The National League Central’s pool of center fielders is fairly impressive. While hosting an NL MVP candidate last year in Andrew McCutchen, it also features some of the most underrated players in the league at the position. It doesn’t have the star power of divisions like the AL East, with Adam Jones, Curtis Granderson, and Jacoby Ellsbury, but is still solid. With that in mind, here is my ranking of the top Center Fielders in the National League Central:
1. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
Andrew McCutchen is not a Gold Glove caliber outfielder, and how he won the award over Michael Bourn is beyond me. His UZR of -6.9 was well below league average, compared to Bourn’s MLB leading number of 22.4. I suppose the gold glove voters saw his .997 fielding percentage and decided that he was a good fielder just based on the fact that he doesn’t make errors too often. Although, seeing as they gave Adam Jones the Gold Glove over Mike Trout and robbed the Reds completely, nothing the Gold Glove voters do will surprise me anymore. Anyway, even though he is mediocre on defense, McCutchen is still easily the best center fielder in the division. His offensive numbers last year were just ridiculous- he triple slashed .327/.400/.553 with 31 home runs and 107 RBI and was on his way to easily claiming the MVP award until he was thwarted by a late season slump. His numbers from 2012 may have been a bit of a fluke (his .375 BABIP was nearly as ridiculous as Joey Votto‘s .404 mark), but his career .290 average and 82 home runs are more than solid. According to FanGraphs, he was was worth 7.4 WAR last year, which was second behind Trout’s 10.0 for center fielders. He may regress a bit in 2013, but he will remain one of the elite center fielders in the game, and he is easily the best in the division.
CAIRO 2013 Projections: .287/.373/.483, 23 HR, 82 RBI.
Questions for McCutchen heading into 2013:
1. Was last year’s offensive outburst a fluke?
2. If so, what can we actually expect from him next year?
2. Jon Jay, St. Louis Cardinals
Jay may come as a bit of a surprise in the number 2 spot, but he really is one of the game’s most underrated players. A career .300 hitter, he triple slashed .305/.373/.400 last year (with 19 stolen bases) atop the Cardinals’ potent lineup. His fielding was also excellent last year, as he posted a very solid 4.0 UZR and an even more solid 1.000 fielding percentage with 0 errors in 111 games at center last year. He doesn’t give much in the way of power, but his defense, speed, average, and on base ability more than make up for it. His .400 slugging percentage also shows that he’s more than just a slap singles hitter. According to FanGraphs, he was worth a surprising 4.1 WAR last year. Jay has earned the role as an everyday player, and should be the Cardinals’ main center field option for next year.
CAIRO 2013 Projections: .283/.341/.400, 8 HR, 49 RBI.
Questions for Jay:
1. Can he sustain his average and on base percentage over a full season?
3. Shin-Soo Choo, Cincinnati Reds
Choo could easily start the season as the Reds’ right fielder if he proves that he can’t handle center field during spring training. However, as of right now, he is slotted as the Reds’ starting center fielder. Looking at Choo’s offensive output (he triple slashed a very solid .283/.373/.441), some people might be upset that he is ranked his low. However, we have to remember that defense, especially in the center field position, is very important. I’ve already analyzed Choo’s defense in detail (which can be found Here) and found that he’s likely to struggle and cost the Reds some runs in the process. Offensively, there’s not much to dislike about Choo- he hits for average, gets on base well, and has good pop. However, the fact that the Reds are putting a well below average right fielder into center field is definitely a cause for concern. If Choo can prove all of the doubters wrong and play center field at a league average level, he could shoot up this list very easily.
CAIRO 2013 Projections: .279/.372/.458, 15 HR, 52 RBI.
Questions for Choo:
1. Can he play defense at a league average, or even slightly below rate?
2. Can he move on from his thumb injury once and for all?
3. How much will playing at Great American Ballpark up his power?
4. Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee Brewers
Gomez, like Jay, is another very underrated player. He provides above average defense (5.5 UZR in 2012, 12.0 UZR in 2011) and has decent power for a center fielder. Batting average and on base percentage, however, have been a big concern for Gomez in the past. In fact, before 2012, he had never hit over .247 or got on base at a higher than .298 clip, nor had he managed 10 home runs in a single season. However, last year he seemed to put it all together. He triple slashed .260/.305/.463 in 2012, smacking 19 home runs and stealing 37 bases. If he can continue to improve on his production from 2012 going into the future, then he can become one of the better center fielders in the game. Right now, however, he is the fourth best center fielder in the division.
CAIRO 2013 Projections: .240/.291/.397, 9 HR, 30 RBI.
Questions for Gomez:
1. Can he continue his 2012 production moving forward, or will he regress back to his pre-2012 self?
5. David DeJesus, Chicago Cubs
The Cubs don’t really have a set center fielder going into the 2013 season. DeJesus, however, is the most likely candidate. He did play some center field last year, but his main position was right field. His defense was below average, as indicated by his -4.9 UZR. At the plate, DeJesus is a pretty uninteresting player. Last year he triple slashed .263/.350/.403 with 9 home runs and 50 RBI. His numbers, while not terrible, don’t really compare to the numbers of the other center fielders in the division. He’s also getting up there in age, as he is 33 years old. There isn’t too terribly much to say about DeJesus- his below average glove and uninspiring work at the plate land DeJesus the last spot on this list.
CAIRO 2013 Projections: .262/.340/.401, 10 HR, 51 RBI.
Questions for DeJesus:
1. Can he regain the hitting prowess he had in Kansas City?