Thursday, March 24, 2011

2011 Fantasy Baseball Overvalued and Undervalued: Outfielders

It's rare that you'll win your league without major production from your outfielders, but it's also rare to take down a pennant without avoiding a bust pick-up for OF1, or finding a gem in the rough for OF3/4. Let's try to help you do that right here.

Overvalued

1) Shin-Soo Choo, Indians.
It's been a nice profitable run for the Tribe's unassuming Korean import, who has posted two straight full-time years of remarkable consistency, near .400 OBA, and power/speed usefulness. But exactly how useful is he, really? You are buying into 20/20 and near .900 OPS as early as the late second round in some leagues, and that's not that much better than lots of guys that won't get drafted at all. Choo has reached that magical stage in fantasy: so underrated, he's overrated.

What you are betting on here is that the Tribe's offense will be better, giving Choo more chances, and that he'll stay healthy (he missed 18 games last year). But I'm not sure why anyone wants to take either of those bets, really. He profiles as an OF1 this year, but he won't end that way. .290 / 18 / 80 with 15 steals.

2) Jayson Werth, Nationals. There's no denying that Werth has made a lot of money for fantasy players in the last three years, and that last year's .296 / 27 / 85 / 13 year, with the .921 OPS, was a career year at just the right time for his wallet. As a soon to be 32-year-old and new face of the franchise, he's going to have a set in stone role as the clean up hitter, too. But do any of these things point you to anything beyond status quo?

In Nattyland, Werth gives up high OBA guys hitting before and after him. He's also likely to lose his opportunities to run, and a half-dozen homers a year in the much bigger and more humid home park. Finally, there's this... Werth's early career is marked by struggles to say healthy, which he's avoided for the past two years. Now that he's gotten paid, and he's on a team that will be a dozen games out by July 4, do you really think he's going to play every day? .280 / 24 / 80 with 10 steals.

3) Mike Stanton, Marlins. The two months of the baseball calendar that are the worst for predictive value are April and September. In April, you get a lot of off days, bad weather and players that aren't quite ready for the grind. In September, you have larger pitching staffs with AAA cannon fodder, and any number of games against top-flight competition where you aren't getting their A game.

So how does this apply to Stanton, perhaps the biggest young power threat in the majors at outfield? Well, he slugged .992 in September, and had 8 of his 22 homers here. Take September out of the equation, and he hits 14 in 250 ABs; good for a 21-year-old, but not exactly game-changing. He also whiffs nearly four times for every walk, doesn't run, plays in a pitcher's park for a down-market team, and might strike out 200 times this year. I think he's going to be a beast by the time he's 25, and if he goes to an organization that can coach and care, he might have an MVP year at some point. But 2011 is going to be a struggle. .240 / 30 / 70 with 8 steals.

Undervalued

1) Chris Young, Diamondbacks.
Quietly had a career year in 2010 (well, OK, everything was quiet in the desert, since they were horrible), with a career high .793 OPS and the showy 27/28 homer/steal number. There's no questioning the talent here, only the contact rate... and while that's never going to be good, he also plays a good enough defensive center field to make sure that he'll keep the job, even during the lean weeks. He also plays in a good hitter's park, for a team that's probably going to be better on offense this year, since Mark Reynolds won't be around to provide so much air conditioning. I'm not in love with his game, but this isn't about aesthetics, it's about getting you a win. At the end of the year, you are going to be a lot happier owning him than, say, Werth. .260 / 30 / 85 with 30 steals.

2) Vernon Wells, Angels. Look, it's not as if you have to pay his ridiculous contract, or answer to the Angel fans who wonder why the team gave up anything to get a guy who his old club was likely desperate to move. Instead, enjoy the actual pennant contending year for a guy who has spent his life getting his head kicked in by the AL East, on turf that had to be contributing to his injury woes and overall lack of positive attitude. Wells has 20 steal a year ability and a manager that encourages that sort of thing, and three years with over 30 homers. In the long term, this is a terrible deal for the Angels, and a really bad way to spend $20 million a year. In the short term, especially for when you will get him, you're going to like him a lot. And if he hits in the middle of the lineup due to a slowly recovering Kendrys Morales? All the better for the RBI opportunities. .280 / 29 / 100 with 15 steals.

3) Andres Torres, Giants. This just in: Aaron Rowand is absolutely horrible. And Torres, well, isn't. Last year's .823 OPS, 16 HRs and 26 SBs screams out career year and candidate for regressing to the mean, but the hate will go too far, considering that Andres the Littlest Giant did all of his damage in just 507 ABs. Torres is a classic case of a guy that should have had a career -- he was a 4th round pick of Detroit in 1998 -- who looks like a AAAA player, but isn't. So despite the fact that he's 32 and somewhat strikeout prone, I still like him, and think he's going to be worth owning all year. And if the Giants actually play Rowand in front of him, you'll know that management is clueless, and completely lucked into that World Series trophy. For the rest of us, this is late-round power/speed goodness. .265 / 20 / 75 with 30 steals.

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