Positional Power Rankings: Left Field, Right Field, Center Field

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Positional Power Rankings: Left Field, Right Field, Center Field

Chicago Cubs

jason heyward cubs

FanGraphs has continued its positional power rankings series, tackling the outfield positions, one spot at a time.

In case you forgot, these FanGraphs rankings project various performances by position, across every team in baseball, taking expected playing time into account.

Using the FanGraphs Depth Charts (a blend of the ZiPS and Steamer projections), the power rankings break down each position by playing time and calculated the overall production (using fWAR) from that spot on the diamond.

Previously, we’ve looked at FanGraphs’ positional power rankings for shortstop and third base, as well as catcher, first base and second base, and the Cubs fared quite well.

Today, however, is going to be slightly different. Although there are some more encouraging rankings, I get the sense that the Cubs’ overall outfield unit – Jorge Soler, Kyle Schwarber, Dexter Fowler and Jason Heyward – is greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, while I can understand how the rankings shake out individually, I’d argue that the collective unit would be among the top 2-3 teams in baseball. That said, the Cubs were still very well-represented on these particular lists.

And it all starts with Jason Heyward in right field.

According Carson Cistulli and the Depth Charts projections, the Chicago Cubs collective right field unit – led by Mr. Heyward – will be the fourth most productive in all of baseball. But before you argue that a position shared by Jason Heyward and Jorge Soler should be even further up the list, remember else who plays right field in MLB. The top two spots on the list are occupied by the Nationals (Bryce Harper) and the Marlins (Giancarlo Stanton), two teams with perennial MVP candidates in right field, who are among two of the very best players in the game overall. So, no arguments there. I can understand a little disagreement with number three – Dodgers (Yasiel Puig) – but even he has flashed a level of brilliance that has been forgotten by most, thanks to some injuries and off-field issues.

Even ranked as highly as fourth overall, Cubs right fielders can exceed expectations, according to Cistulli. Heyward is already one of the most accomplished right fielders of the last half decade, and it would just require a further break out with the bat (like the one scouts have been expecting for years and years) for Heyward to take that next step forward into the absolute top tier of MVP-quality players.

Moving on to center field, you’ll begin to understand why I consider the Cubs unique outfield arrangement to be greater than the sum of its part. Ranked 17th overall, the Cubs center field position – led by Dexter Fowler – is the first unit to be considered below average by the projections and power rankings in this series. Although he’s going to be backed up by Jason Heyward, Fowler’s overall offensive projections are what are holding down this center field tandem. With a projected slash line of just .252/.350/.394 Fowler is expected to lose some pop and average from last season. But, with Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Kevin Kiermaier and A.J. Pollock crowing the top of the list, there was never much hope for Fowler or the Cubs to appear on top, anyway.

According to Eno Sarris (who wrote the accompanying notes for each player, in this one), the Cubs’ main drawback, though, isn’t the offensive production … it’s the defense. While advanced defensive metrics are not perfect, they have not been kind to Fowler over the years. He might not be the butcher many numbers seem to suggest, but he is certainly less of a positive there than several other names on the list. And, although Heyward or Javier Baez should be able to capably fill in from time to time, neither of them are true center fielders either. But, Sarris does believe that Heyward’s night and day defensive production (vis a vis Jorge Soler) in right will help the Cubs centerfielder’s improve on defense, in the big picture.

Lastly, we come to left field, which, for the Cubs, is lead by some combination of Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler. Of course, further depth at the position includes Ben Zobrist and Kris Bryant, both of whom are immensely talented players that can certainly handle the defensive requirements of left field (possibly even better than the two penciled in to the spot right now). So, then, you should not be surprised to find the Cubs with another top ten finish (seven, to be exact) overall. Unlike its right and center field counterparts, though, left field isn’t quite as deep around the game. Sure, Starling Marte, Alex Gordon and Justin Upton are perfectly good players, but none of them come close to the top three in either of the other two outfield positions.

With the combined sky-high potential of both Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler, I would be downright shocked if you wouldn’t take their tandem ahead of at least a few units listed just ahead of the Cubs. In fact, despite the seventh overall ranking, Neil Weinberg calls the Cubs left field the deepest left field in baseball. There are so many legitimate starting options, that even without top tier production from their starter, the Cubs should be well-covered all year long.

So now that we’ve covered all eight positions (there is a DH article, but well, you know), let’s check back in on the overall rankings:

  • Catcher – Miguel Montero – 14th
  • First Base – Anthony Rizzo – 2nd
  • Second Base – Ben Zobrist – 4th
  • Shortstop – Addison Russell – 8th
  • Third Base – Kris Bryant – 3rd
  • Right Field – Jason Heyward – 4th
  • Center Field – Dexter Fowler – 17th
  • Left Field – Kyle Schwarber/Jorge Soler – 7th

All in all, the Cubs finish with six top ten rankings on the offensive side, four of which are in the top five. With guys like Jorge Soler and Javier Baez on the bench, too, their overall team is probably among the very best in baseball. I know you might get sick of hearing that argument presented in various ways, but enjoy it while it lasts. On paper, this Cubs team looks formidable.

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Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami