On to the outfield! We’ll start in left field since in position scoring numbers that one comes before the other outfield positions.
After looking at all the potentials, this might actually be the first one that writes itself. There’s a pretty clear order to NL Central Left Fielders, especially since Matt Holliday looks to return there in 2011 despite some rumors that he would switch outfield corners.
Well, I won’t waste any time getting into it. After all, corner outfields are all about pure hitting, defense really doesn’t play into it much.
6. Jose Tabata, Pittsburgh (.299, 4 HR, 35 RBI in 102 games)
For the 22 year old Tabata, he may not be the best option in left field but it doesn’t seem like there’s going to be much of a battle for the position. He’s young and seems to be able to hit for average which is definitely to his benefit. He was also, by far, the best defensive outfielder of the bunch with a .995 fielding% and the only one to have a range over 2 with his range factor of 2.26. The Pirates did sign Matt Diaz, but everything I can find indicates that Diaz will battle for position in right field, not left. That means Tabata is their player and yet another young player with potential for the Pirates. I really think they could be a sleeper if they click.
5. Johnny Gomes, Cincinnati (.266, 18 HR, 86 RBI in 148 games)
After hitting 20 homers in just 98 games in 2009, there was definitely hope that Gomes would provide more power in 2010. Gomes played 50 games more and hit two less homers as he enters a contact year. He is far from a core player on Cincinnati, so he has plenty of opportunity to pitch in without the pressure to perform being on him. But he’s still clearly only the fifth best left fielder in the division.
4. Carlos Lee, Houston (.246, 24 HR, 89 RBI in 157 games)
The Astros tried to shed themselves of their big name, high salary players in 2010 and they achieved 2/3rds of that by trading Lance Berkman to the Yankees and Roy Oswalt to the Phillies. Meanwhile, the player affectionately referred to as “El Caballo” stayed. At 34 and making $19 million, it’s pretty clear why he would be tough to move. He’s also the worst defensive outfielder in the division with his .969 fielding percentage and 1.55 range factor. After Berkman’s departure, he did play some first base, but by all accounts, first base will be given to young Brett Wallace to get his chance. Needless to say, Lee may start the season in Houston, but trade rumors will circulate around him all year as he has two years left on his deal.
3. Alfonso Soriano, Chicago (.258, 24 HR, 79 RBI in 147 games)
Alfonso is far from the player he was when he signed his big 8 year, $136 million deal with the Cubs that still has four seasons remaining on it. He went from posting a 40/40 season in 2006 to stealing just 14 bases over the last two seasons. He also only hit 44 home runs combined those two years. Clearly Soriano is still trending on the decline, but last season was a brief bump. With the Cubs in disarray, things don’t seem to be getting any better for them.
2. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee (.304, 25 HR, 103 RBI in 157 games)
Braun might be considered a man without a position and a horrible defensive outfielder, but that may not be the whole story. His .990 fielding percentage was tops among NL Central left fielders and his 1.93 range factor was second. He came up as a third baseman and was horrible defensively. Since moving to the outfield, he has done a pretty good job. Sure he may blow a few routine plays now and then, but so will anyone who is making the move to a new position and learning on the job. He and Matt Holliday were the only close battle in my mind, and they were exceptionally similar last year.
1. Matt Holliday, St. Louis (.312, 28 HR, 103 RBI in 158 games)
I’ll say this. I expected a .289, 19 HR, 89 RBI year out of Matt Holliday. His non-Coors Field numbers through his career told a very different story than the Matt Holliday we got this year, so he far exceeded my expectations though he did gain a reputation for not being very clutch this year as he seemingly struggled with men on base leading me to say that he is a much better #2 or 3 hitter in front of Pujols than #4 hitter behind Pujols. After all, how do you protect Albert Pujols? Let him protect you, right? Holliday put together a solid season and earned his $17 million. Certainly we would have liked playoffs, but you can’t win them all right?
So let’s tally up the points again, shall we? With 5 of the 8 positions down, the current NL Central projections stand as:
Milwaukee — 23 pts
St. Louis — 21 pts
Cincinnati — 20 pts
Chicago — 18 pts
Pittsburgh — 14 pts
Houston — 9 pts
Writer’s Note: I did realize after finishing this run down that I skipped short stop! Maybe my Ryan Theriot thoughts will surprise some of you after reading most of my other things about short stops and defense in St. Louis. Then again, maybe not. Anyway, that will be the next one that I move on to.