2016 Fantasy Baseball Outfielder Rankings (#1-30)

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Outfield is a fun position because just from the sheer quantity of outfielders that there are, there are so many that can unexpectedly (or maybe it is expected if you’re a fantasy shark) ascend to the top 30 outfielders in any given year. For instance, last season we saw the likes of A.J. Pollock, Lorenzo Cain, Mookie Betts, and David Peralta emerge to be some of the best return on investments in the fantasy outfield landscape. Who will be this year’s risers? Keep on reading to find out who The Backwards K thinks it will be! 

Below are THE BACKWARDS K 2016 FANTASY BASEBALL OUTFIELDER RANKINGS (#1-30). Included for each player is “The Backwards K Quick Take” and a self-produced player projection for 2016.

***Please note the following:

  • The player’s names are color coded to signal different tiers at the position.
  • The rankings reflect standard 5×5 roto scoring settings (AVG/HR/RBI/R/SB) with position eligibility requirements as 10 total games played at a position in 2015, or 5 total games started at a position in 2015 (i.e. Yahoo! settings).
  • The numerical order is not necessarily a suggested order to draft them in, but it is the order that is calculated based on each player’s listed projections, unless noted otherwise.
  • Noted in some players’ “Quick Takes” is if they gain or lose notable value in points leagues that factor penalize hitter strikeouts and reward hitter walks.

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The Progression of Brandon Belt (and other notes from 8/11/15)

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In the pre-season, I suggested that Brandon Belt, first baseman of the San Francisco Giants, would be “This Year’s Todd Frazier.” I didn’t truly believe that he would be able to step into the ring be the Ali to this Frazier and go toe to toe with him to match all of Frazier’s 2014 stats, especially in the stolen base category, but Belt did appear to be in a great position to post the best season of his career with something along the lines of a .270 AVG with 25 HR and 10 SB (my actual pre-season projection for Belt was: 266 AVG, 27 HR, 88 RBI, 82 R, 11 SB, 149 K, 58 BB in 580 AB).

Belt started the season off really poorly as he struggled to hit for a .200 AVG for most of April, and he didn’t hit his first HR of the season until May 15 (his 31st game played). But Belt worked through his issues and has put together some hot streaks that have left him with a rather productive stat line. Belt’s most recent hot streak has seen him hit 7 HR in 10 games in August, which includes a 2 HR performance on Tuesday night where he did a couple things that he has failed to do well all season: hit for power at home and produce against left-handed pitching. Both of Belt’s Tuesday night long balls were off Scott Kazmir fastballs that he crushed — one deep to center field and one to the opposite field at AT&T Park.

The big day brought Belt’s season stat line up to a .272 AVG with 17 HR, 52 RBI, 54 R, and 5 SB. Previously, just 2 of 15 of Belt’s home runs this season came against left-handed pitching (with a .205 AVG), and also just 2 of 15 of Belt’s home runs this season had come at his home park. With that incredibly deep corner in the right-center field gap at AT&T Park, left-handed power production is suppressed a lot — that is of course unless you take a little somethin’ somethin’ like one former Giants player with the same initials as Belt used to do, and I’m not talking about taking Wheaties and I’m not taking about Bud Black.

So with the big day of countering some of his weaknesses, it’s worth taking a closer look at Belt to see how he has progressed this season. The first thing that jumps out when digging deeper into Belt’s season is that he has a relatively high .344 BABIP. With the league average BABIP this season sitting at .297, the initial thought may be that Belt has been getting pretty fortunate with the balls that he has been putting into play. However, he’s got a laundry list of things to back up his high BABIP.

Belt has always shown the ability to hit a lot of line drives with a rate as high as 25.6% in 2012 and 24.3% in 2013, but this season he’s taken it up a notch to 29.2%, which is the tops in the Majors. Hitting a lot of line drives usually means a lot of hits from those line drives, and it also can translate to a high hard hit rate. In Belt’s case, it indeed does translate that way as his 42.1% hard hit rate is 2nd best in the Majors. Belt is just one of 3 players that appears in the top 10 in both line drive rate and hard hit rate (Chris Davis and Ryan Howard), but he’s the only player who is ranking at or near the top in each, which truly shows how dangerous of a hitter that he has been and can continue to be.

Also factoring into Belt’s performance at the plate is the way that he is spraying the ball to all fields. Let’s take a look at his spray charts by percentages over the last few seasons.

  • 2013: Pull 43.3%, Center 33.2%, Opposite 23.5%
  • 2014: Pull 48.3%, Center 30.5%, Opposite 21.2%
  • 2015: Pull 36.4%, Center 34.5%, Opposite 29.1%

So as you can see, this season he has become much less pull happy and taking the ball the other way as defenses began to employ defensive shifts on him in the recent years, which had an adverse effect on his BABIP and batting average. By going to the opposite field more, he is keeping opposing teams on their toes and giving them second thoughts on when and how much to shift against him.

Also worth noting is that Belt has yet to hit an infield fly ball this season. Fellow National League first baseman and a player that Belt received some comparisons to when he came up, Joey Votto, has always shown the great ability to avoid hitting infield fly balls as his career infield fly ball rate is a minuscule 1.4%. Infield fly balls are a very bad thing to hit because they will not end up going for a hit in the box score 99% of the time and they also do not generate any type of run production or simply just moving a base runner over. It’s something that Votto has mastered over his career and now Belt seemingly has matured in that same fashion this season, which is just another positive effect on his BABIP and batting average.

As for Belt’s power, he is definitely taking steps forward in that department as well. His total of 17 HR already this season matches a career high that he set in 2013 in 46 more games played and his average distance on home runs and fly balls has shot up from 279 feet last season to 296 feet this season (38th in the Majors).

So Belt has all these great things working in his favor, things that he has likely put a lot of effort into changing, but he does have a few flaws that are preventing him from taking one more further step forward. As mentioned previously, he has not hit lefties well this season nor has he hit for much power at home. The missing power at home can’t really be faulted towards Belt himself, as the park dimensions and outfield fence configuration in San Francisco are just hell for lefties. If Belt were to ever leave the Giants and hit in a hitters park, he could surely threaten to be a 30 HR type of hitter in his prime years. But hitting lefties better is definitely something that he has control over, and over the course of his career so far he actually hasn’t hit lefties much worse than righties. So the ability is there, it’s just not working out for him so far this season. But he has been showing improvements with the 2 HR off Kazmir on Tuesday, and he also had a 2 HR game in Texas this month where he took lefties Cole Hamels and Sam Freeman deep. So perhaps he’s coming around in that regard.

But the one thing that is probably hindering him the most in his offensive performance is his relatively high strikeout rate. His strikeout rate this season sits at 27.1%, but he’s finished a season with a rate as low as 21.9% in 2013. And Belt’s career rate in the Minor Leagues before coming a fixture on the Major League roster was 18.5%. So the potential to cut down on his strikeouts appears to be there, but he’s going to have to do some work to tap into it — and it is against lefties where he does struggle the most as he has a 32.3% strikeout rate against them this season. It’s this high strikeout rate that is preventing him from being a .300 type of hitter. He’s got all the tools (high line drive rate, high hard hit rate, utilizing all directions of the field, low infield fly ball rate) to gets hits, but you can’t get hits when you don’t put the ball in play.

So while maybe Belt doesn’t fulfill the pre-season prediction of being “This Year’s Todd Frazier” (statistically, that would probably be Manny Machado this season), he’s still enjoying a season that will likely turn out to be the best of his career so far and he’s made some very great strides while doing it. A strong finish to this season will give him some nice momentum for his age 28 season in 2016. And one thing’s certain: his stock is definitely higher now than it was at the beginning of May.

Now let’s check out the rest of Tuesday’s action.

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Adrian Beltre Leaves the Ballpark on His Tri-Cycle (and other notes from 8/3/15)

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Inhabitants of the west coast of the U.S. have long been enjoying the tastings of In-N-Out Burger. Pretty much any highway or boulevard you drive down, you will at some point see the classic In-N-Out Burger logo to lure you in for arguably the best fast food burger that your lips will ever touch. Being a left coaster myself, I enjoyed a cheeseburger with grilled and raw onions and chopped chilis just last week (if you like your food with a little kick, then you have to get it with the chopped chilis off their “secret menu”).

A while back, my brother went to In-N-Out Burger and did something that I wouldn’t have thought possible out of a 145 lb. man with hardly an ounce of body fat on him. He ordered a cheeseburger, a double double, a 3×3, and a 4×4 — and he ate it all in one sitting. That is some ridiculous eating talent right there and we like to say that he “ate for the cycle.”

On Monday, Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre did something that is probably a bit more impressive than my brother “eating for the cycle,” as he hit for the cycle (single, double, triple, and home run all in one game) for the third time in his career. Beltre became just the 4th player to hit for the cycle three times. He joined John Reilly (no, not the dude from the movie Step Brothers), Babe Herman (not to be confused with George Herman “Babe” Ruth), and Bob Meusel (I have no actual parenthetical blurb to say about him). Hitting for the cycle just once in a career is pretty nice, but to do it three times is quite the accomplishment, especially when you’re like Beltre and don’t have the wheels to leg out a lot of triples. Beltre’s tripled just 34 times in his 18-year career, so he hits for the cycle 9% of the time that he gets a triple. That’s a pretty high rate if you think about it.

With In-N-Out Burgers popping up all over Texas now, and there’s even one in the city of Arlington where the Rangers play their home games, I now issue a public challenge to Mr. Beltre to eat for the cycle. And in the same vein, I also issue a public challenge to my brother, Kameron, to eat for the cycle two more times to bring his total up to three to match Beltre’s number of cycles. What do you say, gentlemen?

Now let’s take a look at the rest of Monday’s action.

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Get the Heck Troutta Here (and other notes from 7/17/15)

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What can’t Mike Trout do?  He debuted in the Majors at just 20 years old in 2011 and his official rookie season was 2012, and since then he has won the AL Rookie of the Year Award, been an All-Star in all four seasons, has won two All-Star Game MVP Awards in a row, has won a Silver Slugger Award in each season with another one on the way in 2015, finished 2nd in the AL MVP voting twice, took home the AL MVP Award last season, and is likely looking at being the AL MVP yet again this year.  I suppose he hasn’t won a Gold Glove Award yet, but he’s been robbed of that and he still is simply stellar in center field.

On Friday, he launched the third walk off home run of his career when he took Koji Uehara deep into the night.  He is now hitting .311 with 27 HR, 56 RBI, 69 R, and 9 SB, and he leads the AL in HR.  If we want to nitpick at his flaws, we can look at his gradually declining SB totals over his young career or his less than stellar strikeout rate.  But the fact is that he is the best all-around player in the game and he has been ever since he walked onto the field in his rookie season.  There are no more words that need to be said to describe him, so just sit back and enjoy the show in Anaheim.

Let’s check out what else happened on Friday as we are now back from the All-Star break!
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Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Using Platoons to Your Advantage

Platoon is a 1986 Oliver Stone film about the horror of wars and duality of man for a young soldier in the Vietnam War, starring the always amazing Tom Berenger (or since this is a baseball site, you may know him better as Jake Taylor of the Cleveland Indians).  Sadly, I cannot say that I have seen the movie, but perhaps I should.  I did enjoy another Tom Berenger soldier movie called Sniper where ***SPOILER ALERT*** his character was a sniper.  But I just like sniper movies in general.  Don’t worry though, I am not some guy who is gung ho about firearms.  Instead, they actually frighten me quite much.  I am just a camping sniper when I play Call of Duty so these sniper movies fascinate me.  But back to the topic that I am here to talk about.

The platoon that we need to be talking about here is a situation in baseball where two players share the same position on the same team and split time in the lineup at that position.  The most common usage for a platoon by baseball managers is to use a right-handed hitter at a position when there is a left-handed opposing starting pitcher on the mound, and to use a left-handed hitter at that same position when there is a right-handed opposing starting pitcher on the mound.  The reasoning for this is that the majority of hitters have more success versus pitchers of the opposite handedness.  There are various reasons that would seem to back up this fact, some of which include that versus pitchers of the same handedness, breaking pitches break away from the batter which a lot of players have difficulties with, and hitters tend to have an easier time seeing the ball come out of the hand of a pitcher of opposite handedness.  The extreme to which a player is better versus one-handedness than the other varies from player to player, and some may even have “reverse splits” where they are actually better against same handed pitching.  But generally speaking, hitters are more successful versus opposite handed pitching and this is something that is exploitable in fantasy baseball.

Players that are part of a platoon situation obviously are not going to play every day, which often leads to season long fantasy owners to turn their heads in another direction when drafting or perusing the waiver wire looking for that extra bench bat or to replace an injured player.  However, I am here to tell you that utilizing these types of platoon players in fantasy baseball can be very savvy, if used correctly, and can provide a ton of positive value.  However, it does depend on your league type to fully implement this strategy at its optimum.

We’ll take a look at a couple of real life scenarios to show the benefit of creating a fantasy platoon by examining players that are relegated to a platoon situation in real life, whether it be by using two players who are in a real life platoon on their Major League team, or by using two players from different teams that have favorable splits versus one handedness.  For the first scenario, let’s look at the center field situation in Detroit. Continue reading

Hitters Feasting on Some Strasburgers (and other notes from 5/12/15)

Stephen Strasburg pitched at Arizona on Tuesday night and was handed a beat down in one of the worst outings of his career as he only lasted 3.1 IP while allowing 8 runs (7 ER).  On the season, Strasburg is now 2-4 with a 6.06 ERA, 1.71 WHIP, and 35 K/11 BB in 35.2 IP.

I am not sure what exactly is the cause of his putrid performance, but clearly he isn’t doing much right.  Strasburg did leave his previous start with some shoulder irritation, so maybe that played a part in Tuesday’s nightmare, but he hadn’t exactly been sharp in his 6 starts before Tuesday either.  Yeah, he has an incredibly high .398 BABIP and a horrible 60.2% strand rate, but there comes a point where you examine things and just have to say that perhaps he is creating his own bad luck.

There’s not much in his velocity or pitch selection that jumps out in a negative light, besides the fact that his velocity on his fastball has been down 0.4 MPH from last year, but that’s not that great of a difference to think that it is the primary factor in his awful season thus far.  But examining his plate discipline numbers, there are a few stats that stand out (the following stats do not include data from Tuesday night’s game).  First, hitters have been making contact off Strasburg at a rate (84.3%) that is way higher than his career rate (75.9%).  Coincidentally, Strasburg also has been inducing swinging strikes at a rate (7.0%) that is much lower than his career rate (10.9%).  Next, Strasburg is throwing pitches in the strike zone way more than usual (54.2% this year vs. 45.3% career).  And then Strasburg is getting much fewer swings on pitches out of the zone (28.0% this year vs. 32.8% career) and when hitters are swinging on pitches out of the zone, they are making contact on them a lot (73.2% this year vs. 60.0% career).  To me, all this data would suggest that he is creating his own bad luck by just grooving a lot of pitches that batters can easily handle since he is working within the strike zone so much more than he has in the past.  The plummeting swinging strike rate though is a big concern and possibly could be indicative of just losing his stuff so to speak.

Another possible explanation could be he has been pitching with an injury all along, even before the previous start that he left with shoulder irritation.  A possible injury could cause loss of command of pitches, which leads to the pitch grooving.  Also remember that Strasburg did undergo Tommy John surgery in August of 2010, and somewhere I read that the average threshold for a pitcher to have to undergo Tommy John surgery a second time is around 650 innings pitched.  Now I am not sure where I read that or what statistical analysis was used to back up that claim, but I know that I did read it.  So if we want to believe that, Strasburg has now pitched 637.1 innings since his Tommy John surgery.  Perhaps he is due for another surgery, or perhaps it is something else.  Either way, something is not right for Strasburg and he could be in for a long season.

Let’s see what else happened in Tuesday night action… Continue reading

Year to Date (5/9/15): Fantasy Outfielders

There are a lot of familiar names atop the outfielders rankings list, but there are some surprises as well.  Let’s see these surprise players and which ones can stay afloat.  We will also see what outfielders have been busts and what to expect of them going forward, and we will examine some injuries and who to keep an eye on.

OUTFIELDERS

Surprises:  Wil Myers, Joc Pederson, Stephen Vogt, Lorenzo Cain, Josh Reddick, Jake Marisnick

Wil Myers came over to the Padres in the off-season and he is not exactly the prototypical center fielder or leadoff man, but he has been playing the role nicely and for fantasy purposes he is filling up the stat sheet as he is hitting .288 with 5 HR, 19 RBI, 26 R, and 3 SB.  The former top prospect put up a real stinker of a season last year in what was supposed to be a breakout sophomore campaign, but it appears that 2015 could be the season for him to make his lasting mark on the fantasy world.  Myers’ walk rate is down from 9.4% last year to 6.0% this year, which is not exactly what a team would want from its leadoff hitter, but when that comes with an even bigger decrease in his strikeout rate from 24.9% to 18.7%, then it is acceptable.  It will be interesting to see how Myers’ power will play out the rest of the season at Petco Park, but this is a guy who hit 37 HR between AA and AAA in 2012 so 20 HR is perfectly reasonable to expect, with the upside for more.  Myers is just looking pretty comfortable in his new digs, and I do think that his production is sustainable.  He appears to be looking at a end of season line resembling a .275 AVG, 20 HR, 70 RBI, 90 R, 10 SB — with the upside for more. Continue reading