2011 Player Rankings: AL OF

The act of ranking American League outfielders is best described as an exercise in risk evaluation. Whether you crave risk or shrink from it—or perhaps you prefer a little of both, eh?—there are plenty of options from each end of the spectrum in almost every one of the below tiers. I’ll be your guide this season as we evaluate the men who patrol the green pastures of the junior circuit.

As per usual, these ranks were determined from a compilation of lists submitted by the RotoGraphs crew. Before we get on with the tiers, a few housekeeping points:

1) This list comprises the Top 53 outfielders.
2) To establish continuity, only players who received at least three mentions from our panel of judges are ranked.
3) For the purposes of this project, eligibility requires either 20 games played in the outfield in 2010 or a projected outfield spot in 2011.

Now, onto the tiers.

TIER 1
Carl Crawford
Josh Hamilton

Right off the bat, you’re asking yourself: Do I feel lucky? If yes, then reigning AL MVP Hamilton may be your man. But Crawford was the unanimous No. 1 here. Chalk that up to a combination of Hamilton’s injury history and Crawford’s new, loaded lineup. These two are capable of putting up numbers that others on this list simply aren’t. Hence, they’re in a class by themselves.

TIER 2
Shin-Soo Choo
Nelson Cruz
Jose Bautista
Ichiro Suzuki
Alex Rios
Jacoby Ellsbury
Curtis Granderson

Choo has become Mr. Consistent, putting up nearly identical seasons the past two years (20-20 output with a pair of .300-on-the-dot batting averages), and there’s no reason to believe he can’t do it again, or even improve. Caution on the next three, though. Cruz would very possibly be No. 1 overall if fantasy value was determined by per-game production, but he rivals his teammate Hamilton for games missed. It takes a certain type of owner to seek out Bautista when something about him this year screams Mark Reynolds; circa 2010. Ichiro’s value is too tied up in relying on his lousy teammates to knock him in (just 74 runs last year!), and if he’s not hitting .350, he’s not helping enough. Rios and Granderson, on the other hand, perpetually feel like they’re capable of more only to fail to meet those expectations, but both are 20-20 candidates who play in good hitter’s parks.

TIER 3
Delmon Young
Nick Markakis
Brett Gardner
Juan Pierre
Torii Hunter
B.J. Upton
Vernon Wells
Adam Jones
Nick Swisher
Bobby Abreu

This group may be the “safest” batch. The categories are different, but we pretty much know what we’re getting—and not getting—from Gardner and Pierre (runs and steals), versus from Hunter, Wells and Swisher (homers and RBIs). Young showed enough legitimate advancement in his plate discipline (career-best 14.2% strikeout rate) and power potential (.195 ISO also a career-high), but his only “elite” roto category (112 RBIs) is also a highly unpredictable one. To wit, Markakis’ RBI total dropped from 101 to 60 without any sort of underlying indication of offensive decline. The two wild cards in this deck are Upton—even a .250 average would be welcome at this point—and Mr. Jones, who suffers from every fantasy owner’s wish that he could be someone just a little more funky.* The prevailing thought was that it would happen for him last year, but don’t write off that possibility in 2011.
*Counting Crows fan.

TIER 4
Ben Zobrist
Carlos Quentin
Rajai Davis
Grady Sizemore
Ryan Raburn
Denard Span
Michael Cuddyer
Magglio Ordonez
Luke Scott
Manny Ramirez
Travis Snider
Jason Kubel

Gut: Quentin hits 35 bombs this season. Or misses 35 games with plantar fascia problems, thus frustrating owners once again. Still, he’s worth the gamble as a third outfielder. While the same could be said for Sizemore, there’s something unsettling about targeting a guy who has had even more troubling recent injury issue—and who hasn’t homered since Aug. 27, 2009. Cuddyer, Ordonez and Scott are three very streaky hitters who will help more than hurt, but continuing the trend here, they always lose time to minor nicks and warts. The big sleeper candidate among this tier is Snider, who still has some major holes in his swing, but since his 2008 debut, he’s finally cobbled together a season’s worth of big-league plate appearances (675), and here are two noteworthy numbers: 40 and 25. As in, doubles and home runs. The man could be an extra-base machine.

TIER 5
Franklin Gutierrez
Austin Jackson
David DeJesus
J.D. Drew
Sean Rodriguez
David Murphy
Coco Crisp
Josh Willingham
Peter Bourjos
Alex Gordon
Julio Borbon
Johnny Damon
Juan Rivera

At this point, unless you see a breakout possibility (Rodriguez?), the strategy should be to find the outfielder who can help your team most based on category. There are still some 20-homer types (Drew, Willingham), as well as batting average helpers (DeJesus) and some theft specialists (Crisp, Bourjos, Borbon), but the upside is limited. A recommendation for AL-only leagues: Own David Murphy. As the fourth outfielder in Texas, he’ll find some spare playing time when Hamilton and/or Cruz visit the DL, get 400-plus at-bats, and hit 15 homers.

TIER 6
Matt Joyce
Michael Brantley
Lorenzo Cain
Michael Saunders
Desmond Jennings
Ryan Kalish
Felix Pie
Jeff Francoeur
Brennan Boesch

Chances are, one or two of these guys will surprise everybody and become a top 20 candidate by season’s end. If we’re throwing darts, how about Joyce? His combination of power (25 homers in 575 career plate appearances) and kid-gloves treatment (the Rays don’t let him sniff left-handed pitching) could manifest into a Jason Kubel-esque season. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a complete shock to see Saunders’ big-league learning curve spike, thanks to his slowly improving eye (10.7% walk rate), some better luck (.260 BABIP) and more pop (.156 ISO) from of his 6’4″ frame.

BONUS TIER
Don’t forget about these four names, who came close but failed to qualify for these rankings because they fell just shy of 20 outfield games last year: Vladimir Guerrero (18 games), Adam Lind (16), Hideki Matsui (16) and Jack Cust (16). If your league has a lower games played minimum, then Guerrero and Lind would rank in the middle of TIER 3, while Matsui and Cust fit in one level lower, toward the bottom of TIER 4.

Comments are welcome below, and keep checking in as other outfield posts will follow throughout the week.




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Jason Catania is an MLB Lead Writer for Bleacher Report who also contributes to ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider and MLB Rumor Central, focusing on baseball and fantasy content. When he was first introduced to fantasy baseball, Derek Jeter had 195 career hits, Jamie Moyer had 72 wins and Matt Stairs was on team No. 3. You can follow him on Twitter: @JayCat11


28 Responses to “2011 Player Rankings: AL OF”

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  1. boris the blade says:

    Houston we have a problem.

    Article has some what looks like HTML errors…

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  2. Jason Catania says:

    Sorry about the coding issues. Should be all good now. Emphasis on “should.”

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  3. Tom B says:

    **Don’t forget about these four names, who came close but failed to qualify for these rankings because they fell just shy of 20 outfield games last year**

    The single most used fantasy format in the world uses 10 games, not 20. Get with the times.

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  4. Resolution says:

    Oops no Jay Bruce!

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  5. shibboleth says:

    Thanks for this, most helpful! I’ve been feeling awkward considering an Cleveland Indian (Choo) as a first OF but this makes me feel better. I assume J-Up was left off because he wasn’t mentioned by enough judges? And nice one on Vlad, I think he’ll return decent value in Baltimore.

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    • shibboleth says:

      gah, ignore my j-up comment. forgot about the AL-only criteria… my morning coffee isn’t doing it’s job.

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  6. BlackYoshi says:

    Are you going to release a joint league OF ranking? This isn’t all that helpful to us in mixed leagues if they are separate…

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      Yes we will. In an effort to give the position coverage over the full course of a year, we will have an AL OF position correspondent (Jason) and an NL guy (me). But we will release mixed rankings as soon as we can, as a one-time, draft-prep thing.

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  7. mordecofe says:

    Comparing Bautista to Mark Reynolds? Really? Now, that is a lazy piece of writing. Reynold’s whiffs at almost double Bautista’s rate – that alone is a huge difference.

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    • Jason Catania says:

      Actually, Reynolds whiffed more than twice as often as Bautista in 2010, but I was thinking more along the lines of their extreme fly ball tendencies. Reynolds HR/FB rate dropped from a career-high in his monster 2009 to more in line with his career averages last year. Accordingly, he went from being a Top 5 third baseman to practically unusable b/c all the flies (and Ks) killed his average. If the same thing happens to Bautista (even if it’s not as dramatic a drop since he may be working off of a new, higher plateau), then he’ll lose a ton of homers, which is his primary value, much like it was for Reynolds.

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    • adohaj says:

      He might be referring to the fantasy beast to fantasy suck transition that took place

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  8. Fucilli Jerry says:

    Matt Holliday not OF eligible?

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  9. Fucilli Jerry says:

    al only..doh!

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  10. SKob says:

    Wow! I think ‘American League’ needs to be spelled out in the next installment title. I think some people thought ‘AL OF’ meant ‘All Outfielders’. hahahahaha

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  11. Jason Catania says:

    In fact, it was previously until this shortened version. And most of the comments were from the lengthier days. Oh well. At least folks seem to be figuring this out on their own.

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  12. chris says:

    is it me, or are the OFers much worse than 5 years ago?

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    • MTUCache says:

      “is it me, or are the OFers much less covered in abnormally large muscles than 5 years ago?”
      FYP.

      Apparently much like the readers of this article are much less capable of understanding the english language or the meaning of “AL”.

      Don’t worry… the NL is much better. (Braun, CarGo, Holliday, Pence, Kemp, Heyward, JUpton, Ethier, Bruce, McCutchen make me feel a ton better about the OF depth in mixed leagues this season.)

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  13. Reuben says:

    Technically Sizemore hit a HR in a game that was canceled due to rain.

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    • Jason Catania says:

      Admittedly, I don’t watch every Indians game, so if that’s true, then I apologize for missing. But still, then it’s ONE homer since Aug. 2009.

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  14. Willie Mac says:

    Is it possible that if Adam Jones doesn’t step it up this year it could end up Raining in Baltimore?*
    *also a Counting Crows fan

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  15. JoeC says:

    Counting Crows suck.

    Just sayin’.

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