The Best Middle Men
Using Fangraphs’ total defensive ratings and setting a minimum of 400 innings at the position in 2016 (about 1/4th of the season), here’s what we’ve got:
- Cesar Hernandez (PHI), 15.6
- Dustin Pedroia (BOS), 14.8
- Neil Walker (NYM), 10.9
- Ian Kinsler (DET), 10.8
- Jason Kipsnis (CLE), 9.5
Brandon Phillips came in at 18th (-0.1). Through 2014, though, he had actually posted numbers that met or exceeded all of those listed above. Whether he bounces back (some injuries may have contributed) with his new team remains to be seen, but there’s been a substantial dropoff in 2015-16.
This will be tricky, of course, since Dansby Swanson has barely cracked the league and thus doesn’t have consistent numbers to show yet. Also, there are some really good shortstops on the list ahead of him now as the league is now ripe with glove specialists.
- Brandon Crawford, 28.0
- Francisco Lindor, 27.8
- Freddy Galvis, 22.0
- Addison Russell, 21.9
- Andrelton Simmons, 20.8
In looking at the rest of the chart and trying to gauge Swanson by what we’ve seen thus far, my own projection would probably put him somewhere between Adeiny Hechavarria (14.6) and Troy Tulowitzi (10.8). He could end up being a bit higher or lower than these, certainly, but that feels like a fair comp at this point.
Here’s where I got into a twitter argument yesterday over the 2017 rankings of the game’s best Center Fielders with a list published from MLB Network Radio (on Sirius/XM). Their ranks completely dismissed defensive contributions of players, and thus the two reigning Gold Glove CF’s – Ender Inciarte and Kevin Kiermaier – failed to make their Top 10.
Well, this list is entirely defensive-based:
- Kevin Pillar, 23.6
- Billy Hamilton, 14.9
- Kevin Kiermaier, 13.8
- Ender Inciarte, 13.4
- Travis Jankowski, 12.2
(None of these were in that MLB Network Top 10, by the way).
I would argue that Inciarte’s number is actually low. He had a slow-ish start in 2016, both offensively and defensively, and clearly got much better as the year went on. It would thus surprise me if he didn’t exceed 15 this season – despite the new ballpark that he’ll have to get used to.