Outfield Rankings 2017

The outfield position this year seems to be less deep than usual. There are studs in the beginning, good players with question marks, and a few high upside options. Midway through, there is plenty of power available but it comes at a price. In other cases, three to four category contributors are available in a healthy number. In the later rounds, cheap power sources or speed sources become available. It’s an interesting position this year with a wide range of outcomes possible.

Before I begin, here are the OBP risers and fallers. It is divided up into three different plots each with different projected plate appearance totals.

OBP RF OF > 500 PA

Joc Pederson, Jose Bautista, and Bryce Harper get some of the biggest boosts in OBP leagues. Shin Soo Choo is someone to keep an eye on this summer especially in OBP leagues. He can be great for a potential platoon.  Adam Duvall is a power hitter who can definitely needs to learn how to take a walk if he wants to have an extended career. Hunter Renfroe, a hot commodity, has 25 HR potential but will be a drag on both batting average and on base percentage. Keon Broxton, another hyped sleeper, is someone who has shown a propensity to take pitches and reasonably could go 20/40. OBP R+F 400-500 PA

Matt Holliday is an underrated player heading into the season. In OBP leagues, David Dahl sees a decrease in value. Jay Bruce batting average won’t be pretty, nor will his on base percentage. Randall Grichuk is of similar vein. He’s like Adam Duvall but with bigger strikeout issues. The power is real though.OBP RF 250400 OF

For players projected for 250-400 plate appearances, Brandon Guyer and Steve Pearce are intriguing picks. You’d want to stay away from Melvin Upton Jr.

Tier I

  1. Mike Trout (OF, Los Angeles Angels): He’s the best. There’s no other way around it. And he keeps getting better! Three straight years of increasing walk and decreasing strikeout rates. He has 30+ HR power and will challenge to hit .300. Add on 15-20 stolen bases. Trout’s one of the greatest baseball players of all time both in fantasy and in the real world.
  1. Bryce Harper (OF, Washington Nationals): No doubt in my mind Harper dealt with some sort of injury. It’s also no doubt 2016 was disappointing. Harper, 24 years of age, did manage to put up a 20/20 season. His hit tool remains fantastic which is why he’s ranked second. He has a strong floor as well with the ceiling to be number 1. The Nationals have a strong offence as well.
  1. Kris Bryant (1B/3B/OF, Chicago Cubs): I went into greater detail on Bryant here. He’s another fine choice to take as early as second overall.
  1. Mookie Betts (OF, Boston Red Sox): The biggest question with Betts is the power. He has the tools to hit over .300 again and nab 25 bases. The power might seem like natural progression for the 24-year-old. His ISO in his first three seasons: .153, .188, .216. The issue is that Betts was never heralded as a 30 HR hitter. It’s best to think he can hit 20 with an outside shot at 30. 20 of his home runs were classified as “Just Enough” or “Lucky” by ESPN Home Run Tracker. Fun Fact: Hanley Ramirez also had 20! With Betts, you know what you’re getting: the high average, the stolen bases, the bountiful counting stats. Keep expectations on the home run front healthy and there will be little disappointment if any. Betts is an all-around stud making him a great choice to be drafted in the top five.

    Zone Contact vs ISO Murphy
    Mookie Has a Rare Combination of Contact Ability and Power

Tier 2

  1. Trea Turner (2B/OF, Washington Nationals): I went into greater detail on Turner here. Lots of speed, good contact ability, in a good lineup.
  1. Giancarlo Stanton (OF, Miami Marlins): Aside from the injury concern, the big issue for Stanton is the strikeouts. He’s been hovering close to 30% across his past 193 games. He has mammoth power; few players can hit 50+ home runs. His career .273 ISO is ridiculous. Drafting Stanton comes down to how much you think he plays. If he provides you with 35 HR with a .260 batting average in 130 games, your replacement OF can probably add in another 5 HRs and a decent average. While you might miss Stanton for some time, the overall value will be high when factoring in his replacement. I think Stanton will cross the 100 RBI mark with 30+ HR. The rest will be gravy. Of course, I do think he gets into more games than he usually does. I think Stanton’s the only OF as of now who has a good chance of being in the top five when it’s all said and done.  Stanton Plot
  1. Starling Marte (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates): Marte stole a career high 47 bases in 129 games. He’s generally been in that 30-40 range; regardless Marte is a good source of stolen bases. His .311 batting average was also a career high with it being influenced by a career best .380 BABIP. On the plus side, Marte is a player to project for more home runs. For one, he hit 44 home runs from 2013-2015. Moroever, Marte had his worst ISO and HR/FB%. The Pirates outfielder provides a strong average with lots of stolen bases and runs.
  1. Ryan Braun (OF, Milwaukee Brewers): Braun keeps chugging along. He’s managed 550 plate appearances or more in each of the past three seasons with better batting averages and home run totals. Braun’s groundball rate as a career high 55%. Unless he gets the ball in the air more, he will be hard pressed to reach 25 HR. Furthermore, his HR/FB% nearing 29% was well above his career average 19%. The stolen base totals will likely continue to drop. At 33, Braun is good for average and has that 20 HR + 10 SB capability. With a slightly altered approach, the home run total could reach 25.
  1. Nelson Cruz (OF, Seattle Mariners): For three consecutive seasons, Cruz has hit 40+ home runs. Given his above average BABIP and low career line drive rate, Cruz likely sees a decrease in batting average this season. There is nothing in his profile that suggests Cruz will fall off a cliff. I get the feeling he’s a .265/35 HR type player. Khris Davis profiles for something similar for what it’s worth. Lastly, I can’t fault anyone for taking him over Stanton. There’s a distinct tradeoff between floor and ceiling here.
  1. Charlie Blackmon (OF, Colorado Rockies): As it seems like with every other player, Blackmon saw an uptick in the power department posting a .228 ISO. His HR/FB% was five points higher than his career mark. That means that Blackmon is more of a 20 HR hitter rather than someone challenging for 30 next season. Blackmon also had a high line drive rate nearing 28%. Given his career average is 24%, he does seem to have an inherent skill to hit more line drives. Even so, that number is quite high. A lower BABIP and therefore a lower batting average. With Blackmon, he’s more in the .290 mold instead of the .324 he hit last season. Furthermore, at 30 years of age, Blackmon is only getting slower; I’m hesistant to place him for more than 20 stolen bases. With all that said, Coors Field is what he calls home (unless he is traded) and he should be able to rack up lots of runs. I think Blackmon’s closer to his 2015 season with 2016 stolen base numbers. I’m not optimistic he is a top five outfielder again this year.
  1. George Springer (OF, Houston Astros): Springer racked up a lot of counting stats through his first full MLB season appearing in all 162 games and fnishing with 744 plate appearances. He didn’t improve; walk and strikeout rates remained consistent, ISO was more of a byproduct of the power surge, and the batting average decreased. Springer’s will hit around .260, challenge for 100 runs in a strong Astros offence, and will come close to 30/10. Not a bad choice for your first OF.
  1. Justin Upton (OF, San Diego Padres): One of the most frustrating players to own last season, Upton ended up finishing with a .246 average and 31 HR. Having hit between 26-31 HR in each of his last four seasons, Upton’s got the power to mash. Batting average has trended downwards for three straight years. The pop-up rate should regress closer to his career average, increasing his BABIP, and making him more of a .255 hitter than .246. There’s some additional room for improvement for Upton if he can strikeout less. He’s had 8-9 steals in 3 of his last four years; that seems like a good estimate for what he will do again. SB + HR 2014-2016 OF
  1. Billy Hamilton (OF, Cincinnati Reds): Billy is an interesting player simply because strategy is somewhat dependent on him. There’s no upside here in HR or RBI. He will continue to bat near the top of the order; if he keeps his gains from last season, 80 runs isn’t out of the question. He increased his patience at the plate and did get a BABIP boost. In 2015, Hamilton stole 57 bases in 454 plate appearances. In 2016, 58 in 460. If fully healthy, Hamilton’s can steal 70+ bases. He has 200 hits over the past two years, 115 stolen bases. He’s roughly in scoring position with every hit. As mentioned earlier, in roto leagues, you can reap the rewards of all his steals and then move him for help in other categories. In head to head category leagues, you can decide whether you can have a great chance to win the stolen bases category week in week out. This allows focus for the rest of the roster on power and batting average. I’m a fan of Hamilton heading into the year; good chance he can hit decent enough, score plenty of runs, and steal more bases than anybody.

    Bigeer HR SB
    The Purple Dot at the Top Left is Billy Hamilton
  1. Yoenis Cespedes (OF, New York Mets): There’s little reason to believe Cespedes won’t have another good offensive year. With back to back 30+ home run seasons and a batting average that was .291 in 2015 and .280 in 2016, Cespy has the kind of solid production you want out of a borderline number 1 starting outfielder.
  1. Carlos Gonzalez (OF, Colorado Rockies): Including seasons in which Gonzalez had at least 400 plate appearances, Gonzalez had his worst offensive year by wRC+ and wOBA. 2016 saw Gonzalez be a good fantasy performer. A lot of it had to do with his 187 combined runs and RBI. His .298 batting average was very good, not too far off his career .291. His BABIP was slightly above average relative to his career led. His ISO decreased from .260 the year before and was 23 points below his career average. I have a tough time believing Gonzalez will reach the 30 HR mark; rather he’s in the 20-25 range for me. Playing in Coors should continue to give him a good enough BABIP to bat near his career average. The counting stats will probably decrease somewhat. I don’t expect Gonzalez to fall off a cliff but I don’t see him having a better 2017 than 2016.

Tier 3

  1. Christian Yelich (OF, Miami Marlins): The beauty of Yelich lies in his high floor and potentially high ceiling. I say potentially because it all comes down to his home run totals. A career .293 batter with a .368 OBP, Yelich is a unique hitter. He’s groundball heavy and almost never pops up. 2016 saw something change; an attempt to hit more flyballs. With it came 20 home runs. Consider, in his first 332 games, Yelich hit only 20 home runs. His HR/FB% was 23.6%, well above his career 16.6%. He pulled the ball more, more flyballs, there looks to be a concerted effort to get the ball in the air more. I get the feeling Yelich will likely hit 10-15 home runs with potential for nearly double those totals. He’s also slated to bat third great for his counting stats. As for the stolen bases, they’ll likely be around the 10 mark again this year given his batting position and declining number of attempts. Yelich is a fantastic hitter whose fantasy floor is high with the bonus of great potential.
  1. Gregory Polanco (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates): The increase in power was expected based on his skillset. He improved his home run total through a pull percentage nearing 50%. Polanco’s a .260 hitter with room for additional upside here as he continues to get better. He should also reach 20 stolen bases if not get a few more. Like Yelich, Polanco provides a good floor with some untapped potential.
  1. Jose Bautista (OF, Toronto Blue Jays): I wrote about Bautista in greater detail here. Long story short, Bautista showed little sign of decline. He’s capable of hitting 30+ home runs.
  1. Mark Trumbo (OF, Baltimore Orioles):  Trumbo is a power hitter who can hit 35+ HR. The big red flag for him last year was his HR/FB% being 5 points higher than his career average. He’ll hit around .250 and pound the ball out of the park.
  1. Khris Davis (OF, Oakland Athletics):  Davis has progressed in each of his past three years. He will challenge for 35 home runs, that’s the kind of power output he possesses.
  1. Kyle Schwarber (C/OF, Chicago Cubs): I went into greater detail on Schwarber here. Good hitter who will be playing in your catcher slot.
  1. Andrew McCutcheon (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates): At 30, McCutcheon’s prime has likely passed us. His stolen base totals have declined to only 6 last year and speed isn’t something that gets better with age. Cutch struck out more, walked less. The 24 home runs show that 20 home run power is still there although his ISO also did drop. He hit more flyballs to compensate. The good news is that McCutchen’s BABIP was below his career average. I think there is some batting average improvement into the realm of .280. The BABIP is unlikely to fully return because he’s slower and did have a pop-up issue last year. For McCutchen, imagine last year but batting .280 a few more counting stats. That’s not terrible although a far cry from what he once was.
  1. Matt Kemp (OF, Atlanta Braves): Kemp is unlikely to hit 35 HR again but could challenge for 30. While his Isolated Power of .231 was above his career .204 and the highest since 2012, Kemp’s HR/FB% was consistent with his career. He pulled the ball more and hit more flyballs. Kemp’s a .270 type hitter with 25 HR power. With only 1 stolen base last year, it appears his days of running the bases are over.
  1. Adam Duvall (OF, Cincinatti Reds): Duvall’s a good power target. He’s a cheap mans Khris Davis. He delivered 33 home runs last year. This wasn’t a random outburst either; Duvall routinely had Isoalted Power ratings higher than .200 in the minors. He hit 57 home runs in his last two years in AAA. Duvall’s HR/FB% came in just under 18%; he wasn’t exorbitantly lucky either. With his high strikeout rate, Duvall’s batting average is not likely to improve a whole lot.
  1. Miguel Sano (3B/OF, Minnesota Twins): I went into greater detail on Sano here. Mammoth power, but issue with strikeouts.
  1. Wil Myers (1B/OF, San Diego Padres): I went into greater detail on Myers here. Reasonable shot at 20/20.
  1. JD Martinez (OF, Detroit Tigers): Martinez continued to show a strong power stroke with a .228 ISO. He continued to hit the ball hard and continued to show an ability to hit for an above average batting average on balls in play. 30 HR power, capable of a batting average over .285, and a lot of counting stats is what Martinez can do in a full season. He’s a tremendous hitter and I’d bank on him continuing to be excellent. He’d be in the top ten if not for his injury.
  1. Ian Desmond (OF, Colorado Rockies): Like Martinez before him, Desmond is lower on these rankings because of his injury. He likely hits 15 HR with just as many SB in his limited time. In Coors Field, Desmond should continue to post an above average BABIP putting him in the .280 batting average range.

Tier 4

  1. Nomar Mazara (OF, Texas Rangers): There are few players I am more enthralled by than Nomar Mazara. As a whole, his first season went well. He hit 20 HR with a .266 batting average and posted an above average strikeout rate. The biggest concern for Mazara is the one that seems to hound young players; can they hit opposite handed pitching? Mazara had a poor wRC+ (44) against southpaws. This is important for playing time. I do think Mazara will continue his development and be better against lefties. Furthermore, hitting more flyballs will be important if he wants to eventually challenge for 30 HR. He’s certainly capable of it this season. Mazara has a good approach at the plate to go along with strong bat skills. I’m excited to see what he can do in his sophomore season.
  1. Marcell Ozuna (OF, Miami Marlins): Ozuna is one of those interesting batters who might have another level to him. In his first full season in 2014, Ozuna hit .269 with 23 HR. The following year, the power disipatted and his batting average fell 10 points despite making more contact. Last season Ozuna showed his 2015 power output was an anomaly as he hit 23 HR and posted the same ISO as 2014. He continued to improve his strikeout rate and managed a .266 batting average. What this shows is that Ozuna has a good floor; .260 average with 20 HR. He hti fewer grounders and more flyballs as well as posting a career best 7.1% walk rate. There’s a chance he can continue to develop and get closer to the 30 HR mark especially if he hits more flyballs. There’s a small chance he has a big 2017 season. He’ll likely bat in the top five for Miami putting him in a good position for counting stats.
  1. Stephen Piscotty (OF, St. Louis Cardinals): Piscotty had solid strikeout rates in the minors which translated into a good MLB average so far in his career. The swing changes he made has helped him find above average power. He’s still young so sustained growth is certainly possible. He’s a player who’s worth a flier to see if there is an additional level. If not, you’ve got a hitter that can produce in four categories.
  1. Adam Eaton (OF, Washington Nationals): Eaton brought over from Chicago has continually progressed. He’s a .285 type hitter with 15 HR and 15 SB capability. He should continue to score a lot of runs!
  1. Jose Ramirez (3B/OF, Cleveland Indians): I went into greater detail on Ramirez here.
  1. Byron Buxton (OF, Minnesota Twins): Buxton might just be the fastest player in baseball. And that’s key because it helps his defensive game and ability to steal bases. Buxton will get the playing time to improve. Strikeouts never seemed to bother Byron until he got to the majors in 2015. In 2016, he showed little improvement, including in his September boom where he still struck out in a third of at bats. I get the sense Buxton will steal at least 20 bases and chip in 15 HR. The batting average will be dependent on his gains in the strikeout department and whether or not he pops out less. He doesn’t have 500 plate appearances under his belt yet; there’s still time for growth.
  1. Joc Pederson (OF, Los Angeles Dodgers): I have mixed feelings about Joc who’s a much better player in OBP leagues thanks to his patient approach at the plate (14.9 BB%). The issue with Pederson is that he received limited at bats vs lefties and performed terribly (36 wRC+). In 2015, he performed better but that did not lead to more plate appearances in 2016. I’d imagine he gets a longer leash this year. He did have a poor .167 BABIP vs southpaws in 2015. Over his two full seasons, Joc has hit 51 HR with 10 SB. He struck out less and his ISO approached .250. Joc showed many signs of growth. Until he can get regular at bats against lefties, Joc will be hard pressed to be a top 20 OF. If he can and performs decent, Joc can likely reach the 30 HR mark and be a force to be reckoned with.
  1. Jose Peraza (2B/SS/OF, Cincinatti Reds): I went into greater detail on Peraza here.
  1. Odubel Herrera (OF, Philadelphia Phillies): The big issue to note with Herrera is that his walk rate of 9.6% will likely go down because he did not have vastly different swing rates. Odubel’s in that 10-15 HR range and batting near the top of the order will lead to many runs. He also has 41 stolen bases over the past two seasons. I can see the BABIP going down a tad but a .275 batting average is still good.
  1. Lorenzo Cain (OF, Kansas City Royals): Good contact hitter with speed good for 10-15 home runs.
  1. Jackie Bradley Jr. (OF, Boston Red Sox): JBJ cut down on the strikeouts while maintaining a good power level (20+ HR). The counting stats will likely be lower without David Ortiz in the Red Sox lineup, but other than that I feel confident JBJ can continue to be a good player.
  1. Adam Jones (OF, Baltimore Orioles): The free swinging Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles has hit 56 home runs with a .267 batting average over the past two seasons. The big issue to note is that his ISO was the lowest since 2010. He hit more flyballs to compensate for a diminished ability to hit the ball hard. I’d imagine his decline continues. .260, 24 HR feels realistic to me.
  1. Kole Calhoun (OF, Los Angeles Angels): Calhoun’s a 20 HR hitter. HR/FB% suggests Calhoun should’ve had a couple more home runs last year. While his strikeout rate did get much better compared to 2015, his swinging strike rate was still high. Furthermore, his walk rate improvement is unlikely to stick because his swing rates didn’t have a major change. Calhoun is what he is at this point: a .265 hitter with 20 HR pop and will score a lot of runs.

Tier 5

  1. Keon Broxton (OF, Milwaukee Brewers): I’ll let these two articles explain what’s so captivating about Broxton. A mechanical change helped him become a better hitter. Power + Speed threat. Broxton is a better choice in OBP leagues.
  1. Kevin Kiermaier (OF, Tampa Bay Rays): The incredible defensive outfielder had indicators suggesting 2017 might be some sort of breakout. Primarily, he increased his walk rate, something supported by a decrease in swing percentage on pitches outside the zone as well as inside the zone. Kiermaier had a more patient approach. Morover, the best defensive centerfielder in baseball stole 21 bases in 105 games. Kiermaier’s popup issue got worse; with two seasons of his infield fly ball rate being 13%, it jumped up to 25%. This likely won’t last and even it going back down in half will help his batting average on balls in play. Lastly, he hit more flyballs and pulled the ball more; 15-20 HR isn’t out of the question. There’s enough in his profile to suggest a 15/25 season is within reach without killing your batting average.
  1. Andrew Benintendi (OF, Boston Red Sox): Benintendi is a good contact hitter with a good eye at the plate. He’s not a power hitter but can hold his own. His minor league ISO rates were over .200 at every stop. He can certainly hit 15 out of the park this year. Counting stats may depend on where he is in the lineup. He has the OBP skills to hit high in the lineup and the bat skills to drive players in. Benintendi has a nice name and he’s gonna be a nice addition to whichever team drafts him.
  1. Dexter Fowler (OF, St. Louis Cardinals): Fowler’s probably gonna be banged up at some point in the season. The veteran outfielder has only reached 600 plate appearances once in his career and that was in 2015 with the Cubs. Fowler’s a career .268 hitter who chips in 10-15 home runs and a similar number of stolen bases. His career .366 OBP gives him a boost in those leagues.
  1. Ender Inciarte (OF, Atlanta Braves): Inciarte has shown continual improvement in each year of the major leagues. He’s a contact hitter who is likely to hit around .290 and steal 20 bases. Batting near the top of the order should yield 80+ runs. He’s kind of boring as a fantasy player but he gets the job done.
  1. Matt Holliday (OF, New York Yankees): I went into more detail on Holliday here. He hasn’t shown much indication he’s gonna fall of the map. Playing time might be an issue but he can play 1B, OF, and DH!
  1. Kendrys Morales (1B/OF, Toronto Blue Jays): I went into greater detail on Morales here. Could be a sneaky pickup based on his contact.
  1. Ben Zobrist (2B/OF, Chicago Cubs): I went into greater detail on Zobrist here. Should have another good year.
  1. David Dahl (OF, Colorado Rockies): Dahl is currently injured and likely to miss a few games. He had an impressive showing in his first 63 games bating .315 with 7 home runs and 5 stolen bases. He did have some batted ball luck go his way. As a prospect, Dahl has been tabbed as a guy who will hit for a an above average batting average and contribute 15-20 HR with the same amount of stolen bases. Dahl doesn’t walk a lot and he has had issues with strikeouts. He needs to show improvement against southpaws otherwise he is at risk of being platooned for parts of this season. Dahl’s a good young player with issues in his approach. The prospects in fantasy are tantalizing because of his hit tool and the fact he calls Coors Field home.
  1. Yasiel Puig (Los Angeles Dodgers): I’d take my chances with Puig. With the Dodgers depth and Cody Bellinger knocking on the door, I get the feeling Puig has one last chance. Either he does well to stick in the lineup or the Dodgers cut ties. Drafting him as your fourth or fifth outfielder, that’s a risk I’m willing to take. Over the past two seasons, Puig has shown he’s got the ability to roughly hit 20 home runs and chip in 5-10 steals. He hit .263 with a pop up rate of 23%, something highly uncharacteristic (career 12% pop-up rate). I think there’s enough there with Puig to roll the die.
  1. Randal Grichuk (OF, St. Louis Cardinals): Grichuk has displayed an ability to mash the ball shown by a career .241 ISO in 282 games. Can he make contact? Well he showed little improvement. He doesn’t walk much either. There is certainly some room for improvement as he gets better at pitch recognition. Grichuk is a good pickup in the later rounds for power.
  1. Carlos Beltran (OF, Houston Astros): Beltran overperformed last year. His batting average was propped by a .315 BABIP and his HR/FB% was the highest since 2012. Still, he’s capable of .270 and 20 HR with a bunch of RBI in a strong Astros offence.
  1. Travis Jankowski (OF, San Diego Padres): Jankowski would be one of my favourite targets heading into the season if he had guaranteed playing time. The Padres have Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe, two young batters who they would like to know what they are made of. Further complicating matters is Alex Dickerson who has his own sort of intrigue. Dickerson is out for the first month giving Jankowski a starting job. The reason I’m a fan of Jankowski is because of his speed and contact ability. He stole 30 bases in under 400 plate appearances. As for the .245 batting average, well there’s reason for optimism that he can get it much higher. Jankowski strikeout rate was 26% which is not at all supported by his 7.6% swinging strike rate. His highest minor league strikeout rate was 17.3% in A+ during the 2013 season. Fun Fact: Over the past decade, only 10 players have posted a single season swinging strike rate below 10% and a single season strikeout rate over 25%. Jankowski was one of them last year (Mike Trout did it too!). Travis also has a groundball approach, perfect for his style. Jankowski sported an above average walk rate making him quite the target in OBP leagues. Like I said above, playing time issues might come into the foray although he is good enough to be an everyday player. In a full season, this kid could steal 40+ bags with a .270 batting average. I really like Jankowski.

Others to Consider

Power Threats

  • Domingo Santana (OF, Milwaukee Brewers): Strong exit velocity numbers, 11 HR in 281 plate appearances last season
  • Yasmany Tomas (OF, Arizona Diamondbacks): 31 HR last year although did overperform
  • Curtis Granderson (OF, New York Mets): 76 HR over the past three seasons. Batting average liability.

Stolen Base Threats

  • Jarrod Dyson (OF, Seattle Mariners): Dyson might finally have consistent playing time. Stolen 30 or more bases in 4 of last 5 years and highest plate appearances total was 337 last year.
  • Rajai Davis (OF, Oakland Athletics): 43 stolen bases last year show he’s still got some great wheels.
  • Hernan Perez (2B/3B/OF, Milwaukee Brewers): The soon to be 26-year-old Perez came out of nowhere to hit .272 with 13 HR and 34 steals. Swinging strikeout rate was high showing there are concerns to his game and that his batting average will likely be lower.

Potential Bounceback Veterans

  • Carlos Gomez (OF, Texas Rangers): I’m not a believer. The power has eroded, the strikeouts are an issue, and he’s more likely to steal 15 bases than 25. He’s a lottery ticket but there is little to make me believe that Gomez will have a good year. You’re likely better off taking a shot at someone like Byron Buxton who is similar but is young with ample upside.
  • Shin Soo Choo (OF, Texas Rangers): Was injured but did not show a loss in plate discipline. Good choice for an OF platoon given his career 145 wRC+ vs right handed pitchers.
  • Michael Brantley (OF, Cleveland Indians): Brantley had a good spring. It’s difficult to know what to expect after missing so much time. I do get the impression he should be able to make contact at a healthy rate but may suffer from being able to hit the ball hard the other way.
  • Alex Gordon (OF, Kansas City Royals): Strikeouts went up. If he can get these under control, he’s capable of .250 and 20 HR.

Young Players Looking to Make Their Mark

  • Michael Conforto (OF, New York Mets): Playing time issues, and platoon issues will limit at bats for the youngster. Still, Conforto has a good hit tool and should continue progressing.
  • Hunter Renfroe (OF, San Diego Padres): Renfroe has the ability to hit 25 HR this year. Might have some struggles to make contact throughout the year.
  • Mitch Haniger (OF, Seattle Mariners): Haniger had good numbers in the minors. He’s worth a late round flier.

This concludes the top 50 outfielders. It’s a group full of power, speed, and everything in between. The position gives a good mixture of player types; you could pick up a high home run low average type of hitter in one round and pair him with a high average and SB, low HR, type hitter in the next round. Outfield offers quite a bit of flexibility.

Shortstop Rankings for 2017

Shortstop, once the second biggest wasteland, is now an area full of riches! There’s 7 players who you can take in standard 12 team leagues within the first three rounds. After that, there are many players in the second tier who can be a fine addition to round out your roster.

Before I begin, here are the OBP risers and fallers for shortstops. SS OBP

Machado is not on the chart because Steamer does not consider him a SS. He’s projected for a .294 batting average and .355 OBP by them. Correa is argubaly the top dog in OBP leagues as his OBP is projected for .358. Jonathan Villar and Danny Espinosa are tow players who get big boosts in OBP leagues. Addison Russell is another, making him an even more intriguing player in OBP leagues. Speedsters Jose Peraza and Tim Anderson both have poor walk rates.

Tier 1

  1. Manny Machado (3B/SS, Baltimore Orioles): Arguably the biggest wildcard in the 3B Big Four, Machado’s value this season might just hinge on stolen bases. He’s averaged 36 HR over the past two years with a .290 batting average and strong counting stats. He stole 20 bases in 2015 but had a goose egg last year. Machado saw an uptick in strikeout rate thanks to a higher swinging strike percentage and a greater swing percentage at pitches outside the zone. Machado needs to show these improvements from 2015 will stick. Despite this, Machado is in line for another strong season with the Orioles.
  1. Carlos Correa (SS, Houston Astros): One of the games few five category producers, Correa had a solid sophomore season finishing with a .274 batting average to go along with 20 HR and 13 steals. Correa certainly has the talent to be the top fantasy player. He hasn’t reached the maturation of his power and contact ability. Despite a higher strikeout rate, Correa showed improvement getting it back to 2015 levels while keeping his improved patience. Based on Statcast xStats, Correa should have had a higher average and slugging. Correa will continue improving and will likely justify that first or second round draft pick. He’s a player with an already high floor and a ceiling matched by few in the game. I do think Correa gets to the 30 HR mark with a .290 average with a bunch of steals.
  1. Jonathan Villar (2B/3B/SS, Milwaukee Brewers): Villar came out of nowhere to become arguably the fantasy MVP of 2016. Villar’s 62 SB were 15 more than second place Starling Marte; this is the main area of Villar’s value. Villar has the profile of a player who can sustain an above average BABIP thanks to his total field approach and speed. He does tend to strikeout a lot, something that will keep him from being a .300 hitter. With a lower BABIP and all those strikeouts, Villar’s batting average will be closer to .270 than the .285 he put up. That combined with 15/45 should make Villar one of the better second fantasy players this season.

    Villar
    Names Shown For Those Players Projected For 10 or More HR and 30 or More SB
  1. Corey Seager (SS, Los Angeles Dodgers): The NL rookie of the year had an incredible season and showcased his full bag of tricks. While Seager should still be a top 5 SS in 2017, Seager did benefit from a .355 batting average on balls in play. On a more positive note, the power is sustainable and his infield flyball rate was only 2.1%!
  1. Trevor Story (SS, Colorado Rockies): The best part about Story is that he plays in Colorado which means Coors field for home games! Story had a strikeout problem which I do believe will not be as big of an issue due to a swinging strike rate that was high but does not suggest something over 30%. Story’s a power + speed threat with 30/10 being a realistic target for Story. His ISO approaching .300 will surely go down. Stanton has a career .273 ISO and is generally heralded as the strongest hitter in the game. What that means is that Story will hit likely hit 30 HR in a full season as opposed to him getting there in nearly 100 games. Story’s a top five SS this season. It wouldn’t surprise me if he finishes first.
  1. Francisco Lindor (SS, Cleveland Indians): Over two seasons, Lindor has amassed 27 home runs, 31 stolen bases, in addition to a .306 batting average. In 2016, Lindor improved his walk and strikeout rate while also proving his showing his power from 2015 wasn’t a fluke. I’d expect more of the same from Lindor.

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Third Base Rankings 2017

Third base is a deep position this year. There’s a big four, followed by capable youngsters (Villar) and grizzly vets (Beltre). The position has players capable of immense power (Sano), high batting averages (Ramirez), intriguing resumes (Carpenter), and those that can do a little bit of everything (Rendon).

Before I begin, here are the OBP Risers and Fallers in OBP Leagues. Third Base OBP

In OBP leagues, Miguel Sano gets one of the largest boosts. Jake Lamb and Jonathan Billar also get boosts. Nick Castellanos hasn’t shown much patience at the plate thus far in his career; his OBP is more dependent on batting average. You get a similar story with Franco. Matt Carpenter’s value increases quite a bit in OBP leagues.

Tier I

  1. Kris Bryant (1B/3B/OF, Chicago Cubs): Bryant put all his skills together in 2016 playing a key role in the Cubs first World Series win in over 100 years. Bryant saw a decrease in his strikeout rate while increasing his ISO and batting average without going into unsustainable territory. 2017 should bring another strong season from the Cubs multi-positional player. The ability to put him at up to three positions gives Bryant the edge over Arenado.
  1. Nolan Arenado (3B, Colorado Rockies): Arenado has had back to back seasons with 40+ HR and 130+ RBI. He increased his walk rate and set a career high with his.294 batting average. Arenado is a potential top 3 pick this year thanks to his strong past record of results.
  1. Manny Machado (3B/SS, Baltimore Orioles): Arguably the biggest wildcard in the 3B Big Four, Machado’s value this season might just hinge on stolen bases. He’s averaged 36 HR over the past two years with a .290 batting average and strong counting stats. He stole 20 bases in 2015 but had a goose egg last year. Considering he averaged around 3 stolen bases before his 2015, I wouldn’t bet on him stealing bags. Futhermore, Machado saw his walk rate improvement from 2015 dip. You can write the same story with strikeouts as his swinging strikeout rate went from 6.8% in 2015 to 10% in 2016. This isn’t ideal; Machado also continues to have an issue with pop-ups. With all that said, Machado has a career .284 batting average and has 72 HR over the past two seasons. I give Machado the edge over Donaldson because of his ability to play at SS.
  1. Josh Donaldson (3B, Toronto Blue Jays): Already one of the league’s best hitters entering 2016, Donaldson continued to improve as he increased his walk rate while striking out less. Over the past two years, Donaldson has hit 78 HR and averaged 122 runs scored. Enjoy the safety and security of Donaldson as your starting third baseman.

Tier 2

  1. Jonathan Villar (2B/3B/SS, Milwaukeee Brewers): I went over Villar in greater detail here. I think he hits closer to .270 while being a threat to steal 40 bases with 15 HR.
  1. Matt Carpenter (1B/2B/3B, St. Louis Cardinals): I love Carpenter so much that I will show the same graph again! It’s the back injury that should concern potential owners. The talent is there.wOBA vs ISO for QH 15-16
  1. Adrian Beltre (3B, Texas Rangers): Beltre has had a hall of fame caliber career and at 38, he’s still going strong. Beltre hit more flyballs leading to more balls out of the park. His ISO was the highest since 2012. I wouldn’t treat him like a 30 HR hitter given that 37 in the two years preceding 2016. I think he’s comfortably in that 22-27 range. Beltre has not showing signs of decline in hitting ability. The home runs will come, the batting average will be solid, as should the counting stats. Other than age, there’s little reason to believe Beltre won’t have another productive season. Oh, and he has stolen exactly one base in each of the last seven seasons.

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Second Base Rankings 2017

The middle infield which includes second base is shaping up to be a deep position. There are many players who discovered new found pop, some sustainable (Altuve), others not so much (Kinsler). In some cases, there are speedsters who will compete for 30+ stolen bases. Other specialists include DJ LeMahieu capable of anchoring batting average.

Before I delve deeper into the rankings, here are the second base risers and fallers in OBP leagues. 2B OBP AVG P1

The biggest riser is Ben Zobrist. Brian Dozier and Ryan Shimpf are two power hitting second baseman who like to swing for the fences. If you have Kipnis and Kinsler ranked fairly close to each other, in OBP leagues Kipnis has the advantage. In other cases, there are players who do well in OBP leagues by having a strong batting average (Daniel Murphy). Players like Jonathan Schoop, Rougned Odor, and Jose Peraza are poor at drawing walks.

Tier 1

  1. Jose Altuve (2B, Houston Astros): Altuve’s become one of the best players in the MLB over the years. This past season saw him eclipse 20 home runs for the second time in his career. Based on his HR/FB% being double of his career, it’s likely Altuve hits into that 15-20 range as opposed to 20-25. Altuve’s 56 SB season in 2014 is the outlier in terms of SB. He’s settled into that 30-35 range. The base-running remains elite. The diminutive second baseman saw his line drive rate be four points higher than his career average. Regression here will likely put a hamper in his batting average, closer to his career .311. He should be able to continue to get on base at a high level as his walk rate increased which is supported by a lower outside the zone swing percentage. In 2015, Altuve made a concerted effort to hit more flyballs and pull the ball more. He might not have that consistent 20 HR power however, being in that 15 range is nothing to scoff at. Altuve’s strong performance over the past few years has earned him the number 1 tag at second base and arguably a top ten pick.
  1. Trea Turner (2B/OF, Washington Nationals): It seems crazy. In half a season, Turner was dynamite. Turner won’t be quite as dominant in 2017 but there is reason to believe he can be very good, like second best fantasy second baseman good! First, he’s always been a stolen base threat as shown by his 33 in the majors and 70 grade speed on FanGraphs. He can reach 35+. Second, the batting average should hover around that .290 range if not higher. In the minors, Turner had good batting averages and has shown to have good hit tools. Furthermore, Turner’s walk rate in the minors hovered close to 10% and his swing tendencies have been fairly average thus far in his short MLB career meaning he won’t get on base at a .370 clip like he did in his first 73 games but something around .340 is certainly within reach. Over a full season, Turner is quite capable of hitting 10 HR. The minor league ISO and home run totals do not support Turner riding a HR/FB% nearing 17%. In Turner, one has a speedy contact hitter much like Altuve when he broke out in 2012. The resistance to drafting him high is understandable given his lack of MLB experience. With him likely batting near the top of the order in Washington, Turner will provide a boatload of steals, 90+ runs, and a good batting average.
  1. Daniel Murphy (1B/2B, Washington Nationals): I went over Murphy here. After a change in approach, Murphy has become one of the MLB’s premier hitters. Zone Contact vs ISO Murphy
  1. Jonathan Villar (2B/3B/SS, Milwaukee Brewers): Villar came out of nowhere to become arguably the fantasy MVP of 2016. Villar’s 62 SB were 15 more than second place Starling Marte among qualified hitters (Billy Hamilton had 58 in 460 plate appearances!); this is the main area of Villar’s value. Villar has the profile of a player who can sustain an above average BABIP thanks to his total field approach and speed. He does tend to strikeout a lot, something that will keep him from being a .300 hitter. With a lower BABIP and all those strikeouts, Villar’s batting average will be closer to .270 than the .285 he put up. That combined with 15/45 should make Villar one of the better second fantasy players this season.
  1. Brian Dozier (2B, Minnesota Twins): Dozier’s 42 home runs will likely make him one of the most overvalued players heading into 2017. He got things going around the second half of the season when he began to strikeout more often, increase his already high pulled ball rate, hit more flyballs in addition to hitting the ball harder. Bulldozier won’t maintain the same HR/FB% and his batting average is projected to go back down to career norms. In the two seasons before 2016, Dozier was in that 25 HR range. I can see him reaching 30-33 but not many more. Considering he generally bats first or second, I wouldn’t expect Dozier to get close to the 100 RBI mark like he did last season. Dozier has also averaged 16 stolen bases per season over the past four years. A career .246 hitter, Dozier produces in four categories. 14-16 2B HR + SB
  1. Robinson Cano (2B, Seattle Mariners): Cano revamped things a bit as he hit more flyballs than he has since 2010. Cano should see some positive regression in regards to line drive rate which should help him keep up a good batting average and hit 20+ HR. His HR/FB% was above career average; don’t expect him to hit more than 30 HR in 2017. Cano’s outside the zone swing rate increased to his highest rate since 2011 and his swinging strike rate remained above his career average. This makes me think Cano’s strikeout rate will increase this season. He remains a solid player in a good Mariners lineup.

Tier 2

  1. Matt Carpenter (1B/2B, St. Louis Cardinals): I went over Carpenter in greater detail here. Biggest concern is the back injury, otherwise I see him being a premier player and would’ve been in the top five.

    wOBA vs ISO for QH 15-16
    Carpenter’s In Elite Company Since 2015

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First Base Rankings 2017

First base is an interesting position this year. The first tier is made up of some of the best hitters in the game, some providing additional pop and others speed at a position not well known for it. After that there are players who are coming off career years like Freeman, others who struggled with an intriguing profile (Davis), and those with bothered being bothered by injury but put together a strong overall campaign (Carpenter). Later in the draft, players with high upside will be available (Bird) as well as consistent veterans (Hosmer), in addition to the Brad Millers, cheap batters who made an adjustment that are worth finding out whether said adjustments stick.

 Before I begin, here’s a quick rundown of Risers and Fallers in on base percentage (OBP) leagues.OBP R F 1B

Many of the top first baseman are proficient at getting the free pass because they are generally power threats. Carlos Santana, Chris Davis, and Mike Napoli are three examples of players who benefit more in OBP leagues than batting average. Brandon Belt’s patience at the plate has seen him become a better option in OBP leagues than someone like Eric Hosmer. On the flip side, Pujols and Joseph lose value in OBP leagues. The former has not been adept at drawing walks since his final year as a Cardinal and the latter has shown little patience in the minors and in his first MLB season.

Tier 1

1. Kris Bryant (1B/3B/OF, Chicago Cubs): Bryant put all his skills together in 2016 playing a key role in the Cubs first World Series win in over 100 years. Bryant saw a decrease in his strikeout rate while increasing his ISO and batting average without going into unsustainable territory. 2017 should bring another strong season from the Cubs star. What separates him from Goldy is the multi-positional eligibility.

2. Paul Goldschmidt (1B, Arizona Diamondbacks): Goldy is as good and consistent as they come. He’s one of the very few five category producers at first base and owns a pretty good case for being drafted number 2 after Trout. The Diamondbacks first baseman had a down year in terms of power, finishing the season with an ISO below .200 for the first time in his career. Goldschmidt had an uncharacteristic pop-out rate, more than double his career average and the flyball rate should be closer to his career average giving him a greater chance at sending them out of the park. He’s likely to steal less this season but the home runs should return into that 27-32 range.

3. Miguel Cabrera (1B, Detroit Tigers): One of the all-time great hitters, Miggy hasn’t slowed down. The power returned in a big way as he posted his highest ISO and home run total since 2013. Moreover, Miggy had the second highest barrels per plate appearance further showcasing his strong ability to make contact with an impressive power stroke. Furthermore, Cabrera’s walk and strikeout rates remained consistent with his career. He’s also only had fewer than 600 plate appearances in a season once since going full time.

4. Anthony Rizzo (1B, Chicago Cubs): Rizzo has made a name for himself over the past three years as one of the best hitters in the league. He combines power with a good batting average and bats in the heart of a dangerous Cubs lineup. After stealing 17 bases in 2015, Rizzo disappointed owners in this department finishing with just three. I’m not confident they return given he’s a year older, averaged around 6 pre-2015, and I don’t think Cubs manager Joe Maddon will have the heart of his order run a whole lot. At the end of the day, Rizzo’s value primarily comes from his bat making him one of the premier players at first.

5. Joey Votto (1B, Cincinnati Reds): Votto is arguably the smartest hitter in the game. He’s an OBP god and almost never pops out! He routinely takes the ball the other way, rarely pops out, which are only two of the factors that has helped him keep a .359 BABIP despite not having much speed. Votto’s 2016 season was incredible. After a relatively poor start by his standards, Votto exploded for a 201 wRC+ in the second half. Votto’s 2015 season was amazing. Due to his high OBP, Votto will have a shot at 100 runs. The lineup around Votto isn’t anything special. He’s shown for two straight years he can do lots of damage.

Tier 2

6. Daniel Murphy (1B/2B, Washington Nationals): Murphy’s rise as one of the better hitters in the game has been well documented. A swing change led to an explosion of power not before seen and combined with his already elite contact skills. Murphy’s career high batting average was aided by a career best BABIP. A career .296 hitter with a career .348 BABIP, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility for Murphy to hit around .310 this year. Furthermore, Murphy’s HR/FB% was 12.4% which is very much sustainable for the new Daniel Murphy. Zone Contact vs ISO Murphy

This chart sums up what’s so exciting about Daniel Murphy: elite contact ability with a good power base.

7. Edwin Encarnacion (1B, Cleveland): EE will be looking to make his mark on the AL champs. He’s in a good situation; the Cleveland team has a strong lineup. While the former Jays slugger saw an increase in his strikeout rate, Encarnacion’s .266 ISO and .263 average show he’s still a very good hitter. Encarnacion benefited from the highest plate appearance total of his career leading to the most counting stats of his career. Expect another good year from Encarnacion although not as impressive as 2016.

8. Freddie Freeman (1B, Atlanta Braves): Freeman played an integral role in the Braves having one of the best offences during the second half of the season. Freeman set career highs in multiple categories including home runs and hits. Freeman struck out more, hit more flyballs, and hit the ball harder showing the three signs that generally lead to greater power generation. The Braves first baseman also had the tenth highest barrels per plate appearance. To put simply, Freeman is capable of once again hitting the 30 HR mark likely being in that 27-32 range. The most intriguing development for me was Freeman’s location of batted balls. Freddie has always managed to make stellar contact evidenced by his strong line drive rate, one of the best in the league. This year Freeman went opposite field in close to 30% of his batted balls as opposed to his career 26%. This development may very well play a key role in determining how high his batting average goes. Freeman’s .370 BABIP was well above his career .341 BABIP. I don’t think he will be a .300 hitter in 2016 rather something closer to his career .288. The Braves offence still has some ways to go which may limit counting stats. With that said, Freeman is a fantastic hitter with impressive tools.Read More »

Top 25 Catchers

Catcher is always a horrid position in fantasy baseball. Few consistent options, few players that provide upside, it’s a wasteland. This year there are a couple of young catchers looking to make their marks on the MLB and veterans hoping for a bounce-back. Strategically, you either get one of the top catchers or you wait until the late rounds and fill them out cheap. Before we begin, here’s a quick rundown of Risers and Fallers in OBP leagues.

new-c-risers-fallers-obp
Difference: OBP – AVG

The big takeaway here is that Yasmani Grandal, Russell Martin, Kyle Schwarber and Brian McCann see some of the largest rises in OBP when compared to batting average. Salvador Perez and JT Realmuto see some stock fall in OBP leagues. Yadier Molina loses value to Francisco Cervelli in OBP leagues. If you’re in an OBP league, it likely makes more sense to go for Russell Martin as opposed to Salvador Perez.

Tier I

  1. Gary Sanchez (C, New York Yankees): It’s understandable if you would rather go for someone with a solid track record like Buster Posey or Jonathan Lucroy. Gary won’t have a 40% HR/FB ratio. Sanchez showed plus power in the minors; 20 should be his floor. He’ll likely also trade grounders for liners which should keep him close to a .300 BABIP. Sanchez is a good hitter and very well could cement himself as the best fantasy catcher this season.
  1. Kyle Schwarber (C/OF, Chicago Cubs): Kyle Schwarber gets the nod here as the number 2 fantasy catcher. It’s as simple as him being a power hitter with good OBP skills in a dangerous Cubs lineup. The biggest concern for Schwarber is how much improvement he makes against left handed pitchers (31 wRC+ in 2015).
  1. Buster Posey (C/1B, San Francisco Giants): Posey had a bit of a down year but did manage to rack up his fair share of counting stats. Posey’s batting average on balls in play was 19 points below his career average while becoming a full field hitter over the past two years. Posey should be good for much of the same. He’s the safest option at catcher and the most consistent.

    posey-plot
    Posey Produces Well In Batting Average and Catcher Relative To His Peers (minimum 1000 plate appearances to qualify)
  1. Jonathan Lucroy (C/1B, Texas Rangers): Lucroy bounced back after a poor 2015 season and set a career high in HRs (24) along the way. Lucroy’s strikeout rate increased for the second straight year so he very well might be selling out for more power. Lucroy’s HR/FB% was a career high; expectations should be he settles into the mid-teens. Lucroy needs to cut down on the pop-ups which haven’t been a problem since his third season in the league. He’s one of the more dependable catcher options out there.

Tier 2

  1. Yasmani Grandal (C, Los Angeles Dodgers): Grandal was another beneficiary of whatever happened with baseball and home runs. He hit a career high 27 HRs while keeping a strong walk rate. Grandal did pull the ball more, increase his flyball rate slightly, and did strikeout more making it plausible he did attempt to hit for greater power. Grandal will be unlikely to have a repeat of 2016 but he should flirt with 20 HRs. The walk rate remains strong giving him a boost in OBP leagues. His BABIP was 25 points below his career average; let’s just say Yasmani’s got a good shot at being a top 5 catcher next year.
  1. Russell Martin (C, Toronto Blue Jays): After a terrible start in which Martin dealt with a neck injury, Martin rebounded to finish the season batting .231 with 20 HR. The strikeout remained high throughout the season and given his age, it wouldn’t surprise me to see his strikeout rate hover close to 23% this season. The walk rate remained strong as did his power output. Given Martin’s past results, he’s a top ten catcher heading into 2017.
  1. Wilson Contreras (C, Chicago Cubs): Wilson Contreras overperformed last year. The young catcher’s HR/FB% was 23.5% which indicates he was lucky getting 12 HRs in 76 games. On balls in play, Contreras posted a .339 BABIP which with all things considered, was higher than it should be. Add in a swinging strike rate of 14% and Contreras might just be the type of player to avoid. The reason Contreras is ranked this high is because he plays in a potent Cubs lineup that should give him some high counting stats. Furthermore, he posted solid strikeout and walk rates in the minors making me believe the strikeout rate will go down. I think he puts up a season similar to Lucroy except a lower average but higher counting stats.

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Starting Pitcher Rankings 2017: Top 75

Welcome back to the Starting Pitcher Rankings for 2017. The top 25 can be found here and the top 50 here. The big thing I’ll note is that the volatility seems to increase which makes me think of going for the high risk – high reward pitchers. This strategy would include opting for safer pitching options in the draft; those who have shown consistency in the past without any major warning signs of decline. If you are unfamiliar with any of the terminology, I’d suggest heading here or replying in the comments.

  1. Marco Estrada (Toronto Blue Jays): I went into greater detail on Estrada here. Estrada is one of the league’s best contact managers. FIP doesn’t tell the story with Marco. He doesn’t rely on speed; rather good command and “stuff”.

    estrada-plot
    Estrada’s ERA Since Becoming a Blue Jay is Almost 1 Point Above his FIP
  1. Drew Smyly (Seattle Mariners): There’s a few reasons why Smyly has made the top 60. Primarily, Smyly has a career 3.97 ERA and 4.08 FIP as a starter. He’s consistently posted good strikeout and walk rates. The slider is a good pitch. On the downside, Smyly’s 90 MPH fastball velocity plays more like 88 due to his mechanics. It’s a pitch with good movement that leads to popups and flyballs. For him to be successful, he needs batters to hit into softer flys like Marco Estrada. Sure enough, his average flyball exit velocity is three miles slower than league average so there might be something to it. He doesn’t get as much spin on his fastball; he’s around average which isn’t necessarily good for pitchers. It should be noted that Smyly’s strand rate was one of the worst in the league. Moving to Seattle, Smyly might have better fortune or he will find some way to alleviate his fastball command woes. I think he’s got a good floor with some room for improvement. I also really like his name; I think that ought to count for something…
  1. Jeff Samardzija (San Francisco Giants): Shark’s big value comes with eating innings. He’s managed 200+ innings pitched for four consecutive seasons. A couple years ago he found a cutter, a pitch that is arguably his best alongside the slider. The lack of a good third pitch hurts Samardzija but his fastball does hit 94 MPH. He’s kind of boring; 200+ IP, 160 SO+, to go along with an ERA around 4.
  1. Jon Gray (Colorado Rockies): Gray will be a dismissive player entering 2017. Some will argue his stuff is really good minimizing the impact of Coors. Sliders are arguably the best secondary pitch to throw in Coors field with Gray having a pretty good one. Others, like me, will be more cautious of the Coors effect. Whichever camp you are in, both can agree Coors Field limits his potential. Gray had a solid 161 innings; his FIP- was the same as Jose Quintana and Justin Verlander. He was on the short end of luck having a 66% left on base rate. He threw first pitch strikes at a healthy rate in addition to getting batters to swing and miss at 12% of pitches. There’s lots of risk having a pitcher who will pitch half his games in Coors field. Near Gray’s draft position, there may be players with similar upside and opportunity cost.

    official-jon-gray-chart
    Gray Pitched Well For A Pitcher With An ERA > 4.5
  1. Adam Wainwright (St. Louis Cardinals): Wainwright, coming back from injury, no doubt disappointed owners with his lackluster performance. There were things out of his control that no doubt compounded his ERA. With a BABIP of .330 and a left on base percentage below 70%, Wainwright wasn’t exactly the luckiest pitcher of 2016. He posted a 3.93 FIP with an average strikeout percentage while logging nearly 200 innings. This makes me believe Wainwright will be better. Not to his career 3.17 ERA, rather something around 3.7-3.9.
  1. Anthony DeSclafani (Cincinnati Reds): DeSclafani took another step forward last season improving his FIP- and xFIP-. Slight improvements to his strikeout and walk ratios certainly helped him put up a 3.28 ERA. The Reds pitchers got some positive luck in regards to strand rate. My issue with DeSclafani is that I don’t see him getting better than last year nor does his profile indicate he’ll have such a nice ERA in 2017. Moreover, DeSclafani continued to be poor against left handed pitching (.351 wOBA vs Lefties in 2016). If he is to take an additional step, I’d like to see him utilize his knuckle curve more often, something we saw in September. An oblique strain limited him to 123 innings in 2016. A fully healthy DeSclafani will challenge for 200 innings. I think he’s capable of a 3.75-4 ERA with 170-180 strikeouts if not better.

    anthony_desclafani_on_may_23_2015_2
    Anthony DeSclafani Throws A Pitch
  1. Jaime Garcia (Atlanta Braves): In 2015, Garcia pitched amazing (2.43 ERA, 3.00 FIP). In 2016, Garcia pitched terrible (4.67 ERA, 4.49 FIP). The big thing that killed Garcia was the long ball, as his 1.36 HR/9 was much higher than his career 0.79. The groundball rate remained elite, the strikeouts and walks both increased. The former Cardinals pitcher should trust his slider more often, a pitch that decreased in usage during his tumultuous second half. The slider was the 25th best pitch in terms of whiffs per swing among pitchers with at least 200 thrown (103 pitchers). I believe Garcia has three good pitches (slider, two-seam fastball, changeup) making it realistic that he is capable of a bounce-back season. Garcia, despite his proneness to injuries, has managed a 3.57 ERA and 3.60 FIP throughout his career. For what is likely a late round pick, he’s worth a flier.

Tier 6

  1. Jharrel Cotton (Oakland Athletics): I went into Cotton in greater detail here. Filthy changeup, good control and command exhibited in the minors, Cotton’s poised for a nice season.
  1. Daniel Norris (Detroit Tigers): The first thing you need to know about Norris is the addition of a leg kick that was key in his strong finish. Next, Norris exemplified signs of growth as shown by a higher strikeout rate, higher first pitch strike rate, and an improved FIP from 2015. His velocity went up by 2 MPH to 93, a welcome sign for the Tigers lefty. I’m a fan of his slider and change. A Norris breakout could very well be the difference between the Tigers making the playoffs or not.

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