When formulating a draft strategy outfield can be the most difficult to plan for. Going into the draft there are always several players I like at the position, but the hard part is drafting five of them (standard league formats). The best draft strategy I have used is drafting one or two early on and then looking for value plays with upside during the later rounds. This year there are several values that I believe can be found at the OF position late in fantasy drafts. There are two going back-to-back that I believe can finish the season in or just outside of the top 20 at the position. This article looks at these two players that I believe will provide huge returns on investment for the 2022 season.
Late Round OF Values to Target in 2022
Ian Happ- OF Chicago Cubs
If you follow me on Twitter, you know all about my love for Ian Happ. I have decided to refer to myself as the conductor on the Ian Happ hype train, and I am going to outline why it is time for you to hop on board. Happ is currently going as OF51 off the board with an ADP of 191.19. This ADP is according to NFBC draft data from January 1st forward. This ADP gives Happ a phenomenal value in drafts. Happ got off to a brutal start in 2021. He began losing playing time until the Cubs decided to trade everybody and rebuild. This change in direction allowed Happ to begin receiving everyday playing time again and the results were drastically different.
During the first half of 2021, Happ hit 0.183/0.296/0.330. This is a far cry from what fantasy managers expected. It is likely many fantasy managers feel burned by Happ and have written him off for 2022 without even giving him a chance. If you look a little bit deeper into Happ’s stats you will notice that he posted a BABIP 0.231. As shown in the table below, Happ’s launch angle dropped to what would have been a career-low 7 degrees during the first half. This resulted in more groundballs and fewer line drives than Happ has been accustomed to producing during his career. This is likely the cause for the drop in BABIP. However, Happ still posted a 67th percentile sprint speed so although the BABIP drop below .300 can be justified, it is unlikely the drop to .231 is a reliable metric.
|2021 First Half||19.70%||49.30%||30.90%||0.231||7|
|2021 Second Half||25.00%||39.40%||35.60%||0.356||13|
As seen by the table, Happ understood the adjustments that needed to be made. He increased his launch angle to 13 degrees which is in line with the launch angle he has had throughout his career. This increase in launch angle resulted in more line drives and a higher BABIP. Although the .356 is likely unsustainable, it shows that Happ is far more likely to run a BABIP over .300 than he is to have one down in the .230s. Another change in Happ’s second-half profile is his pull percentage. The HR/FB rate for Happ dropped to 19.1% during the first half. While this is still well above league average, it is far below his career average. During the second half, Happ started pulling the ball more, increasing his Pull% to 42.4%. This led to his HR/FB jumping to what would be a career-best 28.6%.
Another knock on Happ has been his ability to hit right-handed. Over his career, he has been a better hitter when batting left-handed. Many scouts and analysts have even suggested that Happ should stop switch-hitting altogether and just bat from the left side. Recently on Happ’s podcast from August of last season he mentioned switching to a lighter bat while hitting right-handed. He felt like he was not strong enough to use the bat he was using, so he switched to a lighter bat in hopes of better results swinging. You can see in the table below the differences between before and after the bat switch. This not only adds to the intrigue of Happ, but could be an additional boost to his value and surplus.
|Right Handed Hitting||Average||Slugging||HR/FB%|
|Before August 1st||0.159||0.27||8.30%|
|After August 1st||0.283||0.457||20%|
For those of you who are playing in ROTO leagues or just like to add players with steals, Happ has more upside than given credit for. Ben Rosener who works for Pitcher List recently published an article discussing why Ian Happ can help you win your league. If you want to read more about the Ian Happ hype check out his article! He tweeted that after August 24th Happ had 8 stolen bases. That is a full-season pace of 38 steals. I am not saying that Happ is going to steal 38 bases, but the highest projection system has him at 11. I think he has 15-20 SB upside and is going extremely late in drafts.
Overall, Happ’s second-half stat line was 0.268/0.350/0.536. If you combine his stats across 2019 and 2020, Happ posted a triple slash of 0.260/0.350/0.530. This slash is similar to Happ’s second-half statistics during 2021. The first half of 2021 was an anomaly of Happ’s true talent level. Happ is not currently being valued to put up this stat line and although I am not sure how fair it is to predict that, the upside with Happ is huge. He has tremendous surplus potential for your fantasy teams.
In comparison to players going ahead of him, ZIPS projects Mitch Haniger to post a triple slash of 0.249/0.319/0.472. Haniger is going off the board as OF32, almost 100 picks higher than Happ. This illustrates how Happ is such a great value late in draft. Looking even farther up, Tyler O’Neil is going as OF15 with an ADP of 48.53. Zips projects O’Neil to hit 0.266/0.344/0.535. That slash line is not far off from what we have seen Happ post across the past three seasons. These examples corroborate the value of Happ as a late pick.
Michael Conforto- OF Free Agent
The outfielder right ahead of Ian Happ is Michael Conforto. Coming off what was a career season, Conforto posted his worst season in the majors since 2016. A 106 wRC+, 0.232/0.344/0.384. While the stats are discouraging for Conforto, we can be optimistic about his 2022 outlook. My colleague Chris Clegg wrote an article back in November discussing some bounce-back candidates he likes for 2022 and he discussed the reasons for optimism on Conforto there as well. The price for Conforto is as low as it is ever going to be and picking him up could be the move to set your team over the edge.
First I would like to take a look at Conforto’s average. Why did Conforto’s 0.322 in 2020 turn to a 0.232 in 2021? Conforto’s BABIP in 2021 was 0.276. This below his career average of 0.305 and his unsustainable BABIP of .412 from 2020. However, the drop to 0.276 does not seem justified. Conforto stayed true to his typical swing pattern posting a LA of 13.2 degrees. Although the sweet spot percentage dropped off, Conforto still posted a line drive percentage north of 20. His fly balls and ground balls both increased from 2020 but not to an alarming number that would drive his BABIP down. In 2021 Conforto experienced some justified regression along with being unlucky. Projecting Conforto to bounce back to a .322 hitter is not the purpose of this article, but he will likely hit well above .232 moving forward.
One of the most important attributes I look for when evaluating hitters that have bounce back potential is their ability to get on base and provide a reliable floor for your fantasy team. While this is less important in a typical ROTO league, in points leagues strong ability to get on base is an essential skill to possess. Conforto’s plate discipline metrics remained unchanged. He posted an identical swing rate to 2020 and set career lows in chase and whiff percentage. This is important especially for points leagues. Even if Conforto is going through a slump at the plate he will still be able to provide value to your fantasy team through working walks and getting on base.
Going into 2021, Michael Conforto had a career slugging percentage of 0.484. His drop of a full .100 points to 0.384 killed his fantasy value. This was caused by his HR/FB% dropping to 13.5 in 2021. While there was a slight drop in his Max EV, his average EV remained true to his career average. Where I am optimistic of a bounce-back comes from digging into his fly balls. A hitter is more likely to tap into their power by pulling the baseball. Obviously pulling the baseball on the ground does not do a lot, but pulling the ball in the air should increase the tendency and likelihood of hitting a home run.
|Season||Pull %||Fly Ball %||FB Pull %|
The chart shows the pull percentages for Michael Conforto. You can see in 2020 his pull percentage dropped drastically. Although his slugging was unaffected, that was a red flag to many looking ahead to 2021. However, instead of staying down at 32.4% his pull percentage bounced back near his career norms. The most encouraging part of this chart is the career high that Conforto set in Pull % on flyballs. Despite this career high, Conforto posted his lowest HR/FB rate since 2016. That is unlikely to continue, and I think it is more likely that if Conforto sticks with these adjustments he will see a rebound to his HR/FB rate in 2022.
I mentioned earlier Conforto’s decline in sweet spot. Chris mentioned that Conforto battled a few minor injuries throughout the season. First a wrist injury and then a hamstring injury in May. Both of those injuries likely caused a decline in sweet spot. A hamstring injury tends to linger. Depending on how it was feeling on a particular day he could have altered his swing either providing too much lift or swinging down on the ball with a high frequency. The same goes for a wrist injury. Although neither injury was too significant, we can assume the combination of both impacted his swing. Conforto’s career average sweet spot is 35.9% compared to the 32.9% he posted last season. I expect this to bounce back in 2022.
Although Conforto does not currently have a big-league team, there is no doubt that he will quickly sign once the lockout has ended. His current ADP can help provide excellent value and surplus late in drafts. Although Citi Field was not unfavorable, if he signs with a team like Philadelphia his value could grow even larger. I mentioned Mitch Haniger’s slash line earlier in comparison to Ian Happ. The same goes for Michael Conforto. Projecting 0.260/0.360/0.460 for Conforto already puts his triple slash ahead of guys like Haniger. Going almost 100 picks later, Conforto is a steal in fantasy drafts and a prime bounce back candidate for 2022!