2017 Positional Power Rankings: Center Field

(Thanks to Eno Sarris and Nick Stellini for their help on this post.)

The corner outfielder posts yesterday were kind of depressing, but I have good news; I’ve found all the talented outfielders that were missing from the LF and RF posts. The best outfielders in the game mostly play center field now.

That graph is hilarious. Eight teams have center fielders that project to produce more value than the best projected team on the left field list from yesterday, but seven of those eight are still made to look impotent next to the bar furthest to the left. Overall, this is a really strong and deep position, filled with really good players, and yet there’s no position with a larger gap between the top dog and everyone else than center field. Mike Trout, man. He’s something else. If anyone tries to tell you that he’s not the best player in baseball, they’re just wrong.

Mike Trout 658 .298 .415 .563 .409 51.6 3.8 0.2 8.2
Ben Revere 28 .271 .305 .337 .282 -0.8 0.1 -0.1 0.0
Cameron Maybin 7 .260 .324 .373 .305 -0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0
Ryan LaMarre 7 .226 .281 .343 .273 -0.2 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .295 .408 .548 .402 50.6 3.9 0.1 8.3

This is what all-time greatness looks like. Trout projects to be roughly as valuable as the two best non-Trout center fielders combined. And this forecasted performance would be the second-worst year of his career.

While there are other great players in the game, the reality remains that it’s Trout, and then everyone else. There is no one at his level. There is no one near his level. There is no one on a level that can see Trout’s level from their level.

Since there’s not much else to say about how great Trout is, let’s just remind you of some of the players he’s probably going to pass in career WAR in 2017: Vladimir Guerrero, Todd Helton, Will Clark, Jim Rice, David Ortiz, Orlando Cepeda, and Robinson Cano.

Oh, yeah; he’s 25. This is all just silly.

If Trout gets hurt, the Angels are dead in the water, so their backups are basically irrelevant. And they planned accordingly.

2. Rays
Kevin Kiermaier 595 .259 .319 .420 .318 0.7 2.2 17.8 4.4
Colby Rasmus   56 .221 .297 .406 .304 -0.6 0.1 0.7 0.2
Mallex Smith 49 .243 .307 .340 .286 -1.3 0.1 0.3 0.1
Total 700 .255 .316 .413 .315 -1.2 2.4 18.8 4.7

Forecasting a +18 fielding rating might feel aggressive, but it’s actually about half of his career UZR/150, which itself is significantly lower than DRS has him ranked. And while some people have been waiting for Statcast to confirm that defense doesn’t actually matter all that much, the early data suggests that, nope, Kiermaier really is as good as the numbers have said, and top-shelf defenders can indeed save their teams something like 30 runs a year.

Toss in a league average bat and plus baserunning, and the total package makes Kiermaier an elite Major League player. The one problem for him has been staying on the field, and if there’s an argument for this forecast being overly optimistic, it’s in the playing time, as Kiermaier has never gotten more than 535 PAs in a season. But with a fairly weak outfield group around him and Mallex Smith likely ticketed for Triple-A, Kiermaier probably plays every day when he’s healthy. If he gives the Rays a full season, he may be the primary reason they can hang around in contention this year.

Starling Marte 595 .285 .339 .442 .336 7.9 2.4 2.5 3.5
Andrew McCutchen 70 .280 .375 .474 .362 2.4 0.0 0.0 0.5
Gregory Polanco 35 .262 .328 .427 .323 0.1 0.1 0.3 0.2
Total 700 .283 .342 .444 .338 10.4 2.5 2.8 4.1

After years of playing their best outfielder in left, the Pirates have finally moved Starling Marte to center field, a more traditional fit for his skillset. The rearranging of the team’s outfield should help a bit, giving Marte a chance to use his range more efficiently while emphasizing McCutchen’s strengths going to his right, though in the end, the team still has the same three players covering the same amount of ground. This is likely to be more of an on-the-margins improvement than a dramatic overhaul of the team’s outfield defense.

What will be interesting is what happens on days when Marte isn’t in the line-up, which may happen with some regularity. Marte has played between 129 and 135 games in three of his four full seasons, and he’s already dealing with an ankle issue in spring training. If Marte continues to miss 20 to 30 games, will the Pirates simply move McCutchen back to his old position, despite essentially announcing that they believe he’s the team’s worst defensive outfielder? Or do they stick Polanco in center field, despite the fact that he only has 29 innings of experience at the position?

Not mentioned is top prospect Austin Meadows, who would likely be summoned to Pittsburgh if Marte were to miss significant time. The Pirates certainly have depth here, and with some guys who hit far better than most up-the-middle players, this is the strength of their team.

Christian Yelich 630 .287 .366 .445 .350 14.5 1.3 1.1 4.0
Marcell Ozuna 28 .269 .322 .447 .329 0.1 0.0 0.1 0.1
Ichiro Suzuki 28 .263 .317 .339 .289 -0.8 0.0 0.1 0.0
Yefri Perez 14 .228 .275 .282 .248 -0.9 0.0 0.1 0.0
Total 700 .284 .361 .437 .345 13.0 1.3 1.2 4.1

Despite the #4 ranking on this list, this projection anoints Yelich as the best center fielder in the National League; the Marlins only fall into this spot, behind the Pirates, because their non-starter alternatives are not as good as Pittsburgh’s. But as Jeff Sullivan recently noted, this projection is hardly a ceiling for Yelich, who could become a legitimate superstar with some more tweaks.

With the growing acceptance of the advantages of hitting the ball in the air, and Yelich’s own recent move away from his extreme ground ball tendencies, Yelich is an easy pick for a guy who could take a big step forward. He already hits the ball hard, controls the strike zone well, and is growing into his power. If he continues to “elevate and celebrate”, Yelich could easily push the Marlins to the #2 spot on this list by year’s end.

If Yelich goes down, Marcell Ozuna is still a perfectly capable center fielder, and Ichiro continues to hang around doing Ichiro things, so the Marlins aren’t thin here either. But Yelich has become the Marlins most important player, and if they want 2017 to go well, they’ll probably need him to become the superstar he looks like he could be.

George Springer 490 .255 .353 .462 .351 13.4 0.8 -0.1 3.3
Jake Marisnick 182 .231 .277 .367 .278 -5.9 0.4 1.9 0.3
Teoscar Hernandez 14 .237 .293 .378 .290 -0.3 0.0 0.0 0.0
Tony Kemp 14 .256 .325 .344 .297 -0.2 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .248 .332 .432 .330 6.9 1.1 1.9 3.7

If the Astros had a set outfield, they’d rank a few spots higher, because George Springer is awfully good. He’s got a lot in common with Yelich, in fact, and will attempt to make the successful corner-to-center conversion this year, which the data suggests he should be able to do. But with the corner positions in some flux, Springer probably won’t play center field everyday, and thus his full value isn’t captured here.

But when Jake Marisnick is in the line-up, there’s no reason to play anyone else in CF. Marisnick is basically an offensive improvement away from being Kevin Pillar, so when the team wants to run their best outfield defense out there, they’ll put Marisnick in the middle of the field. A Marisnick-Springer-Reddick outfield would be one of the better defensive groups in baseball, in fact, but to this point, Marisnick hasn’t hit enough to earn regular playing time. He just turns 26 this year, so if he develops at all offensively, he could displace Nori Aoki and push Springer back to a corner, but if he just keeps hitting like he has previously, the Brendan Ryan of the outfield will have to serve as a late-game defensive replacement.

A.J. Pollock   595 .284 .342 .451 .341 4.6 1.9 6.2 3.4
Gregor Blanco 56 .255 .333 .363 .303 -1.3 0.0 -0.3 0.0
Socrates Brito   49 .251 .279 .385 .285 -1.9 0.0 0.4 0.0
Total 700 .280 .337 .440 .334 1.4 2.0 6.3 3.5

I really hope that we get to see a full season of A.J. Pollock, because his elbow injury last year robbed us of one of the game’s best overall players. An elite defender and a fantastic baserunner, Pollock just happened to run a 132 wRC+ for nearly 1,000 plate appearances between 2014 and 2015. He wasn’t the best hitter at the position — that’s probably Trout until he stops playing center field — and he’s not quite at the Kiermaier/Billy Hamilton level in terms of defense, but peak-Pollock had few peers in terms of overall value.

But because he developed late, we might not have many years left to appreciate how good he was at his best. Already 29 and now coming off a missed season, ZIPS and Steamer think he’s more likely to turn back into a good player than a great one. That would be too bad for all of us, because I wasn’t done watching A.J. Pollock be great yet.

And it would be too bad for the Diamondbacks, who are relying heavily on him to help them bounce back from a miserable 2016 season. If he gets hurt again, the alternatives are not great. If the Diamondbacks can get 150 games out of 2015 A.J. Pollock, they might be interesting to watch, but if he ends up missing significant time again, they’re going to be sellers at the trade deadline.

Joc Pederson 560 .233 .348 .446 .342 11.5 0.0 0.0 3.2
Trayce Thompson 70 .231 .289 .419 .303 -0.8 0.1 0.0 0.2
Enrique Hernandez 35 .239 .300 .380 .295 -0.6 0.0 0.0 0.1
Andrew Toles 21 .267 .304 .400 .302 -0.3 0.0 0.2 0.1
Brett Eibner 14 .225 .291 .381 .291 -0.3 0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 700 .234 .337 .436 .333 9.5 0.1 0.0 3.5

I think Joc Pederson would actually be held in higher regard by the general public if he were worse defensively. As a high power/high strikeout guy, he has the offensive game of a corner outfielder, not the contact-and-speed game that many of the guys on this list utilize. But despite his problems with left-handers, Pederson’s somewhat odd mix of skills still makes him one of the game’s best center fielders, since few players at the position do as much damage at the plate as he does. Pederson is a reminder that value doesn’t have to come in the specific form at a given position, and a quality defender who can mash is still a very good player, even if he strikes out a lot.

Of course, with a career 67 wRC+ against LHPs, Pederson is still probably going to sit against tough left-handers, and maybe even not-tough ones too. The Dodgers decision to stockpile depth upon depth gives them plenty of choices to play against lefties, with Thompson representing the best of the team’s right-handed outfield platoon choices as long as he’s healthy. An injury to Pederson would probably lead to some shuffling more than an expanded role for either of the RHBs immediately behind him, and the team has even toyed with the idea of getting first base prospect Cody Bellinger innings in center field in case he forces his way onto the roster.

But the best case scenario for LA is that Pederson just keeps mashing, gets to be playable against at least some LHPs, and Bellinger pushes a lesser player aside when he’s ready. There’s enough depth here for this to not be a disaster if Pederson goes down, but he’s one of the strengths of the team, and they’re definitely better with him in the line-up most days.

Jackie Bradley Jr. 560 .258 .335 .441 .333 2.2 0.6 5.2 3.0
Chris Young 105 .246 .319 .436 .324 -0.4 0.0 0.0 0.4
Andrew Benintendi 35 .280 .339 .443 .335 0.2 0.0 0.1 0.2
Total 700 .257 .333 .440 .332 2.1 0.6 5.3 3.5

Following a strong second half in 2015, Bradley looked like he had put it all together in the first half, running a 142 wRC+ along with elite center field defense. He got the strikeouts under control, hit for a bunch of power, and was one of the big reasons why the team was contending again. But in the second half of the year, Bradley reminded everyone that he’s perhaps always going to be somewhat frustrating.

The ISO and BABIP both went down about 70 points, the strikeouts went back up, and after the All-Star Break, Bradley ran a 90 wRC+. That’s fine for a player with his defensive chops, and would still make him an above-average player, but if he’s going be one of the franchise’s main building blocks, the team will need him to get some of that first half offense back.

The 2017 forecast calls for him to be a bit closer to the second-half version, a good player instead of a great one, but if he can cut down on the infield flies or be more consistent in the power department, there’s definitely still room for Bradley to make the leap to superstardom. While we do have him giving him some at-bats against LHPs to Chris Young, his career 85/97 wRC+ split doesn’t suggest he needs a platoon partner, so he might end up getting more than the 560 PAs in CF that we have him allotted for.

Lorenzo Cain 511 .283 .334 .412 .321 -1.4 1.3 7.7 2.7
Paulo Orlando 140 .270 .302 .373 .292 -3.8 0.2 1.2 0.3
Billy Burns 35 .263 .310 .345 .286 -1.1 0.2 -0.1 0.0
Terrance Gore 14 .216 .274 .256 .241 -1.0 0.1 -0.1 0.0
Total 700 .278 .325 .398 .312 -7.3 1.8 8.7 3.0

Eric Hosmer gets all the P.R. puff pieces from people who don’t like facts getting in the way of their stories, but Lorenzo Cain is the Royals best player, and the biggest reason the team made the World Series two years in a row. As a guy who turns 31, he might be more of a good center fielder than a great one these days, but a good center fielder who can hit and run is still a mighty valuable thing. And with Jarrod Dyson now in Seattle, the Royals are relying heavily on Cain bouncing back to 2016 levels in order to fuel their playoff run.

In fact, Cain may be one of the most pivotal players to any team’s playoff chances. If he’s good and can play everyday, the Royals can maintain a solid outfield defense with Alex Gordon and Paulo Orlando getting a good chunk of the time flanking him in the corners. But if Cain gets hurt again and Orlando has to cover him in CF, not only do they lose Cain’s glove, but the right field replacement is Jorge Soler or Brandon Moss, not the kinds of guys who help make Jason Vargas and Ian Kennedy look good. With a weak pitching staff and an average-at-best offense, the Royals need elite defense to win, and getting there requires having Cain in center field most days.

Kevin Pillar 581 .273 .309 .404 .307 -7.8 1.4 10.7 2.7
Melvin Upton Jr.   70 .225 .287 .383 .289 -2.0 0.2 0.3 0.1
Dalton Pompey   35 .246 .312 .362 .296 -0.8 0.1 0.1 0.1
Anthony Alford 14 .213 .286 .335 .274 -0.6 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .266 .307 .399 .304 -11.1 1.6 11.2 2.9

The middle ground between Marisnick and Kiermaier, Pillar is what you get when you combine top-shelf defense with just enough bat to stay in the line-up everyday. This comment from Tony Blengino’s center field roundup basically sums it up.

“In reality, Kevin Pillar and (Jacoby) Ellsbury are the same offensive player at this point.”

Pillar makes enough contact to be not-awful with the bat, but he just doesn’t do any damage on fly balls, and he doesn’t square enough balls up to run a higher-than-average BABIP. If he could dump the infield flies somehow, that would help a lot, but there’s not a ton of upside here, and Pillar will play only as long as his glove lets him.

But for 2017, at least, he has a decent amount of job security, given what else the Jays have in their outfield. With alternatives like Melvin Upton, Ezequiel Carrera, and Dalton Pompey also needing to cover left field if any of them play well, there just isn’t much in the way of a threat to Pillar’s playing time. As long as he’s healthy and catching everything hit anywhere near center field, he’ll play. When he stops doing that in a few years, the Jays will probably need to replace him.

Odubel Herrera   595 .277 .340 .402 .322 -0.6 0.8 3.2 2.5
Aaron Altherr 70 .231 .302 .386 .298 -1.5 0.0 0.5 0.2
Roman Quinn 35 .239 .300 .349 .285 -1.1 0.1 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .271 .334 .398 .318 -3.1 0.9 3.7 2.7

One of the most successful Rule 5 picks in recent years, Herrera has turned into a quality big leaguer for the Phillies, though there still seems to be some uncertainty about how good he actually is. The metrics think he’s a solid defender in center field, but the eye test doesn’t always agree, and a good chunk of his offensive value is tied to his career .366 BABIP. If the BABIP drops and the defense isn’t as good as UZR and DRS think, then he becomes a bit of a fringe starter, a guy who can help you but probably isn’t playing everyday on a winner.

The projections take a middle ground, seeing him as something less than he’s been but good enough to still be an above-average player in the short-term. Barring some Adam Eaton like improvement, Herrera might not be an impact piece by the time the Phillies are ready to win again, but he should give them someone worth watching during the next few years at least. And if he does take an Eaton-style leap forward, the Phillies will be really happy they got him signed long-term.

If Herrera gets hurt, the Phillies center fielders will be like most of their other position players: terrible.

12. Twins
Byron Buxton 595 .251 .305 .427 .313 -5.1 2.3 5.6 2.6
Danny Santana 56 .261 .295 .374 .289 -1.6 0.1 -0.3 0.0
Zack Granite 49 .259 .305 .337 .282 -1.7 0.0 0.1 0.0
Total 700 .252 .304 .416 .309 -8.3 2.4 5.3 2.6

It’s kind of fun that Herrera and Buxton appear side by side here, because back in 2014, you could have made so much money if you found someone who was (weirdly) selling betting odds for the 2017 center fielder Positional Power Rankings. At the time the Phillies plucked Herrera out of the Rangers farm system for the whopping $50,000 Rule 5 cost, Buxton was being rated as the #2 overall prospect in baseball, behind only Kris Bryant, and ahead of Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Francisco Lindor, and Noah Syndergaard.

But for 2017, our forecasts have them as roughly equals, with Herrera hitting a little better to offset Buxton’s advantage in the outfield. That speaks to the divergent paths both have taken since, with Buxton’s contact and health issues significant delaying his ascendance to the big leagues. But Buxton’s late-season decision to sell out for power allowed him to finish the 2016 on a very high note, and has created some real optimism for 2017. The strikeout problems look like they’re sticking around, but if Buxton really does combine elite range with some legitimate power, then there’s certainly room for a Mike Cameron-style career here. That might sound like a disappointment given where he was rated, but Cameron was a criminally underrated player, and the Twins should be happy if that’s what they get for the next 10 to 15 years.

If Buxton gets hurt, then the Twins center fielders will be like most of their pitchers: terrible.

Adam Eaton 595 .287 .357 .417 .337 5.7 1.4 -3.8 2.5
Michael Taylor 56 .232 .292 .372 .287 -1.8 0.1 0.3 0.1
Brian Goodwin 49 .237 .301 .365 .291 -1.4 0.0 -0.2 0.0
Total 700 .279 .348 .409 .330 2.6 1.5 -3.7 2.6

The Nationals are clearly taking the over on this projection.

In reality, the Eaton question comes down to what you think about his defense. Thanks to a bunch of below-average innings in center field in his history, the forecasts project him to again be below average in center field in 2017. Eaton’s a good hitter, but if he’s a below average CF, then he’s more solid than a star. And going against the projections is usually not a great idea, since our reasons for suggesting we know better are usually wrong.

But last year, Eaton was a defensive monster in right field, and the early information coming out of Statcast suggests that Eaton is probably pretty good in the field, even without accounting for his arm. If he’s an above average defender in center field, then he’s a legitimate star, and probably pushes Washington towards the top five of this list.

The backups aren’t as exciting. Michael Taylor can run down balls with anyone, but can’t really hit. Brian Goodwin can maybe hit a little better but isn’t the same kind of defender. There’s a reason the Nationals traded for someone better than these two.

Dexter Fowler 595 .257 .360 .400 .334 6.0 1.5 -7.6 2.2
Randal Grichuk 70 .249 .296 .468 .323 0.1 0.0 0.1 0.3
Tommy Pham 28 .248 .322 .408 .316 -0.1 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Magneuris Sierra 7 .246 .274 .328 .262 -0.3 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .256 .351 .407 .332 5.6 1.6 -7.6 2.5

After publicly stating that they wanted to upgrade their outfield defense this winter, the Cardinals spent $85 million on a 31 year old who, in his best seasons, has rated as an average defender in center field. But while Fowler might not have been the rangiest option on the board, his offense gives him plenty of room to be valuable even if some balls are falling in, and he’s coming off the best overall season of his career.

Fowler probably won’t be as good for St. Louis as he was for Chicago, but he should be a solid player for the next few years, and could easily best this forecast if his prior negative defensive numbers were indeed fixed by the Cubs simply telling him to start further back. As a switch-hitter with across-the-board offensive skills, Fowler will help the Cardinals line-up, and pitchers will probably be annoyed at their pitch counts after facing him and Matt Carpenter in the first inning of their starts.

Grichuk and Pham present solid depth if Fowler misses time, though if the team follows through with the Matt Adams as left fielder experiment, the team should hope that Fowler keeps Grichuk firmly planted in left.

Carlos Gomez   595 .254 .318 .416 .318 -4.7 1.3 3.4 2.3
Delino DeShields 70 .245 .324 .352 .300 -1.6 0.3 -0.3 0.1
Jurickson Profar 35 .252 .322 .382 .308 -0.5 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .253 .319 .408 .315 -6.8 1.5 3.1 2.5

Gomez has had a weird couple of years. If you think he couldn’t hit in Houston because of some problem specific to the city or the organization, then his performances everywhere else suggest he’s still a borderline star, with skills similar to what we described with Buxton a few spots up. But there’s no real reason why we should pretend like his disastrous stint in Houston didn’t happen, and once you factor those 500 near-replacement-level plate appearances in, Gomez becomes a lot more of a wild card.

But players as good as Gomez was in Milwaukee don’t generally crater at age-29, and even at 31, Gomez should still be expected to give the Rangers real value in center field. He’s probably not the power threat he was in his prime, but with a bit of pop, some speed, and the ability to cover some ground, there should be enough left for Gomez to be an average or better center fielder. But the Astros thought that was the package they were getting too, so if it doesn’t work, Gomez will have disappointed his way across most of the Lone Star state.

Deshields and Profar are interesting for different reasons, and both will probably play a decent amount of left field. If either is playing center for an extended period of time, things probably aren’t going well in Texas.

16. Braves
Ender Inciarte 616 .283 .333 .383 .311 -6.4 1.5 8.3 2.6
Chase d’Arnaud 42 .236 .287 .333 .272 -1.8 0.0 -0.2 0.0
Emilio Bonifacio 42 .247 .296 .315 .270 -1.9 0.1 -0.4 -0.1
Total 700 .278 .328 .376 .306 -10.1 1.6 7.8 2.5

Ender Inciatre is the owner of a shiny new (team-friendly) contract, establishing himself as much more than just a secondary piece in the Dansby Swanson trade. Though he doesn’t hit for much power, he’s proven himself capable of being a decent high-average leadoff man with stolen base potential and a fantastic glove. He’s probably never going to tear the cover off the ball, but the Braves don’t necessarily need him to do that, especially with how he plays center field. Given the Braves just locked him up at bargain salaries, he should be the center fielder on the next good Braves team.

However, with a center field prospect (that Eric loves) named Ronald Acuna moving up the minor league ladder, Inciarte could become a pretty appealing trade chip if the team’s plans to win in the short-term don’t pan out. As a glove-first guy, Inciarte’s value is more skewed towards the present, and a lot of contenders would love to put him in their outfield. If the Braves fall on their faces in the first half and end up as sellers, Inciarte could be maybe the most valuable player available this July, especially with that new contract making him even more appealing.

17. Mets
Curtis Granderson 490 .237 .333 .428 .328 4.0 0.5 -6.7 1.5
Juan Lagares 140 .254 .296 .367 .286 -3.7 0.0 2.1 0.3
Michael Conforto 35 .255 .327 .458 .335 0.5 0.0 0.2 0.2
Yoenis Cespedes 35 .265 .320 .490 .340 0.6 0.0 0.3 0.2
Total 700 .243 .324 .420 .320 1.4 0.5 -4.1 2.3

Meet the Mets, the song goes. Depending on which day you show up to Citi Field, you may meet a variety of people playing center field.

Though he’s currently projected to get the most playing time there, Curtis Granderson isn’t an optimal center fielder. He’s probably going to be more than serviceable on offense, as someone who gets on base and dumps baseballs into people’s beers in the right field seats. At 36, though, Granderson’s best days in the field are behind him. He’s much better suited to playing a corner, but with Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce being there, and Michael Conforto theoretically getting some time as well, he’s sequestered away in center. He shouldn’t kill the Mets there, and given the offensive production that they’re probably going out of this outfield, that’ll do just fine.

There’s also Juan Lagares, who makes playing center field look like a jog in the park. He doesn’t hit well enough to crack this starting line-up, but he’s the ideal caddy for an outfield where all three projected starters are on the wrong side of 30. He’d probably be more valuable to a team whose starters didn’t strike out half the batters they faced, though.

Adam Jones 630 .269 .308 .455 .324 0.1 1.1 -3.3 2.2
Joey Rickard 70 .252 .319 .349 .296 -1.7 0.0 -0.9 0.0
Total 700 .267 .309 .445 .321 -1.5 1.2 -4.1 2.2

After a few years where the metrics finally agreed with scouts who have long called Jones of the game’s best defenders, the numbers took a nosedive again, which didn’t help Jones’ value considering he also posted his worst offensive season since 2008. Like the other center fielder in the area, this moderate forecast is based on a history of poor defensive numbers, but there’s nothing like a consensus of what Jones is as an outfielder, and you can take the over on this if you’re convinced the scouts are right and the metrics are wrong.

But given that he’s going to be flanked by a statue to his left and a potted plant to his right, with a boat anchor hanging around to take their place if anyone gets hurt, the Orioles better hope that Jones has more wall-scaling catches up his sleeve. Just 31, there’s plenty of time for him to go back to being what he was a couple of years ago, and it’s premature to write off one bad season as the beginning of the end for the Orioles other star. But the Orioles need Jones to be the Adam Jones of 2014/2015, because if he’s the Adam Jones of 2016 again, their poor pitchers are just so screwed.

19. Reds
Billy Hamilton   525 .249 .304 .343 .285 -18.2 7.3 9.6 1.8
Desmond Jennings 105 .244 .321 .404 .316 -0.9 0.2 0.9 0.4
Arismendy Alcantara 70 .231 .278 .395 .289 -2.2 0.2 -0.2 0.0
Total 700 .247 .304 .357 .290 -21.3 7.8 10.2 2.2

He’s faster than a speeding bullet. He’s not anywhere near as powerful as a locomotive, and he probably can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound. He’s Billy Hamilton, and he’s coming to steal your bases and your blooper base hits.

We know what Hamilton is at this point. He’s the ultimate throwback player, a dirty-uniformed layer of bunts who to drives the infield nuts. His speed is unparalleled, and he uses it as much as he can. A good chunk of that .343 slugging percentage comes from him zipping an extra bag onto his base hits, and even when he doesn’t, he just steals the next base anyway.

As a backup, the Reds may end up carrying whatever is left of Desmond Jennings, a once highly-touted prospect. Injuries have sapped his athleticism, and it’s not even clear how well he can handle center anymore, but the Reds probably aren’t planning on giving Hamilton a lot of days off; along with Joey Votto, Hamilton is the reason to turn games on during this rebuild.

Leonys Martin 609 .244 .298 .368 .289 -13.0 2.4 5.6 1.8
Jarrod Dyson 56 .254 .315 .347 .291 -1.1 0.6 1.1 0.3
Guillermo Heredia 21 .254 .328 .339 .297 -0.3 0.0 0.0 0.0
Ben Gamel 7 .253 .306 .372 .293 -0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0
Shawn O’Malley   7 .237 .298 .324 .276 -0.2 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .245 .300 .365 .290 -14.9 3.0 6.7 2.2

The best Mariners teams of the past 15 years — and that’s a pretty low bar to clear — have featured multiple center fielders playing next to each other, with elite flycatchers in the middle of the pack. Mike Cameron and Franklin Gutierrez were as as good as it gets in their prime, and while Leonys Martin isn’t at that level, Jerry Dipoto is hoping that he can anchor an outfield defense that could be among the best in the game.

The nice thing about the multi-CF plan is that it gives the team some options if Martin flops or gets hurt. Jarrod Dyson could easily play center, but is ticketed for left field as long as Martin is healthy and performing. Mitch Haniger could probably cover center too, but will spend most of his time in right field unless things go very poorly. There may not be any stars here, but with a bunch of guys who can catch whatever is hit in the air, this group should at least help the pitching staff look okay. The only question is how well these guys, Martin included, will hit.

Charlie Blackmon 616 .293 .349 .481 .354 2.0 1.2 -5.7 2.0
Alexi Amarista   35 .261 .308 .358 .288 -1.8 0.1 -0.2 -0.1
Ian Desmond   21 .280 .335 .465 .342 -0.1 0.1 0.2 0.1
David Dahl   21 .278 .327 .469 .339 -0.2 0.0 0.1 0.1
Raimel Tapia 7 .294 .323 .418 .317 -0.2 0.0 0.1 0.0
Total 700 .291 .345 .473 .349 -0.3 1.3 -5.5 2.1

Before there was even a Fringe Five, Carson Cistulli was looking for minor leaguers that prospect lists forgot. He once settled upon Charlie Blackmon as an object of attention, noting that he just needed to improve his reads in center to be a good fielder at the position, and that at 24 in Double-A, was putting up a Major League Equivalency of .277/.326/.428 with good power and speed. That advocacy was not lost on the player, who has been appreciative of the publicity.

Since, Blackmon has shown himself to be a better offensive outfielder than those MLEs even suggested. He has improved his power without sacrificing much contact at least, and has worked to remain as fast as his body will allow. In the field, he’s been rated as well below average, but judging the quality of an outfielder in Coors is tricky, given the size of the park and the way the ball carries. A lot of guys with good defensive reputations have been rated terribly in Denver, and Blackmon looks decent enough to the people who watch him play regularly.

How long Blackmon stays in Colorado probably depends on some other moving parts. If the team contends, they’ll keep him around and try to make a run, but if they are sellers in July, he will be a player contenders are calling on, and probably their most valuable trade chip, given Carlos Gonzalez’s impending free agency. With Ian Desmond around as a potential replacement, the team could trade Blackmon and not get dramatically worse if they found a more traditional first baseman between now the end of the season.

Jacoby Ellsbury 560 .262 .323 .377 .305 -7.5 2.2 -0.2 1.6
Aaron Hicks 140 .241 .314 .381 .303 -2.2 0.0 0.1 0.3
Total 700 .258 .321 .378 .305 -9.7 2.2 -0.1 1.9

When the Yankees were mostly mocked for giving Jacoby Ellsbury $153 million a few years back, I mostly defended the deal as a modest overpay of a better player than people were giving them credit for acquiring. That looked like a decent opinion for exactly one year, since Ellsbury was pretty good in 2014, but things have fallen apart the last two years, and now the Yankees are paying a lot of money to rank behind a team that plucked Leonys Martin off the scrap heap.

With Ellsbury and Hicks, the team’s defense in center field is okay, but there’s not a lot of bat here, and this contract has four years to go. At this point, it’s probably unlikely that Ellsbury makes it through all four years in New York; unless he figures out how to hit for some power again, it seems likely he’ll be playing his way out of the Bronx before they are done paying him.

Tyler Naquin 490 .259 .325 .405 .315 -3.4 0.1 -3.3 1.2
Austin Jackson 140 .259 .314 .377 .301 -2.5 0.1 -0.7 0.2
Abraham Almonte 35 .256 .313 .389 .304 -0.6 0.0 0.2 0.1
Brandon Guyer 35 .269 .349 .408 .333 0.3 0.0 0.0 0.2
Total 700 .259 .323 .399 .312 -6.2 0.3 -3.8 1.7

If some contenders have punted first base in an effort to maximize the return on their dollars, it really looks like the Indians have punted the outfield. Okay, maybe that’s harsh, as a healthy Michael Brantley gives them at least one championship-caliber outfielder, but he can’t play center any more.

So that leaves this year’s collection of oddities, with Tyler Naquin at the fore. Naquin came on strong last year, stronger than any of his minor league numbers suggested he would. Some part of that was due to an adjustment with his hands and posture that allowed him to lift balls low in the zone to the outfield with authority and some part of it was some luck once he lifted those balls to the outfield. Either way, the bloom came off the rose in the second half, when his isolated slugging percentage dropped by 100 points, and his inconsistent center field defense became the subject of postseason speculation.

If Naquin returns to the offensive production that was once predicted for the decent-contact, decent-patience, low-power minor league he once was, he may not be able to overcome the iffy defensive stats. Then he’d probably join Lonnie Chisenhall in right field and give way to some sort of defensive-first center field platoon between righty Austin Jackson and switch-hitter Abraham Almonte. Depending on the former’s health and the latter’s bat, they might not lose much in the overall rankings if that happens, and they’d gain some outfield defense.

24. Giants
Denard Span 588 .273 .333 .383 .313 -2.1 1.1 -5.4 1.5
Gorkys Hernandez 112 .254 .315 .355 .294 -2.1 -0.1 0.2 0.2
Total 700 .270 .330 .378 .310 -4.2 1.1 -5.2 1.7

I’m already at 5,500 words and still have seven more of these things to write, so let’s activate the speed round.

Denard Span was a really good player when he was a plus defensive center fielder. He is no longer a plus defensive center field, and that’s being kind. He’s still useful, thanks to average-ish offense, but since they don’t really have a left fielder, perhaps the Giants plan should be to acquire a real center fielder and shift Span to left. They’ve won enough championships with slap hitters in left that it’s kind of their thing now anyway.

Keon Broxton 525 .219 .301 .393 .301 -12.1 1.1 4.6 1.2
Kirk Nieuwenhuis 105 .218 .305 .398 .305 -2.0 -0.1 0.1 0.2
Lewis Brinson 56 .251 .294 .435 .311 -0.8 0.0 0.4 0.1
Brett Phillips 7 .229 .300 .389 .299 -0.2 0.0 0.0 0.0
Ryan Cordell 7 .235 .280 .386 .286 -0.2 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .222 .301 .397 .302 -15.4 0.9 5.1 1.6

In the case of Jeff Sullivan versus the projections, I’m on Team Jeff. Jeff has written a number of odes to Broxton as a highly underrated player, noting that his one big flaw doesn’t eliminate all the other things he does well. The forecasts aren’t sold, but while humans generally suck at beating the forecasts, I do think Jeff has found some things ZIPS and Steamer haven’t yet baked into their projections, but eventually will.

He hits the ball really hard. He can apparently cover a lot of ground. He made adjustments in the big leagues last year, and finished very strong. Yeah, he strikes out a lot, but we have Byron Buxton as a top-15 center fielder even though we think he’s going to strike out all the time too. Other tools can cover for low contact rates, and I think Broxton probably is better than this forecast thinks.

If he’s not, though, Lewis Brinson isn’t that far off. The Brewers will have a good center fielder soon either way.

26. Padres
Manuel Margot 560 .258 .300 .374 .292 -12.3 0.3 4.9 1.3
Travis Jankowski 105 .246 .315 .327 .286 -2.8 0.3 1.5 0.3
Franchy Cordero 35 .224 .269 .339 .263 -1.6 -0.1 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .255 .301 .365 .290 -16.7 0.5 6.5 1.5

Margot’s lack of power maybe limits his ultimate upside, but a plus runner who can cover center field and make contact sounds like the guy I described as Good Denard Span a few paragraphs ago, and that guy was a really nice player. Margot probably isn’t ready to be that quite yet, but he’s one of the few guys on this roster that you can imagine being part of the next good Padres team, whenever that is.

And if Margot needs more minor league time, Jankowski can certainly cover center field. He might be the NL’s Jake Marisnick with a bat too light to even carry his glove as an everyday guy, but he’s a useful role player. Which probably means he gets traded this summer.

Rajai Davis 560 .244 .294 .387 .295 -9.6 1.9 -1.7 1.2
Mark Canha 42 .248 .313 .411 .313 -0.1 0.0 -0.2 0.1
Alejandro De Aza 42 .237 .308 .361 .292 -0.8 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Jake Smolinski   35 .252 .313 .395 .308 -0.2 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Jaycob Brugman 21 .236 .292 .355 .282 -0.6 0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 700 .244 .297 .386 .296 -11.3 1.9 -2.2 1.5

Rajai Davis is an underrated player, primarily because he might be the best baserunner of his generation, once you adjust for the fact that he’s been a part-time player most of his career. As a guy who can play multiple outfield spots, hit lefties, and steal a base whenever you need him to, he’s an amazing fit as a role player on a contender.

But instead, he’s starting for the A’s, a likely also-ran. I don’t know. They’ll probably trade him in July, and he’ll help them win an extra game or so before then. But, yeah, I don’t really get what the A’s are doing any more than anyone else.

28. Cubs
Jon Jay 399 .267 .331 .355 .302 -7.2 -0.1 -2.0 0.5
Albert Almora 266 .269 .298 .396 .298 -5.7 0.0 1.3 0.5
Jason Heyward 21 .263 .341 .402 .325 0.0 0.1 0.5 0.1
Jacob Hannemann 14 .221 .270 .341 .267 -0.7 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .267 .318 .372 .300 -13.6 0.0 -0.3 1.1

The Cubs are not great everywhere. In particular, they aren’t in good shape in center field. Jon Jay is a bench player at this point, but he may get more than bench player at-bats unless Albert Almora hits better than the projections expect. If he’s an elite defender, maybe the Cubs can hope he’s their Kevin Pillar, but that’s a high threshold to hope for.

Of course, if Almora and Jay are this poor, then there’s an easy answer to the Cubs question of how to get Javier Baez more at-bats, as Jason Heyward would likely move to center in order to get Javy in the line-up, with Zobrist or Kris Bryant flexing to the outfield. So the alternate plan here isn’t awful, which is why the Cubs are still a great team. But they’re not perfect, and their biggest imperfection is center field.

29. Tigers
Mikie Mahtook 315 .244 .294 .379 .291 -8.1 0.0 -1.0 0.3
Tyler Collins   280 .235 .293 .376 .291 -7.2 0.1 -1.4 0.2
JaCoby Jones 105 .227 .280 .364 .279 -3.7 -0.1 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .238 .292 .376 .289 -19.0 0.1 -2.5 0.5

The Tigers are old, and have a continually narrowing window to try and get a championship out of a core group of pretty great players. So why are they running this out in center field? None of these guys should play regularly on a contender. There are a bunch of guys in other cities that don’t have starting jobs but are better than anyone here. Make a trade, Detroit. Get a better center fielder. Don’t miss the playoffs because you rolled with Mikie Mahtook too long.

Peter Bourjos 245 .233 .290 .362 .282 -8.2 0.1 0.5 0.2
Jacob May 175 .233 .274 .315 .259 -9.1 -0.1 1.4 -0.1
Charlie Tilson   175 .256 .308 .354 .290 -4.7 0.0 -0.3 0.2
Leury Garcia 105 .250 .294 .347 .278 -3.9 0.1 0.1 0.0
Total 700 .241 .291 .346 .278 -25.9 0.1 1.7 0.2

Peter Bourjos is fast. Charlie Tilson is fast. Jacob May is fast. If the White Sox were competing at the A.L. Central track meet, they’d probably fare pretty well. In baseball, they’ll do worse.

But I’m one of those who thinks that this is where Yoan Moncada probably ends up anyways, so none of these guys really matter. With frequent shifting making athleticism (Moncada’s strength) at second base less important than hands, reaction time, and footwork (Moncada’s weaknesses), his physical skills feel a bit wasted at 2B, and he may be more valuable running around the outfield. If the White Sox come to the same conclusion, at least they won’t have anyone in his way this summer.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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7 years ago

For all the ink spilled over teams punting left field and first base, I think the trends in center field are equally weird. You’ve got a lot of teams who are planning to play corner outfielders in center this year (Marlins, Astros, Mets, Giants). But the Marlins are going to play a center fielder in left, the Astros and Giants going to run out low-grade options in left, and the Mets are doing this to play Jay Bruce. It’s not like they’re getting a huge improvement on offense by doing this and playing someone else in center.
Obviously this isn’t most teams, but these teams are trying to contend. You’d think more teams would have been after Jon Jay or Rajai Davis who are old and the projections don’t like but are roughly the same offensive value as what some of these teams are doing in left.

7 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

There is nothing unusual about playing a guy who is perfectly capable of handling CF defensively in LF. After all, for example Boston has three OFers capable of manning CF on an everyday basis, and of course they can’t all do it at one.

As long as Yelich is better defensively in CF than Ozuna, there is nothing weird about it, and Ozuna has always been more of an acceptable defender in CF than a standout one anyways. You could/should make the argument that Miami is just finally getting around to a positional swap for Ozuna and Yelich that should have happened a year or two ago.

7 years ago
Reply to  redsoxu571

Yelich’s UZR/150 over his career in center is -15.8, but 4.4 in left. Ozuna’s in center is -0.5. Now granted Yelich hasn’t played much in center over his career (about 650 innings) but that doesn’t make a ton of sense to me. Maybe they figure Yelich will get better with experience since he’s a pretty fast guy, or that Ozuna will be a Gordon-like guy in left. But of course, just as many things could go wrong as right and I wonder if this is a case where the “eye-test” isn’t a good grading tool.

Brians Sticky Sock
7 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Springer came up as a CF and fully capable of playing CF. Yelich is even more capable of playing CF… but agree, the Mets’ OF is a mess.

7 years ago

Springer certainly has the tools for center. He’s a fast guy, but the metrics didn’t think his range in right field was anything special. We’ll also see if he has the instincts for it. Signing Aoki and shifting a guy to center who isn’t exactly Starling Marte out there is kind of risky.

Brians Sticky Sock
7 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

FWIW, he was a Gold Glove finalist in RF, and certainly looked like a good fielder when I saw him (of course, that’s just my opinion)