Outfield tiers for Draft Day 2014
Here's where things get messy.
The tiers approach couldn't be more straightforward around the infield. You target the position with the fewest players remaining in its highest available tier and move on. But at those positions where you need not just one player, but several, the approach requires some finesse.
Tiers are designed to deliver the most efficient draft possible by
using player rankings to reveal the distribution of talent at each
position. A new tier begins whenever the next player down in the
rankings has a vastly different projected outcome from the one
preceding him. Reducing a position to five or six tiers instead of
30 or more individuals gives you a blueprint to follow as your
league's draft unfolds. Naturally, the position to target is the one
whose active tier is closest to completion. -- SW
Specifically, I'm referring to outfield and starting pitcher.
I understand that in some leagues you may draft a second first baseman to fill a corner infield or utility spot, and in others, you have a whole bench to assemble, but in those situations, you have options. You don't run the risk of getting cornered out of a position, having to start a player who'll hold you back instead of set you apart because you didn't act soon enough.
Outfield spots are for outfielders only. You have to fill each of yours with a player at that position no matter what might be available at some other position. You can't just wait to take the last of The Next-Best Things, thinking Carlos Beltran or Desmond Jennings is enough to satisfy you. He may be, but you'll still have to come up with two (or three or four) others who also do.
To some degree, that's common sense, but as part of an approach that aims to simplify the drafting process, getting maximum efficiency from each pick by, in theory, eliminating the need to finesse, it's something of a contradiction. If you wait and wait and wait at outfield, believing there's always more where that came from, you could end up tripling (or quadrupling or quintupling) your misery.
What good is having a stud second baseman if he leaves you with an outfield that can't compete?
The Elite: Andrew McCutchen , Jacoby Ellsbury , Carlos Gonzalez , Ryan Braun , Bryce Harper , Adam Jones , Jose Bautista , Giancarlo Stanton , Shin-Soo Choo , Carlos Gomez , Yasiel Puig
The Near-Elite: Justin Upton , Matt Holliday , Jay Bruce , Allen Craig , Hunter Pence , Alex Rios , Martin Prado , Jason Heyward , Domonic Brown , Wil Myers , Starling Marte , Jayson Werth , Ben Zobrist
The Next-Best Things: Mark Trumbo , Matt Kemp , Shane Victorino , Alex Gordon , Yoenis Cespedes , Billy Hamilton , Carlos Beltran , Josh Hamilton , Desmond Jennings , Evan Gattis , Coco Crisp
The Fallback Options: Leonys Martin , Khris Davis , Adam Eaton , Alfonso Soriano , Curtis Granderson , Michael Cuddyer , George Springer , Nelson Cruz , Brandon Moss , Austin Jackson , Christian Yelich , Kole Calhoun
The Last Resorts: Nick Swisher , Torii Hunter , Dexter Fowler , Nori Aoki , Marlon Byrd , Will Venable , Brett Gardner , Nick Markakis , Michael Bourn , Carl Crawford , Michael Morse , Angel Pagan , Oswaldo Arcia , Chris Carter , Nick Castellanos , Alejandro De Aza
The Leftovers: Colby Rasmus , Josh Reddick , Ben Revere , Eric Young , Dustin Ackley , Michael Brantley , Avisail Garcia , Corey Dickerson , Daniel Nava , Kelly Johnson , Andre Ethier , Rajai Davis , Oscar Taveras , Melvin Upton , Denard Span , Gerardo Parra , Melky Cabrera , Josh Willingham , Marcell Ozuna , Peter Bourjos , Carlos Quentin , Grady Sizemore , Lucas Duda , Jackie Bradley , Byron Buxton , Raul Ibanez , Nate Schierholtz , Chris Young , Junior Lake , Ryan Ludwick , Matt Joyce , Garrett Jones
So how do you keep from falling behind at a position where, following the tiers approach to the letter, you won't feel as much urgency? The simple solution is to make it your perpetual backup plan. When you reach a point in the draft where the tiers suggest you can wait at every other position of need, hey, take an outfielder. It doesn't even matter if he's near the end of a tier or not because, with at minimum three outfield spots to fill, you may want more than one from the same tier.
I've found it often happens in Round 4. By then, The Elite are usually depleted at second base but only halfway depleted at third base, making that Giancarlo Stanton or Shin-Soo Choo who slipped through the cracks an ideal pick. Of course, if you haven't filled shortstop by then and aren't confident one of Jean Segura or Desmond Jennings will last to your next pick, you may opt to go that route instead and wait to select an outfielder in Round 5 or 6. Better safe than sorry, right?
True, it would mean passing up the last of The Elite in the outfield, but the tiers aren't as rigid there as around the infield. Obviously, you still want to monitor them. No sense settling for lesser production if you can avoid it. But each is so plentiful, offering such a wide variety of players, that they tend to bleed together. And again, getting that one perfect outfielder in the one perfect spot won't spell your fate at the position. Drafting three of The Near-Elite could yield a better overall team than drafting one of The Elite, one of The Near-Elite and one of the The Next-Best Things, especially if it means shoring up a shallower position sooner.
Of course, how your first couple picks go probably has some say in how you handle that scenario. Most everyone knows how the first round or two will play out in standard mixed leagues -- and for good reason. Only a handful of players are capable of delivering first-round numbers, and of them, only a handful will hold up over a full season. So more than tiers, draft order will determine the starting point for your team. You take who you're supposed to take and figure out the rest later.
So if you have the first or second pick, you may already have Trout by Round 4. If you have the third, fourth or fifth pick, you may already have McCutchen by Round 4. If you have anything beyond that, you may already have Ellsbury, Gonzalez, Braun, Harper or Jones by Round 4. And if you already have one of those outfielders by Round 4, chances are you have a greater need in the infield than someone who doesn't, which might compel you to pass on a Stanton or Choo for a Segura or Desmond -- or maybe even a Carpenter or Donaldson, if it makes sense.
The Near-Elite probably offer the best bang for the buck in the outfield. Players like Heyward, Brown, Myers and Marte may not go off the board until Round 7 and will occasionally last through Round 10. Some of The Next-Best Things -- specifically, Cespedes, Trumbo and Hamilton (either one) -- may even go ahead of them, allowing them to fall further. Of course, two tiers depleting at once can result in a steep drop-off if you let both of them pass you by. If you haven't drafted at least two outfielders by the end of Round 10, you're in trouble.
In 12-team leagues that require only three outfielders, every team has met its quota, utility spots included, by the middle of The Fallback Options, making sleepers like Davis, Eaton, Springer, Martin, Yelich and Calhoun some of the most attractive bench options you'll find in the middle-to-late rounds. In leagues that require five outfielders, you'll have to aim for them a little sooner, but probably as no worse than your fourth outfielder.
Because five-outfielder formats are most often Rotisserie leagues, power specialists like Chris Carter and Josh Reddick and speed specialists like Ben Revere and Eric Young still have some appeal. And of course, players like Fowler, Aoki, Gardner, Byrd, Venable, Morse and Arcia have the upside to matter in all formats, despite coming with few assurances. Drafting one as your fifth outfielder won't set you back from the pack, really. What you want to avoid is drafting one as your fifth outfielder and another two as your third and fourth.
Just make sure you don't get too deep into the draft before addressing the outfield position, even if the tiers don't make it obvious.