The Determinator: Center Fielders: #1-5 + Honorable Mentions
Before every season, baseball minds across the sport test their skills with crunching numbers, diving deep into analytics, and reviewing game footage in order to determine who the best players are in the game. Often times they give their analysis fun names; one of the most notable being The Shredder from MLB Network.
Sometimes the results astound people- like in 2015 Hanely Ramirez was rated the top Left Fielder in the MLB before ever playing there. Other times, the results are unsurprising- spoiler alert, but Mike Trout was probably the best CF in baseball, and most likely will be again.
Every weekday at 4:00 PM throughout the next few weeks, I will be posting my own analysis on who the top players at each position truly are.
Welcome to The Determinator.
Today I will reveal the Top-5 Center Fielders in the MLB, as well as explaining my methodology for these rankings. Tomorrow will be the #6-10 Right Fielders in the MLB.
The Determinator: My General Methodology
The Determinator is a ranking system that is built upon the analyzation of 16 carefully chosen stats through a very simplistic system of comparisons. Some of these stats are more classical (Games Played, Home Runs, etc.), others are more advanced (wRC+, WAR, etc.). From this come 7 offensive stats, 4 defensive, 2 baserunning, and 3 general stats, set to contribute towards the importance of each part of the game.
The Offensive stats are: AVG/OBP/SLG, wRC, wRC+, HR, and Off (Fangraphs)
The Defensive stats are: Fielding, DRS, UZR (or Framing for Catchers), and Def (Fangraphs)
The Baserunning stats are: Stolen Bases and BsR (Fangraphs)
The Overall stats are: Games Played, Innings at Position, and fWAR (Fangraphs)
After determining this list of statistics, I then had to input each into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet I sorted how each player did in each statistic from best-to-worst. If you were top 5 in a category, you got ranked as a ‘Green’. Top 6-10 was a ‘Yellow’. And, Top 11-15 was labelled as a ‘Red’. The number of each ranking was counted- so it was possible to come out with a score of zero- and given values of 5, 3, and 1 respectively.
Key Note: If player/s across a statistic had the same numbers across a border- for example the 5th and 6th players with the most Home Runs- then they would both be counted as the better ranking- in this case both ‘Green’ or 5 points- and replace one spot from the following ranking- in this case a ‘Yellow’ or 3 points. This could also stretch some statistics to include more ‘Red’ players who had equal stats to the 15th best.
Additionally, if no stats were recorded in a counting statistic that could fit into a ranking- as is seen with Catchers and Stolen Bases- then no ranking is given to those players. This would greatly increase the number of points given out, and lessen the value of each point. This is not true for advanced metrics that can produce negative values- as is seen with Catchers and BsR.
The results were then tallied, sorted from greatest to least, and a ranking was created.
Finally, player age, 2020 salary, and contract status, were all not considered in this experiment. This is entirely statistic-based.
The Determinator: Center Field-Specific Information
To easily work through and cut-down the list of 197 different players who played any amount of time at center field during the season, I set-up two separate boundaries for center fielders:
They must’ve had at least 250 PA’s during the 2019 season.
They must’ve had at least 500 innings in center field during the 2019 season.
This limited the number of center fielders down to 32.
However, without further ado, let’s get to numbers 6 through 10:
If a player led a statistic for their position, it will be bolded.
Number 5: Victor Robles, Washington Nationals
Top-5: Games, SB, Innings, DRS
Top-10: OBP, wRC, WAR, Fld, UZR, Def
Top-15: AVG, HR, wRC+, BsR, Off
Total Score: 43Embed from Getty Images
Victor Robles first made in to the MLB in 2017 for a brief stint (13 Games) and again in 2018 (21 Games), but didn’t break the prospect eligibility, meaning 2019 was his official rookie season. He was very underrated by the BBWAA in R.O.Y. voting as he came up 6th (of 6 who got votes) with only a 1% share. However, The Determinator is able to correct the mistakes of the writers with a solid evaluation of what the 22-Year-Old brings to the table. He led all CF’ers in DRS (22), and defense is where a majority of his value comes from as he had a wRC+ of 91, which isn’t great but is average for CF’ers. It will be interesting to see how Robles plays in this official sophomore season in the MLB, as the Nationals are sure to want to see an improvement with the bat.
Number 4: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
Top-5: AVG, OBP, SLG, HR, wRC, wRC+, BsR, Off, WAR
Top-15: Games, DRS
Total Score: 50Embed from Getty Images
It isn’t hard to see that Mike Trout is one of the best players at the Center Field position across the MLB, as he won his 3rd AL MVP, and has Black Ink in 7 different stats: OBP (0.438), SLG (0.645), HR (45), wRC (136), wRC+ (180), Off (68.2), fWAR (8.6). There is truly only one reason why Mike Trout isn’t the #1 Center Fielder and it’s because his defense metrics fall flat, as he only recorded a Top-15 finish (or better) in DRS (-1). He was a net positive on Defense (0.9) but with such low numbers- and center field being a position where defense alone can net a player a starting job- this led to a lack of point accumulation across a few key areas of importance to The Determinator.
I’ll come back to this later.
Number 3: George Springer, Houston Astros
Top-5: AVG, OBP, SLG, HR, wRC, wRC+, Off, WAR, Fld
Top-10: DRS, UZR, Def
Total Score: 54Embed from Getty Images
2019 was the season where George Springer played in his second least amount of games (122), yet still provided great rate statistics across the offensive board, and good statistics on defense. While not leading any statistics from CF’ers (thanks in large part to Mike Trout), Springer’s triple slash and following metrics all show a player worthy of a Top-7 AL MVP finish (16% Share): 0.292/0.383/0.591, with 39 HR’s, along with a great wRC (109), wRC+ (156), Off (40.9), and fWAR (6.5). These were all career-best statistics for Springer, all at an age where this would be expected (Age 29) from a player. With a $21,000,000 contract for 2020, it will be interesting to see his value in free agency going into his age-31 season after this season.
Number 1 (Tied): Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks
Top-5: AVG, OBP, SLG, HR, wRC, wRC+, Off, WAR
Top-10: Games, Fld, DRS, UZR, Def
Total Score: 56Embed from Getty Images
Ketel Marte is a player who absolutely came out of nowhere in 2019, hitting far above anything he had previously shown during his years with the Mariners and Diamondbacks since 2015. With a position-leading AVG (0.329) and 32 HR’s, this played a major factor in his top rankings across the other offensive statistics as he neared a 1.000 OPS and was 4th in NL MVP voting (47% Share). Marte’s profile, if he can continue playing at this newfound level in 2020 is very similar to that of George Springer as a bat-first player (Off of 46.0) with very capable defense (Def of 6.7) for his position. He’ll only be 26 in 2020, and while most projections expect much less from him next season, finding an in-between from last year and his previous norms will still come out a great CF’er for most any team in the MLB. The question is whether or not he’ll be playing at CF, 2B, or SS in 2020 however.
Number 1 (Tied): Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves
Top-5: Games, OBP, SLG, HR, SB, wRC, wRC+, BsR, Off, WAR
Top-15: Fld, Innings, DRS
Total Score: 56Embed from Getty Images
Funny enough, Ronald Acuna Jr. was voted 5th in the NL MVP for 2019 (37% Share), right behind Ketel Marte with whom he shares a #1 ranking from The Determinator. As with Marte and Springer, these Top-3 players all have very similar styles of play with being a bat-first player who provides adequate defense, but where Acuna separates himself is with his base-running (Off of 33, Def of -1.6, BsR of 8.1). After a great rookie season in 2018 where he won Rookie of the Year, Acuna continued to improve, even though his numbers show a bit of regression: 0.280/0.365/0.518 with 41 HR’s and a 5.6 fWAR. Acuna is also pretty versatile as an outfielder in general, logging nearly 200 innings in RF and 350 innings in LF last season as well. Should he be the #1 CF’er? In 2021 he could truly prove that he is.
Before I create any expectations, Aaron Hicks did not place on The Determinator’s list. He didn’t accumulate enough at-bats (221) or innings in center field (499.1), and I am unfortunately extremely rigid with my limits or else this data wouldn’t be as accurate as I would’ve cut corners to include Yankees. That being said, let’s check out some honorable mentions:
Kevin Pillar, San Francisco Giants – CF Leader in Games (161), Scored 27 Points, Ranked #11 (2-Way Tie with Manuel Margot)
Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa Bay Rays – Scored 26 Points, Ranked #13
Harrison Bader, St. Louis Cardinals – CF Leader in Fld (12.9), UZR (12.9), Def (14.5), Scored 24, Ranked #15
Jason Heyward, Chicago Cubs – Scored 22, Ranked #16
Jarrod Dyson, Arizona Diamondbacks – CF Leader in BsR (8.9), Scored 18 Points, Ranked #17
Jackie Bradley Jr., Boston Red Sox – CF Leader in Innings (1247), Scored 15 Points, Ranked #20
A.J. Pollock, Los Angeles Dodgers – Scored 14 Points, Ranked #21
Mallex Smith, Seattle Mariners – CF Leader in SB (46), Scored 11 Points, Ranked #22
So, how is it possible that the AL MVP Mike Trout was 4th?
So, as with my statements in The Determinator: Left Field (#1-5) and talking about how Giancarlo Stanton did not place on the list, an obvious flaw came present with the center fielding list.
A player like Mike Trout, who was heaps better than his Center Field peers in most every offensive statistic found himself falling to 4th place overall due to his defense being slightly below average this past season. And I don’t believe the metrics used are invalid (7 Off to 4 Def to 2 Baserunning to 3 General).
However, I think the calculations for this exercise were a bit too elementary.
Hypothetically, one player could have had the #1 Slugging Percentage of 0.645 and the #5 player could have a SLG of 0.518. Both great numbers, but one is astronomically better. Yet, there were counted the same. Both players would have received +5 points. (This was the difference between Mike Trout and Ronald Acuna Jr.)
While this tended to work well for most positions, and was strangely in-line with fWAR (as the Top-10 players were almost always Top-10 in fWAR as well; same with Top-5), this was not a system that rewarded dominance.
A much better calculation, albeit a much more time consuming and tedious measure to calculate, would have been to find the mean of each statistic and determine a metric that gives the percentile rank, or Standard Deviation from the mean, for a player in that position. Taking that number would then give a much more complete profile of the dominance of players by position and would have easily placed Mike Trout in the #1 column where he belongs.
Echo this sentiment with the 3B list, as Alex Bregman should have been much closer to the #1 rank than he otherwise was (#6).
The Determinator is a way I used to determine the best players at each position. Like any metric or formula, I am sure it has flaws. No statistical compilation is perfect. That being said, The Determinator, seems pretty effective at assigning player values. I’m pleased with what I have found using this method and hope this is a conversation starter for many.
Click here to see the #6-10 Center Fielders.
Check back in tomorrow at 4:00 PM to see the #6-10 Right Fielders in the MLB.