Arguably the hardest position in baseball, (with arguably the most athletic players on the field) are about to be broke down to the top 10. As with the other top-10’s I take into consideration the player’s performance, both offensively and defensively, from 2016 and 2017.
To be eligible, the player needs at least 800 PAs (avg. 400 per year) in the last two seasons; playing time matters. Or, St. Louis Cardinals (new) CF Tommy Pham would jump to the top part of this list. All stats, unless otherwise noted apply to the aforementioned time frame.
#10- Dexter Fowler, Cardinals
I’m well aware that Flower will be playing right field for the Cards in 2018, but he spent the last two years playing a very good CF. Fowler is the quintessential lead-off man; speed, good hitter, and an eye for getting on base. He’s losing/lost a step or two but still shows off some power (31 HR, .196 ISO) and footwork. Fowler will hit 32 at the start of 2018. Can he keep his production up one more season?
#9- Kevin Kiermaier, Rays
Kiermaier is a terrific defender in center, as he ranks 6th for outs above average in 2017. He’s got a little power (27 HRs), is an above average batter (.268 BA), 7th in wRC+ (108) and produced a 6.8 WAR the last two seasons. Probably one of the few reasons to take in a Rays game in 2018.
#8- Billy Hamilton, Reds
Hamilton, offensively, isn’t much to write home about. When he DOES get on base, he’s a headache for defenders. Hamilton makes good contact and doesn’t whiff much, but the problem is he doesn’t do much with those abilities. Hamilton has been named the best defensive CF but I have to wonder if most of his elite metrics are simply the result of speed or skill?
#7- Kevin Pillar, Blue Jays
Pillar is another CF whose defense facilitates his positioning on this list. But, he’s also a decent hitter who hits the pitches he has to (92.4% Z-Contact) and doesn’t strike out a lot (15.2%). Pillar hasn’t produced as much as you’d like in terms of offense (83 wRC+) and his BABIP is slightly below average, but not enough to deduce bad luck as the reasoning for his lack of production. Yet, having a defender like Pillar on your team, you put him in the lineup as much as possible.
#6- Lorenzo Cain, Brewers
Milwaukee’s $80-million dollar man has a lot to live up to. Prior to a down 2016, Cain was a 11.3 WAR player (’14/’15) but did bounce back in 2017. Cain has hit .295 and is good at finding the gaps given his .340 BABIP (career average .344). Defensively, Cain has great instincts and an elite first step. Those type of skills can’t be taught, eight MLB seasons notwithstanding. Cain could find new life with the new-look Brewers, he should be a 4-win player. Or, you’ll find out real quick that his 2017 resurgence was simply an anticipatory money grab.
#5- Christian Yelich, Brewers
Yes. Yelich will play left field for the Brewers. In the past, he’s spent a lot of time in CF for the Marlins, and played it well, so he makes this list. Yelich is becoming an elite hitter and it’s something not only Marlins fans were aware of. Yelich added a lot of win probability in Miami the last two years and one of the reasons that the Marlins had as good a season as they did in 2017. The Brewers are getting a great fielder AND hitter; .297 average and .357 wOBA. His 9 WAR since 2016 is more than a sign of things to come, it’s a guarantee. Yelich could fit in any of the next couple spots, but the lack of time he’ll spend CF for the future is what differentiates him from the top of the list.
#4- George Springer, Astros
Springer, a fair defensive CF, is propelled by his offense (132 wRC+). He’s hit 63 HRs with an ISO of .216. He’s good in a tight spot (5.16 WPA/LI) and was a big boost in the lineup for the Defending World Series Champion Houston Astros. Springer’s a nine win player and coming into the peak of his career, has the potential to match that total in 2018. Springer is that oft-coveted mix of power, average, and speed. He’s a potential MVP candidate, but he’s got several other teammates to show up first.
#3- Ender Inciarte, Braves
If not for Byron Buxton, Inciarte (defensively at least) is the best center fielder in baseball. How can I say this? Statcast data has him as the number one overall fielder in baseball when it comes to Outs Above Average. That alone earns him this high a spot in these rankings. Entering his sixth MLB season, Inciarte, (like Springer) is entering the prime of his career. Oh, and he’s a pretty good at the plate (.297 BA, lowest in both K% and Whiff rate) and is a tremendous contact hitter (93.5% Z-contact). In 2018, he’ll be leading a group of young stars with big breakout potential for the Braves.
#2- Charlie Blackmon, Rockies
Leave the cries about the unfair advantage of playing in Coors at the door. Blackmon is an amazing player, both at the plate and in the field. He leads all CF in batting average (.327), had the most home runs (66), and is runner-up in WAR, wRC+, and both facets of Win Probability Added. If it wasn’t for the best CF in baseball, Blackmon would be so. You could point to the last two years of BABIP for Blackmon and make a case he’ll come back to Earth in 2018. Until that happens, Blackmon’s elite offensive skills keeps him a distance runner-up to a player its unfair for anyone to be compared to in this decade.
#1- Mike Trout, Angels
You already know.