To remind everyone: These rankings are based on position eligibility. Players who are eligible at multiple positions will be ranked in comparison with others at each relevant position. You will also note asterisks next to the names of certain players. These indicate health risks. Health concerns have been taken into consideration, as have expected talent and expected playing time to yield expected production.
Position eligibility and evaluation criteria for these rankings are explained here.
Rank Player Team Oliver Slash (2011)**
1 Ryan Braun Brewers .298/.358/.522
2 Matt Holliday Cardinals .301/.380/.500
3 Josh Hamilton* Rangers .301/.360/.501
4 Carlos Gonzalez Rockies .288/.340/.508
5 Carl Crawford Rays .287/.341/.426
6 Matt Kemp Dodgers .270/.328/.454
7 Justin Upton Diamondbacks .291/.372/.536
8 Nelson Cruz* Rangers .272/.341/.504
9 Shin-Soo Choo Indians .294/.387/.480
10 Alex Rios White Sox .265/.313/.408
11 Jason Heyward Braves .308/.393/.539
12 Andrew McCutchen Pirates .277/.357/.448
13 Jayson Werth* Nationals .261/.361/.460
14 Ichiro Suzuki Mariners .309/.351/.392
15 Jay Bruce Reds .265/.336/.486
16 Mike Stanton Marlins .283/.359/.623
17 Drew Stubbs Reds .232/.306/.354
18 Jacoby Ellsbury* Red Sox .266/.324/.359
19 Curtis Granderson* Yankees .246/.324/.433
20 Hunter Pence Astros .270/.324/.445
21 Andre Ethier Dodgers .278/.356/.485
22 Desmond Jennings Rays .261/.335/.382
23 Domonic Brown Phillies .271/.336/.449
24 Torii Hunter Angels .273/.346/.441
25 B.J. Upton Rays .244/.338/.394
26 Chris Young Diamondbacks .238/.320/.420
27 Colby Rasmus Cardinals .259/.338/.467
28 Jose Bautista Blue Jays .239/.347/.478
29 Grady Sizemore* Indians .250/.342/.453
30 Manny Ramirez* Free Agent .272/.371/.463
31 Nick Markakis Orioles .280/.358/.424
32 Brett Gardner Yankees .256/.353/.345
33 Carlos Beltran* Mets .278/.362/.447
34 Shane Victorino Phillies .267/.332/.413
35 Vladimir Guerrero Rangers .284/.332/.449
36 Vernon Wells Blue Jays .272/.324/.446
37 Jason Bay Mets .254/.352/.457
38 Adam Jones Orioles .271/.318/.429
39 Bobby Abreu Angels .257/.348/.404
40 Jose Tabata Pirates .298/.351/.422
41 Corey Hart Brewers .271/.327/.463
42 Ben Zobrist Rays .256/.361/.418
43 Juan Pierre White Sox .273/.329/.323
44 Carlos Quentin* White Sox .252/.339/.480
45 Angel Pagan Mets .278/.331/.417
46 Michael Bourn Astros .254/.325/.331
47 Travis Snyder Blue Jays .263/.329/.470
48 Lance Berkman* Cardinals .262/.374/.443
49 Luke Scott Orioles .252/.331/.454
50 Nick Swisher Yankees .249/.346/.443
51 Coco Crisp Athletics .268/.338/.401
52 Logan Morrison Marlins .286/.376/.452
53 Delmon Young Twins .292/.330/.464
54 Hideki Matsui Athletics .253/.339/.412
55 J.D. Drew Red Sox .243/.350/.423
56 Aubrey Huff Giants .265/.339/.448
57 Michael Cuddyer Twins .270/.340/.449
58 Matt Joyce Rays .240/.340/.445
59 Rajai Davis Athletics .275/.316/.374
60 Carlos Lee Astros .259/.305/.412
*Assuming health (which means assuming the amount of health I expect from them), being tendered a contract.
**Oliver's 2011 projections have been updated. Most of the projections are essentially similar, but for the most up to date projections, subscribe to THT Forecasts by clicking here. If you are unsure of whether to subscribe to THT Forecasts, you can read about why I love THT Forecasts by clicking here
For those of you who caught the unfinished version of this list in my third basemen rankings two weeks ago, I apologize for the overwriting error. The numbers here represent my present-sense rankings after some tinkering.
These rankings place a premium on balance and counting stats over batting average. Outfielders tend to be the most balanced fantasy players, providing the most speed/power combination of any position. Balance is the key to a successful fantasy baseball campaign because it simultaneously fills out categories and diversifies risk. While some like to invest in single-stat commodities with higher upside, I will take two more balanced players.
For example, some might draft a few power guys (e.g., Nick Swisher) and a few steals guys (e.g., Juan Pierre) to collectively fill out their total production. This is unwise in my view for two reasons.
One, it takes up precious roster space, which—unless you are in a deep bench league—should be used for utility players, speculation picks and backup plans. Moreover, in the specialization approach to fantasy baseball, you put a lot of stock in individual players. If Jacoby Ellsbury was your steals guy last year, for example, you were ruined before May. An injury to a single player in the specialization approach can jeopardize your season, especially if his specialized skill set is hard to replace on the waiver wire. After all, how many of the top producers in steals and home runs are sitting on the waiver wire as back-up options?
If you draft for balance, however, even if balance sacrifices upside, you mitigate the risk. If a 15/15 guy goes down, you can likely find a 10/10 guy to replace his production while he is on the DL. Furthermore, the total amount of category you lose by that single injury is less because you've distributed your team's total stats per category among the players on your team. Accordingly, balance is a smart choice unless you are in shallow leagues or have an "all-or-nothing," high risk/reward, all-eggs-in-one-basket approach to fantasy baseball.
This mindset in mind, these rankings become more clear. In addition to balance, I put a premium on the counting stats. I view batting average as too volatile to predict accurately, and while I do not ignore it, I do not draft for it. That is why you might view some batting average outfielders as ranked "too low" on this list. Feel free to adjust them accordingly or argue their case in the comments.
Missing from these rankings are several names that I like: Chris Carter (.250/.339/.489), Josh Willingham (.253/.358/.456), Julio Borbon (.272/.319/.346), Denard Span (.276/.356/.371), Kyle Blanks (.261/.349/.452), Lastings Milledge (.263/.319/.375), and Ryan Kalish (.255/.331/.401). I could not justify including any in the rankings due to some perceived flaw, such as serious playing time concerns (Carter, Kalish, Millege), health concerns (Willingham, Blanks), or the team's dynamics and the player's unrefined skill set (Julio Borbon and base stealing). I also wish I could include Nolan Reimold (.244/.329/.399), but he's a pure wild card at this point.
I have some players ranked quite high here that I personally would not draft. Guys like Carl Crawford, Ichiro Suzuki, Jacoby Ellsbury, Andre Ethier, Colby Rasmus and Brett Gardner are certainly valuable, but they are too "specialized" for my tastes. I owned Ichiro last year and while his batting average was useful, I learned just how much an underperforming (or injured) specialized talent can affect your team's bottom line. Instead, I'd rather take the balance approaches of Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Shin-Soo Choo, Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs, Chris Young and Angel Pagan, even if they individually offer less of a production ceiling overall.
With respect to Jennings and Brown: Both are "unpolished" rookies who underwhelmed in their brief September call-ups last season. Each, however, offers fantastic upside, has nothing left to prove in the minors, will be an Opening Day outfielder for his team, and has produced impressive major league equivalent batting lines.
Without a doubt, Jennings is a "Carl Crawford of the future" type. He is the reason the Rays were able to so comfortably let Crawford walk without bidding more than an offer of arbitration for 2011 to the departed free agent (now a Red Sox). In the minors, Jennings stole 171 bases in 204 attempts over 420 games, producing an .824 OPS on the heels of a 10.6 percent walk rate and doubles power. While Jennings' touted power potential (15-20 home run capability) has yet to materialize, he is still only 24 and one of baseball's best prospects. He's a career .299 hitter in the minors, and I would not be shocked to see Jennings hit for a .280-plus batting average with five to 10 home runs, three-plus stolen bases and over 100 runs from atop the Rays' lineup (with upside to spare). Even better is the high floor given his skill set of walking, hitting for average and foot speed.
Like Jennings, Brown is an incredibly talented hitter. He's the prospect the Phillies refused to trade for either Cliff Lee (the first time they got him) or Roy Halladay. Given those expectations, Brown's .257/.257/.355 line over 70 plate appearances last season was disappointing. Nonetheless, Brown is a talented hitter with more upside than Jennings, albeit less polished, as evident by his splits against same-handed pitching in the minors.
After putting up a minor league career line of .296/.373/.464 with 48 home runs to 89 stolen bases over 424 games, Brown demonstrated himself capable of 20+/20+ production with a strong batting average. Oliver expects a .271/.336/.449 line from Brown in 2011, while Bill James expects 25+/25+ production next season with a batting average around .290. My expectations for Brown are high, given his high ceiling (and high perceived floor).
The last three names—Ramirez, Sizemore, and Beltran—all come with their own blend of risk and upside. Manny is currently unemployed, going on 39 years old, hates playing day games and has been a perpetual injury risk. Irrespective of the injury risk and lack of employment, however, Ramirez has been quite fantasy-productive when he takes the field, especially in OBP leagues, and a move to the DH role should help preserve his health and keep him playing in those "tiring" day games. Over the past two seasons, Manny has averaged a .295 batting average, 20-plus home run production per 150 games, and good run/RBI rates, while posting OBPs north of .400. Reliable four-category production is rare and while deploying Manny as your first or second outfielder would be unwise, he makes a strong third or fourth outfielder risk that should be complemented with a backup option.
Both Beltran and Sizemore present big gambles. As recently as two seasons ago, both were perpetual top-20 fantasy picks. They were as safe and balanced and production as could be. Beltran was a lock for a .280-plus batting average with 25 or more home runs, 15-20 stolen bases and 100 run/RBI production from the middle of the Mets' fearsome offensive lineup. Sizemore was a perpetual 30/30 lock. In recent memory, however, both have been injured toxic assets.
For two years in a row, Sizemore burned those who took high-risk gambles on him (even last year, he cost me $18 via auction). Over the past two seasons, Sizemore has played only 139 games, over which he hit 18 home runs, stole 17 bases, and hit well under .250. Even injured, however, he still produced 88 runs and 77 RBI from atop the Indians' relatively weak lineup. Furthermore, Sizemore is only 28 years old and reportedly recovering well from his injury. While you should not pay top or even medium dollar for Sizemore, he remains a strong bounce-back player for 2011 if healthy, easily capable of top 30 production. His ranking here reflects my expected production, not his expected price tag. Do not spend more than $5 at auction.
Like Sizemore, Beltran could provide large dividends to those who gamble on him. Beltran has played 145 games over the past two seasons and while his polar BABIPs (.352, .275) in each of the past two seasons has caused wild batting average fluctuations (.325, .255), he has nonetheless been cumulatively productive while playing injured (a combined 17 home runs, 14 stolen bases). Now 33, Beltran's production ceiling, especially in light of his injuries, is lower than it was a few years ago. Nonetheless, Beltran has shown himself 20/20 capable while playing injured. Barring DL stints, Beltran should approach or exceed a 20/15 line in 2011, with a decent batting average to boot. He'll likely cost just as much as Sizemore, but offers less risk/reward potential.
As always, leave your love hate in the comments.
Jeffrey Gross is a 23-year old law student (and Cubs fan) who currently resides in Madison, WI. In addition to writing for The Hardball Times, he currently writes baseball analysis for the Game Of Inches blog under the pseudonym David "MVP" Eckstein and has previously worked for The Daily Illini and Northern Star newspapers as a film critic and sportswriter (respectively). You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
or by comment at http://www.gameofinches.blogspot.com
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