So you’re just about set for your draft. You’ve ranked players. You’ve jotted down some sleepers. You’ve even oh-so-carefully suggested to your significant other that, hey, it might be a good idea to get out of the house for a while this weekend, say, around the hours that just so happen to coincide with the time you’ll be selecting various real players to populate your fake team with the most clever nickname in all the land.
But before you make any final decisions about outfielders, here are a few strategies to consider. Keep in mind that this applies primarily to very deep mixed leagues, or better yet, AL- and NL-only versions with a minimum of five starting outfielders. In other words, when you’re not going to be able to fill out your roster with Ryan Braun, Carlos Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Hamilton and Matt Holliday, one or two of these ideas may help you do more with less. After all, unlike most other offensive positions where you only start one player (or occasionally two), there’s a little more room to play with when it comes to mapping out your outfield.
1) Split Decision
If you can’t get the best all-around outfielders, get those who thrive when it comes to hitting right-handed or left-handed pitchers. Splits like this may be well-known, but often they’re cited as a reason not to draft a player (i.e. “Ryan Howard isn’t a first-rounder because he has a career .766 OPS against lefties”). However, a player who performs better than his overall line whenever he faces a particular handed pitcher can be sneaky useful. Best to target those who mash right-handed pitchers, who are nearly three time more likely to start than lefties, since those hitters, by default, will get more opportunities to inflict damage—or if they’re in a platoon situation, they’ll net more plate appearances. For example, Luke Scott kills righties to the tune of a .550 slugging percentage and 20 bombs since 2008, and Jason Kubel is right behind him with 19 four-baggers. As for the other side: Cody Ross owns lefties, with a .575 slugging percentage and 28 homers, second-most in baseball among outfielders over the past three seasons, while Ryan Raburn’s 22 home runs against southpaws is the fifth-highest total. These guys are readily available later in drafts, and if properly employed by a matchup-hawking owner, they will pay off.
2) A Backups Plan
Since it’s unlikely you’ll come out of the draft with your five starting outfield spots filled by actual starting outfielders, it helps to pinpoint which real-life fourth outfielders are best. In fact, there are plenty of No. 4s who are better—and cheaper—options than starters. It’s not worth going after Michael Saunders or Carlos Gomez simply because they’re expected to start, when David Murphy or Eric Hinske are still available. What’s more, you won’t have to sweat worse production over more at-bats, which only hurts your rate stats even more. And obviously, it helps to aim for outfielders who back up injury-prone starters. On a related note, if you can corner the market on a team’s outfield position, especially one where the backup has upside, it helps to know you’ve got things covered in case the starter slumps or gets injured. Say, handcuffing Ryan Kalish to J.D. Drew or Chris Heisey to Jonny Gomes.
3) Don’t Ignore Platoons
When two outfielders are stuck in a platoon, they both tend to get ignored in favor of a player who has the job all to himself. After all, opportunity can be just as important as talent when it comes to fantasy. But consider this batting line from the 2010 season: .262 average with 27 homers, 91 RBIs and 96 runs. So what if it was compiled by two players rather than one? You’re really just going to ignore a contribution that’s the equivalent of a No. 2 fantasy outfielder’s output because Seth Smith and Ryan Spilborghs couldn’t put up those numbers by themselves? Didn’t think so.
4) Target Stats, Not Players
Before drafting, you should have an idea of what stats you want out of your starting outfield. In other words, consider your outfield as its own collective unit. If you’re starting five, let’s say the expected total stat line looks like this: .280 average, 100 home runs, 350 RBIs, 350 runs and 100 steals. That way, you know what to shoot for as the draft progresses. Don’t freak out if someone else takes Jacoby Ellsbury and the 60 steals you have him down for early on; Rajai Davis‘ steals will be available a couple rounds later, but in the meantime, focus on grabbing another outfielder (think: Denard Span) who will fill the gap between those two in the runs category, where Davis lags behind. And don’t be afraid to take a low-average power bat that can help you approach your 100 homers, like Carlos Lee, because you can still push back toward that .280 target by remembering to snag Marlon Byrd.
Jason Catania is an MLB Lead Writer for Bleacher Report who also contributes to ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider and MLB Rumor Central, focusing on baseball and fantasy content. When he was first introduced to fantasy baseball, Derek Jeter had 195 career hits, Jamie Moyer had 72 wins and Matt Stairs was on team No. 3. You can follow him on Twitter: @JayCat11