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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.  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. []