Before we get to the desolate corner spots in the Baltimore outfield, let’s at least focus on Adam Jones and the value he brings to fantasy baseball. He hits in the .280s, he puts up between 25-33 homers, he steals 12-16 bases, and he scores 100 runs. Last year, he even drove in 108. That’s an extremely valuable player who can help you in every category, especially since he’s done it for a few years in a row now. No one’s suggesting he’s the fantasy equivalent of Mike Trout or even a first-round pick, because he’s not, but that kind of production puts him squarely in the discussion for a top-10 or -15 outfielder. Still on the right side of 30, Jones remains a valuable fantasy asset for 2014.
But of course, any discussion about how well Jones has performed has to come hand-in-hand with the absolutely terrifying prospect of how long he can continue with a walk rate that is only slightly higher than yours or mine. Back in November, Eno Sarris looked at Jones’ comparables as far as similar walk, strikeout, and power rates:
We left swinging strike rate off of the chart for space reasons, but the stat can serve as an interesting asterisk. Jones’ 13.4% swinging strike rate over the last ten years was worst on the list, by far, and almost double Cano’s 6.6% number. In fact, once you add swinging strike rate back in, Jones’ best comp based on walk, strikeout, ISO and swinging strike rates is… Juan Uribe (11.1% swinging strikes). Uh-oh?
Another reason to worry about Jones is that swinging at pitches outside the zone is a source of much of his plate discipline problems. He’s consistently swung at about 10% more pitches outside the zone as your average major leaguer, and we know that contact on those pitches erodes quickly with age. Look closely at that aging curve, and you’ll see that the steep dropoff begins at age… 29. Uh-oh?
This is not meant to scare you away from Jones, because it’s difficult to see him simply falling apart, and even if he declines, he can still be a valuable player. This isn’t all-or-nothing. But it’s worth considering that he maybe shouldn’t be valued as an elite star when there are signs that indicate fewer homers and a lesser batting average could be coming.
Still, Jones remains a very useful fantasy piece in 2014, and that’s more than can be said about most of the rest of Baltimore’s outfield. Longtime right fielder Nick Markakis completely collapsed in 2013, hitting only 10 homers in 700 plate appearances. That’s a 5.7% HR/FB, and of the 140 qualified hitters from last season, it ranks 126th. It’s worse than Starlin Castro is an awful year. It’s equal to Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki, hardly power hitters. It’s about the same as Dustin Pedroia, but at least he had a banged-up thumb to point to. You can argue, maybe, that there’s some positive regression here, but to what? Markakis hasn’t hit even 20 homers since way back in 2008, and he’s not getting younger, and after collecting double-digit steals three times, he has just two in the last two seasons. On name value alone, Markakis will get drafted, and he’ll still put up a decent batting average, but there’s just not a whole lot left here, and he’s not even really a great mixed-league option any longer.
But at least we know Markakis will be playing in right field, because left field remains a pit of uncertainty. David Lough is the best bet to get playing time in left, though he’s a good example of a guy who is more valuable in real life than fantasy due to the plus defense he brings. Still, Lough was lost in Kansas City’s outfield, and the mere opportunity he’ll get in Baltimore elevates him to being interesting in AL-only leagues. He won’t likely kill you in batting average, and with a full season — or most of it — of play, he could get double-digits in both steals and homers. Baltimore probably won’t roll him out there enough to make both of those a reality, and may yet sign Nelson Cruz or make some other move, but for now Lough is the man. Not mixed-league relevant, but AL-only owners should remember his name.
Beyond these three, the bench is largely comprised of the guys who will be rotating in and out of the DH spot (though any move for Kendrys Morales could affect that), namely Nolan Reimold, Steve Pearce, and Henry Urrutia. (Yes, Delmon Young is in camp. No, I shouldn’t need to tell you not to draft him.) Understandably, fantasy utility here is limited. Pearce has been bouncing around forever, usually enticing as a platoon bat with some power, but that’s rarely translated into actual production. (17 homers in 847 career plate appearances.) He turns 31 in April so there’s not a whole lot of projection left; the only thing that changes that is if Baltimore decides they’re going to give him considerable playing time. That seems unlikely.
Reimold is slightly more interesting, yet his inability to stay healthy has killed his potential. Since he adds nothing but power — and hit .195 last year — he’ll need some regular playing time to add much to a fantasy unit. Like Pearce, that doesn’t seem like there’s a great chance of that happening, so avoid him until he proves otherwise.
Of the three, Urrutia is the most intriguing, if only because he’s the most unknown. In his age-26 season — his first in America — he put up big numbers between Double-A and Triple-A, compiling a .347/.406/.506 line. That got him a look in Baltimore, though he struggled in a small sample of 58 plate appearances. Urrutia put on muscle this offseason — best shape of his life alert! — and should get a good opportunity to see time at DH and LF. But he’s not guaranteed to break camp with the team, either, and that puts some drag on his fantasy value. Of the non-Jones crew, he’s the member of this group I’d consider the best bet to take a gamble on, but he also has yet to prove he can hit big league pitching. That means I can’t really justify him taking up a roster spot in mixed leagues, at least for now.