Written by Justin Zeth
Published: 19 June 2007
Instead of doing team Power Rankings – I've tried to do those, but I get disinterested by the time I'm down around 14 or 15 or so – I'm going to rank all the regular or semi-regular players in the game by position. Today we'll start with center fielders. As we will see, it's hard to be a major-league center fielder. Not everyone will get his own comment. Some guys are just too bland to really tickle my fancy much, you know?
These rankings, like team Power Rankings, are based on this year only – players are ranked according to who, based on what we've seen so far, would I have wanted on my team from Opening Day until now, if I could use Guido's Time Machine to go back to grab somebody. For the most part, these ranking trace Baseball Prospectus' VORP rankings, with a few jingles and jangles here and there on my own subjective judgment. Minimum to make the list is 150 PA and more games played in center field than anywhere else. I don't think that's too much to ask.
1. Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners.
The dude catches a lot of flak for the things he doesn't do – like walk – but in a Good Ichiro year like this year, there's an awful lot of stuff he DOES do: He hits lots and lots of singles and doubles. Anybody that hits .342 is going to have some value, and Ichiro legs out enough doubles and triples to slug .456 and gets enough free passes from pitchers to post a .397 OBP. Add his tremendous speed to that mix – 17 for 19 taking bags – and you have yourself one fantastic offensive force. You know about Ichiro's defense, of course. I've seen rumors about the Mariners maybe thinking about trading the guy. The people passing these rumors around have seared their consciences through many years of smoking crack.
2. Grady Sizemore, Indians.
You know how good Sizemore is when you consider that .286/.402/.471 – while also leading all center fielders with 20 SB in 22 tries – constitutes a “struggling” kind of year. Sizemore isn't slugging like we expected, but .402/.471 from a decent defensive center fielder is a must-play no matter what team you're managing.
3. Curtis Granderson, Tigers.
4. Torii Hunter, Twins.
Torii has the slightly better stats -- .312/.357/.570 to .287/.343/.567 – but in a pinch, I'm taking Granderson because he plays better defense. Yes, you read that right. Hunter is still a good defender, but Granderson is a very good one, and the total package he offers should make the Tiggers happy for a long time to come. Hunter's having a very nice contract year, though, and since it IS a contract year, I'd bet on him sustaining his current level of output more so than Granderson, whose slugging percentage right now is way beyond anything he's done before, and that's powered by 13 (13!) triples already this year, a simply insane number.
5. Aaron Rowand, Phillies.
Rowand's excellent bat so far this year appears to be mostly a batting average fluke; make his batting average more like his .283 career mark than his .321 current mark and his rate stats are .283/.355/.454. That's still a valuable player given Rowand's defense, but don't expect the .393/.492 beast to keep hanging around.
6. Nick Swisher, Athletics.
Swisher's developed into everything Cap'n Billy must have been dreaming he'd be: An on-base machine (.423) who hits for enough power and can play a decent center. The A's have been jerking him all over the field this year—significant PT at right and first—but center is the position he's played most often this year, so that's where he counts. A center fielder with the pop and patience Swisher sports is rare indeed.
7. Hunter Pence, Astros.
Pence has the same VORP as Carlos Beltran, but has amassed it in only two-thirds the playing time. Part of this is because he's been hurt, but part of it's also because the Astros aren't the brightest light in the hallway. Pence is a beast, but beware – he's not a .337 hiter, which means he's not a .360 OBP guy and not a .562 slugger. Pence never walks—a trait that will catch up to him in time—and is in for the mother of all slumps sometime this summer. Watch and see if the Astros don't demote him or bench him or something when that happens.
8. Carlos Beltran, Mets.
One of the least deserving all-stars this year, Be... wait, what? Oh. Right. Most of the guys above him are in the American League. My bad. Anyway, Beltran's not having an especially great year by his own standards and could be a candidate for one of those Julys where he hits about .650 all month. His defense is still outstanding.
9. Gary Matthews Jr., Angels
. Don't leave your Whizzinator lying around where somebody might see it, Gary!
10. Josh Hamilton, Reds.
I guess it would be classless for me to give Josh the same advice I gave Gary, huh? Say what you will about small sample-size flukes – I've said it all, trust me – we still have to tip our hats to one of the savvier Rule V picks we've seen for some time, no? It's almost enough to make you overlook Krivsky's insane infatuation with middle relievers. Almost.
11. Kenny Lofton, Rangers.
Fact is, the Rangers are getting 80% of Gary Matthews' production for 10% of the price with Cool Papa Lofton. He can still take a base: 16 for 20 on the season. We won't talk about his defense.
12. David DeJesus, Royals.
Not much of an age 27 season. DeJesus is what he is at this point: Not an especially good defender with a pretty decent bat for a center fielder. Nothing special, in other words.
13. Bill Hall, Brewers.
Didn't bring his power stroke with him to center field, and the Brewers have to be starting to think about whether this whole thing's going to work out. Hall was a below-average shortstop and is a below-average center fielder, but 2006 Bill Hall (.270/.345/.553) is an awesome weapon to have, considering his positional flexibility. 2007 Bill Hall (.264/.336/.436) makes for a nice tactical weapon, thanks to the same flexibility, but isn't an impact player. My money says 2005-2006 was Hall's peak, and about 110% of 2007 Bill Hall is what the Brewers can expect going forward.
14. Willy Taveras, Rockies.
Taveras is blazing fast but for some reason isn't grading out as quite as good a center fielder this year as he had the last two years before. His other problem also stems from his inability to intelligently use his speed: A team-hurting 15 for 23 mark stealing bases. Taveras is hitting better than he ever did in Houston – perhaps an effect of the revived hitter's paradise at Coors Field – but the dip in his stolen base percentage (he was 33 for 41 last year) and defensive prowess is head-scratching. He could be a good candidate for a strong second half.
15. Johnny Damon, Yankees.
His injuries have sapped his power, of course, but a .280 hitter who walks, runs, and plays an average center field has value. $12 million worth? Well, that depends on your perspective. For the Yankees it's probably worth the money, because that kind of player doesn't grow on trees, and trying to develop one yourself is just... you know... a lot of... work. They would be wise to let him sit a month or two, heal up completely, and then get him back into center field, where they really need him, because Melky Cabrera's bat just ain't cutting mustard out there on an everyday basis. Fun fact: Damon leads all center fielders with 11 stolen bases while yet to be caught stealing once.
16. Vernon Wells, Blue Jays.
And people have the nerve to say there's no such thing as Contract Year Syndrome. How you enjoying that .315 OBP and who-cares attitude, Jays fans?
17. Andruw Jones, Braves.
...and then there's Exhibit A against Contract Year Syndrome. Um, Andruw? The time to start hitting is... yesterday. Nobody's giving no $100 million contract to a guy who can't crack a .720 OPS and even the scouts are starting to murmur has slipped in center (Andruw has been merely an average defender for three years now, ever since Scott Bora$ talked him into bulking up because GMs dig home runs.)
18. Chris Young, Diamondbacks.
I thought this guy was supposed to have a good batting eye? .250/.285/.434. He has power, but he's striking out like Bo Jackson and isn't a very good center fielder. Stathounds like myself love Chris Young, but he has to show us something in the majors. Admire the Diamondbacks for recognizing that he's as good as they have right now and leaving him out there to do his learning on the job.
19. Chris Duffy, Pirates.
20. Mike Cameron, Padres.
You know what the difference is between Chris Duffy and Mike Cameron? Nothing. There is no difference. So far in 2007, they're the same player. Cameron has just a tinge more power, but Duffy runs better and plays better defense. You know what else they have in common? Combined, plus combined with Chris Young, they don't make as much money as...
21. Slappy Pierre, Dodgers.
Yes, your $45 million can buy YOU a below-average defensive center fielder with a .642 OPS! Or you can just find one of the 101 Chris Duffys floating around. Hell, even the Pirates were able to come up with Chris Duffy instead of paying $45 million for a guy who, in his better years, is maybe 10% better than Chris Duffy. Now we're going to proceed to the hideousness that is the “guys that are even worse than Slappy Pierre” club. Come on down!
22. Jim Edmonds, Cardinals.
Jim: I've been rooting for you for a long time. You were an exemplary baseball player, and you can manage one of my minor league teams anytime. I just might vote for you when you come eligible for the Hall of Fame. It's time to hang 'em up. Your friend, Justin
23. Darin Erstad, White Sox.
Did you know Darin Erstad used to be a punter at the University of Nebraska? Did you?? You did!? Why, you incredible trivia hound, you! That, or you've read a newspaper sometime during the past 6 years, during which, every single day, every single sports section in North America runs some form of article pointing out this incredible fact, plus the fact that Darin Erstad is “scrappy” and “a team player” and “a winning player.” Now, I thought a winning player was at least the kind of player that we'd be confident is a better hitter than Tom Glavine, but there I go with my crazy rebel ideas again.
24. Elijah Dukes, Devil Rays.
Remember back when Dukes was the hottest thing since Ricky Martin? Way back in the first 15 minutes of the season? You do? Well, now he's hitting .192/.321/.396 and earning talk about his release, thanks to his nonstop classiness off the field. Dukes is still a player; he's not a .192 hitter, and if you change that to .262 you get a much rosier .262/.393/.466. Dukes isn't a good center fielder, but that kind of stat line plays and then some.
25. Melky Cabrera, Yankees.
These next three guys are statistically very similar; Freel has better hitting stats, but that's mostly the influence of his hitter-friendly home ballpark. Melky rates the edge because his glove has, somewhat surprisingly to this analyst, been superior this season. Don't get me wrong; his glove isn't superior enough to merit playing a .242/.308/.349 bat, but if he can move the ol' average up a few notches, that makes for a very handy fourth outfielder, the kind of useful spare part the late-1990s Yankees had that the late-2000s Yankees don't.
26. Ryan Freel, Reds.
After accounting for park, Freel is just about dead even with Alfredo Amezaga, which is to say, pretty awful. We'll give him the nod on Hustle Points, but Freel is a poor man's Darin Erstad, and seeing as how Darin Erstad is only a poor man's Willy Taveras, that just isn't going to get us anywhere. The idea of Freel as a quality regular is about as dead as can be by now, especially considering that in center field he's already shown himself to be a hazard to himself and others. .251/.313/.363 is the stuff not-so-great utility infielders are made of, and there are 50 guys floating around the minors with better middle-infield gloves than Freel who can put up that kind of hitting line. In Freel's defense, up until now his OBPs have been very playable – around .370 – so his precipitous drop in walk rate is a little baffling. It's worth giving him time to get healthy and see if he can get that OBP back up to where he's a good use of a roster spot. Don't forget: Freel is 31, having been in the minors forever. The end of the line may not be that far off for him.
27. Alfredo Amezaga, Marlins.
We all knew center field was going to be something of a fiasco for the Marlins, but hey, they're not much worse off than the Yankees, and better off than the Red Sox. Amezaga (.249/.305/.326 with average defense) isn't really a major league baseball player, but then, the Marlins have a bit of a shortage of those in the outfield.
28. Coco Crisp, Red Sox.
What the hell happened to this guy? He's stealing bases unusually well—13 for 15 when usually he struggles to take a base half the time he tries—but he can't even manage a .600 OPS. This has been going on for over a year now; it's probably time for the Red Sox to cut bait. The reason they don't is that Crisp has been legitimately fantastic in the field this year, and the Red Sox brass believes that for a center fielder that has more value than is commonly believed, value that shows up in the ERA of the pitching staff. Still... if that's what you're after, you could have had Willy Taveras for less.
29. Rocco Baldelli, Devil Rays.
I think it's time to acknowledge the ship has sailed for the Mark Prior of center fielders.
And the very worst regular center fielder in baseball, and folks, it's not even close...
30. Corey Patterson, Orioles.
.208/.263/.289. Average defense. Folks, Nate McLouth is better than this. Let me say that again: Nate McLouth is better than this. It would be wise for Corey to start thinking about going back to school and getting that degree in insurance sales, because the light at the end of the tunnel, in this case, is an oncoming train. Dear Orioles: Almost every team in baseball has several better center fielders than Corey Patterson kicking around on their bench or in the minors. The Marlins have a couple. The Pirates have at least three. We're not talking about teams run by brilliant management. You might want to give someone a call and see if you can interest them in a 26 year old AA bullpen arm in exchange for one of these guys. Corey Patterson is costing you several wins, and not compared to Grady Sizemore; we're talking compared to Nate McLouth.