January 5, 2010
Center Field Rankings Review
Center field was frustrating in 2009. It was supposed to be one of the deepest positions available, but thanks to either brand-new injuries or lingering ones, the entire top of the list was decimated and center field ended up losing some of its depth. Today we'll get into which rankings were due to problems with the thought process and which ones had more to do with trips to see the trainer.
Before diving in to the rankings, I also want to start some discussion about what it is we should do about the lists themselves. Should the format change? Should it stay the same? Would you prefer something like star ratings and tiers, like those that Kevin Goldstein uses in his Top 11 Prospects list, or do you want to retain the basic 1-20 ranking system? For that matter, are 20 players at each position enough? Let's get all of these ideas out in the open now so that there's plenty of time to accommodate requests by the time ranking season rolls around. That way, I provide you with the service you ask for, and still have time to do the things I plan on doing for you outside of that. Reply in the comments, ask me in chats, e-mail me, or talk to me via Twitter (@Marc_Normandin) over the next few months with your thoughts; I may not respond to all of you, but I will keep track of your replies for the purposes of 2010's rankings.
1. Carlos Beltran (.293/.385/.513 PECOTA) .325/.415/.500: Beltran's season was cut in half by a knee injury that could have been much worse than it ended up being. He hit very well while healthy, in fact, a little too well thanks to a BABIP that drove his batting average up. If he had been healthy, there would be little need for justification of this ranking.
2. B.J. Upton (.267/.367/.424 PECOTA) .241/.313/.373: I felt PECOTA was cheating Upton in its projection, because he played with a shoulder injury throughout 2008, one that was supposed to have been cleared up by 2009. "Supposed to" is the operative phrase here, as Upton admitted in September, while dealing with other injuries, that his shoulder was "not fully there... sometimes it aches, sometimes it feels tired-it's just never that consistency I'm looking for." I received a lot of negative feedback about ranking Upton as the second-best center fielder, and my main argument had to do with how his shoulder kept him from his potential all year. If that, plus other injuries, kept him from driving the ball once again in 2009, then I'm tempted to think he's going to be very undervalued in 2010. Now let's just hope that his shoulder is actually healed next year, and not just supposed to be.
3. Grady Sizemore (.269/.368/.494 PECOTA) .248/.343/.445: Sizemore was another center fielder who had to put up with a slew of injuries during the year, starting with an abdominal injury in spring training and ending with arthroscopic surgery on his elbow in September. His line looked similar to his normal output, except with a lower batting average (and lower BABIP). This may have been due to a career-low line-drive rate.
4. Josh Hamilton (.284/.351/.483 PECOTA) .268/.315/.426: Seriously, was there some kind of elite center fielder plague going around this summer? Hamilton dealt with a bruised left rib cage, hurt himself again after crashing into another fence, went on the DL with an abdominal strain, and missed most of September with a pinched nerve in his lower back. Unsurprisingly, his season did not go as expected.
5. Nate McLouth (.285/.365/.492 PECOTA) .256/.352/.436: McLouth hit more balls on the ground this year than in the past, and it sapped some of his power production. It doesn't help that his BABIP and batting average also dipped, especially when the latter is a category in many leagues. He stole 19 bases though, and managed to hit 20 homers even with the drop in power, so overall his season wasn't bad. Ranking him fifth may have been a bit overzealous, though.
6. Matt Kemp (.293/.352/.480 PECOTA) .297/.352/.490: Kemp was as advertised, and if the top of this list hadn't shattered like glass, his ranking would make more sense. If he holds onto the power he showed in 2009 and continues to steal 30-plus bases, though, he's going to find himself with the elite. (As an aside, if this plague I spoke of turns into an annual thing, I'm sorry in advance for designating Kemp as elite and therefore eligible for the carnage that's to come.)
7. Jacoby Ellsbury (.291/.348/.409 PECOTA) .301/.355/.415: His forecast was on the mark, except for in one detail: he stole 70 bases instead of the projected 42. Considering he also hit over .300 and was driven in 94 times, he had himself quite the fantasy season. My one concern with Ellsbury is that if he doesn't hit .300, and doesn't bring up his walks, his runs scored numbers are not going to climb, and will keep his value down (especially since he has absolutely no power).
8. Curtis Granderson (.267/.344/.470 PECOTA) .249/.327/.453: 30 homers, 20 steals, 91 runs. That's pretty solid from a center fielder, but he also hit just .249 and drove in 71, and if you were in a league with OPS, he didn't even crack the 800 mark. I expect bigger things from him in Yankee Stadium, but I still feel like if you're in a position to sit him against lefties in leagues with daily changes, you want to have a backup handy, especially if you're in a head-to-head setup. That sounds like he's slightly ahead of a middle-of-the-pack ranking to me.
10. Chris Young (.268/.341/.487 PECOTA) .212/.311/.400: His first half was putrid, and his second half was promising. Once again, it's tough to know what to make of Young. He has too much talent to give up on, but he never seems to put it all together. The good news is that the general opinion of him is so low that you can draft him late in many leagues. It would be nice if he brought steals back to the fold, considering his batting averages are so low. That could hurt his value going forward.
11. Cody Ross (.272/.343/.497 PECOTA) .270/.329/.469: Ross' weighted mean forecast had him at 404 plate appearances, but prorating it to 600 gave him 81 runs, 27 homers, 91 RBI, and nine steals. He had 73 runs, 24 homers, 90 RBI, and five steals, so he came pretty close on all accounts. That's a pretty solid year from a guy who can be picked up on the cheap, especially after his .217/.250/.361 April.
12. Shane Victorino (.291/.352/.430 PECOTA) .283/.358/.445: Victorino kept up his power rate from 2008 despite PECOTA thinking he would fall back a little, but it was pretty close with his steals (26 forecasted, 25 actual). Victorino is useful thanks to the average and steals, but his runs are his best stat, and he once again crossed the 100 mark. Like many players on the back of the list, his ranking looks bad in retrospect due to the failings and injuries of the first four, but I'd be comfortable with ranking him 12th if those four were healthy.
13. Cameron Maybin (.265/.347/.429 PECOTA) .250/.318/.409: His forecast was pretty accurate, but he also didn't play long enough to outperform it. He also dealt with injuries-one of which was surgically repaired in November-which may have kept his numbers down a bit. His ranking was based on the fact he would play daily, even if he didn't do well at first, but the Marlins didn't utilize him that way.
14. Mike Cameron (.254/.345/.472 PECOTA) .250/.342/.452: I felt like Maybin's ceiling (for 2010, anyway) was Mike Cameron, and that Cameron was the safer pick, since he was a known quantity. If you went with the safe route, you got what you expected, but you also had a center fielder who produced. One note, though: he did drop to just seven steals from 17, his first season in single digits in his career. Given his average, you would like him to keep stealing a few more bases than that per year.
15. Jody Gerut (.302/.365/.500 PECOTA) .230/.279/.376: I convinced myself that if Gerut's projection wasn't on the money, he was still worth a flyer just in case he put together 80 percent of it. He didn't come even hit 80 percent of that on his way to a poor season, though a lot of his problems were related to limited playing time and BABIP (.243, which is low even for someone in Petco, and he spent time with Milwaukee to boot). He could rebound in 2010 if someone gives him a shot, but that projection is still too high as far as ceilings go.
16. Adam Jones (.278/.331/.470 PECOTA) .277/.335/.457: I was worried about Jones' power, since he put up a .130 ISO in 2008, but he brought it up to .180 and almost hit his projection. He even snagged the 10 bases forecasted for him in right around the same number of plate appearances. I played it safe given the circumstances, but he ended up with a better year than Maybin when all was said and done. Here's an example when tiers would have come in handy, since I thought of Jones and Maybin as similar players, but had them four ranks apart.
17. Torii Hunter (.274/.330/.447 PECOTA) .299/.366/508: I described Hunter as "boring" since you knew what to expect out of him, so he did his best to put up a season akin to 2007, another uncharacteristically strong effort. His BABIP was his highest since 2000, and he was especially strong against fastballs, which is normally not a strength for him (but is probably part of the reason his BABIP was so high). Given the circumstances, I don't feel as bad about ranking him this low at a position that was supposed to be deep, but I'll give it another look come 2010 ranking time to see where he belongs.
18. Aaron Rowand (.276/.336/.431 PECOTA) .261/.319/.419: Rowand, unlike Hunter, did what was expected of him, and performed around the average. His counting stats don't look so hot thank to his being on the Giants, which is why he's down this low to begin with.
19. Vernon Wells (.267/.323/.435 PECOTA) .260/.311/.400: He didn't hit as well as PECOTA expected at the weighted-mean level, but you weren't looking at anything special there to begin with. Wells is a name more than anything, and he'll probably be more famous for his contract than his production going forward, if he isn't already there. That sounds like someone who should be 19th, right?
For 20th (and the Just Missed) I named off a few players who had similar numbers, like Willy Taveras, Michael Bourn, Carlos Gomez, and their ilk. Bourn ended up being more like the 2007 version of himself than the abysmal 2008 one, and though he still can't hit for power, he does get on base often enough, hit for a decent average, and swiped 61 bases. He's kind of like Jacoby Ellsbury Lite, since he won't pick up some of the same RBI or power numbers but should match him (or come close) in steals and runs. I totally missed on him, relying on his most recent work possibly too much and deciding that he wasn't worth the flyer.
I was far from perfect with my center field rankings, thanks to a ton of injuries at the top and some off-base ideas of what guys like Nate McLouth, Cameron Maybin, Chris Young, and Jody Gerut would do. I can't beat myself up too hard for the injury stuff, but it's good to go back and see where I went wrong in some of my assumptions about forecasts and recent performances. It will be a useful reminder as the 2010 rankings are put together, which will benefit everyone involved.