Like any other deviant subculture, fantasy baseball has its fetishes. The Outfield Primer is a perfect place to discuss one of them: Carl Crawford.
There's no question that Crawford is a significant fantasy asset. You'll notice that we place him solidly in the second tier at his position. He's stolen 50 or more bases in four of the past five seasons, and he's hit over .300 in each of the last three. Those are incredibly useful numbers, and Crawford delivers them reliably. He's extremely valuable in one of the five standard categories (SB), good in two (AVG and R), and not a unbearable liability in the others (HR and RBI).
So to be clear, there's nothing especially wrong with Crawford. Just like there's nothing especially wrong with other curious predilections and fetishes, like feet and vinyl costumes. It's just that not everyone is into them. But if you are, cool. We'll just be over here selling StatTrackers, not judging you.
Except for the Crawford fetishists. We're going to judge those freaks.
It's not the fact of drafting Crawford that's so bad, but it's where he's selected. As of this writing, he's gone as early as the seventh overall pick in the prior week's drafts at MockDraftCentral, and he's never fallen beyond the 20th pick. If he's going to justify that draft position – even at the late-end – he'll have to be better in 2008 than he was last season. And if he's going to justify the seventh pick, he'll need to be better than he's ever been.
For some reason, there's a persistent belief within the fantasy community that Crawford has – or will, or intends to, or should – hit 20-plus home runs in a season. But in fact he's never hit more than 18, and last season he hit 11. Those aren't such helpful totals.
Last year in the Yahoo! Friends and Family League, the production of an average hitter looked like this:
85 R, 20 HR, 82 RBI, 12 SB, .282 AVG
Again, that's not what the average outfielder produced, but simply what the average roster spot produced. Not only has Crawford never reached 20 HR in a single season, he's also never reached 82 RBI. This is what he did last year in 584 at bats:
93 R, 11 HR, 80 RBI, 50 SB, .315 AVG
Crawford was more than one standard deviation above the mean in stolen bases and batting average – .315 was a career high – but he wasn't extraordinarily useful anywhere else. In a public league, he hurt you in the power categories.
Meanwhile, here's what our top-tier outfielders did last season:
They were each four-category players, and Soriano did it in spite of an injury that limited his speed. He hit 46 HR and stole 41 bases in 2006, and the year before it was 36 and 33. Holliday's amazing 2007 season was only marginally better than his 2006. Both players have been exceptional across several categories, and done it repeatedly.
No disrespect intended to Crawford, but he's just not yet in their class, fantasy-wise.
However, there are owners who will insist that stealing 50 bases without being a disaster in any other category is enough to merit a first-round pick. For now, we'll just refer you here for detail and opinion on the value of steals. We'll also say that if you gave Juan Pierre 10 more homers, he would still not be a first- or second-rounder … but he would be a pretty fair impression of Carl Crawford.
There's another player we need to discuss here in the introduction – someone who, like Crawford, doesn't fit neatly into any of the groups below. But before we name him, let's just look at a remarkable five-year stretch:
R HR RBI SB AVG 141 36 137 3 .356 142 38 123 0 .342 117 28 139 4 .363 125 32 114 0 .343 124 25 127 4 .369
Pretty incredible, eh? Any guess as to who that is?
Those seasons actually belong to a pair of players who were separated by six decades. The first two years were Ted Williams in 1942 and '46, and the last two were Williams in '47 and '48. The season in the middle was Magglio Ordonez in 2007.
That is how good Ordonez was last year, at age 33. He was so good that you can just slide his stats into the peak years of the greatest hitter who ever lived, and they look like they belong.
Of course Williams also had an on-base percentage of .497 or better in each of those four seasons, and Ordonez didn't really approach that. There are significant differences between their seasons in real terms, just not in 5X5 terms.
So what should we expect from Ordonez at age 34?
It's an important question, since he just completed a season in which he was a top-five overall player in fantasy leagues, yet he's taken late in Round 3 in an average draft.
It's not as if Ordonez had never produced a great year before. In 2002 he scored 116 runs, hit 38 homers, drove in 135 and hit .320 for the White Sox. The Canseco/extortion/PED rumors bother many of you, no doubt, but there's no actionable fantasy intelligence there. Ordonez is also three years removed from that exotic-sounding Austrian shock-wave nonsense that fixed his knee, so a recurrence of those troubles no longer seems like an imminent threat.
The one area where you can reasonably expect a significant decline by Ordonez is in batting average. He somehow managed a .385 batting average on balls-in-play last season, which is both extraordinary and unsustainable. Ordonez can lose 63 points from his AVG, however, and still hit .300. The Tigers lineup produced the second-most runs in the AL last season, and it's likely to be better in 2008. Here's the projected batting order:
If Ordonez manages to play 150 games next season in that lineup, he's going to have a difficult time avoiding 100 runs and 100 RBI, no matter what happens to his BABIP. For that reason, it's just not reasonable to keep him out of the second tier.
So there he is right next to your fetish, Crawford, a great but over-drafted player who Magglio could very well out-produce again.
Before we discuss the risers, decliners and prospects, we should note that there's a fantastic number of young, draft-worthy outfielders – so many, in fact, that this format doesn't easily accommodate them all. We've already considered B.J. Upton in the Second Base Primer, so he won't be considered in detail here. Upton's old teammate Delmon Young has been thoroughly hyped, here and here and elsewhere, so we'll finally get around to raving about other players.
|2008 Outfielders: On the Rise|
|Lowdown: If Young could have just hit .270 last year – which isn't all that close to league-average – we would have considered him a candidate for the top tier. Instead, he hit .237. That's a difficult number for fantasy owners to overcome. Still, the 24-year-old centerfielder hit 32 home runs and stole 27 bases in his first full Major League season, and that production followed three years in the minors in which he averaged 24 HR and 27 SB. The power/speed combination is thoroughly confirmed. Young hit .276 in 868 AB in the high minors in 2005 and '06, so there's reason to believe that his batting average won't be such a severe weakness in 2008. His BABIP was exceptionally low last year (.260), but he was also fourth in the NL in fly ball percentage (48.3). Fly balls tend to turn into outs when they don't leave the park. Young nearly doubled his walks after the All-Star break last year (15 in the first half, 28 in the second), so that offers a bit of hope.|
|Forecast: 600 AB, 95 R, 30 HR, 78 RBI, 28 SB, .260 AVG|
|Lowdown: Hart is essentially Chris Young with a useful batting average, and he's 18 months older. The Milwaukee outfielder demonstrated power and speed in the high minors, slugging 17 HR and stealing 31 bases at Triple-A in 2005, then did it in the Majors last season, hitting 24 HR and swiping 23 bags. He was a .299/.357/.498 hitter in the minors, and he hit .295/.353/.539 in 505 AB for the Brewers in 2007. If the early Spring lineups are to be believed, Hart should begin the season batting fifth for Milwaukee. He'll have Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun ahead of him, with Bill Hall and J.J. Hardy batting sixth and seventh. If he can't score 90 runs and drive in 90, something will have gone wrong.|
|Forecast: 550 AB, 95 R, 26 HR, 96 RBI, 25 SB, .289 AVG|
|Lowdown: Pence was injured early in the Spring while trying to act out his favorite scenes from "Sid and Nancy." The glass door was nothing – you should have seen him attack Chad Paronto with the guitar.
Pence had an excellent Major League debut in 2007, hitting .322/.360/.539 in 108 games with 17 HR and 11 SB. That followed a .326/.387/.558 stint at Triple-A, and a 27 HR/17 SB season at Double-A in 2006. So he can play a little. Staying healthy might prove a challenge if he's really as incident-prone as the early news items suggest. Expect him to bat as low as sixth to begin the year, but with Berkman and Lee ahead of him, there will often be runners for Pence to drive in
|Forecast: 540 AB, 80 R, 25 HR, 90 RBI, 18 SB, .306 AVG|
|Lowdown: In 446 career Major League at bats, the 23-year-old Kemp has hit .312/.344/.496 with 17 HR and 16 steals. It sounds like he'll be buried somewhere near James Loney at the bottom of the Dodgers' batting order, but at least he figures to be in there someplace. Kemp hit .310/.358/.518 in five minor league seasons, and he displayed power and speed at every stop. The LA Times recently reported that Kemp has lost as many as 20 pounds during offseason workouts. "I feel quicker, I feel way stronger," he told the paper. Quicker and stronger works. This is a player worth drafting ahead of his ADP. If he's really going to bat eighth, he should be given plenty of opportunities to steal. It's not like pitchers and Juan Pierre can easily drive you in from first base.|
|Forecast: 490 AB, 75 R, 20 HR, 81 RBI, 22 SB, .298 AVG|
|Lowdown: In 2006, it seemed that Francoeur was on the Andruw Jones career path. He hit only .260, but he slugged 29 HR. However, the home runs fell to 19 last year (although his doubles increased by 16) while his batting average climbed to .293. His walks improved from an abysmal 23 to a less-abysmal 42. Still, the singular fact that has the fantasy community so excited about the 24-year-old Francoeur is contained in this report from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "(Francoeur) is 'ripped,' as the players say, noticeably more muscular in his shoulders, neck and legs." And here's a quote straight from Francoeur himself: "I really want to be able to hit 30 home runs." It's always nice when fantasy owners are on the exact same page as a player. The Braves scored the third-most runs in the NL last season, and there's no reason to expect them to be significantly worse in 2008.|
|Forecast: 630 AB, 88 R, 30 HR, 105 RBI, 1 SB, .286 AVG|
|2008 Outfielders: On the Decline|
|Lowdown: Jones hit .222 last season with his lowest HR output in a decade, and yet he still found somebody willing to pay him $36.2 million – and it was a team that already had a crowded outfield. Contracts don't have much obvious relevance to fantasy owners, but, well … whoa. There's no way to reasonably argue that the soon-to-be 31-year-old Jones is not in decline, even though he hit 41 home runs just two seasons ago. His batting average hovered around the low-.260s for three seasons, then fell off a cliff in 2007. Jones' fly ball percentage ticked upward last year (from 41.6 to 43.9), but fewer of those balls left the yard. Thus, they were converted to outs. His BABIP was very low, but it's been low for three straight seasons: .244, then .270, then .248. I'll be mildly surprised if he justifies the contract or his ADP.|
|Forecast: 540 AB, 76 R, 27 HR, 90 RBI, 3 SB, .250 AVG|
|Lowdown: Nothing personal here. Rowand is what we often call a "max-effort" sort of player, and we all enjoy those spazzes. But the move to San Francisco doesn't figure to help the 30-year-old's fantasy value. He's leaving one of baseball's most homer-friendly environments for one of its least, and he joins a team that scored the second-fewest runs in baseball in 2007 – and they've since lost Barry Bonds. We'll refer you once again to the Giants' depth chart, and challenge you to arrange those pieces into a productive lineup. Last year Rowand hit 20 points better at home than he did on the road, and he hit 17 of his 27 homers at home, too.|
|Forecast: 530 AB, 83 R, 20 HR, 79 RBI, 11 SB, .281 AVG|
|Lowdown: Damon declined significantly in every fantasy category except steals last year, and he only added two stolen bases. Strains, tweaks and general malaise led to Damon playing in only 141 games for New York in 2007. He scored fewer than 100 runs for the first time since 1997, when he was with the Royals, and his slugging percentage dipped below .400 for the first time since 2001, when he was with Oakland. Any top of the order hitter for the Yankees needs to be owned in fantasy leagues, but at 34, it seems likely that Damon's best season in New York is already behind him. He's been the subject of trade rumors, but no one seems to want a left-fielder with limited power and two years left on a huge contract. Go figure. Damon's barely hanging onto the bubble on the Big(ger) Board. It won't be long …|
|Forecast: 500 AB, 88 R, 12 HR, 65 RBI, 20 SB, .276 AVG|
|Lowdown: Until the words "growth" and "hormone" entered the story, the Rick Ankiel comeback was nothing but great. It became a little more complicated in early-September. Ankiel was hitting .358/.409/.765 for St. Louis when reports surfaced that he'd received a year's supply of HGH back in 2004. Then he went 2-for-29 over his next nine games and finished the season with a .285 average. We're not sticking the 28-year-old among the likely decliners over chemical issues, however. We've got Ankiel here because he's not going to hit anything like .285 over a full season, no matter what he ingests. Last year at Triple-A, the lefty hit .267/.314/.568. But in 46 MLB at bats against left-handers, he hit an absurd .391/.400/.783. That won't happen again. He hit only .246/.302/.444 against righties. Ankiel did most of his damage on the first pitch last season; check his situational stats for details. Expect the league to adjust, and expect that adjustment to be painful for Ankiel. It's not that he's declining; it's just that last season's performance set unreasonable expectations.|
|Forecast: 480 AB, 70 R, 26 HR, 66 RBI, 3 SB, .248 AVG|
|Lowdown: OK, so there's not even a Major League baseline from which Fukudome can technically decline. The point we're trying to make here is that fantasy owners can't expect numbers like these from the 30-year-old rookie. Fukudome hit for power in Japan, blasting 31 HR in 2006 and 28 in 2005. But Akinori Iwamura also had significant power in Japan, as did Kaz Matsui and, to a lesser extent, Ichiro. Hideki Matsui hit 50 HR for the Yomiuri Giants in 2002, then hit 16 for the Yankees in 2003. Power numbers don't seem to accompany many Japanese stars when they make the jump to the Major Leagues, especially in Year 1. If you're drafting Fukudome, you can't expect anything more than a useful average, solid R and RBI totals, and HR and SB numbers in the low-teens.
|Forecast: 530 AB, 80 R, 13 HR, 88 RBI, 11 SB, .291 AVG|
|2008 Outfielders: Prospects to Watch|
|Lowdown: The 20-year-old Upton will go un-drafted in thousands of leagues, which is a huge mistake. That's not to say that he's guaranteed to have a breakout season, obviously. But his ceiling is incredibly high, and most of the players drafted near him are limited and predictable: Julio Lugo (243.8), Mike Cameron (249.8), Gil Meche (258.4), Corey Patterson (261.2). When you're down to scraps like that in a mixed league, just draft talent and upside. Upton was the top overall pick in the 2005 MLB draft, and he's hit at every minor league level he's visited. In 259 at bats in Double-A last season, Upton hit .309/.399/.556 with 13 HR and 10 SB. He joined Arizona during a pennant race, contributed immediately with a 7-for-17 start, then slumped and finished at .221/.283/.364. He'll begin the 2008 season as the Diamondbacks right-fielder, likely batting low in the order. In dynasty leagues, he's probably already owned and untouchable.|
|Forecast: 510 AB, 74 R, 19 HR, 81 RBI, 17 SB, .276 AVG|
|Lowdown: Well, we sure ranked the (expletive) outta Ellsbury, didn't we? Wow. He's 35th. Ellsbury is not a complete lock to get the Boston centerfield job, but he's certainly the clear favorite. We're all anticipating a Coco Crisp trade. You might remember Ellsbury as the blindingly fast kid who hit .438 in the World Series and just kept doubling. He stole 41 bases in 104 games at Double-A and Triple-A in 2007, then went a perfect 9-for-9 with the Red Sox during the regular season. And he stole two more bases in the playoffs. So he's plenty fast. The 24-year-old hit .313/.389/.425 in three minor league seasons.|
|Forecast: 560 AB, 92 R, 4 HR, 58 RBI, 36 SB, .293 AVG|
|Lowdown: C'mon, your draft doesn't even have 27 rounds, so Rasmus probably isn't getting taken. Still, the 21-year-old has both power and speed, and a real chance to crack the Cardinals' Opening Day lineup if he puts together a good Spring. In 472 at bats in Double-A last season, Rasmus hit .275/.381/.551 with 29 HR and 18 SB. He led the Texas League in homers. Adam Kennedy hit leadoff for St. Louis in their Spring opener, which doesn't seem desirable over 162 games. Rasmus doubled in his only at bat.|
|Forecast: 390 AB, 60 R, 16 HR, 46 RBI, 10 SB, .277 AVG|
|Lowdown: Like everyone else on this list with the exception of Ellsbury, Jones is a 20/20 candidate. Ellsbury is more of a 0/40 candidate. The 22-year-old Jones was the key player moving to the Orioles in the Erik Bedard deal. He struggled in 65 at bats in Seattle last season, hitting .246/.300/.400. However, there isn't much left for Jones to prove in Triple-A. He hit .314/.382/.586 at Tacoma last year with 25 HR and eight steals. There are really no expectations being placed on the Orioles this season, except by fantasy owners. Jones should finally play, and he's worth owning.|
|Forecast: 550 AB, 78 R, 22 HR, 85 RBI, 14 SB, .267 AVG|
|Lowdown: The competition to be the fifth and final outfield "Prospect to Watch" was fierce, often divisive, and it eventually went negative when Cameron Maybin realized he couldn't win. Let's hope that we can all rally around Jay Bruce, Baseball America's 2007 Minor League Player of the Year.
Dusty Baker is actually so proud of Bruce for winning the award that he might give him a chance to repeat. Bruce hit .319/.375/.587 across three minor league levels last season with 26 HR, 89 RBI and eight steals. The 20-year-old left-hander will need a spectacular Spring in order to edge Ryan Freel and Norris Hopper for the centerfield job. He should maybe change his name to "Neifi Bruce." This is definitely a player to reach for in dynasty leagues, and, even if he begins the season in Triple-A, he's worth stashing on benches in mixed leagues. He's hit safely in each of the Reds first three Spring games.
|Forecast: 370 AB, 55 R, 16 HR, 65 RBI, 5 SB, .270 AVG|