Opinions

Diamond Digest’s Top 10 CF Right Now

Some of the most fun sports fans have with each other is debating which player is better. Player A or Player B. Here at Diamond Digest, we are no different. I have asked our staff to name their top 10 players at each position on the baseball field and we will look to compare ours to The Shredder. Over the course of the next few weeks, Diamond Digest will release our composite lists for each position right now, and later on from the past 10 years.

The scoring system works like this: Each one of our writer’s top player at each position will receive 10 points, their second best 9, third best 8 and so on. The most points a player could receive was 290 points (All 29 first place votes).

My Rankings:
Jordan Lewin-Skversky
Diamond Digest’s
Staff Rankings
MLB Network’s
“The Shredder”
1Mike TroutMike Trout (290)Mike Trout
2Cody BellingerCody Bellinger (261)Cody Bellinger
3George SpringerGeorge Springer (231)George Springer
4Aaron HicksWhit Merrifield (154)Ramon Laureano
5Ramon LaureanoAaron Hicks (124)Whit Merrifield
6Starling MarteRamon Laureano (106)Starling Marte
7Whit MerrifieldBrandon Nimmo (90)Lorenzo Cain
8Lorenzo CainStarling Marte (84)Aaron Hicks
9Byron BuxtonLorenzo Cain (67)Brandon Nimmo
10Brandon NimmoByron Buxton (59)Brett Gardner

Others receiving votes: Victor Robles (51), Brett Gardner, Harrison Bader, Kevin Kiermaier, Ian Happ, Nick Senzel, Kevin Pillar, Jackie Bradley Jr.

HM. Victor Robles – 22, Washington Nationals

2019 Stats: .255/.326/.419, 17 HRs, 28 SB, 91 wRC+, 24 DRS, 23 OAA, 2.5 fWAR

Victor Robles was, without argument, the best defensive CF in baseball last year. His 23 OAA led the league by a wide margin, as Kevin Kiermaier finished a full 6 outs behind Robles in second place. His defense should arguably keep him in the top 5 alone in the future, but for good measure, he added 17 home runs (a career high) and stole 28 bases. While he only had an 88 OPS+ and 91 wRC+, his 2.5 fWAR was still 8th among all CF – further speaking to the strength of his defense.

If Robles can find a way to build above-average production with the bat, look for him to solidify a spot in the top 5 in CF for years to come- Jordan Lazowski (ranked Robles 5th)

10. Byron Buxton – 26, Minnesota Twins

2019 Stats: .262/.314/.513, 10 HRs, 14 SB, 111 wRC+, 12 DRS, 23 OAA, 2.7 fWAR (87 games)

My rankings are decided by a methodology in which I put a player’s stats and playing time into a formula which spits out a projected next season’s WAR for the player (hsWAR). This year, Byron Buxton is projected for 4.5 hsWAR in 2020, good for fourth among center fielders. Buxton obviously has the talent necessary to put the fourth spot within reach, yet to earn it he must do two things. First, and most importantly, he has to be on the field. This has infamously been a struggle for him, but the projection system is rather bullish on his health (as it’s designed to be for all players), giving him 483 PA in 2020. Secondly, Buxton has to hit at an approximately league average clip. In 2019 he produced a 111 wRC+ while running a BABIP below his career norm.  His wRC+ in 2019 was 97, which shows that, with his elite speed, Buxton is a league average hitter. Couple the two aforementioned factors with the elite baserunning (+3.3) and defense (+12 OAA) shown throughout his career and specifically in his abbreviated 2019, and Buxton projects out to a 5.5 hsWAR/600 PA player. He may get hurt again, or he may hit as poor as he did in 2018—in 94 PA he posted a -2 wRC+—and make my projection look as though it was seeing Buxton through rose-colored glasses.  However, a healthy Buxton will make everyone look foolish, rather than me. – Sean Huff (ranked Buxton 4th)

9. Lorenzo Cain – 33, Milwaukee Brewers

2019 Stats: .260/.325/.372, 11 HRs, 18 SB, 83 wRC+, 20 DRS, 14 OAA, 1.5 fWAR

2018 Stats: .308/.395/.417, 10 HRs, 30 SB, 124 wRC+, 20 DRS, 22 OAA, 5.7 fWAR

Can Lorenzo Cain get back to his old self in 2020?

Lorenzo Cain is still one of the best centerfielders in my eyes because of his outstanding defense. He has 40 Defensive Runs Saved over the past 2 seasons which is tops among center fielders. Even with the new Statcast metric, Outs Above Average, Lorenzo Cain is among the elite. He has recorded 62 OAA from 2016-2019 trailing only Ender Inciarte (66 OAA). While Cain’s offense dipped substantially in 2019, I am positive he can bounce back as he is still hitting the ball hard (69th percentile) and was among the 40 most unlucky hitters with his xwOBA exceeding his wOBA by 28 points. While Whit Merrifield, who I ranked one spot below Cain at #5, was the superior offensive player in 2019, I believe that defense is more important in a position like center field, therefore I ranked Cain as the 4th best CF. – Andrew Horwath

8. Starling Marte – 31, Arizona Diamondbacks

2019 Stats: .295/.342/.503, 23 HRs, 25 SB, 119 wRC+, -9 DRS, 2 OAA, 3.0 fWAR

A defensive liability for the first time in his career. Marte posted career lows in DRS (-9) and UZR (-7.6), marking the first time he had posted a negative DRS or UZR since his rookie season. Marte’s defensive regression has been going on for a number of years now, with this 2019 marking the fifth year in a row in which his DRS decreased (24, 17, 8, 1, -9). Now, some natural regression is to be expected as Marte will be 31 entering the 2020 season, but his window to play a premium defensive position such as centerfield may be closing quickly. At the plate, Marte had a strong 2019. His .295/.342/.503 slash-line was good, bordering on great. He set career highs in home runs (23), runs (97), runs batted in (82) and OPS (.845). He even managed to steal 25 bases for the sixth time in his career. In 2019, Marte recorded his lowest launch angle (7.4) since 2015 when Statcast data was first collected which was slightly below his career average (8.1) and well below the MLB average (11.2). Marte recorded career-highs in xBA (.304), xSLG (.511), wOBA (.353), xwOBA (.361), Hard Hit % (38.5) and Barrel % (8.2). And although offensive production was at an all-time high in 2019, Marte still managed to record a wRC+ of 119, sixth-best amongst centerfielders. – Darrin Ambrose

7. Brandon Nimmo – 26, New York Mets

2019 Stats: .221/.375/.407, 8 HRs, 3 SB, 114 wRC+, -1 DRS, 3 OAA, 1.3 fWAR (69 games)

2018 Stats: .263/.404/.483, 17 HRs, 9 SB, 148 wRC+, -6 DRS, 5 OAA, 4.5 fWAR

Brandon Nimmo is an extremely good baseball player, but not enough people give him credit. Why? Well, maybe Brandon worries fans because he gets hurt almost every year… but then again, who doesn’t get hurt to some extent every year? Maybe fans are scared of his uniqueness, sprinting to first base on walks and hit by pitches with a gleaming, wide-eyed smile on his face – all in the love of baseball. The time is now to give Nimmo credit where credit is due. To illustrate this, let’s look at his 2018 season (he was hurt for most of 2019). The chart below shows hitters who were both in the top 10% for wRC+, AND in the bottom 10% in chase rate (o-swing %). The names on this list are staggeringly good, and Brandon deserves every bit of recognition alongside them. Taking out the injury plagued 2019 season, I fully expect Nimmo to repeat this type of production in 2020, easily putting him in the top 5 among center fielders in all of baseball. – Anonymous (ranked Nimmo 4th)

According to advanced metrics, Nimmo is an elite hitter

6. Ramon Laureano- 25, Oakland A’s

2019 Stats: .288/.340/.521, 24 HRs, 13 SB, 126 wRC+, -1 DRS, -5 OAA, 3.9 fWAR

Ramon Laureano, while known largely for his rocket arm, is a more complete player than most tend to realize, particularly at a position that is incredibly top heavy. Following the likes of Trout, Springer, and Bellinger, the position is really open for grabs as there aren’t a lot of well rounded center fielders out there. Laureano, while possessing a cannon of an arm, actually graded very poorly as a defender in 2019, with an OAA squarely in the bottom quarter of the league. However, his jump on balls measured above the 80th percentile, and I believe his defense will be able to turn itself around. He doesn’t walk as much as I’d like at the plate, but his power-speed combination give him a rare skillset among center fielders, and a full season should allow him to reach 5 fWAR with ease. – Brian Schlosser (ranked Laureano 4th)

5. Aaron Hicks – 30, New York Yankees

2019 Stats: .235/.325/.443, 12 HRs, 1 SB, 102 wRC+, -1 DRS, -2 OAA, 1.1 fWAR (59 games)

2018 Stats: .248/.366/.467, 27 HRs, 11 SB, 129 wRC+, -3 DRS, -4 OAA, 5.0 fWAR

Is Aaron Hicks the most underrated player in baseball?

Yes, Aaron Hicks will be out for most of the season for Tommy John surgery, and yes, there have been struggles for him to stay healthy for the past three years. But make no mistake: when healthy, Aaron Hicks is one of the top center fielders in the game. Before a lost season in 2019, Hicks was coming off two barely sub-130 wRC+ (128 and 129) seasons, and in 2017, compiled 15 DRS in just 689.2 innings. His plate discipline is great, with well-below average chase rate percentages leading to a 14.1% and 15.5% walk rate in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Despite an injury-riddled 2019 (and eventually 2020), the 7 year, $70 million extension he signed with the Yankees before the 2019 season remains a steal for a top-5 center fielder in the game. – Payton Ellison (ranked Hicks 4th)

4. Whit Merrifield- 30, Kansas City Royals

2019 Stats: .302/.348/.463, 16 HRs, 20 SB, 110 wRC+, -1 DRS, 1 OAA, 2.9 fWAR

Whit Merrifield is no doubt one of the best contact hitters and base runners in the game of baseball. Merrifield has played 145+ games each of the past three years and his xWOBACON over that time is .376, .371, and .369. He is a consistent, durable player who can play all across the diamond. These qualities keep him above the center fielders previously ranked who all have major flaws. However, it is very unlikely as long as he remains a CF that he will reach the top three due to his lack of power, walk rate, and elite defense. In an age where the game is increasingly leaning towards power and the three true outcomes (walk, strikeout, or home run), Whit Merrifield is old school, but still no doubt a very valuable baseball player. – Jordan Lewin- Skversky

3. George Springer- 30, Houston Astros

2019 Stats: .292/.383/.591, 39 HRs, 6 SB, 156 wRC+, 6 DRS, 3 OAA, 6.5 fWAR

As the consensus number three centerfielder, George Springer finds himself in somewhat of a unique position. As firmly entrenched above any mix of Whit Merrifield, Aaron Hicks, or Ramon Laureano as he is, Springer trails Cody Bellinger and Mike Trout by just as steep a margin. Trout needs no introduction, as since the dawn of the Statcast era, he’s never failed to post an xwOBA below .423, and with all five tools in his back pocket, he’s only going to get better. Bellinger is nowhere near Trout’s level, but the reigning NL MVP posted an incredible 2019, leading the National League in xwOBA, xSLG, as well as posting the NL’s second-highest fWAR, trailing only Christian Yelich. Bellinger’s defensive contributions have also been impressive, posting 7 OAA and 22 DRS last season, which when combined with his explosive bat, make for a lethal combination. Springer has been electric over the course of his career, providing elite production on both sides of the ball, but has still been worth fewer wins than Bellinger since the Dodgers star broke into the league. George Springer is a great baseball player and has proved himself vastly superior to the rest of the league’s centerfielders, but without some serious regression from Bellinger, it’s unlikely Springer becomes the second best player at his position. – Matt Fronduto

2. Cody Bellinger- 24, Los Angeles Dodgers

2019 Stats: .305/.406/.629, 47 HRs, 15 SB, 162 wRC+, 22 DRS, 8 OAA, 7.8 fWAR

Cody Bellinger, only 24, has emerged as the cream of the crop from the exceedingly amazing young Dodgers core. Through his first 3 seasons, he’s hit .278/.368/.559 with a 140 wRC+, 111 HR, and 15.4 fWAR. His powerful bat has been no secret since he hit 39 long balls in route to a rookie of the year award in 2017, but it was made clear in 2019 that he has much more to offer. After seeing a drop in performance in 2018, he hit .305/.406/.629 for a 162 wRC+ last year, winning NL MVP and proving he is able to make contact and get on base at a high rate, while still hitting over 45 home runs.

Bellinger isn’t the unanimous #2 on our lists just because of his offensive stature. It just so happens the young stud is an elite defender in the outfield. He was called up originally as a first baseman, but later moved to play center and right field, and the change was clearly an ingenious move. Bellinger posted a 22 DRS and 10.3 UZR in the outfield in 2019, and already has racked up 33 DRS in less than 2000 innings. He won the Gold Glove for right field last year, rightfully so.

So why isn’t he number one? Well, a man by the name of Mike Trout stands between the Dodgers superstar and the title of being the best player in the game. There isn’t much explaining to do on that front, we all know about the prowess of Trout how he’s on a level of his own among a league with extraordinary talents. Besides the comparison to Trout, Cody Bellinger is a generational player and at only 24 years of age, his future is nothing but bright. – Andrew Jones

Bellinger capped off an amazing 2019 season with an NL MVP award

1. Mike Trout- 28, Los Angeles Angels

2019 Stats: .291/.438/.645, 45 HRs, 11 SB, 180 wRC+, -1 DRS, -2 OAA, 8.6 fWAR

I know – shocking. At this point, ranking other players with Mike Trout is just not fair. Trout is the best center fielder, best hitter, and best player in baseball. Trout’s 73.4 career fWAR is the fourth-highest in baseball history by a player before their age-29 season, behind some pretty good company in Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, and Mickey Mantle, all of whom played more games than Trout in the given sample size. In the history of baseball, only seven men have a career wRC+ over 170 – Trout is one of them (172). Obviously he’s yet to regress, although the question can be raised as to if he ever will, given his alien-nature. After one of the greatest starts to a career the game has ever seen, once-in-a-generation talent somehow may be getting better. His .455 xwOBA in 2019 was his highest ever recorded by StatCast, by over 20 points. Mike Trout is not human, and his place at the top of this list is as predictable as it gets. – Adam Koplik

The greatest player of our generation
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

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