NL Outfield Rankings: March (Preseason)

You can’t please everyone. Not that being a fantasy baseball analyst is like being the president, but being a fantasy baseball analyst is like being the president. You can never make everyone happy, and Eno Sarris occasionally asks you for foreign policy recommendations. Worse, the people who are happy don’t vocalize their contentment while the people who are pissed are more than happy to let you know. Such is the nature of the beast.

It’s all good, though. This is my second year ranking National League outfielders, and you know what? I’m ready. My skin is a little thicker, my stomach a little rounder. It’s a new year, new me. Put it on a shirt!

I run my own projections and calculate values accordingly. These are essentially my predictions for how end-of-season rankings will look. I account for injury history, which is why, if ADP (average draft position) is any indication, I can tell you right now that you’ll be upset with where I ranked Bryce Harper and Giancarlo Stanton.

I will also move some guys around at my discretion, but, for the most part, this will be a fairly straightforward, marginally objective ranking of NL outfielders. Moreover, please remember that the nominal ordering of players is not completely sticky or fixed. There is some fluidity to this endeavor; a little less so at the top, but profoundly so at the bottom. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I will inevitably forget someone, especially some top prospect, so let’s not freak out too much, yeah? Just leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

Tier 1

A.J. Pollock
Bryce Harper
Andrew McCutchen
Charlie Blackmon
Giancarlo Stanton

(Edit, 1:38 pm EDT: I hadn’t seen the news about Pollock maybe needing a DL stint for his elbow until a reader pointed it out. Adjust those expectations accordingly, but that stint would likely cost him two or three spots. Should he avoid the DL, though, I stand by this ordering.)

That’s a good enough start. I admit my power projection for Harper is conservative; I expect regression in both fly ball rate (FB%) and home runs per fly ball (HR/FB). But the bigger culprit is playing time — I know Harper played the entirety of last year, but that’s the first time he can say that. Dude plays so hard, he’s a walking (sprinting?) liability. No doubt his talent is incommensurable, so sleep well knowing that’s the case.

The same can be said about Stanton, who swung so hard, he broke his wrist. Hamate fractures are relatively common and, from my limited understanding, easily treated, but the injury goes to show that, like Harper, the only thing stopping Stanton is himself. And fastballs to the jaw.

Tier 2

Ryan Braun
Yoenis Cespedes
Jason Heyward
Hunter Pence
Yasiel Puig

I’m bullish on Pence, who typically produces in admirable ways when healthy. It’s anyone’s guess how much his rocky 2015 will affect him contemporaneously. I don’t think there’s anything too outrageous here, although I can already hear a few of you muttering about certain omissions. (Thank goodness I no longer have to rank Carlos Gomez.)

Tier 3

Matt Kemp
Starling Marte
Billy Hamilton
Ben Revere
David Peralta
Matt Holliday
Kyle Schwarber
Stephen Piscotty

Yeah, Marte is pretty low. (So is Schwarber, but his eligibility as a catcher kind of skews everything. As an outfielder, I think this isn’t too absurd. I think he should be ranked among catchers only, because if you’re using him in the outfield, you better own Buster Posey. However, I know there will be complaints every month, so I concede.)

I have been vocal about my pessimism concerning Marte, and I’m in the minority. I also have no problem being wrong on this one. I’m simply heeding the multitude of red flags that I see concerning the sustainability of his 2015 performance. Perhaps I’m the only one who sees them — little ghost flags, fluttering in the wind.

I have Holliday probably a dozen spots higher than ADP. People underrate a good batting average, even if it’s somewhat empty. But it doesn’t have to be empty — despite injuries, Holliday’s hard-hit rate (Hard%) still ranked in the top third of hitters, and he swapped fly balls for line drives, a not-terrible development. Even if he only hits 15 home runs, it should pay dividends from the heart of the St. Louis batting order.

Piscotty was once sort of lauded for his hit tool — Kiley McDaniel ranked is a 55 FV (future value) prior to last season — but the batted ball skills Piscotty demonstrated in 2015 seem almost supernatural. He appears proficient spraying the ball to all fields and not popping up — two good ways to sustain a high BABIP. But with such a small sample size, it’s wise not to get too excited too soon. (Don’t tell anyone, but I am.)

Tier 4

Carlos Gonzalez
Jay Bruce
Gregory Polanco
Denard Span
Curtis Granderson
[some space]
Gerardo Parra
Randal Grichuk
Dexter Fowler
Jayson Werth
Christian Yelich

Like Marte, I could not be more out on CarGo. He couldn’t have picked a worse time to (1) be healthy for an entire season for once in his life, and (2) go on a home run rampage despite one of the worst starts to a season in his career. In the last 10 years, nobody has hit 40-plus home runs and recorded a wRC+ as low as his (114). Aaron Hill posted a 114 wRC+ in 2009 on 36 home runs, and it took Hill an extra 126 PAs to get there. He’s a platoon waiting to happen, but it’ll probably take until at least 2017 for it to take form.

Span is the less-hyped, but still-possibly-overly-hyped, version of Holliday: an aging veteran coming off an season hampered by injuries. He could still be good for 20 stolen bases and a .300 average as the lead-off man for what projects to be the 4th-best offense in baseball by WAR.

Polanco has some breakout upside. Granderson, Parra and Fowler generally provide the same kind of production. Even I’m not totally sold on Werth, but he flexed muscle in limited time last year and has serious batting average upside given he posted a BABIP north of .350 from 2012 through 2014. And there’s also a non-zero chance he could run again. Man, maybe I am sold on him.

Grichuk, Piscotty’s right field counterpart, is difficult to peg. He hits the ball hard, but his plate discipline is borderline pitiful (albeit in a small sample size as well). He also does not do anything spectacular in regard to batted ball skills to justify such a high BABIP; alas, I’m inclined to be very bearish in this instance.

Tier 5

Michael Conforto
Ender Inciarte
Joc Pederson
Marcell Ozuna
Nick Markakis
Odubel Herrera
Jorge Soler
Domingo Santana
Brandon Moss
Carl Crawford

The volatility increases as the playing time becomes less reliable. I like Conforto more than Grichuk — I think he has a higher floor, and maybe even a higher ceiling, too — but he doesn’t run, which is enough to knock him down a peg or two, and Juan Lagares‘ existence could crowd him out of much-needed (and, perhaps, much-deserved) playing time.

Pederson’s spring training stat line is ugly, dude: a 40% strikeout rate versus what amounts to Triple-A-quality pitching. Yeah, small samples. But his contact rate seems to continually digress. But cheap power is cheap power — just ask Ozuna, Santana and Moss. Herrera makes for cheap power-speed combo in the vein of his predecessors from the previous tier.

Markakis here kills me. It’s OK if you throw this one out. But consider that no man really deserves a 2.1% HR/FB, and he still has the chops to hit for a high batting average. It’s so empty, but it is what it is. Speaking of old dogs with old tricks, Crawford deserves more love with Andre Ethier hitting the shelf, but not too much more. He’s still Carl Crawford, after all.

Tier 6

Hector Olivera
Yasmany Tomas
Wil Myers
Michael Taylor
Scott Schebler
Marlon Byrd
Darin Ruf
Socrates Brito
Angel Pagan
Alex Rios
Adam Duvall
Jabari Blash
Rymer Liriano
Mallex Smith
Keon Broxton
Ramon Flores
Jose Peraza
Jesse Winker

Here lies scattered fragments of various prospects with even the remotest hint of value and, uh, some old-timers as well. There is literally no order to this tier — just names of young hitters to keep in mind and old hitters I’m contractually obligated to mention.

One-liners: Despite being a rookie, Olivera is already 31 years old; temper expectations accordingly. Taylor and Schebler are power-speed threats with contact issues; think 2015 Steven Souza. / Smith and Peraza are burners on the base paths and could make for cheap, nifty sources of stolen bases. / Broxton has some wheels, too, but he fits more a slugger’s profile but, uh, comes up a bit short on power. / Goeddel and Brito represent a happy medium, with double-digit power and speed, although the latter is averse to free passes. / Blash is the poweriest of them all, with a triple-slash line that would make Kyle Blanks blush. / Duvall mimics Blash with a slightly better minor league strikeout rates — don’t know how much that means, but the power is certainly intriguing. / Flores probably has the highest floor but the lowest ceiling, the kind of hitter whose on-base percentage (OBP) matches his slugging (SLG) — in this case, that’s a good thing. / Winker should debut at some point in 2016 and demonstrates excellent plate discipline and enough power (and first round draft pick credentials) as a 22-year-old to warrant him being a touted prospect.

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I omitted Ben Zobrist because he will likely play most of his time at second base. Can’t think of any other notable players eligible at multiple positions whom I omitted.

* * *

What do you think? Where did I go horribly wrong? Also, Happy Last Non-Baseball Week Before November!

Currently investigating the relationship between pitcher effectiveness and beard density. Two-time FSWA award winner, including 2018 Baseball Writer of the Year, and 8-time award finalist. Previously featured in Lindy's Sports' Fantasy Baseball magazine (2018, 2019). Tout Wars competitor. Biased toward a nicely rolled baseball pant.

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I was just surprised not to see Dickerson anywhere in here.