<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Others have said it, but it bares repeating - Outfield looks thin this year. After 40-45, it gets bad. Grab outfielders early this year.</p>— Ray Guilfoyle (@faketeams) <a href="https://twitter.com/faketeams/statuses/436682047126765568">February 21, 2014</a></blockquote>
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There are 30 big-league teams. That means there are, at any given time, 90 starting outfielders, and 30 at each of the other three positions. In fantasy, most leagues follow one of two formats - Yahoo's or ESPN's. That means 30 (for Yahoo) or 50 (for ESPN) starting outfielders (I'm talking 10-team leagues here). Of course, that ignores the utility slot(s), which traditionally go to the bat-first positions, which means first base and outfield.
So that's, what, 40 and 60 outfielders per league, respectively? I'd say if you polled fantasy players, most would assume a big percentage of utility slots would go to outfielders before various middle infielders and catchers.
I decided to look at it using Equivalent Fantasy Average, the sorting metric I've been developing to track players' fantasy contributions. I calculated EFAs for all players with 300 or more plate appearances in 2014 (based on the projections from Rotobanter). Because EFA is based on each position's means and standard deviations, it stands to reason that, more or less, the tenth player at each position (30th at outfield) should score about the same.
And that's all well and good, if you are expecting roughly equivalent production out of shortstops, third basemen, and outfielders. But as I established earlier, that's not really the situation. If your outfielder puts up the same stat line (relative to his peers) as your second baseman, you either have Robinson Cano or you're a little peeved. Because we use so many more outfielders than other position players (and even more-more in ESPN), the 30th outfielder should best the tenth shortstop by some fair amount, yeah?
(*Only 28 second basemen are projected to qualify for EFA; the .251 is for Dan Uggla, at 28th.)
I mean, it happens at first base. The tenth-ranked first baseman according to EFA, Adrian Gonzalez, scores .276 out of his 2014 projections. At 20th, Brandon Moss has a .267, and at 30th, it's Mitch Moreland at .259.
But look at that table up there. If I took out the positions and just gave you the numbers blind, you could probably guess that first base is the best, and catcher is the worst. The others? They are, as far as I can tell, indistinguishable from one another.
Yeah, there are some great fantasy outfielders. You want Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, et al, as early as possible. But in years past, you might pass on a Jose Bautista type a few rounds later because hey, Vladimir Guerrero, or why not, Mike Cameron. In 2014, if you hold off on a good-not-great outfielder, you're looking at Raul Ibanez, Ryan Ludwick, Carlos Quentin filling out the back end of your roster.
There's no perfect time to take each position, but it's easy to just feel like outfield is deep. But it's not.
With that said, here's the list of all projected-to-be-qualified outfielders in 2014 EFA:
|Rank||Outfielder||Team||Projected 2014 EFA|
|Eric Young Jr.||NYM||.264|
|74||Jackie Bradley Jr.||BOS||.254|
|79||Alejandro de Aza||CWS||.251|