2016 Top 10 Centerfielders

MLB Network does their annual series of shows right before spring training, in which they compile a list of the top 10 players at each position.  There’s always a considerable amount of debate, as many of the Network’s analysts don’t even agree with the list.  But, the list itself is generated by something called “The Shredder.”  This is supposedly a computer algorithm that takes into consideration the last two seasons of performance, and puts together the list strictly based on numbers – no emotion involved.  So, you can see why there’s a reasonable amount of debate.  On each of the episodes in which the list is revealed, there is an additional panel of analysts that reveal their own list, which is rarely in line with The Shredder.

It’s been a few years since I analyzed each position enough to come up with my own list.  So, let’s have some fun with this, shall we?  We’ll consider each position in the same order that they have been releasing the episodes on MLB Network.  We’ll start with the list provided by The Shredder.

Top 10 Centerfielders Right Now7260036620_39debc4e94_z

  1. Mike Trout (LAA)
  2. A.J. Pollock (ARI)
  3. Lorenzo Cain (KC)
  4. Andrew McCutchen (PIT)
  5. Jason Heyward (CHC)
  6. Adam Eaton (CHW)
  7. Kevin Kiermaier (TB)
  8. Randal Grichuk (STL)
  9. Carlos Gomez (HOU)
  10. Adam Jones (BAL)

Right off the bat, I have a problem with this list.  And, this is exactly why building a list like this strictly based on numbers is going to skew things from time to time.  Randal Grichuk??  The guy has played a total of 150 games spread out over the last 2 seasons, and spent a total of a little more than 300 innings in CF.  The guy has been their ultimate backup at each outfield position.  He’ll be a starter on a regular basis this year, since they lost Heyward.  And, even though the guy has played pretty well offensively, when he has played – ranking him among the top 10 after a season in which he played 103 games, and has less than 500 total professional plate appearances is ludicrous.  I’m guessing this is also why only 1 of the 4 analysts on the show even had Grichuk in his top 10 (at #10).

Secondly, I get that Kiermaier is a stud defensively.  But, even though that’s especially important in CF, let’s not make defense so important that we forget about offense.  Kiermaier has a combined .305 OBP over the last two seasons (just .298 last year!), to go along with his .737 OPS.  He’s basically right at league average offensively, an average baserunner, and a stellar defender.  #7 out of the 30 centerfielders in the league seemed like a massive stretch to me, when I first saw this list.  Though, when I started looking at the overall numbers, it wasn’t as much of a stretch as I thought it was going to be.

The numbers that I took into consideration were wRC+, OBP, SLG, BsR (the sabermetric stat for baserunning), DRS (defensive runs saved), and UZR (sabermetric stat that measures a player’s ability to get to the ball, defensively).  I also added a category for age.  And, it actually came into play at the very bottom of my list of center fielders.  Here’s how I look at it:  yes, the last two years of performance are going to tell us a lot about a player.  But, if those last two seasons were at the end of his prime years (say, his age 30 & 31 seasons), then I’m expecting a little drop off in production.  By contrast, if those were his age 24 & 25 seasons, I know that he’s just now going to be hitting his stride, and could actually improve.  So, if it’s ever a really close call, and one of the guys is 32 and the other is 26 – I’m going to give the edge to the younger guy.

So, before I reveal my list, let me share a couple names of guys that were just on the cusp of making the top 10.  First of all, Denard Span.  He’s 5th in OBP among CF’ers over the last two seasons, 7th in wRC+, and is an above-average baserunner.  His defensive metrics aren’t great, which is one of the reasons he didn’t make the list.  In the end, however, he probably is my #11 centerfielder, because of his age.  He’s going into his age 32 season, and has played in 150 games in a season only twice in his career (2013 & 2010).  A guy who’s already injury prone, and is heading into the downward slope of his career – that’s not a good combination, even if he is productive offensively when healthy.  Dexter Fowler is probably 12th on my list.  It baffles me that he still doesn’t have a job.  He’s 5th in OBP, 9th in wRC+, and a switch-hitter heading into his age 30 season.  His defensive metrics are underwhelming, but overall, he’s better than a lot of teams’ current starters.

Now it’s time for my top 10.

  1. Mike Trout
  2. Lorenzo Cain
  3. A.J. Pollock
  4. Andrew McCutchen
  5. Jason Heyward
  6. Adam Eaton
  7. Carlos Gomez
  8. Adam Jones
  9. Kevin Kiermaier
  10. Joc Pederson (LAD)

Pederson jumps into my top 10, because he’s similar to both Fowler and Span in his offensive production, but better than both defensively.  And, this is also in anticipation of him playing more like he did pre-All-Star break, compared to post-All-Star break.  His 20 HR and .851 OPS in the first half last year was incredible.  But, he was too committed to swinging for the fences, and pitchers took advantage of that.  I do expect growth in his approach (he is just 23, after all), so I’m willing to slide him in ahead of a couple guys that are several years older.

You see Kiermaier dropped just a couple spots.  I was surprised it wasn’t more, but his defense really is that good – he did win the “Platinum Glove,” which is given to the best overall defensive player in each league.  If he can raise his offensive production even a little, I think he could move up this list next year.

The only other major difference in my list is Lorenzo Cain.  I was pleased to see him get enough respect to be ranked as high as #3 by the Shredder.  But, I’m willing to bump him up one more spot, ahead of Pollock.  Cain is just a notch behind Pollock in offensive production, but he’s a significant step ahead in baserunning and defense.  It’s splitting hairs when you get down to trying to separate the two.  They’re both a lot of fun to watch.

Overall, I don’t think my list is all that different from “The Shredder.”  What do you think?

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