Headlines, Indians

Tyler Naquin projected to be worst defensive center fielder in baseball

photo: @MLBastian

While there are faint hopes that Tyler Naquin can rebound from his horrible finish to the 2016 season, at least one prognosticator believes that the Cleveland Indians will have one of the worst defenders at one of the most important positions in the game.Β  In a recent column penned by Scott Spratt for ESPN.com, Naquin projects to be allow the most runs in all of baseball when it comes to the center field position.

CF Tyler Naquin, Cleveland Indians
Projected DRS: minus-12

Remember how I mentioned that Kiermaier was tied for the lowest rate of extra bases allowed among center fielders last season? Naquin wasn’t too far behind.

Naquin’s issue is with his range, particularly on deep fly balls; he made 11 fewer plays than an average center fielder would have been expected to in about 800 innings played in 2016. It’s not uncommon for players with his defensive profile to move to right field — where range is less important and a good throwing arm is — and have more success.

Unfortunately for the Indians, right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall also bats left-handed. However things sort themselves out, don’t be surprised if prospect Greg Allen — who stole 45 bases across two minor league levels in 2016 — or Bradley Zimmer is patrolling center field at Progressive Field in the second half of this season.

Due to recency, many Indians fans will recall Naquin’s disastrous fielding in the World Series which was ill-timed considering his issues at the plate. Given the recent news regarding Austin Jackson being told he made the big league club, it appears that the Indians will roll with at least five outfielders on their 25-man roster, allowing for platoons across the board.

The bad news is a negative-12 on DRS effectively equates to at least 1.2 losses pinned to Naquin’s glove alone. The good news is that it would represent a six-run improvement off his negative-17 in center field from a season ago.1 Inside edge fielding credited Naquin with making 98.9 percent of routine plays in 2016, but there was a quick drop-off once fielding became more in question: He fielded just 45.5 percent of “likely” balls, while catching none of the 57 batted balls that ranged between “even” and “impossible.”

In a recent “Let’s Argue”, WFNY debated the merits of a player who is at the crossroads of building off his rookie season, but one who could also disappoint in the event his early-season numbers were more of a mirage than what can be expected long term. While good news lies in the penchant for Indians pitchers to induce ground balls, Naquin will have to continue to hope his bat compensates for his lack of range if he wants to be on the field more often than not.

For more on defense and catch probabilities as they pertain to the Indians, check out this piece by WFNY’s Michael Bode. For more on Greg Allen or Bradley Zimmer, both of whom were named in the ESPN story linked above, you’ll want to go here and here.

  1. As calculated by Fangraphs. []

  • CBiscuit

    Really? Projected defensive stats show Naquin will be the worst CF.

    This is the point where the soulless zombie statbots are eating our brains, although we don’t know we’re dead yet.

  • jpftribe

    Sizemore is to Naquin as Uribe is to JRam.

  • They don’t say he *will* be, but they do say his projected defensive metrics are worse than his CF peers. Probable outcomes are not definitive.

  • mgbode

    soulless zombie statbots can only subsist with human actions as input (i.e. Statcast). killing us kills them too πŸ™‚

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  • woofersus

    I prefer to look on the bright side. If Naquin’s offense is good enough to make this a hard decision, we’re probably better off overall anyway. He was basically a bonus last year that we didn’t expect. Obviously with Almonte and Jackson we have options at CF, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a bunch of late game defensive substitutions. Later in the year there will likely be additional and better options, too, and if either Chisenhall or Brantley miss time, it’s nice to be able to move Naquin over and still have a (probably) quality LH bat for that half of the split at those positions.

    From a higher level view, though, I wonder how they resolve this long term. Chisenhall is in no-man’s land with Arb3 coming next year. If he’s playing well this year (especially defensively) do you try to sign him to a 2-3 year deal and use that last tiny bit of leverage before he’s a FA, or do you trade him? How much does it depend on Naquin’s continued development? Or do you just hold onto everybody and stay in a logjam, so you could theoretically DH Brantley next season with Santana gone? Brantley isn’t a defensive star exactly, but he’s decent, and even in left field he’s definitely better than Naquin for now. Would you DH Naquin at age 27? And at age 31 and in a contract year, I doubt Brantley would be jumping at the idea of being mostly a DH. Barring extension, Chisenhall and Brantley are free agents in the same year, so the jam all clears up in 2019, when hopefully Zimmer and Gregg Allen are quality starters there.

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