TDG 2021 RISERS AND FALLERS: OUTFIELDERS
This is a companion piece to our annual Top Dynasty League Outfielders series. The opinions below are our own and do not reflect the TDG consensus. Each of these players has fans among our colleagues.
Outfield offers the largest player pool to chose from in fantasy baseball, and concurrently presents the biggest opportunity for movement in our rankings. We live in a reactionary world where one dismal season or one stellar season can have a big impact on how a player is thought of in a fantasy baseball mind. In this article, we discuss a few outfielders whose rankings saw a sizeable jump for better or worse going into the 2021 season.
Faller – Victor Robles, Washington Nationals (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 20, Current Rank: 75)
If you are looking to repaint a room in your house in a deep shade of blue you may want to check out the Statcast page of Victor Robles for some sample colors. The former top-10 prospect has been underwhelming with his offensive play during his time in the majors and unfortunately for him the underlying numbers back it up. Robles slashed .255/.326/.419 with 17 home runs and 28 stolen bases during his first full season at the major league level in 2019. Overall this was a respectable rookie campaign, but there were already some pretty significant warning signs pertaining to his batted ball profile. Robles was in the bottom 4 percent of the league in hard-hit rate with an exit velocity of 83.3 mph, 5 mph under the league average. His xBA was .234 with his overachievement at least partially driven by a .310 BABIP. Robles was also caught stealing nine times in 2019 meaning he was thrown out in almost a quarter of his attempts. I also think his .326 OBP can be labeled as a little flukey as he had almost as many hit-by-pitches (25) as walks (35). Looking at his minor league numbers, he actually does seem to be a high hit-by-pitch guy, but that’s not really a stat I want to rely on for getting on base, not to mention the injury hazard.
Things did not improve for Robles in his second full season in the majors; in fact, the majority of his Statcast somehow got worse. His average exit velocity decreased by 1.1 mph to 82.2 mph putting him in the bottom one percent of major league hitters. His strikeout rate increased by over five percent and his walk rate decreased by almost one percent. The result was a slash line of .220/.293/.315 with only three home runs and four stolen bases. Interestingly enough, he did maintain his hit-by-pitch rate with nine in only 52 games, but again I wouldn’t consider this a bright point in an otherwise dismal season. Perhaps the most alarming decrease was his sprint speed percentile, dropping from 95th to 79th from 2019 to 2020. Now, as with most of the 2020 season, the circumstances for Robles were less than ideal as he was delayed joining the Nationals until a week before its official start due to a Covid-19 exposure and he showed up significantly over-weight. I am sure that these factors did not help his 2020 performance, but they can’t be given all the blame as he actually started out hot, and cooled off as the season continued. Regardless, it is going to take some serious convincing for Robles to climb back into his previous range of ranking. (Bob Cyphers)
Faller – Andrew Benintendi, Boston Red Sox (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 25, Current Rank: 64)
Andrew Benintendi had a breakout year in 2018, posting a slash line of .290/.366/.465 with 16 home runs and 21 stolen bases. He quickly shot up ranking boards as the next 20/20 player with a good batting average and solid counting stats hitting near the top of the Red Sox lineup. Going into the 2019 season there seemed to be a lot of pressure on Benintendi to add more power to his game, but he seemed determined to maintain his more contact-based swing. Unfortunately for him, he seemed to have lost a little bit of each part and an overall down season resulted in a .266/.343/.431 line with only 13 home runs and 19 stolen bases. Also despite all the preseason chatter, there were some definite swing adjustments early in the season that he then tried to correct and reverse as the season progressed. He increased his launch angle by 4.5 degrees from the previous year and while also gaining moderate increases in exit velocity, hard-hit rate, and barrel percentage, all of his expected stats decreased. A 6.8 percent increase in strikeout rate with a 1.1 percent decrease in walk rate also strongly points to a shift in his approach at the plate.
With 2019 a down season for Benintendi, many were looking forward to the 2020 season with hopes of seeing a resurgent performance. Well, to say it didn’t happen would kind of be an understatement. Benintendi slashed .103/.314/.128 with zero home runs and one steal in an injury-shortened 2020 season. I don’t want to draw too many conclusions from a “less than normal” 2020 season, especially since he was dealing with a rib injury that could clearly hinder his offensive performance, but it also still leaves us trying to define Benintendi’s player profile. Based on some reports lately, it seems that the Red Sox themselves are also in this conundrum as they are apparently openly shopping Benintendi with a lot of expectations he will be moved before the 2021 season. With all of the unknowns currently surrounding him, both performance-related and team related, it’s impossible to rank Benintendi as a top-tier outfielder as he was in previous years. (Bob Cyphers)
Riser – Kyle Tucker, Houston Astros (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 24, Current Rank: 10)
The Houston Astros certainly made us all wait a long time before they allowed us to bask in the warm glow of Kyle Tucker’s baseball abilities. Drafted 5th overall in 2015, it took Tucker a couple of years in the minors to discover his power, but once he did the profile started to come into focus. Tucker posted back-to-back 20/20 seasons in the minors in 2017 and 2018 before burning his tongue on a cup of coffee at the end of the 2018 season. The Astros then sent him back to Triple-A to being the 2019 season where he tallied up 34 home runs and 30 steals in only 123 games. Tucker’s second trip to the bigs was much more successful and hinted at what he might be able to offer dynasty managers in the future.
The 24-year-old Tucker posted a .268/.325/.518 triple slash in the sprint season and had 9 home runs and 8 steals in his 228 plate appearances. The Statcast sliders are all a nice shade of red (for the most part) and his ability to both impact the ball and use his speed to maximize extra-base hits was put on display in 2020. Tucker’s average exit velocity was 91.1 with a launch angle of 14.9 and a maximum exit velocity of 110.9 mph. His speed on the basepaths helped him get to 12 doubles and 6 triples. Tucker’s minor league career was peppered with walk-rates above 10% at various levels, so if he can add that to his MLB profile he could vault himself into the first round for fantasy drafts. There are very few players who can produce 30/30 seasons at the big league level and Tucker absolutely falls into that category. With the way that steals are valued in fantasy baseball these days and the Astros willingness to let Tucker run, he could absolutely find himself on the list of risers yet again in 2022. The majority of the projection systems have Tucker putting together a 20/20 season, but most of them are selling him short on his ability to hit for an average around .280 and a slugging percentage of .500. I will take the over on both of those projections for 2021. Tucker is currently slated to hit 7th in a potent Astros’ lineup and that also doesn’t seem quite right to me and could be depressing his value somewhat artificially. Call me crazy, but a lineup that includes a declining Altuve, a perpetually underperforming Correa, Yordan Alvarez’ knees, and a 34-year-old Michael Brantley just doesn’t seem set in stone. It’s Kyle Tucker season, baby. Get those shares while you can! (Kyle Brown)
Riser – Mike Yastrzemski, San Francisco Giants (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 101, Current Rank: 44)
Despite having a last name that every single baseball fan already knows, Mike Yastrzemski has been underrated and underappreciated his entire career. Drafted in the 14th round in 2014 by the Orioles, Yaz put up some pretty excellent seasons in the Baltimore farm before being sent off to San Francisco to blossom. You really have to wonder why Baltimore didn’t give Yaz a shot to play at the big league level with a career minor league triple slash of .263/.341/.441. That line isn’t going to blow anyone away, but wouldn’t the O’s have wanted to, at the very least, see what he could do in The Show before they traded him for a completely unspectacular pitcher named Tyler Herb (sorry, Tyler)? Well, all Yaz did to stick it to the haters in 2020 was post a 159 wRC+, nearly hitting the coveted 3/4/5 triple-slash line (he hit .297; rules are rules). Numbers like that from a completely overlooked and undrafted player are the stuff that fantasy baseball championships are made of, provided you coughed up enough FAAB to get him.
Yastrzemski’s hard-hit numbers are middle of the pack when it comes to his Statcast page, but his xSLG, xwOBA, and BB% were all in the 80th percentile or better for the 2020 season. The more you dive into him the more you like him. Yaz’s dynasty status is somewhat odd and smart managers will be able to use the fact that he came out of nowhere and is already 30-years-old to steal some value much later than in a draft than should be legal. I don’t expect him to rise much beyond his current rank of 44 after the 2021 season, but a full season of production next year could change that. After all, he has proven a lot of people wrong so far in his life, so why not me? I leave you with this highlight reel from the 2020 season. (Kyle Brown)