Targets and Avoids: Outfield Deep Dive

Everyone mentioned here already has obvious merits or flaws that you, the drafter, are well aware of. But outfield makes up a large chunk of your offense, and drafts don’t always go to plan. Sometimes you end up with a middle pick right next to someone who seems to have the exact same strategy as you, so every other pick you’re getting poached. When that happens, you can either hope to get lucky or hope you know that little bit extra that they don’t.

That little extra is what this column is about. It’s a deeper dive, a closer look at players you’ve already got a rough opinion on. This isn’t a seismic shift – no one mentioned here should rocket up or down your draft board. However, there’s enough intrigue in the minutia of these players, that you might adjust them up or down a round, or shuffle them within your positional rankings.

Let’s ignore the philosophy behind statistics at the moment. There’s a lot of reasons that stats can be wrong or misleading. For as much as we use them to predict outcomes, chaos and dozens of other factors keep stats from being truly predictive. We can only use statistics as the basis for educated guesswork and hope for the best.

So let’s make some educated guesses:

Targets

No one wants to scramble to fill a spot. It’s a terrible feeling, thinking you are a man short at a position and watching tier after tier of talent come off the board while you try to find something relevant among what’s left. So let’s try to find a few things that other people might be missing.

Kole Calhoun

There’s no denying that Calhoun was terrible last year. I’m not telling you he wasn’t. I’m not telling you he deserves your pick. I am telling you that Calhoun had one of the strangest statistical seasons I can remember. According to Fangraphs, 110 players had 300 or more at-bats last year while qualifying as an outfielder. Among those 110 players, Calhoun ranked 13th in hard contact, yet 107th in BABIP. That should be just about impossible to do. He had better line drive, groundball, and flyball rates than David Peralta, Tommy Pham or NL MVP Christian Yelich. They weren’t elite, but a hard-hit rate in excess of 44% should not produce a .241 BABIP regardless of where the balls are being hit.

While it’s not impossible that Calhoun is awful again this year, positive regression is very much in his favor. Even a relatively minor change in fortune should boost his average from last year’s Gallo-esque .208 to somewhere above .230. Add in that he missed the 20 home run mark by 1 last year with all of his bad luck, and it’s not out of the question that you could snag a .230-.250 hitter with 25 home runs that no one else wants. It’s not a certainty, and again, I’m not saying you should take him. I am saying that Calhoun’s luck only has one place to go, and that’s up.

Joc Pederson

I wasn’t making fun of Joc in my last targets and avoids article. I said he wasn’t Khris Davis-lite. That was no knock on Joc – Davis is just worth paying for. However, when you really look at it, Joc might be worth bumping up a notch as well.

Take everything I just said about Kole Calhoun, and mentally copy and paste it here. Joc had a BABIP of .253, while hitting 43% flyballs with a 42% hard contact rate. In other words, despite the totally palatable .248 average and 25 home runs from 2018, it’s possible he was actually unlucky. His career BABIP is absurdly low, but he’d also never hit the ball as hard as he did last year.

Again, don’t rocket him up your boards, but be aware that what he did last year is eminently repeatable, and might even improve.

Avoids

Unlike past weeks, this disclaimer is appropriate more than ever: I am not telling you not to pick these guys, and this is especially true in a deep dives article. Mostly what I’m telling you here is that you’ve got these guys 1-3 spots too high among your outfielders, and if you wait you might just lose them, but that might actually be the winning move. Let your opponents reach because you know what they don’t.

Andrew Benintendi

Let’s face it, Benintendi is a stud. He’s a 5 category contributor on a World Series championship team. That said, there’s just enough in his deeper stats to make you blink.

Out of those 110 outfielders mentioned earlier, Benintendi was 99th in hard contact, at a mere 28%. Despite that, he managed a .328 BABIP. I’m not saying he can’t do that again – he has speed, hits relatively few pop-ups, and has a generally decent batted ball profile. What I am saying is in 98th place was Jason Heyward, who is pretty clearly in a permanent decline. 97th is the immortal Nicky Delmonico. 96-94 are Nick Williams, Josh Reddick and Carlos Gomez. All have a substantially lower BABIP, all made more hard contact, and all are less talented than Benintendi.

I’m not saying don’t take Benintendi. I’m just saying, for all his talents, he’s not keeping company with fantasy’s elite when it comes to contact.

Odubel Herrera

There’s no good way to spin Herrera’s 2018 season. He was lucky. He’s not Billy Hamilton or Dee Gordon fast – which is significant, because those were the only 2 outfielders to make less hard contact than Herrera did last year. How he managed a .290 BABIP with a 27% soft contact rate (and only 24.9% hard contact) without that kind of speed is frankly astounding.

The Phillies know he was lucky. He doesn’t even have a guaranteed job coming into camp. He’s been a good player, but don’t buy last year’s 22 home runs. Luck, good or bad, has to eventually run out. Let someone else see the surface numbers and jump.

Targets and Avoids
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Seth Bias

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I'm Seth. I love baseball, especially the Braves, and rock n' roll on vinyl. Books, sandals and tacos too, though I find most of my money for those things going to vinyl these days. Once turned Prince Fielder into Justin Verlander and Paul Goldschmidt in a dynasty league. Also ashamed to say I once cut Jose Ramirez. I don't hate your favorite team unless your favorite team is the Nationals or Phillies. May or may not have cried when David Justice hit that home run in game 6 of the 95 World Series - though if you actually ask me, I'll claim I did not.