2012 NL Outfielder Keeper Rankings: Top Tier

The fantasy season has largely drawn to a close — sure there’s Pick Six all the way until the final out — so it’s time to start thinking about the offseason. Here at RotoGraphs we’ll be unveiling our keeper rankings, tier by tier, position by position. For outfielders and pitchers, we’ll combine them at some point, too.

Here are your top tier National League outfielder keepers this offseason:

Matt Kemp
The number one producer in fantasy baseball last year according to Zach Sanders’ new calculator, Kemp had a season for the ages. One more home run and he would have had the fifth 40/40 season in the history of baseball. Even with slightly more power/speed combo players in baseball these days, it was an exemplary year. The mercurial 27-year-old center fielder put up career highs in hits, home runs, RBI, runs, walks, and stolen bases. That alone makes him a candidate for regression, but it’s nice to see what peripherals were actually in line with his career work. His strikeout rate, for one, improved over last year (23.1% this year, 25.4% last year) but really just settled into to his career rate (23.4%). Maybe his 10.7% walk rate won’t happen again (career 7.9%), but maybe it will. Kemp walked at about an average rate in the minor leagues and patience and power come with age. Speaking of power, his .262 ISO was a career high, but it comes off a steady three-year improvement in that category. He’s also slowly been shifting from hitting ground balls to hitting fly balls — after putting up a 1.4 GB/FB in 2008, he’s steadily pushed that ratio to the 0.9 he showed last year. First you get the fly balls, then you get the power. His HR/FB rate has followed the same steady progression.

All of that said, Kemp also put up the worst swinging strike rate of his career in 2011 (12.8%). He has also lived off of some nice BABIPs. A .380 BABIP last year (.364 xBABIP) was not so far off of his career number (.352 BABIP), but it represents some risk. Kemp once fell below .300 in the category (.295 BABIP in 2010), and his batting average plummeted to .249 that year. It’s also worth mentioning that, without all those base hits, Kemp might not put up the same runs and RBI totals next year. Especially if the Dodgers don’t improve their lineup. The good news is that he’s a good bet for great stolen base and home run totals even if the batting average and those runs and RBI totals fall next year.

Ryan Braun
If you’d rather be more sure about the batting average and let the power fall where it may, then the 27-year-old bear of an outfielder in Milwaukee is probably your pick for the best outfield keeper. After a one-year dip in ISO, Braun returned to his fantasy super-stardom in 2011 by recovering his old power levels. His .268 ISO last year was perfectly in line with his career numbers (.251 career ISO), and his HR/FB recovered as well (18.8% last year, 17.9% career). It really just looks like a few more doubles went over the wall this year — his career-high in doubles last year (45) fell back to his career average this year (38), and his home run total went up accordingly. Still, that one-year dip in power exists, and creates an inkling of doubt when looking at Braun’s power.

Braun has also benefited from a nice BABIP his whole career, but he hasn’t seen the same heights or depths as Kemp. His highest BABIP (.361) came in his rookie year, and his lowest (.305) came in his sophomore effort. Since, he’s been metronome-like (high of .353, low of .331). It comes paired with a great strikeout rate (14.8% in 2011, 17.6% career), so it’s just true: Braun’s batting average is much safer.

Will he continue to steal bases at this rate? He doesn’t seem like your typical speedster in terms of build, but he’s been so successful that it seems likely he’ll continue to offer 20-ish stolen bases going forward. His 85% success rate last year was right in line with his 80% career success rate. That’s the kind of player that will continue to get the green light from his coaches.

It’s possible that the probable loss of Prince Fielder halts Braun’s three-year run of putting up 100+/100+ runs and RBI. If it happens, though, it won’t be by much. The Brewers will still have their top three pitchers in hand, and will try to find a way to mitigate the loss of Fielder in the lineup even if their big first baseman moves on.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

17 Responses to “2012 NL Outfielder Keeper Rankings: Top Tier”

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  1. batpig says:

    two points:

    1) Matt Kemp and Ryan Braun are awesome? Amazing! :p

    2) why oh why oh why do you continue to stick with this bizarre AL/NL split for OF??? The vast majority of leagues are mixed, and it’s not like you are doing AL and NL shortstops in separate articles? Why oh why, Eno?

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      Hey! I was critical of both of these players and you have to have a first tier in any case.

      And for the second, I’ve explained it many times. We will produce mixed league lists, but OF and SP are too much for one person to handle when it comes to in-season work — the in-season rankings would be too much work for one person, and there is no more natural way to split up the work load than by leagues.

      It’s a procedural argument, but if we’re writing up each dude so you can make you own informed decisions about them, and we’re providing mixed league rankings eventually, I don’t really see the problem.

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      • batpig says:

        I was joking about Kemp/Braun, thus the :p

        anyway, your argument is valid (sort of) for in-season stuff, but this is an offseason tier ranking. You are already breaking it up into tiers, it seems silly to maintain that AL/NL separation.

        it just seems bizarre to me to be having a discussion about the top tier of fantasy outfielders and discuss Braun and Kemp, but NOT also be talking about Ellsbury, Bautista, etc.

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    • adohaj says:

      If I remember his reasoning is because of the vast depth of talent at OF. If they were combined it wouldn’t do the position justice

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  2. st says:

    yea mixed league is the future

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    • batpig says:

      and the present :-)

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      • Ray says:

        Only leagues are more challenging, there should be more of them, in my opinion. Mixed leagues are like having an 8-team fantasy football league. Every team is stacked.

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      • Brad Johnson says:

        You see, that is an opinion. In my opinion, an ideal league uses 80% of the starters in the pool + some of the better platoony guys. A league that requires owners to pick between various part time options for starting roles isn’t as fun to me.

        Here’s a quick smell test. If Gerardo Parra was owned more than 50% of the season, the league might be too deep. If he was owned less than 10% of the season, it was probably too shallow.

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      • Samuel says:

        If you play in an 8-team mixed league then it’s stacked. Or with default roster sizes.

        Most leagues I’ve played in have more than the standard ESPN/Yahoo roster sizes, both bench and starters, and most of those leagues also have more than 10 or 12 people in them, so they are nowhere near stacked. Quite the opposite, in fact.

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  3. Matt says:

    I agree with the post above. Combine both leagues – if someone happens to play in an AL/NL only league, they can ignore the write-ups about the opposite league OFers and go on what’s relevant to them.

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  4. ray says:

    10 or 12 team mixed leagues are nothing compared to 12 team NL-only leagues. In Only leagues, you need to know who the 4th or 5th outfielders are on each team, and decide who is going to get more playing time.
    Just my two cents…..

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  5. Ben says:

    18 Team Mixed with 25 man roster = 4th and 5th outfielders as well. Eno and Fan/Roto graphs does a great job. The release by league just gives more content to read day by day instead of one big drop on one day and besides unless your drafting next week…….. you’ve got the time to come back and read more later.

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  6. rich101682 says:

    No Justin Upton?

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    • batpig says:

      good point! but justifiable… Upton was awesome but in 2011 he was a clear tier below Kemp/Braun.

      with Braun you are getting a virtual lock for .300+/100+/30+/100+ and at least 15-20 steals. Upton has the potential to do that but hasn’t yet, even in his best year (2011) he was well behind Braun.

      And Kemp’s 2011 was so monstrous…. it puts him a notch ahead. Upton is like a half notch back but with the potential to join them…. along with CarGo, McCutch, and Stanton. But I think leaving him out of this tier is fully defensible.

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  7. Fantasy Fan says:

    I can’t help but having a feeling that Ichiro wil have a bounce back year in 2012. Your thoughts?

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