Let’s start with a valuable Fantasy Draft-Day axiom: More is not always better, and timing is everything. When assessed in terms of available Fantasy talent, the outfield is often described as a “buffet”, a “smorgasbord”, a “veritable cornucopia” and assorted other metaphorical references to culinary excess.
While there are certainly plenty of highly skilled players to be had, it’s important to remember that the available supply of serviceable fantasy outfielders is not without end. The Fantasy outfield “smorgasbord” is not like one of those restaurant buffets where someone fetches more short ribs or crab legs from the kitchen when they run out up front. Nay, this year’s bounty of Fantasy outfielders is more like one of those potluck family picnic dinners: if you’re not front and center in the serving line early in the game, you’re likely to end up choosing between zucchini au gratin and Aunt Tilly’s spinach-go-rounds.
Once you actually belly up to the buffet, it’s important to remember to choose wisely. Some mystery and adventure in life is great, but it’s important to weigh the risk versus the potential reward. There’s nothing worse than grabbing some delectable-looking hushpuppies, and then taking a bite only to discover that they’re actually falafel balls. All that valuable plate space — wasted. Even the squirrels won’t touch these things.
This article will identify a couple of potential falafel balls and spinach-go-rounds (AKA Fantasy Baseball Busts) hidden among the bountiful fantasy goodness that is the outfield. Some examples of Fantasy underachievers in 2014 were Texas’ Shin-Soo Choo, who scuffled to a disappointing season after years of consistent across-the-board production, and Jay Bruce of Cincinnati, who batted just .217 with 18 homers after three straight seasons of 30-plus bombs.
One last cautionary note: if your league starts five outfielders, the talent pool dries up fast. Please do not think that you can load up on pitching and infielders early in the draft and cobble together a serviceable outfield in the draft’s latter stages. You’re bucking for 10th place with that strategy, and I don’t need to tell you what they’ll be serving at your team’s year-end banquet.
Overvalued Fantasy Outfielders – Busts for 2015
These outfielders are getting drafted higher than what we expect their Fantasy value to end up being.
High-End Bust: Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds
Hamilton was something of a legend before he even set foot on a big-league diamond, having established a new record for organized baseball by swiping 155 bases during the 2012 season while at Single and Double-A. Stories of his feats of derring-do on the base paths had grown to mythical proportions by the time Hamilton arrived in the majors in September of 2013. That myth quickly became a legend, as the mercurial youngster reeled off a streak of 13 consecutive successful stolen base attempts, while batting a cool .368 during a September to remember.
Indeed, Fantasy owners did remember it; their visions of a .300 hitter who could steal triple-digit bases drove Hamilton’s fantasy stock to lofty heights last spring, but those optimistic folks were given a cold dose of reality when the season started. Hamilton’s blinding speed generated excitement whenever he was on the basepaths; unfortunately, “whenever” wasn’t nearly often enough for his fantasy owners. The Cincy speedster managed just a .292 on-base percentage over the course of the ’14 campaign, and he tumbled to a downright awful .254 OBP – with just 18 steals in 62 games – during the second half of the season.
Hamilton’s hit tool has always been his biggest question mark, and that question mark now has an exclamation point behind it. He batted just .256 at Triple-A back in 2013, and his .308 OBP at that level was far from awe-inspiring. He lacks power, and the fact that his otherworldly speed only produced eight triples last season speaks to his inability to drive the ball into the gaps. Among qualifying hitters, only 11 players posted a lower OPS than Hamilton did in 2014. Even his base running was far from perfect, as he was caught stealing a league-leading 23 times.
The prospect of elite stolen base production is an alluring call indeed, though, and despite his 2014 struggles, Hamilton is still finding favor among fantasy owners as the ’15 campaign approaches. Remember, though, speed is not in critically short supply in Fantasy Baseball, so think very carefully before investing a high draft pick in a specialist like Hamilton. Fifty-eight players stole at least 15 bases last season, and many of those hitters made significant contributions in batting average or counting stats, which Hamilton is not likely to produce even in a best-case scenario. The worst-case scenario has Hamilton continuing to struggle at the plate, and eventually losing his spot at the top of the order. If he were to be dropped to the eight-hole, for example, Hamilton would likely see plenty of base running “red lights” with the pitcher at the plate.
The bottom line is that Hamilton indeed has the potential to steal 80-100 bases, but his shortcomings with a bat in his hand figure to make those swipes rather expensive in terms of lost batting average and counting stats. He is currently ranked number 65 overall at ESPN, and he is no. 22 among Fantasy outfielders. That seems a rather significant investment given all the questions surrounding the young speedster; my recommendation is to steer clear of Hamilton until much later in the draft.
Back-End Bust: Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies
Blackmon turned in one of 2014’s most remarkable — and improbable — Fantasy performances, finishing 11th among outfielders with a .288 batting average, and eighth with 28 stolen bases. The 28-year-old had bounced around the Rockies’ system since 2008, and he had never recorded more than 258 plate appearances in any big-league season until last year’s breakout campaign.
But was it really a breakout, or simply a prolonged hot streak? Blackmon enjoyed a torrid start to his season, forging a .374 average and striking out just eight times in 112 plate appearances through the end of April. He batted only .257 in May, but his counting stats rolled on unabated: his season’s line showed a .315 average, 10 homers, 37 RBI and 10 steals at the end of the month. These were enormous numbers given Blackmon’s 2013 performance in Triple-A, where he smacked just a trio of dingers over 299 plate appearances in the hitting pinball machine known as the Pacific Coast League.
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A little napkin math will tell the tale from June 1 onward: Blackmon managed just nine homers and 35 RBI over the season’s final four months, and saw his batting average tumble 27 points during that time. He did continue to run effectively, and it’s his speed that provides a counterpoint to his status as a possible Fantasy bust. For a player who emerged from relative obscurity, though, such a precipitous decline may be an indication that the league had learned to exploit his swing holes. This theory is supported by a five percentage-point jump in Blackmon’s strikeout rate after the All-Star break, during which time he slashed just .264/.314/.384/.698. Only 16 qualifying hitters posted a lower walk rate than Blackmon in 2014, and his free-swinging ways figure to limit his run-scoring opportunities again this season.
No analysis of a Rockies’ hitter would be complete without a look at his home/road splits, and in Blackmon’s case, they tell a foreboding tale indeed: he logged a robust .331-13-48 line at Coors Field, but managed only .241-6-24 everywhere else. As this story goes to cyber-press, several trade rumors involving Blackmon are swirling around the news wires; a move away from the rarefied air could spell a huge drop-off in production for Blackmon in 2015.
Blackmon is currently ranked number 130 overall, and 36th among Fantasy outfielders by ESPN. While a blown pick at this stage of your draft is far from disastrous, it still represents the failure of a player who you had expected to be a regular in your Fantasy lineup. Blackmon’s steep second-half decline, his disparate home/road splits, and his uncertain future make him a shaky option compared to the other outfielders who are likely to be available as the draft enters its later rounds. If you draft Blackmon expecting anything close to a repeat of his outstanding 2014 numbers, you’re likely to be in for a rather unpleasant surprise come midseason.
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