Trout merits top consideration among outfielders
Mike Trout spent most of October as the subject of a fierce debate among baseball fans about the value of the Angel rookie compared to that of Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.
Trout supporters saw their man come in second in the MVP vote, yet he had unquestionably the finest fantasy season in the majors in 2012. His stat line of 30 home runs, 49 steals, 129 runs scored, 83 RBIs and a .326 average has not been matched in history.
Trout is so well-rounded that even if one of his stats were to be ignored, he would still be an elite talent. Removing steals from his repertoire gives Trout power and average marks attained by only Albert Pujols, Barry Bonds and Todd Helton in the last dozen years. Ignoring his home runs and focusing on the remaining four categories puts him in scarcer company, with no player in 90 years matching his output.
There is talk of Trout becoming the first 40/50 player. That might be a bit much, but he is a very good candidate to return to the 30/30 club with at least 100 runs and a .300 average, justifying his position as the top choice in the outfield.
Matt Kemp followed his excellent 2011 with a torrid April before a hamstring injury curtailed his campaign to 106 games. The one downside to Kemp is that his stolen base totals greatly regressed in 2012. This reduction could be a direct correlation to his leg woes, although it is likely something more permanent.
Once players begin the transformation into power hitters, their focus seemingly strays from base stealing. One particular example is striking. Vladimir Guerrero stole 40 bases and hit 39 home runs in his age-27 season. He battled injuries the next year and hit 25 homers with nine steals. Kemp stole 40 bases and hit 39 home runs in his age-26 season. Then he too battled injuries and hit 23 home runs with nine steals.
Guerrero never had more than 15 steals in a season again. Kemp potentially running less does not destroy his value; owners can count on him to hit .300 with 30 HRs and 100 RBIs.
Ryan Braun had two straight years of 30 home runs, 30 steals, 100 RBIs, 100 runs and a .300 average, making him the second player in history to reach those levels in back-to-back seasons. Braun has also spent two consecutive winters defending himself from PED accusations.
The news this week associated Braun with the Biogenesis clinic in Miami that reportedly provided players with illegal substances. Should baseball attempt to suspend Braun on the basis of his link to the lab (and after having a suspension overturned on a mere technicality), his worth will obviously suffer.
Giancarlo Stanton had an amazing 2012, leading the league in slugging by overcoming an April with just one home run. He then hit 18 bombs in 59 games, got hurt, came back and hit 18 more in his final 43 games. Despite Stanton having little protection in the decimated Miami lineup he is a strong contender, at 23, to lead the majors in homers.
Josh Hamilton hit a career-high 43 home runs in 2012. A disappointing stretch drive and a quick exit from the playoffs have some thinking that Hamilton is fading from superstardom. His biggest problem last season was his 162 strikeouts. Reducing them will help his other offensive numbers, including his career .440 slugging percentage in Angel Stadium, his new home, which is his second-worst in active AL stadiums.
Bryce Harper got off to a slow start in 2012, but came on late and won Rookie of the Year honors. He has the ability to be the next 20-year-old to hit 30 home runs in a season. Toss in his 18 steals from 2012, and owners have a multifaceted young player.
Norichika Aoki and Nick Swisher are good low-risk, mid-round picks. Aoki, of Milwaukee, sparkled in his inaugural season east of the Pacific, hitting .288 with 10 home runs and 30 steals. Swisher has been consistent, totaling at least 23 home runs, 75 runs and 80 RBIs in each of the last four years, a claim solely he and Braun can make, among outfielders.
My outfield rankings for 2013: 1. Mike Trout, Angels; 2. Matt Kemp, Dodgers; 3. Ryan Braun, Brewers; 4. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins; 5. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates; 6. Josh Hamilton, Angels; 7. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays; 8. Yoenis Cespedes, Athletics; 9. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies; 10. Matt Holliday, Cardinals.
11. Bryce Harper, Nationals; 12. Jason Heyward, Braves; 13. Curtis Granderson, Yankees; 14. Jay Bruce, Reds; 15. Adam Jones, Orioles; 16. Allen Craig, Cardinals; 17. Michael Bourn, free agent; 18. Carlos Gomez; 19. Justin Upton, Braves; 20. Shin-Soo Choo, Reds.
Dan Massey's Fantasy Sports appears each Sunday. Email him at email@example.com.