Which NL Central outfielder do you want on your fantasy team?
The top four outfielders—Carl Crawford, Carlos Gonzalez, Ryan Braun and Matt Holliday—are so tightly bunched that they could conceivably finish the season in any order and I wouldn’t be surprised. And no, Josh Hamilton was not an accidental omission; his injury history is too worrisome for an early-round pick in my book.
We already went over whether you should draft Crawford or his hispanic, first-name counterpart (Gonzalez in case you didn’t catch on), which means we still need to choose between Braun and Holliday. Today, that’s our task.
Each player is assigned a grade for each of the five standard offensive categories plus a few extra I felt were important to factor. Grades are based on my expectations for the season and take into account both the player’s expected performance relative to the entire player pool and relative to the position he plays at. Grades were averaged using the standard 4.0 GPA scale to provide a cumulative “Professor’s Grade.”
Despite a .392 OBP over the last two seasons, Holliday hasn't eclipsed 100 runs scored. Still, he's a good bet for 95-plus, and I wouldn't be shocked if he ended up with over 100. If he was hitting in front of Albert Pujols rather than behind, we might be talking about a 110-120 run player. Colby Rasmus is good in the five-hole, but he's not as good as the guy hitting behind Braun.
That guy, Prince Fielder, already has a 140-RBI season under his belt and had a streak three straight 100-plus RBI seasons interrupted with last year's 83-RBI campaign. Despite the lack of production, Braun still managed to score 101 runs. He also had 113 runs in 2009. That gives him the edge.
Braun is a career .307 hitter. Holliday is a career .317 hitter. Yes, Holliday will likely have the edge at the end of the season and he has certainly been more consistent than Braun in this category, but I'm not going to give a .307 hitter a B+ when he's coming off two seasons where he's batted .320 and .304, respectively.
Holliday's A- is like when you got that pesky 93 on your Calculus test. You were only one point away from the A.
Braun's A- is more of a 90.
Holliday has hit between 24 and 28 homers in each of the last three seasons. His fly ball rate these last two seasons are the two highest of his career, and he's clearly not the 35-homer player he was in Colorado. Still, 25 homers is a good estimate.
Braun had three straight 30-plus homer seasons until last year when he clubbed only 25. Braun has more power than Holliday, but his fly ball percentage is noticeably down. Check it out:
2007: 44.9 percent
2008: 44.1 percent
2009: 34.9 percent
2010: 34.1 percent
He has 30-homer potential, but I feel more comfortable projecting him in the 26-28 range. If his fly ball rate is up after April or May, though, feel free to mark Braun down for 30-plus once again.
Both players had 103 RBI last year. Braun regularly batted behind Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart and Carlos Gomez (two of whom had monster breakout seasons), and Holliday did his best to knock in Pujols.
Both players are as close to 100-RBI locks as you'll find in the outfield and should tally at least 100-110 RBI in 2011.
Neither player will be mistaken for Carl Crawford, but both give you enough steals to impact your roster.
Holliday broke out with 28 steals back in 2008 but hasn't topped 14 in any other season and swiped just nine last year. I'd say 12 is a good estimate for 2011.
Braun stole 20 bases in 2009 and has had either 14 or 15 in each of his other three MLB seasons. Braun has legitimate 20-steal potential and should give you a couple more than Holliday regardless.
Both players are good for about 157 games or so. Holliday has played in fewer than 155 games just once since 2006 (139 games in 2008) and Braun has been a full-time starter with nothing more than the occasional off-day since his debut back in 2007.
In fantasy baseball, a player's potential is a major factor that determines his average draft position. Braun is generally regarded as first-round material with Holliday following close after, and both players could end up being the position's best by season's end.
Of couse, the flip side to our Potential Ceiling category is Pick Security. If a player's potential was all that mattered, Justin Upton would be a first or second round pick, but Upton also carries an immense amount of risk because of his down 2009 and lack of a proven track record.
Holliday and Braun have no such concerns, and with nearly perfect health are as stable as they come.
Holliday: A (3.42)
Braun: A (3.50)
Using your standard 4.0 grading scale, Braun barely edged out Holliday in our eight-category report card.
Braun only won 2-of-8 categories head-to-head against Holliday, but that was still two more than the Cardinals’ slugger. Outside of the drop in power production (just 25 HR last year), Braun has been the model of consistency. He regularly hits north of .300 with just one .285 blip on the radar a few years back, and he’s become a 100-plus run and RBI machine who throws in around 15 steals.
Even though Holliday didn’t win a single category, he finished just 0.08 grade points behind Braun. Holliday is three years older (just turned 31 a few weeks ago), but he hasn’t hit below .300 since his .290 rookie campaign in 2004, and he’s almost a lock for 100 RBI. Batting between Pujols and Rasmus (a very underrated five-hole hitter) is about as cushy a cleanup spot as you’ll find around the league, and Braun’s consistently still falls a tad short of Holliday’s. Holliday is about as safe as they come.
In the end, you can’t go wrong with either one, but it’s also hard to make a case for Holliday when he couldn’t do better than tie Braun in any of our eight categories. Still, given how quickly outfield depth falls off after these first four—and Hamilton—I wouldn’t have any issues selecting Holliday with my second or third round pick.
Check out our other head-to-head report card matchups, found only at Baseball Professor, as well as our other preseason coverage.