2009 Fantasy MLB Position Preview: Outfielders | Sharapova's Thigh

Alright, the day is finally on us. The finale of the Thigh's fantasy position preview. I am not going to be doing a pitcher preview as, quite honestly, I find pitchers impossible to rate. Outside of Sabathia and Lincecum, I'm pretty clueless (and each of those two have their red flags too).

I decided to go with ten outfielders and two sleepers. No real reason why. And I'd say that BJ Upton just missed making my list. Consider him number 11.

Alright, let's rock.

1. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers - .285/.335/.553; 37 HR, 106 RBI, 92 R, 14 SB

The rib cage injury scared me, but he played after it in the World Injury...I mean, Baseball Classic, and seemed okay. I rated Braun as number one for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being the lineup he hits in and field he calls home. He should have more run and RBI opportunities than the guy I'd call 1A (coming up next). Braun saw his zone contact rate go up a few percentage points last year, hitting 88.6%. He also saw his chase percentages rise from 30.6 to 34.3, which is a very high number. He was seeing more breaking balls last year, so it comes back to a question of whether there is a hole in his swing or he can make an adjustment. He also doesn't have to deal with the rigors of a position change this year. I think he is a solid choice for number one outfielder, even though I hate him more than Socialism.

2. Grady Sizemore, Cleveland Indians - .268/.374/.502; 33 HR, 90 RBI, 101 R, 38 SB

I should start by stating that if you're in a league that features a "CF" position, you may want to go here before Braun as Sizemore is much further ahead of the next best CF than Braun the next corner outfielder. Sizemore was hit unlucky last year, featuring a .291 BABIP and a 19.4 line drive percentage. I'd expect that .268 batting average to go up. He cut 4 points off of his k percentage last year, getting it down to 20.5%. He also improved his patience (chase percentage down from 20.1 to 19.5) and increased his contact (81.6% to 82.9%). Entering his age 27 season, another 30-30 season is not out of the question. The lineup still scares me, though, and the fact that he was able to produce as much in the non-individual counting stats as he did last year is a feat in and of itself. My Victor Martinez rebound prediction would really help Sizemore.

3. Carlos Beltran, New York Mets - .284/.376/.500; 27 HR, 112 RBI, 116 R, 25 SB

Beltran's spot at number 3 is more of a product of his lineup than any individual talents the 32 year old has. He's a good player, but he's not a 30-30 man anymore. However, he does hit with Wright, Reyes, and Delgado, so the 100 run/RBI mark is in play for Beltran, which puts him here in my mind. Beltran did show good signs last year, lowering his strikeout percentage five points to 15.8%. He also dropped his chase rate to 20.3% from 25.7% while improving his contact rate to 86.3% (a five point bump). Was this a late career push or a fluke season? If nothing else, Beltran is generally good for 140 games a year and in a lineup as stacked as his, he's a solid choice.

4. Alfonso Soriano, Chicago Cubs - .280/.344/.532; 29 HR, 75 RBI, 76 R, 19 SB

This is another lineup-oriented ranking. If they played in better lineups or better parks, I'd have Carlos Lee or Manny Ramirez here. Nonetheless, Soriano plays in one of the NL's best lineups. He also has apparently reported to camp in great shape. Now here come the warts. He has missed time each of the last two years with various injuries, which could be sapping his speed. He is old and uses a massive bat with a long swing. He chases pitches in bunches (40.8% in 2007, 28.7% in 2008). That said, he was a bit hit unlucky last year with a .305 BABIP on a 23.2 line drive percentage. With the lineup he plays in, the parks he gets to see most, and the fact that he still pumped out good power numbers last year, he's a solid pick. He's also the one with the most risk, though. The next three guys and Soriano all have their red flags, so we're really into a glut of no. 2 tiered outfielders.

5. Carlos Lee, Houston Astros - .314/.368/.569; 28 HR, 100 RBI, 61 R, 4 SB

The other side of the lineup coin, Lee is a great hitter who plays in a lineup that doesn't have the same thunder as the Cubs. Still, he drove in 100 runs last year even though he missed time with a finger injury. It's supposed to be healed, so Lee comes in at fifth on my list. He plays in a park that does right handed hitters favors, so that's always a plus. Even more attractive is that he doesn't feature a huge OPS difference between home and road performances (943 at home, 931 on road). 30.7% chase percentage is high, but not nearly as monumentally high as Soriano's. He does make contact with 86.3% of his total swings, though with that chase percentage, he may be doing himself a disservice by hitting balls that aren't driveable. Also a bit hit unlucky last year, he featured a .304 BABIP on a 21.2 line drive percentage. He doesn't bring you anything in the speed department, but he's my no. 1 ranked "pure thump" outfielder, which is why he's ranked here at 5.

6. Manny Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers - .332/.430/.601; 37 HR, 121 RBI, 102 R, 3 SB

Let's start with the obvious: he's not going to hit for a full season at the same level as he did in the second half last year with the Dodgers. That said, the full season body of work speaks for itself and this is, essentially, another contract year for Ramirez. He plays in an okay lineup in a field that does him no favors, his swing percentages went up last year both for pitches in and out of the zone, while his in zone and total swing contact rates went down. He featured a .373 BABIP last year, which is unsustainable. He's got a balky hamstring, and you always have to be worried about "Manny being Manny". So why would I rank him sixth? It sort of goes against my statistical oriented approach, but at the end of the day, Manny Ramirez is going to hit. He's old, yes, and there is risk here. He also smashed NL pitching last year and, again, is playing for a big contract. He won't repeat last year, but he should check in as a strong outfield play.

7. Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers - .304/.371/.530; 32 HR, 130 RBI, 98 R, 9 SB

I don't know what to do with Josh Hamilton. Is he for real? Will he flame out? Will he confuse the first base line for blow? Stay tuned. He wasn't particularly hit lucky or unlucky last year, but did see a decrease in power over the second half after his homerun derby showing (.552 slugging percentage in the first half, .498 in the second). He also features a 34.7% chase rate and an 84% zone contact rate, which are concerning numbers. Losing Milton Bradley in the lineup hurts his production opportunities, but a full year of Chris Davis should help offset that (but won't fully replace the AL OPS leader). He scares me, and I think he scares most everyone who drafts him, but he's a risk worth taking (though I'd not make him my first OF taken).

8. Jason Bay, Boston Red Sox - .286/.373/.522; 31 HR, 101 RBI, 111 R, 10 SB

Out of the baseball abyss that is Pittsburgh and into a park with a big, green wall for him to bounce the ball off of, Jason Bay appears to be poised to take his place among the top tier outfielders in baseball. His lineup is solid and should provide him with run and RBI opportunities. Bay's patience improved last year, lowering his overall swing percentage while increasing his zone swing contact rate (while only slightly). He also saw his strikeout rate dip last year, dropping from 26.2% in 2007 to 23.7% in 2008. No longer the only threat in a lineup, Bay should see more pitches to hit and should be a productive outfielder this year.

9. Nick Markakis, Baltimore Orioles - .306/.406/.491; 20 HR, 87 RBI, 106 R, 10 SB

People who know me know that I love Nick Markakis (as a player...though he does know how to fill out a pair of baseball pants). At 26 years old, he is going into his prime and while he doesn't play in a high powered offense, the presence of Brian Roberts and Adam Jones does help him out. He bumped his walk rate six points last year, getting it to 14.3%. He cut his chase percentage from 23.4% to 18%, while maintaining the same zone contact rate. Will Markakis make the power jump this year and put up a 25-30 HR season? A young hitter with patience and a 20 HR season under his belt are good signs.

10. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers - .290/.340/.459; 18 HR, 76 RBI, 93 R, 35 SB

Admittedly, the biggest reach of my top 10 and a strong case could be made for BJ Upton here. That said, Kemp raised his OPS 40 points in the second half last year (to 821) and is a 25 year old player who gets to hit around Manny Ramirez and looks to be settling into consistent playing time with the departure of Andruw Jones and the flameout of Juan Pierre. In a keeper league, he's a higher pick than this. This year, though, Kemp does have the potential to have a 25-25 year. His K rate in 2008 was ugly at 25.2% when compared to his 7.1% walk rate. He also had an unsustainable .363 BABIP last year. The good news is that he showed improvement in terms of his chase percentage (36.4% in 2007 to 31.5%) in 2008, which could continue into this year. His breakout potential, the presence of Manny, the games he gets to play in Arizona and Colorado, and the weakness of the rest of his division on the whole put Kemp in at number 10, but it was with much debate.

Late Round Sleeper 1 - Brad Hawpe, Colorado Rockies - .283/.387/.539; 25 HR, 85 RBI, 69 R, 2 SB

Hawpe plays in a good hitter's park, which is a huge plus for him. His line drive percentage and BABIP do balance out, meaning that last year's line was what you would have expected out of him. The departure of Matt Holliday will hurt his opportunities, which is why he's a late round guy instead of a third tier type. Hawpe doesn't have huge OPS splits when facing lefties (897 vs righties, 826 vs lefties) or when hitting on the road (894 at home, 864 on the road). He's solid, but not spectacular. If you're risk-averse, you may consider using the spot that you would select Kemp at to go to another position and come here later.

Late Round Sleeper 2 - Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks - .250/.353/.463; 15 HR, 42 RBI, 52 R, 1 SB

I have no idea where Upton is going to go, draft-wise, but he has megastar upside. Last year, Upton featured a 23.8% chase rate, which is good for a kid his age. He did have a 34% strikeout rate, which is high, but he is young. His home park helps him out, so he has that working for him. He's going to be good, the question is only when, not if.

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