This will be a longer 2 Up, 2 Down article than the ones we have had to date, as three members of the Cafe took one outfield position each, giving a grand total of six outfielders on the way up, and six on the way down. daullaz did the honors with those who ply their trade in Right Field; laxguy8947 analyzed four players out in Left Field; and chris8 ran his eye over Center Field. So without further ado, let’s get to it!
Andre Ethier – Dodgers
Here’s what you need to know about Andre Ethier: he has an above-average power bat, and 2008’s second half power surge (13 HRs in 270 ABs) suggests that if he continues to grow, 30 HRs could become his new baseline. He helps your average, and even with a bit of a hit rate regression (34% in 2008), he’ll still be in the .290-.300 range with a league average hit rate. He hits in a good young lineup, and if he reprises his role in the two-hole all year, he’ll score 100+ runs. And, I’ve saved the best for last: Ethier turns 27 this year, which is the peak age for a hitter. Add it all up, and you could be looking at picking up Nick Markakis’ numbers in the middle of the draft.
Nelson Cruz – Rangers
A career minor leaguer, Nelson Cruz has become yet another success story of the “peak-at-27” axiom for hitters. After hitting 37 HRs in 355 minor-league ABs, Cruz joined the Texas lineup and continued to rake, closing out the season with seven HRs in 115 ABs and a .609 slugging percentage. Hitting in the Texas heat in the summer will help the ball fly off the bat to an even greater degree. Cruz is also a danger on the base paths, swiping 24 bases in AAA last year. Early indication from manager Ron Washington is that Cruz will hit cleanup behind Josh Hamilton, which means he could be in line for huge RBI numbers. I remember taking Hamilton a few rounds too high in every league last year, knowing that the potential for payoff far outweighed the perceived reach I made. I would suggest doing the same with Cruz in 2009.
Ichiro Suzuki – Mariners
One of the most entertaining singles hitters to watch in MLB history, Ichiro has paved the way for the Japanese baseball explosion in America. But not everyone can be Rickey Henderson and continue to excel into their 40s. The 35-year-old is coming off a hamstring injury that resulted in only 10 second-half SBs, and Ichiro could possibly be reaching the end of the line. Even if he does regain form and continue to steal bases, he’d have to be the Ichiro of old to justify his third round draft slot. Six HRs and 42 RBI from your top OF means you’re digging a pretty big hole in the power department early on by taking Ichiro in the third. With that kind of investment, it’s much better to get off the Ichiro Express a year too early than a year too late.
Ryan Ludwick – Cardinals
An integral part of many 2008 fantasy baseball championships, Ludwick is being drafted in the fifth-to-seventh rounds of most drafts. As with a lot of older guys that come out of nowhere, expect a bit of a regression to the mean in 2009. An extremely high 26% line drive percentage coupled with a 35% hit rate contributed to the near-.300 batting average Ludwick turned in last year. When those tilt back to 20% and 30% respectively, we might be looking at a .260-.270, 30-HR hitter. Let someone else gamble that Ludwick’s elite production is sustainable.
R.J. White has been actively involved in fantasy sports for over 14 years and wouldn’t trade a minute of it. Catch up with him in the Forums under the name of daullaz.
A number of young center fielders are already getting a lot of attention in 2009. The likes of Matt Kemp, Jacoby Ellsbury, Lastings Milledge, Chris B. Young, and Shane Victorino are all being touted to one degree or another this year. So, rather than talk about them, here are a couple of other names that are not getting quite as much attention as the aforementioned ones. While unsurprisingly going in the very late rounds in drafts, they all have the potential to significantly outperform their draft positions.
Coco Crisp – Royals
Big things were expected of Coco when he signed with Boston for the 2006 season. Unfortunately, things did not go well; one significant problem being a slump in batting average from a solid .300 with the Indians to a mere .271 over three years with the Red Sox. His BB/K ratio stayed consistent (not very good) and the power numbers dropped (16 HR in 2005; only 21 in total from 2006-2008). It is hardly surprising that he found his way out of Boston and headed to the Royals this offseason.
Why then, is he a candidate for the ‘Up’ section? Well, take a look at the positives. Crisp’s stolen base numbers have topped 20 for each of the last three years, and with a full-time job guaranteed at the top of the Royals’ line-up they can be expected to increase. There are also signs of improvement – his batting average last year was up 15 points from 2007, whille his OBP was also at its highest since leaving Cleveland. Sometimes all a player needs is a change of scenery, and that coupled with the full-time job on a team where the pressures of high expectations are considerably less than in Boston, makes Coco a sleeper candidate for 30 SBs in 2009.
Cameron Maybin – Marlins
When Maybin moved from the Tigers to the Marlins as part of the Miguel Cabrera/Dontrelle Willis trade, many fantasy baseball owners rubbed their hands in glee at the thought of him making the opening day lineup, batting ahead of the likes of Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla. Those hopes were swiftly dashed when he spent nearly the whole 2008 season in the minors before appearing in eight games at the end of the season.
But what a cameo appearance that was! Maybin was an incredible 16/32 with nine runs and four stolen bases in those eight games. Of course, it’s a tiny, tiny sample size, but as a teaser of what he can do it makes for good reading. When he gets on base, he will steal (nine attempts, nine successes in his major league career to date). He has shown decent power in the minors, although this has not yet translated to the majors – he still has plenty of time for that to happen. He clearly still has a lot of developing to do, particularly needing to cut down on his strikeout rate, so we must temper our expectations. But his upside is such that he is definitely worthy of a late-round flier… And it’s one that could bear fruit in a big way.
I found it very difficult to pick two players for this section. I’ve ended up with three players who I believe are being drafted in a position which represents their peak; it’s not that they are incapable of reaching that peak in 2009 – it’s more that they need to reach that peak to justify where they are being drafted. And I would add that I will be happy to have any of them on my team this year – if they fall far enough. One of these three is Josh Hamilton, and there are numerous debates raging as to whether he is worth the late-first round pick where he tends to be going. I will not repeat those debates here, but instead will look at the other two players.
Nate McLouth – Pirates
It pains me to place him here, as he was someone who helped a number of my teams last year, and I will be quite happy to have on my team again this year. But the question is: will he produce the numbers consistent with where he is being taken (currently late fifth round on Mock Draft Central and early fifth round on Couchmanagers)? There is no question that he produced a fantastic fantasy season in 2008 (26 HR, 113 R, 94 RBI, 23 SB), but can he repeat?
Pretty much everyone expects him to regress, and understandably so if we bear in mind that the power numbers of 2008 came as a bit of a surprise (and they dropped off significantly post All-Star break). We must also bear in mind the team he plays for and the fact that he no longer has Jason Bay to knock him in. The batting lineup around McLouth is hardly inspiring heading into 2009, and I struggle to see where his support will come from. We could expect an increase in stolen bases, but I would also expect the power numbers to fall back. Corey Hart and Jacoby Ellsbury are being drafted around the same time, and I would take either of them before McLouth. While Hart and Ellsbury have upside attached to their names, McLouth does not.
Torii Hunter – Angels
Hunter was Mr. Consistency with the Twins, peaking with two outstanding seasons in 2006 and 2007 before moving to the Angels in 2008. He performed well enough last year, almost going 20/20 (falling one stolen base short), but he is now approaching the age of 34, and the signs of decline are just starting to appear at the edges. Apart from stolen bases, all his numbers were down from 2007, some significantly (RBIs dropped by 29). He also missed a handful of games with an injury – not many, but something we need to be aware of.
With Mark Teixeira gone and Vladimir Guerrero also on the decline, it is likely that Hunter’s numbers will continue to slide this year. That’s not to say he won’t be worth drafting – he is still an outside bet for 20/20 and would make a fine third outfielder. But the upside is no longer there, so don’t allow yourself to reach for him, hoping that last year was a little blip and that 2007’s numbers are still possible. In this writer’s opinion, last year was the start of a downward trend.
Chris Routledge is a Brit, a Mets fan, and the proud owner of a pretty good track record in the H2H World Series, now entering its fifth year of competition. He suffers the agonies that come with being a Newcastle United soccer fan, and patiently puts up with the Cafe Editors removing the ‘u’ from words like “favourite”. Catch up with him in the Cafe under the username chris8.
We now look at the guys stuck out in left field; guys who are supposedly hitters first and fielders second. As usual, I will be looking for guys who I expect to perform better or worse than their typical draft position.
Adam Dunn – Free Agent
Here we have the stereotypical left fielder. He’s big and burly, but also a terrible defender (who cares about defense though, right?). Dunn is also remarkably consistent – he’s hit exactly 40 HRs four years in a row. This guy must have a lot of fiber in his diet! Many critics like to bring up Dunn’s batting average. Not me. He’s still going to drive in 100 runs and score 100 too. He’s still going to have an OBP north of .350. Dunn is often drafted outside the top fifty, and this is a big mistake. He produces well enough to be a late third or fourth rounder. The uncertainty over where he is going to play next year might scare some, but don’t be one of those people!
Eric Byrnes – Diamondbacks
For the first time in his career, Byrnes struggled with injuries. He’s had plenty of time off and is supposedly in good shape. Byrnes went undrafted in the Cafe’s recent mock, but if you take the chance to pick him up in the last couple rounds, he could easily reward you with a 20/20 season. We can’t count on him to repeat his 2007 season (21 HR, 50 SB), but even 65 to 75 percent production would be terrific value if you can get him at the tail end of the draft.
Matt Holliday – Athletics
Holliday’s career OPS away from Coors Field is .803; his OPS at Coors is 1.068. That’s all data from the last five seasons. In the same time span, about two thirds of his HRs have come at home. Holliday is a very solid player, but this kind of evidence cannot be ignored. Oakland is not the offensive team that the Rockies are, and McAfee Coliseum is by any measure a pitcher’s park. All of this means Holliday is not a first rounder. Some will still draft him there, based on reputation. Don’t be one of them. Holliday would be a solid pick around 20th overall, which translates to a late-second round selection.
Carlos Quentin – White Sox
Some would tell you that Quentin is a top-10 outfielder, but I’m just not sold on him. His performance last year was a bit of a surprise to begin with; even if he hadn’t injured his wrist, I’d be wary of some sort of sophomore slump from him. The injury to his wrist just makes things worse. Wrist injuries sap power – look what happened with Ryan Zimmerman last year. If Quentin falls past the first 40 picks, then I might be more interested.
Andrew Connolly is a full time college student who has loved baseball since the Braves won the World Series in 1995. Fantasy baseball is his favorite procrastination pastime. Catch up with him in the Cafe Forums where he posts under the name of laxguy8947.
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