AL OF Tiered Rankings Update

As the first Monday in May (and every concurrent month afterwards), I bring you the updated American League outfield tiered rankings. The fluctuations here reflect the past weeks AL OF stock watches as well as what I envision as the player’s fantasy value going forward. As one may expect, previous players who I rated as being bullish have moved up, and vice versa with bearish players dropping down.

Tier One:
Curtis Granderson
Josh Hamilton

Granderson contributes significantly to every standard fantasy category. The only downside to Granderson is his mediocre average. The lack of steals so far in 2012 is more curious than worrisome at this early juncture. His ability to remain healthy and productive is the reason he is number one. Since 2006 he has only had less than 600 plate appearances in a season once, and in that year he still accrued 528 PA. The argument for Hamilton is that he has tied or superseded in Granderson in every statistic so far, including a .75 point batting average advantage. So why is Hamilton ranked #2? You should already know the answer to this: health. He has yet to go on the DL this year, but did miss a 3 game spell with back tightness. To say it another way: From 2008-2011, Hamilton has a total of 2,178 PA, or 544 PA per season while Granderson has garndered 2,558 PA for an average of 639 PA per season. Injuries are impossible to predict, but given the history of Granderson averaging ~100 more trips to the plate each season over the past four years tips the scales in his favor.

Tier Two:
Jose Bautista
Adam Jones
Desmond Jennings

Bautista slides out the top tier due to a slow start, but I fully expect him to bounce back in a big way. Given his fantastic BB% and K%, I don’t think his skills have deteriorated. Hang on to him and enjoy the next five months of Joey Bats rediscovering his power. I’ve been a long time critic of Jones, mostly based on his shaky defense in center field and his apparent hatred of the base on balls but I can’t argue against his 2012 performance so far. His walk rate is still poor, 4.1%, but he has managed to cut his strikeout rate down to a fantastic 13.0%. He isn’t even 27 yet and he is displaying a power trend upward from 2010 to 2012. His current ISO of .287 is over 100 points higher than any previous season, so I doubt he is a true talent .591 slugger. He also is five steals so far, but 3 caught stealing. I’m going out on a limb, but I think a 30 HR, .290 AVG with 15-18 SB isn’t an impossible season at this point in time for Jones. Jennings has flashed some power this year, but his main assets will be his steals and runs. I’ll be disappointed if he ends the year with less than 40 stolen bases and 105 runs.

Tier Three:
B.J. Upton
Alex Gordon
Yeonis Cespedes
Nick Swisher
Ben Zobrist
Austin Jackson

Despite starting the year on the disabled list, Upton hasn’t slide down yet. His power, runs and SB make for a handsome combination. If only he could get his AVG above .245 for a full season. It doesn’t appear as though he was rushed back from his injury either, as just yesterday he hit a homer run and stole a base, while drawing three walks on top of that. Cespedes continues to trouble me in his ranking, as he’s always seems one hot week away from tier two, or one slump away from being in AAA. I personally foresee a 20-20 season with a .260 average for him. After sitting out six games with a hamstring injury, Swish returned to the lineup yesterday and popped his seventh home run of the year. Swisher does have one 30+ HR season under his belt, and while we’re stating arbitrary marks, he also has a pair of 29 HR seasons. With this fast start, injury and all, I think Swish once again tops 30 HR with 90+ runs and 90+ RBI. His average won’t dazzle anyone, but his counting stats (other than steals) will be there at the end of the year. Jackson sneaks into the top tier here based on his runs and SB potential. I was skeptical of his contact rates (and I still am a bit worried) but he contributes too much in other areas for me to overlook him any further.

Tier Four:
Denard Span
Josh Willingham
Mike Trout
Ichiro Suzuki
Matt Joyce
Torii Hunter
Howie Kendrick

Span seems to finally be back in peak form. He currently sports a .309/.361/.382 line which compares favorable to his career line of .286/.361/.387. I think Span will finish the year with a .290 average and 20 SB. Factor in his runs and you have a very useful fantasy player. Willingham has been nothing short of brilliant so far in 2012. His .421 wOBA is second to only Josh Hamilton’s absurd .468. So why is he so far down? It’s the same reason that Hamilton wasn’t ranked number one: injuries. Only once in his career has Willingham eclipsed the 600 PA mark. Again, injuries are impossible to predict, but going off of his previous history, Willingham seems like a good sell-high candidate. Joyce has been quite the surprise for his fantasy owners thus far. Although always able to hit right handed pitching. Joyce is now flashing signs of life against fellow lefties. Rather than sitting versus southpaws, Joyce already has 30 PA against them this year, compared to 101 all of last year. It is hard to say if Joe Maddon just hasn’t found an effective platoon partner for Joyce, or if Joyce is the full time left fielder. Until otherwise, continue to start Joyce every day.

Tier Five:
Nick Markakis
Nelson Cruz
Brett Gardner
Shin-Soo Choo
Seth Smith

Be it injuries or ineffectiveness, none of these players have hit anywhere near their expected numbers. Cruz is the most alarming, as his refusal to walk has manifested itself in a fifth straight season of declining BB%. For you fellow (not to mention patient) Gardner owners, he is due to make his first rehab appearance today. Though there isn’t a time table for his return, Joe Giradi thinks it could be as few as “two or three games.” If you play in an OBP league, both Choo and Smith look much better, but have still been lackluster.

Tier Six:
Marlon Byrd
Josh Reddick
David Murphy
Colby Rasmus
Alejandro De Aza
Nolan Reimold

Byrd offers the most steady contributions and most likely the highest floor, but his ceiling is relatively low. Reddick has flashed power and even some speed, but his contact and walk rates force me to be skeptical of his fantasy value. If only outfield assists were a fantasy statistic, Reddick would rank higher. Rasmus remains a tantalizing collection of tools, but he has yet to have that big fantasy breakout season. Rasmus’ strikeout rate is elevated and his walk rate is down compared to last year and his career averages. His SwStr% is up and his contact both in and out of the zone are down. All of those things worry me. He is still only 25, so there is hope yet, but I’m beginning to wonder about him. Buck Showalter has said that he expects Reimold to return to the team around May 14th, and assuming no setbacks, that seems like a reasonable time period. If Reimold can stay healthy for a full season after he returns, that will go miles to bolster my faith in his game. I’m not a huge believer in his game, but I can see his 20 HR upside.

Tier Seven:
Cody Ross
Peter Bourjos
Rajai Davis
Michael Saunders
Jeff Francoeur
Coco Crisp
Eric Thames

Ross climbs to tier seven based mostly on playing time and his home park. I’m not a full believer in his ability as a first division starter, but I can’t ignore the starting left fielder for the Red Sox. Davis only has 36 PA, but has made it into 21 games already. His SB:CS is pretty rough right now, 3:2, but for his career he has a 78% success rate. Expect a cheap 30-35 bags out of him this year. With his recent move to the DL, Crisp continues to drop in the rankings. His “batting” won’t be missed much, as he currently sports a .194 AVG and just five runs scored on the year. The lone bright spot has been his 4:0 SB/CS ratio. When he returns, you can expect another 25 stolen bases out of him. I fully expect Crisp and Davis to have similar SB numbers, though ironically enough, Davis may finish with the better AVG. Thames hasn’t done anything to earn a promotion to tier seven from my first rankings where I had him tier eight, but a collection of injuries and awfulness have moved him up by default.

Tier Eight:
Jacoby Ellsbury 
Brennan Boesch
Delmon Young
Ryan Raburn
Carl Crawford
Alex Rios
Lorenzo Cain

We have two 60-day DL players, Cain who won’t be back until late May, and a collection of hitters who have failed to live up to that title. Other than injuries, the saddest thing here is Alex Rios. In the mid 2000’s I guzzled the Rio kool-aid. Little did I know that drinking that kool-aid would give me a two year fantasy draft hangover effect. Despite cutting his already low walk rate, Rios has in fact been able to maintain an equal K/BB ratio by also cutting back on his strikeouts. He is walking at a career low rate, but he is also striking out at a career low rate. His AVG has bounce backed from 2011, but his power has yet to full reappear and his days of 30+ stolen bases appear to be long gone.

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No Cody Ross?