Shaw on MLB: Top fantasy outfielders

October 5, 2012, 3:54 PM

Of the top five outfielders in baseball this season, four have a legitimate shot at MVP awards. Had Dodgers star Matt Kemp not been limited by a hamstring injury or if Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista had a healthy wrist, the list could have been even stronger. Instead, Blue Jays fans will find mercurial outfielder Alex Rios making the cut, while perhaps the greatest rookie of All-Time leads the position.

Top 5 Outfielders

5) Alex Rios, White Sox

Alex Rios is an enigma. The Blue Jays first round pick more than a dozen years ago enjoyed a fifth All-Star caliber season. In between are some forgettable performances including last season’s disastrous 13 home runs and .227 batting clip. However, at 31 years old, Rios remains in great shape and capable of posting big numbers, which is exactly what he did this season.

Rios established career-highs in the power categories with 25 home runs and 91 RBI. He also swiped 23 bases and scored 93 runs, the type of balance that is appreciated in fantasy baseball. On that note, Rios may actually be better in fantasy than he is in reality. He does not draw many walks, in fact, for a second straight season he set a career-low. Ultimately, the combination of speed and power make him valuable and quite possibly overrated if he offers his normal regression after a solid season.

4) Josh Hamilton, Rangers

Someone will offer big bucks to Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton. One of the game’s top sluggers, Hamilton was able to avoid the injury bug en route to career-highs with 103 runs and 43 home runs. Hamilton does carry a great deal of baggage including his drug-riddled past and injury-prone career.

Hamilton also endured a slump in the second half of the season as his batting average dipped from .308 in the first half of the season to just .259 over the second half. The struggles forced Rangers President and CEO Nolan Ryan to call him out for giving away at bats. This accusation was supported by the fact that Hamilton fanned on 86 occasions in 59 games following the All-Star break.

Blue Jays fans will dream of Hamilton joining the birds this off-season, but it may be the short porch in Yankee Stadium that will make Hamilton a legend for Yankees fans. We’ll see after this post-season who will open the wallet to a very risky investment.

3) Andrew McCutchen, Pirates

The Pirates are once again losers, and it sours an incredible season by All-Star Andrew McCutchen. After hitting .362 in the first half of the season, McCutchen did slow his pace a bit in the second half hitting just .289. However, he did muster 13 home runs and reached base consistently.

McCutchen’s second half struggles make perfect sense when you consider that there is not an additional bonafide star in the Pirates lineup. The hope is that slugger Pedro Alvarez will eventually fill that void, but with Alavarez offering an average less than .250 and no table setters at the top of the lineup, it was remarkable what McCutchen was able to accomplish. At just 26 years old next season, McCutchen should be in his prime, making him a likely top-five target for fantasy managers.

2) Ryan Braun, Brewers

Considering all of the controversy surrounding performance-enhancing drugs for Ryan Braun prior to the season, many baseball fans were hoping that the Brewers star would fall flat in 2012. It turns out, Braun proved that even with the scrutiny he remains one of the elite hitters in baseball. The Brewers star established career-highs with 41 home runs and 63 walks.

Braun will certainly contend for a second straight NL MVP award and enters next season as a definite top three pick in fantasy leagues. He averaged a home run in every nine at bats against southpaws and actually gained steam as the season progressed, leading a surprise run by the Brewers late in the season. With five home runs in every month of the season, Braun was incredibly consistent and everything that fantasy managers could have hoped.

1) Mike Trout, Angels

Try to imagine how high the expectations were coming into the season for the Angels just because of the off-season acquisitions of Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson, the ace who was literally signed away from the division rival Texas Rangers. Then the Angels acquired former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke during the season. On top of all of that, one of the greatest players in baseball this season wasn’t even mentioned yet, and that’s 21-year-old rookie Angels outfielder Mike Trout.

To put it in perspective how good Trout was in his rookie campaign, consider that he averaged about a run scored in each game he played, a home run in every fifth game, stole a base every third game, and he took a home run away on defense every 20th game. Simply put, Trout did it all and now the expectations coming into next season will be sky-high with most fantasy leagues having him drafted with the top pick.

There were not any weaknesses in Trout’s game, and when his average declined in the second half, Trout responded by taking more balls and drawing walks. The Angels will have no problem paying for an aging Pujols considering the bargain they have on their hands in Trout.

Biggest Busts

3) Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox

Fantasy managers can usually forgive players for getting injured; after all, there is usually an injury reserve spot to stash the injured on fantasy rosters. However, underperformance is an entirely different story. Ellsbury dealt with both this season as his injuries led to a delayed start and then underperformance was the lasting impression as the speedster went from MVP contender to bust in just one year.

After blasting 32 home runs a year ago, Ellsbury mustered just four this season while his average declined by .050 points. With injuries now ruining two of his last three seasons, Ellsbury will fall mightily in next year’s fantasy drafts and there’s even rumors that the Red Sox would consider trading the one-time star to a new franchise. Considering Ellsbury hit .315 at Fenway even in this rough season, a move to a new home ballpark spells doom for his fantasy value.

2) Drew Stubbs, Reds

It has reached the point where the Reds find it hard to have Drew Stubbs in their lineup. The eighth pick of the 2006 draft had always drawn the interest of fantasy managers because of his rare combination of speed and power. Stubbs hit 22 home runs in 2010, and then swiped 40 bases last season. Those figures made his mid-.200s average tolerable.

This season Stubbs managed just 14 home runs with 30 steals and the batting clip dipped to .213. Meanwhile, the development of other players including Chris Heisey and Todd Frazier forced the Reds to reconsider Stubbs’ spot in the lineup and he was benched on 25 occasions, increasingly towards the end of the season.

1) Jason Bay, Mets

One of the greatest Canadians to ever play the game of baseball, Jason Bay’s career looks pretty close to finished after finding himself in a bench role with the woeful Mets this season. Bay had what may have been the worst season of any player. He hit just .165 in 194 at bats with eight home runs. Bay hit less than .175 against right-handers and southpaws and managed just one walk compared to 10 strikeouts over the final month of the season.

At this point, the Mets will likely release the former slugger who is owed more than $15 million next season. Another club is likely to take a gamble on Bay, though a starting gig may be hard to come by since the former slugger hasn’t had a productive season since 2009.

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