Up until now, only the position players in the American League have been subjected to the scrutiny of our RC/27 projection process. You can run, but ultimately you can't hide from our annual projections, and now it's time to shine the light on the National Leaguers.
The RC/27 metric provides a measuring stick to help us determine who has been -- and who will be -- the most productive players on a per-game basis. The visualization displaying the RC/27 data can help to translate our 2010 projections into comparisons that will inform your Draft Day choices. Few would be surprised to learn that we expect Albert Pujols to be the most productive first baseman in Fantasy, but how much more productive will he be than Prince Fielder? And is that difference greater than the expected gap between Ryan J. Braun and Matt Holliday? Sizing up those types of comparisons and tradeoffs is where the visualization can come in handy.
For now, we present the projections for the high-octane positions: first base and outfield. Our next and final installment will include the remainder of the National League regulars.
Albert Pujols has been dominant at baseball's most dominant position, and the trend should continue into 2010. Prince Fielder has also established some distance between himself and the rest of the elite, not to mention the rank and file among first basemen. Coming off breakout seasons, Adrian Gonzalez and Joey Votto can claim spots in the top tier, along with perennial member Ryan Howard.
Pablo Sandoval, Adam Dunn, Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds, Lance Berkman, Todd Helton and Adam LaRoche fill out the list of potential mixed league candidates. Though Jorge Cantu and Martin Prado fall short of this group, they have similar value because of their eligibility at third base and second base, respectively. That leaves Garrett Jones, James Loney and Aubrey Huff as NL-only options.
Is it premature to include Joey Votto among the elite?
Votto ranked just 10th among NL first basemen in Head-to-Head scoring last year, but don't forget that he missed the better part of a month in midseason. If we prorate his 2009 Fantasy Point total for the 151 games that he played in 2008, he would have ranked sixth, just 6.5 points behind Derrek Lee for fifth place. Votto overachieved last year, but not by much. While we should expect his batting average to decline by about 10 points, that still puts him in the .310s. We should also not be surprised to see Votto join the 30 home run club this year, as he will continue to take advantage of his comfy home hitting environment. Add it all up, and the result is a player who has shown he is ready to be as productive as any NL first baseman, short of Pujols or Fielder.
After the elite, which first basemen should get preference on your draft list?
Sandoval, Dunn, Lee and Reynolds are all clustered close together, but for 5x5 leagues, Reynolds' home run-steals combination is hard to beat, especially for a player you can slide over to your 3B slot. In Head-to-Head, Dunn's relatively stronger contact skills give him a leg up on Reynolds, but both will probably take a back seat to Sandoval. It is still nerve-wracking to put so much faith in the 23 year-old, given that he entered last season with just 85 games of experience above Class A (even if 41 of those were in the majors). Still, all he has done in a season-and-a-quarter is make contact and pile up extra-base hits. Unless Sandoval experiences a major dropoff in power and contact this year, he should be the best of the second tier. If only Lee could just play back last season's performance, he would rise to the top of this group, but he has been far too inconsistent for owners to expect a repeat.
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Overall, the quality of the top outfielders in the NL is practically on par with the AL, with the NL featuring 12 hitters with RC/27 projections of at least 6.5 (compared to 13 in the AL). What the NL has that the AL lacks is Braun and Holliday, a pair of true elite Fantasy producers who would be heads-and-shoulders above all other outfielders in either league.
Once you get past the top dozen, the next echelon is thin and divided among players looking to rebound after a down year (Carlos N. Lee, Nate McLouth, Ryan Ludwick), youngsters with upside galore (Carlos Gonzalez, Chris Coghlan, Dexter Fowler, Kyle Blanks, Jay Bruce), and a few steady producers (Shane Victorino, Josh Willingham, Raul Ibanez). Beyond this group is the last group of outfielders you should consider in mixed leagues, the best of whom are Michael Bourn, Kosuke Fukudome, Corey C. Hart, Chase Headley, Colby Rasmus, Hunter Pence and Mark DeRosa.
Ethier turns 28 this April, but just because he completed Operation Breakout 27 doesn't mean that he won't improve even more. In fact, even with last year's power surge, Ethier's season was a little disappointing, as he posted his lowest batting average (.272) to date. Andre can become a batting average giant again, as he possesses better contact skills than the ones he showed in '09. He could also maintain his membership in the 30-homer club, just as long as he keeps up his newfound flyball-hitting ways.
Manny, on the other hand, is showing some signs of age-related decline. He hasn't registered an Iso above .290 since 2006, and last year, his home run per flyball rate took a hard fall. The overall dropoff in his offense was masked somewhat by a 16 percent walk rate that is likely to decline. Ethier and Manny have been moving in opposite directions, and this is the year when Ethier surpasses his elder.
Why is Justin Upton projected to take a step backwards?
The younger Upton busted out in his second full major league season, adding 50 points to his batting average and becoming a member of the 20/20 Club. The gains in the home run and stolen base categories are real and sustainable, but he strikes out too much to be a legitimate .300 hitter. Despite a 26 percent whiff rate, he was able to pull off a .300 average because he hit .339 on ground balls (per Baseball Reference splits data). That's ridiculously good -- the major league average was .237 -- but as good of a hitter as Upton is, he probably won't keep that up. Ichiro Suzuki has been an exceptional ground ball hitter for many years, yet his career batting average on grounders is a mere .306.
Can Upton be a 20/20 guy in 2010? Yes, probably blindfolded. But expect his batting average to take a 15 to 20 point hit.
Why does Andrew McCutchen stand out from most of the other young outfielders in these rankings?
As mentioned above, the NL boasts a large crop of promising young outfielders, but McCutchen has been singled out over fellow luminaries like Gonzalez, Bruce and '09 NL ROY Coghlan. He doesn't have the power potential of Gonzalez, Bruce or Blanks or the on-base moxie of Coghlan and Fowler, but he represents the best combination of these skills within the group. McCutchen is also a legitimate doubles and triples hitter and a potential 30-plus stolen base threat. Last year's .286 batting average was not a reach, and his minor league strikeout rates suggest there is still room for improvement. Give McCutchen another 15 to 20 steals and a better supporting cast, and you've got a right-handed Carl Crawford.
| Runs Created per 27 Outs (RC/27) -- An estimate of how many runs a lineup would produce per 27 outs if a particular player occupied each spot in the order; ex. the RC/27 for Miguel Cabrera would predict the productivity of a lineup where Cabrera (or his statistical equal) batted in all nine spots; created by Bill James |
Component ERA (ERC) -- An estimate of a what a pitcher's ERA would be if it were based solely on actual pitching performance; created by Bill James
GO/AO -- Ground out-fly out ratio
GB/FB -- Ground ball-fly ball ratio
Batting Average per Balls in Play (BABIP) -- The percentage of balls in play (at bats minus strikeouts and home runs) that are base hits; research by Voros McCracken and others has established that this rate is largely random and has a norm of approximately 30%
Isolated Power -- The difference between slugging percentage and batting average; created by Branch Rickey and Allan Roth
Walk Rate -- Walks / (at bats + walks)
Whiff Rate -- Strikeouts / at bats
Al Melchior will be providing data-centric advice columns Fantasy owners all season. Click here to send him a question. Please put "Melchior" in the subject field.