NL East position rankings: centerfield
Centerfield in the National League East is one of the least star-studded positions in the division. Centerfield isn’t typically a premium hitting position, but on the whole the division is below average among its peers. It will still be an interesting position to follow as almost the entire division is looking to bounce back after a down 2010 season.
1. Angel Pagan, Mets - New York made it official before its first spring training game against the Nationals earlier this week that Carlos Beltran would shift to right field, making Pagan its starting centerfielder. Pagan is a late bloomer. He’s 29 years old and last season was the first year he played in more than 88 games. Last season he was the best hitting centerfielder in the NL East according to his .765 OPS, yet that was only the 10th best mark among centerfielders in the National League with 300 plate appearances. He has all the necessary tools, though. He posted the best UZR per 150 games among his NL East peers and also stole 37 bases in 2010.
2. Shane Victorino, Phillies - The 30-year-old was yet another member of the Phillies who had a down season last year. His .327 on base percentage was not his typical season. Many attributed his bad year at the plate to the “Willie Mays Hayes” syndrome, named for the speed guy from the Major League movies who at one point abandons his game to try to hit more home runs. While Victorino did hit 18 homers, which was the most in his career, the power for on-base trade-off is only part of the story. Victorino’s speed may be diminishing. Last season his .273 batting average on balls in play was sixth-lowest in the National League and surprising for a guy known for his speed. Victorino also hit far fewer fly balls than the players that are profiled as low BABIP hitters. So why did this happen? Victorino’s BABIP was low because he also converted the lowest percentage of ground balls into hits in his career, more than five percent lower than his 2009 season.
3. Chris Coghlan, Marlins - Maybe Victorino just stole Coghlan’s power. Last season, Coghlan didn’t get his first extra base hit until May. He recovered to smash the ball in June, racking up a 1.105 OPS and 15 doubles, but then his power deserted him again. He only hit one more extra base hit in July in 17 games before his season was lost to a knee injury. The third year player is still young, and last season just looks like a year where he could never get on track. He should figure it out this year, but he’ll have to do it at a new position. He’s never played center before.
4. Nyjer Morgan, Nationals - Morgan is chalking up his lost 2010 to a swelled head. He’ll have to come back down to Earth if he even wants to be the starting centerfielder on the Nationals. The popular opinion among Nationals fans is that Morgan could lose his starting spot or even his place on the roster with a bad spring. Here’s a silver lining to Morgan season last year where he had a .633 OPS and was caught stealing in a third of his attempts: he had the highest percentage of line drives, the type of contact that most often falls for a hit, among National League center fielders.
5. Nate McLouth, Braves - He’ll have a chance to regain his starting spot after being sent down in 2010 following an awful first half to the season (a .190 batting average, yikes). His -1.3 WAR ranked him as the third-worst player in the majors with at least 250 plate appearances. It takes some digging to find out why McLouth played so bad. Pitchers pitched him the same way they always have. He maintained the same type of contact that he always has. McLouth’s problem was that his power was sapped. A smaller percentage of his fly balls landed beyond the outfield fence. He only hit six home runs compared to 20+ in his two previous seasons. He was also way off pace when it came to doubles.
Centerfield shakes out with everyone looking up at Angel Pagan and with something to prove. It’ll be an interesting season for the “quarterbacks” of the baseball diamond.