I’ve been slacking on my pimping: It’s been a long time since I’ve tiered my National League outfielders. After a long discussion of rankings every time we produce ranks (our late July ranks are up on the main page), I realized that I think in tiers. Too often a reader would react to one player that was right below another, and I would be surprised. Would I take this player for that player in a trade? Dunno, what does the rest of my team look like. What are my needs.
Instead, I find it more rewarding to think of players in tiers. Is there much sense in wondering if I would trade Carlos Gonzalez for Matt Kemp straight up anyway? Much more interesting to me is the idea that I could trade away Jay Bruce in a trade that netted me Justin Upton, and my outfielder’s tier wouldn’t be affected.
So, your tiers:
It’s pretty amazing how the outfield talent is clustered in the National League. The top NL outfielders are better off than their American League counterparts, and at every tier down the line you’d probably pick the senior circuit outfielders. These four guys are making their case to be top-five picks next year in mixed leagues, and there’s not much to dislike.
You’re still sitting pretty cool (and in the shade) with this group. Allen Craig, with the news that Lance Berkman is headed to part-time duty when he returns, has no impediments or asterisks next to his ranking. He’s an excellent young bat, he just doesn’t steal enough bases to join the tippy top. There really isn’t too much to hate here. There’s a little injury risk with Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran, and Hunter Pence has a tougher home park, but he’s been the same in a lot of different parks: streaky, but powerful and fast enough to belong here. Giancarlo Stanton is already rehabbing, and even though he’s more useful in OBP leagues, Jason Heyward has shown enough power and speed to join the tier.
You’re still doing pretty well here. We chose Mike Trout over Bryce Harper when they were called up, but don’t let the pendulum swing back too far in the other direction: He’s shown that he has more power upside than the already-useful power he’s already shown. After a hefty Lance Berkman vs Michael Morse in-house FanGraphs debate at the beginning of the season, and a reader vote that had the two neck-and-neck, it’s the younger player that is finally proving useful. On the other hand, last year’s version of Jason Heyward reminds us what happens if we get to hungry for young blood. Jason Kubel should be fine even with some regression — and with a career-worst strikeout rate (backed by a career-worst swinging strike rate) paired with a career-high BABIP and a career-high ISO, there is reason to believe regression is coming. The National League has good depth in the outfield, too, since these guys represent your second NL-only outfielders.
Lunch By the Fountain
In the context of an NL-only league, these guys are pleasant and useful, like a sandwich by the fountain on a nice day. Dexter Fowler and Jayson Werth are both better in OBP leagues, Carlos Quentin is a hit-by-pitch away from a season-ending injury, Michael Cuddyer is hurt, Alfonso Soriano is streaky and a veteran on a team going in a different direction, Drew Stubbs strikes out too much, and guys like Nate Schierholtz and Garrett Jones are better used in a platoon. That’s okay, all of these guys are still great if used correctly. In an NL-only league, it’s best to have a good fourth outfielder to pair with most of these guys in order to mitigate their flaws.
This is basically your upper-level grab bag. Being stuck inside on a summer day can be a blessing on the right day, and each of these guys can step in and do some work for you in leagues with daily lineups. If Tyler Colvin seems low to you, I’d point you to his usage (mostly platoon) and luck (career-high BABIP) and bet on the guy striking out in a quarter of his at-bats to put up a batting average closer to .250 going forward. We’ll leave the injured and demoted guys on here because they still have a little more promise than the guys lower on this list, even in their reduced current states. Well, Juan Pierre might only have downside left now that his team is “Going Young,” but he could still be a post-waiver deadline trade piece.
Tony Gwynn Jr
There really isn’t a good reason to like any of these guys. Well, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Brett Jackson are toolsy young outfielders, so you could like that about them, but both of them have contact issues, and one is still in the minor leagues. Brett Jackson had a strikeout rate over 30% in the minor leagues, and that’s just terrible. He’ll have to show power, patience, defense and speed to make up for it, and even then his batting average will likely make him a marginal player in 5×5 leagues.