Find Your Center

Melky Cabrera has been lauded with many compliments, from his teammates and from fans, regarding the play that he brings to the field.  Compliments are usually difficult or impossible to quantify, but I have to admit that for some time he has been arguably my favorite Yankee to watch.  Sometimes, someone will come along and rattle one’s opinion, and speaking for myself, I may dismiss an assertion that isn’t in line with my opinion as out-of-hand without looking at the statement rationally.

"I like Melky Cabrera for what he is. I think he’s a good fourth outfielder, a very good fifth outfielder. I don’t see him as an everyday player." – Steve Phillips

Most YFs know this quote, and know that it is weeks old, issued by Phillips right around the time of the non-waiver deadline.  He has already been beaten up pretty well by many sources.  But this post is not about piling on Phillips, who was opining on whether Cabrera should have stood in the way of the Yankees making a move to land Gagne, whom this post is not about either, so please keep that in mind if you choose to comment.

This post is about the fact that I wanted to take a look around the leagues at the center fielders that are getting most of the innings and see how much this (completely healthy, non-creepy) infatuation that I’ve had with Melky for the last 15 months or so lines up with actual performance in comparison to his peers.  It really came to a head last night when he made the great catch in the second, potentially saved the game with the laser throw to home in the ninth (and backed up the overthrow to second!), and scored the winning run.  Just GREAT stuff to watch as a baseball fan, let alone a Yankees fan.  There’s a bunch of numbers that follow, and perhaps not much insight.  I put them together to scratch an itch.  Suffice it to say that if the Yankees choose to start their "good fourth…very good fifth outfielder" in center for the next eight or ten years, I think I might be happy with that.

Here are the major league center fielders with more than 400 innings at the position for 2007, up to date within the last game or two.  The offensive statistics columns displayed are inclusive of all positions played this season; innings and the defensive metrics are for play at CF only.

Player Age BA OBP SLG OPS+ Inn A RF/9
(2.74)
Rate RAA RZR OOZ
Sizemore 24 .275 .377 .454 122 1031 1 2.66 94 -7 .896 37
Pierre 29 .283 .320 .337 71 1026 1 2.39 92 -9 .900 47
DeJesus 27 .277 .363 .400 96 1014 4 2.80 92 -8 .920 36
Cameron 34 .251 .323 .435 103 1011 4 2.45 91 -10 .889 39
Jones, A 30 .214 .309 .414 90 1001 2 2.81 99 -1 .947 61
Wells 28 .260 .314 .435 93 988 2 2.40 100 1 .890 26
Rowand 29 .314 .385 .527 134 975 11 2.69 106 7 .845 56
Suzuki 33 .346 .396 .430 125 960 8 3.00 111 12 .898 73
Hunter 31 .290 .333 .534 127 955 4 2.70 98 -2 .884 39
Granderson 26 .296 .353 .549 135 944 9 3.19 113 14 .928 68
Crisp 27 .273 .338 .395 92 914 5 3.07 117 17 .910 44
Matthews 32 .275 .338 .448 110 901 6 2.91 104 4 .866 59
Young, C 23 .229 .283 .425 78 898 3 2.53 93 -8 .879 53
Patterson 27 .270 .312 .388 85 894 6 2.43 96 -4 .907 31
Beltran 30 .258 .336 .480 116 855 2 2.94 109 8 .927 46
Hall 27 .261 .325 .424 95 781 5 2.74 88 -11 .848 43
Cabrera 22 .302 .351 .452 115 705 10 3.08 113 10 .900 25
Lofton 40 .296 .369 .416 105 669 5 2.55 91 -7 .849 34
Taveras 25 .310 .359 .374 88 662 7 2.71 109 6 .872 36
Pence 24 .330 .355 .564 134 645 4 2.77 99 -1 .874 35
Roberts 35 .265 .332 .362 83 609 5 2.66 99 -1 .844 30
Edmonds 37 .244 .320 .382 85 596 5 2.59 100 0 .832 33
Amezaga 29 .269 .323 .371 86 585 8 3.09 105 3 .930 33
Duffy 27 .239 .313 .357 76 534 3 2.95 107 4 .902 24
Logan 27 .275 .327 .358 82 482 0 2.86 93 -4 .904 21
Kotsay 31 .217 .283 .300 57 463 5 2.81 104 2 .904 17
Freel 31 .245 .308 .347 66 444 3 2.82 98 -1 .824 33

(some data may be hidden based on your brower’s default font size.. rightmost column should be OOZ)

Caveats: There’s plenty of depth in statistics left out of this set of numbers that would help get a better picture of where Melky falls in amongst the rest of the 8s in the leagues, and I am not that adept a statistician to begin with.  Also, I didn’t weigh the totality of Phillips’ assertion by considering 7s and 9s, but that’s not really relevant.  Acknowledging those shortcomings, by my eyes Cabrera rates by each measure a starter right now.  If he doesn’t I would like to know why.  Is he the best center in the game?  Of course not.

I considered showing his splits offensively at CF (edit: since becoming the starter) which are truly impressive, but got lazy when I realized I would have to do it for everyone else too, so that drill-down is left out.  Also, I left out the personal interest factor of what he brings to the field and the plate in the way of intangibles, but it seems I didn’t even need to bring that up considering the facts, and since the "good feeling factor" is what I was trying to step away from to begin with.

I’ve posted the XLS file if you want to sort the columns differently: Download cfcomp.xls

Thanks to baseball-reference.com, baseballprospectus.com and thehardballtimes.com for the data.

27 comments… add one
  • I love Melky too but you must have alot of free time ;)
    No Really, Good Post.

    Westboro - YF August 14, 2007, 4:41 pm
  • I like Melky as well, but if I’m being honest with myself, I think he falls somewhere in the middle of what he’s showing now, and what most thought he was to begin with.
    It’s true that he has outdone himself in proving everyone wrong that he couldn’t hold the position, but he’s definitely not the player he has been over the past three weeks either.
    He’s definitely better than Damon, and he has nothing short of a cannon attached to his shoulder (you only had to watch last night to see that), and I can understand why Yankee fans like the kid. He can go get it, and when he does, he can get it back in quickly. Plus, he’s cheap, which is a lot more than you can say about the other outfielders on that team.
    I feel about Ellsbury this way. I go to Pawtucket games, and I know that Ellsbury can go get it as well as anyone on the Red Sox right now, including Crisp, who’s range is awesome.
    It’s a farm thing. Everyone loves players that started with the organization, and Melky follows suit nicely.
    He’s playing above his head right now, and will definitely come back to earth at some point with the bat, but for now, he’s performing exactly how everyone said that he couldn’t. Good for him since I’m sure that he’s worked very hard at shutting everyone’s mouth.

    Brad August 14, 2007, 4:45 pm
  • Bravo AG, was actually going to right the same piece…Wouldn’t have been 1/2 as good as this. Great job.

    John - YF (Trisk) August 14, 2007, 4:47 pm
  • Write…Duh…

    John - YF (Trisk) August 14, 2007, 4:50 pm
  • “he’s definitely not the player he has been over the past three weeks”
    Melky in July: .368/.410/.528
    Melky in August: .377/.382/.679 (!?!?!)
    So, it’s been longer than three weeks, but I understand your point; he will not maintain this pace (and thus go on to be one of the great CFs of all time).
    Looking at Melky’s June though (.298/.364/.447), or his overall line on the year, I’m much more confident that he can match (and perhaps exceed) that over a full season going foward than I was at the beginning of May. I’ll certainly take an .800+ OPS from my pre-arb CF. I mean, someone has to bat ninth in that lineup.
    On a more subjective note, he’s fun to watch not just for his youth, but for his personality. After that throw last night he had this stupid grin on his face, and seeing that kind of excitement can’t help but make the game more enjoyable.

    Amsterdam YF August 14, 2007, 5:13 pm
  • Well, I for one, feel better about Melk now! Thanks for the analysis, AG.

    nettles-yf August 14, 2007, 5:19 pm
  • What i find funny about this is that Steve Philips is saying that Melky Cabrera won’t make it as an everyday player, especially when he’s still only 22!
    ONLY 22! I mean seriously…
    And i dont know why, but i have a feeling steve philips seems to hate the yankees or something.
    Because i just saw today that Steve Philips beileves that the yankees won’t make the playoffs.
    -.-

    yankeeboy August 14, 2007, 5:36 pm
  • Edit: Removed reference to Chamberlain in article. Don’t know how that got in there and I don’t think Phillips talked about him while talking about Cabrera.. sorry.

    attackgerbil August 14, 2007, 5:39 pm
  • Love Melky. Period. Loved him last year, love him more this year. As we know all too well in NY, it is not always about acquiring the best guy (statistically) at a position – it’s about having the right guy for your team – which means how he adds to and complements others on the team, how he fits into the style of play you want, etc.
    On those fronts, from 2000 until today, our team has needed (and lacked) youth – which also means youthful energy and enthusiasm, strong arms in the outfield (hard to admit how I felt when older-Bernie and Damon were patrolling out there together given my undying respect for Bernie), ability to bunt and go from 1st to 3rd and all other small-ball elements at the plate and on the base pads, and strong defense.
    ALL of these elements were on the decline for us for years before Melky came up last year.
    He also has showed a knack for getting big hits and not folding under pressure. I love Cano too but am still uncomfortable with little things like his relatively bad BA with the bases loaded and free-swinging in very big situations. In his short time here, Melky has often been in the middle of high-pressure rallies…this performing-under-pressure is not something new for the Yankees, but is always the big worry when newbies are brought up and it is not one with him – at least not for me.
    So in addition to the stats (and thanks very much for those), these are the many ways in which I love Melky…

    IronHorse-YF August 14, 2007, 6:20 pm
  • Fantastic!
    The only thing missing is AGES! And Melky is finishing his year 22 season!!!

    Woosta YF August 14, 2007, 6:21 pm
  • Thanks for doing the work on this one, AG. Great post!
    I think Woosta is right on to point out the fact that Melky is only 22 (or is it 23 at this point?). He’s made an unbelievable adjustment to the game, and his skill set just seems to be getting stronger. Is he a star center fielde yet? No. But he’s developing into one.

    Nick -YF August 14, 2007, 6:25 pm
  • Great work, gerb. You’re picking up the slack quite well while our sf friends are AWOL :)
    Steve Phillips traded Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano – ‘Nuff said about what his opinion is worth…
    (woops! sorry ag – I just couldn’t control myself)
    “He’s playing above his head right now”
    I don’t know that this is true – granted he’s on a hot streak, and that won’t last, but his numbers from his rookie year in ’06 were good : .280 AVG .360 OBP .391 SLG
    Many on this site were too quick to write him off after a slow start, which was probably due to the fact that he wasn’t allowed to play winter ball.

    Andrews August 14, 2007, 6:35 pm
  • He just turned 23. So it’s counted as his year 22 season – see:
    http://www.baseball-reference.com/c/cabreme01.shtml
    And you bet Nick. Given that power is the last tool to develop, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him .OPSing .900 in two years and .1000 at his peak. The best part is even if he loses a step or two, they can just shift him over to RF.

    Woosta YF August 14, 2007, 6:36 pm
  • > The only thing missing is AGES!
    Ages column added. You might need to shrink your browser’s font size to see all the data, probably: ctrl-minus

    attackgerbil August 14, 2007, 7:22 pm
  • Excellent post, AG. What’s comforting to me as an SF (and a baseball fan in general) about all this is that with guys like Ichiro, Melky, Crisp, and Granderson in CF, defensively, the statistics tell you the exact same thing your eyes do.
    Woosta: This is barely worth responding too, but 1.000 OPS at his peak? This season, there are 2 AL hitters in that range, Maggs and A-Rod. 5 last season: Thome, Papi, Manny, Pronk, and an out-of-his-mind Dye. 3 in 2005: Papi, Pronk, A-Rod. 1 in 2004: Manny. 2 in 2003: Delgado, Manny.
    I could go further, but are you REALLY trying to convince anyone that Melky is going to be a 1.000 OPS guy at some point? He’s a good player, and is currently proving a lot of his doubters (I for one, thought his ceiling would be as an average CF offensively) wrong. Yes, it’s been over 1.000 the last month or so, but his BABIP has been .360 over that timespan. He’s going to come down from this, may (probably) not approach it again, but will still be a much better player than I’ve thought he deserved credit for.
    But a 1.000 OPS is…wow. Yikes.
    In unrelated news, when Jacoby Ellsbury becomes a regular, he will take home from 2nd base on a wild pitch every other game.

    QuoSF August 15, 2007, 1:48 am
  • Excellent post, AG. What’s comforting to me as an SF (and a baseball fan in general) about all this is that with guys like Ichiro, Melky, Crisp, and Granderson in CF, defensively, the statistics tell you the exact same thing your eyes do.
    Woosta: This is barely worth responding too, but 1.000 OPS at his peak? This season, there are 2 AL hitters in that range, Maggs and A-Rod. 5 last season: Thome, Papi, Manny, Pronk, and an out-of-his-mind Dye. 3 in 2005: Papi, Pronk, A-Rod. 1 in 2004: Manny. 2 in 2003: Delgado, Manny.
    I could go further, but are you REALLY trying to convince anyone that Melky is going to be a 1.000 OPS guy at some point? He’s a good player, and is currently proving a lot of his doubters (I for one, thought his ceiling would be as an average CF offensively) wrong. Yes, it’s been over 1.000 the last month or so, but his BABIP has been .360 over that timespan. He’s going to come down from this, may (probably) not approach it again, but will still be a much better player than I’ve thought he deserved credit for.
    But a 1.000 OPS is…wow. Yikes.
    In unrelated news, when Jacoby Ellsbury becomes a regular, he will take home from 2nd base on a wild pitch every other game.

    QuoSF August 15, 2007, 1:50 am
  • Dangable typekey. Apologies for the dual-post. Only meant to rain on Woosta’s overly premature parade once.

    QuoSF August 15, 2007, 1:50 am
  • No one is taking home from second off of a while pitch…unless of course Wakefield is pitching.

    Anonymous August 15, 2007, 1:56 am
  • Ellsbury did that this year.

    Devine August 15, 2007, 1:58 am
  • Melky is proving that he is not only more than a 4th outfielder, he might turn out to be an all-star level cf someday, given his age and upside.

    yf2k August 15, 2007, 3:47 am
  • Excellent! So, among young CF’s:
    Granderson > Melky = Pence > Sizemore?
    I’ll take that!
    (And Quo, that you didn’t criticize a .900 OPS says everything. And, did anyone mention he’s in his year 22 season?)

    Woosta YF August 15, 2007, 6:49 am
  • One more Quo – I didn’t just pull that 1.000 number out of some surreal future. I simply look at the comp between Melky and Bernie, and realize that age 22, Melky is ahead.
    Bernie at his peak?
    .997 OPS at age 29 in 1998.
    I’ll happily take the next seven years to see if Melky tops that.

    Woosta YF August 15, 2007, 9:06 am
  • I’m just saying, do you not realize you’re jumping the gun in a serious way?

    QuoSF August 15, 2007, 11:04 am
  • Granderson > Melky = Pence > Sizemore
    Now, we’re bordering on rediculous. Nope, border crossed. Sizemore tops this list by heads and tails over the other three. It’s like me suggesting Lester is better than Oswalt based on last nights box score.

    Brad August 15, 2007, 12:00 pm
  • Stats the past two monts be damned, there isn’t a GM out there that doesn’t take Sizemore over every CF in the AL right now, much less the other three in your equation. He is the posterchild for awesome young outfielders. In fact, if I had the choice, I take him over every single OF, no matter the position, in all of baseball.

    Brad August 15, 2007, 12:02 pm
  • It’s funny that I just realized, right now, that Melky is the youngest starting 8 in the game.

    attackgerbil August 15, 2007, 3:28 pm
  • As a GM, I would consider Granderson as well. Head and shoulders above Sizemore defensively, and then it’s a question of whether you prefer Granderson’s better power over Sizemore’s superior OBP/speed.

    QuoSF August 15, 2007, 3:55 pm

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