In relation to corner outfielders, CF’s have to possess a little more defensive prowess. There is a very obvious reason why players like Pat Burrell, Adam Dunn, and Bobby Abreu–just to use a few names from this current Free Agent market–are placed in left or right, rather than in center. They aren’t fast enough, they don’t take the correct path to the ball enough of the time, and if they did play the position, they would be terrible at it. The Top 5 CF’s are (Included is 2008 OPS+):
- Grady Sizemore: OPS+ 128: If I had to build a team around an individual player, Sizemore would probably be it. Granted, his age factors into that decision a great deal, but so doesn’t the fact that he plays an up-the-middle position and the fact that he is a very good hitter. Sizemore has begun his career with OPS’s of 123, 132, 122, 128, excluding his 43 game 2004 season. The reputation that Sizemore has defensively, actually exceeds his actual skill. Grady seems to be regarded as one of the best defenders in center, but from what I gather, and see in the +/-, is that Sizemore is overrated in this department. Capable? Yes. And Sizemore will probably improve his route-running as he continues to field balls, but right now there are a handful of CF’s that play better defense. By the way, Sizemore is a leadoff hitter, and a leadoff hitter with an OBP of between .370-.390 every season, while adding an abnormal slugging percentage from the first slot in the batting order, well, that helps his team win ballgames.
- Carlos Beltran: OPS+ 129: Carlos Beltran is just about as underrated as they come. Sure, Beltran has never been as great as he was in the 2004 postseason, where he slugged eight home runs, but all he does is produce great year after great year. And to be fair, Beltran’s postseason was about as great as they get, so there is no way he is going to hit like that for entire seasons. Because Beltran never says or implies much through even his body language, he is going to sneak up on everyone’s Hall of Fame ballots. Beltran is just about as good as they come as far as defense in CF. He actually has a strong case for number 1, as he has led ALL OF’s in Win Shares in two of the past three seasons. See, Beltran suffers from JD Drew-syndrome, which is the ability to do things, make them look easy, all while showing little-to-no emotion. Now Beltran is clearly better than Drew, and healthier, but the perception of each is similar. The only reason that Beltran is not number one is because I think very highly of Grady Sizemore. The two could very well be 1) and 1A) if it makes everyone feel better. And Beltran could even have the number one spot all by himself if you wish.
- Curtis Granderson: OPS+ 124: Granderson was banged up in 2008, but what people failed to notice is that he was actually quite good, I am sure that is due partially to him playing on a poor, underacheiving team. I am not sure, however, that Curtis will ever be as good as his 2007 year, but he is still a top of the line CF. The one thing that is scary is his strikeout totals, but each year they have decreased, meaning that he is putting the ball in play more often, at least giving himself a chance to reach base with the speed he has. A player like Pat Burrell may not want to increase his contact rate, because it may cost him in the power department, and increase the amount of double plays he grounds into. But Granderson can actually stay out of double plays, grounding into only 17 in over 500 games played. Granderson is above average in the fielding department, and is a better defender than Sizemore, but not as good as Beltran. But I think that three is a fair spot for CG.
- Josh Hamilton: OPS+ 136: Hamilton is actually getting statistically drilled by John Dewan’s +/- system. Last season, Hamilton was regarded as a below average CF, if one relies on this metric. But Hamilton drills a baseball the same way he has been drilled by defensive metrics. One thing that might concern me a lot is the way Hamilton hits at home in Arlington versus the way he hits on the road. But there may be something to that, so I am not going to look too much into his Home/Road splits just yet. Because as we know, because the media continually tells us, Josh Hamilton has a rough past. I could very well see where a player in his situation could feel overwhelmed on the road, given his what he has experienced. But if it keeps up through his career in Texas, then we could definitely make a case for his hitting being overrated because of the ballpark in which he calls home.
- BJ Upton: OPS+ 107: Upton is the real deal in the talent field, but there is a fine line, at least now, between he and the Top three CF’s. Upton killed the ball in the postseason last year, hitting seven home runs in 16 games. But what Upton has in talent, he lacks in the mental aspect of the game that we know of as baseball. How many times is he going to nonchalantly watch a ball sail over his head because he seems to want to look good making a play? I think he is a better defender than the next guy which would have been Nate Mclouth most likely, (better than the previous guy, too) and that is a large reason he is in this spot. But he does get on base a lot, his .383 OBP is good evidence of that. Upton seems like he may have a real breakout year in 2009 or 2010.