The Determinator: Center Fielders: #6-10
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 #6-10 Center Fielders in the MLB, as well as explaining my methodology for these rankings. Tomorrow, will be the #1-5 Center Fielders in the MLB, plus honorable mentions.
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 left 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 10: Brett Gardner, New York Yankees
Top-10: Games, OBP, SLG, wRC, wRC+, Off, WAR
Top-15: BsR, Fld, Innings, UZR, Def
Total Score: 31Embed from Getty Images
After Derek Jeter’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame last night, a lot of the talk about how good Derek Jeter was during his 20-year career was due to his consistency. Emulating that pattern is none other than current Yankee outfielder, Brett Gardner. Since 2013, Gardner has averaged 3.12 fWAR (3.8 bWAR), with his farthest deviation from that being in 2017 when he produced 4.0 fWAR (or 4.9 bWAR), so when straying far from his norm it tends to be a positive thing for Brett Gardner. It should be of little surprise that Gardner made it onto this list after his fantastic age-35 season with a triple-slash of 0.251/0.325/0.503 (0.829 OPS) with 28 HR’s, a wRC+ of 115, a 15.2 Off, and a 3.6 fWAR. The only question is if Gardner will continue a late-career resurgence or if 2019 was his last great hurrah.
Number 9: Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins
Top-5: Fld, DRS, UZR, Def
Top-10: AVG, SLG, wRC+, Off, WAR
Total Score: 36Embed from Getty Images
Only playing in 87 games usually doesn’t earn a player a top ranking according to The Determinator, but in the case of Buxton it shows how much potential, and how could he could be, if he put down a completely healthy season. Outside of 2014 where Buxton played 140 games (and placed 18th in MVP voting, the only MVP votes in his career), Buxton has averaged only 63.25 games per year in his four other seasons (with 2014, that goes up to 78.6). Truly, it is a matter of health to see if Buxton can be a top player in the game. His defense speaks for itself, Fld (8.7), DRS (10), URZ (8.7), and a Def (9.9) and his offense (7.5) is nothing to sneeze at: 0.262/0.314/0.513 with 10 HR’s and a 111 wRC+, but if he doesn’t stay healthy his career will join so many others sad stories of players with top tier potential who never could stay healthy and achieve greatness with it.
Number 7 (Tied): Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates
Top-5: AVG, SB, wRC, Innings
Top-10: OBP, SLG, HR, wRC+, Off, WAR
Total Score: 39Embed from Getty Images
While Starling Marte is a good player in the MLB, his previous 80-game suspension in 2017 for PED’s will always loom over him. However, that doesn’t scare away some teams as this offseason, Marte has been an option for some teams on the trade market, with the New York Mets continuing talks to acquire him continuing as of 3 days ago. When it comes to his value on the field, regardless of PED’s and trade rumors, Marte is a good-to-great hitting player, who will make the necessary plays but lacks premier defense. He accumulated 3.0 fWAR in 2019, alongside an Off of 17.8 and a 119 wRC+, all good numbers that indicate good-to-greatness, all in-line with Brett Gardner and short-seasoned Byron Buxton, but at only 31 years-old as his peak is starting to fade, and with his past success (5.0 bWAR average from 2013-2016) Marte leaves me wanting more.
Number 7 (Tied): Lorenzo Cain, Milwaukee Brewers
Top-5: Games, Innings, DRS, UZR, Def
Top-10: OBP, SB, wRC, Fld
Top-15: AVG, WAR
Total Score: 39Embed from Getty Images
Tied with Marte comes Lorenzo Cain, who also had a disappointing 2019 season as compared to what he has shown in the past. From 2013-2018, Cain averaged 5.1 bWAR, albeit with some very distinct highs (7.2 bWAR in 2015) and lows (3.0 bWAR in 2016). While he was great on defense Fld (7), DRS (20), UZR (7), Def (9) and won the NL Gold Glove in Centerfield, his fWAR was a mere 1.5. It wasn’t even that he suffered injuries which led him to such a low total WAR, as he played in 148 games (the second most in his career), it was just that for whatever reason, Lorenzo Cain didn’t have it fully in 2019. Hopefully this is an outlier year for the defensive stud in centerfield.
Number 6: Ramon Laureano, Oakland Athletics
Top-5: AVG, SLG, wRC+, Off, WAR
Top-10: OBP, HR, wRC, BsR, Innings
Total Score: 41Embed from Getty Images
Speaking of defense studs comes Ramon Laureano, a 2nd year player who had more of the most unnoticed rookie seasons that I can remember, truly because I don’t remember ever hearing about him in 2018. In his rookie year, in only 48 games, Laureano accumulated 2.1 fWAR (and 2.1 bWAR). In 2019, while he didn’t keep the same pace (which would’ve been about a 7 WAR season), he did make his way into noticeability with some absolutely fantastic defensive plays. To see a few, check out this highlight reel put together by the MLB YouTube page. Outside of those great plays, Laureano was also an above-average bat, hitting to a triple-slash of 0.288/0.340/0.521 with 24 HR’s, a wRC+ of 126, an Off of 21.1, all coming out to 3.9 fWAR. His defensive metrics aren’t great overall (a total Def of -1.4), but that being said, Laureano is still one player I am looking forward to watching in 2020.
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.
Check back in tomorrow at 4:00 PM to see the #1-5 Center Fielders in the MLB.