What is your preferred format for the MLB playoffs?
It all started with two teams competing for the pennant. Then, we expanded to three divisions. From there, a wildcard team, the top non-division winner, was added to the playoffs. That wasn’t enough though- a second wild-card team was added. Now, it appears we’ll be getting either a 12-team or 14-team playoff, which is quite the change.
This parallels tremendously to fantasy baseball. Obviously, standard roto leagues don’t have any playoffs. However, a postseason feel is what makes head-to-head leagues very exciting. There’s so much randomness and chaos that can happen; it’s just like the MLB playoffs! How many teams make the postseason is dependent on league, but regardless, we all have our eyes on the prize- a championship finish.
With that in mind, it’s time to analyze how players are going to produce from a fantasy perspective. Usually, to do this, we would rank players based on our intuition and confidence in each player. However, there’s another way to go about this. Personally, my mind works better when working with specific numbers, rather than just looking at one whole big picture.
What do I mean by this? Essentially, there might be less margin for error if we focus more on how a player is going to contribute to each main category, as opposed to what their overall value is there. To help with that, I have created my own projections to help list players in order of expected production. By no means is this an objective projection system, but that is sort of point. Being able to incorporate the context that goes into rankings allows the projection to take into account several important factors, but the overall rating is objectively created based on the value they provide in each category.
What is a Roto Score?
To come up with this, we will be looking at each player’s “roto score”. Essentially, I’ll be taking their 20-80 scale rating of their contributions of the five major hitting categories (average, home runs, RBIs, runs, stolen bases), average them out, and then adjust for position. For batting average, the grade is based on the amount of at-bats the player will have. The better the batting average, the more at-bats you’ll want to have, while the reverse is true for someone with a poor batting average. Thus, we can accurately reflect on how much a hitter’s batting average truly is going to affect your fantasy team.
In simple terms, these are manual projections that combine a subjective touch with some needed objectiveness. Rather than predict their straight-up production in these categories, I projected how they would rate in peripheral categories to come up with the final result:
- Batting Average: Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP), Strikeout Rate, Balls in Play
- Home Runs: Fly Ball%, Home/Run Fly Ball Rate
- Stolen Bases: Success Rate, Overall Attempts
Projecting playing time, meanwhile, is the impossible task that we, as fantasy baseball managers, need to do. Personally, I took into account previous durability, current status with their team (lineup spot, team success), as well as Fangraphs’ roster resource playing time projections, to come with an accurate plate appearance number. Since we don’t know how many games are going to be played this year, this projection is under the assumption that there is going to be a 162-game season, even if that possibility is highly unlikely.
Without further ado, let us get to the projections! Today, we’ll be focusing on outfielders. With leagues utilizing three to five outfielders in a starting lineup, it’s obviously the deepest hitting position from a quantity perspective. Thus, we’ll split these outfield projections and tiers into two parts. Today, we’ll look at the exciting part of the list: the cream of the crop.
Which outfielder stands out as a potential value, and who should you be targeting? Let us find out!
Stats via Fangraphs and Baseball Savant
2022 Fantasy Baseball Outfield Projections & Tiers (Part 1)
|Fernando Tatis Jr.||SD||SS, OF||76.65||615||.282||.374||.592||44||113||105||26|
For a complete analysis on Fernando Tatis Jr., here’s what I had to say about him in the shortstop projections and tiers piece.
|Ronald Acuna Jr.||ATL||OF||69.25||567||.283||.390||.565||37||105||81||24|
What else is there to say about Juan Soto? In my opinion, he’s the best hitter in all of baseball, and still has room to grow; could you imagine if he continued to generate more lift on the ball to unleash his power? Interestingly, the fact he walks so much almost hurts him in fantasy leagues, as he gets fewer at-bats than you’d expect- his contribution to your team’s batting average isn’t as strong as you would think for someone who is going to hit .300. Still, a .300 hitter with a lot of power and contributions in all categories more than works! He might not give you elite speed, though you can plan for that.
If he hadn’t torn his ACL in July, Ronald Acuna Jr. would almost certainly be the consensus #1 overall pick. The 24-year-old quietly became an even more complete player, posting a career-low 10.6% swinging strike rate with a career-high 20.3% barrel rate. A fully healthy Acuna is a likely 40/30 player. Unfortunately, the injury drags him down, as we don’t know a) when he’ll be ready and b) how active he’ll be on the base paths. At the same time, though, with every game that MLB cancels, the more his stock continues to rise.
After years of being a top-five pick, Mookie Betts‘ stock has reached a career-low mark after a poor 2021 season. However, I’m fully confident Betts can generate first-round value. For starters, Betts was dealing with a hip injury that limited him to 550 plate appearances last season, the lowest of his career. That explains some of his struggles- his home-to-first time (4.46 seconds) was not at his usual standards.
A healthier Betts should get back to stealing bases at a higher rate in 2022, while luck should better be on his side this year. The 29-year-old’s .276 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and 23.6% line-drive rate stand out as being ell below his career norms, which should help boost his batting average (.264) significantly. While Betts’ new pull-happy (45.2%) tendencies could impact his BABIP slightly, it affects right-handed hitters less, and should help him hitting for power, especially at the league’s most favorable stadium for right-handed hitting home runs, per Baseball Savant park factors. We’re looking at a .280 batting average with 30 home runs, 15+ stolen bases, and a lot of runs scored at the top of a very productive lineup. That’s quite the balanced skillset to me!
Coming of an MVP season, you’d expect Bryce Harper to separate himself further from Kyle Tucker, though both have similar profiles. Harper’s .359 BABIP from last year will surely go down, leading to his batting average being more in the .270s range. The power will be there, but without elite speed, he’s in a very similar tier to Betts and other outfielders in this range.
Tucker, meanwhile, had a major breakout in 2022. Not only did he lower his strikeout rate to 15.9%, he also was successful upgrading his quality of contact metrics as well. The batting average production should be there, while he’ll steal over 15 bases with 30+ home runs. Now, will he hit in the middle of the lineup? A more favorable lineup position can lead to more runs and RBIs, especially in the Astros lineup. If that happens, the ceiling could be through the roof!
|Whit Merrifield||KC||2B, OF||62.63||719||.278||.333||.412||13||96||71||31|
Mike Trout still is likely the best player in baseball when healthy. However, his fantasy stock is certainly down. It’s not the durability that is a question, though he’s not going to rack up as many plate appearances as some of the players going in the first round. What’s really concerning, truly, is his decline in stolen bases. He’s only attempted four stolen bases over his last 387 plate appearances, while his batting average production is less than you’d expect due to fewer at-bats from walking so much. The upside is tantalizing if he gets back to stealing bases and stays healthy for a full season, but I’m not sure I’d take him in the first round.
Luis Robert may have been limited to 296 plate appearances last year due to a hip injury, but that didn’t stop him from showing enough to make substantial improvements. The 24-year-old cut his strikeout rate to 20.6%, while lowering his swinging-strike rate (16.1%) as well. Even with his aggressiveness in the zone, I don’t think he can sustain such a low strikeout rate, but it may not approach 30% as many feared heading into this season. With his athleticism and how hard he hits the ball, he’s going to run a high BABIP, which allows him to post an above-average batting average. I’d also bet on more speed from him now fully healthy, which also helps his profile. We may be getting too excited about his ceiling (I’m not sure he’s a first-round pick), though it’s easy to see why.
Is this the year Byron Buxton can finally stay healthy? The Twins are certainly hoping so, especially after signing him to a seven-year, $100 million extension. What we do know, though, is that fantasy managers will be getting a special player when he’s healthy. Over his past 389 plate appearances, here are his overall numbers:
- 389, .288/.326/.622 (.334 ISO), 16.4% barrel, 32 HR, 69 R, 59 RBI, 11 SB
He isn’t someone who is going to walk much, but the power/speed combination is tough to pass up. It’s always a risk to take him, and his value goes down in deeper leagues. In 10 or 12-team leagues with waivers, however, it’s hard to pass on that upside.
Are the breakouts of Cedric Mullins and Tyler O’Neill legitimate? They are certainly going to be two of the more polarizing players in fantasy baseball drafts. We’ll start with Mullins. The 27-year-old wasn’t even expected to be in the starting lineup for the Orioles, of all teams. Naturally, he ended up becoming one of the top fantasy producers in all of baseball. From June 1 on, he posted a 10% barrel rate, while he made several tweaks (more pulled fly balls) to gear for more power. Even if he can’t post a 30/30 season again, why can’t he post a 25/25 season, albeit with a worse batting average?
O’Neill, meanwhile, is an interesting case study. Posting a .286 batting average with a 31.3% strikeout rate doesn’t seem to be a sustainable skill; even if O’Neill’s athleticism and quality of contact lead to a high BABIP, he won’t repeat a .366 BABIP. There’s some intriguing power and speed with his profile, but the batting average/on-base question marks drag him down to the bottom of this tier.
|Ketel Marte||ARI||2B, OF||58.46||610||.297||.367||.511||24||86||81||6|
|Ryan Mountcastle||BAL||1B, OF||54.92||630||.255||.319||.467||30||79||94||3|
Remember when Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich were battling it out for the 2019 NL MVP? Now, they’re going past pick #100, as fantasy baseball managers wonder how they’ll fare coming off of poor seasons.
Bellinger, with a 48 weighted-runs-created-plus (wRC+), had the worse season by a notable margin, to the point where he was relegated to being a platoon player with the Dodgers. However, it’s hard to not be optimistic about a bounce-back season. The 26-year-old was clearly hampered last season due to a shoulder injury he suffered during the 2020 playoffs, which limited his power. Towards the end of the season, he started to hit the ball harder, and all signs point to him being fully recovered for this year. It could be a risk to throw out last season, though there is enough in his previous track record to see him coming close to 30 home runs with double-digit stolen bases. That certainly works at a discount price.
Yelich is a bit more complicated of a case. He dealt with back injuries that certainly hampered him, and while he was able to boost his batting average as the season went on with a more aggressive approach and fewer strikeouts, the power didn’t come. Why? A 55.7% ground-ball rate, which goes back to the root of his problems before his breakout in Milwaukee. Can he start elevating the ball and get back to being a high-end contributor? Yes. However, he’s older (30) than Bellinger and is at an age where a bounce-back becomes less likely. He’s a fine value past pick #100, though I’d prefer Bellinger at that same spot.
JD Martinez and Bryan Reynolds may not be “sexy” picks, as they won’t help your team in terms of stolen bases. However, they’re both likely to hit over .280 with some pop (especially for Martinez) and don’t have a lot of risk associated with them. The same can be said for Jesse Winker, albeit likely with less playing time (durability + platoon risk) than the other two.
The clear outlier of this tier, based on NFBC average draft position (ADP) since the start of February, is Jorge Soler, who is currently the 52nd outfielder off the board. However, I guess this shows how optimistic I am about his outlook this year. The 30-year-old’s overall statistics (101 wRC+, .223 batting average, .209 ISO) don’t look great on the surface, but we need to dig in further.
Through June, Soler had a 66 wRC+ with a .186 batting average and a .132 ISO. A lot of swing-and-miss issues and no power aren’t a sign of progress. However, it was only a matter that his power broke out. His 12.9% barrel rate in the second half wasn’t much different than his 12.1% barrel rate in the second half. However, in the first half, his home run/fly ball rate was a paltry 8.7%. In the second half, which also includes when he got traded out of Kansas City (the worst ballpark for home runs), his home run/fly ball rate rose to 24.7%.
We’d expect Soler’s 16.7% home run/fly ball rate to be higher next season, based on his batted-ball quality and the fact that he won’t play half of the season with the Royals; he had negative-eight (!) home runs less than expected, per Baseball Savant. Meanwhile, in addition to a raise from his .250 BABIP, there is reason to believe his batting average could be on the rise. Not only was his 23.5% strikeout rate the lowest of his career, but there’s more to like:
In the second half, Soler dropped his strikeout rate to 18.8%. The continual decline in the strikeout rate and improvement in contact skills would lead you to believe that an adjustment was made. Even if not, the overall decrease in strikeout rate for the season means that, with an expected increase in the BABIP, his batting average can reach .240. With the home runs and RBIs he’ll provide, that makes him extremely valuable. Right now, based on his ADP, he’s one of the top value picks out there!
|Daulton Varsho||ARI||C, OF||54.78||533||.252||.327||.455||21||73||71||9|
|Kris Bryant||FA||3B, OF||53.40||587||.265||.364||.473||24||83||70||6|
|Tommy Edman||STL||2B, OF||52.75||616||.264||.320||.391||11||78||58||23|
|Chris Taylor||LAD||2B, SS, OF||52.38||580||.253||.344||.447||21||82||75||10|
|Lourdes Gurriel Jr.||TOR||OF||50.90||568||.268||.326||.472||25||71||72||3|
This is certainly a low rank for Eloy Jimenez, but I’m not sure, outside of past prospect pedigree, what makes him stand out from other power-driven hitters. The 25-year-old impressed as a rookie with a .246 ISO, but do keep in mind that this came during the rabbit-ball-driven 2019 season. Unless he can make a swing change to get more lift on the ball, he’s going to very reliant on batted-ball variance on his limited fly balls, which isn’t ideal. Without any speed and limited on-base ability (hurting his runs scored), there’s reason to believe he’s currently being over-drafted (OF #20) at the moment.
Once upon a time, Trent Grisham was known for a costly error as a member of the Brewers in the 2019 wildcard game. Then, he redeemed himself after being traded to the Padres in 2020, posting a 122 wRC+. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to sustain that success (103 wRC+) in 2021, which was caused him to be a fringe top-40 outfielder in ADP. After posting an 11.1% barrel rate in the shortened season in 2020, you’d think Grisham can have some positive regression from the 5.2% barrel rate he posted in 2021. Plus, his splits before suffering a heel injury and after are severe:
- Before the injury (154 PA): .301/.383/.515 (.213 ISO), 144 wRC+
- After the injury (373 PA): .218/.304/.371 (.153 ISO), 86 wRC+
Grisham’s BABIP (.389) prior to the injury was never going to sustain, but the power numbers are what interests me most. Upon returning from the injury, the power was undoubtedly worse, as he couldn’t generate as much lift on the ball. At the very least, I’d expect more stolen bases than he had last year (13), though you can make a case there’s some power upside too.
Currently a free agent, it’s unclear what the market will be for Michael Conforto after he posted a .232/.344/.384 slash line last year. However, whatever signs him may end up with a massive steal, depending on the price. Conforto struck out less than ever (21.7%), hit the ball as hard as his normal standards, and posted a solid 9.2% barrel rate. Yet, the 29-year-old suffered from a slightly low .276 BABIP, in addition to a 13.5% home run/fly ball rate. Especially if he can end up in the right spot (Colorado would be quite exciting), he’ll end up as notable value- he’s currently being drafted as the 55th outfielder.
Another free agent, arguably the most interesting one, would be Seiya Suzuki. All indications are that the Japanese superstar outfielder is still planning to sign with an MLB team following the lockout, with the Giants and Mariners amongst the favorites. My projections for him are simply based on ATC projections with adjusted playing time, and would be more than acceptable- he’s a well-balanced contributor. For his fantasy sake, San Francisco and Seattle wouldn’t be ideal spots for him, so here’s hoping he ends up in the right spot! He’s a risky one, albeit a very intriguing one.