2015 Fantasy Baseball: Real Offensive Value — Center Fielders
The fantasy baseball world has been Mike Trout’s world for the past three plus seasons. Is someone else prepared to take center stage from Trout at his own position? Naturally, real offensive value may not be the ultimate judge of that particular question. However, it can give us some clues as to which center fielders are overrated and underrated. Of course, before we get there we should take a look at real offensive value.
Real offensive value (ROV) is the marriage between batting average and most of the components of Bill James’ secondary average. For our purposes, we are calling it isolated squared or ISO2 because it combines isolated power and isolated patience. ISO2 and batting averages are averaged together to get one number that looks like a batting average. Unfortunately, this is where things get tricky.
The league batting average has hovered a little over .250 throughout the series and the league ISO2 has hovered a shade over .200. For most of the series, the average ROV has been .227. Since ROV looks like batting average, it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that it should be around .250 just like batting average. Players with a ROV over .300 are clearly all-star level players. At some positions that number has been as low as .270 or .280. We are dividing the qualifying center fielders into three categories: elite starters, fringe starters, and look away.
Statistics as of June 19th, 2015
Vin Scully called Joc Pederson the best center fielder that he had seen play for the Dodgers. He meant purely as a fielder, but we are still talking about the likes of Duke Snider, Matt Kemp, and Brett Butler (just to name a few). He is still young and he may turn out to be better than them all when all is said and done. He may do all of those things and still not even be the best center fielder in Los Angeles. As we all know, Trout is that good.
By the time you read this, the rankings may have already reversed. But the fact that Pederson is even in the conversation is remarkable. We knew he was going to be good, but we didn’t know he was going to be good this soon. Before the season, we thought that Andrew McCutchen would be in the conversation, but he got off to a rough start this season.
Like with some other positions, we see too large of a chasm between the third and fourth best center fielder to put any more in the elite group. Still, center field has come about as close to chalk as any position we’ve seen. Trout and McCutchen were the first two to come off the board and both are in the top three as we approach the half-way point. So, owners have to be pretty happy with their performance at this point.
We certainly see a large grouping here. Keep in mind that the big league average ROV is .227. That means that most of these guys are above the league average. Add the top three guys to the mix and you have a dozen qualified center fielders that are at or above the league average. This doesn’t count the center fielders with fewer than 200 plate appearances. That illustrious list includes Jacoby Ellsbury, Desmond Jennings, Austin Jackson, Carlos Gomez, and Wil Myers.
There are fewer surprises in center field than any of the other position, but there still are a few. Miami has struggled all year and while it is difficult to blame a few players for a huge meltdown, the combined efforts of Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna haven’t helped the cause. I said at the beginning of the year that their collective development would go a long way in helping the Marlins compete for the playoffs. Well, there you go.
Anthony Gose and Jake Marisnick were the hottest things going in April. They’ve also come crashing back to earth. They are perfect example of the facts that no one should go crazy over what anyone does in April either way. Of course, both are quality defenders, so they will both continue to get on the lineup card, but they may not be everyday players from here on out.
If fantasy baseball were what it is now back in the 1980s then Vince Coleman would have been one of the biggest stars of fantasy baseball. He likely would have been a perennial first round pick. Unfortunately, Vince Coleman wasn’t a very good baseball player outside of his stolen bases. He led the league in steals during his first six seasons (stealing around 600 bases), but still only averaged 2.0 WAR per season. Billy Hamilton had 2.5 WAR last season, so there was hope that he would become more than Vince Coleman. He has regressed this season.
One of problems with the five category structure of fantasy baseball is that you can become a slave to single categories. Thousands of players jumped all over Billy Hamilton in the hopes of getting 80 or more steals. He may still deliver on that, but at what cost to all of the other categories?
Most of these players either are or were speed guys at one time. Michael Bourn in particular demonstrates the downside to a career built on speed. Now, he is being paid handsomely to be one of the worst center fielders in the game. As they say, speed is the first thing to go. I don’t remember the second.