MLB Network Top 10 Right Now Recap & Analysis: Center Field

Throughout January and February, MLB Network will rank the top 10 players right now ahead of the 2019 season. Here at M-SABR, we are specifically interested in MLB Network’s most statistically-influenced list, compiled by “the Shredder.” In this series, we will react to the Shredder’s list and offer our own, based on our own statistical analysis. Check back every Monday and Wednesday for our recaps of the lists, which release at 9:00 PM Eastern every Saturday on MLB Network. Today, we are looking at the Shredder’s top 10 center fielders.

By Ruthvik Avvari

MLB Network’s Top Ten CF Right Now

  1. Mike Trout
  2. Cody Bellinger
  3. Lorenzo Cain
  4. Aaron Hicks
  5. George Springer
  6. Charlie Blackmon
  7. AJ Pollock
  8. Starling Marte
  9. Harrison Bader
  10. Kevin Kiermaier

Reaction to the Shredder

When looking at the Shredder’s list, the main questions that need to be addressed are: (1) did they get the right players, and (2) are they in the right order? In this case, the top of the list not only consists of the right players, but it is also in a fairly accurate order. The two main issues I have are the inclusion of a player who will not be playing predominantly CF next year (Bellinger) and a player who is well known for his defensive prowess, but not his offense (Kiermaier). Based on this year’s performance, he may have made it on this list because of his name and not much more. Otherwise, the other eight have been placed in arguably the correct positions as well, so we can dive into the stats that makes this list so accurate. 

M-SABR’s Top Ten CF

  1. Mike Trout
  2. Lorenzo Cain
  3. Aaron Hicks
  4. George Springer
  5. Charlie Blackmon
  6. Starling Marte
  7. Harrison Bader
  8. Ender Inciarte
  9. AJ Pollock
  10. Mallex Smith

Mike Trout is unbelievable. There are no words to describe his dominance in this league and we play off every MVP-caliber year like it’s something we expect and deserve. Baseball needed Mike Trout to be the face of the sport and he delivers year in and year out. He walked just as many times as he struck out, while hitting .312/.460/.628 with a 191 wRC+! He hit better than 91% of hitters in the league! If not for a sensational performance by a certain Markus Lynn “Mookie” Betts, Trout may have won his third MVP award. Trout has been in the top 2 in MVP voting in 6 of the 7 seasons he played more than 100 games in, and was 4th in a 2017 season cut short by injuries. Trout holding the number one spot in this list is pretty obvious given that he’s only 27 and, barring injuries, shows no signs of slowing down. 

Lorenzo Cain and Aaron Hicks had phenomenal seasons with the bat, but Cain provided an exceptional glove with an 8.7 UZR, which was higher than his last two seasons combined. It’s spectacular coming from a 32-year-old on a new team, but his contributions were a key role in a deep playoff push for the Brewers. George Springer brings good defense along with a power bat in the top of the loaded Astros lineup, so it’s no surprise to see him round out the top 5, but seeing Blackmon at 6 is surprising given his 119 runs scored and 29 HR. Blackmon had an abysmal -12.3 UZR in CF so there’s no surprise he’s lower, and he shows no sign of improvement as he has had a negative UZR every season he played CF.

AJ Pollock had a great start to the season until injuries derailed a third of it, but when he was healthy, he was raking for the Diamondbacks. He still ended the year with a 110 wRC+ but his defense left us asking for more with a just below average -0.7 UZR. It’s no surprise to see him in the top ten because of the opportunities he will get in the middle of the Dodgers roster, but his defense does leave a lot of questions as to how many more seasons he can play center. Starling Marte played a lot of center field this season and had very solid results, with a 3.2 UZR  and a 113 wRC+ so it’s surprising to see him that low on the Shredder’s list. The young Harrison Bader will definitely be a core piece of the Cardinals for the next few years. Bader is a prime candidate to jump into the top 5 next season since he was as good defensively as he was with the bat. His 106 wRC+ is a huge improvement from the 70 wRC+ he posted in a smaller sample last year while his 9.1 UZR also drastically increased from -0.1 the year before. Although he has only had one solid season under his belt, the potential to improve in the Cardinals roster has him ahead of Pollock, who contributes very little on the defensive side. 

Moving down the list, the selections become a bit more tricky. Defense is a very important aspect for center fielders. It is one of the few positions in the field where a defensive whiz can carry as much value to a team as 110 wRC+ hitter. If a hitter can’t hit for power, he makes it up by removing home runs from the field. Let’s compare UZR, where 0 is average, batting splits with wRC+ and fWAR.

CF A: .265/.325/.380, 90 wRC+, 2.9 fWAR, 7.2 UZR

CF B: .217/.282/.370, 78 wRC+, 1.6 fWAR, 9.8 UZR

CF C: .296/.367/.406, 117 wRC+, 3.4 fWAR, 1.0 UZR

At first look, CF C is a much better hitter while A and B have significantly better defensive stats. A and C had a much better fWAR than B, whose value was mostly due to his defensive presence, with an excellent 9.8 UZR. CF B is Kevin Kiermaier, who made the list at number 10 but had an abysmal offensive season to go with a typical defensive performance. CF A is Braves CF Ender Inciarte, who was a catalyst for that team, getting on base in nearly a third of his plate appearances, while stealing 28 bases and providing elite defense. CF C is the new CF for the Mariners, Mallex Smith, who broke out offensively with 40 SBs and a solid 117 wRC+. While is still some room for improvement on defense, Smith is still above average compared to the rest of the league. His ability to get in scoring position is a huge boost for the rebuilding Mariners. If Smith builds on his 2018 form, he will easily cement himself as a top 10 CF in the league. 

Outside of Kiermaier, the Shredder looks to have a pretty accurate list of the top CF in the league. Most of the players remained the same in the M-SABR list, with only Inciarte and Smith failing to make the Shredder’s list. The rationale for Bellinger not making the cut has nothing to do with his regression offensively, as he would still be a top 5 hitter in CF, but more of a position issue. He started 85 games in 1B last year, and will play a lot more this year with AJ Pollock coming to Los Angeles. Another popular name excluded because of position flexibility is Brandon Nimmo, whose .400 OBP has the Mets excited about his future there, but with Juan Lagares and Keon Broxton available to play stellar defense in CF, it’s hard to expect Nimmo to play CF rather than RF next season. 

It will be interesting to see this top ten next year, as we can see some young guys shoot up (i.e. Smith and Bader), while the older studs try to keep them down and maintain their spots in the Top 10 (i.e. Cain and Blackmon).

Categories: 2019 MLB Network Top 10 Right Now

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