Fantasy Baseball Busts: Outfield

by Josh Shepardson | @BChad50 | Featured Writer
Mar 18, 2017

Even if Lorenzo Cain stays healthy, his production may not excite you

Outfield is a position that features a little bit of everything. If you need thump, speed, batting average or run production, you can find it in the outfield. Some players offer more balanced profiles than others, while guys like Billy Hamilton are something of one-trick ponies — albeit it’s a hell of a trick — instead.

With such a smorgasbord of goodies available in the outfield, there’s stiff competition for ranking near the top. A common theme among the overrated bust candidates included below is that they’re an older group. All four outfielders I’ve identified as strong bust candidates this year are over the age of 30.

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Ryan Braun (MIL): ECR No. 29
The 2011 National League MVP followed up a bounce-back campaign in 2015 with at least as equally impressive a showing last season. He reached the 30-homer plateau, bested 90 RBIs and eclipsed a .300 average for the first time since 2012.

The veteran’s stolen base total dipped from 24 in 28 attempts in 2015 to 16 in 21 attempts last year. His FanGraphs’ speed score was the second lowest of his career, and it could be an indicator that he’s in store for losing a few more stolen bags in 2017.

Last year, the right-hander’s groundball percentage (GB%) of 55.7% was his second north of 50% in a year and the highest in a single season in his career. He needed a silly 28.8% HR/FB rate to reach the seats 30 times, yet his hard-hit ball percentage (Hard%) dropped from 36.3% in 2015 to 34.4% last season.

Braun’s previous high in HR/FB was 22.8% in 2012, and he just cleared 20% in 2015 at 20.5%. In the three years before 2016, his HR/FB was only 16.8%. The combo of a huge uptick in worm burners and an outlier HR/FB is a red flag for his homer outlook in 2017.

Power was up across the game last year, and Braun calls a homer-friendly ballpark home, so a repeat of the 25 homers he hit in 2015 might be in reach, but I’m skeptical of him swatting 30 long balls again. Milwaukee’s rebuilding roster might put a pinch on his run and RBI totals this year, too.

Braun can contribute across the board again this year, but reductions in all five offensive categories are probable. His ECR is too rich for my blood, and I wouldn’t draft him until around the 40th pick.

Andrew McCutchen (PIT): ECR No. 51
Cutch is coming off of his worst offensive showing in the majors as measured by wRC+ (106 in 2016, previous low was 122 in his rookie season in 2009). While McCutchen reached the majors for 108 games and 493 plate appearances in 2009, 2010 was his first full season in the Show. Cutch’s 81 runs were his lowest total in a full season, and his .256 average and six steals were his lowest marks in any season, including his partial season in 2009.

Furthermore, his 21.2% K% was the highest in his career, and his .174 ISO was his second lowest in his career. The former speedster’s stolen bases have been dwindling since besting 20 steals for the last time in 2013.

After getting caught stealing seven times compared to just six successful steals, it’s possible he stops running entirely. Even if he continues to run despite his abysmal success rate, getting back to double-digit steals looks like a long shot.

Digging into the batted ball profile doesn’t paint the picture of optimism for a full offensive turnaround this year. In 2016, he popped up (IFFB%) at a new high of 12.6%, turned in his lowest infield-hit percentage (IFH%) at 6.7% and watched his hard-hit ball rate slide to 35.8% — his lowest mark since 2011. At his speediest, McCutchen could have made up for the downturn in Hard% by legging out some softer struck ball singles, but he’s not the speedster he was.

As recently as 2015 he rattled off a nifty well-rounded season with 91 runs, 23 homers, 96 RBIs, 11 steals, and a .292 average. That’s probably his ceiling on the wrong side of 30. If he repeats his 2015 campaign, he’ll deliver on his ECR. I’m bearish, though, and believe a .270-.280 average with 20-25 homers, strong run production stats (think 160-plus runs and RBIs combined) and five-ish steals are about as good as it gets with a repeat of 2016 also possible.

Adam Jones (BAL): ECR No. 78
Jones hasn’t reached or exceeded the 30-homer mark since 2013, though, he’s come close each of the last three years hitting 29, 27 and 29 in 2014, 2015 and 2016, respectively. The center fielder’s steals have also been on the steady decline. He last reached double-digit steals in 2013, and he’s stolen just five bases — attempting to steal only six times — the last two years combined. Last year’s .265 average was his lowest since becoming a full-time big-leaguer in 2008, and it was his second straight season of failing to hit above .270 (he hit .269 in 2015).

Jones remains a hacker. Last year’s 5.8% BB% was his second highest in his career, so it should come as little surprise to see him ranking as one of the biggest free swingers in the game.

In fact, he wasn’t one of the biggest free swingers in 2016; he was the biggest free swinger last year leading qualified hitters in O-Swing% (44.8%) and Z-Swing% (82.8%). He’s made a damn good career out of his hyper-aggressiveness at the plate, but his 15.1% SwStr% in 2016 — which was the sixth-highest among qualified hitters — was his highest since reaching the majors full time, and it could undermine his ability to continue to make that approach work. The O’s have an explosive offense that will award him ample run production chances, but there’s risk of further batting average erosion, and his power-without-speed profile isn’t as exciting as it was before last year’s league-wide power outburst.

Lorenzo Cain (KC): ECR No. 96
Staying healthy has often been Cain’s bugaboo. He won the starting center field job for the Royals in 2012, but what should have been his first full season in the majors after getting a taste with the Brewers in 2010 and a cup of joe with the Royals in 2011, was shortened to 61 games and 244 plate appearances due to injuries. In 2013, he bested 100 games played for the first time, but he played in only 115 and recorded 442 plate appearances.

He played in 133 games and totaled 502 plate appearances in 2014 and then set new highs in games played with 140 and plate appearances with 604 in 2015. His good health couldn’t last, though, and he played in 103 games with 434 plate appearances last year, and his season was cut short with a wrist injury. He’s reportedly fully healed from the wrist injury that ended his 2016 season and raking thus far this spring, but consider me leery of investing in an oft-injured player coming off of a season-ending injury.

Injury risk aside, Cain had hit more than 10 homers only one time in his career when he swatted 16 in 2015 — in fairness, he came up just one short last year hitting nine. The soon-to-be 31-year-old is a modest asset in runs and RBIs (his pace for a 600 plate appearance season last year was approximately 77 runs and 77 RBIs) often hitting second or third for the Royals. His 287 average last year is identical to his career mark while his .341 BABIP was only a few points lower than his career mark of .345, so add batting average helper to his resume, but be sure to discount that help a smidge since he’s unlikely to pile up a full season of plate appearances.

The final piece of the 5×5 offensive contribution puzzle is steals. Cain was a terror on the bases in 2014 and 2015 stealing 28 bases in each of those years. He was also extremely efficient getting caught only five times in 2014 and six times in 2015.

Last year, he stole 14 bases in 19 attempts. The efficiency wasn’t typical Cain level, but it was still quite good. The more alarming thing was that he only attempted 19 steals.

Even if he had stayed healthy for 600 plate appearances last year, his pace would have left him attempting approximately 26 steals, and at his success rate, he would have fallen just short of 20 steals. Speed isn’t an old-man skill, and while 31 — Cain turns 31 in the middle of April — is hardly a gray beard age, it’s probably time to recalibrate the stolen base expectations.

Middling power, decent run and RBI totals, a .285-.290 average and around 20 stolen bases is probably what you can expect if Cain stays healthy. That’s a very useful line, but it’s not eye-popping and is attached to a player whose injury history is extensive.

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Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive and follow him @BChad50.

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