Originally written on Baseball Professor  |  Last updated 12/7/12
So I heard that this Mike Trout kid had a pretty good year. For a position that was already top-heavy with elite talent, outfield was infused with two phenomenal rookies who should be top-10 talents for years to come. We end our outfielders week with 12 observations from the past season, but if you haven’t checked out the 5 surprises or blind resume yet, make sure you make some time for that. Yoenis Cespedes entered the Major Leagues as a player who had a ton of raw power, but we expected him to struggle with strikeouts. That was the story through April as Cespedes sported a .226 ISO and 25% K%, but, after an injury-riddled May, Cespedes posted a .220 ISO with a 17% K% over the final four months. He capped it with a .252 ISO and a K% of 14.7 in September (136 PA). Curtis Granderson may have hit a paltry .232 last year, but he was a beast everywhere else with 102 R, 43 HR, 106 RBI, and he even contributed 10 SB. I didn’t like his K% increase (28.5% up from 24.5%), but with a little extra BABIP luck (.260 in 2012, .305 career) he should bring that average up to a more respectable .250. Something interesting is happening to Austin Jackson. He’s taking a lot more walks and really cutting down on the strikeouts. Last year his BB% went from 8.4 to 10.9 and his K% dropped from (dyslexics beware) 27.1 to 21.7. Combine the improved plate discipline with a perennially high BABIP and you have a .300 hitter who will score 100 runs, but I still wish he would steal more bases. When I went to analyze Josh Reddick‘s career-high 32 home runs I expected to see one of two things: (1) An unsustainable HR/FB rate and/or (2) a bias towards homers being hit away from home. What I found was that he not only had a very normal 14.0% HR/FB, but it was very consistent both home and away. I also noticed Reddick had a very high FB% (49.6, 2nd in MLB), which suggests that he sacrificed some batting average to get the ball in the air and over the fence. Another surprising outfielder who burst onto the power scene, Josh Willingham was expected to hit fewer home runs at Target Field. Unlike Reddick though, Willingham relied on a very high HR/FB (21.2%, 11th in MLB). According to FanGraphs.com, Target Field had a 103 park factor in 2011 for right-handed home runs, but he also posted a 27.1% HR/FB rate at home where he hit 21 of his 35 homers. On the surface, Jason Heyward put up career highs in runs (93), homers (27), RBI (82) and steals (21), but he only posted a .335 OBP (compared to a .393 in his rookie season). His plate discipline numbers (i.e. BB%, K%, O-Swing%, SwStrk%, etc.) all trended the wrong way in 2012, but if he needs to swing and miss a bit more in order to hit for power then I guess we can let it slide. Bryce Harper, or “the new Heyward,” dazzled us with his hustle, enthusiasm, hairdos, and talent in 2012. He was aggressive at the plate (50.0 Swing%), but could also take a walk (9.4 BB%). What impressed me most was his ability to adjust midseason and end on a high note in September (.330 BA, 27 R, 7 HR, 14 RBI, 5 SB). The kid is legit. Andrew McCutchen has really developed his power over the last three seasons. In 2010, 0% of this homers went to the opposite field, but that number rose to 26% in 2011 and finally reached 32% in 2012. That 32% mark ranked seventh among all qualified hitters and first among players with at least 30 home runs, where it was  9 percentage points higher than second place (Corey Hart, 23%). This not only tells me that his power is for real, but it could possibly get better. No one fits the “better in fantasy than real life” mold than B.J. Upton. His plate discipline basically went out the window in his contract year (maybe because HR=$$$) as his swing rate (52.0%) and swinging strike rate (14.9%) were both career highs and his contact rate (70.6%) was a career low. He also posted a horrific .298 OBP, but was still a great fantasy option thanks to his counting stats (79 R, 28 HR, 78 RBI and 31 SB). Unless you’re in an OBP league, of course. That Mike Trout is damn good, but I’ll take Ryan Braun first overall in all of my drafts in 2013. Not only has he been a top fantasy option for six consecutive years, but he’s also reached the 30-steal mark for two straight years. Trout doesn’t have as big of an advantage in that category as you might think. Last offseason Bryan and I spent a lot of time explaining why Giancarlo Stanton was overrated because of his one-dimensional fantasy game. One season later — .290 BA, 75 R, 37 HR, 86 RBI, 6 SB — we were proved wrong. Or were we? Stanton hit .297 on ground balls (.234 MLB avg.) and .315 on fly balls (.224 MLB avg.), which suggests he was a bit lucky. Even if he hits the ball harder than anyone else, does that account for the gap between his BABIPs and the league average? Be careful not to overrate him next year, especially with that stripped lineup. It was nice to see Shin-Soo Choo‘s BABIP bounce back to his career norm last year (.353). It’s amazing how consistent he is every year, and you can pencil permanent marker him in (that’s confidence son!) for a .290-.300 BA, 80-90 R, 20 HR, 80-90 RBI and 20 SB.
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