It used to be a given in fantasy baseball that you could count on picking up outfielders in the middle rounds of a draft in order to supplement your power numbers—home runs and RBI.
In doing some draft prep for this season, it’s becoming more and more apparent that those days are likely over.
Last season, just five outfielders—Jose Bautista, Carlos Gonzalez, Josh Hamilton, Vernon Wells and Corey Hart—managed 30 or more round trippers. This represented a drop-off of four players from the 2009 and 2007 seasons, five from 2008 and 10 from 2006.
Even more telling is the fact that only two of those players had ever hit 30 or more home runs before in a season—Hamilton in 2008 and Wells way back in 2003 and 2006. That’s far from a cast of consistency you can count on.
In examining RBI, the trend is equally disturbing. Last season just eight outfielders managed to drive in 100 runs, a decline of two from the previous season and five from the 2007 and 2008 campaigns. If we venture back one more season to 2006, the outfielder representation is double last season’s output, with 16 players driving in 100 runs or more.
Last season the aging Vladimir Guerrero did it for the 10th time in his career, Matt Holliday for the fourth, Ryan Braun the third and Josh Hamilton for the second. The rest were all first-timers. Guerrero is now 36, so it’s difficult to think you can count on that type of production again, but both Braun and Holliday seem like fairly safe bets to be at or around the mark.
Depending on your tolerance for risk, the top outfield spot seems to be a toss-up between Carl Crawford and Carlos Gonzalez.
While CarGo managed monster numbers last season, he’s young, and it’s difficult to think he doesn’t regress just a bit. Crawford lands in an ideal situation in Boston, where he’s a virtual lock for 100-plus runs and 50 steals to go with a .300 average and double-digit home runs. You know what you’re getting in Crawford. You hope Gonzalez 2011 is just 90 percent of Gonzalez 2010.
After those two, Matt Holliday and Ryan Braun seem relatively safe as top-tier outfielders, though Braun’s home run total has dipped the last two years in favor of declining strikeouts and a higher OBP.
Then the guessing begins.
It’s hard to feel good about Josh Hamilton or Nelson Cruz from a health perspective. Matt Kemp owners from last year are likely to be so jaded by his 2010 season that they’ll run screaming in the other direction on draft day. It doesn’t seem like Shin-Soo Choo or Alex Rios has the needed pop to get to 30, and while I think Andrew McCutchen and Justin Upton are very interesting, you’re paying an awful lot for the upside, and I’m not sure either guy puts it all together this year.
For all those who are jumping up and down and yelling, “Jose !@#$%ing Bautista,” I’m sorry. I need to see that again. It just looks very Brady Anderson to me.
So who should you target?
Let me start by saying that I advocate trying to grab CarGo, Holliday or Braun. All three should have an above average chance of posting 30 home runs AND 100 RBI. I like the consistency of Crawford a lot, but I believe there’s more speed out there than many owners realize, and with the quality of pitching clearly on the rise, more managers are going to look for opportunities to manufacture runs by giving players the green light.
However, not everyone is going to be in a spot where they are able or it is sensible to grab one of those guys, so here’s my six-pack of potential 30-100 guys for 2011 that you could target a little later, though in some cases not too much later, on draft day.
Andre Ethier: Last year was a strange, strange season for the Dodgers. I just think the real Ethier looks a lot more like the 2009 version that hit 31 home runs and drove in 102.
Jay Bruce: The strikeouts are brutal, but he’ll turn 24 at the start of the season and already has more than 1,200 major league ABs, and his second half (.306, 15 HRs and 34 RBI in less than 200 at-bats) gives us a reason to think he could be heading in the direction of teammate Joey Votto offensively.
Delmon Young: I’ve written about him as a player to reach for. He “broke out” last season with 21 HRs and 112 RBI. He’s only 25 and a .292 hitter over his four major league seasons. After a tough 2009 season, he hit 46 doubles last year. He’s just entering his prime, and the power is coming.
Mike Stanton: The fact that he’s only 21 scares me. The fact that he hit 22 home runs in his first hundred big league games erases a lot of that fear. He won’t win a batting title anytime soon, but don’t be surprised if he posts an Adam Dunn-type season.
Matt Kemp: I know he’s hard to stomach if you wasted an early round pick on him last year, but he still hit 28 home runs and drove in 89 runs while stealing 19 bases. 2008 and 2009 were seasons where he hit .290 and .297 respectively before he fell to .249 last year. I don’t buy it. He's just too good a hitter to repeat that average, and I think he hauls it up significantly and brings up the power numbers along with it. If he runs at all, it’s gravy.
Adam Lind: There’s no doubt he’s brutal against lefties, but is the 2009 version (35 HRs and 114 RBI) the real Lind? Or are 2010’s dreadful numbers (23 HRs and 72 RBI) more realistic? If you think it’s somewhere in the middle and split the difference, you’ve got 29 HRs and 93 RBI, and that’s knocking on the door of our 30 and 100 target.
There may be other veterans you wish to consider, like Jayson Werth and Corey Hart, or perhaps you're fond of "toolsy" guys like Drew Stubbs and Chris Young. Regardless of your particular hunches, there is no denying that we enter this season with more outfield question marks and uncertainty when it comes to home runs and RBI than we've seen in quite a long time.
How long can you really afford to wait on your outfielders on draft day?