With the National League Outfield Rankings released today, I thought I’d take on the Top 5 as seen by the collective group of RotoGraphs writers. Now, obviously, I’m not here to give you the no brainer names and tell you to go after them in your draft. That would be a pretty short article, no? But perhaps I can give you a few things to think about that just might make your decision as to which one (or two) to target a little more thought provoking.
The King of Brews: Ryan Braun
OK, so nothing too thought provoking here. Number one stud and an easy first round choice. Top 5 pick overall? I’d consider it. Yes, even after a down year…by his standards. Sure, his HR total dipped below 30 for the first time in 4 seasons, but he still had 103 RBI, scored over 100 runs, swiped double digit bases, and maintained an average over .300. I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why the power dropped, but there’s nothing really that significant standing out — more ground balls than line drives, more swings and more contact outside the strike zone, I suppose. He makes pitchers nervous, so they’re not giving him great stuff to hit? Probably a mixture of the two. But Braun is a beast and I have no doubt that his numbers this season will return to the levels at which we’ve grown accustomed.
Mile High Value: Carlos Gonzalez
Huge off season debates at to whether or not CarGo has supplanted Braun as the number one stud in the NL outfield, and while those in favor of the Rockies 5 tool animal make a good case, I still see a concern or two. First and foremost are his splits — .380-26-76 at home and .289-8-41 on the road. I know he’s calling Colorado home for the next 7 years, but just like Braun saw this year, CarGo will see less glamorous pitches to hit and is definitely more prone to the strikeout. That crazy .384 BABIP is coming back down to earth this year and I also don’t see him running as often. He’ll still put up killer numbers, but don’t expect him to equal, let alone surpass last year’s totals. If it came down to choosing between him and Braun, I’m drinking Milwaukee’s Best.
Sweetness in St. Louis: Matt Holliday
What’s better than hitting behind Pujols? How about hitting behind Pujols when he’s in a contract year? Throw in a little bit of lineup protection and the delightfully consistent Holliday (yeah, I said delightfully) is going to make for one fantastic top outfielder. He’s super consistent in the power department, always a .300+ average, his OBP hasn’t been below .390 since 2006, and his wOBA is just as consistently high. OK, fine, he lost the double digit steals. You happy? I said something negative. I see more of the same, if not maybe a teeny bit more as he will see plenty of great pitches to hit all year long. The best part, though, is that if you look at the most recent ADP rankings on Mock Draft Central, the earliest he seems to be going is near the front end of the second round in 12 team mixed leagues. Great to know you can get that kind of consistency with your second pick.
Rebound in DodgerTown: Matt Kemp
There’s plenty of speculation going around as to why Kemp struggled to produce the Top 5 fantasy value in 2010 that his owners were expecting. Some say he got fat and slow during the 2009 off season which is why his SB% was so poor and his batting average and BABIP dipped 50 odd points. Our own Albert Lyu points to Kemp’s increase K% and inability to catch up to fastballs. Some would say that his game was affected by his depression over his break up with Rhianna, but he hit for more power and I thought all guys hit harder when they were with her than without (Ouch, really? Too soon?). And finally, some would point to a possible rift with manager Joe Torre as his game seemed to improve over the final two months when word spread that Torre was retiring. Whatever the case may be, Kemp has a good amount of work to put in before fantasy owners are fully trusting again. He needs to cut down on the strikeouts, catch up to those fastballs and make better contact when swinging both inside and out of the zone. He also needs to fix that base stealing efficiency. Fortunately, he’s 26 years old and just heading into his prime, and is off to a great start this spring, having whiffed only twice in 21 at bats. Expect that those who believe in the rebound will jump on him somewhere in the early to middle of the second round (14th to 18th pick), right about where Holliday goes.
Hey look! A Pirate!: Andrew McCutchen
Wow. When was the last time you saw anyone from the Pirates ranked this high? Barry Bonds? Andy Van Slyke? Willie Stargell? It’s great to see McCutchen getting his due and it’s well deserved as he is quickly on the rise as one of baseball’s more complete players. Back to back seasons of nearly identical slash lines with an increase in both power totals and stolen bases and a reduction in K% are making him one of the more coveted outfielders on the rise. But the question is, how much better is McCutchen going to get? He’s only 24 years old, so you’d expect, after tracking his progress through the minors and his first two seasons in the bigs that there could be a chance at consistent 20-30 seasons in the future, but the isolated power numbers dictate more gap than home run power. Definitely not the worst thing in the world as anyone would be more than happy to have him in their fantasy outfield, but those expecting a big power surge might be in for some disappointment this season. Batting third in the lineup should also keep the stolen bases at a consistent 30-35 level. He’s coming off the board somewhere around the 45th pick, on average, and that’s right about where you should be looking for him anyway. If you spend your first two picks building up elsewhere, you could do a lot worse than drafting McCutchen as your #1 outfielder.
Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over 10 years on a variety of websites. In addition to his work here, you can also find him at his site, RotobuzzGuy.com, Fantasy Alarm, RotoWire and Mock Draft Central. Follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or for more direct questions or comments, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org