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The All-Time MLB Team, center field: nominations open

Nope. He’s not eligible. But where might he end up ranking?

Houston Astros v Los Angeles Angels Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

In to center field, and the rules here are the same as for left field with regard to the initial slate of candidates. There’s no requirement of innings, but center field needs to be the position at which you appeared most, per Baseball Reference. It’s possible that this does mean some deserving candidate will miss out on nomination, in the way that Stan Musial did in left field. So if that’s the case, of course, pipe up in the comments and tell us who was unjustly omitted. But here are the top ten under the criteria outlined above (though all did play at least half the time in center) - excluding the one active player, whom we’ll talk about in a bit. As ever, the name links over to their detailed page on B-R.

Best CF ever

Willie Mays 156.1 1948 1973 3005 12545 2068 3293 660 1909 1468 1526 .301 .384 .557 .940 155
Ty Cobb 151.4 1905 1928 3034 13103 2245 4189 117 1944 1249 680 .366 .433 .512 .945 168
Tris Speaker 134.8 1907 1928 2789 12020 1882 3514 117 1531 1381 393 .345 .428 .500 .928 158
Mickey Mantle 110.2 1951 1968 2401 9910 1676 2415 536 1509 1733 1710 .298 .421 .557 .977 172
Ken Griffey Jr. 83.8 1989 2010 2671 11304 1662 2781 630 1836 1312 1779 .284 .370 .538 .907 136
Joe DiMaggio 79.2 1936 1951 1736 7672 1390 2214 361 1537 790 369 .325 .398 .579 .977 155
Carlos Beltran 70.1 1998 2017 2586 11031 1582 2725 435 1587 1084 1795 .279 .351 .486 .837 119
Kenny Lofton 68.4 1991 2007 2103 9235 1528 2428 130 781 945 1016 .299 .372 .423 .794 107
Duke Snider 65.9 1947 1964 2143 8237 1259 2116 407 1333 971 1237 .296 .380 .540 .919 140
Richie Ashburn 64.3 1948 1962 2189 9737 1322 2574 29 586 1198 571 .308 .396 .382 .779 111

This initially looks to be a three-way dance between Willie Mays, Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker, who are all in the top six across all positions by bWAR. The same trio lead the pack if we sort purely by offensive WAR, though Cobb is clearly top of the heap, with over fifteen more wins than Mays. But on the other hand, if you look at center fielders by defensive WAR, Mays (in third) and Lofton (eighth) are the only people who make the top ten both there and on the overall chart. The list of defensive wizards is led by Andruw Jones - ten Gold Gloves suggest this probably isn’t much of a surprise - ahead of the much less well-known Paul Blair. He won eight GGs, but with an OPS+ of just 96, never finished top 10 in MVP voting.

The full list of centerfielders by overall bWAR, using the 50% criteria, and also including Mike Trout can be found here. He already sits seventh all-time, even though he only turned thirty last August, and shows no sign of slowing down. Well, providing the health issues from 2021 are not sustained into 2022. If you limit the list to seasons through age 29, Trout jumps up third, his 76.1 trailing only Mantle (84.7) and Cobb (86.4). Both of them played about 260 more games to that point than Trout, so about an extra season and a half, for one reason or another. Doing some back of the envelope calculations suggest in terms of bWAR rate, Trout has been very much comparable with either of them, so far.

However, the question is what will happen going forward. The key difference between Mantle and Cobb are longevity. Mantle was done after his age 36 season, crippled by leg issues. Cobb played for five more years, and was productive, putting up 19.3 bWAR over his age 37-41 campaigns. Mays went even later, playing well into his 43rd year, and being worth 22.7 bWAR from age 37 on. That’s rare. In the live-ball era, less than a handful of players at any position have been worth twenty wins after the age of 36 - and one of those was Barry Bonds (who, somehow* or** other***, produced 16.8 bWAR more than anybody else). Even Babe Ruth didn‘t manage it. Trout could become an all-time great. But it won’t be easy.

As a final note, it’s worth noting just how far Trout is ahead of any active center fielders. More than 30 wins ahead, in fact, of the second-placed Andrew McCutchen, who is five years older than Trout, and played close to five hundred more games. It’s clear that Mike is simply in another league, and should be appreciated as such. However, for the purposes of this discussion, he is off the board, as only inactive players are eligible. So let’s talk about who will make it onto this week’s ballot.

As usual, we need to narrow the candidates down to five or thereabouts, for the final poll. This will be done largely on the basis of recs in the comments, though the decision of the judging committee i.e. me, will be final in this regard. Just identify the player in the subject line, and make your case in the body of the comment. If you agree with a choice already made, give it a rec. If you don’t see your choice, post a new comment. I will delete subsequent top-level comments about the same player. Poll to follow on Friday!