season.
Which outfielders can recover from rough seasons last year?
Jayson Werth, Shin-Soo Choo, and Jason Heyward were just a few of the big names that struggled last season. Each of them had problems for different reasons. Choo struggled with injuries, which limited him to half a season. Considering his incredible consistency since he entered the season, it would make sense for him to bounce back.
Heyward suffered a 90-point drop in his BABIP, which coincided with drops in his walk and line drive rates. It seems like a classic case of the sophomore slump, which will require the young Brave to make several adjustments in order to return to his rookie year success.
Werth was moved out of the protection of the Phillies lineup and saw his infield fly ball rates and groundball rates skyrocket, while his walk rate dropped and his strikeout rate went up. It is harder to see Werth having a season similar to his career years in Philadelphia.
Top OF Sleeper
Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
Harper is less a sleeper because of his talent, which is undeniable, but because of his position in the Nats’ system. Is there a better way to spend a late round pick than to take a shot on a guy like Harper if he gets up to the majors?
Harper tore up the Arizona Fall League to the tune of a triple slash line of .333/.400/.634, finishing in the top 10 in the league in OPS. Harper still is young, but the Nationals are considering giving him a shot to win an Opening Day spot on the roster. It is only a matter of time before Harper reaches Washington, so take a late round flier on him.
Outfielder Strategy Tips
Outfield is obviously one of the most important spots in fantasy baseball due to the sheer numbers needed to fill out the roster. Outfielders offer a lot in each fantasy category: contact, power, and speed. While there are several players that help in all of these categories, like Braun, Kemp, Justin Upton and Carlos Gonzalez, they will be off the board in the first four rounds.
Next, you have to decide whether your team needs speed, like Michael Bourn and Shane Victorino, or power provided by someone like Jay Bruce or Mike Stanton.
It is crucial to have at least two solid outfielders in your lineup. Fill these two spots early and then take a chance on a high-risk, high-reward player, like Colby Rasmus or Yoenis Cespedes. Outfield is a relatively deep position, but the numbers required make it imperative to take outfielders early.