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2012 NL Outfielder Keeper Rankings: Top Tier

Posted By Eno Sarris On October 17, 2011 @ 2:15 pm In Keeper Strategy,Outfielders | 17 Comments

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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