As I was attempting to put together some positional rankings the other day, I came to Yasiel Puig and could not figure out how to value him among outfielders. He’s had big ups and huge downs in his short career, making projecting his performance very difficult. To make matters worse, though, he is not guaranteed playing time or a starting job in a very crowded Dodgers outfield picture. Sure, we will probably know more once spring training is over, but why wait? Let’s dig into this mess and see if we can identify the best fantasy assets.
I’m going to start with a table showing the players involved and their 2017 Fangraphs Depth Chart Projections. That should give us a starting point for comparing them. I’ve also included their handedness for platoon discussions.
|Scott Van Slyke||230||202||7||24||26||3||0.24||0.325||0.402||0.727||R|
I removed players that are so far down the depth chart that they don’t even belong in the discussion like Brett Eibner, Rob Segedin, and Darin Ruf. If you only know who one of those players are, then congrats, you are right there with me.
Joc Pederson and Trayce Thompson
We have eight players left to consider here. Joc Pederson is nearly uncontested for the centerfield job, so let’s lock him in. We can cross another one off for now because Trayce Thompson is still recovering from a back injury and may not even be ready to start spring training. I am a big fan of his and think he has breakout potential, but back injuries can be scary and can easily linger so I can’t expect too much from him early in the season. By the time he might be ready, the LF and RF jobs might be locked up.
That leaves six players for two spots, with the rest relegated to pinch-hitting, platooning, or cut from the roster. Let’s discuss Mr. Puig first. After taking the whole league by storm in 2013, following it up with an all-star-worthy year in 2014, then succumbing to injuries and poor performance in 2015 and 2016, he is an enigma. Will we ever see the five-tool Cuban phenom again or will he just settle into being an average player?
Obviously, the projections are optimistic and see him putting up his best year since 2014 this season. Both Steamer and Depth Charts see him putting up an OPS of 0.832, which would crush his 2015 mark of 0.758 and his 2016 mark of 0.740. The 11 fans on Fangraphs that have created their own projections for him are much less excited, projecting a 0.767 OPS. I think the Dodgers would be thrilled if he could put up an 0.832 OPS and would gladly hand him the RF job if they could be guaranteed that outcome.
However, since there are no guarantees, rumors (via Rotowire) are that they would like to platoon him with Andre Ethier. That would mean Puig only plays against lefties, killing his value. Let’s see if Puig is deserving of a platoon. His career OPS against LHP is 0.846 and it is 0.828 against RHP. His batting averages are only 0.007 different between the two types of pitchers. In short, this is not someone you would usually platoon with.
You (or the Dodgers) might say, well that includes his much more successful years, what about 2016? To that I say, it doesn’t matter. His batting average in 2016 against RHP was actually 0.004 better than against LHP. His OBP was also 0.016 better against RHP. Yes, his slugging was 0.085 better against LHP, but that’s about it and we are talking about small sample sizes here. If the Dodgers believe that Puig has some potential left in him, they should not platoon him.
Andre Ethier and Franklin Gutierrez
Ethier, on the other hand, has a career 0.888 OPS against RHP and a dismal 0.635 OPS against LHP. He’s always been platooned and will continue to be. While we are on the subject of platoons, Franklin Gutierrez is just like Ethier, but of the opposite hand. He is nearly unplayable against RHP, but 30% above league average for his career against LHP. That seems like a perfect match for left field, in my opinion. For what it’s worth, Gutierrez played most of 2015 in left, and most of 2016 in right field. Ethier has played both outfield corners almost equally.
Enrique Hernandez and Scott Van Slyke
Because Enrique Hernandez has the lowest projection and has never been more than a part time player, I’m not going to discuss him much. I think he is near the bottom of this totem pole. It’s been two years since Scott Van Slyke was a good hitter and his projection shows that he is probably just a bench player with a league average bat. He has a major pop-up problem (7.6% PU% in 2016) and his power has been low in recent years.
That leaves us with just one more contender to compete with the Ethier/Gutierrez platoon and Puig: Andrew Toles. Toles has very good speed (70 grade in his scouting reports), has hit for a high average at every level, and even showed good power (>0.500 slugging) in some short AA, AAA, and MLB samples. His speed should greatly enhance his fantasy value, with the chance for 15-20 steals in the right circumstances. He has the most upside and potential of anyone of these guys not named Puig, since Gutierrez and Ethier are both over 33.
His 2016 ground ball rate of 48% is too high and his swinging strike rate of 14.2% was reckless. Despite that, he minimized pop-ups and soft hits, and his corrected average exit velocity of 87.7 mph was good for 75th highest in baseball, near Jake Lamb, Evan Longoria, and Buster Posey. All of that is to say I think the Depth Chart projections are low for him and I believe he could have a breakout season. He is my favorite of the non-Puig, non-Pederson options in this outfield.
To sum all this up, here is how I think the Dodgers will start the season and how they will end the season:
LF: Andre Ethier/Franklin Gutierrez platoon
CF: Joc Pederson
RF: Yasiel Puig
LF: Andrew Toles
CF: Joc Pederson
RF: Andre Ethier/Franklin Gutierrez platoon
What happened? Well, I think Puig will either completely flame out, or more likely, be traded this season. He doesn’t belong in a platoon and some team will want to take a chance on him. The remaining options all have health issues, so maybe that will clear a path for Puig or Toles to run with the job as well. For what it’s worth, the Dodgers team page has Puig starting in right, Joc in center, and Toles in left right now, but Gutierrez isn’t even on the page yet.
As for fantasy value, Toles should come very cheap and could pay off nicely with a good average and decent steals. Puig is a complete gamble. I don’t see any indicators that Puig will return to 2013/2014 form, but he could. Just as with my rankings issue, I just don’t know where to value him. I think he will be just above a league average hitter, maybe a 110 wRC+?
Ethier is a good target for deep leagues because he does very well when healthy in a platoon role. If he gets regular at-bats against RHP, he will really help your team and will be just as cheap as Toles, if not cheaper. He has good power and average to go with excellent OBPs. Gutierrez is of little value in all formats except daily fantasy, since he will only play against lefties. If there is an injury and he is fully healthy, don’t forget about Trayce Thompson. He should be on the waiver wire in most leagues and could surprise if given a shot. He has power and speed. Tschus!