Talking About Early NL Outfield Tiers

“It’s easy to sum it up when you’re just talking about tiers. We’re sitting in here, and I’m supposed to be the franchise player, and we in here talking about tiers. I mean, listen, we’re talking about tiers. Not a game, not a game, not a game, we talking about tiers. Not a game. Not, not … not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last. Not the game, but we’re talking about tiers, man. I mean, how silly is that? … And we talking about tiers. I know I supposed to be there. I know I’m supposed to lead by example … I know that … And I’m not … I’m not shoving it aside, you know, like it don’t mean anything. I know it’s important, I do. I honestly do … But we’re talking about tiers, man. What are we talking about? Tiers? We’re talking about tiers, man. [laughter from the media crowd] We’re talking about tiers. We’re talking about tiers. We ain’t talking about the game. [more laughter] We’re talking about tiers, man. When you come to the arena, and you see me play, you see me play don’t you? You’ve seen me give everything I’ve got, right? But we’re talking about tiers right now. We talking about ti- [interrupted].” – Allen Iverson, noted rotisserie enthusiast.

Ahem, yeah. It’s that time again — the time to take great, big, giant lists of baseball players at different positions and pare them down to smaller, more manageable groupings. Yes, we’re talking about tiers! National League outfield tiers, to be specific. (Not the game, to be clear, in case there was confusion there, but tiers.)

These are derived largely from projection systems, including Steamer, ZiPS, Fans, Marcel and the author’s whimbrain. They serve mostly as a conversation starter, so let’s treat them as such and chime in either below or on twitter: @jackweiland.

As is custom around these parts, we’ll name tiers in this episode after something fun: some of the most rantful sports rants that ever ranted. Ready? Let’s go!

TIER 1 – Lee Elia – “I’ll tell ya one [bleepin] thing!”
Giancarlo Stanton
Andrew McCutchen
Carlos Gonzalez
Carlos Gomez
Ryan Braun
Yasiel Puig

The cream of the crop. A very real chance exists for each of these players to finish 2014 as the top NL outfielder. They possess either a) an elite carrying tool with a good or very good set of secondary tools, or b) an elite array of widespread categorical dominance.

You could make a case (I suppose) to subdivide this into two separate tiers, with Stanton, McCutchen and Gonzalez in the top tier, followed closely by Gomez, Braun and Puig, but that’s a very fine line, the Braun-Gomez-Puig subset have similar upsides, and the warts that would drop them a step lower (returning from PED suspension for Braun, expected regression for Gomez, and the lack of an extensive track record for Puig) aren’t as severe as those in the next cut below. If you get any of these guys it would be fair to expect them to carry your fantasy outfield.

TIER 2 – Herm Edwards “You play to win the game!”
Matt Holliday
Justin Upton
Jason Heyward
Bryce Harper
Jay Bruce
Starling Marte
Hunter Pence
Mark Trumbo

All of these are very fine outfielders in their own right, and it should not shock if any of them jump into that top tier, or end 2014 as the most valuable fantasy outfielder in the NL, but their path to doing so is less likely.

Harper has the best chance of upward mobility here, and it won’t take that long for that to happen if he’s mashing in April, but he did miss 44 games last season. If you were to include him in your top tier, I wouldn’t fight you much about it, but I think his health is enough of a concern to knock him down a peg for now.

Upton, Holliday, Bruce and Pence are all consistent performers, but not quite elite enough to put themselves in the same conversation as those above. Trumbo possesses elite power, but the trouble he’s going to bring in batting average makes him somewhat of a borderline case for this list. This is much less so in on-base leagues, where he is much closer to passable.

TIER 3 – Jim Mora “Playoffs?!”
Jayson Werth
Matt Kemp
Michael Cuddyer
Allen Craig
Domonic Brown
Carlos Quentin
Curtis Granderson
Billy Hamilton

This is a volatile group. Players in this group have significant upside, but also considerable risk. They’re coming off fantastic seasons they are unlikely to repeat (Werth and Cuddyer) or returning from significant injury (Kemp, Granderson and Quentin).

Then, of course, we have Billy Hamilton. He’s almost a player without a tier in some respect, because he’s such a unique case. If you’re of the mindset that he’s so elite stealing bases that he can carry your fantasy team that this alone makes him worthy of inclusion higher up this list, so be it. The rest of his statistical profile is pretty rough, though, and in general (at least for me) that knocks his value down a few pegs no matter how elite he is stealing bases.

TIER 4 – Hal McRaePut that in your pipe and smoke it.”
Khris Davis
Chris Young
Eric Young, Jr.
Denard Span
Martin Prado
Evan Gattis
Andre Ethier
Carl Crawford
Angel Pagan
Will Venable
B.J. Upton
Nate Schierholtz
Christian Yelich
Marcell Ozuna
Michael Morse
Peter Bourjos
Lucas Duda
Ben Revere
Marlon Byrd

All kinds of risk here. There are playing time concerns, like those for Eric Young Jr. and Ben Revere, where the rest of their offensive packages are not very good, and their value stems entirely from quantity. We also have crowded outfields for the Dodgers, Mets and Giants, which will eat into the value of
the players battling for time there.

Included here we also see a number of high-upside, young, breakout types for which we can safely assume a fair amount of playing time (Davis, Ozuna, Yelich).

Finally, we see a number of high-floor, low-upside veterans. Guys like Venable, Schierholtz, Span, Duda. Upton has more upside than these players, but after a very terrible 2013 he is unworthy of being included above them.

TIER 5 – Mike TysonI wanna eat his children.”
Cody Ross
Justin Ruggiano
Jon Jay
Jose Tabata
Gerardo Parra
Jaff Decker
Drew Stubbs
Brandon Barnes
Corey Dickerson
Chris Denorfia
Garrett Jones
Junior Lake
Ryan Doumit
Jordan Schafer
Jake Marisnick
Nate McLouth
Ryan Ludwick
Gregor Blanco
Cameron Maybin
A.J. Pollock
Darin Ruf
Andrew Lambo

Lots of end game, dollar-types. Camp battles may change the story for some of these players, but for the most part they are ripe for cheap speculation and not much more. Which are your favorites? Who has the best chance to move up this list the next time we check in? Who will drop the most?




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Jack Weiland is not just a pretty face. He resides in Boston with his wife and family (they're dogs) and watches the Cubs at levels not approved for public consumption. He likes chatting on twitter, too: @jackweiland.


50 Responses to “Talking About Early NL Outfield Tiers”

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  1. Kevin Stepp says:

    I like where you have these guys tiered out with one exception. I think tier 4 could be split into two tiers; one tier with the high floor, low ceilings types (Prado, Venable, Span, etc), and one tier with the high variance, flyer types (Upton, Davis, Yelich, Ozuna). I think there is a certain value to a super safe Martin Prado type that sets him apart from someone like Khris Davis, who is an exciting prospect, but we just do not know enough about him to confidently say that he will have value this year.

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    • Jack Weiland says:

      Tiers 4 and 5 are pretty large and encompass wide swaths of players. That was a thing I struggled with putting these together, but every time I tried to slice them up I felt like I was walking a razor thin line and that the value of those players were all pretty comparable. Personally I would lean towards the low ceiling, high floor vets, but I think that’s more a matter of personal preference than I wanted to interject here.

      tl;dr … I think that’s a very reasonable take, and probably how I would view these if I was using them to help me draft prep, but I think in general the value of those very different assets are pretty similar.

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  2. Steve says:

    How Could you possibly rate Puig so high? Higher than Harper, J-Up? Are you insane?

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  3. Ed says:

    Stanton #1???? Are you new to fantasy baseball? Where does fangraphs get some of these goofballs?

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  4. stonepie says:

    quentin is absurdly high. im targeting him for a last round pick because of his potential but he’s so risky that high up

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    • Steve says:

      yeah, is there something behind CQ being more than a late-round flier?

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      • Jack Weiland says:

        Yes. He’s a massive injury risk, and his home park won’t do him any favors, but his upside is far beyond the late round fliers in Tier V. Which players behind him would you take ahead of him?

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      • tvators says:

        The last time Carlos hit over .255 with 20+ hrs was the only time he did it and the only reason he still ranks highly with some, his magical 2008 when he was a front-runner for the AL MVP until ……. wait for it…… He got hurt and missed the last 5 wks. The only way CQ is in tier 3 is if there’s 3 tiers… and would I take is anyone with a decent shot at playing time.

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      • Jack Weiland says:

        I won’t blame you for not wanting to take a ride on the Injury Risk railroad, and 2008 was indeed magical for Quentin, but he’s also had a .380+ wOBA the past two seasons. I think you’re underselling his upside a bit.

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      • Ruki Motomiya says:

        A wOBA that came with 16/13 HRs, 44/42 Runs, 46/44 RBI, 0/0 Steals and a .261/.275 average. These are not fantasy worthy stats. I would easily take Ozuna, Pagan, Venable, Crawford, Khris Davis and more from Tier 4 and probably prefer guys like Justin Ruggiano in Tier 5. Quentin simply has no reasonable chance at fantasy value.

        I will call tvators out on stat cherrypicking though: The only time he hit over .255 with 20+ HRs was 2008…but he did do .254 and 24 HRs once, which is worth mentioning.

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      • Jack Weiland says:

        Yes, he’s a major injury risk. This has caused his past counting stats to be low. But your league doesn’t use 2009-2013 home runs, runs, and RBI, does it?

        Now it would be totally fair to say that injury risk is so extreme that he’s on your do not draft list, but he does have the skills to be a major fantasy asset.

        Not to mention the projections don’t really support your order there. Going by Steamer:

        Quentin: 19 HR, 59 runs, 64 RBI, .247 AVG in 491 PAs
        Ozuna: 15 HR, 57 runs, 65 RBI, .250 AVG in 574 PAs

        I’ll take the guy with more production even with the missed time. I’ll take the guy with a proven track record over a number of years as a good major league hitter over the guy with 291 career plate appearances. If you aren’t with me on that … we agree to disagree.

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      • Jack Weiland says:

        Although, to be fair, those projections also don’t really support putting Quentin in a tier above Ozuna. So maybe we’ll go back to the drawing board for the next iteration of these tiers. At least in regards to divisive figure Carlos Quentin …

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      • Ruki Motomiya says:

        Steamer also projects Ozuna for 8 SB and Quentin for 1, so they’re really quite close. The difference is that I feel Quentin’s is arguably optimistic: He’s only gotten to that amount of PAs twice in his career, plus once in the 480 range, and he was useful but not great then (Except 2008 obv, but that is too far back to project for what Quentin will do now really). He’s comparable to Ozuna, enough they should be in the same tier IMO, but Quentin has a much lower floor while I would say Ozuna has higher upside.

        Ultimately the big thing is that I would say Ozuna and Quentin are more in the same tier and I would just take Ozuna. I am glad to hear your reasoning for this and love you responding in comments, though. Thank you. :)

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      • Jack Weiland says:

        I think your reasoning is sound and you guys have convinced me that Quentin’s place here is aggressive. I think it’s possible I was underselling his injury risk, but I do think he has pretty big upside. Given where he’s going in drafts, I think he’s a fine sleeper pick.

        Re: comments. That’s my favorite part of doing this. I’m just a dude who loves talking about baseball with other ladies and dudes who enjoy the same. Thanks for stopping by.

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  5. chico ruiz says:

    I’d quibble with Harper in tier two. Seems like if you’re putting Stanton and Puig in Tier 1 based more upon potential than historical performance, then Harper should be there too. Or maybe you need a Tier 1A for those three guys…

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    • Jack Weiland says:

      Entirely fair. If he’s healthy and hitting he’ll move up to the top for me pretty quickly. But he missed significant time last year, had offseason knee surgery, and I wouldn’t quite count on him to carry my OF just yet. But I think he’d be a very good value if he went this low in real drafts.

      Re: Stanton and Puig, Giancarlo’s 2012 was pretty good. And Puig concern is valid, but most projection systems love him. Fair to say you won’t touch him in drafts (I don’t think I would) but it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he has a monster, best OF in the NL type of season.

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  6. Jeff says:

    I’m not sure that I understand how Trumbo is closer to passable in OBP leagues. He has averaged a 6% walk rate over his MLB career. That is bad for hitters and AWFUL for power hitters.

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  7. Belle of the League says:

    This is a nice general list, Jack, but my life is complicated. Why should my fantasy teams be different?
    IMO The tiers depend on the type of league, i.e., how many OF’s in the active lineup, roto or points?, H2H?, keeper?, daily FA streaming?, etc.
    Example (1) Jay Bruce. Great player to have in roto and total points leagues; however, he can absolutely murder you with his streaks in weekly match H2H points formats. He completely owns some pitchers. Unfortunately, he’s a major K machine with others. In my primary league, he’d be a Tier 3 player and platooned.
    Example (2) FWIW I wouldn’t put Puig is tier 1 unless it’s a keeper league…and even then I might not, but this is one of the reasons baseball is so much fun….player predictions.

    Some random thoughts off the top of my head and friendly nitpicking from the edge:
    CarGo Gotta love him but he is sneaky disabled. Even if you discount last year’s injury, to quote Roseann Roseannadanna, “It’s always something.” The “games played” in years prior to 2013 are misleading. I owned him in 2011 and 2012. There were weeks that those game appearances were pinch hit appearances. Didn’t make the DL. Didn’t start either. What this should tell you is how good he really is when he does play. Just make sure you have a 4th OF in leagues that don’t have daily streaming such as mine.
    Heyward: A player with tons of potential (He’s only 24) and a great pick in a keeper league, but which Heyward will show up this year? The injured Heyward or the one who showed so much promise in 2010 with production he hasn’t matched since? Tier 2 might be a stretch. Tier 3 with Matt Kemp may be more accurate.
    Speaking of Tier 3…Jayson Werth changed his approach the 2nd half of last season and was a serious force. If it turns out to be a real and more permanent adjustment, he could easily be Tier 2 in a points leagues.
    Martin Prado wouldn’t be a big pick in roto but has been money in points leagues for years. I know this is OF tiers, but if you add in his multiposition eligibilty, this is a player I target.
    I could bore you to death with my opinions on all of these guys, so I’ll give you my last thought. You couldn’t pay me to take Chris Young.

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    • Jack Weiland says:

      Yours is complicated, too?

      Agree on league format. It matters quite a bit. For these I tried to stay as generic as possible, but obviously they will vary by league.

      I think you make a good observation on CarGo that not many people make. Going by plate appearances the last four years: 636, 542, 579, 436. So there may be some more risk than people realize. I also stay away from him because my dynasty league is h2h points, and if he’s on the road during your playoff matchup … sorry!

      Puig: he’s aggressively ranked here (and elsewhere) but I think it’s more or less fair. Projection system like him (if not quite at the level he was at last season) and he has the potential to smash those. He’s interesting because we have way less data for him than we do with other players in that price range. Bang for the buck? He’s probably not going to be worth it.

      Werth: that’s certainly interesting … I had him targeted in my offseason auction but the price went beyond my limit.

      Prado is exactly the kind of player I target. No hype, solid, steady production, and you can use him in multiple places. Lots of value.

      Chris Young: same here, especially given the statements Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson made last week about having EY lead off/fielding the best bats in the outfield. If they’re taking his defense out of the equation, and become enamored with the other Young’s legs, he may stand to lose PT. Which stinks.

      Thanks for your thoughts as always! These kinds of posts are tough because they’re so involved and everything can turn into player soup in your head, so I’m happy to hear other opinions, always.

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  8. Lenard says:

    What about (insert AL Outfielder here)?! How could you leave them out?!

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  9. MIA says:

    Whither Alex Rios?

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  10. hanstone says:

    Did I miss my all time keeper Adam Jones?

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  11. AI says:

    How the hell do I make my teammates better with tiers?

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  12. jdbolick says:

    Starling Marte doesn’t belong anywhere near Tier 2. The ground ball and line drive rates support a higher than average BABIP, but not one at .363. His batting average is very likely to lose twenty if not thirty points. Meanwhile not only did the home runs tie a professional high, but his 41 steals were 8 more than his previous best. Marte also has an extreme platoon split, and while I don’t expect the Pirates to platoon him right away, it is at least possible. I think it’s likely in the future, but the Pirates’ assortment of outfield options may bring that about sooner than later.

    Starling Marte screams “STAY AWAY!” to me, but it seems I’m the only one so far.

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    • Jack Weiland says:

      In general Marte isn’t the type of player I covet (I have a known bias towards more established, slow, power bats … hi Carlos Quentin!) and I could see a case for knocking him down into Tier 3, but not much further since he provides that elusive power-speed combo (kind of) folks drool over.

      For the Pirates to platoon him, they’d need someone to do it with. Who do you think that would be? He seems pretty locked into a starting, everyday role to me, particularly because his defense in a corner in plus.

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      • jdbolick says:

        It could be Polanco, who is essentially a better, left-handed version of Marte and doesn’t profile as your typical right-fielder. Even if it doesn’t happen, we’re still talking about a guy who walks less than Jeff Francoeur. If I’m correct about Starling’s batting average coming down to .260 and the steals coming down to the high 20s/low 30s without a corresponding increase in power, then he’s probably a Tier 4 guy.

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      • Jack Weiland says:

        All of that certainly *could* happen, but it seems way more likely that Polanco will take over in right when he’s ready and the Pirates are ready to upgrade there.

        But yeah, if the average and steals drop, his value is going to crater. It seems to be a matter of how well he can maintain a high BABIP type of profile, and how real his running was. If you’re not buying, I don’t blame ya. He’s certainly more risky than any of the other Tier 2 guys, and probably has less upside as well.

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      • jdbolick says:

        Perhaps, but while Huntington is a forward-thinking GM, it’s tough for baseball people to give up on power from the outfield corners, especially given that Pittsburgh doesn’t get it from first base either. If Marte is better than I expect, it never becomes an issue, but it’s enough of a realistic concern that I would sell high on Marte in keeper leagues.

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  13. stonepie says:

    looking over mark trumbo’s batted ball profile and plate discipline, i noticed an alarming comparison- BJ Upton. Trumbo’s z-contact has fallen each of the last 3 years, as has BJ’s. both have similar swstr% and trumbo actually swings at far more pitches outside the zone while barely making better contact.

    i think another significant drop off in z-contact could mean a huge dive in trumbo’s avg and overall value.

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    • Jack Weiland says:

      The contact rates are concerning, for sure. But they’ve also coincided with improved discipline (he’s swung at fewer pitches outside the zone for three straight years as well), so his uptick in strikeouts is being covered (somewhat) by an uptick in walks.

      Of course that’s a fine line to walk, and if his contact trends continue going in the wrong direction we might be looking at a sort of poor man’s post-prime Adam Dunn, which is not a good thing at all.

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  14. Jeff Webber says:

    It’s peculiar that Oliver has Justin Ruggiano projected at 4.5 WAR, higher than Carlos Gonzalez. I think Cubs fans would be pleased as punch with half of that WAR.

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    • Jack Weiland says:

      Uh, yeah. QUITE PLEASED indeed. Even the two-win projections would be pretty solid. I’ve got him below Schierholtz here because I see more playing time concerns for Ruggiano.

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  15. GT says:

    AJ Pollock might raise some eyebrows this year. As the only true center fielder in AZ (and a pretty damn good one) he’s less prone to the L/R splits of Ross and Parra. He’ll probably share time at the leadoff spot, and if so, a .330 OBP should net him 80 runs and 20 SBs. So in 500 ABs let’s say he’s at 80/10/50/20/.270/.330/.410. That’s not far behind Span, Pagan, or Bourjos in value.

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  16. mike says:

    Is it me or are there a lot of pirates guys

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  17. Andrew says:

    Earl Weaver getting left off this list is the biggest travesty of my week. Which I guess means I’m doing OK this week, but still …

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWQbN0jFo_k

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