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American League Outfield Tiered Rankings Update

Per usual, this is the rest-of-season thoughts on the American League outfield. All stats cited are through August 12, 2013.

Tier One
Mike Trout

We’ll be telling our children and grandchildren about how we remember Mike Trout‘s first two seasons and hopefully his entire career. Right now he is simply in a class by himself. Trout fills up the stat line and is the ideal fantasy player. He does it all.

Tier Two
Jacoby Ellsbury
Chris Davis
Jose Bautista
Adam Jones
Curtis Granderson

Here we see Ellsbury climb to the top of tier two, as his 42 stolen bases pace the league and his .301/.362/.435 line is nothing to scoff at either. Be it standard 5×5 or an on-base percentage league, Ellsbury brings value to the table. If he hit for more power, he would be Mike Trout 2.0. Fun fact: Ellsbury’s 2011 season where he hit .321/.376/.552 with 32 homers and 39 steals would be Trouts worst qualified season.

It is probably a 50/50 chance that this Curtis Granderson ranking looks absolutely dead on or hilariously awful in the coming weeks. He’s missed a ton of games and has just three home runs in 18 games, but is capable of bashing his way to fantasy prominence. As expected, he doesn’t offer much in terms of batting average, but the early indicators show that his uptick in walks is for real. We’re still deep in the realm of small sample size, but Granderson’s O-Swing% and SwStr% is down compared to last season. The present author is a renown kool-aid drinker on certain players and Granderson is one of players. Granderson’s power plus his home park makes for a mesmerizing combination. Throw your empty cup my way; I’m manning the Granderson punch bowl.

Tier Three
Alex Rios
Michael Bourn
Ben Zobrist
Yoenis Cespedes
Nick Markakis
Mark Trumbo
Alex Gordon

Now we see that Alex Rios had jumped from the top of last month’s tier four to the top of tier three. Why the change? The biggest reason is that while U.S. Cellular is an excellent home run park for right-handed hitters, it isn’t overall as great as a hitter’s haven as The Ballpark in Arlington. With respects to our very own Mike Podhorzer, the present author disagrees with Pod’s assessment of Rios’ value.

As Mike pointed out, here at FanGraphs we havethe GUTS section where the Dark Overlord performs his evil calculations updates yearly park factors. Last year the Chicago White Sox came in at 104 and the Texas Rangers came in at 106 ratings for their respective ballparks. While that difference in run environment is hardly worthy of note, the key difference is the surrounding lineups that hit in those parks. This year the Rangers have scored 522 runs whereas the White Sox have struggled to score all season. The ChiSox have scored the fewest runs in the AL — 431 runs — second fewest in baseball  to only the lowly Florida Marlins, who of course play in the senior circuit. While fully acknowledging that Rios’ home run per fly ball rate may take a hit, he should post better RBI and runs scored numbers than what he would have done in Chicago.

Outside of one game batting cleaning, this year in Chicago Rios exclusively hit third, a prime fantasy position in the batting order. The trouble is the first two hitters have for the White Sox has been primarily Alejandro De Aza (.329 wOBA) leading off and a brutal mix of Alexei Ramirez (.297 OBP) and Jeff Keppinger (.247 wOBA) getting the lions share of the two hole plate appearances. Even if Rios doesn’t move up the Texas lineup — something that he very well could do — the two Rangers that have appeared hitting four and five the most this year have been Adrian Beltre (.391 wOBA) and A.J. Pierzynski (.324 wOBA). Factor in Ian Kinsler (.328 wOBA) and even a slumping Elvis Andrus (.281 wOBA) and Rios has some very good hitters in front of him for a change. Hopefully Rios rewards everyone who gambled on him and traded for him just before the deadline.

Tier Four
Torii Hunter
Josh Hamilton
Leonys Martin
Shane Victorino
Coco Crisp
Desmond Jennings
Austin Jackson

Torii Hunter leads the fourth tier this month as his change in approach is real, though his power numbers have been hurt as a result. Even without the 20-odd home run season, Hunter is valuable as the second hitter in the lineup that has scored the second most runs in baseball. Curiously Hunter’s walk rate — never his biggest asset — has virtually disappeared. His 3.8% walk rate is tied for sixth lowest in the league for qualified hitters. For now, he’s shown over 1,000 PA’s of consistently high BABIP, though again, potentially at the expense of his walk rate. Even without the base on balls, that higher-than-average BABIP as well as his place in the Tigers lineup, Hunter makes for a very solid fantasy player.

Tier Five
Nick Swisher
Josh Reddick
Brett Gardner
Wil Myers
Brandon Moss
Alfonso Soriano
Nate McLouth
Colby Rasmus

Josh Reddick gets a boost thanks to his recent performances. Not to weigh too heavily on two games, but his five home runs over the weekend doubled his year to date home run total. A surprise climber is Colby Rasmus, who despite having a strikeout rate north of 30%, has been enjoying one of his best fantasy seasons. He is projected to finish the year with 25 home runs and has a shot at 80 runs and 80 RBIs.

Tier Six
Josh Willingham
Matt Joyce
Alejandro De Aza
Daniel Nava
Michael Brantley
Peter Bourjos
Adam Dunn
Chris Carter
Michael Morse
Rajai Davis

Josh Willingham returned from the disabled list just days ago after missing over a month following knee surgery. Last season Willingham posted a career high in games played, plate appearances, home runs, RBIs, runs scored, and wRC+. This year he has come back down to earth, but is still posting his strong walk/OBP abilities. For a player that is available in over 60% of Yahoo! leagues and 66% of ESPN leagues, Willingham makes for a solid pick up.

Tier Seven
Michael Saunders
Mike Carp
Trevor Plouffe
Chris Young
Oswaldo Arcia
Melky Cabrera
Seth Smith
Ryan Doumit
Drew Stubbs
Ichiro Suzuki
Emilio Bonifacio

We’re getting a bit thing on either playing time or talent at this point. Chris Young has power and speed, but his rate stats have made him basically unplayable. Stubbs’ speed, his primary fantasy asset, seems to have left him as his 13 steals on the year put him far off pace his 30, 40, and 30 stolen base totals of previous seasons.

Tier Eight
Jarrod Dyson
Dayan Viciedo
J.B. Shuck
Aaron Hicks
Vernon Wells
Lorenzo Cain
David Murphy
Kole Calhoun
Raul Ibanez

If one happens to be employing more than one of these outfielders in your daily lineup, just put a “Help Wanted” sign on the your fantasy team. Both Dyson and Shuck are mildly interesting and Cain would be if he could stay healthy.