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March 3, 2009

Fantasy Beat

Center Field

by Marc Normandin

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Center field is a position where you can find many of the best fantasy players around-you've got sluggers who will drive in runs, be driven in by their teammates, hit for power and average, and steal a load of bases. With that being said, the talent level on the list drops drastically near the bottom end, so if you leave it for too long come your league's draft, you'll be stuck hoping that Vernon Wells has one of his good seasons, or throwing up your hands and drafting someone like Willy Taveras or Michael Bourn solely for their stolen bases.

In leagues that do not differentiate between outfield positions, grabbing multiple center fielders can be a quality strategy; it will make your own lineup stronger and more balanced, while hurting your league mates and forcing them to rely on the corners, where the selections are not quite as attractive.

In order to make these rankings, I used the 2009 weighted-mean PECOTA projections as a base, and tweaked the results as I saw fit. This isn't a descending list of projected 2009 VORP by any means. Make sure you check out the players' 75th- and 25th-percentile forecasts on their PECOTA cards, as those may help you to make decisions between players you might be debating over.

I'm ranking the players at their primary position; if you don't see a player here, it's because he's either not good enough, or because he's been ranked at a different position. This allows me to cover more players for those of you in deeper leagues. Also, there will be one unified outfield list, but I am going to cover each position individually first.


Rank Name              Team       PA  R  HR RBI SB   AVG/ OBP/ SLG  Beta
 1.  Carlos Beltran    Mets      652 106 27  96 18  .293/.385/.513  0.91
 2.  B.J. Upton        Rays      558  90 14  58 40  .267/.367/.424  0.85
 3.  Grady Sizemore    Indians   704 110 30  98 27  .269/.368/.494  0.84
 4.  Josh Hamilton     Rangers   642  91 25  94  8  .284/.351/.483  0.82
 5.  Nate McLouth      Pirates   612  93 21  78 20  .285/.365/.492  0.94
 6.  Matt Kemp         Dodgers   574  85 19  76 26  .293/.352/.480  0.97
 7.  Jacoby Ellsbury   Red Sox   569  87  7  53 42  .291/.348/.409  0.93
 8.  Curtis Granderson Tigers    613  86 22  77 11  .267/.344/.470  0.77
 9.  Lastings Milledge Nats      521  73 14  61 21  .281/.352/.442  0.85
10.  Chris B. Young    D'backs   601  85 24  82 19  .268/.341/.487  0.92

We have three players in a row with somewhat similar profiles, but subtle differences that give them each their respective ranking. Carlos Beltran should hit for a solid average, and though his power has been in decline over the past three years (his HR/FB% has dipped from 21 to 17 to 15.7 percent) he's still got plenty of pop. He's also hit .289/.368/.580 on the road from 2006-2008, and the Mets are moving out of Shea Stadium into their new digs at Citi Field this year. Last season that split was much less severe than it has been in the past, so this may not have as much of an effect as we think. B.J. Upton's forecast doesn't look that promising, but I'm basically ignoring it. PECOTA doesn't know that Upton played with a bum shoulder all of last year as he recovered from surgery; I think we're looking at more of a .280/.380/.480 season or so, and maybe with even more power (PECOTA has his 90th-percentile forecast as .298/.406/.491). Being in an improved Rays' lineup should also boost Upton's runs scored and RBI totals, and he's the best option on this list if you want steals out of your center fielder as well. Then there's Grady Sizemore, who probably won't hit for the same kind of batting average as the two men in front of him, but should be just as dangerous in the runs and RBI categories while hitting homers and stealing a few bases of his own. This is one of those situations where you can't really go wrong with any of the three, and the rankings are there simply because they have to be.

Josh Hamilton's forecast is a little lower than what I expect him to do; he may be the best hitter of these first four, but he's lacking in the steals department compared to the others. Texas had the best offense in the majors last year, but they'll miss Milton Bradley's bat. Still, expect Hamilton to load up on runs and RBI while hitting for power. I probably wouldn't draft Hamilton in the first round of a standard draft, since much of his elite value is wrapped up in context-sensitive team stats, but I wouldn't balk at taking him at the beginning of the second round.

Thanks to improved contact that has helped him cut down on his strikeouts, Nate McLouth should continue to post batting averages better than those he had before 2008. He's a well-balanced player, a 20/20 guy who would probably hold more value if he was playing for a team with more offense around him. Matt Kemp and McLouth actually profile very similarly statistically; Kemp, the younger of the two, obviously has more upside, but he doesn't have the nifty contact rate that McLouth does, which makes him more reliant on a higher BABIP for that good-looking average. If Kemp could drop his strikeouts down to about 20 percent or lower, I would throw him in front of McLouth, and never look back. Also, please note that Kemp's runs scored and RBI won't look nearly as attractive if Manny Ramirez doesn't end up in Los Angeles (PECOTA is factoring Ramirez into their offense).

Jacoby Ellsbury ended up struggling in the middle of the season once pitchers realized that he had no power and couldn't move his bat quickly enough to fend off an inside fastball, but he adjusted as the season progressed, hitting .314/.352/.463 over the last two months of the season. Overall, I think that his PECOTA forecast isn't far off from the production you can expect from him-I certainly wouldn't bet on him slugging .463 for a full season. The huge number of stolen bases is also nice, and along with his batting average and the fact that he'll hit at the top of the Red Sox lineup, it's easy to see why he's a top 10 center fielder.

Curtis Granderson is a well-balanced player who will nab you some counting stats, but he doesn't really excel in any one category, which keeps him from being ranked higher. Lastings Milledge would get more credit from me if he could display some kind of consistency or power for more than 10 minutes at a time, but at least he hit .299/.355/.448 in the second half, and he did swipe 24 bags. Chris Young needs to display better contact to become an elite-level player, but for now, he's a solid mix of homers and steals, and playing in hitter-friendly Arizona should help his numbers. One thing to remember is that his pitch selection improved last year-he swung at fewer pitches outside of the strike zone, and made better contact on the ones he did swing at. His contact rate still isn't anything to be proud of, but if he can take a few more baby steps, we might even be able to believe that projected batting average.


Rank Name             Team      PA   R HR RBI SB   AVG/ OBP/ SLG  Beta
11.  Cody Ross        Marlins  404  55 18  61  6  .272/.343/.497  0.95
11.  Shane Victorino  Phils    565  84 12  53 26  .291/.352/.430  0.73
13.  Cameron Maybin   Marlins  588  83 15  57 21  .265/.347/.429  0.98
14.  Mike Cameron     Brewers  492  70 21  65 16  .254/.345/.472  0.85
15.  Jody Gerut       Padres   455  68 15  63  8  .302/.365/.500  0.92
16.  Adam Jones       Orioles  488  66 18  67 10  .278/.331/.470  0.92
17.  Torii Hunter     Angels   553  70 18  79 13  .274/.330/.447  1.06
18.  Aaron Rowand     Giants   514  59 14  66  4  .275/.336/.431  0.92
19.  Vernon Wells     Jays     525  63 16  71  6  .267/.323/.435  0.86
20.  Willy Taveras    Reds     384  53  1  24 39  .264/.320/.325  0.90

Cody Ross won't be playing in center field, but he qualifies there thanks to last year. His forecast has him down for just 404 PA, but if you prorate his counting stats to 600 PA (as he'll be playing daily in a corner), he'd have 81 runs, 27 homers, 91 RBI, and nine steals. If you need batting average more than steals, he's probably more valuable to you than Chris Young in 2009. Shane Victorino won't hit many home runs for you despite his bandbox home park, but he's in a powerful lineup that will drive him in, and he's capable of some sack thievery while on base. PECOTA seems certain that's where Victorino is going to end up-his 0.73 is one of the more confident Beta marks we've seen in all of the rankings thus far.

In contrast with Ross, Cameron Maybin will be playing center for the Fish, and though PECOTA projects to have a solid season, it won't be quite up to the elite level we're sure to see from him in the future. Regardless, this is looking like it could be a quality rookie season for Maybin-he's got a bit more pop than Victorino, but he'll be weaker in batting average unless he can drop his strikeout rate a bit-he whiffed 27 percent of the time at Double-A last year. Mike Cameron is a good pick, and like so many other hitters on this list, he'll give you plenty in the HR and SB departments, though his batting average will always be a problem. Chris Young, who comps similarly to Cameron right now, has more upside given his youth and projectability, but Cameron is a "safe" pick, in my opinion.

I wrote about Jody Gerut as having one of the PECOTA projections that deserved a closer look a few weeks back. I think the biggest downside with Gerut would be the possibility of his losing out on playing time to Scott Hairston and Will Venable; if he plays in center for most of the year, he'll have a surprising amount of value as long as he can keep on hitting at Petco. Adam Jones should play every day for the Orioles, so his counting stats should all look better than the ones listed, but I still worry about his ability to hit for power this year given his .130 ISO in '08. He's just 23 years old, so he obviously has time to develop further, but this list is for 2009, not for the long term.

From here, your options are quite boring. Torii Hunter, Aaron Rowand, and Vernon Wells are all guys who are not going to give you any less or more than you expect. None of them are even close to the level that people have said they are, and there are much better options ranked ahead of them on this list. If you're stuck and in a deep league-specific format, Hunter is probably your best bet; he provides extra power and steals relative to the other two. Wells is the second of four Blue Jays who will be on these fantasy rankings, but his placement at the bottom of the list says much about the Jays' lack of offense.

Willy Taveras is the 20th-ranked player, but it could have been Michael Bourn or Carlos Gomez or any other stolen base-only speed demons you can think of. They're actually all 20th, or this position's version of the "Just Missed" category. There are a lot of options available to you from center field if you're just in need of some extra steals, but I don't suggest going out of your way to draft any of them, especially with some of the fantastic power/speed combinations at the position. Guys like Bourn, Taveras, and Gomez have some value in head-to-head leagues with daily changes though, as you can sub them in and out if you're secure with your OBP or power stats and just looking for some help on the bases.

17 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

spobro

Maybe im missing something here but why is 20 less runs 16 less HR, 40 less RBI's, and only 13 more SB's worth more than Grady Sizemore? Sizemore crushes upton in every fantasy category except avg(same) and SB's 13 less. Why is Upton ranked higher? It seems silly.

Mar 03, 2009 15:09 PM
rating: 0
 
Nathan

I'd take Sizemore over Upton too. But Mark says in the article that he's basically ignoring Upton's Pecota projection, so that's why the numbers look silly.

Mar 04, 2009 01:05 AM
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Marc Normandin

Nathan knows what's up.

Mar 04, 2009 06:05 AM
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davidkiesel

When will SP rankings be out? I have a draft on the 14! Just wondering if they'll be ready by then.

Mar 07, 2009 16:35 PM
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Pietaster07

Upton has Upside. Plus, with a healthy shoulder, there's no telling what he might do this year

Mar 03, 2009 15:16 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

For an early round pick, I want to have a pretty darn good idea what that person would do "if healthy". If I draft Upton, I have no idea if I need help in HR, SB, or home runs. He also had shoulder surgery this winter and may miss opening day (http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/players/profile?playerId=5970). In addition, he has been benched for his work ethic so it is hard to say how quick he will recover. He also might be overdrafted just based on his upside.. but I'd rather use that early of a pick on someone I now will contribute. If he lasted to the fourth or fifth round, I might take him, but I'd definitely take Sizemore before him.

Mar 03, 2009 16:59 PM
rating: 0
 
buddaley

Nobody questions Upton's work ethic. He is universally known as a tremendously dedicated and hard working player. The issues that arose last year had to do with not running hard to first base on some plays, and this morphed into questions about how hard he chased down some fly balls, although the latter was almost certainly a mistaken concern.

Mar 04, 2009 04:09 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Ok then, to rephrase, he was benched for not playing hard, which morphed into additional questions about whether he played hard. Whether it's work ethic or questions of playing hard, it adds to the uncertainty of whether he merits a high round pick.

Mar 04, 2009 08:23 AM
rating: 0
 
spobro

Even with "upside" upton isnt coming close to sizemore in overall fantasy #'s. I think everyone is overvaluing his playoffs last year. If he only hit 2-3 HR's then I doubt he would be ranked as high. Hes good but not #2 good. Give me Victorino 5 rounds later.

Mar 03, 2009 21:13 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

People also might be overvaluing Upton because they remember him as a first or second round pick when he had 2B eligibility. Since he's now only eligible for the outfield, he isn't quite as valuable as he was.

Mar 04, 2009 01:31 AM
rating: 0
 
gluckschmerz

Both Upton and Sizemore are wonderful ballplayers and a lot of fun to watch. Here in Pittsburgh we'd take either one of them! But no one is talking about Sizemore as one of the all-time greats and Upton has that kind of upside. No one is waiting for Sizemore to explode a la Griffey or Bonds. Upton might.

Mar 04, 2009 05:07 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

They said the same thing about J.D. Drew. Many a fantasy league was lost from overdrafting him.

That's just one example of course, you could also look at people like Ryan Zimmerman who has been a bit hurt and has settled down as a "good" but not a Mike Schmidt/Scott Rolen clone. Heck, even Rolen didn't turn into Mike Schmidt.

Upton now has 1339 career at bats with a SLG of .426 and only 38 home runs. We just don't know if he will be a regular home run hitter yet. As a comparison, Carl Crawford's numbers from 2004-2007 are similar to Upton's 2008 except Crawford had a better batting average and more steals.

Personally, unless I'm in a keeper league, I'd draft for results I expect this year, and not whether someone will be an all-time great some 3-5 years down the road. I wouldn't draft David Price with my first few picks this year, nor would I have drafted Longoria with my first few picks last year.

Mar 04, 2009 08:32 AM
rating: 0
 
A.g. Hombre

You listening to this chatter, Shapiro? We (Tampa Bay) will send you Upton for Sizemore immediately!

Personally I think Justin Upton has far more upside than B.J.

Alright, so the difference between Sizemore and Upton in the field is meaningless in the fantasy game. Still, only one of the two will likely reach the 30 HR mark. Only one can possibly reach 90 RBI from the lead-off position in his team's lineup. Sizemore has averaged 116 runs over the past four seasons, while Tampa hasn't gotten a guy to 100 runs since Crawford scored 101 in 2005. And I'm curious as to how a .279 lifetime hitter in Sizemore likely won't hit around Upton's projection of .280.

In addition, though it shouldn't even need to be said, Sizemore has put up the monster numbers before, and Sizemore has proven that he can be counted on for his durability.

To be fair, an astronomic season COULD put Upton on Sizemore's level. This makes the argument in favor of Upton more reasonable than, say, the argument in favor of Chipper over a number of third baseman, including that A-Rod guy who is clearly not one of the top producers in the game anymore. Apparently.

Well at least I agree that Beltran is being undervalued. I'd still put Grady ahead of him, but it's not worth arguing over.

Mar 04, 2009 08:24 AM
rating: 0
 
spobro

Hombre,

Everything is worth arguing over.

Mar 04, 2009 10:18 AM
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A.g. Hombre

Good point. I'll try my hand at it.

BA: Both players are .280 career hitters. Sizemore in .268 in '08 though, a drop that may well have been induced by an increased inclination to go yard. Beltran hit .284 in '08, but that was his best mark since his final full season in KC (before he'd ever reached 30 HR). This one is a push.

Runs: Sizemore is a leadoff hitter and again, he's averaged 116 runs over the past four seasons. However, Beltran is in a far more productive lineup, and he outscored Sizemore 116-101 in '08. Still, Sizemore is bound to get more help this year, at the very least from Victor Martinez, and he is likely to exceed Beltran by far more than the 34 PAs that separated them a year ago. A slight edge goes to Sizemore.

HR: Beltran has a 101-85 edge on Sizemore over the past three years. However, Sizemore turns 27 in August, and Beltran turns 32 in April. Further, Beltran has only reached 30 HR twice in his career: 41 in '06 and 33 in '07. Sizemore gets the nod here.

RBI: Hitting leadoff in Cleveland, Sizemore will be hard-pressed to surpass his 90 from '08. Beltran will undoubtedly break 100 once again barring a serious injury. Check mark to Beltran.

SB: Both guys have phenomenal SB percentages for their careers. They can both be expected to continue to run as much as usual. However, this means Sizemore should get 30-40 steals, while Beltran should get 20-25. Big edge to Sizemore.

Final Comments: Sizemore has proven to be durable, and his team obviously needs him every single game. He is one of the few safe bets in baseball to eclipse 700 PAs. Beltran was close to this mark in '08, but he otherwise has not been close since he played 162 games and tallied 712 PAs in '02 with KC. Sizemore is a safe bet to warrant a mid to late first round pick. Beltran still might have the ability to have that type of season, but he is clearly a second round guy in 2009 fantasy baseball. As far as center fielders go, however, I like these guys to go 1-2 for the season.

Mar 05, 2009 13:58 PM
rating: 0
 
KRHarden

Mets fan here. I would just like to add a note on Beltran. Carlos has been battling knee and quad issues stemming from his knee issues since he signed in New York. Last offseason he had surgery on both knees, so I doubt he was able to properly train his legs for a 162 game season, and he probably entered the season on weakened legs. Going off his baseball-reference page, Beltran's SLG went from .476 in the first half to .534 in the second half, albeit from a smaller sample size (411 to 295 PAs.) However, he hit only 15 homers in those 411 PAs compared to 12 in his final 295. My point? As he got his legs back, his power came back. As you all probably know, the lower half is incredibly important to power hitters, and especially to Beltran, who creates a lot of torque with his lower half.

This offseason Beltran did not have to go through rehab and was actually able to go through his regular workouts. Because of this, I believe he should have no problem reaching his projections and I actually think, if healthy, he could easily return to 30+ homers (remember, he had 40 doubles last year.) And if his knees are as good as he claims they are - see link below - then he could increase his SBs as well.

Also, Beltran is moving into a new stadium. While we have no idea how Citifield is going to play, we know that it will be an enclosed stadium, so he won't have to deal with the wind knocking balls down as much early in the season. Also, there is an overhang in RF, ala the olf Tigers Stadium, and I am looking forward to seeing Carlos take aim at the overhang.

Finally, I understand that as a Mets fan some may think I am biased, but I didn't draft Beltran in fantasy last season because of his surgeries (since he was ranked fairly high.) This year, I think mainstream sites have him too low. The only OFers I think I would take over him are Braun and Sizemore (he's still only 26 and Beltran is 32... so Grady could still have a slight uptick in production.)

Check out this article where Beltran discusses his knees: http://www.newsday.com/sports/baseball/ny-spmets186039679feb18,0,2300716.story. Carlos has always been very honest with the media (and in the opinion of many Mets fans, a bit too honest); often giving daily updates as to how healthy he was percentage wise. Therefore, I believe Carlos is being truthful and not just spitting out the "I'm in the best shape of my life" cliche you hear around this time of the year.

Mar 05, 2009 14:54 PM
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A.g. Hombre

Yup, those are all good arguments. I absolutely agree that he should be regarded as the #3 outfielder behind Sizemore and Braun.

Mar 05, 2009 21:16 PM
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