Positional Power Rankings: Center Field

For an explanation of this series, please read Dave Cameron’s introduction from Monday. All the posts in the series can be found here.

Center field is a glamour position. Think Willie Mays. Mickey Mantle. Joe DiMaggio. Ken Griffey, Jr. For some teams in 2012, center field will feature strong, glamorous players. Think Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, and Phillies. For other teams in 2012, center field will feature not-quite-there and been-there-done-that guys. Think Astros, Indians, Blue Jays, and Nationals. The other teams feature players — or platoons– that fall somewhere on the lackluster-to-glamorous spectrum.

As my colleagues have noted in their positional power rankings, this is an art, not a science. We do our best with the information we have, to which we add our analysis and judgment. I have not projected anyone to have more than 600 plate appearances as a center fielder, even though a number of  players have seen 650-plus plate appearances for several seasons. Things happen. Injuries happen. It just made sense to me to be conservative, particularly with a position that requires a great deal of athleticism.

And now, on to the show.

30. Houston Astros

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Jordan Schafer L 350 .224 .291 .320 -2 0.5
Reserve Jason Bourgeois R 300 .273 .311 .351 2 1
Prospect J.B. Shuck L 50 .259 .328 .326

Jordan Schafer appears to be the Astros’ choice for starting center fielder, but it’s not clear why. After coming over from the Braves in the Michael Bourn trade, Schafer did almost nothing with either his bat or his glove. ZIPS projects Schafer as the least productive center fielder in the majors this season.

Understudy Jason Bourgeois hits better, fields better and is just as fast, if not faster, than Schafer and may soon replace him as the starting center fielder. Prospect J.B. Shuck may get some playing time in center as the Astros continue to evaluate their young talent.

29. Cleveland Indians

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Grady Sizemore L 200 .243 .319 .434 -4 1
Reserve Michael Brantley L 350 .270 .330 .367 -2 1
Reserve Ezequiel Carrera L 75 .263 .329 .327

Grady Sizemore’s back injury is expected to keep him out of action until mid-summer. That’s thrown a monkey wrench in the Indians’ plans in center field. Michael Brantley, who was slated as the starting left fielder, will take over for Sizemore in center. While Brantley doesn’t have the power potential expected from Sizemore, he’s projected to get on base at a slightly higher rate, and rove center field with a slightly more secure glove.

Although Brantley will get most of the playing time while Sizemore rehabs his back, we can expect to see some of Ezequiel Carrera in center, as well. Carrera doesn’t have much power, but is fast and a good defender.

28. Toronto Blue Jays

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Colby Rasmus L 500 .250 .322 .454 1.5
Reserve Rajai Davis R 100 .259 .299 .365 -2
Reserve Travis Snider L 100 .247 .304 .407 4 0.5

Another season, another series of questions about Colby Rasmus. He was dreadful after coming over from the Cardinals in the multi-player trade last season, batting just .173/.201/.316 in 140 plate appearances for the Blue Jays. ZIPS sees a bounce back to his career slash, which portends good power and league-average on-base skills. I’m being conservative with Rasmus’ expected playing time in line with his career numbers.

I expect Rajai Davis and Travis Snider to fill in the remaining time in center field for the Blue Jays. Even with his injury-riddled and poor-performing 2011, Snider still projects to have a decent bat with some pop, especially if he’s healthy. His above-average defense will also come in handy late in games. Davis doesn’t add much over Snider, other than speed, but he does bat right-handed, providing a change from Snider and Rasmus, who both bat from the left side.

27. Washington Nationals

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Roger Bernadina L 150 .240 .302 .374
Reserve Jayson Werth R 300 .245 .342 .418 2 1.5
Reserve Rick Ankiel L 250 .231 .293 .386 0.5

Center field is in flux for the Nationals. Part of the problem is the incumbent, Roger Bernadina, who is average at defense and below average at the plate. Another issue is whether and when Bryce Harper makes the 25-man roster. When that happens — and manager Davey Johnson seems to want that sooner rather than later — Jayson Werth will move to center field and Harper will play right. ZIPS expects a better season from Werth than 2011, but still not at the level he produced with the Phillies. The Nationals also signed Rick Ankiel to a minor-league deal, but he seems certain to make the team out of spring training. Ankiel adds good value on defense but not much at the plate. None of these players are perfect fit for the Nationals in center, and will likely share the time there until a more permanent solution is found.

26. Seattle Mariners

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Franklin Gutierrez R 450 .248 .299 .358 15 2.5
Reserve Casper Wells R 100 .219 .293 .403 5 0.5
Reserve Michael Saunders L 75 .220 .298 .339 3
Reserve Chone Figgins B 25 .242 .303 .305 1

The Mariners find themselves in somewhat the same position as the Indians, having lost their starting center fielder — Franklin Guitierrez — to an injury. Gutierrez has a strained pectoral muscle and is expected back in May. If he comes back fully healthy and plays center for the rest of the season, he’ll bring good value to the Mariners, largely with his glove. Casper Wells, Michael Saunders and Chone Figgins are likely to rove center at Safeco Field while Guitierrez is out. Wells has some power and is  solid on defense, so he should get the bulk of the playing time.

25. Kansas City Royals

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Lorenzo Cain R 500 .259 .314 .370 5 2.5
Reserve Jarrod Dyson L 100 .237 .290 .302
Reserve Mitch Maier L 100 .246 .324 .353 0.5

Everyone’s saying the only thing missing from the Royals is good pitching. I’d add a good center fielder. Lorenzo Cain is expected to get most of the playing time, and while Cain has a good glove, he doesn’t bring much value at the plate. Mitch Maier and Jarrod Dyson are expected to vie for some playing time in center. Both are lefties who can fill in for the righty-batting Cain against a right-handed pitcher. Dyson is the superior defender but Maier has more pop in his bat. None is going to add much value to the Royals this season.

24. Miami Marlins

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Emilio Bonifacio B 600 .263 .326 .347 -2 3
Reserve Chris Coghlan L 50 .264 .335 .392 -5
Reserve Aaron Rowand R 50 .236 .290 .370

The Marlins, along with the Reds, Giants and Cardinals, will get above-average value in center field, putting them ahead of the teams ranked 25-30.  The Marlins’ depth chart shows Emilio Bonifacio as the expected starter with back up help from Chris Coghlan. Bonifacio hasn’t played much center, but he’s versatile and a good defender. Bonifacio had a career year in 2011 offensively, but even with some regression, will be a nice compliment to the Marlins lineup.

Coghlan is a former Rookie of the Year who was demoted to the minors last season and now will fight for playing time. Veteran Aaron Rowand signed a minor league contract with the Marlins, but seems like a good bet to make the team out of spring training.

23. Cincinnati Reds

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Drew Stubbs R 600 .240 .317 .388 4 2.5
Reserve Chris Heisey R 100 .258 .317 .446 2 0.5

Drew Stubbs played nearly every game in center field for the Reds in 2011 and looks to do the same in 2012. Stubbs doesn’t hit for average but has decent power and good speed. He’s also an above-average defender in center. Chris Heisey, the Reds starting left fielder, will back up Stubbs in center. If he plays 100 innings there, he’ll add good value to what Stubbs already brings to the table.

22. San Francisco Giants

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Angel Pagan B 600 .270 .322 .405 2 2.5
Reserve Melky Cabrera B 100 .284 .330 .435 -5 0.5

I was surprised to find the Giants ranked below the Mets. Those teams traded center fielders in the off season, with Angel Pagan going to San Francisco and Andres Torres going to New York. Pagan is an upgrade over Torres offensively, but Torres is by far the better defender. Pagan is likely to get most of the playing time in center field, bringing 2.5 WAR to his new team. New Giants left fielder Melky Cabrera will back up Pagan, as the Giants have more fill-in options for left field (Brandon Belt, Aubrey Huff) than in center.

21. St. Louis Cardinals

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Jon Jay L 550 .282 .335 .402 2.5
Reserve Carlos Beltran B 75 .279 .366 .467 -4 0.5
Reserve Skip Schumaker L 75 .272 .328 .352 -6

Jon Jay did a nice job in center field for the defending World Series Champions in 2011 and ZIPS projects a repeat performance. Good on-base average, some pop and decent defense from Jay gives the Cardinals solid value in center. Carlos Beltran may play a bit for Jay against tough left-handers, adding more value to the mix. Skip Schumaker will get some innings as well.

20. Detroit Tigers

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Austin Jackson R 600 .259 .321 .375 9 3
Reserve Andy Dirks L 50 .261 .305 .383
Reserve Don Kelly L 50 .256 .302 .378

As in 2011, Austin Jackson will be the Tigers main center fielder. And as in 2011, much of his value will derive from his superior defense. Andy Dirks and Don Kelly will take some at bats from the left side but not enough to make much of a difference in value for the Tigers.

19. Chicago White Sox

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Alejandro De Aza L 500 .271 .308 .406 7 3.5
Reserve Brent Lillibridge R 75 .230 .299 .378
Reserve Alex Rios R 50 .259 .301 .404 -1
Reserve Koskume Fukudome L 75 .241 .343 .376 -4

Alejandro De Aza played only 54 games in the majors in 2011 but ZIPS likes what it saw. No, De Aza isn’t going to slug over .500 in 2012, but a slash of .271/.308/.406 will give the White Sox good offensive value in center field. De Aza is also an excellent defender, which pushes his expected WAR production to 3.5.

De Aza’s never played a full season in the majors, so I expect to see some reserves roving center for the White Sox on occasion. I’ve penciled in plate appearances for Alex Rios, Brent Lillibridge and Koskume Fukudome, but none will add much value to the position.

18. Texas Rangers

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Craig Gentry R 250 .247 .309 .334 8 1
Reserve Josh Hamilton L 150 .289 .392 .487 4 1
Reserve Julio Borbon L 250 .276 .319 .363 1.5

Don’t look now but Craig Gentry looks to be in the mix for starting center fielder for the Rangers. Gentry doesn’t have much in the way of on-base skills or power but when he gets on he can make things happen with is legs. He was a perfect 18-for18 in stolen bases in 2011. His speed also makes Gentry a plus-plus defender. Julio Borbon will likely take as many plate appearances in center as Gentry, hitting from the other side of the plate. I expect Josh Hamilton to get significant time in center as well, particularly if the Rangers conclude he’s likely to sign elsewhere in 2013 and which leads the team to take fewer precautions with Hamilton.

17. New York Mets

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Andres Torres B 450 .234 .313 .391 10 2.5
Reserve Scott Hairston R 250 .246 .308 .423 1

As noted above in the discussion on the Giants, I was surprised to find the Mets rated higher than the Giants, as I view Pagan an upgrade over Torres. But I’ve projected Torres for only 450 innings, as he has a hard time staying healthy for a full season. His back up, Scott Hairston, should see some decent playing time in center. ZIPS projects decent pop from Hairston, giving the Mets an offensive boost when he plays over Torres.

16. Baltimore Orioles

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Adam Jones R 600 .278 .322 .447 -5 3
Reserve Endy Chavez L 100 .270 .301 .361 3 0.5

There was a lot of trade chatter about Adam Jones in the offseason but nothing materialized. Good for the Orioles, as Jones is one of Baltimore’s top offensive players, along with Matt Wieters and J.J. Hardy. Jones does take a hit to his value with below-average defense. Endy Chavez will get some at bats, too, and will add some value with his above-average defense.

15. Chicago Cubs

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Marlon Byrd R 550 .273 .324 .412 2 3
Reserve Tony Campagna L 100 .273 .317 .328 7 1
Reserve Reed Johnson R 50 .261 .310 .385 -1

Marlon Byrd is a good center fielder. Hits for average, has power and flashes the leather. An overall solid value for the Cubs. Reserve outfielder Tony Campagna is much more glove than bat, but a very good glove at that. Adds a lot of value with his defense.

14. Oakland A’s

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Yoenis Cespedes* R 400 .270 .331 .435 3
Reserve Coco Crisp B 225 .264 .320 .391 2 1
Prospect Collin Cowgill R 75 .243 .312 .360

I wanted to rank the A’s higher, given all the hoopla over Yoenis Cespedes but there is a lot we don’t know. The ZIPS projection for Cespedes, for example, don’t take into account park factors, as they were calculated before he signed with the A’s. O.co, the current name for the Oakland Coliseum, tough on all batters, but especially right-handed ones. So these projections might be optimistic for Cespedes.  Or not. It’s also unclear how much Cespedes will play in center vs. Coco Crisp, who brings less offense but a better glove. Prospect Collin Cowgill will get some time later in the season, but not enough to make much of a difference.

13. Colorado Rockies

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Dexter Fowler B 550 .264 .360 .418 -2 3
Reserve Carlos Gonzalez L 100 .294 .352 .521 1 1
Reserve Eric Young Jr. B 50 .258 .339 .358 -1

After fits and starts last season, it looks like Dexter Fowler now firmly has a grip on center field for the Rockies. And that’s a good thing for Colorado, according to ZIPS. Fowler looks to improve his on-base skills (mostly be decreasing strikeouts) and maintain the flashes of power he showed late in the 2011 season. The Rockies will also get a boost in center for any time Carlos Gonzalez plays there, shifting over from ususal spot in left. Even 100 plate appearances for CarGo while playing center will add 1 WAR for the Rockies in that position.

12. Milwaukee Brewers

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Nyjer Morgan L 450 .266 .324 .353 8 3
Reserve Carlos Gomez R 200 .243 .296 .374 9 1
Prospect Logan Schafer L 50 .262 .318 .357

Nyjer Morgan will get the lion’s share of the playing time in center for the Brewers, but Carlos Gomez will see a good number of at bats against left-handed pitchers, who just kill Morgan. Both are very good defensively, adding value to Milwaukee regardless of which one plays on any given day. Prospect Logan Schafer looks to get some playing time toward the end of the season.

11. San Diego Padres

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Cameron Maybin R 600 .255 .324 .383 6 4
Reserve Will Venable L 100 .239 .308 .396 3 0.5

For the Padres, it’s all about Cameron Maybin, who just signed a a five-year/$25 million contract extension with San Diego. His offensive numbers take a hit, of course, because he plays half his games in Petco Park, but his defense is stellar and brings considerable value to the position.

10. Minnesota Twins

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Denard Span L 550 .273 .342 .367 8 4
Reserve Ben Revere L 100 .276 .322 .325 10 0.5
Reserve Joe Benson R 50 .227 .308 .378

Denard Span gives the Twins what Cameron Maybin gives the Padres: decent offensive production and exceptional defense. Span did suffer a concussion at the end of last season, but all reports suggest he’s clear of symptoms and ready to play a full season. Nevertheless, I’ve penciled Ben Revere in for 100 plate appearance, just in case. It’s a drop in offense from Span, but not by much, and defense remains stellar. Prospect Joe Benson should see a bit of playing time in September.

9. Arizona Diamondbacks

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Chris Young R 500 .242 .332 .435 7 3.5
Reserve Geraldo Parra L 200 .279 .336 .411 8 1

Chris Young declined offensively last season, with drops in on-base percentage and power. But his exceptional defense more than made up for it. ZIPS projects a season somewhere between his 2010 and 2011 numbers. If his defense remains tops, he will continue to bring very good value to the D’Backs. I’ve penciled Gerardo Parra in for 200 plate appearances because Parra lost his starting job in left field to Jason Kubel, and I just can’t imagine Parra sitting on the bench for long. Nice problems for Arizona manager Kirk Gibson to have.

8. Atlanta Braves

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Michael Bourn L 600 .270 .331 .354 6 4
Reserve Jose Contanza L 100 .263 .310 .322 0.5

A full season of Michael Bourn will benefit the Braves in more ways than one. What Bourn lacks in power he makes for with speed once he gets on base, which he does at a fairly good clip. His legs also propel his very good defense. Just a solid, all-around center fielder. Jose Constanza won’t add much when he’s filling in for Bourn.

7. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Peter Bourjos R 600 .261 .309 .412 10 4.5
Reserve Vernon Wells R 50 .255 .298 .422
Prospect Mike Trout R 50 .267 .338 .414 6

The Angels have a lot going on with their outfield this season, but Peter Bourjos is lock for the bulk of playing time in center. If Bourjos could improve his on-base skills, he’d be an elite center fielder, with his plus-plus speed and defense. As is, he brings a lot of value to the Angels, leaving little room for uber-prospect Mike Trout to make any headway in center.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Andrew McCutchen R 600 .274 .361 .455 3 5
Reserve Nate McLouth L 50 .243 .340 .391 -6
Reserve Alex Presley L 50 .275 .324 .426

It’s all about Andrew McCutchen for the Pirates in center field. For 2012 and many years after that, thanks to a shiny new contract. And if McCutchen continues to improve his power — like he did last season — it will be a big win for Pittsburgh. He does everything well, at the plate and in the field. Just an all-around excellent center fielder.

5. Tampa Bay Rays

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter B.J. Upton R 600 .240 .329 .411 4 4
Reserve Sam Fuld L 50 .245 .322 .348 7 0.5
Reserve Matt Joyce L 50 .254 .342 .453 2 1

McCutchen is better than Rays center fielder B.J. Upton, at least at the plate. But Upton has better reserves backing him up, which is why I ranked the Rays higher. Upton has never hit for average, and ZIPS doesn’t see much change for this season. But Upton has some power and steals bases. Oh, and he plays very good defense. Backing up Upton will be the always-diving Sam Fuld and perhaps some innings by Matt Joyce, both of whom add value for the Rays in center field.

4. Philadelphia Phillies

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Shane Victorino B 600 .274 .342 .450 2 5
Reserve John Mayberry R 100 .246 .300 .427 2 0.5

Now we’re into the elite of the elite. Yeah, it’s hard to think of Shane Victornio in the same league as Matt Kemp, Curtis Granderson and Jacoby Ellsbury, but he’s getting there. Well, at least he got close in 2012 with career-bests in walk rate and home run rate. ZIPS sees another big year for Victorino. If he stays healthy, that leaves little playing time for John Mayberry in center, just the way Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel likes it.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Matt Kemp R 600 .280 .348 .503 -4 6
Reserve Tony Gwynn L 100 .258 .319 .350

Matt Kemp had a break out year in 2011 and was, in many observers’ eyes, the best player in the National League. He’s promising better things in 2012, like getting into the 50/50 club — 50 home runs and 50 stolen bases.  That’s unlikely, as is matching his production from last season, but ZIPS doesn’t see much of a drop at all. Kemp’s defense has also improved, and there’s no reason to think that bump in value won’t be sustained.

2. New York Yankees

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Curtis Granderson L 600 .256 .346 .495 -1 5.5
Reserve Brett Gardner L 100 .260 .352 .370 18 1

Why Yankees over Dodgers in the ranking? Because Brett Gardner is a better center fielder than Tony Gwynn. So while Curtis Granderson falls just short of Kemp’s value, Gardner makes up for it, assuming he sees about 100 plate appearances-worth of time in center.

Granderson put it all together in 2011, dramatically improving his hitting against lefties, which made all the difference to his overall offensive production. And while ZIPS sees some drop off in power, Granderson looks to be one of the best of the best in center in 2012.

1. Boston Red Sox

Role Player Bats PA ZIPS BA ZIPS OBP ZIPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Jacoby Ellsbury L 600 .290 .345 .457 10 7
Reserve Cody Ross R 50 .254 .319 .426 -1
Reserve Darnell McDonald R 50 .250 .305 .411

Jacoby Ellsbury. The total package. Hits for average. Doesn’t strike out much. Has power. Steals bases. Plays every-superlative-you-can-think-of defense. A superstar that anchors the best center field combination in the majors. Cody Ross and Darnell McDonald are each penciled in for 50 plate appearances, but if Ellsbury stays healthy, he’ll take those away. An exciting and productive player to watch.

Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and NewYorker.com. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.

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Dan in Philly
10 years ago

I think you should doc Granderson at least 1 WAR for the fact that every time I listen to ESPN Radio and I hear a highlight where he hits a home run, I have to listen to their announcer with his “The Grandyman can, the Grandyman can!” song.