The NL Outfielders

Originally posted on the Boston Sports Guy website.
I was going to do a column with my NL All-Star team picks to follow up on last week, but frankly a lot of the NL roster is uncontroversial (the only bona fide head-scratcher is Darryl Kile), and the major controversy (second base) is one where I am not certain I can be impartial. There are very few active players whom I have watched play more baseball games than Edgardo Alfonzo and Jeff Kent, and no matter what the evidence (which is a close call) says, I find it impossible to conceive of Kent as a better player.
The one position that interested me was the outfield. The NL has a remarkably balanced mixed bag of outfielders, and ranking them is really an intriguing endeavor. I set out to rank the top ten, regardless of who they play for.
Let’s look at the 2000 hitting stats of the top 11 outfielders in the league. To keep this manageable, I left a number of guys out here because they are having seasons out of context (Klesko), are not established players (Hidalgo), have been hurt too much (Larry Walker), or are just playing at very high altitude (Hammonds):

Player Avg Slg Obp R RBI
Bonds .310 .731 .438 68 57
Griffey .237 .544 .391 54 64
Sosa .306 .569 .392 56 69
Guerrero .363 .695 .434 52 70
A. Jones .324 .586 .406 69 51
Sheffield .339 .678 .447 62 71
Edmonds .342 .658 .455 77 56
Finley .297 .601 .380 61 66
Giles .318 .623 .427 59 68
S. Green .303 .520 .415 53 58
Abreu .317 .528 .411 50 42
One major offensive number I left out here is GIDP, but none of these guys has hit into a ton of them (Andruw Jones has the most, with 9). Also, base stealing is not a big issue; Shawn Green is the best with 14 in 17 attempts, Guerrero the worst with 6 in 14 attempts.
So far this season, it’s pretty obvious that Bonds is off on another planet communing with Ted Williams, while three others (Edmonds, Guerrero and Sheffield) are also in a class ahead of the field. Sheffield has to be one of the game’s most forgotten men this year; you hardly hear him mentioned with the others. Green, Abreu and Griffey are lagging, although in Green’s case his numbers are more impressive for playing half his games in Dodger Stadium.
This year’s numbers are all good. But Ken Griffey isn’t on anyone’s All-Star ballot for hitting .237 in early July. Let’s look at their established levels of performance, 1998 to the present.
Quick explanation: Established performance levels is another Bill James creation. Basically, you get an established level for, say, Griffey’s RBI like this: Griffey drove in 134 runs in 1999, 146 runs in 1998, and 147 in 1997. So, entering this year the formula would be ((134 * 3) + (146 * 2) + (147 * 1))/6 = 140. The formula just weights the most recent year the highest and so on. This season, Griffey has 64 RBI, so the formula is ((64 * 3) + (134 * 2) + (146 * 1))/4.5 = 135 I divided by 4.5 because the season is only half over so we aren’t comparing full seasons. That’s how some of these guys seem to have “established” performance marks higher than their career highs].
Here we go — EPL’s for the past three years — adding on Plate Appearances (AB + BB + HBP + SF) to measure durability:
Player Avg Slg OBP R RBI PA
Bonds .291 .655 .420 112 102 552
Griffey .270 .574 .382 117 135 714
Sosa .298 .615 .377 118 144 727
Guerrero .333 .629 .395 104 129 673
A. Jones .293 .526 .372 109 91 690
Sheffield .315 .577 .426 103 111 648
Edmonds .311 .557 .404 92 68 478
Finley .271 .523 .343 106 105 673
Giles .309 .593 .419 100 111 618
S. Green .300 .548 .483 118 116 705
Abreu .324 .531 .427 101 86 649
The first thing that jumps out at you here is, man, standards like 100 RBI aren’t what they used to be. These guys have monster numbers, and there’s almost as many of them as teams in the NL. Bonds is still in a league all his own, although his Runs and RBI numbers are less than spectacular because of injuries; he averages about 150 fewer plate appearances per year than Griffey, Sosa, or Green. Finley and Edmonds fall away from the pack here because Finley’s on base percentage is barely above the league average (below, if you exclude pitchers) and Edmonds just hasn’t stayed in the lineup enough.
I don’t have time to run 3-year defensive numbers, but here are the seasons; I’ve broken them down by position:
RF Range F%
Guerrero 2.277 .966
Giles 2.022 .987
Sosa 1.999 .970
Abreu 2.275 .994
S. Green 2.015 .981
Edmonds 2.525 .978
Giles 2.467 .981
A. Jones 2.645 .995
Finley 2.328 .989
Griffey 2.808 .987
Bonds 1.927 .976
Sheffield 1.652 .943
Giles is listed twice because he has split time evenly; surprisingly enough, he holds his own at both positions. Sheffield is a butcher, near the bottom of NL left fielders. I was surprised that Andruw Jones wasn’t the dominant center fielder, although the season’s not over yet and he did lead the NL in range last season at 3.15 (placing among the best 10 or 12 figures of the past two decades, but second in the majors to Chris Singleton). Griffey, meanwhile, has obviously recovered from the bad knee and general malaise that hampered him in the field last season.
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
So, how do I rank the outfielders?
1. Guerrero. The man to have for the next few years is already the man to beat. His mistakes (errors, caught stealing) are outweighed by his combination of production and durability.
2. Bonds. Give the devil his due, Bonds is still the most dangerous bat in the NL besides McGwire. Only Maddux can seriously challenge him for Player of the 1990s, and Bonds tops it off now by having one of his best years. Bonds’ real competition now is Williams and Musial, not these guys. I rank him behind Gurerrero only because Guerrero stays in the lineup a lot more and plays a more demanding defensive position.
3. Griffey. The percentages say Griffey isn’t the deadly hitter that Bonds and Sheffield are, but staying in the lineup with a variety of nagging injuries over the years will do that to you. Add in the guys who play in the absence of Bonds and Sheffield and the numbers will be much closer to those of Griffey or Sosa. And Griffey is still a Gold Glove caliber centefielder, although over the course of the season I would rather have Jones in the field than Junior.
4. Sosa. Would rank higher with these numbers elsewhere; while he’s hit well on the road, his totals over the years are inflated by Wrigley. Still, you have to admire a man who can sustain a level of 144 RBI and 390 total bases over two and a half years; Sosa is always in the lineup.
5. Green. He’s come a long way from the rookie who couldn’t field and couldn’t hit lefties. Another guy who almost never calls in sick. His speed on the basepaths is a plus and part of why nobody here tops him in scoring runs.
6. Sheffield. The Dick Allen of the 21st Century. He gets hurt sometimes, has been a bad fielder at every position he’s been tried, and can be generally a pain in the butt, but boy can this guy hit. And in Dodger Stadium (and before that, Florida), no less.
7. Jones. Now I know what people meant about DiMaggio in the field: a guy who can catch anything, anywhere and never look like he’s running hard. Of course, Jones is black and has a tropical-islander’s who-me-care demeanor, so he gets branded a loafer rather than an icon. And he’s really just
learning to hit.
8. Giles. Would you trade this man for Ricardo Rincon? Giles is another small-market player who doesn’t get his due as a beastly hitter. He may be better than Jones, actually; it’s very close.
9. Abreu. Another product of boneheadedness; the Devil Rays would be far better off if they had fired Chuck LaMar on the spot when he traded Abreu for Kevin Stocker in 1998. Note that he gets on base more than any of the others.
10. Edmonds. A great talent, but his absence was the first strike that torpedoed the Angels last year. He’s often been compared, rightly, to Fred Lynn.
11. Finley. A fine outfielder and another example of the Diamondbacks successfully playing with fire by getting big production from a guy who should be in his declining years. They will pay for this eventually, but Finley is a big part of why they may claim back-to-back division titles. Just out of his class in this company.
“Now that Kevin McReynolds doesn’t work for the Kroc family anymore, can we just call him Kevin Reynolds?”
– Mike Lupica in 1987
Name the only two players to have 100 extra base hits in a season twice
The only non-mustached pitcher to win the AL Cy Young Award between 1977 and 1984 was Steve Stone.