NL Outfielders: Opening Day Small-Sample Heroes

Oh, man. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh, man. IT’S BASEBALL SEASON. Woo! We survived the offseason. We made it. Thank you for joining me here today.

Unfortunately, with only one (and a half-ish) day(s) of baseball under our elastic baseball belts, I can only conduct as much analysis as the smallest of small samples will let me. Not unfortunately, fantasy owners freak out during the first couple of weeks of the baseball. I’m no psychologist, but dang, do owners overreact. You don’t see these kinds of overreactions during the season — however many months of baseball has already been played, and changes to players’ stat lines shift much more slowly in August than April.

In other words, April is incredibly noisy. There’s gotta be a signal in there, yeah? I’ll serve up names of National League outfielders who had particularly good first games of 2016, and I’ll tell you over which players with higher ownership rates (using Yahoo! percentages, arbitrarily) I’d rather own them. It could be controversial, but hey.

I’ve done things like this before, so this might be familiar to some. Also, keep in mind, these percentages could change a lot overnight. I’m writing this before Monday’s evening games have wrapped.

Sub-60% Ownership

Denard Span, SFG OF
52% owned

Right. So Span leads all of baseball with 5 RBI; to conform with all of Baseball Twitter right now, I’ll tell you that he’s on pace for 810 RBI with 162 home runs.

Span is much more than an extrapolation, though. (A poignant segue, I know.) Prior to last year’s injury-plagued season, Span finished 2014 the 15th-best outfielder, according to ESPN’s player rater, so he’s no slouch and, honestly, he probably shouldn’t have gone undrafted in most shallow leagues.

Despite what seemed like a lost 2015, he showed glimpses of his usual self, despite the injuries. He showed off his best plate discipline — only one less walk than strikeout — and power (.130 ISO) of his career amid his time spent on the disabled list. Even his baserunning paced out to 24 stolen bases across 600 plate appearances.

There’s no denying Span is old in baseball years. Entering his age-33 season, his best days are likely behind him, and he won’t ever replicate 2015’s double-digit home run pace. But he’s still fast enough to steal 20 bases in a full season, and his speed, coupled with an excellent approach at the plate, supports a robust batting average and on-base percentage (OBP).

Yeah, yeah, Span could get injured again. So what? Half of you invested literally nothing in him. If he breaks, you fix it with another waiver wire add. Last year, Ender Inciarte posted the exact year I have in mind for Span in 2016: a half dozen homers, 20-odd steals and a .300 average (not to mention all the runs he’ll score from the top of the Giants’ lineup) — all of which made Inciarte a top-30 outfielder.

I’d rather own Span than… Joc Pederson (89%), who is immensely talented and could have a big baserunning breakout but could hit below the Mendoza line; Brock Holt (55%), who is versatile but not particularly valuable in part time; and Brett Lawrie (53%), unless you want to keep torturing yourself.

Sub-40% Ownership

Domingo Santana, MIL OF
38% owned

Two-for-five isn’t a monster day, but Santana’s batting average actively ranks among baseball’s best, so it counts!

There are a few things you should know about Santana: he has huge power, he has double-digit speed, and he has a swiss-cheese swing. Moreover, the Brewers are committed to giving him plenty of playing time, so that shouldn’t be an issue for those of you concerned with such things.

I’m paraphrasing, if not pulling this out of my rear, but in Friday’s episode of Sleeper and the Bust, Eno Sarris gave Santana something like a 30-homer, 10-steal upside with enough BABIP (batting average on balls in play) prowess to keep him from being too severe a batting average liability. That’s not too crazy — dude hit eight home runs in 187 plate appearances last year. But he also struck out more than a third of the time, which is kind of insane.

Now that I think about it, Santana is kind of like Javier Baez, but less electric and more contained. There’s power, speed, strikeouts and walks, but all in doses that are easier to digest (or, when it’s going badly, to stomach). Santana may not hit 30 home runs — 20 is more reasonable — and he may not steal a dozen bases, either. But a 20-10-.240 works in deeper leagues, and he has the kind of exciting upside to warrant more attention than he has received thus far.

There are only about 20 players separating Span and Santana in terms of ownership rates, so this will be a stretch. With that said:

I’d rather own Santana than… Steven Souza (48%), who basically carries the same skill set without the guaranteed playing time; and Yadier Molina (43%), who appeared to bet a shell of his former offensive self last year and, at this point, is a fairly low-upside play behind the dish. Not outfielders, I know — told you it’d be a stretch.

Sub-20% Ownership

Mark Reynolds, COL OF
3% owned

We’ve seen enough of Reynolds to know what he does. He’s a three-true-outcomes prince — not quite a king, but close — who is profoundly useless when he doesn’t hit home runs.

So, of course, he ends up in Colorado, where optimists will tell you the thin mountain air will help a few extra fly balls clear the outfield fence. If Mario Mendoza weren’t so notorious, the Line could have been named for Reynolds instead; since 1960, nobody has recorded more plate appearances and hit for a lower batting average (although Russell Branyan and Rob Deer come reeeeal close).

As I write, Reynold is 1-for-3 through five innings, which is by no means otherworldly, but he got the start at first base against the right-handed Zack Greinke. The Rockies are bad enough to perhaps consider giving Reynolds more playing time than he deserves. He’s the definition of cheap power, and Coors Field plus more playing time could equal 25-plus home runs.

I’d rather own Santana than… Marwin Gonzalez (17%), David Freese (7%) and Michael Saunders (6%), all of whom underwhelm and could struggle to scrape together meaningful playing time.

We hoped you liked reading NL Outfielders: Opening Day Small-Sample Heroes by Alex Chamberlain!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs

Currently investigating the relationship between pitcher effectiveness and beard density. Biased toward a nicely rolled baseball pant. Reigning FSWA Baseball Writer of the Year and 5-time award finalist. Featured in Lindy's Sports' Fantasy Baseball magazine (2018, 2019). Now a Tout Wars competitor.

newest oldest most voted

In shallow leagues, I think Span falls into that part of the draft that owners rather take an upside guy.