Today, however, "strange" refers to the former.
For this reason, I'm going to analyze this position the same way I did for catcher, first base, second base, third base, and shortstop before pointing out a few outliers that found their way(s) "in."
Starting with our first statistical category, points-per-opportunity (see introductory chapter for a rundown of statistics and formulas), Ryan Braun (2.92 pts/opp.) reigns supreme. In fact, Braun tops every statistical category I've created for the purposes of this blog series. It's safe to say that Bill James has crowned Braun as the "cream of the crop" in 2009.
Behind Braun, filling out the top-three, are Alfonso Soriano (2.77) and Marcus Thames (2.76). I can't say I'm too surprised with the top-three. Soriano rakes when healthy... but that's been a bit of a problem for him recently (many Cubs' fans know about his "hopping" problem in the outfield). Thames, on the other hand, is projected to hit only 22 more singles than home runs in limited at-bats. He's not quite up to the rate of a Glennallen Hill, but he's probably the closest the Majors have to offer.
The bottom three of the 120 ranked outfielders for this research produce two familiar names: Brian Giles (1.99) and Ichiro (2.05). These two players are the typical examples of fantasy bats you'd expect to find at the bottom of a pts/opp. category. One is an aging "power" bat (yeah, remember way back when?) and the other's a singles-hitting-base-stealer. Don't be too concerned about Ichiro being ranked this low. Remember that most of his opportunity is made by stealing bases and scoring runs, two things that are risky and that he has very little control over.
The median for this category is our favorite fluctuating fellow: Aubrey Huff (2.39 pts/opp.). Huff was a "surprise" to most fantasy owners last year as he put up his typical "Devil Ray" numbers from almost 3-years ago. Bill James projects similar numbers for 2009: 23 HRs, 80 RBI, 70 R, and a .280 BA.
Notable "below-average" sluggers identified are Delmon Young (2.32), Nick Swisher (2.31), and Josh Willingham (2.31). Of these three, I think it's important to note that this may be Delmon Young's last chance to live up to the "next Ken Griffey Jr." billing we were all promised back in 2005-06. I know that I can't be the only one who was fed up with hearing about him and Lastings "the next Willie Mays" Milledge (2.43).
When thinking of Willie... the LAST word that comes to mind is "average," which is what Milledge (.81) represents when moving to our next category, points-per-plate-appearance.
[I hope you all enjoyed the above sentence. In the biz, that's what we call a beautiful transition. I'm gonna just read it one more time before moving on...]
The top-five of our OPS translator deliver four familiar names and one not-so-familiar name. The four players whom you've undoubtedly heard about before are Ryan Braun (1.05 pts/pa), Matt Holiday (.96), Josh Hamilton (.95), Carlos Beltran (.949), and Manny Ramirez (.94).
Our out-of-nowhere member of the top-five is the EXTREMELY streaky Nelson Cruz (.967), who, along with Chris Davis, carried the Texas Rangers down the stretch of the 2008 MLB season. Cruz is an interesting option in fantasy leagues this year. Like fellow Quadruple-A member, Dallas McPherson, Cruz has been touted as too good for Triple-A... but not disciplined/good enough for the Majors.
However, Rangers' mangaer Ron Washington said that Nelson Cruz would bat clean-up for the Rangers if they added no offense in the off-season. The Rangers' added nothing offensively so far this season, so (barring a random signing of Manny Ramirez or something) one would expect Washington to make good on his commitment. Cruz, 28, is in the prime of his offensive career and will be batting consistently behind Josh Hamilton in 2009.
That's too much to ignore.
Combine this with Bill James' projected 28 home runs, 84 RBI, and 18 stolen bases and you have the foundation for what may FINALLY qualify as Cruz's "break-out" season. That all said, please don't go ahead and draft this guy as your #1 outfielder. You'll be laughed at. Seriously, laughed at. I would rank him as a low-two, high-three... but please be sure to draft a serviceable back-up for protection if he struggles throughout April and May.
However, if Cruz does for your fantasy team what he did for mine during the fantasy play-offs last year, you'll be more than pleased you took the risk on this potential late-bloomer.