You know what? There's a lot of really good fantasy outfielders. So instead of jamming them into the same column as the pitchers, I made an executive decision and opted to focus solely on the fly-chasers today and then pop back later with a rundown of the first half''s top pitching earners.
The format will be the same as last time when we looked at catchers and infielders. We'll group the outfielders in four sets of ten and present their first half rank, dollar value earned in a standard 15-team mixed league with 5x5 scoring, my pre-season projected value and rank. At the end of each subset, commentary pertaining to who's in and who's out will be shared.
But first, since this is a top-40 list, and this is July 4th, with apologies to the late Casey Kasem, this long distance dedication is going out to all those serving the USA here and abroad, as well as to the family of those who made the ultimate sacrifice so the rest of us can spend the day grilling burgers and hotdogs while watching 15 consecutive hours of our National Pastime.
OUTFIELDERS TIER ONE
With the reminder these comments are based on my rankings, the good news is if you invested in one of the very top outfielders you're not disappointed. The not-so-good news is (most of) the second half of the original top-ten has slipped a bit, at least so far. The bad news is if you own Carlos Gonzalez.
Back in the spring, one of the bigger conundrums I had was whether to change where Stanton was ranked. Many of my industry brethren had him ranked higher and were taking him late first/early second round in mocks. But in the end I stuck to my guns. Stanton's talent was never in question. My concern was durability along with a paucity of runs and RBI expected from the perceived weak Marlins' lineup. We're just past the halfway points and Stanton has played in 84 games and is on a pace for over 100 runs and 100 RBI - Miami is 11th in the league in scoring. Mea culpa. I was wrong.
Nelson Cruz was one of the last free agents to sign and it was unclear exactly how much he would play in the then crowded Baltimore outfield and designated hitter logjam. Not to mention, Cruz also has durability issues and was coming off a 50-game time-out though he did play the final game of the 2013 regular season. Well, he has played in 83 games and at 26, has one fewer home run than he hit last season in 109 games. Whether he stays healthy and keeps this pace are unclear, but he's for sure a full-timer and will continue to play every day. That said, he's one of my two most likely to drop out of the top-ten over the second half.
Charlie Blackmon certainly separated himself from the pack which also included Corey Dickerson, Drew Stubbs and Brandon Barnes but his lofty status is in large part a result of a torrid April where his hit .374. A .260 May and .261 June are more his speed. Blackmon will still be a solid producer likely to have double digit homer and steals the rest of the way, just temper expectation in terms of batting average. He's the other player I most expect to drop down at least a tier, probably more if not out of the top-40.
I'm willing to bet I had Michael Brantley a little higher than most in the spring so his emergence, while better than even I expected, is not a total shock. Think of it this way. Would you have been pleased to have Brantley as your third outfielder in 12 or 15 teams coming into the season? That's where a rank of 38 puts him. I knew I wouldn't have to invest that high a draft pick or pay the full $13 in an auction. I indeed own several shares of Brantley and while some regression is expected, his power and speed along with hitting for average puts him among the fantasy elite. Yeah - elite.
OUTFIELDERS TIER TWO
So maybe if you took a back-end top-ten outfielder you aren't all that frustrated as three more appear in the second ten. Only Alex Rios and Matt Kemp are missing and both will appear soon. What this tells me is if you draft for position scarcity and eschew taking a top fly chaser early, you better hit on your perceived scarce position since the top outfielders are a good bet to produce as expected, For what it's worth, this isn't just a 2014 thing - it is common year to year.
Looks like I was a year early on Melky Cabrera since in 2013, he was my 2014 version of Brantley - a player I had as an third outfielder that other had as a back-end or reserve guy. His game is built for the Blue Jays and Rogers Center and that's showing this season. Of course there are some other extra-curricular factors associated with Cabrera but so far he's stayed clean and is out of the fake web-site business.
You know, for a guy that always seems to be disappointing, if we just accept him for what he is, Justin Upton is a pretty decent fantasy performer. But inevitably, someone will pay the hype tax thus be let down. To wit, I just conducted a second-half mock with some of my industry brethren and Upton was the 18th overall pick -- OVERALL PICK. He was the 16th best OUTFIELDER over the first half. I just don't see the improvement happening to thrust Upton into the top-20 overall. I'm happy to have him as my second outfielder and hope for the surge; I'm just not paying for it.
Brett Gardner and Rajai Davis both profile similarly. Both were expected to be platoon players and perhaps hit at the bottom of the order but both have played regularly with a great deal of time spend on top of the order. Of course, the other similarity is both are speed merchants. There is a subtle yet extremely important difference between a draft list and a list based on dollar value. That is, taking a lost of dollar values and calling that your cheat sheet is a huge mistake. In a vacuum, steals are worth enough to put Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon in the top-20 overall as well as lifting Gardner and Davis into the top-20 outfielders.
But that doesn't mean you have to take them there in a draft. That's a matter of game theory and team construct. Via value-in-a-vacuum, stolen base specialists usually appear higher than they are drafted which leads many to proclaim steals are valued to high. Steals aren't valued to high -- in a vacuum. The game isn't played in a vacuum which is a good thing because players would suffocate in a vacuum. Pushing steals specialists down a draft sheet is a strategic entity, not a valuation issue.
OUTFIELDERS TIER THREE
The eighth outfielder starting out as an expected top-ten performer appears here. Admittedly, I'm higher on Alex Rios than most though the market finally started coming over to my side this spring. So of course Rios is playing more like the market used to rank him. Thanks bud. Truth be told, he's not all that far from a top-ten rank and if I'm going to suggest some present top-ten outfielders fall out, it is only fair I name their replacements. Over the second half, I expect Rios to produce top-ten numbers at the position.
In the spring, I did have George Springer with positive value so I did expect that he contribute but I didn't expect that he be called up this early or produce this well, I had him as a 20/20 guy with a .240 average over a full season. He's going to blow away the power even being short a month's worth of games. And while he only has three steals, two have come this past week so he may becoming more acclimated to the Majors and familiar with pitchers moves, etc. Look out over the second half, but a low average will still temper Springer's overall value. I see him moving up a tier but not into the top tier, at least not this season.
OUTFIELDERS TIER FOUR
And now nine of the top-tier from my original rankings are present with CarGo the lone absentee. Don't look now but Matt Kemp is warming up as he hit .317 with 3 homers, 14 runs and 16 RBI in June. He's still not running but .280 with 12-15 homers and 40-plus runs and RBI are plausible and would be welcome after a .225 April.
Jay Bruce has been my personal whipping boy as I've been warning anyone willing to listen (or read) of my concern for over a calendar year. Simply put Bruce's strikeout rate has been on the rise and that's not a good thing at an age where he's supposed to ne established as one of the top power sources in the game. Others will have him on their buy low list and they might be right. I'm not touching him. Since last July, his homers by month have been 4, 4, 4, 3, 0, 4. The anecdotal "he's streaky and will get hot" doesn't work for me
CONSPICUOUS BY THEIR ABSENCE
Here are the 15 players I originally ranked in the top-40 for outfielders with their first-half value and rank.
Most of the omissions are injury related with a few notable under performers. While I may not be buying low on Jay Bruce, i am certainly buying low on Shin-Soo Choo with the caveat I don't expect a complete rebound in power and am really not expecting much speed at all. I do see a major correction with his batting average which will in turn elevate runs and RBI but I don't see a 20/20 pace (meaning 10 more homers and steals) over the second half.
Kole Calhoun is beginning to display what I and others were hoping for in the spring - somewhere in the teens with homers and steals with a lot of runs and a decent number of RBI for a lead-off hitter. Calhoun is one of my favorite keeper league targets if you're looking for reasonably priced, MLB-ready players to anchor your freeze list for 2015.
The biggest question mark among this motley crew of 15 is Bryce Harper. Can he stay healthy? Will the Nationals give him periodic rest to keep him fresh? Will he stick to playing ball instead of telling the manager how to make out the lineup? As has been the case since day-one, the talent is undeniable. It's all the other stuff that's the question. Remember that mock I mentioned? Harper was the 21st pick which puts him in the second round of 12 and 15 team mixed leagues. That's too rich for my wussy blood. Early picks are too valuable. Reliable players are too few and far between. It may not work out but I'm still of the mind to play it safe early and throw my speculative darts later.
Thus ends our first-half outfielder review. Next time we'll end with the pitchers.
Click HERE for the overall first-half rankings for hitters and pitchers.
Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.