Reviewing 2016 Pod’s Picks & Pans: Outfield

It’s outfield week! Let’s begin by recapping how my rankings compared to the consensus by reviewing my outfield Pod’s Picks and Pans.

Pod’s Picks: Outfield
Player Mike Preseason Rank Consensus Preseason Rank Actual Rank
Hyun Soo Kim 52 88 111
Jay Bruce 26 49 21
Gerardo Parra 29 50 97
Ender Inciarte 42 63 54
Josh Reddick 33 52 77
Khris Davis 30 47 13

My relatively bullish ranking of Hyun Soo Kim was made in mid-March, before the Orioles made the boneheaded decision to first banish Kim to the minors, before relegating him to the bench in favor of Joey Rickard. So Kim lost nearly two months of playing time, not becoming a real full-timer until the end of May. But aside from a disappointing lack of power, he performed as well as possibly hoped. He showed excellent plate patience, posted an elite 5.5% SwStk%, rarely swung at pitches outside the zone, and posted just a 2.9% pop-up rate. He somehow managed to score just 36 runs, despite a .382 OBP. He should some more power next year and will likely be undervalued in OBP leagues. Unfortunately, he probably won’t contribute enough in the counting stats to be worth much in shallow mixed leagues that use batting average.

I expressed surprise that Jay Bruce appeared here, especially considered my projection was identical to ZiPS and nearly a repeat of his 2015. Sure enough, he had his best year since 2013, even with his collapse as a member of the Mets. The strong performance was entirely due to the second highest HR/FB and strikeout rates of his career, which combined to result in his second highest home run total. Unfortunately for his keeper league owners, a full season in New York isn’t nearly as favorable as playing half his game in Cinci was.

Welp, didn’t see that from Gerardo Parra. I figured the move to Colorado would ensure at least a repeat of his 2015, but instead he was hurt and performed terribly (worst wOBA of his career) when he did play. His walks disappeared, his strikeout rate spiked, and his BABIP dropped to a career low. If he came out of spring training with a starting job, I’d be willing to gamble cheaply on a rebound, but right now, he may just be a bench bat. Still, in NL-Only leagues, that would push down his price and make him a good end game grab.

Ender Inciarte would have definitely hit my more optimistic ranking if he didn’t miss time to injury. He basically replicated his performance from 2015 as he continues to make elite contact which will keep his batting average high and lead to stolen base opportunities. He’s boring, yeah, but is the type to be undervalued on draft day.

As usual, injuries ruin everything and Josh Reddick is yet another who battled injuries this year. While his power was down (how’d he manage to miss the leaguewide memo of a power surge?!), everything else was in line with his 2015 performance. He maintained his strikeout rate gains, but couldn’t pair it with power like he did last year. Part of the reason is a career low in fly ball rate, so if that rebounds, he’ll be back into the teens in homers. Now in an Astros uniform, assuming he has a full-time job, he’s likely to be undervalued as he finally gets to call home a favorable park for left-handed power.

I surely didn’t see this coming from Khris Davis, and figured, like everyone else, the move from Milwaukee’s hitter friendly park to the opposite in Oakland would have a detrimental effect on all his numbers. And hey, his wOBA did decline! But a career high in plate appearances and slight uptick in HR/FB was all he needed to exceed 30 homers (and 40!) for the first time.

Pod’s Pans: Outfield
Player Mike Preseason Rank Consensus Preseason Rank Actual Rank
Corey Dickerson 66 32 61
Joc Pederson 58 41 44
Michael Conforto 57 42 110
Matt Holliday 63 48 73
Billy Burns 54 40 122
Christian Yelich 37 24 12

For the life of me, I couldn’t understand those rushing to defend Corey Dickerson’s future performance when he was traded to Tampa Bay. I noted that while his power is going to take just a minor hit, the outfield/1B/DH situation in Tampa is crowded, meaning he’ll likely platoon or lose lots of at-bats against lefties, and his BABIP is going to tumble. And…well…that’s exactly what happened. His BABIP tumbled to just .285, a far cry from his 2015 mark of .367, and while his ISO barely dropped, it was because his FB% rocketed above 40% for the first time, while his HR/FB rate fell. I’ll bet on a marginal batting average rebound, but he’s quickly gone from strong fantasy outfielder to near replacement level thanks to the ballpark switch.

My projection for Joc Pederson accounted for him hitting eighth, which really kills fantasy values, especially in the National League. Instead, only a quarter of his plate appearances came from that spot, while the majority of the rest were from the sixth or seventh spots. That helped him post better counting stats per plate appearance than he did last year, but injuries prevented him from reaching 500 plate appearances. A big rebound in batting average, driven by a jump in BABIP and bump in HR/FB rate, boosted his fantasy value. His .360 wOBA is just another example of why it’s silly to put too much stock into 1st half/2nd half splits. We all remember his terrible second half in 2015, which caused many to be bearish on his performance this year. That wasn’t the reason why he appeared on my Pans list though. He’s basically a poor man’s Jay Bruce, yet given Bruce’s poor second half, I bet is more expensive in 2017. Don’t make the same mistake twice!

I was rather shocked that the Mets overreacted to Michael Conforto’s poor start by demoting him to the minors. I was bearish due to the risk he sits against lefties, plus his expected spot at the bottom of the batting order. Neither of those mattered because he just didn’t hit at all. Given his better than average SwStk%, I have no idea how he struck out 25.6% of the time. That seems way out of whack. His power was fine, as I expected some regression there, while his BABIP should rebound, though all those fly balls sure don’t help. I’m encouraged by the walk rate. He’ll be an undervalued forgotten man next year, and though his upside might not be huge, should be enough to yield his owners a profit.

I had gotten used to being a Matt Holliday bull, but that didn’t happen in 2016. Even though his power returned, injuries limited him to fewer than 500 plate appearances, and he suffered through a career low BABIP. His walk rate also tumbled. He’s a free agent now so it’s hard to say what to expect before knowing his role and home park. It’s unlikely he’ll be a shallow mixed league asset though, of course.

I saw major BABIP risk in Billy Burns heading into the season thanks to a ridiculous 20.7% IFFB%, and sure enough, that, and that alone, was what killed his season. His BABIP collapsed from .339 to just .264, and when you possess little power and never take a walk, you have nothing to fall back on when that BABIP drops. He’s unlikely to be more than a bench bat now.

I wasn’t sure why my ranking was more bearish on Christian Yelich as my projection was right in line with the other systems. He did finally make good on that power upside, but it wasn’t really because he finally got that fly ball rate into respectable territory. Instead, his HR/FB rate nearly doubled to a new career high. There’s little chance this level is sustainable, of course, though the new ball park certainly helps. That his stolen base attempts fell precipitously is a concern, since his power output is going to decline next year. He’s still a sure bet for a strong batting average though, but I can’t imagine a repeat or better in his homer total unless he boosts his fly ball rate again.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Kim was never ‘banished’ to the minors, he wouldn’t accept the optional assignment and stayed on the major league roster all season, other than 7ABs on a rehab assignment.