Outfielders to Avoid (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
After locking down pitchers to avoid, it’s now time for guys who shag fly balls, or at least attempt to:
Makes me laugh. Every. Single. Time. I’m glad Kyle Schwarber made marked improvements in the outfield, but just imagine how valuable he would be as a fantasy catcher!
I kept ECR boundaries within the top 100 for pitchers (and an upcoming article for infielders). It seems that outfielders are the most in tune with expert rankings and consensus ADP, so I’ll stretch it out a little bit, which should help you in the late rounds. As always, stats are provided by FanGraphs unless stated otherwise. Finally, keep in mind that this is “avoid at their current ADP,” which you’ll see is important on the first guy analyzed. Of course I’m going to draft Justin Upton if he’s still around at pick 125.
No More, Way Less
These guys have solid floors, but nowhere near the upside that makes them your starting second outfielder (or third in the case of the last guy — I won’t spoil it!).
Justin Upton (OF – LAA)
ECR: 66; ADP: 92
At the start of draft season, Upton belonged in this class of outfielders that includes Yasiel Puig, Eddie Rosario, and Mitch Haniger. However, a knee tendonitis issue has delayed his ramp up to the season, but he is expected to be ready come Opening Day. The 31-year-old has been remarkably consistent in the home-run department over the past few years, hitting between 30-35 from 2016-2018. He has also seen moderate ups and downs in the remaining four roto categories. Hitting .257 last year with a .321 BABIP is a little unlucky, as his .271 expected batting average suggests.
Upton is one of the most consistent outfielders you’ll find, but knee tendonitis can be an issue in several facets of the game. Just look at Brian Dozier last year. If this is a chronic issue over the course of the season, we’ll likely see a dip in home runs and steals from the vet. That, combined with skills erosion as Upton climbs into his 30s — that 28.7% strikeout rate probably isn’t going down — means that his floor is something like .250/22/80/80/5. I will gladly take this from my third outfielder, but Upton is drafted as a fringe second outfielder. I’d rather have the upside of Michael Conforto or David Dahl at their current going rates. If you can get Upton as your third outfielder, by all means.
Nicholas Castellanos (OF – DET)
ECR: 80; ADP: 84
To me, Castellanos is like the Mike Foltynewicz of outfielders. Sure, he’s an above-average player, both in real life and in fantasy baseball. But his underlying metrics scream negative regression. Let’s start with that .361 BABIP. You absolutely love his 28% line-drive and 48% hard-hit rates (both rank as “Excellent” according to FanGraphs). Even so, few can sustain a .361 BABIP, so it makes sense that both Depth Charts and Steamer are projecting a 20-point drop in batting average fueled by a 40-point decrease in BABIP.
The rest of his category fill-up is decent, but unspectacular. Hitting in Comerica probably means he won’t eclipse 30 homers, and the Tigers’ putrid lineup will leave him wanting for runs and RBI. To keep with the Folty comparison, take a look at his 15.8% swinging-strike rate. That suggests his K rate should rise from last year’s 22.7%. In short, what differentiates Castellanos may be a mirage.
The six-point swing in ECR and ADP with Upton tells you all you need to know. Castellanos is probably going a little too early, even if it’s just by 10 picks. He’s fine as a third outfielder, but make sure he’s not your second. And really think about drafting Dahl or Conforto instead.
Nomar Mazara (OF – TEX)
ECR: 131; ADP: 152
Most 23-year-olds have tantalizing upside. However, Mazara has been solid, but not a top-150 fantasy player, during his three years in the bigs. The former top prospect has not been able to harness all of his talent into a breakout. A lot of that has to do with his batted-ball profile. He doesn’t strike out a ton, but 55.1% of his batted balls were grounders in 2018. Corner outfielders are known for their power, not for hitting grounder after grounder.
His hard-hit rate of 37.5% is nothing to brag about, but it’s certainly not bad. By having such a high ground-ball rate, he robs himself of homers and average, as demonstrated by his .258 career average. Despite hitting 20 homers in each of the past three years, his wRC+ has been remarkably consistent … and below average. A wRC+ of 91, 89, or 96 just won’t cut it, especially as a top-40 outfielder.
On top of his underperformance, he was dinged up with a sprained thumb last year. He should be fully healed after the offseason, but even if changes how he attacks pitchers, this thumb injury could linger to where the process doesn’t feed into the results. Sure, he could put it all together in one of the best hitters’ parks in baseball. Yet we’re probably looking at a .265/22/70/80 floor with no steals. Give me Stephen Piscotty at a similar price; he will likely best of all those marks this year despite hitting in a brutal park for hitters.
Odubel Herrera (OF – PHI)
ECR: 200; ADP: 215
Herrera had a great first half, partially fueled by luck, and dropped off precipitously in the second half. He hit just six homers after the All-Star break while batting .214 over 187 at-bats. That poor batting average was well deserved given his 18.3% line-drive rate and disgusting 24.9% hard-hit rate. Hitting 22 homers was almost a modern day miracle.
Now hitting lower in the lineup as a result of a revamped lineup, Herrera is slated to have the worst season of his career. He’s stopped running — he had a combined 41 steals in 2015-2016 but just 13 over the past two seasons. He won’t score as many runs or drive in as many either, .so why exactly is he getting drafted in the middle rounds? The fact that you could have Jake Bauers, Jackie Bradley Jr., Franmil Reyes, or Randal Grichuk instead is something you need to take notice of and plan for accordingly.
Ian Happ (2B/3B/OF – CHC)
ECR: 267; ADP: 298
About a year ago, Ian Happ hit the first home run of the 2018 season on the first pitch. How the mighty have fallen. After posting a .135/.196/.192 line in spring training, the Cubs optioned Happ to Triple-A to figure out how to hit. It’s always an eyesore when the slugging percentage is lower than the on-base percentage. This is a surprise, given that Addison Russell still has 30 games on his suspension, Daniel Descalso can’t play every day, and Ben Zobrist is 38. Hopefully, Happ can figure it out quickly and get up to the big league squad. Given that he just got sent down, I expect his stock to drop massively prior to Opening Day. He’s not draftable in standard mixed leagues.
Deep League Vets
Adam Jones (OF – ARI)
ECR: 263; ADP: 304
Remind me, why would you want to draft a fourth outfielder on a team that is not expected to contend? The Snakes actually have a decent outfield, and Jones doesn’t have the glove to cover center like he used to, posting a -10.5 UZR in 2018. He likely won’t displace Steven Souza or David Peralta in the corners, so it’s very likely that Jones won’t exceed 400 at-bats in 2019. He’s also no longer a lock for 20+ homers after hitting just 15 in 2018. You’re essentially drafting him for his average at this point, but two rounds later you can draft Avisail Garcia, who will get more playing time and post better numbers.
Brett Gardner (OF – NYY)
ECR: 295; ADP: 305
The days of 600 plate appearances are over. Even with Aaron Hicks out with an injury, the Yankees have other guys, such as Clint Frazier, that they need to develop. Both Depth Charts and Steamer project Gardner for fewer than 425 at-bats. They don’t look to be high-quality at-bats either — we’re looking at a .250 average with maybe double-digit homers and steals. That combo is somewhat nice, but with guys like Garcia, Tyler O’Neill, and Brian Anderson going after him, you’re missing out on a ton of upside and playing time.