What is your preferred team-building strategy for fantasy baseball?
The most common strategy for category leagues is to try to build as well-balanced of a team as possible. You’ll often see “80th percentile targets” referenced as targets to reach for each category; our own Chris Clegg went over these targets for 12-team and 15-team leagues last year. At the same time, as you see with MLB team-building, you don’t always need a complete roster to win. If you can build a team that is elite in a few categories, it buys you a lot of wiggle-room in other categories.
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. After looking at the top tier of outfielders further in part one of the outfield preview, we’ll be expanding our horizons in part two.
Which late-round 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 2)
|Lamonte Wade Jr.||SF||1B, OF||49.38||506||.253||.348||.473||23||72||67||7|
|Enrique Hernandez||BOS||2B, OF||49.34||577||.251||.339||.464||24||77||72||2|
|Alex Kiriloff||MIN||1B, OF||48.13||510||.267||.325||.458||20||63||70||4|
|Luis Arraez||MIN||2B, 3B, OF||46.42||551||.295||.370||.380||4||66||51||3|
This is a very interesting group between some intriguing young players and some steady veterans.
Outside of Wander Franco, there was no prospect more hyped up, at least from a fantasy perspective, coming into last year than Jarred Kelenic. Unfortunately, with a 73 weighted-runs-created-plus (wRC+) and a .181/.265/.350 slash line in his first 377 plate appearances, things definitely did not go as planned.
There’s still a lot to be excited about with Kelenic. His 9.9% barrel rate last year is nothing to be shabby about. Meanwhile, he made contact at an above-average rate (83.5%) in the zone, and you’d expect a higher batting average on balls in play (BABIP) with more line-drives (18.5%); line-drive rate can be quite unstable on a year-to-year basis. Plus, over the final two months of the season, he started to make some nice adjustments. He raised his isolated power (ISO) to a strong .228 mark, posted a 12.4% barrel rate, and also struck out less (25.4%).
Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come. Unfortunately, the combination of strikeouts and the fact that he’s a lefty that can be shifted on (lower BABIP) is going to lead an unsatisfactory batting average most likely, even if the power and speed are there. Usually, I’d be all-in on buying into his growth, especially with his prospect pedigree. However, in NFBC drafts since February, Kelenic is a top-150 pick and the 36th outfielder overall. That’s a steep price to pay, even when baking in some improvement. It definitely could pay-off, but it’s certainly a risky selection.
The trajectory of Akil Baddoo is significantly different than Kelenic’s. As a rule-five pick who had never had played above High-A, he wasn’t expected to make much of an impact for the Tigers last season. Yet, with a 108 wRC+, he ended up being an above-average contributor for them. After struggling with whiffs early in the season, Baddoo adjusted nicely with just a 22.6% strikeout rate from June on, though this came with less power. The hope is that he can balance contact quantity with contact quality, though, for now, it’s unclear what his numbers will look like this year. He’s a nice bet to steal 20 bases, but you’d hope for more skills elsewhere. Perhaps that will come, so your assessment Baddoo really comes down to risk management.
The #1 category that is priced at a premium is stolen bases. This explains why Myles Straw is currently being drafted as a top-35 outfielder. We’re talking about a hitter who hit four home runs in 638 plate appearances, and that came with more than half of his games in Houston. The hope is that he’ll be the leadoff hitter in Cleveland and steal 30+ bases, but you’re really going to need to compensate in other areas if you draft him. Instead, the more optimal strategy may be to secure stolen bases earlier so you don’t need to bank on a very limited player.
On the surface, Adolis Garcia had a productive season in 2021 with 31 home runs and 16 stolen bases. However, I wouldn’t bank on a repeat performance. Over the first two months of the year, Garcia posted a .303 ISO and 144 wRC+. His numbers started to come down in June, but they really took a turn for the worse after that. From July on, the 29-year-old posted a .167 ISO and a 77 wRC+; not ideal numbers, to say the least.
It seems as though the league figured out Garcia after his hot month of May. With his poor plate discipline (35.8% chase) and subpar contact skills (34.2% whiff), he’s not a player I’d want to take a gamble on, especially with the power being an unknown. Plus, although he’s going to be the Rangers’ everyday center fielder, but will they continue to run him out there if he continues to struggle like he did to end the season? This is just another reason to fade Garcia in 2022 fantasy drafts.
Right now, LaMonte Wade Jr. currently has an ADP almost double that of Alex Kiriloff and Dylan Carlson. Yet, I don’t understand why this is the case. Sure, Wade doesn’t have the prospect pedigree of those two, but it’s hard to find any nits to pick with his MLB debut last year. Power? Check. The 28-year-old posted a .229 ISO with a 10.6% barrel rate last year. Meanwhile, his 46.5% pull rate combined with just a 35.8% ground-ball rate is going to allow him to hit for power at a higher level than even his barrel rate would suggest, making his profile even more appealing.
In addition to his power Wade Jr. also happens to someone with tremendous contact skills (87.5% zone-contact, 8.2% swinging-strike rate). This should lead to a decrease in his 23.4% strikeout rate from last year, which adds another extra layer to his production. Even though he’s in a platoon, he’s on the strong-side of it hitting at the top of the lineup, which should be enough for him to exceed 500 plate appearances. He’s the best bet to provide the most speed of the three, and is efficient enough to outpace Carlson in critical counting statistics. As our own Ryan Venancio points out, don’t sleep on Wade Jr. this season!
LaMonte Wade Jr. vs Alex Kirilloff vs Ryan Mountcastle
Wade Jr – 10.6%
Kirilloff – 12.8%
Mountcastle – 11.8%
K / BB:
Wade Jr – 23.4% / 8.7%
Kirilloff – 22.5% / 6.1%
Mountcastle – 27.5% / 7%
Wade Jr – 305
Kirilloff – 185
Mountcastle – 112
— Ryan Venancio (@ven_armbarn) January 30, 2022
If there’s one player on this list that I’d be willing to fade my projections for, it’d be Andrew Vaughn. It’s easy to forget that the 23-year-old was seen as one of the top hitting prospects just a season ago, and hadn’t played above High-A. Despite this, he still made above-average contact in the zone (85.8%), while he posted a 10.9% barrel rate and strong overall batted-ball data. It took him some time to adjust to the league, as you can see with his in-zone contact rate per month below, but he seems to have found his footing:
Vaughn’s lack of speed hurts him both in terms of BABIP and stolen bases, which hurts his roto profile. However, in points leagues, he becomes much more valuable. With more guaranteed playing time hitting higher in the lineup, his stock could be even higher; consider him a nice selection based on where he’s being drafted (OF #67), and an exceptional target in dynasty leagues.
|Jeff McNeil||NYM||2B, 3B, OF||45.46||501||.280||.351||.390||9||56||51||3|
|Josh Harrison||FA||2B, 3B, OF||43.71||438||.266||.334||.420||7||47||45||8|
|Josh Rojas||ARI||2B, SS, OF||43.67||545||.248||.337||.388||12||67||51||10|
|Garrett Hampson||COL||2B, OF||53.49||469||.248||.315||.404||12||50||45||18|
This isn’t a tier where you’re likely going to find a superstar, though you may be left searching here for your fifth outfielder in deeper leagues.
I find Rafael Ortega somewhat fascinating in terms of projecting him for next year. In terms of hitting for power, his 5.7% barrel rate doesn’t stand out, but his 43.4% pull rate combined with just a 35.1% ground-ball rate, if he can sustain it, will allow him to overachieved his expected power numbers. Plus, his contact ability likely gives him the floor of a .250 hitter, while he’s in line to steal 15+ bases if he gets enough playing time. If he’s not in a platoon, he’s someone to potentially target for some speed with enough contributions int he other categories.
Once upon a time, Connor Joe wasn’t even being drafted as a top-100 outfielder. However, the world has caught on to his magical powers, which has caused his stock to spike to the 85th-highest drafted outfielder. As someone with consistently strong minor-league production in terms of power production and plate discipline, it was only a matter of time before he finally got his chance to shine. Well, that came last year with the Rockies, and he didn’t look back. The 29-year-old posted a 9.9% barrel rate, only struck out 19.4% of the time, and even worked his way to the top of the lineup. It’s unclear if he’ll be on the short side of a platoon or get extra playing time, but his value could rise significantly if he exceeds standard playing time expectations. Additionally, in points leagues, given his plate discipline skills, his value is even higher. Simply put, he’s not your average Joe.
It’s time to have some fun here! If there is one player that drastically exceeds his draft position, I believe it can be Nick Senzel. It’s easy to forget, but the 26-year-old was the 2nd overall pick in the 2016 draft, and absolutely obliterated minor-league pitching. In his rookie season, he posted a solid 8% barrel rate, which will work in a very favorable stadium to hit in.
Plus, although he struggled to make contact in the zone in 2019, he’s improved upon that significantly in his limited playing time since; this also aligns with expectations based on his pure hitting ability. We’re also talking about a player with 94th percentile sprint speed, giving him the potential to post a high BABIP while also stealing bases- he stole 14 over 414 plate appearances in 2019. The Reds are in rebuilding mode, and have no reason not to give full-time playing time to a player they’re heavily invested in. While Fangraphs’ roster resource is projecting TJ Friedl to get a lot of playing time in center field, take advantage? Senzel is a talented player who can hit for enough power and provide a solid batting average with speed as well. Yet, he’s being drafted close to pick #500. That sounds appealing to me!
|Hunter Dozier||KC||3B, OF||42.10||496||.234||.313||.415||17||58||58||4|
|Michael A. Taylor||KC||OF||41.92||470||.237||.300||.398||13||50||49||14|
|Eric Haase||DET||C, OF||41.12||341||.228||.296||.441||18||40||48||1|
|Darin Ruf||SF||1B, OF||40.48||378||.255||.375||.465||17||49||50||2|
|Pavin Smith||ARI||1B, OF||39.90||483||.264||.338||.403||11||55||47||1|
|Jurickson Profar||SD||1B, OF||37.79||457||.237||.337||.379||11||54||46||10|
|Tony Kemp||OAK||2B, OF||38.44||433||.250||.361||.391||9||53||36||8|
|Bryan De La Cruz||MIA||OF||38.43||428||.264||.324||.394||9||46||43||4|
At this point, you’re mainly taking shots on young players hoping for a breakout.
As we covered earlier this year, Clint Frazier is a very intriguing deep-league target. Once upon a time, Frazier was supposed to be one of the faces of the Yankees franchise for years to come. After posting a 149 wRC+ in 2020, it looked like he was finally blossoming into the player we had been hoping he could become. Unfortunately, 2021 did not go his way.
In 218 plate appearances, Frazier struggled to the tune of 83 wRC+ and .186/.317/.317 slash line. That is not ideal, to say the least. Yet, there’s still reason to be optimistic. His 10.6% home run/fly ball rate clearly sticks out as a sore thumb, especially since he posted a 10.2% barrel rate. Meanwhile, his .257 BABIP will almost surely regress positively, while his swinging-strike rate (10.4%) indicates he was a bit unlucky in terms of strikeouts (29.8%). In other words, the batting average should be less of a liability, while the power will be there.
The Cubs, especially with the universal designated hitter now in effect, have no reason not to play Frazier after signing him to a one-year deal. As they’re in a strange stage where they’re looking to remain competitive while also retooling, they’re going to give chances to young players who may need a change of scenery. Remember, Frazier openly admitted he was dealing with concussion symptoms for the whole year. A fully healthy Frazier with a new team could easily lead to a post-hype breakout. If that happens, you won’t want to mss out.
Then, there a lot of young players where picking them certainly classifies as “taking a shot” on youth: Brandon Marsh, Jarren Duran, Riley Greene, and Steven Kwan. Many will be optimistic about Marsh’s 10.9% barrel rate and batted-ball metrics, but it also came with a 33.3% line-drive rate, which will be nearly impossible to sustain. Add in his issues making contact (33% whiff, 35% strikeout rate), and you’re likely looking at a .230-.240 batting average without great power. He might be a nice source of stolen bases and has the most guaranteed playing time of the four, though, so he has that in his favor.
Duran, meanwhile, seemed to have a massive power breakout last year. During 2020, reports were that he made a swing-change to gear for more power, which aligns with the .258 ISO he posted at Triple-A. We’re starting to realize, however, that Triple-A statistics may have been inflated due to a worse group of pitching, so perhaps we should have been. more skeptical of that. Regardless, he couldn’t adjust to big-league pitching with a 35.7% strikeout rate, 34.7% whiff rate, and a 34.1% chase rate; his power (4.4% barrel) also didn’t translate. Maybe you want to bet on the power coming back combined with speed, yet I’m not sure what his playing time will look at.
The same goes for Greene and Kwan. Greene is certainly the more hyped-up prospect, though he’s also a 21-year-old who had some issues with strikeouts last year. He figures to be an all-around contributor in the future, but it might not come this year, and his price (OF #79) is awfully high. Instead, I rather take a shot with Kwan, who had by far the lowest swinging-strike rate (2.6%) in the minors, and has an outside shot of making the opening day roster with how weak Cleveland’s outfield projects to be.
|Dylan Moore||SEA||2B, OF||37.44||342||.210||.313||.387||13||44||35||16|
|Jorge Alfaro||SD||C, OF||37.23||354||.231||.286||.345||6||32||37||7|
|Yoshi Tsutsugo||PIT||1B, OF||37.10||460||.219||.322||.388||16||53||55||0|
|Tyler Wade||LAA||3B, SS, OF||36.95||296||.230||.312||.336||4||39||22||21|
Bradley Zimmer and Tyler Wade could be intriguing with enough playing time with the stolen bases they’ll provide, though they’re definitely limited players. Meanwhile, although Julio Rodriguez is arguably the #1 prospect for dynasty leagues, he hasn’t played above Double-A, and isn’t likely to make a notable impact this year. One of Vidal Brujan or Josh Lowe could, but it’s dependent on a trade of Kevin Kiermaier. That could happen, yet we’re stuck in a holding pattern right now due to the lockout.