B/R MLB 300: Ranking the Top 25 Center Fielders of 2016
There's no shortage of talent in center field, so we're sticking with our usual allotment of 25 players. Our scoring system acknowledges that center field is an important defensive position while also recognizing that center fielders are also well-rounded offensive players:
- Hitting: 25 points
- Power: 25 points
- Baserunning: 20 points
- Defense: 30 points
Before we move on, here's a reminder that this year's B/R MLB 300 is different from past versions in a key way. Rather than use the events of 2016 to project for 2017, the focus is strictly on 2016. Think of these rankings as year-end report cards.
For more on how the scoring and ranking work, read ahead.
How They're Ranked
It takes a minimum of 50 games in the majors to qualify for this list, with most of the players listed ahead having also played 50 percent of their games in center field.
The scoring is based mostly on statistics—current through Wednesday, September 28—from Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs, Brooks Baseball, Baseball Savant and MLBfarm.com. The numbers at these sites leave few blind spots when looking at each player's performance, allowing for analytical scouting reports that cover the following:
Hitting: We know the average center fielder is hitting .263 with a .329 on-base percentage. We want to know how each player is living up to that standard and assorted MLB norms with his patience, discipline, ability to make contact and make good contact, as well as, ideally, use the whole field.
Power: The average center fielder is slugging .416, ranking ahead of only shortstops and catchers. This is a cue to look at not only raw power, but how well each third baseman gets the ball in the air and how else (i.e., a steady pull habit) he maximizes his power potential.
Baserunning: This neck of the woods features more gray areas, so we'll keep it simple with a few questions for each player. Can he steal bases? Can he take more than one base at a time when the opportunity arises? Does he avoid running into outs?
Defense: This is where it's most necessary to do video scouting, but there are also helpful analytics to consult. Defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating are helpful guiding stars. Ditto for Inside Edge Fielding data and the fielding plots available on each player's FanGraphs page.
The individual scores are meant to mimic the 20-80 scouting scale while also taking sample sizes into account. Perfect scores are reserved for players who have excelled throughout the entire season, with bonus points possible under extraordinary circumstances. Anything else is a judgment call.
Last but not least: If any two (or more) players end up with the same score, we'll make another judgment call on the player (or players) we'd rather have.
25. Denard Span, San Francisco Giants
G: 140 PA: 625 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .262/.328/.376 HR: 11 SB: 12
Some of the things that made Denard Span a .300 hitter in 2014 and 2015 are still there. He has an outstanding approach, choosing his swings carefully and making boatloads of contact with an 87.5 Contact%. He also still has a line-drive stroke with great bat control that puts the whole field in play. But at 32 and coming off a significant surgery, it's no big surprise that he hasn't hit the ball hard. At an average of 86 mph, his exit velocity is among the lowest in the game.
In addition to such low exit velocity, Span has also struggled to get under the ball with an average launch angle of 8.3 degrees. He's hit more than two ground balls for every fly ball. So how does he have a career-high 11 home runs? Let's just say the right field foul pole has been in juuuuuust the right spot this year. If not for that, all he'd have would be his power in the right-center gap.
This 30-something Span is not as fleet of foot as the ol' 20-something Span used to be. His seven caught-stealings are evidence of that. But this doesn't mean he's no longer an asset on the basepaths. He still reads situations well, as evidenced by the fact he's still taking the extra base on hits 51 percent of the time and has also added a whopping 28 bags on other plays.
Even when he had his best speed, Span's defense was more about his instincts. He still has those, as he can read and track balls with the best of 'em. He's not going to (and hasn't) mess up anything routine. The step he's lost does hurt him in terms of making more than just routine plays, however. And even by the relatively lax standards of the position, his arm is a weakness.
Span is not the two-way player he once was, as his age and injuries have hurt his speed and defense. However, he remains a good place to look for an example of an advanced hitting approach.
24. Randal Grichuk, St. Louis Cardinals
G: 128 PA: 461 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .242/.291/.488 HR: 24 SB: 5
Randal Grichuk swings at everything (53.6 swing%) and whiffs plenty (72.9 Contact%), and his swing itself is made to get under the ball. When elements like these are combined, you don't get Tony Gwynn. Credit to Grichuk for being better since returning from his demotion, however. He's still a wild swinger, but at least he's been more consistent with his power hitter act. He's swung at the right pitches and has lowered his launch angle from 16.5 degrees to 13.9 degrees without hurting his exit velocity.
Power is what makes Grichuk's wild swinging worth it. He may only be 6'1" and 205 pounds, but his average exit velocity of 95.3 mph on fly balls and line drives confirms he packs a wallop. And with a ground-ball/fly-ball ratio once again under 1.0, he often puts his raw power on display. The only thing holding him back this year has been a smaller pull rate, but that's a nitpick.
His power numbers paint a picture of a plodding slugger, but Grichuk's not that. He likely won't ever be a more productive base stealer than he is now, but gets around the bases well. That shows in his extra bases taken rate of 51 percent on hits, with 16 on other plays on the side.
No center fielder has as low a success rate on routine plays as Grichuk does. That about says it all about his defense. Perhaps his biggest flaw is his lack of feel for running routes. Rather than straight to the ball, his tend to be more serpentine in nature. It takes great speed to make a habit like that work, and Grichuk's speed is less than great. He also has just an OK arm.
It's a lot of fun to watch Grichuk tee off on the ball, as he's about the perfect blend of raw power and a power swing. Now he just needs a more consistent approach, and a home on defense that asks less of him than center field.
23. Travis Jankowski, San Diego Padres
G: 129 PA: 379 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .245/.333/.314 HR: 2 SB: 30
There are some areas where Travis Jankowski looks like the perfect pesky leadoff hitter. He's been one of the most selective hitters in the league, allowing him to work counts and draw walks. And when he does swing, he hits only line drives and ground balls with a heavy emphasis on the opposite field. But he doesn't hit the ball hard. That's a problem in its own. And with pitchers unafraid to challenge him, his patience is a double-edged sword. He welcomes strikes and, with them, strikeouts.
Power is not what Jankowski's about. All the ground balls and line drives he hits don't happen by accident. His average launch angle is 2.3 degrees, one of the lowest in the sport. The fact that he so often goes the other way doesn't help his power either. And more than anything, he doesn't have any real raw power. Case in point: an average of 87.1 mph on balls in the air.
If you're not gonna crush, you better rush. Jankowski is obliging with his 30 stolen bases. Those come with 12 caught-stealings, and he's also run into seven other outs on the bases. So no, he's not perfect. But he's stolen home twice and has taken the extra base on hits 60 percent of the time. This is a case of the good far outweighing the bad.
Defense is another must-have if a guy's not going to hit for power. Jankowski handles that, too. His speed is a big-time asset when he plays center, and he gets the most of out it by breaking well and tracking balls well. Apart from the really tough plays, he's run down everything else this year. His weakness is his arm, which is, well, weak.
The speed elements of Jankowski's game are A-OK. He's an excellent baserunner and a quality defender. But with no power, he needs to cut down on his strikeouts to make his hitting worthwhile.
22. Cameron Maybin, Detroit Tigers
G: 91 PA: 378 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .322/.388/.429 HR: 4 SB: 15
Automatic point deduction for a small sample size. Other than that, here's to Cameron Maybin's fine season. He has the same outstanding approach he's always had, but one thing he continues to emphasize more is making contact. He's rocking a career-best 82.3 Contact%. And while he doesn't make thunderous contact, he saves face by spraying line drives and ground balls in every direction. He's been a textbook example of a top-of-the-order hitter.
An approach like Maybin's doesn't leave much room for power. The levelness of his swing is reflected in his average launch angle. It's just 4.7 degrees, one of the lowest in the known baseball universe. And when he does hit something in the air, he averages 90.0 mph. He can plug the gaps, but his over-the-fence power is limited.
Age and injuries have robbed Maybin of his once-explosive speed, but he still runs well. His 15 steals is a good total for a small sample size. He's also taken the extra base half the time on hits and added another 15 on other plays. The downside? Six caught-stealings and five other outs is too many for a small sample.
Maybin still has some of the goods that once made him an underrated defensive center fielder. He runs effortless-looking routes, in part due to his instincts and in part due to his casual long strides. But making tough plays hasn't been his thing this year, with the main problem there being that he just doesn't have the closing speed that he used to. And with his arm strength, he's not going to make up for that by making runners freeze.
Keep in mind that Maybin's score is low partially because he just hasn't played that much in 2016. He's mostly been good when he has, showing off a particularly impressive approach at the dish.
21. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
G: 149 PA: 663 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .256/.336/.433 HR: 24 SB: 6
It's been a rough year for Andrew McCutchen. He hasn't been hitting the ball as hard, and increased whiff rates have led to his worst strikeout rate. Once airtight, his zone coverage is now littered with holes. And while he hasn't gone full Pablo Sandoval, McCutchen has made things worse by trying to swing his way out of his struggles. The one silver lining is that he's been a lot better in the second half, notably posting a that's-more-like-it 38.5 hard-hit rate. Nonetheless, not his best year.
On the bright side, McCutchen's power production could be worse. He's not driving the ball as well as he usually does, as his exit velo decline also extends to what he puts in the air. On fly balls and line drives, it's down from 95.2 mph to 94.2 mph. Without quality, he's turned to quantity to save face. His launch angle is up from 13.4 degrees to 15.6 degrees, helping to lower his GB/FB ratio to a career low 0.86. He may not be hitting rockets as efficiently, but hitting more of them works.
McCutchen showed signs of slowing down in 2014, and in 2015 came a nagging knee injury. After that and with his 30th birthday fast approaching, it's understandable that he's become more of a bystander on the basepaths. His six steals are offset by seven caught-stealings, and he's taken the extra base on hits only 27 percent of the time.
McCutchen is a Gold Glover with a good reputation. But the defensive metrics have long pushed against that reputation and are now very much down on McCutchen. To the naked eye, he does seem to have lost a step in the outfield. It takes great instincts to overcome that, and McCutchen's are questionable. He can take some funky routes, and this year he hasn't made too many plays he should be making.
This has been the worst season of McCutchen's career, and it may have lingering effects. The Pittsburgh Pirates need to have a serious talk about removing him from center field. However, it's saying something that he's still a quality hitter even in a down year.
20. Tyler Naquin, Cleveland Indians
G: 113 PA: 355 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .298/.374/.522 HR: 14 SB: 6
It helps that Terry Francona has hid Tyler Naquin from left-handers, giving him a permanent platoon advantage. But we're also looking at a guy without a history of hard hitting who is suddenly hitting the ball very hard. His average exit velocity is 91.6 mph and his hard-hit rate is a hair under 40 percent. Naquin's approach is less impressive, however. He really likes to swing away, and his recent cooldown coincides with pitchers attacking his weak zone coverage against heat.
This is a guy who hit 22 homers in his entire minor league career. So, yeah. Kinda surprising to see him with 14 as a part-time player in the majors. His raw power has been legit, as he's averaged 94.2 mph on fly balls and line drives. He also has an average launch angle of 11.0 degrees, not far off the MLB standard of 11.5 degrees. So although he's done it in a limited sample, he's earned his power.
Naquin was known more as a speed guy before this year. He hasn't had many chances to live up to that reputation, but he's certainly been useful on the basepaths. In addition to his six stolen bases, he's taken the extra base on hits 49 percent of the time.
Naquin's metrics rate him as a terrible fielder. This is a slight exaggeration. Rather than a Matt Kemp clone, he mostly looks the part of a center fielder: good speed, good reads, good routes. But he has had some trouble with the routine plays, a reality that reflects how he does have areas he can improve on. Just from the eye test, a couple seem to be getting more aggressive cutting balls off and more conviction around the warning track.
Naquin has been limited to part-time hero status by his platoon role against right-handed pitching. But he's certainly made the most of it, especially in showing off a surprisingly productive power stroke.
19. Rajai Davis, Cleveland Indians
G: 131 PA: 485 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .254/.310/.396 HR: 12 SB: 42
Rajai Davis is a hitter with a thousand faces. Sometimes he's been a contact hitter. Other times, he's gone for more power. His 2016 self leans more toward the latter. Davis is swinging as aggressively as ever, but has looked to pull more balls and hit more balls in the air. His exit velocity hasn't budged despite that, and it's been easy to get him to swing and miss at stuff with spin. But as is usually the case, his numbers are adhering close to his career norms anyway.
Davis' 12 homers are a career high, so his quest for more power has largely worked. His exit velocity hasn't changed, but a higher pull rate is always helpful for power. Ditto a higher launch angle, as his has gone from 11.9 degrees to 13.3 degrees. Anything he hits in the air to left field has a chance to go for extra bases, and a decent chance to go over the wall.
Davis may be 35, but he just refuses to slow down. It's not just his AL-leading 42 steals that reflect how speedy he is. He's also taken the extra base on hits 58 percent of the time and taken 22 other bases on the side. Next to all this activity, he's been caught stealing only six times and run into just three other outs.
Davis doesn't have a true home in the outfield. But he's played mostly center field this year, so here he is. And that's a good thing. His speed plays fine anywhere in the outfield, but he reads the ball off the bat better in center field than he does in left field. Even the easy plays make for a real challenge when Davis is in left. While that obviously hasn't been a problem in center field, it's a factor that can't be ignored in scoring his overall defense.
Davis' baserunning alone makes him worth playing, but he's useful in other ways too. He's not a bad hitter, power hitter or defender.
18. Leonys Martin, Seattle Mariners
G: 140 PA: 564 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .247/.305/.381 HR: 15 SB: 23
After a down year in 2015, we find Leonys Martin right where he usually is. He's a more disciplined hitter than he used to be, but his swinging-strike rate is trending in the wrong direction. That puts it on him to make the most of his balls in play. He's answered that call by driving more pitches. His exit velocity hasn't budged, but his hard-hit rate has never been better. He's also gotten under the ball more, which is helping save his pull habit from being killed by shifts.
When you're driving the ball more, you better set a new career high for home runs. The key for Martin involves his launch angle. At 12.5 degrees, it's more than twice as high as it was in 2015. Between that and his pull habit, he has enough to get away with the fact that his 91.2 mph exit velo on fly balls and line drives is nothing special. Two things, though: His power doesn't extend far beyond right field, and features few doubles (17) or triples (3) in addition to his homers.
Martin may be muscling up, but he can still run. His 23 steals come with six caught-stealings. Not great, but not any worse than what he usually does. The bigger issue is his career-low rate of 38 percent extra bases taken on hits. But that's also not a terrible number, and it comes with relatively few outs on the basepaths.
Martin is a center fielder nobody should run on. He has an outstanding arm, and this is the fourth year in a row he's racked up double-digit assists. He also covers a pretty good amount of ground when he's not gunning down runners. We probably can't count him among the most efficient route runners, but he does himself a favor by breaking quickly and running well. At the least, he has routine plays on lockdown.
Martin has tried to add some more power to his game in 2016, but he's mostly the same player he's always been: a good defender with an inconsistent bat.
17. Marcell Ozuna, Miami Marlins
G: 147 PA: 603 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .264/.320/.453 HR: 23 SB: 0
Marcell Ozuna didn't lose his ability to hit the ball hard last year, and he's still performing well in that department with 91.4 mph exit velocity. But he was swinging at too many bad pitches and wasn't getting under the ball enough. Both issues have been corrected with a slightly improved chase rate and a significantly improved launch angle. But when you act like a slugger, you get treated like one. Ever since Ozuna started seeing fewer fastballs in July, the struggle has been real.
When you continue to hit the ball hard while also getting under more balls, power will happen. There's no doubting Ozuna's raw power, as he's averaging a rock-solid 93.9 mph on fly balls and line drives. His one shortcoming, such as it is, is that he doesn't exploit his pull power as much as he should. He's been unable to get his pull percentage over 40 in any of his full seasons.
Ozuna's a good athlete, but quick acceleration isn't his thing. Hence his inability to steal bases, which is punctuated by his 0-for-3 showing this year. It's to his credit that he at least takes the extra base on hits 46 percent of the time. And after running into eight outs back in 2014, he's cleaned up that problem.
Ozuna is sort of an Adam Jones clone in center field. His best asset is his arm, which has laser-rocket strength that's good for gunning down runners and keeping others from trying their luck. And on the easy plays, he has enough athleticism and know-how to get the job done. But with his modest speed, Ozuna's not a highlight-reel catch kind of guy.
Ozuna's first-half revival has also been his downfall in the second half. The one standout skill he has is his power. Ever since pitchers adjusted to it, he's looked awfully human.
16. Jarrod Dyson, Kansas City Royals
G: 104 PA: 324 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .268/.332/.369 HR: 1 SB: 29
Jarrod Dyson is a platoon hitter who only gets to face right-handers, so take his production with a grain of salt. He's earned it, though. With a 44.2 Swing% and 24.2 S-swing%, Dyson's approach is as good as ever. The difference this year is a career-high 87.9 Contact%. His 84.5 mph exit velocity is still very low by league standards, but it's a nice increase over last year's 82.2 mph. And in keeping this contact on the ground and spreading it around, he sure operates like a speedy hitter.
Dyson is definitely not a home run hitter, as his one dinger this year brings his career total to seven. He's not hiding any power either. He doesn't get under the ball, posting a launch angle of just 4.6 degrees. That's where all his ground balls come from. And when he does get the ball in the air, he only averages 84.5 mph. His speed becomes a major weapon on balls in the gap, but those come rarely.
Dyson is fast and he knows it. His 29 steals this year make it five years in a row with at least 26. He's also a virtual lock to take an extra base on hits, doing so 65 percent of the time. And between seven caught-stealings and four other outs, he doesn't make as many mistakes as other speedy guys.
Dyson is one of the sport's best defensive outfielders no matter where he plays, be it in center or wherever. His great speed alone would give him plenty of range, but he pushes the envelope by breaking quickly and tracking balls well. This was on display on what I'm labeling the Catch of the Year in Miami in August. He even has a decent arm, making 11 assists this year. The only thing to hold against him is that he's not an everyday player.
Dyson is a part-time player who might be the least powerful hitter in baseball. But with a good on-base talent, tons of speed and a brilliant glove, he more than makes up for these faults.
15. Kevin Pillar, Toronto Blue Jays
G: 142 PA: 569 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .265/.300/.375 HR: 7 SB: 14
The downturn of Kevin Pillar's offense looks odd in some respects. He's become more disciplined while remaining a good contact hitter, and his exit velocity has shot up from 85.2 mph to 87.6 mph. But this is a case where exit velo is misleading. Pillar is still making a ton of soft contact with a 24.9 Soft%. And due to his lack of power, pitchers have rendered his increased patience useless by continuing to throw him plenty of strikes. That's made it even harder for him to pad his OBP with walks.
Pillar's power hasn't budged much from 2015. His average launch angle is down from 9.5 degrees to 8.2 degrees, so he's not making as much use of his solid 91.2 mph average on fly balls and line drives as he should. To boot, whatever power he has applies only to left field. And this year, he's going that way less often.
After stealing 25 bags last year, Pillar has been neither as active nor as efficient stealing bases in 2016. His 14 steals come with six failures. Nonetheless, his good speed remains an asset. He's taken the extra base on hits more often and also added more bases (20) on other plays.
It's way too much fun to watch Pillar play defense. He has more than enough speed for the position, and he gets the most out of it by breaking quickly and going all-out on his routes. And as much as it looks like he works on sheer energy, his technique is good too. His routes are mostly direct. There are few catches he can't make with this combination of talents. The only thing he lacks is a good arm.
The strides Pillar made as an offensive player in 2015 have been erased in 2016, both at the plate and on the basepaths. On the bright side, he remains one of the best defensive center fielders in the league.
14. Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles
G: 148 PA: 652 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .272/.316/.443 HR: 28 SB: 2
Adam Jones' defining attribute is still his fondness for swinging the bat. He does that more than anyone, and it really doesn't matter whether the ball is in or out of the strike zone. The downside: He still doesn't know how to take his walks. The upside: He doesn't strike out as much as he probably should. He also still gets the barrel to the ball just fine with 89.3 mph exit velo. His approach isn't for everyone, but it works for him.
Jones has gotten under the ball more consistently in 2016, boosting his launch angle and lowering his GB/FB ratio. He's frankly needed to do this, as the 31-year-old's swing is showing signs of slowing down. He hasn't pulled the ball at his normal rate, and his exit velo on balls in the air is no better than average at 92.3 mph. And with only 19 doubles and no triples, there's been an all-or-nothing quality to Jones' power this year.
Speaking of showing signs of aging, Jones' legs just aren't the value generators they used to be. His two steals have come in only two attempts. And in taking the extra base on hits just 42 percent of the time, he's short of his peak performance.
Jones' best asset on defense is his arm, which ESPN.com's Keith Law rated as one of the five best outfield arms in the league. At a position where arms are generally weak, it's an especially valuable tool. He hasn't had to use it much this year, though, as he's made four assists after making 13 last year. That's left it up to Jones to boost his value with his fly-ball catching skills, and he hasn't had the range for the job in 2016.
Jones has a unique skill set that makes him a tough guy to analyze by traditional center field standards. But what we know in 2016 is this: He's still a wild swinger, there are more cracks in his power than his 28 homers let on, and his defensive reputation doesn't quite align with reality.
13. Lorenzo Cain, Kansas City Royals
G: 103 PA: 434 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .287/.339/.408 HR: 9 SB: 14
Lorenzo Cain battled injuries in 2016 and his numbers paid the price. He remained a solid contact hitter who does a good job of spraying the ball around, and he's helped himself by getting away from his extreme ground-ball style of 2013 and 2014. But he didn't hit the ball as hard this year as he did in 2015, with his exit velo dropping to a modest 89.2 mph. And while he was a more disciplined hitter this year, he didn't respond well to the corresponding uptick in fastballs.
Cain getting away from his extreme ground-ball style last year was a big reason why he slugged a career-high 16 homers. He regressed in 2016, not getting under as many balls with a 9.9 degree launch angle. He also watched his exit velo on fly balls and line drives decline from 92.8 mph to 89.1 mph. He's also an all-fields hitter whose power is limited to the right of center.
We're used to great baserunning from Cain, but that wasn't the case in 2016. He hasn't been around that long, but he's already 30. And when it comes to injuries that can make a guy afraid to run, hamstrings take the cake. Considering all this, it's actually impressive that he managed 14 steals in 19 tries while continuing to take the extra base on hits 61 percent of the time. Not great, but still good.
Cain once again split his time between center field and right field. Wherever he plays, there's not much that escapes him. Cain isn't the fastest runner in the outfield, but he breaks quickly and is a good case study for route efficiency. He's a lock to make easy plays, and a good bet to make the tough ones. And while he doesn't have a rocket launcher for an arm, it's not a weakness either.
Cain's score here is hurt by his injury as well as some downturns in his performance. On the whole, though, he's still a good player who packs a quality bat and is productive on the bases and in the field.
12. Keon Broxton, Milwaukee Brewers
G: 75 PA: 244 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .242/.354/.430 HR: 9 SB: 23
A fractured wrist ended Keon Broxton's season, but not before he left an impression on the Milwaukee Brewers. He can flat-out murder the ball, posting average exit velocity of 95.0 mph, placing him behind only Nelson Cruz and Giancarlo Stanton. He also has an extremely discerning eye for the strike zone with a 22.1 O-swing%. Now all he needs to do is see about his swing-and-miss problem. Anything that's not middle-in is a solid bet to draw a whiff, leading to an ugly 36.1 strikeout percentage.
Nine homers in 75 games isn't a Gary Sanchez-ian rate, but Broxton showed power potential all the same. His exit velo mastery is more impressive when the focus is narrowed to his fly balls and line drives. He's hit those at an average of 97 mph, an elite-level figure. And with an average launch angle of 13.9 degrees, he gets under plenty. Make no mistake, Broxton could be a really good power hitter.
Yup, Broxton can run too. He has easy plus speed and pretty good instincts too, hence just the four caught-stealings. He only took the extra base on hits 40 percent of the time, but that's not worth reading into. When you hit for so much power and steal so many bases in such a small sample size, there's not much room for taking extra bases.
It stands out that Broxton made four errors in only 511 innings in center field, but two of those came in one bad inning. These is something to be said about how that relates to his fielding style. Rather than a guy who lets his instincts guide him, a la Jackie Bradley Jr., Broxton lets his sheer athleticism guide the way. That can lead to less-than-efficient routes and plays. His athleticism is so good, however, that it rarely matters. He can run down anything.
Every season brings at least one small sample size star. Between his ability to crush everything in his sight and his ability to run wild on the basepaths and in the field, that's what Broxton's been.
11. Ian Desmond, Texas Rangers
G: 154 PA: 671 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .284/.334/.447 HR: 22 SB: 20
Ian Desmond has made a roaring comeback in 2016. This mostly stems from how much he's tightened up his approach, swinging less and making more contact. Meanwhile, a bat that's always had thunder in it has continued to make loud contact. But things have gotten away from Desmond in the second half. His approach has unraveled, as has the quality of his contact. In particular, he's hitting way too many ground balls. It's the story of Desmond's career: He has it, and then he loses it.
On the whole, things are pretty good here too. Desmond's raw pop is in good working order, producing an average of 94.3 mph on fly balls and line drives. To boot, it goes to all parts of the yard. But getting the ball airborne consistently has been an issue Desmond's whole career. With a launch angle under five degrees, that hasn't changed this year. And it's only gotten worse since the break.
This remains the most consistent aspect of Desmond's game. His 20 steals come with six caught-stealings, and he's taken the extra base on hits 53 percent of the time. He's run into only five outs. His good speed is a factor in all this, but his instincts are not to be overlooked.
Desmond's strong arm was always his best asset at shortstop. The same has turned out to be true of his center field defense. He has only eight outfield assists, but going unseen is how many runners he's stopped from testing him just with the threat of his arm. His fly-ball catching skills are just OK. Desmond's athleticism is fine for the position, but funky reads and routes have resulted in some missed makable catches and few truly great catches.
Although Desmond began 2016 a lot stronger than he's finishing it, it's mostly been a success with good power, good baserunning and surprisingly strong defense in the outfield.
10. Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds
G: 119 PA: 460 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .260/.321/.343 HR: 3 SB: 58
Billy Hamilton accomplished one thing before an oblique injury ended his season: He turned into a competent hitter. Not perfect, mind you. A guy like him needs to be a better contact hitter, and he has yet to give pitchers a good reason to stop feeding him fastballs. But Hamilton is at least getting more selective, now rarely expanding the zone. And while his 83.1 mph exit velocity is still terrible by the usual standards, it is better now than it was in 2015.
Hamilton is certainly a danger to take second on any ball hit into space, but his actual power is minimal. He averaged just 84.9 mph on fly balls and line drives. The only person who's envious of velocity like that is Jered Weaver. And while Hamilton's average launch angle of 10.7 degrees isn't terrible by power standards, it would be better for his all-around game if he got that down.
You know all about Hamilton's speed, so whatever. The real thing to appreciate is how well he uses it now compared to his first full season in 2014. His 58 steals come with only eight caught-stealings. He also took the extra base on hits 68 percent of the time. He ran into only two outs.
I don't know if I can say anything this video can't. Hamilton's blinding speed is a huge asset that allows him to cover a huge amount of ground even without good instincts. And his are pretty good. To boot, he has a halfway decent arm too. It helped him make nine assists in 2016. With these things, Hamilton has entered the conversation about the best defensive center fielder in baseball.
Hamilton's legs make him just the kind of weapon you'd expect him to be on the bases and in the outfield. His bat still needs a lot of work, but it's at least headed in the right direction.
9. Ender Inciarte, Atlanta Braves
G: 127 PA: 566 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .295/.356/.387 HR: 3 SB: 16
Ender Inciarte is one of the better examples of a slap hitter to be found in today's MLB. In addition to being fairly choosy with his swings, he makes a ton of contact and sprays line drives and ground balls in all directions. That's how he gets away with making mostly quiet contact, but his has at least been better in 2016. His exit velo is up from 85.0 to 85.7 mph. In all, he's a throwback to a more innocent time when good pure hitters were more valued than they are today.
Like any garden-variety slap hitter, Inciarte has very little raw power. That shows in his average of 87.6 mph on his fly balls and line drives. And with an 8.2 degree launch angle, he doesn't get under many balls. He's much more of a gap power guy.
Hamstring issues haven't stopped Inciarte from trying to hurt the opposition with his speed. In addition to his 16 steals, he's taken the extra base on hits 52 percent of the time and nabbed another 21 on non-hits. But since he's been caught stealing seven times and has run into 10 other outs on the basepaths, him toning it down a bit would be a good thing.
After crushing it in right field last season, Inciarte has gotten a chance to strut his stuff in center field this year. It's been a heck of a show. The speed that can get him in trouble on the bases plays a lot better on defense, in large part because his quick breaks and strong routes don't take away from it. There really aren't any plays he can't make. And while his arm isn't the best, it's another strength in his defensive arsenal.
It's easy to miss Inciarte due to his lack of superstar skills. But the dude is a quality hitter and baserunner, and he further adds to his value with excellent defense in center field.
8. Dexter Fowler, Chicago Cubs
G: 122 PA: 540 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .274/.388/.448 HR: 13 SB: 12
Dexter Fowler hasn't had to change much to be better than ever. The only notable change he's made is buying into the Chicago Cubs' "don't swing" philosophy. He was already selective. Now he's extremely selective. This has brought him better contact, as his exit velocity is up from 87.4 mph to 88.5 mph. Although he still strikes out more than he should and doesn't use the opposite field enough, it's otherwise hard to find flaws in his game. I mean, a .388 OBP is a .388 OBP, right?
Fowler's continues to have power that falls in the good-not-great realm by center field standards. The best thing he has going for him is his uppercut swing, which is producing a solid launch angle of 13.3 degrees. He gets plenty of balls in the air with that. But his raw power remains just OK. He's averaging 90.7 mph on fly balls and line drives.
After 20 steals last year, Fowler's 12 is a disappointing total. But this has a bright side. The catch with his speed in the past has been an abundance of mistakes. There have been fewer of those in 2016, as he's been caught stealing only four times and run into seven other outs. Meanwhile, he's taking the extra base on hits 64 percent of the time.
There's little wrong with Fowler's ability to make the easy plays, but he doesn't bring much else to the table on defense. Although he still has the athleticism for the position, he can get burned by routes that get both overly tentative and too casual. To add to his woes, his arm isn't the kind of weapon that can make up for his lack of range.
Fowler's on-base talent is a huge strength, and it comes with no real weaknesses. He has good power, good speed and a serviceable glove.
7. Trea Turner, Washington Nationals
G: 69 PA: 307 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .340/.362/.558 HR: 12 SB: 29
We haven't gotten a full picture of Trea Turner yet, but it's apparent he doesn't have much interest in being an OBP merchant. He hasn't shown as much discipline or as good a contact habit as you'd prefer to see in a leadoff type. His bat packs a punch, though. He's direct to the ball with a swing that's good for line drives to all yards, and has produced pretty good exit velocity at 90.5 mph. Maybe he hasn't worked counts, but his ability to barrel the ball is worth something.
The conventional wisdom holds that speedy hitters should hit the ball on the ground and leg out hits. Turner has no time for that. He gets under the ball, posting an average launch angle of 11 degrees. And why not with his raw pop? He's averaged 92.5 mph on fly balls and line drives. This makes him not only a home run threat, but a doubles (14) and triples (7) threat as well. Small sample size be damned, he's been a dangerous power hitter.
Turner may not want to act like a speedy hitter, but he's certainly very, very speedy. He's at least a 70-grade runner. That's how he's stolen 29 bags in 35 tries. He's also taken the extra base on hits 57 percent of the time and added another 12 bags on non-hits.
Turner is a shortstop by trade, but now finds himself in center field by way of a brief stop at second base. There are times when he can't hide his lack of experience reading and tracking fly balls, resulting in some painful mistakes. There's no question he has the speed for the position, however, and it's resulted in good range. With time, he could be a really good center fielder.
The small sample size Turner has played in doesn't help his cause here. Otherwise, he's shown why he was considered one of baseball's top prospects. He has a surprising amount of pop in his bat for a speedy hitter, and his speed has indeed been as advertised.
6. Odubel Herrera, Philadelphia Phillies
G: 155 PA: 640 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .289/.364/.426 HR: 15 SB: 25
His numbers may not show as much, but Odubel Herrera is a different hitter in 2016. He's become a tougher out, improving both his walk rate and his strikeout rate. He's also gone from being primarily a pull hitter to an opposite field hitter, all while making his exit velocity slightly better. But while all this is good, Herrera hasn't actually changed his approach much and is slightly undermining his batted ball changes with a higher launch angle. Fly balls are better for power than consistency.
As you'd expect from a guy with a higher launch angle and more exit velocity, Herrera has hit for more power in 2016. But it's still hard to call him a true power hitter. His average of 90.3 mph on fly balls and line drives reveals his raw power is still mediocre. And with his power mainly concentrated to his pull side, his shift to being more of an opposite field hitter isn't helping his power production.
With 25 steals and a rate of 40 percent extra bases taken on hits and 22 other bases taken, Herrera's speed mostly leads to good things on the basepaths. But there is some bad, too. He's been caught stealing seven times and has run into 10 other outs on the bases.
Herrera entered 2015 as a recent convert to center field, and his performance suggested that his sheer athleticism would allow him to make up for his iffy feel for the outfield. As Corinne Landrey covered at FanGraphs, the latter has been more of an issue in 2016. Herrera has missed on too many plays, and his nine errors are way too many for an everyday center fielder. His athleticism remains his saving grace, but this season proves it's hard to get by on athleticism alone.
Despite my minor criticisms of how Herrera is tackling his 2016 season, he remains a very good player. He's a good hitter with some power, good speed and a glove that, while not 100 percent reliable, is still an asset.
5. Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers
G: 134 PA: 465 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .246/.353/.496 HR: 25 SB: 6
After an up-and-down rookie year in 2015, Joc Pederson has made changes for the better. He still mostly operates like a power hitter: choosing his swings carefully, getting under the ball and hitting it hard. But his swing-and-miss habit has improved greatly. This has much to do with how he's cleaned up a major hole. High fastballs killed him in 2015. They're not in 2016. While he's never going to be Joey Votto, Pederson is at least becoming a tougher out.
In the end, only Pederson's midsummer shoulder injury could keep him from topping last year's 26 homers. As referenced above, his launch angle (15.6 degrees) and exit velocity have improved substantially in 2016. His raw power, meanwhile, is legit. His average of 97.1 mph on fly balls and line drives puts him up there with the big boys. Add in a steady pull habit, and you're looking at a perfect power recipe.
Pederson just hasn't been the base stealer he was in the minors. He's a fine athlete, but he's yet to show the kind of burst in speed that you see from truly great base stealers. But he's making up for this in other ways in 2016. He's been caught stealing only twice and has taken the extra base on hits 48 percent of the time. Notably, he's gone first to third nine more times than he did in all of 2015.
Pederson was a solid defender to begin with, and has been better this year. His athleticism plays at the position, but an apparent area of improvement has been his ability to go back on the ball. He struggled with that in 2015. It's been less of an issue in 2016, as Pederson has run more direct routes with more conviction. This allows for solid all-around range. His arm remains a non-factor, however.
Pederson was mostly just a power hitter in 2015. Now he's a power hitter who's swinging and missing less and playing more reliably on the bases and in the outfield.
4. Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa Bay Rays
G: 102 PA: 402 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .244/.328/.410 HR: 12 SB: 20
Kevin Kiermaier is a changed man at the plate. Where once there was a wild swinger is now a disciplined hitter. Hence the walks that have boosted his OBP. And with improved exit velocity to boot, he arguably deserves to have a higher batting average. But Kiermaier still has some flaws. He's not a great contact hitter, posting just a 78.3 Contact%. And with such an extreme pull habit, he's been hurt by the shift.
Hypothetically, Kiermaier should be hitting for a lot more power in 2016. With his launch angle having gone up from 8.7 degrees to 10.7 degrees, his GB/FB ratio has dropped dramatically. With more fly balls meeting his pull habit, one and one and one should equal dingers. But with an average of 91.1 mph on fly balls and line drives, his raw power remains nothing special.
Kiermaier's 20 steals come with only three caught-stealings. Even better, he's taken the extra base on hits a whopping 75 percent of the time and has run into only three outs. This has taken place over a small sample size due to a lengthy absence with a hand injury, but it reflects how much of a blur Kiermaier is on the bases.
Kiermaier won't come close to the record he set for defensive runs saved in a single season last year. But that's only because his injury took him off the field for so long. His speed and his sheer fearlessness allow him to cover a ton of ground in the outfield. There's little he can't run down, and he'll do pretty much anything to make a catch. And lest anyone forget, he also has a really good arm.
Kiermaier's game mostly revolves around what he can do with his legs, which he uses to be both an elite baserunner and an elite defender. But while his bat isn't quite a weapon yet, it is evolving into one.
3. Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies
G: 139 PA: 621 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .320/.377/.545 HR: 28 SB: 17
The fact that Charlie Blackmon is raking away from Coors Field confirms he's been legit. He's always had a good contact habit and a line-drive swing. A big difference this year is his approach, which is a happy medium between his old aggressive self and the passive hitter he turned into last season. Elsewhere, he's added nearly two mph of exit velocity from last season. This is a case where center field standards don't really cut it for one of MLB's top hitters, so bonus points are appropriate.
Blackmon's power numbers are slightly misleading. They make him look like a hitter who gets way under the ball and has booming raw power to boot. With a 13.7 degree launch angle and 90.7 mph exit velocity on balls in the air, neither is especially true. Nonetheless, he hasn't needed much help from Coors Field and none of his homers have been cheapies. Full credit is the least I can give him.
Blackmon's power surge is part of the reason why he won't come close to last year's 43 stolen bases. His 17 steals are still good, though, and he's also taken the extra base on hits 53 percent of the time. And after running into 10 outs and being caught-stealing 13 times in 2015, five outs and seven caught-stealings is a nice change of pace.
Blackmon has good speed and was revealed in 2015 to be an efficient route-runner. Despite that, quite a few balls in his direction continue to go uncaught. Coors Field's gigantic dimensions are a factor there, to be sure. But Blackmon doesn't always get the quickest breaks, which takes away from his speed and route running. And with his arm, he can't make up for that by cutting down runners.
Blackmon has made the leap from good Coors Field player to good player, period. He's been an elite hitter both at home and on the road, and has continued to boost his value with his athleticism to boot.
2. Jackie Bradley Jr., Boston Red Sox
G: 152 PA: 621 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .272/.354/.496 HR: 26 SB: 9
Turns out Jackie Bradley Jr.'s late 2015 breakout was the real deal. His defining characteristic is his ability to get the barrel to the ball, creating good exit velocity and a high hard-hit rate. He's also disciplined, and it's not as easy to get him to swing over something with spin as it used to be. He does still strike out too much, though. And with a pull rate as high as his, he's probably lucky he hasn't been hurt by the shift more than he has.
For a guy who's only 5'10" and 200 pounds, Bradley has a surprising amount of raw power. He's averaging 94.4 mph on fly balls and line drives. As such, he doesn't truly need his pull habit to boost his power. What he lacks is consistency getting the ball in the air. His launch angle has fallen under 10 degrees, and his GB/FB ratio is trending up as a result.
Bradley's not a fast runner, but he's one of the best in the business at getting the most out of what speed he has. The two caught-stealings he has this year are the first two of his career. He also has a rate of 51 percent extra bases taken on hits. He's notably come home from first on a double six times in 10 chances. Pretty good.
Bradley gets the most out of his modest speed on defense, too. He breaks quickly and runs some of the smoothest routes of any center fielder. In particular, he looks more comfortable going back on the ball than maybe any other player at the position. This results in plenty of range. To boot, he also has an absolute cannon for an arm that he also happens to be accurate with.
Bradley had trouble finding his footing in The Show. But ever since late last summer, his frequent hard contact and excellent defense have turned him into one of the very best two-way center fielders.
1. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
G: 156 PA: 669 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .318/.441/.556 HR: 29 SB: 27
Yup, looks like Mike Trout. By now, you should already know that he's one of baseball's most disciplined hitters who also happens to be very good at making loud contact. There's not much more to say on either front. Rather, the big difference this year is in Trout's strikeout rate. It's way down from a couple of years ago. He's made a huge improvement against off-speed pitches. He still swings and misses at high heat, but that's no longer a fatal weakness. Bonus points for the league's OBP leader!
Trout won't come close to last year's 41 homers. Part of the problem has been less explosive contact on balls in the air. He's gone from an average of 96.7 mph to "only" 94.5 mph. His launch angle, meanwhile, hasn't budged. He still has excellent power by the position's standards, of course, but it's no longer the kind of power that would pass for excellent at any position.
The prodigal baserunning son has returned. Trout's 27 steals are as many as he had in 2014 and 2015 combined. He's also taking the extra base on hits 51 percent of the time and has snagged another 32 (!) bases on other plays. Low by his standards, but still good. So much for the notion that he was slowing down.
Trout's defense, on the other hand, does seem to be past its peak. He's not making really tough catches at the same rate he did in 2012, a year in which he was flying around the outfield with reckless abandon. But his speed and strong route-running still allow him to cover a wide swath of ground, and highlight-reel catches remain a part of the overall experience. To boot, an arm that used to be a non-factor is now a solid weapon.
After shifting toward a life as a power hitter in 2014 and 2015, Trout has reverted back to being the best all-around player in baseball. He can hit, hit for power, run and field. And how.