TDG 2022 PLAYERS TO AVOID: OUTFIELD
Outfield tends to be my favorite position when drafting a dynasty roster. It provides such a deep pool of players offering some variation of dreamy upside, stable floor, and often enough, positional flexibility is sprinkled in. The two players below are ones that I’ll be avoiding going into 2022. Both possess a different angle of concern that pushes me from drafting them at our current ranking. I wouldn’t ignore them in their entirety but would prefer to let others take chances on them.
Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers
Christian Yelich has endured some relatively impactful injuries since his last dominant season in 2019. That second season in Milwaukee he nearly repeated his 2018 MVP form. Battling Cody Bellinger for the award, Yelich hit 39 homers and stole almost two dozen bases. It also seems to be the year when injuries crept into the picture. He ended that year early with a shattered kneecap via a foul ball in September. Yelich also admittedly suffered back spasms and stiffness throughout the year. While never hitting the Injured List, he did miss games in July and August.
2020 was relatively injury-free, but the production really skidded. His typically plus batting average plummeted to near the Mendoza line. This mirrored a jump in his K-Rate by over 10% to a career-worst 30.8%. Some of Yelich’s drop in AVG can be attributed to an unlucky and career-worst BABIP of .259. His next lowest was this past season’s .321, meaning he’s a player who routinely relies on a high BABIP to carry his batting average (and theoretically his value as a fantasy baseball player).
Two ingredients make a high BABIP sustainable – hard hit baseballs and fast baseball players. Remove one of those two items and the resulting BABIP won’t help increase a player’s actual batting average. A BABIP of .321 is considered above average for many players. In Yelich’s case, it is worrisome as his back injuries became more prominent in 2021. He played in only 117 games total, missing time after being placed on the 10-day Injured List twice for back-related issues. His ISO last year was .125 and his BarrelRate was 7.6%, far worse than the power numbers we are accustomed to seeing since he moved to Milwaukee.
That last part “since he moved to Milwaukee” is what I want to keep in perspective. He was a fine baseball player with the Marlins and in all, he will continue to be a fine baseball player for the remainder of his career. I’m worried that we’ve seen Yelich’s best power years. He’s entering his 30’s and suffered through back injuries for at least a year and a half already. Speed typically disappears first as players age; I don’t even want to imagine his profile once that is gone. Until then, I will let someone else take the gamble on him being a fine baseball player versus him maybe returning to producing like an excellent baseball player.
Austin Meadows, Tampa Bay Rays
I could highlight injury concerns with Austin Meadows as well, he’s had his fair share. Though it’s his increasing troubles when facing left-handed pitchers that is more concerning to me as we enter into 2022.
In 2021, Meadows was two different players when facing off against righties versus lefties. Against right-handed pitchers, Meadows mashed to a tune of .363 wOBA and 137 wRC+. When the pitcher was a southpaw, he hit well below average and produced a .251 wOBA and 61 wRC+. It is not that he’s having difficulty making contact against these pitchers. His strikeout rate is comparable versus pitchers who throw from either side. In fact, Meadows is league average versus lefties with a 22.8% K-rate and he was an even better 19.7% vs righties. This is a good sign, as his 2020 K-rate jumped to almost 33% and was an area of concern for many entering this past year.
But really, the trouble Meadows had versus left-handers was hitting the ball with authority. Last year, his Isolated Power was .096 compared to .285 when facing righties. His HardHit% was also down against lefties (31.3% vs 36.6%). And the most drastic example of this one-sided power outage was his Home Run to Fly Ball rate differences. For every fly ball that Meadows hit against a LHP, it would result in a home run only 4.4% of the time. Against RHP, he was hitting a homer 16.4% of his fly balls.
As I opened with, these numbers have been trending poorly since 2019. Meadows plate appearances versus lefties in 2020 was an extremely small sample (49 PA versus LHP). While it’s hard to pass complete judgment on COVID season results, especially when a player lost time due to COVID, we can’t completely dismiss his stats that season. His wRC+ was 14 (FOURTEEN!) against lefties and 115 against righties. Meadows’ ISO was .029 vs LHP while hitting no home runs against those pitchers in the short season. I don’t want to keep using the same comparative statistics in this breakdown. Suffice it to say that during Meadows’ excellent sophomore season in 2019, he was much more balanced and effective. That year his advanced statistics were above average against both pitcher types and he hit 9 home runs in 177 appearances versus lefties.
While diving in, I noticed a potential cause of this left-handed issue. Not uniquely, Meadows’ power appears to be tied with his ability to pull the ball. His Pull Rate against lefties has been dropping steadily each of these last 3 seasons, coinciding nicely (poorly?) with his decreased home run totals. In 2019, he pulled almost 50% of hit balls when batting against a LHP. In 2020 that number dropped to 40.9% and last year it dropped substantially again to 32.8%.
When we’re talking about a player the TDG team ranked as the 26th best outfielder, I hesitate to draft at this point when there’s such a strong platoon risk. While it would be a strong-side platoon the Rays are not a team to hesitate to use the strategy when presented with such strong splits. Additionally, they have plenty of roster depth to work with a platoon. Depth on the major league bench and in the upper levels of the minors. Let your league mates take this chance while you find a better floor for your OF3.