Here is an article that was sent to me by a friend. Being a centerfielder myself, i found this article very interesting. I'd love to hear some feedback...
The ability to play first-rate center-field defense might be one of the most under-appreciated skills in baseball. Positioning, getting a good jump on the ball and quickly covering a lot of ground often can make the difference between a flyout and a two-run double. Sure, you might say, but how do we measure such things?
While fielding metrics are still less common and less straightforward than batting stats, we now have ways of analyzing defense that go beyond errors and highlight reels. For the purposes of this essay, we will rate the best defensive center fielders from 1999 through 2001 based on three statistics: Range Factor, Zone Rating and the brand-new Win Shares system developed by noted baseball author Bill James. We'll compare all the outfielders who logged at least 1,500
innings in center during these three years (there are 32 of them). Because the Win Shares system aggregates performance in left, center and right field, we will do the same with the other two metrics to be consistent.
Range Factor is perhaps the best-known of these three statistics, and also is the most straightforward to calculate. It's simply (((Putouts + Assists) * 9) / Defensive Innings). Since outfielders collect many more putouts than assists, a comparison of center fielders' Range Factors basically will tell us who caught the most balls relative to their time spent in the outfield.
Highest Range Factors Among Center Fielders -- 1999-2001
Player, Team RF
Torii Hunter, MIN 3.05
Chris Singleton, CWS 3.00
Andruw Jones, Atl 2.97
Mike Cameron, Cin-Sea 2.84
Darin Erstad, Ana 2.84
While neither Twins fans nor connoisseurs of ESPN's "Web Gems" on Baseball Tonight will be surprised to find Torii Hunter at the top of the list, the second-place finish of current Orioles center fielder Chris Singleton may be a bit unexpected.
Zone Rating -- a STATS, Inc. creation -- simply measures how often a fielder makes a play when the ball is hit into his "defensive zone." It removes the pitching staff biases inherent in Range Factor by taking each hit ball one-by-one and observing whether the fielder made the play.
Highest Zone Ratings Among Center Fielders -- 1999-2001
Player, Team ZR
Darin Erstad, Ana .938
Ruben Rivera, SD-Cin .922
Kenny Lofton, Cle .912
Carlos Beltran, KC .908
Terrence Long, Oak .907
Darin Erstad, the fifth-place finisher in Range Factor, garnered the highest Zone Rating among our 32 center fielders. However, no one else in the top five is a repeat from the Range Factor list.
One of the biggest breakthroughs in James' Win Shares analysis, which is thoroughly explained in a book of the same title published by STATS, Inc., is his revolutionary treatment of defense. Range Factors and the like are faulty
measurements of defensive performance, James argues in the book, because all teams record 27 putouts in each game. Players are therefore essentially competing against teammates, not against other players at their position, for high Range Factors. Starting with that assumption, and a whole lot of math later, individual fielding Win Shares are calculated for every completed season. James' Win Shares book contains a wealth of compelling and surprising conclusions, but when it comes to measuring center-field defense, the Win Shares
system confirms what many already believe: Andruw Jones is the best there is, and there's no one particularly close.
Most Fielding Win Shares per 1000 Innings Among Center Fielders -- 1999-2001
Player, Team WS per 100
Andruw Jones, Atl 6.26
Juan Pierre, Col 5.16
Darin Erstad, Ana 5.13
Torii Hunter, Min 4.93
Mike Cameron, Cin-Sea 4.92
Erstad, Hunter, Jones and Mike Cameron repeat from the Range Factor top five. After the park adjustments that go into Win Shares, Colorado's Juan Pierre, rated 11th by Range Factor and 27th by Zone Rating, comes out looking great defensively.
Just for fun, let's combine all three rankings together and see who comes out on top. Keep in mind that we don't endorse the following as a definitive list of the best center fielders; it's just a way to see who rates well in all three statistics.
Combined Defensive Rankings Among Center Fielders -- 1999-2001
Player, Team RF Rank ZR Rank WS/1000 Rank Average
1. Darin Erstad, Ana 5 1 3 3.00
2. Torii Hunter, Min 1 7 4 4.00
3. Mike Cameron 4 6 5 5.00
4. Andruw Jones, Atl 3 13 1 5.67
5. Chris Singleton, CWS 2 9 7 6.00
9. Ken Griffey Jr., Sea-Cin 10 15 13 12.67
17. Jim Edmonds, Ana-StL 18 20 14 17.33
19. Bernie Williams, NYY 16 29 10 18.33
32. Brian Giles, Pit 32 28 31 30.33
Erstad, the only man to make the top five according to all three metrics, heads the list. His first-place finish is especially impressive considering that he
actually spent a little more time in left field (1537.1 innings) than he did in center (1506.0 innings) during the period of our study, and Range Factor and Win Shares totals tend to be higher for center fielders than for those who man the corners. Erstad clearly is a tremendous defensive outfielder, which makes you wonder what the Angels were thinking when they played him at first base early in
Ken Griffey Jr. may no longer be the cream of the crop in center, but the 10-time American League Gold Glove winner still compares well to his peers. The same is not true of Jim Edmonds or Bernie Williams, whose defensive reputations (four Gold Gloves apiece) may be misplaced praise of their prolific offense. Speaking of good offensive players, the best we can say about Brian Giles'
defense is that he's a tremendous and underrated hitting talent. The Pirates have recognized that Giles is stretched beyond his limits in center field, and they continue to play him primarily in left.
While it's difficult to quantify the impact of center-field defense on the scoreboard, it's probably no coincidence that the top five center fielders in our combined rankings all play for teams currently in the top half of their leagues in ERA. It's also an indication that these defensive statistics, though not widely known, can provide some insight into who you'd like to have manning center field for your team.