The Three, Four, and Five-Category Outfielders

In fantasy baseball we talk a lot about five-category players or performances but we don’t usually define what that actually means. In its most liberal application, the term is a shorthand for a productive player whose worst performance in any one category is still palatable. Sometimes we’ll talk about someone with sneaky five-category potential when describing breadth of upside.

I suspect that most use the term when describing players who provide a positive value in all five standard roto categories. But in most cases, we use the descriptor when “power-speed threat” might be more appropriate. Or that given the dichotomous relationship between the two skills, we lower our standards in one category because a player stands out in the other. If we use the most literal definition, that a five-category player provides at least positive contributions across all five categories, we’re really talking about just seven players, six of whom were drafted in first five rounds.

True Five-Category Contributors
Player Name POS mAVG mRBI mR mSB mHR Avg Round*
Mookie Betts OF $6.60 $5.70 $7.90 $4.80 $2.80 2.4
Mike Trout OF $5.00 $3.70 $8.10 $6.00 $2.20 1.1
Jose Altuve 2B $9.10 $3.00 $5.40 $6.00 $0.40 2
Paul Goldschmidt 1B $2.90 $2.90 $5.10 $6.60 $0.40 1.2
Charlie Blackmon OF $6.40 $0.80 $6.00 $2.20 $2.20 3.4
Ian Kinsler 2B $1.80 $0.90 $7.00 $1.40 $1.80 8.9
Ryan Braun OF $3.50 $2.20 $0.40 $1.90 $2.50 4.9

But in limiting our definition of a well-rounded player to the five-category heuristic, we miss out on some less obvious but still impressively complete performances. And because I don’t really feel like explaining why Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, Charlie Blackmon, and Ryan Braun are good at baseball, let’s spend Week 2 of Outfield Week here at RotoGraphs looking at some other multi-category outfielders and couple with the potential to contribute across a greater number of categories than they did in 2016.

Four-Category Outfielders
Player Name mAVG mRBI mR mSB mHR Dollars
Kris Bryant $2.30 $4.00 $7.80 ($0.40) $5.60 $19.30
Nelson Cruz $1.60 $4.50 $3.30 ($2.10) $7.00 $14.30
Ian Desmond $1.40 $1.40 $5.20 $3.40 ($0.20) $11.20
Carlos Gonzalez $3.00 $3.70 $1.60 ($2.10) $0.80 $7.00
Bryce Harper ($3.70) $1.40 $1.10 $3.40 $0.40 $2.60

If the five-category monsters are too obvious to mention, we probably don’t need to touch on these guys either. Bryant and Harper are both obvious first round picks and even accounting for his age, the projection systems still like Nelly Cruz.

However, Carlos Gonzalez has now put together back-to-back seasons with 600 plate appearances for the first time in his career. He reached the 100 RBI plateau for the first time since 2010, scored 87 times, and hit just a shade under .300. But despite his four-category production, CarGo’s 2016 wRC+ stands as the second worst of his career, in part because the 40-homer pop he showed in 2015, propped up by an unsustainable HR/FB%, vanished. The once imposing power that CarGo possessed is now merely marginal in this inflated offensive environment and his .143 isolated slugging outside of Coors represents the worst road power of his career.

Following a spate of knee injuries, it’s long-been understood that Gonzalez’ days as an elite dual threat are over. That said, his .298 batting average suggests he still possesses a plus-plus hit tool and his power, despite regressing to career-norms, still plays; his average exit velocity and barrels per plate appearance ranked 94th and 81st, respectively out of 513 batters with 30 or more balls-in-play. But swiping just seven bags over his last three years, CarGo may stand further from five-category production than he ever has.

Potential Tier Jumper: Ian Desmond fell just one homer shy of joining the aforementioned group of five-category contributors. Now after facing a full season of AL pitching and having adjusted capably to a new defensive position, it’s reasonable to expect he gets there in 2017. But after hitting and pulling fly balls at the lowest rates of his career, Steamer sees Desmond’s power taking a small step back in 2017 and quite frankly, it’s hard to argue to the contrary. Globe Life Park’s shorter fences in right don’t translate to a significant increase in home runs for lefties, and while you’d be right to ask “Uh, Rylan, isn’t Ian Desmond right-handed?” he benefited from a significant and uncharacteristic power surge to the opposite field last season.


That’s Desmond’s home run distribution from 2012 to 2015 on the left and this year’s on the right. Notice the cluster of dots down the left field line in prior seasons versus the much more even spattering this year. A closer look at Desmond’s batted ball splits reveals a significant jump in the number of softly hit opposite field fly balls against just a marginal rise in the number of hard hit ones, suggesting his power surge is unlikely to repeat itself in 2017.

Additionally, to provide the same batting average value next season, Desmond will also need to repeat his career high BABIP. Perhaps it’s possible given his elite speed score and opposite-field approach but the more likely scenario is that he remains a valuable four-category contributor rather than joining the ranks of the elite five-category studs.

Three-Category Outfielders
Player Name mAVG mRBI mR mSB mHR Dollars
Mark Trumbo ($2.70) $4.90 $2.90 ($2.10) $8.30 $11.30
Matt Kemp ($1.00) $4.90 $2.00 ($2.40) $4.20 $7.70
George Springer ($2.10) $0.80 $6.90 ($0.10) $2.20 $7.70
Khris Davis ($3.60) $4.00 $1.30 ($2.40) $6.60 $5.90
Jackie Bradley Jr. ($1.10) $1.60 $2.90 ($0.10) $1.10 $4.40
Jose Ramirez $4.70 ($0.20) $1.10 $3.70 ($4.00) $5.30
Carlos Beltran $2.50 $2.50 ($0.90) ($2.40) $2.20 $3.90
Adam Duvall ($4.30) $4.10 $1.30 ($1.00) $3.50 $3.60
Yoenis Cespedes $0.50 $1.40 ($1.10) ($1.80) $2.80 $1.80
Gregory Polanco ($2.10) $1.40 $0.20 $2.20 ($0.20) $1.50
Justin Upton ($3.90) $1.60 $0.50 ($0.10) $2.80 $0.90
Adam Jones ($1.50) $0.90 $1.40 ($2.10) $2.20 $0.90
Odubel Herrera $1.50 ($4.50) $1.60 $4.50 ($2.70) $0.40
Adam Eaton $1.30 ($2.90) $2.40 $1.40 ($3.00) ($0.80)
Andrew McCutchen ($2.70) $0.30 $0.50 ($1.00) $0.40 ($2.50)
Dexter Fowler $0.10 ($4.70) $1.10 $1.10 ($3.30) ($5.70)
Ender Inciarte $1.90 ($7.70) $1.30 $1.90 ($6.80) ($9.40)

This is where things get a little interesting. It’s more than a little sad to see former five-category great, Andrew McCutchen, languishing down here with the likes of Ender Inciarte and Adam Duvall. While the elite speed may be gone for good, it’s not hard to see a return to health propel him into four-category relevance. Then again, can we really count on a rejuvenation led by battered 30-year old knees? I suspect McCutchen will be the subject of intense debate in the spring.

Steamer likes Justin Upton’s chances to bounce back in batting average and, I’m guessing as a result of being on base more, stealing a couple more bags as well. Upton’s late-season surge quelled some concerns of a premature decline but given just how vapidly he slogged through the first 115 games, Upton could still prove a draft day bargain next year.

A lot rides on how well Gregory Polanco’s shoulder responds to platelet-rich plasma treatments next season. He made incredible strides against lefties, essentially turning himself into a league average hitter against like-handed pitching. It’s not difficult to envision how a full and healthy season with some modest growth against righties could catapult the former top prospect into lofty five-category air.

Yoenis Cespedes isn’t going to sneak up on anyone so he won’t come cheap but battling through injuries last season, La Potencia came very close to contributing across four categories. Prorating his runs scored out to a full 600 plate appearances would have done the trick even with the dilettantish lineup that surrounded him. Health is always a concern with Cespedes but he showed in 2016 that his 2015 breakout was for real.

In his excellent write-up of George Springer, Al Melchior posited if we’d already seen the best the young Astro has to offer. But even if we have, is that so bad? Springer proved that falling shy of unfair four or five-category expectations, he’s still one of the most valuable fantasy outfielders in baseball.

Potential Tier Jumper: Jackie Bradley Jr. fell just four hits and one stolen base from achieving five-category stud status. He was the 13th most valuable outfielder, hitting 26 homers while reaping the benefits of playing in Boston. Entering his age 27 season, his 18.1% HR/FB% is no lock to regress to league average given that he ranked in the 80th percentile in average fly ball and line drive exit velocity. As long as he stays in Boston, the opportunity to rack up runs and RBIs isn’t going anywhere.

The biggest question is whether Bradley can hit for a better average. His xBABIP is close enough to his actual to suggest that he’ll have to tangibly improve his approach to make any sustainable strides in batting average. The projections don’t see it happening yet but regardless, we’re looking at legitimate four-category potential with a realistic shot at a five-category contribution in OBP leagues.

Rylan writes for Fangraphs and The Hardball Times. Look for his weekly Deep League Waiver Wire and The Chacon Zone columns this season.

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5 years ago

Where is JD Martinez on any list? You can have Ian Desmond and his ultra high BABIP 1st half and outrageously high K rate. He hit .237 the 2nd half of 2016

5 years ago
Reply to  deb81162

i don’t suppose you want a serious response, based on your other comment you seem like you have one foot out the door. But there will be plenty of articles on this site that break down ratings for 2017, and list every player. This article is based around 2016 results, and even with Desmond’s poor second half, he still returned a positive dollar value for his season long contributions to batting average, and 3 other cats, hence his inclusion. Nobody was arbitrarily left off this post, if they didn’t accrue enough stats for a positive dollar value on 3 or more cats, based on their actual 2016 stats, they aren’t listed in this.