What do we have here? For an explanation of this series, please read this introductory post. As noted in that introduction, the data is a hybrid projection of the ZIPS and Steamer systems with playing time determined through depth charts created by our team of authors. The rankings are based on aggregate projected WAR for each team at a given position. The author writing this post did not move your team down ten spots in order to make you angry. We don’t hate your team. I promise.
If you’ve been looking at the scale of these charts and wondering why we set the top end of the range to +9 when the best team is usually closer to +6, here’s your answer. Stupid Mike Trout.
Trout’s dominance actually obscures McCutchen’s own greatness, as the gap between #2 and #3 would be the largest at any position if there wasn’t such a huge gap between #1 and #2 at this same spot. After the two franchise center fielders, things get a little more normal. Because of the strength of CF right now, no one is carrying a total zero at the position, and this group overall is stronger than most. It doesn’t hurt that two of the game’s premier players are carrying the top end either.
When a team has the best player at his position, nee, the game, they can afford to roster replacement level talent around him. If anything, Trout serves as an excellent example of the concept of Wins Above Replacement if he were to miss any time. Even Murray Chass would be able to watch a game and finally grasp the concept. None of us, not even Rangers fans, want to see Trout fall short of this projected playing time. In a time when pitchers are dropping like flies due to injuries, we need to see our offensive starts as much as possible.
Pittsburgh is fortunate enough to have one half of the dynamic duo of center fielders in the National League. McCutchen’s WAR has improved each season he has been in the majors. The 27 year old has three consecutive 20/20 seasons and he continues to create runs for a lineup that relies heavily upon his talented services. It is somewhat surprising that McCutchen has eclipsed the 100 run or 100 RBI mark just once in his five-year career given his skills, but that is more of an indictment of his supporting cast than anything.
In his five “full” seasons at the big league level, Ellsbury’s WAR totals have been quite the rollercoaster ride: 4.1, 2.1, 9.1, 1.4, 5.8. If you subscribe to the theory of Saberhagenmetrics, Ellsbury is in for a down year in his first season with New York. In reality, Ellsbury has had some freak injuries that led to his time on the disabled list from colliding with Adrian Beltre in left field to being landed on at second base by Reid Brignac while attempting a head first slide. Ellsbury made noticeable changes last season on how he handled pitches on the outer half, but the temptation of the short porch in right field may lead him to go away from that success in 2014. The Yankees have the luxury of moving Gardner over to center if Ellsbury were to go down and hopefully do not have to rely on Suzuki much if at all out there.
Gomez is the Robin to the caped crusader in Pittsburgh. Gomez enjoys the advantage of having a stronger supporting cast around him, and responded well to being moved around the lineup as Milwaukee let him be the hitter he wanted to be. His defensive work in center is worth the price of admission to Miller Park and could be a serious MVP candidate this year as the roster around him will be much improved over last year’s group. Not to mention, only the defensive demigod Andrelton Simmons had a higher Defensive Runs Saved total than Gomez in 2013. His projections are nearly a 3-win drop from last season, which shows the risk in his skill set.
Oakland may have the best tandem in the league, which is a good thing given the flaws in both players. Crisp is getting long in the tooth and has been a below average defender each of the past three seasons. He makes up for his shortcomings in the field with strong baserunning and his excellence in stealing bases. Crisp has played as many as 145 games just twice in his career and has exceeded 130 games just twice in the past six seasons. When Chris Young departed, Oakland traded Michael Choice to get Gentry. Gentry gives the team a superior defender, a good baserunner, and someone who hits lefties well. He has fought back issues all spring and those issues can tend to linger for awhile. If Gentry does open on the disabled list, Sam Fuld likely slots in here.
Jackson’s WAR floor as a major leaguer is 2.4 and he has been a 3-win player in three of his four seasons. Despite some minor injuries, he has eclipsed 600 plate appearances in each of his four seasons as he mostly hit leadoff under Jim Leyland. The addition of new manager Brad Ausmus plus Ian Kinsler may change his spot in the lineup. Perhaps the managerial change will allow Jackson to use his legs more as his stolen base total has dropped each of the past four seasons and last season’s hamstring issue was as much of a factor with that as Leyland’s ultra-conservative approach to the running game. Davis and Kelly are expected to platoon in left field during the first half of the season while Andy Dirks recovers from his back surgery.
St. Louis fans were hoping that Taveras would be ready to start the season, but that did not happen. The Cardinals were proactive in dealing with this scenario in trading David Freese for Bourjos. It allowed them to improve their infield defense and open up playing time for Kolten Wong, while significantly upgrading their defense in center. Fans that were sour on the way Jay played the position last season will enjoy watching Bourjos range for balls from gap to gap. Hip and wrist injuries have put a dent into his offensive production that he could not afford to lose, but he is still an excellent value defensively. In a perfect world, he gains back some of what he has lost at the plate and allows Taveras to take all of the time he needs to get ready for the role later in the season.
Take the comments utilized for Bourjos and reverse them for this group. There is not a natural center fielder here, but Ethier and Kemp will be asked to play the position most nights. The hope would be that Ethier faces enough right-handed pitching to continue hitting them well as he quietly has for some time now, and Kemp’s ankle can handle the position most nights. Both will need to provide enough offense to overlook their defensive shortcomings. Kemp is attempting to end a three-year wRC+ slide while Ethier’s wRC+ total has been at least 120 for six consecutive seasons. Perhaps a trade will happen at some point to clear a path for top prospect Pederson, who is rather blocked by the big contracts in the Los Angeles outfield.
Span has been one of the better defensive center fielders in recent seasons, which helps make up for the shortcomings in his overall offensive game. The bat is rather empty, but he does run the bases well and uses his speed to excel in the field. The offensive promise he showed earlier in his career is now a distant memory. Span has proven himself somewhat durable with a pair of 150+ game seasons over the past four seasons. The Nationals went across the harbor to grab a capable reserve in McLouth who can man center but is better served in left.
his is where the precipitous fall begins for the position. Jennings has not quite blossomed into the player he was projected to be in his prospect days. He does not throw well and has issues with balls in front of him in the field. At the plate, right-handed pitchers, especially those with good velocity, handle him rather well. He has added size in the offseason in hopes of doing more at the plate and staying strong throughout the season. DeJesus is a capable replacement when the matchup or health dictates it, but should be locked in a broom closet when a left-handed pitcher is on the mound.
Bourn’s debut in Cleveland did not go exactly as planned. His stellear defense was lost in his connecting flight from Atlanta to Cleveland, and his stolen base production took a hit as he posted the second-lowest on base percentage of his career. While center fielders can age quickly in their early to mid 30’s, 2013 was not something even the most pessimistic analyst could have projected. He has had a lot of volatility in his offensive value throughout his career as his offensive value has fluctuated from -23 to 16.8 in any given season. Perhaps 2013 was just another one of those cyclical efforts. The Indians hope so given the fact they are on board for another three seasons of his services.
#12 Blue Jays
Rasmus had previously showcased his offensive and defensive value, but never in the same season. He was strong defensively in 2009, strong offensively in 2010, but it was not until last season that he had positive value in both areas. 2014 is Rasmus’s final year before free agency as he potentially hits the open market as the best option for team looking for a center field by a considerable margin. Perhaps Toronto can talk him into sticking around for a few more seasons as they do not have a clear option behind him as Gose has been a disappointing prospect who does not look like an everyday outfielder.
The Adam Eaton experience in Arizona ended as quickly as it began. As GM Kevin Towers frequently does, he made up his mind to move on and is entrusting the position to Pollock and Parra. Parra is a proven asset in the field and is a low-ceiling/high-floor player at the plate. Pollock has fewer than 600 major league plate appearances, but the 3.6 WAR season as a rookie certainly impressed upper management enough for them to make the change. The strange thing is, the team was impressed with Eaton in 2012 and yet he was out the door just one season later. Pollock should get a longer leash.
Only in America can a player win a gold glove with below average defensive metrics. Jones has done it three times in the past four seasons. He has back to back 4-win seasons and rarely misses a day in the lineup. At 28 years old, he shows little signs of wearing down from the workload Buck Showalter puts upon his shoulders as his baseball card stats and other skills have been rather stable in recent seasons. Maybe he can win an MVP some time in the future with below average offensive numbers. Can we seriously rule that out?
Martin flashed his potential in his first full season in the major leagues on the basepaths and in the field, particularly when baserunners tried to take the extra base or tag up on flyballs to center field. Martin has some issues against left-handed pitching that will limit his ceiling until they are addressed, but his defense and baserunning can carry him for the time being. The clean platoon situation he had last season with Craig Gentry is now gone as the Rangers are hoisting more responsibility onto him to see i he can handle it.
Venable has flashed his speed and power potential in previous seasons, but it was not until 2013 that he put it all together and had one of the quietest 20/20 seasons in recent memory. He took full advantage of extra playing time afforded to him by Maybin missing most of the season. Venable’s offensive value has increased each of the past three seasons as he has earned more and more playing time. Maybin is already hurt to start the 2014 season, so the playing time should be there once against with Denorfia spelling him for some of the tougher matchups against left-handed pitching.
Fowler has played the largest center field in the league throughout his career, so a change to the unique situation in Houston should not be a problem for him. His plate discipline has remained rather constant, as has his career trends of taking full advantage of Coors Field while struggling to hit on the road. He has a career 115 wRC+ at home and a 92 wRC+ on the road. He will be the leadoff man for Houston in 2014 as they wish to leverage his on base skills to help generate runs at the top of the lineup that will see Jose Altuve and Jason Castro hit behind him. Grossman is expected to get most of his time in left field while Springer will come up after the Super Two deadline to assume most of the playing time in right field.
|Matt den Dekker||70||.227||.277||.355||.279||-1.8||0.0||0.0||0.1|
When you have seven center fielders, you really have none. The Mets will have a clean platoon situation with Young and Lagares getting most of the time, but their value is nearly completely tied up in their defensive abilities. The 30-year old Young does not run as much as he once did, and his K% and BB% are trending in the wrong directions. Lagares showed as much in the field in 2013 as he did little at the plate. Bartolo Colon should love the duo hawing his fly balls in play this season.
Pagan has been an above league-average offensive player for four of the past five seasons on the strength of his baserunning and ability to make solid contact. His BB%, K%, and slash lines have been remarkably stable, unlike his defensive metrics which have been all over the place. He has played in 150 or more games just twice in his major league career, and a balky hamstring could afford Blanco more time up the middle in 2014. Blanco is the superior player defensively in terms of consistency, but is more limited offensively.
Cain continues to shine in the field while struggling at the plate. He has the BB% and K% of a power hitter, yet does not hit with power. He has speed, but does not get on base enough to fully utilize it. The defense keeps him in the lineup despite the struggles, as does the fact that the list behind him offers little. Maxwell was decimated by injuries throughout his developmental years and has become a short-sided platoon bat option while Dyson’s main value is to drive pitchers nuts on the basepaths.
Ozuna is still developing as an offensive player, but the raw skills show what lies ahead for the talented player. He used his athleticism to play solid outfield defense last season, but has yet to show the power at the major league level he repeatedly flashed in the minors. Youth is the name of the game in Miami as they hope athleticism can outweigh inexperience and risk.
#22 White Sox
|Alejandro De Aza||140||.262||.323||.396||.317||-0.8||0.2||-0.2||0.5|
Eaton should be able to do somewhat better defensively in a smaller ballpark without the deep gaps that Chase Field presented him. He never really got a fair shake last season as an elbow issue put him behind the eight ball all season and did not really show the speed and ability to hit for average that he did all throughout his minor league career. de Aza may not be long for the roster as his name has been tied up in several trade rumors this spring, but Chicago was clearly not satisfied with what he provided last season.
#23 Red Sox
In the 2013 Grapefruit League season, everyone was heaping praises on Jackie Bradley Jr and how he was going to be a big part of Boston’s season. He was not. Fast forward to 2014 and those praises are now being heaped upon Sizemore, and so far, he has not broken apart from the extra weight on his legs. What he will do in 2014 remains to be seen but this quartet of options is quite the step down from what Ellsbury provided last season. Some would say this is the Achilles heel of the defending World Champions.
It is too bad management cannot just eschew service time concerns and let Javier Baez play center field this season. A Sweeney/Ruggiano platoon has zero upside to it, and simply serves as a way to fill the gap as the team waits for Jorge Soler and Albert Almora to make their way up the organizational ladder. Ruggiano has a .371 wOBA on fastballs for his career and a .273 wOBA on all non-fastballs. Eventually, the league will stop throwing him fastballs.
This is the one position where the team is expected to play outfielders that will not double as statues in the outfield. Almonte has seen a large share of the Cactus League time and should open the season as the starter for the position. He has posted multiple double-digit walk rates in the minor leagues as well as multiple 20+ stolen base seasons which hints at his potential after resurrecting his career. Saunders has had back to back double-double seasons in with home runs and steals, but is the inferior defender.
Playing this position in Colorado presents unique challenges because of how much ground must be covered. The center fielder has to play back to defend the gaps, and Stubbs has the athleticism to make it happen. The issue is that he can be very much overexposed at the plate when he has to face too many right-handed pitchers. He and Dickerson would make a clean platoon. The duo will be asked to match what Dexter Fowler himself provided to the Rockies, which will be a tall task for them.
This is a tenuous situation, at best. Hamilton is an extreme risk as we are not sure he will be able to hit enough to remain in the everyday lineup. The problem Cincinnati has is that they do not have a clean backup option should the Hamilton experiment fail. None of the others are everyday players, meaning Hamilton will have a very long opportunity to prove his worth.
Revere’s defensive value dropped off considerably as he made the switch from the American League to the National League. The foot injury may have had a factor in that as it clearly affected his stolen base production. His defense and steals are what he brings to the table as he is still in search of his first major league home run 1400 plate appearances into his major league career. He is just 25 years old, making him one of the youngest regulars on the team by 19 years.
Atlanta has multiple positions where they are strong defensively; this is not one of them. Upton has issues making throws his arm cannot cash and struggles with balls hit in front of him. His struggles at the plate were not injury related as they were earlier in his career as much as they were related to a loss in bat speed. Upton is a habitual tinkerer at the plate and has been working with his coaches on adjustments this offseason. How long they stick is unknown. Upton can’t possibly be as bad as he was last year, but if he is, Schafer could see more time.
This situation is so bad that the team’s assistant GM publicly bemoaned the effort of Presley and Hicks to the media earlier this week. This is a microcosm of the reasons why the Twins are likely stuck in neutral in the standings in 2014 despite their upgrades to their pitching staff.