Now we come to the crux of the discussion. With 90 spots starting every night — plus eligible players starting at other positions, fourth outfielders, injury replacements, and Major League platoons — there are quite literally more than a hundred outfield options that may be useful on any given night. There are so many outfielders, in fact, that I make a point to leave two or three or four roster spots free to stream hitters based on matchups. Because there are so many readily available players, the baseline for outfielders, as for first basemen, is high, and a player must offer both production and predictability to be above it.
To reach the top tier of outfielders, a player needs to offer five-category production. Knock Gonzalez for his splits if you want, but his numbers will be there in the end. McCutchen will regress in batting average but still produce at a 30-30 pace, and Pittsburgh’s offense has actually been productive for much of the season now.
Really, any of the top four outfielders could finish the season on top. It’s looking more and more likely that Trout is already a top-five fantasy player. Braun, of course, has been for years. It’s splitting hairs, but Gonzalez and McCutchen offer elite production in all five categories; Trout won’t hit as many home runs and Braun won’t steal as many bases.
Reliable four-category production is immensely valuable. Put these five in any order depending on categorical need.
Upton still has Hall of Fame talent and MVP upside — this season. Maybe he’s traded and maybe the hand injury continues to sap his power, but he’s only a few fly balls from where he was last year. I’ll bet on improvement. Heyward is the proverbial “post-hype” star. If your league gives credit for WAR, move him on up. Holliday is reliable but lacks the upside of the others at this point, and the only question with Craig is playing time. I say someone gets hurt, Berkman sits, or Craig moves to second, but even if he doesn’t get six games a week, he’s immensely valuable in five.
Hamilton is one of the top outfielders, of course, and Granderson is a top home run hitter with speed potential, but for each, the perceived value is much higher than the value of his production. Hamilton hits in streaks and is likely to miss time with injury, while Granderson destroys batting averages as thoroughly as he does straight fastballs. Trade them: they’re worth more to you as commodities than on your roster. Regarding the rest of the fourth-tier outfielders, Berkman is clearly not ready to return. By his own account, his bat speed has slowed, and with three superior options in Holliday, Craig, and Beltran, his lack of production and potential for re-injury leave him at the bottom of the list. Beltran has hit for no power over the last six weeks, and as with Berkman, his playing time will decrease assuming all four St. Louis corner bats are healthy. Melky Cabrera will hit .300 over the rest of the season but will not sustain the pace he’s on. Bank the production you’ve gotten, but don’t overrate him going forward.
Other outfielders are not worth a dedicated roster spot. If, for instance, you start Jay Bruce on a nightly basis, you have the advantage of a reliable power source. Bruce offers a guarantee of 30 home runs with upside to hit 40 in a good year. Many analysts promoted him as a better option than Giancarlo Stanton early in the season. If you trade Bruce, packaging him with another inferior player for one of the top fifty or sixty bats, however, you will be able to stream the spot. You will have no off days; rather than six games per week, you get seven, and in aggressive weeks when you can take advantages of rescheduled games, perhaps eight. Rather than unexpected days off, you get full at bats. Over the course of the season, this may mean an additional hundred plate appearances, and perhaps more. In those hundred plate appearances, you will easily surpass Bruce’s counting numbers in home runs, runs, RBIs and steals, while matchups will allow you to beat his rate stats, applicable in standard leagues only to batting average.
Injured players like Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Bautista are simply not assets at this point in redraft leagues. You may get a third or half of the remaining schedule for them. It’s not difficult to justify trading them for a third or a quarter of their value. Bautista, in particular, is unlikely to return at full strength, as wrist injuries often sap power.
With 19 outfielders worth playing over streaming options, you realistically can’t expect to have more than two full-time outfielders in a competitive league. In the subsequent post we’ll look at streaming options and how best to take advantage of the roster spots to maximize value. However deep your outfield, you can out produce Bruce, Desmond Jennings, Alex Gordon, Shane Victorino, Corey Hart, Andre Ethier, Bautista, Stanton and so forth with free agents.
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