The top four outfielders—Carl Crawford, Carlos Gonzalez, Ryan Braun and Matt Holliday—are so tightly bunched that they could conceivably finish the season in any order and I wouldn’t be surprised. And no, Josh Hamilton was not an accidental omission; his injury history is too worrisome for an early-round pick in my book.
We already went over whether you should draft Crawford or his hispanic, first-name counterpart (Gonzalez in case you didn’t catch on), which means we still need to choose between Braun and Holliday. Today, that’s our task.
Each player is assigned a grade for each of the five standard offensive categories plus a few extra I felt were important to factor. Grades are based on my expectations for the season and take into account both the player’s expected performance relative to the entire player pool and relative to the position he plays at. Grades were averaged using the standard 4.0 GPA scale to provide a cumulative “Professor’s Grade.”
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The Case for Braun
Braun only won 2-of-8 categories head-to-head against Holliday, but that was still two more than the Cardinals’ slugger. Outside of the drop in power production (just 25 HR last year), Braun has been the model of consistency. He regularly hits north of .300 with just one .285 blip on the radar a few years back, and he’s become a 100-plus run and RBI machine who throws in around 15 steals.
I expect Braun to be right around 30 homers this season, probably finishing plus/minus one or two. It’s unlikely he can get to the 35-homer range again with his FB% trending downward each season, but 28-32 homers is still very good. Braun gives you above-average production straight across the board and is one of just a few five-category fantasy performers, and one who provides a degree of stability that only a few others in the game can match.
The Case for Hollliday
Even though Holliday didn’t win a single category, he finished just 0.08 grade points behind Braun. Holliday is three years older (just turned 31 a few weeks ago), but he hasn’t hit below .300 since his .290 rookie campaign in 2004, and he’s almost a lock for 100 RBI. Batting between Albert Pujols and Colby Rasmus (a very underrated five-hole hitter) is about as cushy a cleanup spot as you’ll find around the league, and Braun’s consistently still falls a tad short of Holliday’s. Holliday is about as safe as they come.
Who Should You Draft?
You can’t go wrong with either one, but it’s also hard to make a case for Holliday when he couldn’t do better than tie Braun in any of our eight categories. Still, given how quickly outfield depth falls off after these first four—and Hamilton—I wouldn’t have any issues selecting Holliday with my second or third round pick.