Braves: Ranking the Center Fielders of the NL East

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Welcome back to the NL East position group rankings. If you’ve missed any of the previous parts of this series, please click the links below:

Center field is next on the slate. This one is hard because how do we rank Cristian Pache, who has logged minimal MLB at-bats? And who will play center field for the Mets?

Well, let’s start with one of the brightest rookies in the league — the Braves top prospect — Cristian Pache. Even as a first-year starter, he is expected to be among the best defensive outfielders in baseball. In 2020, Byron Buxton was the top defensive outfielder, who was on pace for 3.24 dWAR. If Pache can hit like Buxton, who averaged an OPS+ of 117 and slash line of .259/.299/.534 since 2019 — not factoring in baserunning — the ceiling for Pache is about 3.9 WAR per 162 games played.

If we look at a lighter-hitting top defender, like Kevin Kiermaier, who posted an OPS+ of 82 over the last two years, that is a good comp for Pache’s floor. Kiermaier averaged 3.7 WAR per 162 games played. It just shows how important top-tier defense is. So, let’s split the middle and say 3.8 WAR per 162 games played is a fair measuring stick for Pache.

Washington also features a talented youngster in center field. Victor Robles had a terrible season last year, recording -0.4 WAR. However, he was excellent in 2019, finishing with 4.1 WAR and a 2.7 dWAR. For his career, his OPS+ is 87 with a slash line of .250/.320/.407, and his WAR per 162 games played is 2.82. Robles only has one full-length season so far, and from a DRS perspective, it was elite — recording 23 in 1,199 innings in center field. From a baserunning standpoint, he is about average, accumulating 1 UBR in 241 games.

For the Mets, we will go with Brandon Nimmo since the current depth chart on ESPN puts him there. Although, it will be interesting to see how New York deploys their outfield. Nimmo is outstanding when healthy, posting a .258/.390/.448 slash line with a 130 OPS+, and averaging 3.55 WAR per 162 games played. However, he is not a center fielder and has plenty of trouble avoiding injuries.

Nimmo only has one season where he played more than 69 games. Defensively, he is one of the worst in the league in center field — never recording better than -3 DRS when playing at least 75 innings there. In total, he has -14 DRS in 1,027.2 innings. From an UBR standpoint, he is actually better than Robles, with 4.3 in 365 games.

It looks like Roman Quinn will man center field for the Phillies, which will be interesting, considering he has only played 150 games in four years. They will most likely run a platoon with him and Adam Haseley, but Haseley is currently injured with a groin strain. Quinn has a career 78 OPS+ and slash line of .235/.306/.364. He has accumulated 0.5 WAR in 150 games.

Haseley is not much better offensively, boasting an 87 OPS+, but he has a better overall game, averaging 2.57 WAR per 162 games played. In 743.2 innings manning center field, Quinn has accumulated -1 DRS. In the UBR department, he is good but not great, recording 0.6 in 150 games.

Starling Marte will handle center field for the Marlins, who has been in the league since 2012, so I will use the last five years of data for him. He is a 112 OPS+ hitter with a slash line of .290/.341/.455, averaging 4.25 WAR per 162 games played. From a defensive standpoint, he has accumulated 1.3 dWAR since 2016 with -11 DRS in center field. His positive dWAR stems from his exceptional play in left field, recording 71 DRS in just under 5,000 innings.

Like Nimmo, it appears that Marte will be playing out of position this upcoming year. From an UBR standpoint, he has been consistently one of the best in the league. In 2013-14, he had 10.3. For Reference, Ronald Acuña’s best two-year stretch was 6.2. However, Marte has aged and slowed down some. He has 7.2 UBR over the last five years. Mind you, 7.2 is still fantastic. Marte is one of the most underrated players in the game.

So, taking into account the full body of work, here are the rankings:

 

  1. Marte
  2. Nimmo
  3. Pache
  4. Robles
  5. Quinn/Haseley

 

Pache has serious potential to climb this ladder fairly quickly if his bat ends up being above average. We never know for certain how good a prospect will be. However, because of his elite defense, his floor is much higher than others.

What are your rankings? Let us know in the comments.

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