Print and Go Back ESPN.com: SweetSpot [Print without images]

Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Are we lacking all-around outfielders?

By David Schoenfield

From Tuesday's chat session:
Steve (Plantation, FL)

I was talking to my brother about outfielders, and I said "I want my left fielder to have a .350 OBP, 30 doubles, 20 homers, play solid D, and be a good baserunner." Then I asked, "How many players actually do this ?" I then concluded that there just aren't very many well-rounded players anymore. Andy Van Slyke, where are you now?


Interesting question. I did a quick search for 2013 and only five outfielders met Steve's criteria of a .350 OBP, 30 doubles and 20 home runs -- Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Michael Cuddyer, Matt Holliday and Shin-Soo Choo. Cuddyer probably falls short on the defensive side of things, knocking our list down to four, and that's giving Holliday the benefit of the doubt on the bases and Choo on defense (where he played out of position in center field).

I guess the issue: Is that a low number? And how rare is a player like Van Slyke, who does everything well? Steve's criteria don't seem too extreme, but his mention of Van Slyke maybe tells us how hard it is to excel in all phases of the game -- Van Slyke actually met Steve's standards just once, in 1987. Van Slyke's peak years came from 1988 to 1992, a depressed offensive era similar to the current one (minus all the strikeouts). In 1988, he just missed with a .345 OBP and 23 doubles. He had a bad year in 1989. In 1990 and '91, he hit 17 home runs each year. In 1992, he hit .324/.381/.505 with 45 doubles but missed Steve's criteria with just 14 home runs. (It was a great season, however, as he finished sixth among NL position players in WAR and fourth in the MVP voting.)

So Van Slyke was a terrific all-around player, but did hit 20 home runs just twice.

I did another search on Baseball-Reference.com for all outfielders since 1961 who reached: 20 home runs, a.350 OBP and at least average ratings on defense and baserunning metrics. I left out the doubles since I could only search four categories, but the 20 home runs serves as a proxy for power.

Under this criteria, we had five outfielders qualify in 2013 -- although not the same group, as Trout rated below average on defense. Those five were McCutchen, Jose Bautista, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth and Carlos Gonzalez.

Here are the seasons with thee most outfielders who met those four standards:

9 -- 1962, 1999, 2001, 2007
8 -- 1961, 2006
7 -- 1996, 1998, 2000, 2009
6 -- 1963, 1964, 1987
5 -- 1982, 1985, 2003, 2004, 2011, 2013

Obviously, it makes sense that we see more of these seasons from the late '90s and 2000s, when offense spiked, making it "easier" to reach both the power and OBP numbers.

How many outfielders are on pace this year? A player with 14 home runs so far would be about on a 20-homer pace. Matching the other standards, we'd get three players -- Brett Gardner, Giancarlo Stanton and Carlos Gomez. Trout and McCutchen would both fall short due to below-average defensive ratings.

By the way, if we took fielding out of it and replaced that with Steve's 30 doubles, our top season would be 2001, with 13 outfielders. All the seasons with seven or more such outfielders occurred between 1996 and 2011.

(Ultimately, there would be a more precise way to measure "all-around" ability than raw numbers that don't adjust for era. And, no, we wouldn't just look at WAR. That's not really what Steve is asking. You can have a high WAR even if you're not a great fielder or baserunner -- see Manny Ramirez and others. Steve is simply asking about players who are good in all phases of the game.)

To the original question: Are we lacking all-around outfielders? I don't think so. Sure, we don't see the huge offensive numbers of a decade ago, but we have players like Trout, McCutchen, Stanton, Gomez, Gardner, Bautista, Yasiel Puig, Alex Gordon, Hunter Pence, Justin Upton, Adam Jones, Jacoby Ellsbury and others. Maybe they're not all quite as perfectly well-rounded as peak Andy Van Slyke or have one flaw (like Jones' OBP), but those are all good, exciting players. The game is in good hands.