Talking About Early NL Outfield Tiers

“It’s easy to sum it up when you’re just talking about tiers. We’re sitting in here, and I’m supposed to be the franchise player, and we in here talking about tiers. I mean, listen, we’re talking about tiers. Not a game, not a game, not a game, we talking about tiers. Not a game. Not, not … not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last. Not the game, but we’re talking about tiers, man. I mean, how silly is that? … And we talking about tiers. I know I supposed to be there. I know I’m supposed to lead by example … I know that … And I’m not … I’m not shoving it aside, you know, like it don’t mean anything. I know it’s important, I do. I honestly do … But we’re talking about tiers, man. What are we talking about? Tiers? We’re talking about tiers, man. [laughter from the media crowd] We’re talking about tiers. We’re talking about tiers. We ain’t talking about the game. [more laughter] We’re talking about tiers, man. When you come to the arena, and you see me play, you see me play don’t you? You’ve seen me give everything I’ve got, right? But we’re talking about tiers right now. We talking about ti- [interrupted].” – Allen Iverson, noted rotisserie enthusiast.

Ahem, yeah. It’s that time again — the time to take great, big, giant lists of baseball players at different positions and pare them down to smaller, more manageable groupings. Yes, we’re talking about tiers! National League outfield tiers, to be specific. (Not the game, to be clear, in case there was confusion there, but tiers.)

These are derived largely from projection systems, including Steamer, ZiPS, Fans, Marcel and the author’s whimbrain. They serve mostly as a conversation starter, so let’s treat them as such and chime in either below or on twitter: @jackweiland.

As is custom around these parts, we’ll name tiers in this episode after something fun: some of the most rantful sports rants that ever ranted. Ready? Let’s go!

TIER 1 – Lee Elia – “I’ll tell ya one [bleepin] thing!”
Giancarlo Stanton
Andrew McCutchen
Carlos Gonzalez
Carlos Gomez
Ryan Braun
Yasiel Puig

The cream of the crop. A very real chance exists for each of these players to finish 2014 as the top NL outfielder. They possess either a) an elite carrying tool with a good or very good set of secondary tools, or b) an elite array of widespread categorical dominance.

You could make a case (I suppose) to subdivide this into two separate tiers, with Stanton, McCutchen and Gonzalez in the top tier, followed closely by Gomez, Braun and Puig, but that’s a very fine line, the Braun-Gomez-Puig subset have similar upsides, and the warts that would drop them a step lower (returning from PED suspension for Braun, expected regression for Gomez, and the lack of an extensive track record for Puig) aren’t as severe as those in the next cut below. If you get any of these guys it would be fair to expect them to carry your fantasy outfield.

TIER 2 – Herm Edwards “You play to win the game!”
Matt Holliday
Justin Upton
Jason Heyward
Bryce Harper
Jay Bruce
Starling Marte
Hunter Pence
Mark Trumbo

All of these are very fine outfielders in their own right, and it should not shock if any of them jump into that top tier, or end 2014 as the most valuable fantasy outfielder in the NL, but their path to doing so is less likely.

Harper has the best chance of upward mobility here, and it won’t take that long for that to happen if he’s mashing in April, but he did miss 44 games last season. If you were to include him in your top tier, I wouldn’t fight you much about it, but I think his health is enough of a concern to knock him down a peg for now.

Upton, Holliday, Bruce and Pence are all consistent performers, but not quite elite enough to put themselves in the same conversation as those above. Trumbo possesses elite power, but the trouble he’s going to bring in batting average makes him somewhat of a borderline case for this list. This is much less so in on-base leagues, where he is much closer to passable.

TIER 3 – Jim Mora “Playoffs?!”
Jayson Werth
Matt Kemp
Michael Cuddyer
Allen Craig
Domonic Brown
Carlos Quentin
Curtis Granderson
Billy Hamilton

This is a volatile group. Players in this group have significant upside, but also considerable risk. They’re coming off fantastic seasons they are unlikely to repeat (Werth and Cuddyer) or returning from significant injury (Kemp, Granderson and Quentin).

Then, of course, we have Billy Hamilton. He’s almost a player without a tier in some respect, because he’s such a unique case. If you’re of the mindset that he’s so elite stealing bases that he can carry your fantasy team that this alone makes him worthy of inclusion higher up this list, so be it. The rest of his statistical profile is pretty rough, though, and in general (at least for me) that knocks his value down a few pegs no matter how elite he is stealing bases.

TIER 4 – Hal McRaePut that in your pipe and smoke it.”
Khris Davis
Chris Young
Eric Young, Jr.
Denard Span
Martin Prado
Evan Gattis
Andre Ethier
Carl Crawford
Angel Pagan
Will Venable
B.J. Upton
Nate Schierholtz
Christian Yelich
Marcell Ozuna
Michael Morse
Peter Bourjos
Lucas Duda
Ben Revere
Marlon Byrd

All kinds of risk here. There are playing time concerns, like those for Eric Young Jr. and Ben Revere, where the rest of their offensive packages are not very good, and their value stems entirely from quantity. We also have crowded outfields for the Dodgers, Mets and Giants, which will eat into the value of
the players battling for time there.

Included here we also see a number of high-upside, young, breakout types for which we can safely assume a fair amount of playing time (Davis, Ozuna, Yelich).

Finally, we see a number of high-floor, low-upside veterans. Guys like Venable, Schierholtz, Span, Duda. Upton has more upside than these players, but after a very terrible 2013 he is unworthy of being included above them.

TIER 5 – Mike TysonI wanna eat his children.”
Cody Ross
Justin Ruggiano
Jon Jay
Jose Tabata
Gerardo Parra
Jaff Decker
Drew Stubbs
Brandon Barnes
Corey Dickerson
Chris Denorfia
Garrett Jones
Junior Lake
Ryan Doumit
Jordan Schafer
Jake Marisnick
Nate McLouth
Ryan Ludwick
Gregor Blanco
Cameron Maybin
A.J. Pollock
Darin Ruf
Andrew Lambo

Lots of end game, dollar-types. Camp battles may change the story for some of these players, but for the most part they are ripe for cheap speculation and not much more. Which are your favorites? Who has the best chance to move up this list the next time we check in? Who will drop the most?

We hoped you liked reading Talking About Early NL Outfield Tiers by Jack Weiland!

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Jack Weiland is not just a pretty face. He resides in Boston with his wife and family (they're dogs) and watches the Cubs at levels not approved for public consumption. He likes chatting on twitter, too: @jackweiland.

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I like where you have these guys tiered out with one exception. I think tier 4 could be split into two tiers; one tier with the high floor, low ceilings types (Prado, Venable, Span, etc), and one tier with the high variance, flyer types (Upton, Davis, Yelich, Ozuna). I think there is a certain value to a super safe Martin Prado type that sets him apart from someone like Khris Davis, who is an exciting prospect, but we just do not know enough about him to confidently say that he will have value this year.

Jack Weiland
Jack Weiland

Tiers 4 and 5 are pretty large and encompass wide swaths of players. That was a thing I struggled with putting these together, but every time I tried to slice them up I felt like I was walking a razor thin line and that the value of those players were all pretty comparable. Personally I would lean towards the low ceiling, high floor vets, but I think that’s more a matter of personal preference than I wanted to interject here.

tl;dr … I think that’s a very reasonable take, and probably how I would view these if I was using them to help me draft prep, but I think in general the value of those very different assets are pretty similar.