Fantasy Baseball State of the Union: Outfield
Welcome to the final installment of our Fantasy Baseball State of the Union. I’ve been looking back to see if this “new” version of the game we love had any meaningful impact in fantasy. Of course, some of the stuff you can already imagine, like the increase in stolen bases and the higher batting average without the shift, but what does that mean for each position? Did it create more value in certain spots? How does that impact our 2024 draft strategy? These are the questions I’m looking to answer in this State of the Fantasy Baseball Union series.
You can look at my examination of first base here and also check out my breakdown of second base here and shortstop here and also third base here and catcher here. Today, we are going to turn our attention to outfield. I sorted by players who accumulated 200 plate appearances both this season and in 2022 and looked to see if there was any meaningful change in the standard 5x5 offensive categories (batting average, home runs, runs, RBI, and steals). Then I tried to dive into WHAT that change was, WHY it may have happened, and HOW likely it is that we see it again.
Quite obviously we’re not going to go through all of these names because that would be long and boring and nobody wants to read that. What we do want to point out is that almost 100 outfielders with over 200 at-bats hit over .240. We also saw a noticeable jump from last year, which we’ve seen across all of the positions, likely due to the banning of the shift. As a result, we’re continuing to see that our benchmarks for batting average need to higher and we want to make sure we have a plan to get a few real strong batting average assets to meet that higher benchmark.
If we want to know who the real batting average assets are in the outfield, there were just three outfielders to hit over .300 this year: Ronald Acuna Jr., Cody Bellinger, and Mookie Betts. Five more outfielders hit over .290: Nolan Jones, Jarren Duran, Michael Harris II, Yordan Alvarez, and Josh Lowe.
Looking at some of those names, you’ll also see why there will be a big boom in a lot of these outfield categories because we’ve seen an influx of talented young players like Lowe, Jones, and Duran who’ve come up and made a real impact. Corbin Carroll, who hit .285, would be another talented young player on this list, as is Riley Greene, who hit .288, and many more.
Outfield is another position where we saw a big boom in power production. In fact, almost twice as many outfielders hit over 20 home runs this year than in 2022.
We also start to see a bunch of repeat names who posted a solid batting average and 20+ home runs. If we want to look at players who hit 20+ home runs and also hit .270 or better, you’ll see: Acuna, Betts, Bellinger, Alvarez, Carroll, Juan Soto, Julio Rodriguez, Nick Castellanos, Kyle Tucker, Brandon Nimmo, Spencer Steer, and Chas McCormick.
If we want to look at who the true power assets were, there were 10 outfielders who hit 30 home runs or more this year: Acuna, Betts, Alvarez, Soto, Rodriguez, Kyle Schwarber, Adolis Garcia, Luis Robert Jr., Aaron Judge, and Brent Rooker. Those are the names we want to be looking at if we’re specifically targeting power production.
There isn’t as much top tier value in RBI as there was in the other categories, but we’re still seeing that outfield provides more options than the other positions, which makes sense since there are more outfielders.
We also continue to see repeat names who’ve now shown up on all three lists so far: Betts, Acuna, Bellinger, Alvarez, Rodriguez, Caroll, Lowe, Tucker, McCormick, Steer, Castellanos, Robert Jr., Judge, and Lane Thomas.
We’re also seeing some players who were maybe on the lower end of the batting average range this year who have provided strong value in home runs and RBI to counter that: Adolis Garcia, Anthony Santander, Teoscar Hernandez, Randy Arozarena, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Kyle Schwarber, who hit just .197 on the year, which is really tough to stomach if we’re saying that batting average is up pretty drastically across the league.
A modest uptick here but nothing overly drastic. Runs were up across the lead, going back to levels we saw in 2019 and 2020, so it’s fitting that there would be a slight bump here, but this is nothing to meaningfully change your draft strategy. It was always a good idea to come out of the draft with at least one outfielder who hit at the top of the lineup, and that hasn’t changed.
Among the league leaders at the position, we see a lot of the same names: Acuna, Betts, Carroll, Schwarber, Garcia, Rodriguez, Tucker, Soto, Bellinger, Arozarena, Tatis Jr, Robert Jr., and Nimmo. We also see Christian Yelich, Lane Thomas again and Steven Kwan.
You even get some of the power-first middle of the order bats who drive themselves in a bunch, like Aaron Judge and Yordan Alvarez.
Some interesting names that just barely cleared other categories and also show up here are George Springer (.258, 21 home runs, 72 RBI, 87 runs), Ian Happ (.248, 21 home runs, 84 RBI, 86 runs), Bryan Reynolds (.263, 24 home runs, 84 RBI, 85 runs), and James Outman (.248, 23 home runs, 70 RBI, 86 runs). Which is just one way of suggesting that there are a decent amount of five-category hitters among the outfielders if you’re just looking for steady but not exceptional contribution in any one category.
Well, that’s a pretty massive jump. In 2023, the outfield had more than double the amount of 15 stolen base players as it did in 2022. That shouldn’t come as a shock. Outfield traditional is home to some of the faster players on the field, and the new stolen base rules certainly helped those faster players put their speed to good use.
However, the big takeaway here is that, with so many outfielders now contributing meaningfully in steals, you don’t need to elevate a speed-first player too high in your drafts just to make sure you can get speed. Esteury Ruiz may be the only real speed-only player who gets drafted on the earlier side, but he stole 67 bases this year, so you’re talking about the top tier stolen base assets in the league. However, even he has fallen lowered than expected in drafts because he just doesn’t help you anywhere else.
That might also hurt the fantasy value of guys on here like Jake McCarthy, Ji Hwan Bae, Brenton Doyle, Myles Straw, and Harrison Bader. Getting 20+ steals from them is great, but it’s no longer as valuable since I can get 21 steals from Jake Fraley, 20 steals from Nolan Jones, 20 steals from Cody Bellinger, 16 from James Outman, or 15 from Spencer Steer and get so much more production in other categories.
Among the stolen base leaders, we see a lot of the same names again like Acuna, Carroll, Rodriguez, Tucker, Tatis Jr., and Yelich. But we also see Josh Lowe again and Jazz Chisholm Jr., who stole 22 bases in just 97 games.
There are plenty of avenues to get speed with your outfield draft picks now, so those “rabbits” look like a thing of the past.
TAKEAWAYS AND RANKINGS
Outfield has always been where a lot of the top tier fantasy talent lies, and nothing much has changed with that. There’s now more speed and power across the board to provide a strong list of outfielders even after that top tier goes. However, with the offensive production up across the league, that means category targets have increased for fantasy managers and we’re seeing that the outfield crop tends to thin pretty quickly.
Yes, there are a lot of later round outfield picks that can steal bases or just hit home runs or score runs, but those players are less valuable now that you need more offensive production to keep up. It feels like the best strategy is to make sure you target solid outfielders early to take advantage of the solid production at the position and ensure you don’t need to rely too much on one or two category bats that remain later.
So who are my current top 20 outfielders for 2024?