News item: On August 2, 1876, frontiersman “Wild Bill” Hickok was shot in the back of the head and killed while playing poker at a saloon in Deadwood, S.D. His hand consisting of two pair, aces and eights, is now known as the “Dead man’s Hand.”
We think about, I write about, you read about aces all the time. Guys like Halladay, Oswalt, Lee, Sabathia, Lincecum, Jimenez, Wainwright, Carpenter, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. There probably is nothing more important than securing at a pair of aces for your staff if you are planning to make it to the postseason.
But if the top of your pitching staff is the most important aspect of your team, what is the least? What position can be filled by a player who is steadily reliable but does not need to be dominant?
This morning I’m thinking it may be your centerfielders; number 8 on your scorecard. It seems to me that centerfield used to be the glamour
position. Joe D making those long strides that we saw in b&w films and Willie, Mickey, and the Duke, right? Centerfield was the home for your clean-up batter, the face of the team and the guy on the cover of the yearbook.
I’ve got news for you, with Ken Griffey Jr. playing golf and sleeping in these days, there really are very few centerfielders who are the center of attraction. In fact, there is no one dominant centerfielder in the game today. To prove my point, here’s a quick 8 question quiz about guys who have played at least 90% of their games in centerfield this season, see how you do.
- Which centerfielder has the highest batting average?
- Which centerfielder has hit the most homers?
- Which centerfielder has the most RBI?
- Which centerfielder has scored the most runs?
- Which centerfielder has the most stolen bases?
- Which centerfielder has the highest OPS?
- Which centerfielder has the most triples?
- Which centerfielder has the fielding zone rating?
Before you check your answers, can you name the primary Giants centerfielder? That would be Aaron Rowand. How about the Reds, you know they are battling for first-place, who is their guy in center? That would be Drew Stubbs. One last question in our mini-quiz, the Texas Rangers are going to win the AL West, who plays center for them? That would be Julio Borbon.
Okay, everybody put your pencils down; here are the answers to our little test:
1. Marlon Byrd of the Cubs, who is hitting .315.
2. Vernon Wells, of the Jays, with 20.
3. Torii Hunter of the Angels and Chris Young of the Diamondbacks each with 64.
4. Austin Jackson of the Tigers, Alex Rios of the White Sox, and Denard Span of the Twins, each have scored 61.
5. Michael Bourn of the Astros has 32.
6. Colby Rasmus of the Cardinals at .871
7. Shane Victorino of the Phillies has hit 8 triples.
8. Tony Gwynn of the Padres has 12.048.
How did you do?
What I find the most interesting aspects of this quiz is that there were 8 questions and 11 different centerfielders named and when you add the mini-quiz, there were 14 centerfielders and not one name appeared twice. In addition, I would venture to guess that there were names on this list that some of you barely recognize.
Then there are Curtis Granderson of the Yankees and Mike Cameron of the Red Sox, two of the nicest, most decent and generous guys in the game, but on the field, the former can’t hit lefties and the latter is injured and has seen better days. B.J. Upton of the Rays is hitting .226. Rick Ankiel brought his .261 average with four homers and 15 RBI with him to play center for the Braves to replace Melky Cabrera and Nate McLouth.
So the centerfield slot has not been that impressive of late (yes, I’m the master of understatement). But, (ahh,), there is hope on the horizon to resurrect the glory. No, I’m not referring to Angel Pagan of the Mets, who is better than expected but not the guy who will save this position.
There are a number young players who I think may be names you talk about in the future. These include Adam Jones in Baltimore, the Gold Glover from last season (Franklin Gutierrez toiling for Seattle was the best fielder according to John Dewan who is way more reliable than the Gold Glove awarders), and Jones is more than a decent hitter with a .272 average and 15 homers and 43 RBI.
Next is Nyjer Morgan who I think will be huge for the Nationals in the 2012 postseason. Speed to burn (28 stolen bases), no power (zero homers), Morgan will only get better with experience and the players around him improve.
Clearly the exciting Austin Jackson in Detroit will be a story to watch. The rookie obtained from the Yankees is already spectacular in the field, is hitting over .300 and at 23 has time for power to develop.
Who will Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates and Rajai Davis of Oakland be playing for in five years? Both are really good young players with great upsides, in other words, trade bait for these franchises.
But the guy in centerfield is there right now, toiling in the somewhat obscurity of Colorado and that is Carlos Gonzalez. You may have heard of him this weekend as on Saturday he hit for the cycle against the Cubs. Oh, c’mon it was more than that. He completed his cycle with a walkoff homer. Over the three games against the Cubs, in 14 at-bats, he had nine hits, including two doubles, a triple, two homers, five RBI and nine runs scored. He entered the series against the Cubs hitting .308 and left at .320, just two points behind Joey Votto for the NL lead. He has 21 homers and 15 stolen bases. He already is a star and will turn just 25 in October when I still expect him and his Rockies to be playing.
So, while centerfield is a tad soft right now, the future is bright for aces and eights.