Much digital ink has been used on the need to get George Springer onto the Mets because he’s “a real center fielder” and the one the Mets used this year isn’t. To this, we will examine how good does your center fielder have to be in order to win a championship and is signing Springer to major dollars the best scenario? First, we will examine the center fielder production for the last 10 World Series champions and their team’s dependence on their play. Then, we will examine the names in the news for the Mets, my mystery acquisition and how they compare to our incumbent.

First, a brief summary of each year’s World Series winning center fielder and their relevance to the team’s production. Pitching is always referenced because some teams expect to win because of their superior pitching. All WAR values come from FanGraphs.

  fWAR Offensive/Defensive Grades
2011 Cardinals CF: Jon Jay 2.3 7.7 Offense, -1.2 Defense
Top Performers: Yadier Molina 5.9 9.1 Offense, 31.3 Defense
  Lance Berkman 4.7 44.4 Offense, -17.5 Defense
  Matt Holliday 4.4 29.9 Offense, -3.9 Defense
  Albert Pujols 3.9 28.9 Offense, -11.6 Defense

The top nine WAR players were all negative on Defense expect for Molina.

Pitching: Chris Carpenter 4.5 WAR, Jaime Garcia 3.2 WAR, Kyle Lohse 2.3 WAR, no one else was over 1.0.

  fWAR Offensive/ Defensive Grades
2012 Giants CF: Angel Pagan 4.6 21.7 Offense, 2.7 Defense
Top Performers: Buster Posey 10.1 41.9 Offense, 36.5 Defense
  Melky Cabrera 4.5 33.4 Offense, -5.6 Defense

Pitching: Matt Cain had a 3.2 WAR and Madison Bumgarner had a 2.7 WAR. No other pitcher came close.

  fWAR Offensive/ Defensive Grades
2013 Red Sox CF: Jacoby Ellsbury 4.6 19.1 Offense, 2.9 Defense
Top Performers: Dustin Pedroia 4.9 11.1 Offense, 10.4 Defense
  Shane Victorino 4.7 17.6 Offense, 8.6 Defense
  David Ortiz 3.4 27.0 Offense, -15.0 Defense
  Mike Napoli 3.4 17.5 Offense, -4.9 Defense

Five pitchers with WAR of 2.3 or greater, led by Jon Lester at 3.3.

  fWAR Offense/Defense Grades
2014 Giants CF: Angel Pagan 1.8 7.6 Offense, -3.4 Defense
Top Performers: Buster Posey 7.6 25.3 Offense, 25.7 Defense
  Hunter Pence 4.0 23.4 Offense, -7.9 Defense
  Pablo Sandoval 3.2 2.4 Offense, 7.9 Defense

Bumgarner had a 3.6 WAR, three pitcher had 1.5 – 1.7; no one else close.

  fWAR Offense/ Defense Grades
2015 Royals CF: Lorenzo Cain 6.1 26.0 Offense, 11.8 Defense
Top Performers: Mike Moustakas 3.8 10.9 Offense, 5.2 Defense
  Eric Hosmer 3.5 21.7 Offense, -10.8 Defense

Pitching: Yordano Ventura 2.7 WAR, Edison Volquez 2.7 WAR, Wade Davis 2.0 WAR

By contrast: Curtis Granderson 5.3 WAR, Travis d’Arnaud 3.4 WAR in just 67 games, Lucas Duda 3.2 WAR, Yoenis Cespedes 2.6 WAR in just 57 games, Daniel Murphy 2.2 WAR, Michael Conforto 1.9 WAR in just 56 games.

Jacob deGrom 4.9 WAR, Matt Harvey 4.0 WAR, Noah Syndergaard 2.9 WAR, Bartolo Colon 2.5 WAR.

  fWAR Offense, Defense
2016 Cubs CF: Dexter Fowler 4.6 25.6 Offense, 1.9 Defense
Top Performers: Kris Bryant 7.9 48.8 Offense, 6.6 Defense
  Anthony Rizzo 4.9 34.6 Offense, -8.0 Defense
  Ben Zobrist 4.0 20.5 Offense, -1.4 Defense.

Pitching: Jon Lester 4.2 WAR, Kyle Hendricks 4.2 WAR, Jake Arrieta 3.5 WAR

  fWAR Offense/Defense  
2017 Astros CF: George Springer 4.5 28.6 Offense, -4.6 Defense (was -4.8 Defense in 2018)
Top Performers: Jose Altuve 7.6 52.7 Offense, 0.8 Defense  
  Carlos Correa 5.1 32.4 Offense, 5.1 Defense  
  Marwin Gonzalez 4.0 28.3 Offense, -6.1 Defense  
  Alex Bregman 3.5 17.7 Offense, -4.4 Defense  
  Josh Reddick 3.4 21.3 Offense, -5.8 Defense  
509 plate app. Carlos Beltran -1.1 -17.6 Offense, -11.3 Defense Notice who benefitted?

Pitching: Brad Peacock 3.2 WAR, Charlie Morton 3.1 WAR, Lance McCullers 2.8 WAR, Dallas Keuchel 2.3WAR

  fWAR Offense/Defense
2018 Red Sox CF: Jackie Bradley Jr. 2.8 -0.5 Offense, 10.1 Defense
Top Performers: Mookie Betts 10.4 69.2 Offense, 11.6 Defense
  J. D. Martinez 5.9 50.4 Offense, -14.7 Defense
  Xander Boegarts 4.9 21.1 Offense, 7.2 Defense
  Andrew Benintendi 4.4 22.0 Offense, -1.5 Defense

Pitching: Chris Sale 6.2 WAR; Rick Porcello, David Price and Eduardo Rodriguez were all a range of 2.1 – 2.4 WAR

  fWAR Offense/Defense
2019 Nationals CF: Victor Robles 2.5 -3.0 Offense, 8.5 Defense
Top Performers: Anthony Rendon 7.0 46.5 Offense, 4.2 Defense
  Juan Soto 4.8 35.8 Offense, -7.5 Defense
  Trea Turner 3.5 19.1 Offense, -1.5 Defense

Pitching: Max Scherzer 6.5 WAR, Stephen Strausberg 5.7 WAR, Patrick Corbin 4.8 WAR

  *fWAR Offense/Defense
2020 Dodgers CF: A. J. Pollock 2.7 17.8 Offense, -10.5 Defense
Top Performers: Mookie Betts 8.1 50.2 Offense, 8.4 Defense
  Corey Seager 5.1 36.5 Offense, -6.8 Defense
  Chris Taylor 4.1 21.1 Offense, -1.1 Defense
  Justin Turner 3.5 22.7 Offense, -3.5 Defense
  Will Smith 3.5 25.9 Offense, -3.8 Defense
  Austin Barnes 2.7 2.4 Offense, 11.3 Defense
*-All numbers multiplied by 2.7 to match up to other years.    

Pitching: Tony Gonsolin 4.9 WAR, Clayton Kershaw 3.8 WAR, Julio Urias 3.2 WAR

As we have seen for the last decade, a winning team has an offensive center fielder more often than a defensive center fielder. In fact, in only three times in the 10 years has the winning team had a good defensive center fielder even when he wasn’t one of the team’s top performers. So, as we know quality catchers are hard to find, so it seems are quality dual threat center fielders. Now that we’ve done our homework, time to see how the five players we are comparing stack up. We will compare Brandon Nimmo, George Springer, Jackie Bradley Jr., Kevin Kiermeier, and my mystery candidate.

We will go defense first by comparing the players’ UZR – that is FanGraphs’ version of Outs Above Average – and their arm strength specifically.

Player 17 UZR 17 Arm 18 UZR 18 Arm 19 UZR 19 Arm 20 UZR 20 Arm
Springer 1.4 0.7 -2.6 0.7 3.9 1 -0.4 -1.4
Bradley 3.7 -1.5 7.4 7.6 -1.2 3.1 1.8 -0.2
Nimmo 1.9 0.1 1.5 0 -0.8 -1.2 1 0.8
Kiermaier 4.9 -0.4 9.8 4.3 6.9 4.3 7.7 6.9
? Player 0.3 0.8 0.5 -0.1 0.6 -2

On offense, rather than measuring the counting stats, which can be affected by the lineup around each player, I’d like to present some of the hitting trends of each player to try to get a sense of the individual results we may expect. We used the percentages from 2019 and 2020 to be as current as possible as bat speed can be affected much quicker than defense is affected. The “hard hit” and “medium hit” are usually pretty subjective, so it’s best to watch the trend and blend the two as a batted ball may go to one category or the other depending on home team scoring.

Player 19 K% 19 BB% 19 Med 19 Hard 20 K% 20 BB% 20 Med 20 Hard
Springer 20.30% 12.10% 38.40% 45.10% 17.10% 10.80% 43.40% 36.20%
Bradley 27.30% 9.90% 48.30% 35.80% 22.10% 10.60% 54.20% 27.10%
Nimmo 28.00% 18.10% 50.00% 35.60% 19.10% 14.70% 57.30% 21.70%
Kiermaier 21.70% 5.40% 47.50% 33.00% 26.40% 12.60% 49.00% 32.30%
? Player 18.70% 11.50% 47.00% 35.20% 20.40% 16.60% 46.40% 39.30%

This is a pretty tight match but Springer doesn’t seem to be the slam dunk the writers are making him out to be – and what’s with always putting him right field in the late innings of games? Obviously, his present employers must know something. Kiermaier seems a better overall player but the “easier get” may be the mystery player and he will be essentially free to trade for. That player is Jason Heyward. Heyward is an athletic marvel and a great defensive player who I believe still has a great arm. He has had a reputation for hurting the ball consistently and when his luck changes, he will be a beast. His BABIP has not been anywhere near what it was in Atlanta while in Chicago – for whatever reason – and that is something I would bet on when the other numbers average out. By asking the Cubs if they want to save $23 million by switching Cano for Heyward, we give them a first baseman for next year when Rizzo leaves, no payment to Heyward this year, and an overall savings of the previously mentioned $23 million, which will please the owner and take away their headache. Problem is Heyward just had a pretty good year with a .848 OPS, so we may need to sweeten the deal by throwing in a small piece or also taking Bryant off their hands too to make the tendering aspect of his contract easier to make.

Then, there is the incumbent who seemed to be better when he moved deeper in center field in August of this year to the naked eye, but has always had an uncomfortable look when he is standing in the middle of the ball field alone.

17 comments on “The 2021 center field options for the Mets

  • Name

    Heyward’s not a bad idea, but there’s no way Cano will be invovled in any deal and I think the Cubs would rather just eat money outright and have the Mets throw in a low end prospect in return.

    I think appropriate salary for Heyward is probably $7-$10 mil per year + a prospect or two outside of the top 10.

    • TexasGusCC

      Wow, thanks Name. I cringed when I saw your name come up first, LOL. Brian warned me in advance to brace myself for the feedback, LOLLLLL.

      Obviously, getting rid of Cano would be great but I can live with Adrian Hernandez or Freddy Valdez for Heyward. Not Alexander Ramirez, however.

      • José

        Say his Name… Say It!¹

        Anyway, brilliant article, Gus. I continue to delight in being the slow kid in the sandbox.

        In contrast to the feeling back when I was the token American grad student and the only person in the class (including the prof) who didn’t speak Russian.

        1. BrBd reference

        • TexasGusCC

          Thank you for the compliment.

  • Brian Joura

    For me, the main takeaway from this piece is that you want to get as much value as possible, whether that comes from offense or defense or being good at both.

    Heyward had a surprisingly good offensive season in 2020, thanks to his highest BABIP since 2015 and the second-highest ISO of his career.

    But he didn’t play an inning of CF. And this is after logging the most time in center in his entire career in 2019, when he had 603.1 innings or about half of a season. In that span, he had a (-4 DRS) after putting up pretty good marks previously in CF in multiple seasons with fewer than 175 innings. You can play the sample size card in either direction but the team that had him decided that he wasn’t capable of playing the position.

    FWIW, Nimmo had 635 innings in CF in 2018-19 and had a (-6 DRS) and he had a 5.8 fWAR in 789 PA. In the same two seasons, Heyward had a 3.9 fWAR in 1,078 PA. Add 2020 into the equation, when Nimmo was worse defensively than expected and Heyward better offensively, and you get Nimmo with 7.3 fWAR in 1,014 PA and Heyward with 5.7 fWAR in 1,259 PA.

    You’d have to assume that Heyward’s WAR would decrease by moving to CF. And it’s possible that Nimmo’s 2019 season when he tried to play through the neck injury is dragging down his offensive numbers a bit. My opinion is that if both are healthy and both play CF for a full season that Nimmo would be about a full win better.

  • David Groveman

    Gotta agree with Name to a point. Cano will not factor into a trade and may well have played his last professional baseball. The Cubs would need to eat the majority of the contract for Heyward for him to be worth it and there are other issues.

    $7-10 Million plus 2nd Tier Prospects seems like a poor choice with Jackie Bradley Jr. being projected at just 2 Years and $16 Million.

    Both Bradley Jr and Heyward are left-handed hitters and the Mets desperately need a right handed bat for the middle of their lineup. The Mets could add J.T. Realmuto and one of these players but with the Mets seemingly set on James McCann, I think Springer is the only option that makes immediate sense.

  • TJ

    I agree with David here. It would be best to just forget about Cano as he is untradeable, will have no bearing on 2021, and most likely will never play for the Mets again.

    Springer is a target for his bat, that desperately needed RH bat. Realmuto is a freak but a more risky investment. This is the main positional decision and most else will follow based on it. Forgetting cost, I’d opt for Springer, expecting 2 solid CF seasons, a late inning caddy, and then a move to a corner, as part of the Springer-McCann-Hand-Odorizzi quick strike plan. We don’t need a GM to do that.

  • Metsense

    Springer is the best 2021 center field option for the Mets. Offensively and defensively, Nimmo/Springer/ Conforto are an above average outfield. Springer is a impact RHB that will balance lineup. His signing will significantly improve the team. If the Mets lose out on him then I would rather have Nimmo in centerfield (with a defensive late inning replacement) than any other option mention in the article because they aren’t impact offense players.

    • TexasGusCC

      How about a Nimmo/Pillar platoon, which I wanted to put as an option but I didn’t have specific platoon statistics (hard contact, etc) so I couldn’t use it. Are you happy with that, including having Pillar being the late game defender?

      • Metsense

        Carreer-wise: Nimmo vs LHP .758 OPS Pillar vs LHP .784 OPS
        But Pillar vs LHP in 2020 is .969 OPS and vs LHP in 2019 is .823 OPS
        Pillar would be a good option as a fall back option if they losing Springer but he would cost $4-5M and he might not sign for a platoon.

        • TexasGusCC

          Metsense, in my off season plan put out October 2, I wrote about signing Pillar to platoon with Nimmo, too. While Nimmo’s OPS against lefties doesn’t look so bad, it’s based on walks not slugging or production. While Pillar against lefties has a good slugging and OBP. But, you’re right in that he may not want to be on the short side of a platoon, so we can move on to the next guy. Cameron Maybin?

          I understand that Springer checks all the boxes, but I don’t know that his grass is necessarily much greener than the other grass or the grass we already have. If you know what I mean.

  • MattyMets

    Gus – Very thorough. My one correction is that Pollock hasn’t played much CF for the Dodgers. It’s been more Bellinger. Speaking of Pollock, I was against signing him, as I was Cain (at the price he commanded), Fowler, Ellsbury, and other recent free agent center fielders. They don’t age well. Most, by the time they are 33, are either eternally on the IL, shifted to corner OF, or out of the game. Springer’s bat really plays though. His game is not reliant on speed. He can still play a better than average CF (and certainly better than Nimmo) and should be able to for at least two seasons, then we can shift him. I would offer 5/125 but wouldn’t go much beyond that. If some crazy team wants to give him a Jacoby Ellsbury contract, I’d move on.

    I don’t see Heyward or Bradley as a good alternative as we need to balance the lineup with a righty or at least switch hitter. My personal favorite option (though a long shot), would be to trade with Tampa Bay for Kiermaier and Snell, and sign Realmuto and Hand. Now that would build us up for contention.

    • RaeRae

      The Twins are motivated to trade often injured CFer Byron Buxton. Even if the Mets were to sign Springer having another player who has the arm, the glove, has speed and knows how to steal bases, bats righty, and knows CF defensive routes and angles is the guy to sign as a ‘just in case’ Springer or whomever the Mets sign to play CF gets hurt. It would be good to have another right handed bat on the Mets so trading for Buxton is not gonna cost the proverbial leg, and set of two upper front teeth.

    • Mike W

      I like the Kiermaier Snell idea. But as always it depends on the deal. I also see why they are interested in McCann as well. McCann’s pitch framing has drastically improved. I also looked at both Realmuto and McCann are at throwing out attempted steals. It surprised me to find out that they both sit at 35% for their career.

  • Mike W

    Mike Lupica on a text interview with Sandy Alderson today.

    His meaning was clear. Alderson didn’t need to do this after the career he’s had. He wanted to. Then, I asked if Mets fans could expect to get a free agent for Christmas this year.

    The response this time was simple enough, and it came quickly.

    “Yes,” Alderson said.

    Just like being a little kid again, I can’t wait for Santa!

  • Edwin e Pena

    Springer is the catch. Will be the best Met to patrol CF since Beltran. Nimmo in LF, Conforto in RF. This could be the makings of one of the top outfields in the majors. The combo of Dom and Alonso at 1B and DH if it comes to be, will also be very good. Good riddance to Cano, bye bye, and now Squirrel is the everyday 2B and could be an all star again if left alone there. Let Rosario and Gimenez battle it out for SS, no need to trade prospects for Lindor. The question is 3B. Can JDD handle it on a daily basis (doubtful) ? Do the Mets put a package together to try and get Bryant from Cubs ? What would it take ? How about JDD, Rosario, Familia (offset some $) , and Kilome, Szupucki ? Of course Cubs will ask for more, like Dom, Peterson. I wouldn’t trade either, but
    Bryant would sure look good in a Mets Uni. If Mets can get JT Realmuto as well, watch out !

    • TexasGusCC

      Wow Edwin, that’s a very big package for Bryant. Keep in mind, since Bryant hurt his shoulder, his numbers have dropped off the face of the earth. He may need surgery an is avoiding it, and he only has one year of control. Why give that much for him? I would offer them Davis or Rosario, and Kilome, and expect a thank you in return.

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