Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Top NL Centerfielders (one more time)

In my previous post, I set out to rank the starting centerfielders in the National League as based on their performances this season. Here is the semi-objective final list once more:

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

The Top Eight

Despite missing 15 games due to injury, Carlos Beltran's production this year gives evidence that he is one of the better centerfielders in the league; his tools and talent give him the opportunity to be a dominant fantasy force, and year after year he is drafted as one. In truth, Beltran has had only a couple truly dominant seasons. Since his rookie year in 1999, he's batted over .300 twice -- his career average is .280 -- and hit more than 30 home runs twice. He had back to back seasons of 40 or more steals in 2003 and 2004, but since then he hasn't stolen more than 18, and as he enters his thirties, he will probably never steal over 30 again. His walks are down this year compared to last year, when he set a career high in home runs, but he's having a great August (1.376 OPS) since coming back from injury, and will probably have his third season of 30 or more home runs. Beltran is a terrific talent, whose upside justifies his annual first round draft status, but he is more likely to continue to be a 25HR-25SB type of player than a 35-35 talent.

Aaron Rowand is one of those players who's much more important to his team in real life than he is to any fantasy team. He's one of those players typically referred to as "hard-nosed", -- though as we can see here, his nose is not nearly hard enough -- which describes his aggressive style of play. Rowand doesn't excel in any one area, but he does most things well. He is headed for a career year this season and will set personal highs in almost every meaningful offensive category. It's hard to see him improve on these numbers next year, and he is most likely to provide value to fantasy owners as a mid-round, third outfielder. He'll probably end up with 30 home runs this year, but, with his reckless play in the outfield, the challenge will be for him to stay healthy enough to produce similar numbers year after year.

Andruw Jones has an outside chance this year at setting a new career high in strikeouts. He'll probably fall a few strikeouts short, but the fact remains that Jones, while never a strong source for batting average, is going to end the season with one of the worst batting averages for a player annually drafted in the top three rounds. Jones has been a decent option for power this year and will probably end up hitting more than 30 home runs for the eighth time in his career, but his slugging percentage remains a good seventy points below his career average. He's not been the slugger that people drafted him this year for -- and he'll never be more than a solid option for homeruns and RBI; he's stolen 32 bases in the last six seasons and he's not getting any quicker -- but it's hard to see him as a .219 hitter for the rest of his career. His defensive skills, though slowly eroding, and his RBI numbers are enough to keep him near the top of this list.

If anyone's going to pass Jones next year, it's the next guy on our list, Chris Young. Young is the first NL rookie to have more than 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in a single season, and he has a good chance to go 25HR and 25SB or even better. The guy has talent. He's gone on a tear in the second half of August, hitting 9 home runs in his last 12 games. Right now, he's miscast as a leadoff hitter, with a .237 batting average and a .289 on base percentage, but he has the talent to improve those skills. He has the power to develop into a middle of the order type of hitter, and his speed makes him a tantalizing fantasy player. ESPN compared him to a young Mike Cameron in their 2007 fantasy forecast, but if he can raise his average thirty points or more, he could put up comparable numbers to Andruw Jones' best seasons.

Jacque Jones is a centerfielder who only holds value in the deepest of leagues. He won't provide you with double-digit steals, and his power has dropped off sharply from recent years, but he his true value can't be measured by the traditional 5 category format, i.e. runs, home runs, RBI, steals, batting average. He's on pace to set a career low in strikeouts for a full season by a wide margin, and he could set a new career high in doubles hit. His defense makes up for his shallow production at the plate; he's always shown good range in the outfield and he ranks second on our list of centerfielders in both range factor and zone ranking. At the age of 32, his skills are eroding, but his improved walk rate and decreased strikeout rate gives hope that he might rebound with a decent season next year.

Despite the fact that Juan Pierre could steal 60 bases this year for the second time in his career, I still wish the Dodgers had spent their $7,000,000 on Gary Matthews Jr. instead. Juan Pierre's speed on the basepaths is his only fantasy asset. He provides good batting average, but is subject to streakiness -- his batting average was at .277 until a 14-game hitting streak raised it thirteen points. He offers no power, has a weak throwing arm, and his range factor is the worst among the centerfielders on our list. He very rarely strikes out, but he's not very patient or selective, as evidenced by the fact that he averages 3.37 pitches per plate appearance, which ranks 164th among all qualified major leaguers. Pierre's fantasy value is inflated by his speed, but while it may be the only thing he provides well, he certainly provides a lot of it.

Before missing a month due to injuring his wrist while sliding into second, Hunter Pence was a leading candidate for the National League Rookie of the Year Award. Ranked as the Astros' number one prospect by Baseball America, Pence began the year in AAA before being promoted to the major leagues in late April. He's shown a great combination of batting average and power, and he has the speed to steal 15-plus bases a year. He might not stick at centerfield due to the fact that his defense profiles better as a corner outfielder, but he has a strong arm and his speed makes up for his poor routes in the outfield.

Josh Hamilton is the feel-good story of the year. The number one draft pick in the 1999 amateur baseball draft, Hamilton's been out of baseball since 2003 due to off-the-field problems with drugs. Cincinatti made him a Rule V draft pick in 2006, and Hamilton responded by hitting .403 in spring training of 2007. Hamilton still has the tools to be a dynamic offensive player; what remains to be seen is if he can stay focused enough to have a productive career. Hamilton has shown that he can be productive -- he's hit 17 homeruns in 255 at bats with a .286 batting average -- but he has missed thirty-six games this year due to injuries. Hamilton is a solid player, and his high-ceiling makes him one to keep an eye on for the next couple of years.

Since it's taken me a while to get this far, I'm going to post the top eight and get to rest, hopefully by the end of the week. As always, I'd love to hear any agreement/disagreement you might have with anything I've said.


Nathanael said...

impressive site ben

Nathanael said...

Not that you care, but I thought I would give my own list:

1. Carlos Beltran (NYM)

2. Andruw Jones (ATL) – I assume this year is an anomaly

3. Hunter Pence (HOU) - nearly .900 OPS w/ speed

4. Mike Cameron (SDG)

5. Chris Young (ARI) – great speed, power, fielding, unbelievably crappy OBP (.286) but still really young

6. Josh Hamilton (CIN) – tons of upside

7. Aaron Rowand (PHI) – fluke career year

8. Bill Hall (MIL)

Huge drop-off

9. Willy Taveras (COL) – Juan Pierre plus walks

10. Dave Roberts (SFG) – because he was Brubaker’s hitting coach

11. Juan Pierre (LAD) – sub .330 OBP four straight years + horrible defense= huge waste of money

12. Nate McLouth (PIT) – semi-impressive blend of speed and power

13. Jim Edmonds (STL)

14. Jacque Jones (CHC) – he was good like 7 years ago, is a malcontent and paid a ton – why rank him so high? (plus he’s not a CF)

15. Alfredo Amezaga (FLA)

16. Nook Logan (WAS) – Ryan Church should be starting in CF

Ben Westrup said...

Thanks for the comments Nate. Loved your comments on how you would rank them; I do care what you guys think, and it's dialoguing like this that's very exciting for me. Some responses to your comments:

"14. Jacque Jones (CHC) – he was good like 7 years ago, is a malcontent and paid a ton – why rank him so high? (plus he’s not a CF)"

I know Jones has typically played a corner outfield position throughout his career, but I listed him as a CF because that's where ESPN has him on the Cubs depth chart and he had started more games at CF than anyone on their roster when I made the list. Pie will probably pass him at some point this season, but I went with Jones anyways. I didn't really take into account his attitude or salary when ranking him, I just went with his skills, and he's been really good defensively compared to everyone else on the list.

Nook Logan and Dave Roberts are another couple of guys who could arguably be replaced on this list seeing as how Wily Mo Pena and Rajai Davis are stealing time from them, respectively.

Thanks for the comments.

brubaker said...

pretty badass site. this feels just like reading the espn blogs. though your lack of respect for padres' players makes me question your existence.