Three Underrated Heroes in the Outfield

The easiest way to build a winning roster is to draft undervalued players. These aren’t upside or breakout targets, they’re simply guys who are going much later in the draft than their projections merit. When it comes to high quality leagues, our markets are usually pretty efficient. We don’t just leave predictably good players to sit around in the draft. However, here are three guys we selected too late.

The Underrated Star

Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon went into 2016 with lofty expectations. Per Stats.com, he was the ninth outfielder off the board in NFBC drafts. Despite missing half of April and another week in September, Blackmon finished as the fourth most valuable outfielder with only 143 games played.

Ryan Braun (135 games) is the only other outfielder to play fewer than 155 games and rank in the top 10. Our calculator is very biased towards high playing time totals. Any missed time hurts. A full season of Blackmon would have made him one of just five hitters to cross the $30 threshold.

Where did we miss with our expectations? Blackmon has a shiftable batted ball profile so his Coors-aided .350 BABIP looks fluky. However, his speed held teams to just 77 shifts last season. Take a gander at the spray chart.

blackmon-sc

The second baseman can and should (and does) pinch towards first base for Blackmon. However, he hits just enough balls to shortstop to require somebody to stand there. And if you leave third base vacant, he can drop an easy bunt single. You’ll notice almost nothing goes up the middle on the ground.

As long as he stays at Coors, he should remain a high BABIP guy. Expect modest regression to around a .325 BABIP. That’s 2.5 percent fewer hits. His average would have dropped from .324 to .316 without the elevated BABIP.

That still sounds high, right? It’s because his home run rate surged along with the rest of the league. Blackmon popped 29 blasts after never reaching 20 home runs in a season. The power output was hardly surprising, although I’m sure many fantasy owners were caught unawares.

As noted, Blackmon is a pull-hitter. He also posted a high hard hit rate. He kills more dragonfliesĀ than worms with his batted balls, and he also typically has one of the top line drive rates. Throw them all together with Coors and 25 to 30 home runs looks like a very fair expectation. Surprisingly, Blackmon’s decline phase on the bases kicked in with rapidity. He swiped only 17 bases after taking 43 in 2015. He was caught nine times too. Beware the red light.

Even with the waning speed, I’ve moved Blackmon way up my draft board for 2017. He’s now a borderline first round target by my estimation.

The Former Star

I said “no” to Matt Kemp last draft season. What use is an aging, free-swinging slugger in a pitcher friendly park? Well, apparently he’s very useful. Kemp was the ninth best outfielder on the strength of a 35 home run season. And while his run and RBI production were slightly elevated by the dingers, he was always likely to score at least 75 runs and drive in 90. My avoidance was some good old fashioned ageism.

The NFBC crowd wasn’t that far out of touch, plucking Kemp 24th with the likes of Gregory Polanco and Jason Heyward. Nothing smells wrong about that. My own personal draft experiences had Kemp going much much later. He was the guy who sat all by himself at the top of the draft board for multiple rounds.

Kemp’s return to the 30 home run club doesn’t look unusual. He swings hard in case he hits it. He has a similar pull-heavy, hard contact batted ball profile to Blackmon. One thing Kemp did improve in 2016 was his fly ball rate. It was his first time approaching a 40 percent fly ball rate since his superstar 2011 season.

We have no idea how Atlanta’s new ballpark will perform, but it’s safe to assume it’ll be more hitter friendly than Turner Field. If Kemp can maintain the fly ball gains, he’s a solid pick for another 30 homer, 100 RBI season.

The Should Have Been a Star

If Rajai Davis had entered the league last season, he would have started for 30 teams. Instead, he was used as a platoon outfielder for his entire career. The NFBC crowd selected Davis as the 82nd outfielder. There were concerns about Michael Brantley’s early return eating into Davis’ role. Those proved to be very unfounded. Davis was actually the 31st most valuable outfielder despite playing only 134 games.

Davis’ body has aged gracefully – like Kenny Lofton. Sure, his bat has some flaws, but he can still steal bases at will. As long as he’s playing on a predictable schedule, he’s worth a spot in even the shallowest of 5×5 leagues.

Davis isĀ once again a free agent, and I imagine his services will be in demand. Statcast data should help him to overcome occasionally shaky defensive grades. He probably played too shallow early in his career – that was a common mistaken deployment of speedy outfielders back in the day.

We hoped you liked reading Three Underrated Heroes in the Outfield by Brad Johnson!

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




You can follow me on twitter @BaseballATeam

Comments are closed.