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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Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense, Part 2 (and other notes from 8/17/15)

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A couple months ago on June 23 in part 1 of “Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense,” I took a look into the high BABIP’s (and subsequently inflated ERA and WHIP numbers) that several of the Cleveland Indians starting pitcher possessed and made the correlation that it was largely in part due to a poor defense that was playing behind those pitchers. At the time, the Indians had a very porous defense that was ranked 27th in DEF rating (a measurement system to reflect how many runs a team’s defense saves). But since then, the Indians have crawled all the way up to be right around a league average defense at 16th in DEF rating and out of the red and into the green with 0.5 runs saved on the season.

Surely there has to be some sort of underlying reason for the Indians improvement in defense, and one of the apparent factors was a player promotion. On June 14, the Indians promoted their top position prospect, Francisco Lindor, to the Majors to become their everyday starting shortstop in place of Jose Ramirez. Lindor had widely been known for his defensive wizardry coming up through the Indians Minor League system and he has most definitely brought that with him to the bigs as a 21-year old rookie. Out of all shortstops in the Majors (minimum 450 innings played), Lindor has the 8th highest DEF rating with 7.4 runs saved — and what makes this even more impressive is that he wasn’t even in the Majors for the first 2+ months of the season. For comparison, fellow top shortstop prospect, Carlos Correa of the Astros, was called up a week before Lindor and he ranks just 19th on the list with 2.7 runs saved despite making the highlight reel on a regular basis.

Another reason for the improved defense of the Indians on a more recent note has to be with the slew of trades that they made. At the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31, the Indians dealt away both Brandon Moss and David Murphy, and then they also traded Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher. Swisher was mostly used as a DH for the Indians so he’s not very relevant in this conversation, but Moss, Murphy, and Bourn are all players who played a good amount of games in the outfield for the Tribe and they all had negative scores in UZR/150. UZR/150 measures the runs above average per 150 defensive games. So surely, none of these players were doing anything of significance to earn a steak dinner from any of the Indians starting pitchers, and just removing them from the picture altogether has had to have been a nice change of pace on the defensive side of things for this ball club.

So with Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Danny Salazar having pitched another very solid game on Monday (7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K with the W), the three Indians pitchers (Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco being the other two) who were battling inflated BABIP’s and poor overall statistics early on in the season have all been on a roll lately and have seen big improvements in their ERA, WHIP, and BABIP. Let’s take a look at each pitcher’s numbers in those categories since through June 23 (when I first wrote about this situation) and since June 23.

Danny Salazar — Through June 23: 4.06 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, .323 BABIP / Since June 23: 2.03 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, .176 BABIP

Corey Kluber — Through June 23: 3.65 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, .335 BABIP / Since June 23: 2.92 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, .259 BABIP

Carlos Carrasco — Through June 23: 4.35 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, .347 BABIP / Since June 23: 2.80 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, .238 BABIP

So as you can see, each of the three pitchers performed pretty similarly through June 23 and have also been in sync since June 23. That’s rather remarkable and is likely not all a coincidence. A good portion of the credit for their improvement since June 23 has to be given to the pitchers themselves for persevering through some rough times and for their skills as pitchers with great K/BB ratios, but this type of a turnaround likely would not have occurred without the improvement in their team defense. With the Indians’ new defensive arrangement going forward, these pitchers should be receiving a lot of help for the remainder of the season and make for elite fantasy plays.

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

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Iwakuma Tosses No-No (and other notes from 8/12/15)

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Since returning from the DL with a lat strain on July 6, Seattle Mariners right-handed pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma had seen a mixed bag of results with a couple of really good starts mixed in with a couple of bad ones and a few mediocre ones to compile a 3.64 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in 47 IP. However, in front of the home crowd on Wednesday, Iwakuma laid to rest any concerns by tossing a no-hitter with 7 strikeouts and 3 walks against the Baltimore Orioles.

Over the last few seasons, Iwakuma has been one of the more underrated pitchers in the game, which is probably due to his lack of strikeout appeal. Since Iwakuma came over to the Majors from Japan in 2012, the average strikeout rate for starting pitchers has been 7.24 K/9 and Iwakuma has posted a 7.52 K/9 in his career. So while he has been a bit above average in strikeouts, he’s surely not the master artist of the strikeout. But where Iwakuma comes up big in his game is in his precision control.

During that same time frame since 2012, the average walk rate among starting pitchers has been 2.76 BB/9, yet, for his career, Iwakuma sits nearly a full walk lower at 1.78 BB/9. Iwakuma also has a knack for limiting hits thanks to a strong 50.5% ground ball rate that induces a lot of soft/medium hit ground balls that go for easy outs. So Iwakuma’s exceptional walk rate combined with his ability to get a lot of ground ball outs has allowed him to post a 1.08 WHIP, which is the 5th lowest WHIP out of all pitchers in the Majors since 2012 (minimum 400 innings pitched). There probably aren’t many baseball fans who would have guessed that.

Now that Iwakuma has proven himself to be healthy and productive with this no-hitter, he should go on to perform just as he has over the last few seasons as long as he doesn’t incur another injury, and that is some incredibly useful fantasy material.

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

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Cingrani’s Return to the Rotation (and other notes from 7/20/15)

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The Cincinnati Reds announced that left-handed pitcher Tony Cingrani would be returning from the DL with a shoulder injury on Wednesday against the Cubs and he will be inserted into the starting rotation after working in relief for the whole 2015 season so far.

For a refresher, or if you are unfamiliar with Cingrani, he is a former top pitching prospect in the Reds organization and he zoomed his way through the Minor Leagues, showing complete dominance with 1.45 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and 11.85 K/9 vs. 2.70 BB/9 in the course of his Minor League career in 223.1 IP.  He became a fixture on the Reds Major League roster in the 2013 season when he posted a 2.92 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 120 K/43 BB in 104.2 IP in 23 appearances (18 starts). With that strong rookie season, Cingrani was a popular pick to breakout even further in the 2014 season.  However, Cingrani was a big bust in 2014 with injuries playing a role, and he finished the season making just 13 appearances (11 starts) to compile an ugly 4.55 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, and 61 K/35 BB in 63.1 IP.

It wasn’t necessarily just injuries though that prevented Cingrani from repeating his rookie season success.  Also potentially playing a factor was his pitch usage.  Cingrani has always been a pitcher to rely very heavily on his fastball as it is a pitch that he has now thrown a whopping 79.7% of the time in his short Major League career up to this point.  There are just not any starting pitchers in the league who throw fastballs at that type of rate because it’s just not a good formula for success — for a point of reference, the highest fastball percentage of any starting pitcher this season is Gerrit Cole at 69.5%.  With fastballs being thrown at the rate Cingrani has thrown them at, opposing hitters only have to worry about looking for a fastball most of the time and if that’s what they are guessing, then 4 out of 5 times they would be right.  What Cingrani does have going for him with his fastball though is that he gets a lot of vertical movement on the pitch, or in other words, his fastball has rising action that can make it difficult for hitters to catch up to when it is up in the zone.

To go with the fastball, he will mix in an occasional slider and changeup, but his changeup just isn’t that great of a pitch as it has induced swinging strikes just a mere 4.2% of the time.  So the lack of a quality third pitch offering also adds to the poor formula for success for a starting pitcher.  Starting pitchers generally want to have at least three quality pitches and be able to use them all with confidence.  Having at least three pitch options helps to keep opposing hitters guessing more to get them off balance.

So with such a heavy reliance on the fastball and a lack of a quality third pitch (and significant use of it), Cingrani would appear to profile more as a relief pitcher, despite what his Minor League success would suggest.  In the Minor Leagues, he was likely able to get away with these things better because the talent level obviously is much lower than the Majors and his deceptive delivery probably aided him as well.  So in his 2013 rookie season, it should have come as no surprise that he was able to carry over that same type of Minor League success over to the Majors initially.  With Major League teams being so unfamiliar with him since they never had seen him before, that deception likely created a lot of confusion for hitters.  But after more and more game film on him was made available with each additional start he made in the Majors, better scouting reports were probably generated and given to the hitters, which caused some regression for Cingrani as the 2013 season went on, and it must have also given hitters in 2014 better preparation when facing him.

So for the 2015 season, the Reds shifted Cingrani to the relief role where many scouts believed his mostly fastballs approach could be better utilized.  It was believed that he could possibly be the heir apparent to Aroldis Chapman at closer since Chapman will be a free agent at the end of the 2016 season.  As a reliever this season, Cingrani has shown occasional dominance, but poor control has gotten the best of him at times and he had a 3.47 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, and 26 K/17 BB in 23.1 IP before landing on the DL with a shoulder injury.

With the flawed pitch usage, poor control, and returning from a shoulder injury, it is hard to envision Cingrani’s return to the rotation going over very well.  But with the Reds being sellers nearing the trade deadline, they could be shipping off Johnny Cueto and/or Mike Leake, which is going to leave them pretty starved for starting pitching.  So it probably wouldn’t hurt to give Cingrani another shot at starting, but his best chance at a quality career may be in the bullpen ala Zach Britton.

For deeper season long fantasy leagues, he should be scooped up just knowing what his upside is as seen from his 2013 rookie season.  In dynasty leagues, it would be a more fine addition if by some chance he is able to turn some type of corner.  But overall, I wouldn’t be expecting anything extraordinary for him — but taking a chance on him isn’t the worst of ideas either.  If you pick him up, then you just kind of have to cross your fingers that he makes adjustments because he’s not likely to succeed if he sticks with the same approach.

Let’s check out 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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Metz to Promote Matz (and other notes from 6/25/15)

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A couple of weeks ago with the Mets hanging on to a surprising 1st place lead in the National League East, it had been reported that top pitching prospect lefty Steven Matz would join fellow top prospect righty Noah Syndergaard in the Major League rotation around July 1.  After losing 7 straight games to fall out of 1st place, the Mets are still a .500 baseball team and still can’t be counted out to win the division.  So it is being reported that the Mets will call up Matz from AAA on Friday June 26 to be a part of a 6-man rotation for the time being.  However, if Matz performs well enough, then Jon Niese could officially get the boot from the rotation or perhaps the Mets would look to trade Niese or Bartolo Colon for some help on offense, because they are really struggling to score (only 11 runs in their last 8 games).

I advised picking up Matz in re-draft fantasy leagues a couple weeks ago and here is some more information about him. Matz was a 2nd round pick by the Mets back in 2009 as a local boy out of a New York high school.  He reported to instructional league in the 2010 season, but he felt discomfort in his arm and it was learned that he would need to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair the damage.  So all of the 2010 season was gone for Matz and in his recovery during the 2011 season, he felt additional discomfort and had to be shut down for another wasted year.  Finally in June of 2012, Matz made his professional debut and he ended up making 6 starts at the Rookie level of the Minors where he had a 1.55 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 10.55 K/9, and 5.28 BB/9.  The walk rate was really high, but that could largely be attributed to some rust after the two-year layoff.  There was little doubt within the Mets organization that Matz had a special arm if he could remain healthy.

Fast forward to 2013 where he spent the whole season at the single-A level, making 21 starts with a 2.62 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 10.24 K/9, and 3.22 BB/9.  With the lowered walk rate, it gives further proof to the notion that high walk rate in the previous season was just him working out the kinks coming back from the injury.  In 2014, he split the season at high-A and AA to display more of the same by compiling a 2.24 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 8.38 K/9, and 2.24 BB/9 over 24 starts.

Matz then began 2015, his age 24 season, at AAA and has continued to show dominance with a 2.19 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 9.37 K/9, and 3.07 BB/9 in 15 games (14 starts).  What is really impressive about Matz’ Minor League career is that he has not struggled at any stop at any level and has provided consistent production upon each promotion.  So will his next promotion yield the same results?

With comparisons being made to the likes of current southpaw greats Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner, the bar is being set pretty high for Matz.  I am no baseball scout, but judging by the surface statistics, looking into his metric statistics, and the reports that I have read on him, I feel that Matz could eventually be mentioned in the same conversation with Kershaw and Bumgarner.  Matz brings a mid-90’s fastball that he complements with an excellent changeup and an improving curveball that has been developing nicely.  Matz has shown great ground ball tendencies in the Minors (54.8% this year and 49.7% for his career), and that helps him to prevent home runs as he has an incredibly low home runs allowed rate of 0.34 HR/9 in his Minor League career.  A pitcher with excellent strikeout capabilities that profiles as a ground ball pitcher with the ability to keep the ball in the stadium is golden stuff.

Of course there is always the caution of top prospect pitchers struggling upon reaching the Majors — see Carlos RodonArchie Bradley, and Taijuan Walker.  It is no doubt that some struggles should be expected of any rookie pitcher, but I think that the ones that that have the best chance to have early success with less struggles are the ones that have not displayed issues with their control/walk rates in the Minors — see Noah Syndergaard and Eduardo Rodriguez.  Matz surely falls into the latter of the two groups to instill optimism for his immediate impact.

For upstart dynasty leagues, Matz should have been drafted, and for returning dynasty leagues he should have been scooped up last year if not sooner.  For smaller number keeper leagues, Matz should have been picked up weeks ago.  For any type of re-draft league, Matz requires an immediate pickup because he can be better than a good portion of the pitchers for the rest of the season.  For DFS, his price should be relatively cheap for his first couple starts, which is going to make him a great bargain play (but beware because there will be many others who know the same, which will drive up his ownership rate).

For the remainder of the season, I will give Matz the line of:  5 W-3 L, 3.49 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 76 K, 28 BB in 80 IP.

Now let’s check out the rest of the action from Thursday’s slightly abbreviated slate!

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Last Call on Carson Smith (and other notes from 6/6/15)

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After being scored upon in 9 of his last 13 appearances and collecting 2 blown saves and 2 losses in the process,  Fernando Rodney was not the arm called upon on Saturday evening to protect a lead in the 9th inning for the Mariners.  Instead, manager Lloyd McClendon turned to the youngster Carson Smith who had no issues with a clean inning of work with one strikeout to earn the first save of his career.

I have been singing this tune for weeks now as reported in detail on May 23 in “BLOW-PEN Report:  Fernando Rodney and His Broken Arrow,” and even before that I issued some tidbits on the situation.  Rodney just has been horrible this season and it was only a matter of time before Smith was given a chance to close out a game.  However, unlike the situations in Miami and Texas that I also reported on in the BLOW-PEN Report before those closer situations changed, I think that Rodney will get a chance to try and prove himself again.  The fact that McClendon stuck with Rodney for so long in his time of struggle suggests to me that he really prefers Rodney as his closer and/or does not think that Smith is prepared to be thrusted into that role full-time in just his first full season in the Majors.  And as I suggested in the BLOW-PEN Report, it could be a case of Rodney tipping his pitches, which is something that would be fixable if that’s what the ultimate issue is.  But whether or not Rodney does work out the kinks to earn his manager’s trust back is certainly far from likelihood.

For now, I think that Rodney will see one of the next save opportunities and if he does well then he will continue to see more until he blows another.  But obviously Smith needs to be picked up in all league formats as he has very dominant stuff to be very successful as a Major League closer.  If not right now, then Smith should assume the role as closer for the Mariners later this summer when Rodney could possibly get traded if the Mariners are not in contention, or the beginning of next year.  So for keeper and dynasty leagues, he should have been grabbed a while ago.

Smith currently has a 1.08 ERA, 0.68 WHIP, and 29 K/5 BB in 25 IP.

Let’s check out the rest of Saturday’s slate.
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Marlins First Baseman Bour is Not a Bore (and other notes from 5/29/15)

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***For clarification, from what I’ve gathered, “Bour” is pronounced the same as “bore” or “boar.”  Not pronounced the same as “Bauer.”

So maybe Marlins first baseman Justin Bour is portly shaped like a boar at 6’4″/250 lbs., but he is proving to be far from a bore as he began to see some regular playing time even before Mike Morse landed on the DL.  But now that Morse is on the DL, the first base job would appear to be Bour’s to runaway with, and so far so good for the 27-year old left-handed slugger.

Consider this:  Bour now has 4 HR on the season and the pitchers he has taken deep are Jordan Zimmermann, Brad Brach, Gerrit Cole, and now Matt Harvey after Friday’s bomb that proved to be the game winner for the Marlins.  That’s 3 of the top starting pitchers in the National League and also pitchers that do not allow a whole lot of home runs.  He is now hitting .361 with 4 HR, and 9 RBI in 61 AB.

I’ve been talking about Bour and his power potential for a few days now, and he really needs to be owned in more leagues.  Yes, he’s not going to hit in the high .300’s, and chances are that he won’t even hit anywhere above .300, but Bour is a hitter who has never shown any significant propensity to striking out.  His Minor League career strikeout rate is a respectable 17.5% and he never once struck out at a 20% clip at any stop in the Minors.  In limited action last year with the Marlins, he did strikeout 22.9% of the time, but this season in 14 games at AAA he struck out just 9.7% of the time.  And in his time in the Majors so far this season, he is at a very nice 15.2% mark.  So he does appear to have a greater feel for the strike zone than most hitters that carry his type of power potential, which is a big plus when mining for up and coming power hitters.

About that power potential, Bour’s yearly best total in his professional career was 23 HR at high-A ball in 2011.  But in 2013 and 2014 at AA and AAA, Bour’s HR per AB rate was 1 HR every 19.5 AB.  And now at 27 years old, Bour should be entering his prime where his power potential could achieve new levels.  Bour may not see regular playing time against left-handed pitching in his first extended go-round in the Majors, but he is looking like a very nice play against righties at the very least, as he is being inserted into the cleanup role right behind Giancarlo Stanton.

So if you are in the need of some power then it wouldn’t hurt to give Bour a go, as he likely won’t kill your team in AVG either.  I would think of him along the same lines of Adam Lind.

Now let’s see what else happened on Friday’s slate!

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Cash In With Cashner (and other notes from 5/22/15)

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Let me first start by congratulating Andrew Cashner on a ridiculously awesome mullet.  It suits him well.  I’ve been known to grow out my hair pretty long in a mullet type fashion in the back, but I could never in my wildest dreams make it look as stylishly good as his.

Ever since Cashner came over to the Padres and became a full-time starting pitcher, he has to be one of the unluckiest pitchers when it comes to wins and losses, if not the unluckiest.  In 2013 Cashner squeaked over the .500 mark with a 10-9 record off of a 3.09 ERA in 31 games (26 starts), and last year he went just 5-7 in 19 starts despite having a superb 2.55 ERA.  Those seasons of mediocre win/loss records despite the sparkling ERA’s were surely attributed to pitching for a Padres team that had the 24th worst run scoring offense in the Majors in 2013 and the absolute worst in 2014.

On Friday night against the Dodgers, Cashner pitched 6 innings of quality baseball where he gave up one unearned run on 5 hits and 1 walk while striking out 3.  However, he was once again unable to come away with one for the W column and was handed a no-decision.  Cashner’s ERA improved to 2.89 and his WHIP to 1.27, but his record of 1-7 definitely does not reflect anything resembling what it should for a pitcher with his stats.

But what happened?  The Padres offense was supposed to be vastly improved by adding guys in the off-season like Justin UptonMatt KempWil MyersDerek Norris, and Will Middlebrooks, so they must all be flaming out as disappointments, right?  Well, not exactly actually.  Upton, Myers, and Norris have all been enjoying good seasons, and the Padres are actually 11th in the Majors in run scored and have been the beneficiaries of their home field Petco Park turning into a launching pad of sorts.

When Cashner has taken the hill, his offense has only averaged 2.00 runs per game, and in 6 of his 9 starts, the offense has scored 2 runs or less.  For comparison, his teammate James Shields has received at least 3 runs of support in all of his starts for 5.33 runs on average, and other teammate Tyson Ross has received 4.33 runs of support in his starts.  So it’s not that he has been pitching for a team with a horrendous offense like in years past, he has just had the misfortune of his offense being powerless specifically in the games that he has started.  He has been matched up versus the likes of Max ScherzerDallas Keuchel, Jon Lester, and Zack Greinke (twice), but he’s also opposed Brandon McCarthyRyan VogelsongRubby De La Rosa, and Daniel Hudson.  So the 2.00 runs of support per game are hardly excusable.

With an increase in slider usage from 15.9% last year to 19.9% this year, Cashner is striking out a lot more batters this season with nearly a +2.00 K/9 bump up to 8.68 K/9.  The swinging strike rate that Cashner is inducing supports the increase in strikeouts as well, as it is up from 8.0% last year to 9.9% this year, and a large portion of that is from the slider.  However, he has been a victim of the weird, inexplicable transformation of Petco Park into a more hitter friendly park that I alluded to earlier.  He is allowing 1.29 HR/9 on a 14.3% HR/fly ball rate.  That’s not something that is likely to continue as he has been very good at limiting the long ball regardless of where he has pitched (0.75 HR/9 on the road in 2013-14).

I think that Cashner is a good candidate that you may want to try and buy and cash in with him.  By all metric systems, Cashner is pitching the best that he ever has since becoming a full-time starting pitcher and the win/loss record is a fluke that the Cashner owner in your league may not realize or just something they are getting tired of dealing with.  It’s a very optimistic sign that he is striking out more batters, and with a legitimate reason that he is doing so (the slider).  Things will turn around for him soon.

Let’s dive into Friday’s other games in action.

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