The Nine Best Center Fielders for 2013

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

As we do every week here at STT, we present lists of things ordered by the nines and on this Saturday, it’s a list of The Nine Best Center Fielders for 2013.

On this list, you’ll find a couple of center fielders have gone missing as they no longer play the position. If you’re looking for Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, for example, try the left field list. Beyond that, I found this list to be a bit convoluted and had a difficult time doing the rankings. A lot of players are left off who could easily be in the 7-9 range and lots of players who are on the list could easily end up somewhere else on the board.

Apologies to: Justin Ruggiano, Dexter Fowler, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury.

9. Adam Jones (Orioles)

Jones hits for power and average and has decent speed, but his plate discipline is suspect. He’s also less than stellar on defense according to the metrics, but coaches seem to like him as they gave him a gold glove last year over the great Mike Trout. He’s a good player, but he’s not a complete player.

8. John Jay (Cardinals)

You could probably attack this choice more any other because Jay doesn’t hit for power and doesn’t have one eye popping skill. But Jay hits for average, runs the bases pretty well, and plays solid defense. It’s more of gut feeling here than anything, but I like Jay to break out this year. Entering his prime years on a great team, I’m buying.

7. B.J. Upton (Braves)

Upton will play between his brother and Jason Heyward on a good all-around team. He’s a solid defender who hits for power and runs well to mix with a good approach at the plate. He has a swing and miss problem and a lowish batting average, but he’s a good bet for 3 to 5 WAR.

6. Peter Bourjos (Angels)

The speedy, defensive star put up a 4.5 WAR season when he got a full season as a starter in 2011 and has two 2+WAR season in a backup role in 2010 and 2012. He doesn’t light up a lot of the traditional stats, but he plays amazing defense and runs as well as anyone. He’s worth the price of admission on defense alone and could easily be a top five centerfielder if he has a moderately good offensive year.

5. Denard Span (Nationals)

Span is a great defender who doesn’t strikeout much and gets on base better than average for a centerfielder and runs well. If he can stay healthy, he’ll be great at the top of the Nationals lineup and between Werth and Harper. With his concussion history hopefully behind him, he should be in for a big year.

4. Michael Bourn (Indians)

Bourn may be aging, but he’s coming off four very good seasons and is a top tier defensive player. He’s a top flight runner and gets on base well. Four years from now, the Indians might not want to pay him $12 million a season, but for 2013, he’s still one of the very best centerfielders money can buy.

3. Matt Kemp (Dodgers)

Kemp’s 2011 season was one for the ages and his 2012 started off on the same pace but was cut down by injuries. That’s the only reason Kemp isn’t #1 on this list. I’m just not sure he’ll play a full season. His defense could use some work, but on offense, a healthy Kemp is as good as they come. If he was coming off a less serious set of injuries I would be more likely to brush them off, but I’m doubtful Kemp can play 150 games for a team with big expectations in 2013.

2. Andrew McCutchen (Pirates)

McCutchen is one of baseball’s best players. He mixes speed, power, and plate discipline and was one of baseball’s most valuable players in 2012. He has four very good seasons under his belt and is only held back by averageish defense. There is some debate about his skills in center, but all in all there isn’t much bad to say about the Pirates’ star.

 

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1. Austin Jackson (Tigers)

Now before I’m accused of bias in favor of my favorite team, go back and look at Jackson’s 2012 season. He was better than Bourn in every major category excepts steals and defense, but he also missed 25 games with an injury. He cut down on his strikeouts, walked more, and hit for more power. He’s a great defender and is a year younger than McCutchen. Despite missing time with an injury that has completely healed, Jackson was third in centerfield WAR among players who still play the position and less than 2 WAR behind McCutchen. I’m buying another step forward for Jackson in 2013 toward something like a 6-6.5 WAR player and modest regression by McCutchen. This isn’t to say Cutch is in decline, but rather that 2012 was simply his career year. It will be hard to reproduce that peak, so Jackson might catch him in 2013. This might be a bit bold, but I’ll stick to it. Jackson is my pick for the best centerfielder in baseball for 2013.

Sound off in the comments and online about the merits of this list. Should you want your money back because it was terrible, try to remember this site is free, unlike ESPN Insider, which charges you to read mostly terrible commentary.

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