Kevin’s Picks and Passes for Touted Outfielders

I’ve looked through the rankings of many other sites, and I’ve read articles talking about good outfielder picks for 2015. We all have our own opinions, even when we have access the same stats — but then, not everyone looks at the same numbers, or puts more or less weight on them. I realize that league format can certainly affect how you value outfielders (3 or 5 starting OF? redraft or keeper?), so I’m going to stick to general comments about a player’s value for 2015 only, and why I agree or disagree with the assessment. Links to the original articles are in the players’ names.

Bryce Harper

“Steamer projects 279/364/489 (.852 OPS) but with only 23 HR and 10 SB.  This is because of their 130 game projection, with only 481 AB.  Now what if I was to do something crazy and guess that Harper won’t run into a wall, tear the ligaments of his thumb sliding, get hit in the face by a bat ricocheting off a wall, get hit by a pitch, or suffer any other impact injury that is so difficult to project.  Those injuries are just as much bad luck as they are genetics, so I don’t consider them something to count on yearly.  Players that consistently hurt their knees, hamstrings, shoulders without them hitting anything are naturally injury prone, players that get hit, getting hit by something, including yourself is bad luck, regardless of how stupid the injuries seem.”

Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on me? No, that’s not how it works. Harper plays with an all-out style. Just because some of his injuries aren’t susceptible to future repeat injury (hit by pitch), that doesn’t mean he’ll instantly be healthy. And even if an injury itself isn’t likely to repeat, it still adds to his injury history; his body gets continually beat up, and that means he could end up with more injuries later from general wear and tear. I point you to Ken Griffey Jr, whose Reds career was cursed by continual injury: hamstring, dislocated toe, hand injury, knee inflammation. Not all of those injuries were his “fault” or due to repetitive injury to the same areas. Heck, just look at Troy Tulowitzki for a current example. Some people’s style of play, and/or their body durability, are going to leave them playing fewer than 140 games per season. Sadly, the Steamer projection of 481 AB would be Harper’s second-highest total.

The author does at least admit that “Bryce Harper’s unusual skill set will keep pushing his draft stock higher than what his previous years performance indicated he is worthy of.” If this is true, why would you reach for him and hope he’ll magically play 160 games and be in the discussion for MVP honors? A player has to prove it first, and then he often has to prove he can repeat. I’m not buying Harper anywhere near where he will go in 2015 leagues. PASS.

Ben Revere 

“Now, I have never been a big fan of Ben Revere’s, and I’m still not.  But when you look at the player rater and you see Revere finishing the season as the 22nd most valuable player in baseball, I decided that I’ll tip my cap to a guy who nobody acknowledged, and see if I can change the perception of the average fantasy Joe.

In 2015 Ben Revere is ranked as the #168 player and the #49 outfielder.  Now I’m no math genius, but I could beat every level of math blaster as a child, and Ben sounds like an incredibly undervalued asset.  I’m not the type to go and push people to draft highly touted closers and speedsters high because of how they end up being undervalued year in and year out, but I am telling you that if you can get Ben Revere after the 125th pick, you are getting a great cheap buy for your team with a high floor.

So next season, even I won’t be targeting Revere, but there comes a time in those mid rounds when you can either take someone like Lance Lynn, and hate yourself in the process, or you can take the easy money, and draft someone like Revere.”

This seems a bit confusing and contradictory. You admit he was the 22nd most valuable player in 2014. You say he’s an undervalued asset. Then you say you won’t target him? Seems to me if he’s consistently undervalued, and you can make a profit off of him based on where you get him in the draft, it’s a no-brainer to target him in the draft! Don’t let ADP or other people’s tier rankings keep you from taking a player who will give you a profit in a certain round. I said last season that Revere would be a much cheaper option than Billy Hamilton and could very well be the better producer, and with a .300 BA and high SB numbers, that proved true. PICK with confidence.

Mookie Betts

“Betts’ extremely impressive plate discipline skill also transferred from the minors to the big leagues. He finished with a 10% BB%, a 14.5% K%, a 4.2% swinging strike rate and 88.3% contact rate. He only swung at 20.4% of pitches outside of the strike zone; MLB average is about 30%, so he identifies pitches very well and isn’t fooled often. These are all terrific peripheral statistics for a 21-year-old rookie and show that he was not overwhelmed at the plate at all.

Steamer currently projects him to have a strong line of .289/.356/.426 (.782 OPS) with 29 SB, 13 HR, 86 R, 65 RBI and a wRC+ of 120 in 637 PA… I’m a bit more optimistic than Steamer is for Betts in 2015. I think he’ll have an OPS in the .800s and if he hits leadoff all year for Boston, he’ll score 100 runs. I think Betts is a top 100 player in fantasy baseball in 2015 with upside for top 50. In a keeper league, he’s even more valuable.”

First of all, when you look at stats, you also have to consider sample size, and 189 AB is well below the number needed to show these are sustainable skills moving forward. Rookies often do well early in the season because veterans challenge them (note his 50% pitches seen in zone, compared to the MLB average of 45%), and teams adjust to the rookie. It’s then the rookie’s turn to make adjustments. Betts wasn’t really around long enough in 2014 to face teams adjusting to him, but it’ll certainly happen in 2015.

That being said, his major league equivalencies in 2014 were pretty solid with an 87% contact rate and 11% walk rate. The speed is more likely to be sustained in the short-term than the power he flashed, though. I do not give top-50 upside. I could see a ranking in the low-end of the top-100, but not much higher. Gambling on rookies to be elite in their first full year is simply too risky for redraft. In NFBC drafts, Betts’ earliest pick is 70, and his average is 106. If he’s going in the first 90 picks, I’m not touching him in 2014, at least not until it’s closer to the start of the season and I know for sure he’s going to be leading off for Boston. TBD.

Domonic Brown 

“Part of the reason for the drop in his numbers was he was a bit unlucky, with his batting average of balls in play dropping from .287 to .269, a small change, but a drop nonetheless. He also hit more balls on the ground  and less line drives and fly balls. A concern for me is that his HR/FB% dropped from 19.3% to 7.9% last season, which makes me wonder if his 27 home run output in 2013 was a one year fluke.

What can we expect from Brown in 2015? I could see him duplicating his 2013 season stats. Maybe not 27 home runs, but I could see a 20+ home run, 80+ RBI season from him.”

I wouldn’t call that a small drop in BABIP, at least not when 2013 was a career high BABIP — and his other seasons over 200 PA have been .276, .260, and .269. The league average BABIP is around .300, but there are certain types of players who have personal averages well above or below .300. Speedsters often maintain a BABIP over .310. Hitters like Brown, with below average speed and a groundball rate of 50% in 2014, are going to keep putting up a suppressed BABIP. That average isn’t getting better anytime soon. As the author notes, he’d have to hit more fly balls and line drives. Given that he’s only done that once, in 2013, it seems risky to assume he can bounce back to career best numbers.

His HR/FB is certainly worrisome. On the surface it looks like he had a huge drop from 2013 to 2014. Even if you ignore the fact 2013 is a career best and assume it could bounce back a little, the argument gets a bit more thin when you look at his half season HR/FB from 2013-2014: he started out hot in early 2013 with a HR/FB of 22.5%, but it dropped in the second half to 10.5%. That second half isn’t much different from his 2014 halves, 7.9% and 8.0%. When a hitter’s best FB% in a season is 35%, and he only has one great half-season of home run production, I don’t see any way he could come close to duplicating his 2013 season stats. I wouldn’t roster Brown if it was a 5 OF league and he was available in the last round. The Phillies may give him playing time because they don’t have much better, but I’m capping him at .245, 15 HR, and 55 RBI — and that’s my ceiling for him. PASS.

Adam Jones

“Plugging Adam Jones as the 21st outfielder will throw many of you for a loop. I worry about the all-or-nothing nature of his skill set. He relies on hitting baseballs very hard. On the one hand, it’s good to invest in players who hit harder than the competition. The risk is anything that throws him off – a small injury, mechanical issue, mental distraction, etc. He never walks so his entire value is tied up in above average pop.”

A recommendation to any aspiring fantasy writers: Don’t make a ranking or statement simply to be outrageous and hope to garner page views. I can’t fathom how you can have any hope of winning a fantasy league if you’re ranking Adam Jones 21st in the OF, let alone wherever he’d end up on overall ranks. Just hand me your league entry fees, and I’ll pocket them right now.

Let’s start with the ranking and go from there. According to CBS 5×5 rankings, in 2014 Adam Jones was the 25th best player in baseball — including hitters and pitchers. In 2013 he was 7th overall, and in 2012 he was 13th. In 2011 he was 57th, and the 22nd OF. Should you really ignore his last three years of production and go back to 2011 to assume that’s where he belongs? Your loss if you do so. Oh, and looking at his recent 3-year average, he’s ranked 6th overall in the sport. But clearly that doesn’t matter, for some reason known only to the author of that article.

For the love of god, people, stop saying Adam Jones isn’t valuable because he doesn’t walk. Vladimir Guerrero had an amazing fantasy career, and he didn’t walk a ton (career 8.1% BB%), plus he swung out of the strike zone all the time (40% O-Swing, or 45% via PITCHf/x). For those who argue that Jones’ walk rate is even lower at 4.4%, let’s look at his top-3 Baseball Reference similarity scores through age 28 and their walk rates: Dave Winfield (9.8%), Andre Dawson (5.5%), Vernon Wells (6.5%). In case you didn’t realize it, Winfield and Dawson are Hall of Famers, and Wells clearly had a strong run of fantasy seasons in his prime, just like Jones has done so far.

Adam Jones doesn’t just hit the ball hard and over the fence. He also has a high BA for today’s game. Consider that in 2014 the MLB batting average was .255. Jones was 46th in BA among qualified PA. In my 15-team 5×5, the middle of the pack’s team BA was .261, so he was 20 points better than the median team BA. And to say his value is only tied to his pop is untrue when he also ranks very high in R and RBI every year. His value lies in four categories, not one.

Finally, stating that “anything” could throw him off — and implying he’s just one slight misfortune or a tiny bit of bad luck from collapsing — is ridiculous. Any player could deal with a mental distraction, a small injury, or mechanical issues. This author seems to hint that Jones is more susceptible? I would demand proof that he was a particular risk for these things before I even thought about knocking him out of my top-5 OF, and even then I wouldn’t drop him to 21st. Jones remains a fantasy stud for 2015 and beyond. PICK.

Kevin Jebens

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Fantasy baseball player since 2000; winning leagues ranging from 12-team H2H to 18-team experts 5x5. Has written for various baseball blogs, including the 2013 Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual.