Ranking MLB's 10 Best Outfields Entering 2018

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistFebruary 9, 2018

Ranking MLB's 10 Best Outfields Entering 2018

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    Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    Who has the best outfield in the big leagues?

    That's the question we're about to tackle. Like all such sports-related queries, it has no cut-and-dried answer. Any ranking—in this case, a top-10is sure to spark debate and disagreement.

    For our purposes, we're going to consider each team's projected starting outfield as of Friday. Obviously, some teams will add talent between now and Opening Day. (J.D. Martinez is looking for a job, for example.) And we're not going to throw fourth and fifth outfielders into the mix since those roles are often decided in the latter stages of spring training. 

    As for our metric, we're using the combined projected fWAR of each club's three outfield starters, per FanGraphs' depth chart calculation. Like all stats, fWAR isn't a perfect measure, but it's a pretty darn good shorthand for the combination of defensive and offensive value a player brings to the field.

Honorable Mentions

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    Jon Durr/Getty Images

    Before we dive into the top 10, let's take a glance at the five clubs that just missed the cut. The Chicago Cubs were the toughest omission since they have ample depth behind their projected starting outfield, including emerging Ian Happ and veteran Ben Zobrist. 

    The Tampa Bay Rays sneak up higher than expected, while the Pittsburgh Pirates managed to stay in the top 15 despite trading former franchise player Andrew McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants.

        

    No. 11: Tampa Bay Rays

    Projected Starting Outfield: LF Corey Dickerson (1.3); CF Kevin Kiermaier (3.9); RF Steven Souza Jr. (1.7)

    Total Projected fWAR: 6.9

       

    No. 12: Toronto Blue Jays

    Projected Starting Outfield: LF Curtis Granderson (1.4); CF Kevin Pillar (2.6); RF Randal Grichuk (1.8)

    Total Projected fWAR: 5.8

       

    No. 13: Chicago Cubs

    Projected Starting Outfield: LF Kyle Schwarber (2.1); CF Albert Almora Jr. (1.1); RF Jason Heyward (2.4)

    Total Projected fWAR: 5.6

       

    No. 14: Pittsburgh Pirates

    Projected Starting Outfield: LF Adam Frazier (0.8); CF Gregory Polanco (1.9); RF Starling Marte (2.9)

    Total Projected fWAR: 5.6

       

    No. 15: Texas Rangers

    Projected Starting Outfield: LF Willie Calhoun (2.0); CF Delino DeShields (1.5); RF Nomar Mazara (2.1)

    Total Projected fWAR: 5.6

No. 10: Philadelphia Phillies

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    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Projected Starting Outfield: LF Rhys Hoskins (3.7); CF Odubel Herrera (2.3); RF Aaron Altherr (1.1)

    Total Projected fWAR: 7.1

    The Philadelphia Phillies' signing of first baseman Carlos Santana means Rhys Hoskins will spend most of his time in left field. The projections are bullish for the 24-year-old, who clubbed 18 home runs in 50 games last season for the Phils.

    Center fielder Odubel Herrera saw his numbers dip in 2017 after a 2016 All-Star season, but he's an above-average defender with pop.

    The final starting spot will likely be a competition between Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr, though both ought to see plenty of action. We're giving the edge to Altherr, about whom the projections are more optimistic (Williams' projected fWAR is 0.2). 

No. 9: New York Mets

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Projected Starting OF: LF Yoenis Cespedes (3.0); CF Michael Conforto (3.2); RF Jay Bruce (1.0)

    Total Projected fWAR: 7.2

    The caveat for the New York Mets outfield is health.

    Left fielder Yoenis Cespedes played just 81 games in 2017 while battling various injuries. Center fielder Michael Conforto is coming off shoulder surgery and could be out until at least May.

    Still, after bringing back slugging right fielder Jay Bruce, the Mets have assembled an outfield that could produce above-average results.

    Cespedes remains one of the game's most fearsome sluggers. Conforto broke out with a .949 OPS and an All-Star nod in 2017. Bruce, while limited defensively, has been good for 30-plus homers in each of the last two seasons. Plus, New York has Brandon Nimmo and Juan Lagares available to fill in until Conforto returns.

No. 8: Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Projected Starting OF: LF Joc Pederson (2.4); CF Chris Taylor (2.2); RF Yasiel Puig (3.4)

    Total Projected fWAR: 8.0

    The Los Angeles Dodgers outfield is a chaotic jumble of youngsters, journeymen, mercurial stars and fading veterans. It'll be a major storyline to follow this spring for the defending National League champs.

    The likeliest combination at this point seems to be Joc Pederson in left, Chris Taylor in center and Yasiel Puig in right.

    The projections are hopeful for the powerful and athletic Pederson, even after the 25-year-old hit a scant .212 with 11 home runs in 2017 and ceded playing time down the stretch. 

    Taylor was a revelation in center, as he hit 21 home runs with an .850 OPS, but the 27-year-old will have to prove it wasn't a fluke.

    In right, the Dodgers are crossing their fingers that Puig's distracting antics are behind him and that he's ready to become a consistent five-tool force. 

    In other words: This outfield could be special. Or, Los Angeles may be forced to lean on its depth and patch holes as needed.

No. 7: Milwaukee Brewers

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Projected Starting OF: LF Ryan Braun (1.5); CF Lorenzo Cain (2.8); RF Christian Yelich (3.9)

    Total Projected fWAR: 8.2

    The Milwaukee Brewers revamped their outfield this winter, acquiring Christian Yelich from the Miami Marlins and signing Lorenzo Cain to a five-year, $80 million pact.

    That pair will join longtime Milwaukee cornerstone Ryan Braun to form a potentially top-notch troika.

    Cain, who turns 32 in April, is on the downside of his prime, but he hit .300 with 15 home runs and 26 stolen bases for the Kansas City Royals and remains a plus defender in center.

    Yelich played center in 2017 for Miami and hit 18 home runs with 16 stolen bases. He'll move to right field, where he earned a Gold Glove in 2014.

    Braun played only 104 games last season while battling a calf injury and hit 17 home runs, his lowest total since 2013. The fact that the six-time All-Star and 2011 National League MVP is probably the weakest link in this chain says a lot about the pieces the Brew Crew added.

No. 6: Houston Astros

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Projected Starting OF: LF Marwin Gonzalez (1.3); CF George Springer (4.6); RF Josh Reddick (2.5)

    Total Projected fWAR: 8.4

    The world champion Houston Astros have talent littered across the roster. The outfield is no exception.

    Center fielder George Springer solidified his stardom with 34 home runs and an .889 OPS in the regular season—with a World Series MVP Award to boot.

    Left fielder Marwin Gonzalez might be underrated by the projections after posting 4.1 fWAR last season on the strength of a .303/.377/.530 slash line.

    Josh Reddick, meanwhile, hit .314 with an .847 OPS and posted five defensive runs saved in right field.

No. 5: St. Louis Cardinals

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    Kurt Voigt/Associated Press

    Projected Starting OF: LF Marcell Ozuna (3.9); CF Tommy Pham (3.1); RF Dexter Fowler (2.2)

    Total Projected fWAR: 9.2  

    When the St. Louis Cardinals acquired Marcell Ozuna from Miami, they added the lineup anchor they'd been missing and formed one of the best outfields in the Senior Circuit.

    A two-time All-Star, Ozuna hit 37 home runs with a .924 OPS and 124 RBI for the Marlins while winning a Gold Glove.

    He's joined by Tommy Pham, who was a surprise stud for the Cards in 2017 and should assume full-time duties in center field. In 128 games, the 29-year-old posted a .931 OPS and finished 11th in NL MVP voting. 

    Veteran Dexter Fowler has been a center fielder most of his career but will slide to right to accommodate Pham. The 31-year-old missed time to injury last season, yet he hit 18 home runs with an .851 OPS in 118 games and brings leadership and exemplary on-base capabilities. 

No. 4: Washington Nationals

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Projected Starting OF: LF Adam Eaton (2.1); CF Michael Taylor (1.2); RF Bryce Harper (6.0)

    Total Projected fWAR: 9.3   

    Bryce Harper in a contract year could be a scary thing to behold.

    Yes, the 25-year-old Washington Nationals franchise player must avoid the disabled list. He's eclipsed 150 games only once in his six-year big league career and last season was limited to 111 contests by a knee injury.

    Something tells us, though, that Harper will show up in tip-top shape in his final go-round before a presumably ludicrous free-agent payday.

    Speaking of injuries, the Nats are counting on a comeback from Adam Eaton, who logged a scant 23 games for Washington and suffered a knee injury of his own. When healthy, Eaton nudges the needle northward in the batter's box and the field, as he proved by picking up spare MVP votes in 2016 with the Chicago White Sox.

    In center, Michael Taylor hit 19 home runs, swiped 17 bases and posted an .806 OPS in 2017. A repeat performance would be more than welcomed in the nation's capital. 

No. 3: Boston Red Sox

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Projected Starting OF: LF Andrew Benintendi (2.9); CF Jackie Bradley Jr. (3.3); RF Mookie Betts (5.5)

    Total Projected fWAR: 11.7

    The Boston Red Sox need to acquire a power hitter after finishing last in the AL in home runs in 2017. J.D. Martinez is an oft-rumored possibility.

    At the same time, Boston's outfield is set.

    Left fielder Andrew Benintendi would have gotten Rookie of the Year consideration in any year that didn't feature Aaron Judge (more on him in a moment). Mookie Betts took a step back from his second-place AL MVP finish in 2016, but he hit 24 homers with 102 RBI and won a Gold Glove while finishing sixth in MVP voting.

    Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr.'s offensive numbers dropped precipitously compared to his 2016 All-Star season, but the projections like his combination of power and plus defense. 

    If the Sox end up inking Martinez, they'll likely use him as a designated hitter, which speaks to the all-around potency of Boston's outfield. 

No. 2: New York Yankees

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Projected Starting OF: LF Aaron Judge (4.0); CF Aaron Hicks (2.4); RF Giancarlo Stanton (6.3)

    Total Projected fWAR: 12.7

    The New York Yankees have said their initial plan is for Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge to rotate between designated hitter and right field. We're not buying it.

    Both players, in addition to their prodigious power, have the skills and athleticism to be plus defensive corner outfielders. How long will the likes of Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury—ancillary pieces at this point in their careers—prevent Stanton and Judge from patrolling the same outfield?

    In the batter's box, Stanton and Judge could easily combine for 100-plus home runs. Don't trot out the Ruth/Gehrig comparisons just yet, but get them ready.

    Aaron Hicks is a strong defensive center fielder with pop when healthy, and Gardner and Ellsbury add insurance behind him.

    Overall, the Yankees enjoy an embarrassment of riches. What else is new?

No. 1: Los Angeles Angels

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Projected Starting OF: LF Justin Upton (2.4); CF Mike Trout (8.6); RF Kole Calhoun (2.7)

    Total Projected fWAR: 13.7   

    Mike Trout is the best baseball player on the planet. If you need stats and a recounting of awards and accolades to prove that assertion, sorry, you have no business following this sport.

    Unfortunately for Trout, the Los Angeles Angels have generally failed to give him enough support to reach the postseason, let alone make a deep run.

    That could change this year with the acquisition of two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani, though he won't play the outfield by all indications.

    Instead, Trout will be flanked by left fielder Justin Upton, who hit 35 home runs with a .901 OPS last season with the Detroit Tigers and the Halos.

    In right, Los Angeles will count on Kole Calhoun, a quietly competent performer who should hover around 20 home runs and won a Gold Glove in 2015.

    The Angels can't keep squandering Trout's prime. In the outfield at least, they're equipped to avoid that fate.

        

    All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Reference.