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2024 Fantasy Baseball: Outfield Busts

In my article last week, I wrote about outfield sleepers. I mentioned how the position is very top-heavy. There are eight to nine of them routinely going in the first rounds of drafts. Though I have some concern about Fernando Tatis Jr.’s decrease in quality metrics, and Yordan Alvarez’s injury history, I won’t include any of them in my list of outfield busts. In fact, I’m ideally grabbing at least one of them across all formats. Maybe even two if I pick towards the end of the first round and get lucky in the second.

So instead of the elite tier, I will draw all of my picks from the (outfield) wasteland that is the middle rounds. There are deals to be had there. And I mentioned a few of them below. But ultimately I find myself avoiding most outfielders in this range. The three outfield busts below are just the ones I can’t ever see myself drafting.

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Outfield Busts For 2024 Fantasy Baseball

Lane Thomas OF Nationals ADP 107

2023: 157 G/101 R/ 28 HR/86 RBI/20 SB/.268

Perhaps one of the most unlikely breakout stories of last season, Lane Thomas put up some pretty impressive numbers (above). He provided fantasy managers with tremendous power/speed value for no cost. He went undrafted in all but the deepest leagues.

The reason the 28-year-old was so cheap going into last season? To that point, he had a career slash line of .237/.314/.412 with an OPS of .726. Over 896 plate appearances, covering four MLB seasons, he had a total of 29 home runs, 94 RBI, and 15 steals. The minor league numbers weren’t much better. The breakout truly came out of nowhere.

Breakouts for late-20s players do happen but most of the time, skepticism is a good approach. Especially so when underlying numbers suggest they didn’t perform quite as well as the results. The righty’s xwOBA (.319) was significantly less than his actual wOBA (.334). And both his xSLG (.436 vs. .468 SLG) and xBA (.255 vs. .268 BA) didn’t quite line up.

More eye-opening is the walk rate of 5.3%. It ranked in the 10th percentile and, combined with his .315 OBP, made his run total of last season (101) seem almost impossible. This on a team that was 21st in runs per game.

Finally, Thomas did not have a great second half. After the All-Star Break, his slash line was .223/.274/.431. That is much more in line with the career sample size. Granted, the power/speed was still there (14 HRs/12 SBs during the same period), but paying up for the chance this was not simply regression – in the 9th round of standard drafts – does not seem worth the risk.

I’d much rather spend that draft capital on high-upside pitchers. This is usually when I’m targeting Cole Ragans (ADP 110) or Tanner Bibee (ADP 119). If you’re desperate for an outfielder, however, I’d rather have the dependability of George Springer (ADP 113) going in the same round. Or perhaps wait a round or two for the upside of Evan Carter (ADP 124). Or, why not wait about 60 picks for Riley Greene?

Esteury Ruiz OF Athletics ADP 120

2023: 132 G/47 R/5 HR/47 RBI/67 SB/.254

Esteury Ruiz is very fast (97th percentile speed) and is great at stealing bases (67 last year was good for 2nd best overall). From a fantasy perspective, that’s pretty much it. He won’t help you in any other category.

Part of that is the team he plays for. Normally, big-time stolen bases result in at least decent run totals. But the A’s ranked last in almost every offensive category last season. There was no one to take advantage of RBI opportunities. 2024 doesn’t project to be much better, either.

But even if he were on a decent team, Ruiz’s underlying numbers suggest his lackluster stats might have been even less helpful than they were. His xwOBA (.271 vs. .290 wOBA), xBA (.234), and xSLG (.316) were all significantly worse than his .254/.309/.345 slashline. This had much to do with a league-worst average exit velocity (82.7 MPH), and near-worst (3rd to be exact) hard-hit rate (20.0%). And a walk rate that does the right-hander no favors (4.0% puts him in the 2nd percentile).

From a real-life perspective, the situation got so bad that by the end of the season the 24-year-old was out of the starting lineup a couple of times a week, and often hitting at the bottom of the order. That’s part of the problem with rostering steals-only players. Steals matter in fantasy baseball a lot more than they do in real baseball. The truth is, even Ruiz’s defense isn’t very helpful (negative arm value and jump). Will the A’s move on to someone like Lawrence Butler? Or just hit the speedster 7th in the order like Roster Resource predicts? Either would significantly limit his stolen base output. With no other value to fall back on, he’d easily make the list of outfield busts.

That’s too much risk for me. If you’re that hard up for steals at that point in the draft, grab Evan Carter (ADP 124) instead. He’s going in the same round, is pretty much just as fast (96th percentile speed), and had 30 steals over his 135 games last season. After his 23 games at the Major League level (.306/.413/.645) in 2023, it looks like he’s more likely to keep a starting job, too.

Cedric Mullins OF Orioles ADP 141

2023: 116 G/51 R/15 HR/74 RBI/19 SB/.233 AVG

We saw what the upside looks like for Cedric Mullins in 2021. He went exactly 30/30 with a very healthy .291/.360/.518 slashline. Since then, his production has not completely fallen off. Just two years ago, he hit 16 home runs and stole a career-high 34 bases. Though the average went south quickly (.258 in 2022 and .233 in 2023), he still somewhat helped fantasy managers who made the investment in him on draft day.

The underlying numbers, however, tell a much more troubling story. Every batted-ball metric was significantly worse in 2023 than it was in 2021. Average exit velocity: down from 89.4 MPH to 88.9 (40th percentile). Barrel rate: down from 8.1% to 6.5% (30th). Hard-hit percentage: down from 39.4% to 37.1% (26th). Sweet spot rate: down most of all from 35.7% to 28.1% (3rd). Accordingly, the 29-year-old outperformed every expected statistic (.311 wOBA vs. .289 xwOBA, .233 AVG vs. .226 xBA, .416 SLG vs. .352 xSLG).

Added to this, after playing in 95% of his team’s games since 2020, we saw the lefty battle injury for the first time. A strained groin in May cost him 20 games. And a re-aggravation of the same injury put him on the IL for another four weeks in July and August. You hate to see leg strains to players who depend on their athleticism. Though he still ranks in the 68th percentile in foot speed, that’s yet another metric we’ve seen fall (down from the 86th percentile in 2021).

Complicating things further, The Orioles are stacked with young talent. Mullins struggled mightily upon his return from the second injury. In his last 47 games, he slashed just .190/.232/.353. This resulted in regular enough benchings and late-game replacements. Two top organizational prospects in particular, Heston Kjerstad and Colton Cowser (ranked 4th and 6th in the Orioles’ organization according to Fangraphs), have already had a taste of the majors and are plausible options to steal away time from the 6-year veteran.

Add it all up: things could bottom out for Mullins in 2024. Sure, maybe his health returns, he fights off the youngsters, and goes back to 20 HR/25 SB production, but it would likely come with a pretty bad average. And I think the odds of that are less than taking another step back and becoming one of the outfield busts. I’d rather gamble on the upside of Jackson Chourio (ADP 138) in the same round, or wait a round or two on Riley Green (ADP 165). Heck, with the outfield being so thin, I’d love to grab both.

For more of the great fantasy baseball rankings and analysis you’ve come to expect from FantraxHQ, check out our full 2024 Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit! We’re here for you all the way up until Opening Day and then on into your championship run.

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