The Best Outfield In Baseball

Early next week, our Positional Power Rankings are going to turn to the pitching staffs. I’m slated to write about the top 15 starting rotations, and if I were to begin writing that piece now, I’d end up discussing how the Dodgers have the best starting rotation in the game. This is a controversial statement, because the Dodgers are built upon fragility, and they’ve already had something like 27 pitchers injured. How could the Dodgers possibly have a better rotation than, say, the Mets? The Mets roll four or five deep. They have three could-be aces. It’s easy to love the Mets; it’s correct to love the Mets. The argument for the Dodgers is that they have plenty of depth, and it’s also — importantly — that they have Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw’s not hurt, and Kershaw is basically two aces in one. No rotation has a better starting point.

I’ll write about that next week. I’ll write about it using many of the same words. When ranking the best groups, I think people have a bias toward even spreads over something more top-heavy. All of this here also functions as a spoiler. The PPR series runs down the rankings at every individual position, but a question a lot of people like to debate is, which team has baseball’s best outfield? We’ve had this conversation before, a year ago or something, when fans would compare and contrast the Marlins and the Pirates. Those remain two very good outfields. Yet based on what we have on FanGraphs, baseball’s best projected outfield for 2016 will play half its games in Anaheim.

It’s close, of course. And it’s close enough it’s really more like a toss-up, because the numbers aren’t nearly so accurate. When you have a difference of a fraction of a win, it might as well be no difference at all, because there’s plenty of error-bar overlap. But any lead is a lead, even if it’s by a hair, and this is what I’m presently looking at. Behold, the top five projected outfields:

Top Five Projected Outfields, 2016
Team LF CF RF Outfield WAR
Angels 0.7 8.8 2.8 12.3
Pirates 4.0 5.9 2.2 12.1
Marlins 3.1 2.6 5.7 11.4
Nationals 1.1 1.5 7.3 9.9
Dodgers 1.9 3.3 4.3 9.5

We have the Angels in first, at +12.3. They have about a two-run — a two-run — advantage over the Pirates, and then there’s about a win difference between the Angels and the Marlins. The gap gets plenty big when you get down to fourth and fifth place. Not that you can’t argue every single one of these numbers, but while the Marlins and Pirates will again field highly talented units, when you group the three positions together the Angels rise to the top. They have the top combination of three positions because they have the top one position.

The parallel is obvious. Mike Trout is to the Angels outfield as Clayton Kershaw is to the Dodgers rotation. What the Pirates and Marlins have is talent and depth. They’d be the Mets, here. With Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco, the Pirates run three deep on tremendous ability. You could say the same of the Marlins, with Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna. Those teams have the greatest number of potential good outfielders, which people are drawn to, but it’s too easy to forget that Trout is like two Starling Martes in one. Over the last two seasons, Marte has been worth 8 WAR. Last season alone, Trout was worth 9 WAR. So let me take that back. Trout is arguably better than two Starling Martes in one. He’s like two Starling Martes, if the original Starling Marte were a slightly better baseball player.

It doesn’t seem to me like the projections are being too optimistic. The Angels rank first in center field, 10th in right field, and 25th in left field. They should be ranked first in center field. That’s inarguable. And moving over, Kole Calhoun is pretty damn underrated. He’s not a great player, and he’s a borderline All-Star when he’s on a hot streak, but the last two years Calhoun has the same WAR as Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton. Calhoun’s both nifty and 28. And I’d argue the Angels might even have under-appreciated left-field upside. Now, the Angels already tried to trade for Michael Saunders. They don’t love what they have at the moment. But Daniel Nava has a career 119 wRC+ against righties. Craig Gentry has a career 100 wRC+ against lefties, and he’s been tremendous on the bases and in the field. Even if the Angels were to stick with these players, I wouldn’t be shocked if left field doubled up on that 0.7-WAR projection. I don’t need to get too deep into this. There’s a reason why Nava and Gentry were easy to acquire. Maybe they’ll work and maybe they won’t. Even when they’re projected to not really work, the Angels outfield overall still looks better than anyone’s.

As you understand, this doesn’t mean the Angels are a good baseball team. Isolating outfielders, the Angels rank first in baseball in projected WAR. Isolating non-outfielders, the Angels rank 26th in baseball in projected WAR. They’re right between the Rockies and…oh, hey, it’s the Marlins again. Then you have the Brewers, Braves, and Phillies. The Angels are competitive because of their outfield, and their outfield is good mostly because of one player. Outside of that one player, the Angels are a group we’d think ought to be rebuilding. Outside of Trout, the Angels’ situation is miserable. They’d be a bad team with a bad farm system. That’s the worst situation to be in.

But the Angels aren’t in that situation, because of their center fielder. A baseball team isn’t a basketball team. A baseball team can’t ever be carried by one individual player. Yet Mike Trout comes the closest. Mike Trout gives the Angels the best outfield in baseball, and when he’s healthy, he also keeps the Angels from being in a terrible, terrible place. You could say there’s no more important player in the game today. Mike Trout is the Angels, and the Angels are Mike Trout. Anything else is hard to imagine.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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Cheeseball
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Cheeseball
2 months 6 days ago

The Los Angeles Trouts of Anaheim? It’s been too long since the Cleveland Naps.

amdennis1990
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amdennis1990
2 months 5 days ago

Unfortunately for them they only have one Trout. The Los Angeles Trout of Anaheim

Darkstone42
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Darkstone42
2 months 6 days ago

There’s massive upside over the projections in all five of those outfields, too. For the Angels, a lot of it is tied up in Calhoun, plus some Trout 10 WAR possibility. For the Pirates in Polanco, plus the possibility of Cutch finding his MVP stride again. For the Marlins, Ozuna, with the same argument for Stanton. And so on.

These are really good outfields.

Ivdown
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Ivdown
2 months 6 days ago

If you could find a way to include Clayton Kershaw into every article done on fangraphs, that would make me incredibly happy, haha.

Bip
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Bip
2 months 6 days ago

“While Mike Leake’s curveball certainly is not Clayton Kershaw’s, you may be surprised to learn that he has been using it…”

LHPSU
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LHPSU
2 months 6 days ago

Good pitcher: “…his [insert pitch/skill] is comparable to Clayton Kershaw’s.”
Bad pitcher: “He is no Clayton Kershaw.”
Good hitter: “He may/may not be able to hit Kershaw consistently, but…”
Bad hitter? “He can’t hit Kershaw, and he can’t hit anything else.”

That covers almost everything, really.

output gap
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output gap
2 months 6 days ago

Arte Moreno is doing a disservice to himself and his franchise by running out this roster of scrubs during Trout’s prime.

jdbolick
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2 months 6 days ago

They’ve had a top eight payroll each of the last five years, so I don’t see how blaming the owner is justified. I wish my favorite team had that kind of track record.

formerly matt w
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formerly matt w
2 months 6 days ago

Well, isn’t their large payroll due mostly to white-elephant contracts that the owner forced on management? It’d be one thing if Moreno had told the front office “You get to spend up to the luxury tax and no further, do what you want with it”–then the blame for the situation would rest with the front office and not with the owner. But it seems like their inability to put a decent team around Trout is directly due to Moreno’s meddling.

LHPSU
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LHPSU
2 months 6 days ago

It’s mostly his fault that the Angels are paying Josh Hamilton full salary to not play for them.

reggiethomaslive
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reggiethomaslive
2 months 3 days ago

He made his GMs sign Hamilton and Pujols, then made them get rid of Hamilton, and forced Dipoto to quit. So yea, Moreno writes big checks but won’t stop meddling either, the net result is that Trout’s best years have been wasted as have all that extra spending.

My favorite part is the Angels got rid of the guy who drafted Trout.

Death to Flying Things
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Death to Flying Things
2 months 2 days ago

I’d agree with you, but I’d add the caveat: We might not have *seen* Trout’s best years yet.

formerly matt w
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formerly matt w
2 months 6 days ago

This is a delightful article and I have a comment on it that is deflating and nitpicky and homeristic: due to differences in defensive metrics, by bbWAR Marte was worth 10.5 wins over the past two seasons, which is slightly more than Trout was worth either of those individual seasons; which means that if the projections incorporated those different metrics, the Pirates’ outfield would likely outrank the projections of Trout&co., unless McCutchen’s metrics gave back the difference (or other Angels outfielders saw similar gains).

Famous Mortimer
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2 months 5 days ago

It’s a perfectly fair comment, but you’d only be nitpicky if Sullivan was using those same projections. It’s like if he were giving us a book review, and your comment was “sorry to be nitpicky, but this different book says something different”.

free-range turducken
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free-range turducken
2 months 6 days ago

Mike Trout, Mike Carp, and Tim Salmon right now would still be in the short list for best OF of 2016.

Darkstone42
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Darkstone42
2 months 5 days ago

I don’t know. There’s something fishy about this claim…

ImperialStout
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ImperialStout
2 months 5 days ago

booooooooooooo

Luy
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Luy
2 months 6 days ago

What I wanted to write: So would Trout and two actual fish.

How fangraphs has ruined me: Well, that’s not true. Clearly two actual fish would “produce” well under replacement level, knocking the Angels out of the top OFs. Hmmm…I wonder how much negative WAR two actual fish would tally…

formerly matt w
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formerly matt w
2 months 6 days ago

The all-bird outfield (Starling Marte, Jon Jay, and Marlon Byrd) gets blown out of the water by the all-fish outfield (Mike Trout, A.J. Pollock, and oddly enough Marlon Byrd again).

(Yeah yeah, Jay Bruce > Byrd, but that’s no fun.)

philosofool
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philosofool
2 months 6 days ago

We could add something like this, too: “Too bad for the Angels, with their one Man o’ WAR outfield, that they are not like the other one Man o’ WAR outfield–The Nationals–who field a good team besides their outfield star.”

Jay_B
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Jay_B
2 months 5 days ago

Is it Starling Martes or Starlings Marte?

Captain Tenneal
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Captain Tenneal
2 months 5 days ago

Bubba Starling’s Marte

jruby
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jruby
2 months 3 days ago

Bubba Starling’s M-Arte MoreNomar Garciaparra

reggiethomaslive
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reggiethomaslive
2 months 3 days ago

How the mighty have fallen. Last year the best outfields were Diamondbacks, Royals and Cardinals in that order, all over 13 WAR.

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