Whenever we talk about players and their projections, there’s a reason we say that you should pencil them in rather than etching them in stone. Every player, from Mike Trout all the way on down to Pete Kozma, has a range of possible outcomes. There will be players who surprise and fall outside that range, both on the good side and the bad, but for the most part, players end up landing somewhere within their parameters.
As such, you should not think about exact numbers when building a fantasy team. Instead, you should consider each player’s range and the likelihood he ends up closer to the top of it or the bottom. Below, we present the best- and worst-case scenarios for the top 30 players in our Top 250 (and here's a printable version of our Top 250).
1. Mike Trout
WORST CASE: Trout did post a 26.1% strikeout rate last season, and that conspired to push his batting average down to a career-worst .287. If he keeps up that strikeout pace, he will not be among the league leaders in batting average. He also curbed his running last year, which could be the beginning of a trend for him. If the Angels' offense takes a step back as a whole, Trout’s counting stats will suffer through no fault of his own. And even if all this happened, he’d likely still end the season as a top-five hitter.
2. Andrew McCutchen
WORST CASE: Like Trout, even the worst-case scenario for McCutchen is that of an elite fantasy player. He has had more than 25 homers just once in his career, and his 18 steals last year were his least since joining the Pirates in 2009. With the holes in the Pittsburgh lineup, it could be a struggle for him to do much better than 85 runs and RBIs.
3. Paul Goldschmidt
WORST CASE: With no one else to fear in the Arizona lineup, pitchers treat Goldschmidt like he’s Barry Bonds. His rates might go through the roof, but that sort of respect keeps a ceiling on his counting stats and prevents him from hitting more than 25 homers.
4. Clayton Kershaw
WORST CASE: Last year’s strand rate regresses to the mean, and that leads to his first ERA north of 2.00 since 2012. He also reverts to the great, but not elite, strikeout pitcher he was before last season. Yeah, even the worst-case scenario here is sterling.
5. Giancarlo Stanton
WORST CASE: You can never be sure how a player will react after being hit in the face, and it takes Stanton a while to get comfortable in the box. He, too, is given the Bonds treatment, and that limits him to 30 home runs.
6. Jose Abreu
WORST CASE: Abreu doesn’t live up to his monster rookie season, and the White Sox supposed improvements fail to give him a better supporting cast. He still brings plenty of pop, but last year’s .356 BABIP proves to be a mirage, and the regression pushes his batting average into the .280s.
7. Miguel Cabrera
WORST CASE: Last season was the start of a true skills decline for one of this generation’s best hitters. He’s still great, but the 30-homer power is gone, and with the entire Tigers' offense taking a step back, he fails to reach 100 RBIs or runs. He’s also forced to miss 20 games due to various injuries.
8. Carlos Gomez
WORST CASE: Gomez HR/FB ratio falls again this season, and he fails to hit 20 homers for the first time since 2012. His strikeout rate ticks back up from the already-high 21.9% it was last year, and that brings his batting average down into the .260s.
9. Anthony Rizzo
WORST CASE: Rizzo’s struggles against lefties return, making him a black hole without the platoon advantage. The Cubs' youngsters prove they’re still at least a year away, and that means Rizzo is fighting the same battles he was last year when he had just 78 RBIs despite 32 homers.
10. Edwin Encarnacion
WORST CASE: The injury bug returns and forces Encarnacion to miss a significant portion of the season. He hits just .265, and while he does bring power when he’s on the field, it isn’t enough to offset his injuries and batting average.
11. Adam Jones
WORST CASE: Jones’s declining HR/FB ratio is more trend than mirage, and he fails to hit 25 homers for the first time since 2010. His teammates also don’t come all the way back this year, and that results in him falling short of 80 runs and RBIs.
12. Jose Bautista
WORST CASE: Bautista played just 92 games in 2012 and 118 in '13, and those injury problems resurface. He hit .286 with a .287 BABIP last year, and that, not surprisingly, proves unsustainable. The batting average reverts to the .250s, and injuries keep a lid on his counting stats.
13. Anthony Rendon
WORST CASE: Rendon was playing a bit over his head last season, and both his home run and stolen base totals are cut by one-third. A lower BABIP knocks his average into the .270s, and the Nationals' offense as a whole isn’t nearly as good as everyone expects it to be.
14. Robinson Cano
WORST CASE: Unfortunately, he can’t change his home park or the way the ball travels in Seattle, which means he just can’t hit more than 15 homers. The rest of his counting stats suffer, as well, with the Mariners falling short of expectations again in 2015.
15. Felix Hernandez
WORST CASE: His walk rate jumps back up to his previous career totals, and that bumps his ERA back above three. Meanwhile, the supposed upgrades in Seattle fail to materialize, and he once again finishes the season with an average win-loss record.
16. Adrian Beltre
WORST CASE: Time waits for no one as age finally catches up to Beltre. He hits below .290 for the first time since 2010 and fails to reach the 20-homer threshold for the second straight season. The Rangers struggle again, and that keeps him below 80 runs and RBIs.
17. Chris Sale
WORST CASE: Sale’s broken foot lingers to the point that it hampers him for his first few starts, and that puts a damper on his overall numbers. The White Sox aren’t nearly as good as they looked during the offseason, keeping Sale below 15 wins for the third year in a row.
18. Troy Tulowitzki
WORST CASE: Yet again, Tulo just can’t stay on the field. Injuries limit him to fewer than 100 games for the second straight season, robbing the baseball world of one of its most talented players.
19. Ian Desmond
WORST CASE: Desmond’s high strikeout rate submarines his batting average, as he fails to make it out of the .250s. He still hits for decent power, but falls short of 20 homers for the first time since 2011.
20. Jose Altuve
WORST CASE: Altuve crashes back down to earth, hitting in the .290s instead of last season’s .341. With fewer times on base, he doesn’t steal nearly as many bags or score as many runs, which basically makes him a glorified Elvis Andrus.
21. Yasiel Puig
WORST CASE: Puig lost 10 percentage points of his HR/FB ratio from 2013 to '14, and that proves to be the real Puig. He falls short of 20 homers again while stealing just 10 bases. He’s still wildly fun, but that helps make him overrated in fantasy leagues.
22. Stephen Strasburg
WORST CASE: Strasburg loses five starts due to injury, and the walk issues that plagued him during his first two seasons rear their ugly head. All of that makes him overshadowed by teammates Max Scherzer and Jordan Zimmermann.
23. Josh Donaldson
WORST CASE: Donaldson’s 2014 BABIP carries over to 2015, and he hits no better than .265. The move to Toronto doesn’t take as well as it should, and he falls back to the low-20s in homers.
24. Max Scherzer
WORST CASE: After racking up a ton of mileage over the last three seasons and turning 30 last July, the workload catches up to Scherzer. He’s still a strong fantasy pitcher, but a reduced strikeout total knocks him out of the top 10.
25. Michael Brantley
WORST CASE: Last year was nothing more than a mirage. Aided by a fluky BABIP and unsustainable HR/FB ratio, it proves to be by far the best year of his career. Brantley falls back down to the low-teens in homers while his batting average dips back into the .280s.
26. Justin Upton
WORST CASE: Upton falls victim to 81 games in Petco Park and hits fewer than 25 homers for the first time since 2012. The stadium also swallows would-be doubles, and he has the worst batting average of his career.
27. Hanley Ramirez
WORST CASE: Ramirez just can’t stay healthy. He plays fewer than 130 games for the third straight season and crushes the dreams of any owner who used a pick on him in one of the first three rounds.
28. Bryce Harper
WORST CASE: Harper’s reckless ways keep him off the field for a significant portion of the season yet again. When he is on the field, he strikes out just as much as he did last year, when he fanned in more than one-quarter of his plate appearances. Even though he’s just 22 years old, it becomes time to recalibrate expectations.
29. Freddie Freeman
WORST CASE: Have you seen this Atlanta lineup? Why would anyone pitch to Freeman? Freeman is pitched around more than anyone in the majors, and that results in him having the worst counting stats season of his career.
30. Corey Dickerson
WORST CASE: Dickerson is a train wreck any time the Rockies leave Coors Field and continues to struggle against southpaws. At the same time, his rates come down at home, and he falls short of 20 homers, 70 RBIs and 70 runs.