Best Center Fielders of 2008

Other positions:  1B | 2B | SS | 3B | DH | LF | RF | CA

Like I did last year, I'm going to spend the few two weeks discussing the top ten players at each position based on 2008 performances.  This year I'm using Justin's stats, which have all the nice features of the home-brewed stats I calculated last year, but with the added benefit of making Justin do all the work:

  • BaseRuns-derived offensive linear weights, with park adjustments.
  • League-adjusted replacement-level, since AL pitching is stronger than NL pitching.
  • Proper position adjustments using the CA - SS - 2B/3B/CF - LF/RF - 1B - DH spectrum.
  • Combined STATS and BIS zone ratings converted to runs to measure fielding.

Players are listed at the position they played the most, but the defensive numbers from all positions are included, and players' contributions to multiple teams are combined. For the top ten players at each position, I've listed their offensive contribution above replacement level and their defensive contribution (position adjustment plus fielding relative to position) compared to average.  Position and fielding are broken out in the table at the end.  If you add offense plus position, you'll get a number with the same use as VORP, but better.

To help you put the Total Value number in perspective, here are some benchmarks given a full season of playing time:

  • League-average is about 20 runs above replacement.
  • The cut-off for true All-Stars in the 40 run range.
  • Top 5 MVP candidates are worth at least 70 runs above replacement.
  • MVP winners have been in the 90-100 run range the past few years.

 Let's get rolling with the top ten center fielders of 2008 (2007 numbers here):

10. Marlon Byrd (27 off, 4 def, 31 tot) -- Not to ruin the surprise, but Byrd is the first of two Rangers' center fielders to make the list, an impressive feat in only 462 plate appearances.  He spent significant time in all three outfield spots with about half his innings in center.

9. Nate McLouth (45 off, -14 def, 32 tot) -- I have a hard time calling McLouth a center fielder, and a quick peek at his fielding ratings shows why: he's really a corner outfielder playing out of position.  But an .853 OPS is valuable anywhere on the diamond and he nearly broke the 700 PA barrier.

8. Cody Ross (23 off, 9 def, 32 tot) -- I've written about Ross before, and he's a great candidate for the title of "best player not on anyone's radar".  It takes a lot for me to be impressed with a guy who posted an OBP below league-average.

7. Torii Hunter (33 off, 3 def, 36 tot) -- For everyone out there who loves consistency, Hunter's your guy, at least on offense.  As is to be expected, his range in center continued to drop in 2008, but he's still average out there.

6. B.J. Upton (36 off, 1 def, 37 tot) -- Upton ranked ninth in last year's center field top ten list and I'd be surprised if he didn't crack the top five next year.  His natural grace has led many ignorant observers to believe he's lazy in the field, but learning to take better routes is really all that stands between him and being a significantly above-average defender.  And a healthy shoulder is all that stands between him and a return to 25+ homeruns.

5. Shane Victorino (30 off, 10 def, 40 tot) -- Victorino was a stud in right field last year and had the same defensive value in center this year.  Nice job, Phillies.  A .020 point improvement in SLG and a drop in league-wide offense explains Victorino's ten run jump in value in 2008.

4. Josh H Hamilton (51 off, 0 def, 51 tot) -- Surprisingly, we're not hearing about a Home Run Derby jinx for Hamilton, even though he followed up 95 RBIs pre-break with 35 RBIs post-break.  No need to worry, though, as his OBP actually improved in the second half and his SLG only dropped .050 points.  While the Rangers could certainly use Edinson Volquez's arm right now, Hamilton was the more valuable player this year and should remain so in the future.

3. Curtis Granderson (47 off, 5 def, 51 tot) -- While ARod ran away with last year's AL MVP, Granderson was actually within ten runs of total value, thanks to his disgusting range in center.  For whatever reason (some Tigers fan claim it's because of prehis increased size) the zone ratings didn't see that range this year.  He's still a tty good baseball player.

2. Carlos Beltran (53 off, 13 def, 66 tot) -- No matter what the Manhattan-based publications tell you, Beltran is one of the ten best position players in the world.  He gets on base, hits for power, steals bases without being thrown out, plays center field, and runs down everything out there.  Given what Manny and Tex are going to sign for this year (and what Andruw Jones signed for last year), his $18MM yearly salary is a steal.

1. Grady Sizemore (64 off, 11 def, 76 tot) -- I probably shouldn't give away my pick for MVP in the very first article of the series, but this isn't the first time I've blown the surprise.  Sizemore is very similar to Beltran in almost all phases of the game, and his ten run advantage in 2008 comes mostly from putting up his offensive numbers against tougher pitching and coming to bat 40 additional times.

Here's the breakdown of the top twenty-five center fielders in 2008.  Any difference of less than five runs is meaningless, and I like to see a ten run difference before making any bold claims about who was better:

Rank Player Off Pos Field Total
1 Grady Sizemore 64 2 9 76
2 Carlos Beltran 53 2 11 66
3 Curtis Granderson 47 2 3 51
4 Josh H Hamilton 51 0 0 51
5 Shane Victorino 30 2 8 40
6 B.J. Upton 36 2 -2 37
7 Torii Hunter 33 2 1 36
8 Cody Ross 23 1 9 32
9 Nate McLouth 45 2 -16 32
10 Marlon Byrd 27 -2 6 31
11 Jody Gerut 27 1 3 31
12 Mike Cameron 23 2 1 26
13 Matt R Kemp 32 -1 -7 24
14 Chris B Young 14 2 6 22
15 Carlos A Gomez 5 2 14 21
16 Skip M Schumaker 20 -2 2 20
17 Rick Ankiel 25 1 -7 19
18 Jacoby Ellsbury 21 -2 -1 18
19 Adam L Jones 9 2 6 17
20 Scott A Hairston 18 -1 0 17
21 Gabe Kapler 13 -1 3 16
22 Reed Johnson 12 0 2 14
23 Jim Edmonds 16 2 -6 14
24 Vernon Wells 23 2 -12 13
25 William Venable 4 0 8 12

And finally, because it's amusing for everyone who doesn't root for a team with one of these players, here's the bottom five in 2008 production:

Player Off Pos Field Total
Andruw Jones -14 1 2 -11
Corey Patterson -14 1 3 -10
Michael R Bourn -7 2 1 -5
Dexter D Fowler -3 0 -1 -4
Joey R Gathright -2 1 -3 -4
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