With fly ball rates at an all-time high and continuing to climb, we may start to see a rising value of centerfielders in the world of baseball. Because hitters are now focused on analytics such as launch angle and exit velocity which results in more fly balls, as well as the fact that the infield shift is being used more frequently on defense, the value of a good defensive centerfielder is becoming even more valuable than a good defensive shortstop.
Why There Is a Rising Value of Centerfielders
Advanced analytics has changed the way baseball is played over the past decade or so. Teams are taking a more mathematical approach to the game by following these advanced analytic models that, in theory, will improve the odds of winning more games. From a hitting perspective, advanced analytics heavily favor one thing: the home run.
The philosophy is that more home runs will equal more wins and that hitters should be trying to hit a home run in every plate appearance. This is much different than the old school philosophy which focused more on putting the ball in play. With the home run being the main focus now for hitters, the fly ball rate has been continuing to increase every year. With more balls now reaching the outfield as opposed to the hard-hit grounders and liners of the past, there may be a decline in the importance of the defensive infield and a rising value of centerfielders with an elite glove.
Another factor to the rising value of centerfielders and decreasing value of defensive infielders such as a shortstop is the defensive infield shift. This strategy was first implemented by Joe Maddon back in 2010 when he was the manager of the Rays and its use is now widely used across baseball today. The basic idea is to “shift” your defensive alignment to the hitters’ pull side.
The majority of hitters in baseball, especially hitters with power, can be classified as pull hitters and this shifting strategy has been successful in taking away many hits from that dominant side. Since the shift allows teams to schematically take away hits, the need for a strong defensive infield may be on the decline. On the other hand, analytics have determined that the best way to beat the shift is to just hit a home run because the defense doesn’t matter if the ball leaves the park. This again will continue to increase the fly ball rate and further confirm why the rising value of centerfielders makes sense.
Sacrificing defense for offense is already a strategy that some teams have used. The belief is that if you score enough runs it won’t hurt you to allow occasional bases from defensive inefficiencies. There will always be a strong market for productive offensive players, and in particular bats with power in today’s game, but the value of an elite defensive infielder with no bat is taking a serious plunge. On the flip side, the rising value of centerfielders with elite defense is a trend that should continue to grow because of the abundance of fly balls.
Rising Value of Centerfielders: Free Agents
Let’s take a look at who is still available in free agency relative to this new trend. A player like George Springer has incredible value for his bat alone, but the fact that he is also a great glove in centerfield makes him even more desirable. Two players that may find themselves more desirable because of the rising value of centerfielders are Jackie Bradley Jr. and Jake Marisnick. These are two players that don’t exactly light it up at the plate but provide stellar defense in the middle of the outfield.
Rising Value of Centerfielders: A Trend to Watch
With the new advanced analytic world of baseball encouraging the boom or bust strategy at the plate, as well as the decline in value of the defensive shortstop due to the infield shift strategy, the rising value of centerfielders is definitely a trend to keep an eye on.
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