The Dynasty Guru’s Top 125 Dynasty League Outfielders, Nos. 1-20
It’s been over two months since the Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years, ending the 2016 baseball season. But if you’re like most fantasy baseball owners, those two months probably feel like two years. Considering it’s still another month until Spring Training even starts, late January has to be the worst time to be a baseball fan. It’s too late to reflect on last year, but next season is too far ahead to look forward to. Luckily, with a little help from The Dynasty Guru, the next month is survivable, as we’ll be ranking and commenting on a whole lot of players over the next six weeks.
The Dynasty Guru’s hard-working staff has spent countless hours crafting these rankings, and we hope you enjoy and continue to support our efforts by showing your appreciation through this link or via the splendid ‘donate’ button located on the upper right-hand corner of the homepage. Donations of any size are greatly appreciated.
You can view our rankings for previous positions, and the dates future rankings will come out, by clicking the link to TDG’s 2017 Consensus Dynasty Baseball Rankings splash page. With that, let’s dive into our outfield rankings, starting with the best baseball player in the world:
1) Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 1)
Because he has been doing this for so long, a popular hot take has emerged among some fantasy owners that Trout is not really the best overall fantasy player. If they are instead making a case for Clayton Kershaw, maybe there is an argument, but normally the argument against Trout is that his real-life value is obvious but he doesn’t really have the skills to be the most valuable player in most fantasy formats each year. The fallacy here is equating end-of-year value produced to overall dynasty league value. It is, in fact, true that Trout has not been the best player every year– other players have hit more home runs, stole more bases, had higher averages, driven more batters in, etc. So, maybe, because he has not been the best player on ESPN’s player rater at the end of every season, and one could consider him overrated by being labeled the best overall player yet again. This is just the outfield list, but when the top 500 comes out, spoiler alert, Trout will PROBABLY be number one for the fifth time in this site’s history.
Look. Trout probably won’t be the best fantasy player of 2017. There will be someone who will have a better year in standard 5×5 leagues. That person could very likely be a pitcher, and maybe Trout continues to run less while the league hits for more power around him, diminishing the overall value of home runs. This is not to say Trout isn’t the most valuable fantasy player, least of all the most valuable dynasty player. He is only 25-years-old and has been the most consistent player, and the most well-rounded, for his entire career. Trout can individually change a team’s contention window and, with him on your team, you have a position locked down for, conservatively, seven years.
2) Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 2)
Perhaps the most interesting debate to be had this year: would you rather have Bryce Harper or Mookie Betts? Harper had a down year in 2016; his average tumbled low enough to actually hurt you while his power slipped. Still, he put up a 20-20 season and consider this ranking proof that TDG believes 2016 was a fluke. While he was plagued by injuries, Harper didn’t lose much playing time in ‘16. Instead, he played through injuries–something that might cause concern given his predilection to run into walls and whatnot. If 2015 seemed too good to be true, maybe it was. Still, at 24 and with the immense potential we’ve already witnessed, the emergence of some base running smarts shows that Harper still has the capacity to adapt and surprise. Expect the average to improve, even if it doesn’t hit the 2016-highs and stays more around the .270-.280 range. And, having lived through the lows and the highs, understand that what Harper lacks in consistency, he makes up for in potential to be head and shoulders above everyone else in the league, even if only for short bursts of time.
3) Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 5)
The case for Mookie Betts over Harper is pretty simple: in 2016, Betts was the best fantasy player, hands down. The lineup around him in Boston, and his secure position within it, ensures he’ll be able to accrue runs and RBI in the 90+ range for at least the next few years. An above-average baserunner, Betts’ baserunning abilities makes him a lock to get 20+ steals even on a contending MLB team in a time where steals are increasingly scarce. And the power surge that showed up in 2016 didn’t require any sacrifice in average, so even if he dips to a more realistic 20-25 home run range in the coming years, he could continue to be the type of player likely to contend for a batting title in his career. Another year like 2016 and the conversation won’t be “Betts or Harper,” it will be “Betts or literally anyone else.”
4) Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 4)
Stanton has been, by any account, a disappointment to fantasy owners over his past two injury-plagued seasons. That he hasn’t slipped in the rankings at all in the past year is a testament to his power, which remains incredibly enticing even in a hitting environment that saw home run power surge throughout the league. It’s true that, if last year’s league-wide power spike is a trend, Stanton’s middling average and the poor lineup surrounding him make him a surprisingly risky OF1 option. Still, it will take only one season showing the promise we’ve all seen in him since his days as a top prospect, which he hasn’t really been able to deliver since his phenomenal 2014 season, for dynasty owners in all leagues to be all-in again. After a dismal May, followed by a return to form in July, followed by an injury-shortened August/September, owners may be tired of the roller coaster ride. Take heart, then, in knowing that a healthy Stanton is still an absolute animal, and the upside to be the best player in baseball is still there. Unfortunately, he’ll likely still cost the full value of his potential, but if you have any chance to get him at a discount, pull the trigger.
5) Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 14)
After hitting .311 with 47 steals in only 129 games last season, it’s hard to imagine Marte actually having more potential than he showed last season. Given that all three of the Pittsburgh starting outfielders are ranked in the top-10 on this list, putting Marte above perennial top outfielder McCutchen and coming-into-his-own Polanco might seem like a bold statement. But Marte’s ability to threaten as much on the basepaths as he does at the plate makes him an elite outfield option, and while his average in 2016 may have had some BABIP-inflation, such that a .290 average going forward is more likely, it is just as likely that he gets back some of the power that dipped in 2016 despite no significant change in his peripherals. His floor is incredibly high, and we may have just seen him scratching his ceiling.
6) George Springer, Houston Astros (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 9)
Those who assumed Springer would provide the level of production in the majors that made him a legend in the minor leagues will probably continue to view Springer as a frustration, but while he has yet to put up elite numbers in any one category he still has four category promise. The question, then, is which four categories? Springer has proven himself capable of making adjustments at the plate but despite significant contact ability he has yet to get the boost in average one might reasonably expect. His tendency to pull the ball may be keeping him from fulfilling his full power potential. And while he hits leadoff and isn’t a bad baserunner by any means, his speed seems more likely to translate into trying to stretch singles into doubles rather than trying to swipe bases. While double digit steals are probably not worth betting on, it’s not hard to imagine just a little luck pushing his average north of .280 with 30+ homers with a hitting profile that will age well. That near-40/40 minor league season probably won’t be happening in the big leagues, though.
7) Christian Yelich, Miami Marlins (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 21)
By the end of the first half of 2016, Yelich was hitting .317 with seven home runs and seemed likely to continue taking steps forward as one of the best pure hitters in the game without much else to contribute. Then, in the second half, he found a power stroke and hit 14 homers. The overall production was a huge leap forward for Yelich, who had never hit more than 15 home runs in his pro-ball career. The power came at the expense of average, but the overall picture is exciting: the high average, high OPS, low-home run Yelich may be his floor. In non-traditional formats–especially points leagues–Yelich’s skill set becomes even more enticing. Even in standard leagues, though, he’s taken a leap from one of the most underrated OF2 options to a true OF1.
8) Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 3)
Try to pick apart McCutchen’s 2016 season to find a reason for the low average and dip in overall performance, and you’ll come up with plenty of theories but no clear single culprit. Like John Nash or Charlie Day, you can draw connections from thumb injuries to age to a jump in swinging strike rate in order to convince yourself that the potential Hall-of-Famer has fallen off a cliff. But if you step back, clear your eyes, and look again, many of the underlying stats and skills that made McCutchen a perennial top-5 dynasty outfielder for years remain. Which McCutchen is real, and which is fake news? Speed is the easiest thing to imagine not coming back– knee injuries in 2015 and occasional heel issues in 2016 just start to happen once you turn 30. Even without 15-steal speed, though, there are too many unconnected things that went wrong in 2016 for the whole season to be predictive. Ignore the conspiracies and expect a rebound year.
9) Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 25)
By just about every metric and ranking, Charlie Blackmon was the best fantasy outfielder not named Mike Trout or Mookie Betts for 2016. He led all qualified outfielders in batting average, hit the same number of homers (29) as Trout, stole 17 bags and produced 111 runs. The underlying stats bear out these findings. Lest there was any doubt, Charlie Blackmon is incredibly good at baseball and anyone who paid for him as an OF2 in 2016 was well rewarded. That he ranks below so many players on this list, then, is less related to his age than to the general insecurities dynasty owners invariably have around hitters whose future at Coors Field is filled with questions. The Rockies seem to have positioned themselves as a sleeper Wild Card bet, but if they fall out of contention and Blackmon is traded away his value to dynasty owners could take a big dive, and as he enters his age-30 season the possibility of him being able to keep the speed up is a real open question. For now, he remains one of the very best fantasy outfielders. For how long, though, is anybody’s guess.
10) Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 21)
Polanco played through injuries in both his shoulder and knee, receiving platelet injections throughout the second half. Normally this kind of statement is used as an excuse to justify a ranking that outweighs the value contributed, but Polanco also took tremendous strides in 2016, closing his platoon split and finally developed the power that was predicted when he was a top prospect. It’s possible that the nagging injuries will cause the steals to stick in the 15-20 range for the future, but the power is real. A 20-20 season is entirely possible, and the ceiling could still be higher.
11) J.D. Martinez, Detroit Tigers (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 8)
Despite missing nearly a month and a half with a fractured elbow, Martinez turned in another excellent offensive season in 2016. After performing very well prior to the injury, he kicked it up a notch following his return on August 3rd, putting up a .332/.392/.553 line and 154 wRC+ over the final two months. That average was certainly helped by an unsustainable .418 BABIP, but the performance proved he was fully recovered, meaning there should be no question of his health going into 2017. Martinez also continued some encouraging trends in his approach, as he saw his walk rate climb for the fourth straight year to 9.5% while also dropping his strikeout rate by 3% from 2015, culminating in a career high on-base percentage. If Martinez continues with the adjustments he has been making, he can be counted on to provide very good power production along with solid peripherals. He’d be higher on these rankings if the league-wide power uptick hadn’t occurred, but #11 isn’t half bad for a player who was cut by the 2014 Astros.
12 ) Ryan Braun, Millwaukee Brewers (Age: 33, Previous Rank: 13)
Although Braun hasn’t quite reclaimed his pre-suspension heights, the Hebrew Hammer has been steadily improving over the past couple seasons and 2016 was awfully close to vintage Braun. The 33-year-old put up four-year highs in nearly every offensive category, including home runs (30), RBI (91), ISO (.233) and wRC+ (133). He posted a .305/.365/.538 line (also tops in the past four years) and tacked on 16 stolen bases. He can be expected to put up similar average and on-base numbers for the foreseeable future, though a couple underlying factors bode less well for his power production. First, his ground-ball percentage jumped 6 points last season while his fly-ball percentage dropped the same amount. This led to a 2.22 GB/FB rate – by far the highest of his career. Second, he had a likely unsustainable 28.8 percent HR/FB ratio (again, by far a career high). A regression in that coupled with a similar ground-ball to fly-ball profile could spell the beginning of Braun’s power decline. While he’ll continue to be a great outfield option for the foreseeable future, don’t count on him to be an offensive centerpiece.
13) Yoenis Cespedes, New York Mets (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 24)
Cespedes was cruising along in 2016, putting up a 150 wRC+ through the first 5 months of the season. Then September hit and Yoenis…well…didn’t. Over the last month and change, or as we like to call it “the fantasy playoffs”, he posted a .214 average and an anemic .675 OPS. His performance could have been a by-product of a lingering quad injury or he simply could have just gotten caught in a nasty slump at the wrong time. Either way, Cespedes still turned in another excellent season, posting a .280/.354/.530 line and swatting 31 homers. Nothing really jumps out as unsustainable, at least when compared to 2015. So as long as he remains healthy, he should be in for more of the same, hopefully for the whole season this time.
14) Nomar Mazara, Texas Rangers (Age: 22, Previous Rank: 33)
As arguably the best prospect in a talented Ranger’s system, there were high expectations for Mazara when he debuted just a week into the 2016 season. Known for his excellent approach, contact ability and above-average pop throughout his development, the 21-year-old didn’t miss a beat during his first shot at major league pitching, posting a .266/.321/.419 line while hitting 20 long balls. While his overall season stats were great for a first year player, there were some signs that pitchers may have figured him out in the second half, and he hit just .242 over the final 2 months of the season. There are definitely some adjustments he will need to make heading into 2017, but there’s no reason not to expect those things to happen. Mazara remains a talented hitter who has acclimated quickly to each new challenge, and should be one of the best young fantasy assets for years to come.
15) Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 12)
As many guessed, Car-Go’s massive 25.8 percent HR/FB rate from 2015 fell back to earth in 2016, and his home run total did as well, dropping from 40 to 25. It also looks like his stolen base contributions may be gone for good as he only attempted 4 stolen bases last season and was caught twice. That said, his average rebounded nicely as he nearly topped the .300 mark (.298) for the first time since 2013. Also encouraging, he turned in his second straight season of at least 150 games played, showing durability not seen from him since 2010. If Gonzalez can remain healthy, he should continue to put up solid, though rather unspectacular numbers well into his mid thirties. However, a potential move to first base would not do many favors for his fantasy value.
16) Andrew Benintendi, Boston Red Sox (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 64)
While Benintendi spent just two months in the big leagues, it was easy to see what all the fuss was about. He had always drawn rave reviews for his hitting ability and mature approach at the plate, and both of those skills were on full display. He had an incredible 82.8% contact rate while offering at just 25 percent of pitches out of the zone and posting a well below average 7.4% swinging strike rate. He made good contact and spread his hits enough that he shouldn’t see many shifts. All of this came together to the tune of a .295/.359/.476 line over 113 plate appearances. While that definitely qualifies a small sample size, Benintendi’s advanced profile and history performing at every level justify his ranking as one of the best young outfielders in the game.
17) A.J. Pollock, Arizona Diamondbacks (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 7)
2016 was a rough one for Pollock. He fractured his elbow diving into home plate in one of the last spring training games, and that kept him out until late August. He then suffered a groin injury in early September which ended his season. His scant 12 games played in between didn’t give us much to go on either. Assuming no ill effects from the injuries, there’s no reason to believe Pollock can’t once again display the skills which nearly landed him in the 20-40 club in 2015 (with an excellent .315/.367/.419 line). While that stellar campaign likely will represent his peak, a solid part of that season was legit, making Pollock a great buy-low candidate this offseason. That’s if he can stay on the field, which is not something he has shown he can do consistently over his career thus far.
18) Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 16)
There is a good chance Buxton would be significantly lower on this list if it weren’t for his final month. On August 5th, he was hitting a robust .193 and a whopping 45 wRC+ when he was sent back to Triple-A for the second time in the season. He continued to perform well at Rochester but it was looking like another lost season for the 21-year-old former #1 prospect. Then he returned to the Twins when rosters expanded and took off. From September 1st on, he posted a .276 average with a .964 OPS and a .365 ISO. Now, he is unlikely to ever repeat a couple of those numbers over the course of a full season, but they represent some needed signs of life for Buxton, who was beginning hear the dreaded “b-word” (no, not that one) whispered in fantasy circles. Obviously, considering anyone a bust at 21 is ludicrous and if he can bring that September momentum into next season he will prove that he is finally leaving his rocky development path and entering the fast track to stardom.
19) David Dahl, Colorado Rockies (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 66)
Dahl debuted in late July and proceeded to demolish major league pitching to the tune of a .315/.359/.500 line over 237 plate appearances. Now, there are a couple factors that point to regression in the near future. That batting average was made possible in part by a .404 BABIP, which is, of course, unsustainable. He also struck out at a 25% clip thanks to his below-average contact rate and the fact that he swung at well over half the pitches he saw. Dahl’s plus speed didn’t show in his debut, with only five stolen base attempts, but that should increase significantly in the near future. The upside is that Dahl has plenty of time to make the required adjustments while playing most of his games in a fairly forgiving hitting environment. He should be one of the more electrifying young players in the game for a while…
20) Justin Upton, Detroit Tigers (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 6)
…Similar to how Justin Upton used to be. Most sabermetricians would say Upton had a down year in 2016. Despite matching a career high with 31 home runs, his other numbers were down across the board for a second straight year. His wRC+ was a barely above-average 105 and his .246/.310 batting average and on-base percentage were full-season career lows. A 28.6% strikeout rate nearly matched a career-high thanks to his well below-average contact rate. The batted ball profile basically shows he sold out for power and was essentially a two-outcome player. This may have been a reaction to moving to Comerica Park, but Upton has always had a little bit of that in his profile, and that’s been a direct cause of his extreme streakiness. Still, for those who can handle his ups and downs, Upton remains a very solid OF2/3.
Comments by Tyler Baber and Travis Johnson