Center field may very well be the most athletic position on the diamond. Historically, it certainly has had some of the most gifted players – Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider, Ty Cobb, etc. And, today is no exception. A center fielder has to be able to cover a LOT of ground on the playing field, and much like shortstop you absolutely can not afford to have a poor-fielding center-fielder. And, the best center fielders can do a lot of damage with the bat as well. So, let’s start with MLB Network’s list:
1. Matt Kemp (.324, 39 HR, 126 RBI, .986 OPS, 40 SB)
2. Jacoby Ellsbury (.321, 32 HR, 105 RBI, .928 OPS, 39 SB)
3. Andrew McCutchen (.259, 23 HR, 89 RBI, .820 OPS, 23 SB)
4. Curtis Granderson (.262, 41 HR, 119 RBI, .916 OPS, 25 SB)
5. Shane Victorino (.279, 17 HR, 61 RBI, .847 OPS, 19 SB)
6. Michael Bourn (.294, 2 HR, 50 RBI, .734 OPS, 61 SB)
7. Chris Young (.236, 20 HR, 71 RBI, .751 OPS, 22 SB)
8. Adam Jones (.280, 25 HR, 83 RBI, .785 OPS, 12 SB)
9. Marlon Byrd (.276, 9 HR, 35 RBI, .719 OPS)
10. Andres Torres (.268, 16 HR, 63 RBI, .823 OPS, 26 SB – 2010 stats)
Honestly, I’m a little disappointed by this list. Once you get past about #4 or #5, you aren’t really looking at elite MLB players anymore. I thought there was more talent in center field than this. Well, for my list, we’ll keep the same categories as we had for left fielders (HR, RBI, OPS, ISO, wRC+, SB, TZL, DRS, and WAR). Here’s how my list came out, based on the last two years of performance:
1. Jacoby Ellsbury – I know everyone wants to give the nod here to Kemp, but Ellsbury is just a notch behind Kemp offensively, and is significantly better defensively (has only committed TWO errors in over 500 games in CF!!). He even has a better WAR over the last two seasons than Kemp, in spite of the fact that he only played in 18 games in 2010! I went back to 2009 for Ellsbury, since he was injured in 2010, and if you combine his 2009 and 2011 numbers, he ends up ranking in the top 3 in 5 categories, top-5 in two more, and one top-10. The only category he’s outside the top 10 in, is TZL, where he ranks 13th, and is still above average. The guy should have won the AL MVP, but we won’t get into that.
1a. Matt Kemp – it’s so close between these two. They’re both young (Kemp turns 28 in Sept., Ellsbury 29), fast, and have power. It’s very impressive. Kemp also has 5 top-3 appearances, and adds two top-10’s. There’s no question it’s his defense that hurts him, but he just had one bad year in 2010. I think he should have won the NL MVP, just like Ellsbury should have won in the AL, but there’s this ridiculous idea out there that playoff teams have more valuable players just because they got to the playoffs.
3. Curtis Granderson – the best overall WAR the last two seasons in CF, and ranks in the top 3 in six categories. But, he’s on the wrong side of 30 (just barely – 31), and doesn’t appear in the top-10 in anything else. Plus, his numbers are going to benefit from being in an incredibly potent offense. Still, one of the three best CF’ers in the game.
4. Shane Victorino – I thought this guy was older than 31. He has the second best WAR over the last two seasons, and appears in the top-10 seven more times! His DRS is the only category outside the top 10, and he’s still saving more runs than he’s giving away with his defense. Speed, power, and defense – but, my favorite part of his game . . . leadership. Always hustling, and seems to be a great clubhouse guy. I’d want him on my team!
5. Chris Young – not sure why MLBN doesn’t have him higher. The guy’s numbers are very impressive – three top-3 appearances, and five more top-10’s! The only category in which he’s outside the top-10 is wRC+ . . . he’s 11th. He’s an excellent defender, has plenty of power, and above-average speed. The best part for Diamondback fans – he doesn’t turn 29 until September.
6. Andrew McCutchen – Pittsburgh’s moving him to the middle of the lineup, which will likely give him more chances to drive in runs. But, I hope it doesn’t mean he loses his opportunities to steal bases. Either way, he’ll produce. At just 25 years old, he’s already one of the best in the game, with four top-5’s over the last two seasons, along with three more top-10’s. I look forward to watching him grow to even greater heights as he approaches his prime years.
7. B.J. Upton – why he didn’t even make MLBN’s list, I’ll never understand. Last I checked he’s still the Rays’ center-fielder. And, in the last two years, he’s produced enough to appear in the top-10 in 6 categories – more than anyone else that’s left to choose from. I love the fact that he’s in the top 5 in both home runs and stolen bases. His defense isn’t great, but he makes up for it with his bat.
8. Adam Jones – several guys remaining have four top-10 appearances, but Jones appears to be the most well-rounded of the group. He’s top-5 in home runs and RBI the last two seasons, and even in areas in which he isn’t near the top (like wRC+ and TZL) he’s middle-of-the-pack. Plus, he should be getting better, as he’s just 26.
9. Andres Torres – he’s already 34 years old, which is concerning. But, he continues to perform well enough to be above-average in almost every category (except RBI, which is to be expected since he’s a top-of-the-order guy). He, too, has 4 top-10 appearances (ISO, wRC+, TZL, and WAR).
10. Colby Rasmus – my second new name for the list is a guy that’s just 25 years old, and already playing great. Top-10 in HR, OPS, ISO, and wRC+. His defense isn’t great, but just 11 errors the last two seasons. That will certainly improve with experience.
The two guys I left off my list that MLBN put on theirs are guys that make no sense to me. Michael Bourn is such a one-dimensional player it’s absurd. He’s fast. That’s all. So, he has way more stolen bases than anyone else, and he can cover more ground than most guys in CF. That’s not that impressive when you’re near the bottom of the league in almost every other category. And, how Marlon Byrd was ever considered for this list I have no idea. His best ranking is his 12th-best WAR – every other category is lower. He’s not awful in anything but stolen bases, but he’s middle-of-the-pack. That doesn’t translate into being one of the best 10 in the game. At least, not in my book. What about you?
[PS – anyone else notice that 5 of my top-10 are in the AL East?? I’m an NL guy, so you can’t call me a homer!]