Monday, August 20, 2007

Ranking NL Centerfielders

I had a discussion with John Brubaker the other day regarding who was the best centerfielder (CF) in the NL West; he contended that San Diego’s Mike Cameron’s defense and veteran experience made him the top candidate, while I countered that Arizona’s Chris Young’s speed and power made up for Cameron’s advantage in batting average and defense. (As you might be able to tell, our choice of options were not plentiful.)

We argued for a while, – I even brought the Dodgers’ Juan Pierre into the discussion, before conceding that his popgun arm and inability to make good reads on fly balls force him from contention – but no agreement could be reached.

This prompted me to wonder: who is the best centerfielder in the NL? (I expanded the question to encompass the entire National League in order to make the project more interesting. I also believe that looking at all of the centerfielders in the entire NL raises some other points of interest that will be addressed further on.)

Since this is ostensibly a blog about fantasy baseball, let’s see what my Yahoo fantasy league rankings have to say on the subject.

1. Aaron Rowand (PHI)
2. Carlos Beltran (NYM)
3. Juan Pierre (LAD)
4. Chris Young (ARI)
5. Mike Cameron (SDG)
6. Andruw Jones (ATL)
7. Hunter Pence (HOU)
8. Willy Taveras (COL)
9. Josh Hamiliton (CIN)
10. Bill Hall (MIL)
11. Dave Roberts (SFG)
12. Jacque Jones (CHC)
13. Nate McLouth (PIT)
14. Alfredo Amezaga (FLA)
15. Jim Edmonds (STL)
16. Nook Logan (WAS)

A few former all stars, some solid veterans, promising rookies, but not a very exciting group of players. Most of these guys could be found in the middle to late rounds of a standard 5X5 category, 12 team league. Not many could be called fantasy studs – only half of them are in the top 500 among all players -- except for Beltran, and his numbers are down from previous seasons.

But because my Yahoo league only measures players’ abilities to produce in five categories (batting average, runs, homeruns, RBI, and stolen bases), we cannot take these rankings as a true measure of our centerfielders’ abilities. We could point to this list and say that Aaron Rowand has had the best fantasy season of all NL centerfielders so far, but, for baseball purposes, that doesn’t help us.

In order to get a more accurate representation of these players’ “real-world” worth, I went to ESPN’s player rater webpage. In a nutshell, the player rater rates a player’s abilities in several different weighted categories, and based on these rankings, assigns them a number from 0-100. (For a more detailed explanation, go to

Here are ESPN’s rankings for the NL centerfielders, along with their ratings:

1. Rowand -46.0
2. A. Jones -24.5
3. Beltran -23.7
4. Young -19.9
5. Pierre -15.8
6. Cameron -14.6
7. Taveras -14.0
8. Pence -11.9
9. Roberts -7.5
10. Hall -5.5
11. Edmonds -5.0 (tied)
11. J. Jones -5.0 (tied)
12. Amezaga -4.5
13. Logan -1.7
14. McLouth -.08
(Note: Hamilton does not have a rating because he has not appeared in half his team’s games due to injuries.)

Our two lists are fairly similar; both Yahoo and ESPN agree that Rowand is having the best season for an NL centerfielder this year. The biggest discrepancy occurs with ESPN’s placement of Andruw Jones at number two, four points higher than Yahoo’s ranking. I find it odd that Jones would rank so high on this list, mostly because of his horribly dismal numbers in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, all of which are at least 40 points lower than his career numbers. Some might point to Jones’ defensive prowess as his saving grace on this list, but the ESPN player rater does not account for defense, which means, as a full measure of a player’s skill and talent, it is not as comprehensive of a ranking as we would like.

To try and gauge these players’ defensive talents, I looked at two stats found on ESPN’s website: range factor (RF) and zone rating (ZR). Range factor is determined by (putouts + assists)/innings played. We can use this stat to determine how many total outs a player has participated in. Zone Rating is a stat that tracks the percentage of balls fielded by a player in his “defensive zone”, as measured by STATS, Inc. I’m not entirely certain what the term “defensive zone” denotes, but STATS, Inc. is a well known company devoted to statistical analysis in sports, and they seem to know their stuff. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, since both Yahoo and Fox Sports are listed as clients on their website.

Using these stats, I ranked the players accordingly:

1. Beltran......2.95 .919
2. J. Jones.....3.00 .912
3. Amezaga......3.09 .888
4. Logan........2.83 .899
5. Rowand.......2.73 .900
6. A. Jones.....2.77 .882
7. McLouth......2.75 .891
8. Hamilton.....2.76 .875
9. Pence........2.77 .855
10. Young.......2.56 .877
11. Pierre......2.36 .886
12. Hall........2.71 .843
13. Cameron.....2.46 .871
14. Edmonds.....2.61 .855
15. Roberts.....2.64 .846
16. Taveras.....2.71 .815

One caveat: Six of the players on this list had almost twice as many innings played at the CF position as the rest. They are Rowand, Beltran, Young, Pierre, A. Jones, Cameron and Hall. Because they had logged more numbers at their position, I gave their stats a little more weight when making this list. For example, A. Jones and McLouth are fairly similar in RF, but McLouth’s ZR is .09 better than Jones’. I ranked Jones higher than McLouth because he has had more opportunities to make mistakes than McLouth has had.

In looking at this list, we can see why teams continue to start certain players despite their lack of offensive production. Amezaga, J. Jones and Logan all ranked near the bottom on our offensively-based lists, but while they might not draw crowds with they’re hitting ability, they do have value out on the field.

Also revealing is that a few players’ once touted for their defensive abilities in past season, find themselves out of the top five on our list. Again this is only based on two different statistics, but it is telling that both Cameron and Edmonds are below their career numbers in RF and ZR. Cameron has career marks of 2.79 in RF and .901 in ZR, while Edmonds has marks of 2.72 and .893. Andruw Jones appears to be merely average according to our lists; both his RF and ZR rank 5th and 8th on our list respectively. For comparison, the average RF among qualified CF’s is 2.58; the average ZR is .892.

Both Cameron and Edmonds are in the later stages of their career, while all of the innings Jones has logged since he entered the majors at the age of 19 have surely taken a toll on his body. I am not prepared to call Andruw Jones overrated defensively, but it is something to look into for another time. It might be time to call Jones overrated as a player, at least from a fantasy standpoint. He’s a career .263 hitter who’s only hit above .300 once, and he hasn’t reached double digits in steals since 2001. We could forgive these faults if he hit for power, but he needs to show that he can consistently hit more than 40 homeruns in a season.

So, after taking into account our many lists and rankings, here is how I would rank the NL centerfielders, based on this season:

1. Beltran
2. Rowand
3. A. Jones
4. Young
5. J. Jones
6. Pierre
7. Pence
8. Hamilton
9. Amezaga
10. Cameron
11. Hall
12. Logan
13. McLouth
14. Taveras
15. Edmonds
16. Roberts

(Again, this list is two parts objective, one part subjective, and I’m willing to listen to any disagreements and arguments against what I’ve put down.)

Apparently even after all my talk of overrating Andruw Jones, I still put him second on the list. Well, part of that is the level of talent he is facing in the NL, and the other part is the fact that he is still fairly good, crappy batting average and all.

Well, this has gotten pretty long. I’ll get back to this list at a later time with thoughts on each player on the list, – such as “Is Edmonds the worst starting CF in the NL?” – and I’ll compare the level of outfield talent in the NL to the AL. Or maybe I’ll do something completely different, who knows?

I’d love to hear thoughts and comments on this list, suggestions on where I went wrong, or, if you vehemently disagree and are predisposed towards crude and demeaning language, directions on where I might forcibly and violently put my opinions. All comments and criticisms are equally welcome.

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