Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
While the winter meetings are making headlines in Florida, those of us who play fantasy baseball are already looking ahead to next year's draft. And the best way to get ready is by analyzing last year's results.
In the sixth part of a series, we will evaluate the outfield position.
In the fantasy world, unlike the real world, only statistics count for anything. That's why American League MVP Josh Hamilton finished fourth among fantasy outfielders. Sure, he's a great hitter, but missing 29 games due to injury was too much to overcome. His team managed to overcome his absence and win the American League title, but in "our" world he finished fourth behind an up-and-coming National League star and two of his fellow American Leaguers.
Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez is what Carl Crawford's fantasy owners have wished he would become since they saw his potential as a rookie in 2002. "Cargo" began to blossom in 2009, but became a full-blown star in 2010 with a statistical line which helped in every category. He batted a league-leading .336 with 34 home runs, 117 runs batted in, 351 total bases, 26 stolen bases and an OPS of .974.
And since not everyone was aware of his talent and potential after the 2009 season, Gonzalez wasn't an early selection on Draft Day. His ADP (Average Draft Position) of 122 meant he was a steal in the 10th round for someone in your league. That won't be the case in 2011 as "Cargo" will be a first-rounder this time around.
While Crawford owners might have looked longingly at Gonzalez, they weren't disappointed by their guy's production in 2010. It was Crawford's best season since becoming a full-time starter in 2003. In 600 at-bats, he produced career highs in runs (110), home runs (19), RBIs (90), slugging percentage (.495) and OPS (.851). Add in his yearly display of speed, 47 stolen bases, and Crawford's owners had to be satisfied with their second-round selection.
Jose Bautista...hardly anybody knew his name back in April. They all know it now after the Toronto Blue Jays outfielder/third baseman smacked a league- leading 54 homers. His numbers were incredible considering what he had done in his previous six seasons as a professional. Bautista's best previous home run year was in 2006 when he hit 16 long balls for the Pittsburgh Pirates. And his 124 RBIs was almost double his previous high of 63 back in 2007. He was a fantasy free agent back in April, but after a monster May in which he hit 12 home runs he became a lineup staple. The obvious question for 2011 is, "Which Bautista will show up; the one who averaged 15 home runs between 2006-2009 or the one who led all of baseball in 2010? To be determined.
Hamilton played 133 games and put on quite a hitting display. He led the league in batting average (.359), slugging percentage (.633) and OPS 1.044 and hit 32 homers while knocking in 100 runs. He's a great "comeback" story which should continue in 2011.
Matt Holliday is often overlooked because Albert Pujols gets so much of the attention, but Holliday also had a great year with the bat. It was certainly his best season since leaving Coors Field in 2008 and it ranked him in the top-five of fantasy outfielders. Since coming to St. Louis in mid-2009, Holliday is averaging .324 with an OPS of .950. As long as he stays healthy and hits behind "The Machine" he should be a lock for 100 RBIs every season.
Beside the obvious superstars at the top of the list, one of my favorite players to win the 2011 "Best Bargain" will be Texas right fielder Nelson Cruz. He was on his way to a huge season, possibly top-five, until he was sidetracked by multiple hamstring injuries. Cruz has both speed and power and bats in a great hitters park for half his games. Because he was only able to get 399 at-bats, many fantasy owners may overlook his "pedestrian" home run, RBI and stolen base totals. Don't you be one of them.