(Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire)
It’s that time of the year, the best time of the year, fantasy baseball season. As we look ahead to the upcoming season, we’re breaking down Pitcher List’s 2018 positional rankings. For this position, outfield, we’ll be doing a top-100, 20 spots at a time. Today, the top-20.
And just for giggles, I’m naming each tier after my favorite Rush albums.
Tier 1: Moving Pictures
2. Mookie Betts (Boston Red Sox) – If you’re concerned about Mookie going into this year, I get it, I really do. We had hoped for about what he did in 2016 last year, and he disappointed a bit. Now, is 24 home runs, 26 steals, and over 100 runs and RBIs disappointing? Not really, but it’s lower than what we expected from Betts and it made taking him in the top-five of the draft last year look like somewhat of a mistake. But I think he’ll be fine this year. Along with that .264 average came a .268 BABIP and a .302 xAVG, which all suggest to me that the average should bounce back. Will it be over .300? Perhaps, but I feel like bare minimum we’re looking at a guy who’s going to bat in the .290s and go 25/25 with the potential for more.
3. Charlie Blackmon (Colorado Rockies) – Charlie Blackmon’s power increase looks pretty legit. His 37 home runs last year came along with 36.2 xHRs as well as an increase in hard-hit rate that went from 34.4% in 2016 to 39.0% in 2017, as well as an increase in HR/FB rate from 16.2% to 19.6%. Now a near-20% HR/FB rate is typically hard to keep up, but when you play in Coors Field and your hard-hit rate is close to 40%, you should be able to get close. Will he hit close to 40 home runs again? Maybe not, certainly he’s capable of it, but I’d expect 30+ from him easily, along with a high average and a good handful of steals.
4. Bryce Harper (Washington Nationals) – Outside of his injury, Harper looked perfectly fine last year. All of his plate discipline stats, batted ball stats, they all look in line with his career. There’s no reason to expect Bryce Harper to do anything different than what he usually does, he should be good for 30+ home runs and a .300 average.
5a. Kris Bryant (Chicago Cubs) – Kris Bryant played 11 games in the outfield for the Cubs last year, which will qualify him in some fantasy leagues. We covered Bryant in the Top 25 Third Basemen in Fantasy Baseball for 2018.
5b. Giancarlo Stanton (New York Yankees) – It’s pretty awesome that Giancarlo Stanton hit 59 home runs spending most of his time in Marlins Park, which was a bottom-five park for home runs last year. Now he’s heading to Yankee Stadium which was the second-best park for home runs last year, not to mention the fact that he’ll get to play in homer-friendly Camden Yards and Fenway Park. Hitting 50+ home runs in consecutive seasons doesn’t happen often though. In fact, the only players who have done it in MLB history are Babe Ruth (1920, 1921, 1927, 1928), Ken Griffey Jr. (1997, 1998), Mark McGwire (1996, 1997, 1998, 1999), Sammy Sosa (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001), and Alex Rodriguez (2001, 2002). Could Stanton join that club? He certainly has the power and is in the environment to do so, it’s just going to depend on whether he can stay healthy all year.
6. Aaron Judge (New York Yankees) – Given that Judge strikes out 30.7% of the time, it’s hard to imagine he’ll hit in the .280s again, especially given he had a .357 BABIP last year. That being said, that .284 average and .357 BABIP last year came along with a .270 xAVG and .323 xBABIP. I would expect an average decline, but I don’t think it’s going to be insanely drastic, and of course, the power will still be awesome. I don’t think he’s going to hit 50+ again, but 40s shouldn’t be a problem.
Tier 2: 2112
7. J.D. Martinez (Free Agent) – As of this writing, we still don’t know where J.D. Martinez is going to land, but it looks like it’ll either be with the Red Sox or the Diamondbacks. His ranking may change a little bit depending on where he lands, but we’ll go with what we’ve got. Martinez’s power is totally legit, I don’t think you needed me to tell you that, however I think he’s likely to hit close to 40 home runs rather than the 40+ he hit last year. His 49% hard-hit rate was amazing, but it was also a career-high, and it came along with an absurd 33.8% HR/FB rate. That being said, I’m not expecting his power to plummet or anything, especially if he lands in Fenway, but I think around 40 home runs should be expected with an average pretty close to .300. I will say though that if he lands back with the Diamondbacks in Chase Field and the humidor (finally a humidor mention) is actually happening, that could hurt his power some.
8. George Springer (Houston Astros) – George Springer saw some significant improvement last year in just about every way. His plate discipline improved fairly significantly, with his strikeout rate dropping from 23.9% to 17.6%, his chase rate dropping from 27.2% to 23.7%, and his whiff rate dropping from 12.4% to 9.5%. Because of all of that, I think his increase in average last year is totally legit, and it could be argued that since his .283 average came with a .290 xAVG, it might even go up a little bit. He also saw an improvement in hard-hit rate, from 33.6% to 36.7% and a corresponding increase in HR/FB rate from 19.7% to 22.8%. That’s a lot of numbers all to say that I think last year is totally repeatable for Springer.
10. Starling Marte (Pittsburgh Pirates) – Starling Marte’s season was derailed last year not by injury, but by stupidity, as he was suspended for 80 games by the MLB for violating their PED policy. The good news about that is there’s no reason to worry about his production coming into the year, it’s not like he suffered a major injury and has had to recover from it. Even in just 77 games, he managed to steal 21 bases, putting him on around a 40-steal pace for the year. Give him a full season and there’s no reason he can’t do exactly that with a solid average and 10-15 home runs. Runs and RBIs might be hard to come by in what’s going to be a fairly weak Pirates lineup, but that’s going to be the only knock against him.
11a. Dee Gordon (Seattle Mariners) – As of now, Gordon is not outfield-eligible, but he will gain that eligibility pretty quickly this year, as he seems to be slated as the Mariners’ starting center fielder. We covered Gordon in the Top 25 Second Basemen in Fantasy Baseball for 2018.
11b. Marcell Ozuna (St. Louis Cardinals) – Personally, I expect Marcell Ozuna’s power to decline a slight bit. He hit 37 home runs last year but that came alongside a 23.4% HR/FB rate and 32.2 xHRs. That being said, I don’t expect it to decline much, maybe he hits around 30 home runs rather than 35+, it’s a minor thing. What I do expect to decline significantly is his batting average. He had an awesome .312 average last year that came with a .355 BABIP and a .285 xAVG. Still though, I think Ozuna should be good for an average in the .280s, and moving to Busch Stadium shouldn’t affect him much given that Marlins Park is about the same for power, though Busch is slightly better for extra-base hits.
13. Christian Yelich (Milwaukee Brewers) – I absolutely love the move to Miller Park for Christian Yelich. I was big on him last year and while he didn’t have the year I hoped he’d have, he still was solid. This year, I’m expecting big things. As I’ve mentioned earlier, Marlins Park isn’t a great place for home runs, it was 25th in the league last year per ESPN’s Park Factors. Given that, it’s no surprise how big of a difference Yelich had in HR/FB rate between being at home (10.9%) and being on the road (20.5%). A high average going 20/20 is totally doable for Yelich this year, I think.
14. Andrew Benintendi (Boston Red Sox) – The wonderful thing about Andrew Benintendi is that he does everything well. He’s not going to wow you with a massive number of steals or home runs, but what he is going to do is produce in every single category. There’s no reason he can’t go 20/20 with a .270s average this year, and there’s the potential for better as his skills continue to improve. Not to mention that runs and RBIs should be available plenty in what should be a really good Red Sox lineup.
Tier 3: Permanent Waves
15. Justin Upton (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) – We’ve always known that Justin Upton has great power (though even 35 home runs was a surprise last year), but his average hasn’t really been there the past couple seasons. That changed last year as he finished the season batting .273. I don’t think that’s going to stick though, considering it came with a .341 BABIP and a .257 xAVG, not to mention he strikes out close to 30% of the time. Still though, I’m not expecting the average to crater, and he still should be good for at least 30 home runs and double-digit steals, making him pretty valuable.
16. A.J. Pollock (Arizona Diamondbacks) – A.J. Pollock can be a massive fantasy asset if he stays healthy. That’s a gigantic if though, especially given that he’s 30-years-old now. If he’s fully healthy, he can steal 30 bases and bat in the .280s while hitting close to 20 home runs. But you can’t bank on that at all, especially given the chance that the humidor is installed. Either way, assuming he’s healthy, his average should be better than it was last year. That .266 average on the year came with a .289 xAVG, so I’d expect improvement. He’s a big-time risk/reward guy though, and it’s entirely possible that he has a similar year to last year (with a better average).
17. Billy Hamilton (Cincinnati Reds) – I say it every year and every year it remains true – Billy Hamilton is one of the hardest players to rank in fantasy baseball. He is your stolen bases if you draft him, there’s no reason he can’t steal 50-60 bases next year, maybe even more (he has that kind of speed). Otherwise, he doesn’t provide a ton. There will be a good number of runs, his average will probably be in the .240s, and there will be very little power or RBIs to speak of. But those steals are so valuable, which is why he has to rank in the top-20.
18. Tommy Pham (St. Louis Cardinals) – I’ll be honest, I didn’t think Tommy Pham was legit last year, but he kept proving me wrong and I’ve finally come around. I don’t think he’s going to hit .300 again, that .306 average he had was accompanied by a .368 BABIP and a .282 xAVG. Still, his average will be good, and a 20/20 season is perfectly plausible.
19. Lorenzo Cain (Milwaukee Brewers) – As of now, I’m not entirely sure how the Brewers’ outfield situation is going to shake out. Right now, they’ve got toooooo many cooks (too many cooooks) out there. That being said, I think that’s more going to affect Domingo Santana (if he isn’t traded) more than it’ll affect Cain. Moving to Miller Park is a nice upgrade for Cain too, as Kauffman Stadium is pretty pitcher-friendly as far as average and power goes and Miller Park is hitter-friendly on both fronts. The high average should be there, the 20+ steals should be there, and the 10-15 home runs should all be there. Basically, you should expect a Lorenzo Cain type season, if not even potentially better.
20. Khris Davis (Oakland Athletics) – It was good to see some of Khris Davis‘ plate discipline improve last year. His chase rate went down from 31.3% in 2016 to 26.6% last year and his whiff rate dropped from 16.6% to 14.7%. His strikeout rate is still going to be fairly high, it’s just the kind of hitter he is, but he should still be good for a similar year to the past two years, which means a .240s average and around 40 home runs.