Home Featured Best MLB Players of the 2010s: Center Field

Best MLB Players of the 2010s: Center Field

by Chris Brown

With the 2010s in the rearview mirror, 110 Sports is taking a look back at the best players of the last decade at each position. There’s no one perfect way to evaluate baseball players. For these rankings, we weigh statistics such as OPS (on-base + slugging percentage) and WAR (wins above replacement), which, while imperfect, are good at assessing hitting contributions and overall value, along with various other factors like the player’s best years in the decade, length of high-level production, speed, defense, reputation, playoff experience and awards. 

A general note about eligibility for this exercise: Players are being considered for the top 10 only at the position they played most in the decade. If a player made a significant contribution at another position in the 2010s, they may receive an honorable mention there as well. Let’s get to it.

We’re not even going to attempt to build up suspense here. If you don’t know who the best center fielder of the 2010s was, you haven’t been paying attention to baseball in the last decade. That being said, there were a great deal of skilled center fielders besides Mike Trout who made a significant impact in the 2010s. Let the battle for the No. 2 spot commence!

Honorable Mentions

Dexter Fowler | COL 2010-13, HOU 2014, CHC 2015-16, STL 2017-19

After finishing eighth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2009, Fowler led the league in triples the first year of the 2010s with 14, though his six home runs and .260 batting average left room to improve, which he did. Following a similar 2011, Fowler averaged 14 home runs over the next six seasons, as well as 14 stolen bases per season with a .271/.371/.436 batting line. His production over the last few seasons has dropped considerably, but the 2016 All-Star does rank eighth in hits, seventh in doubles, ninth in RBI and fourth in OBP among players with at least 400 games in left field last decade.

Carlos Gómez | MIL 2010-15, HOU 2015-16, TEX 2016-17, TB 2018, NYM 2019

Gomez hasn’t been a productive major leaguer in a few years, but his power-speed combination throughout a solid portion of the decade made him a high-level multidimensional player. After a few years of mediocrity to begin the 2010s, Gomez took a major step up in 2012 and really broke out in 2013, finishing ninth in NL MVP voting following a 10-triple, 24-homer, 40-steal season with a .284 average. From 2013-17, Gomez hit .265/.332/.452 while averaging 18 home runs and 24 steals per season. He also won a Gold Glove and was twice selected as an All-Star during that stretch. His cumulative stats don’t measure up, but Gomez was a higher end talent for longer than many may realize.

Denard Span | MIN 2010-12, WSH 2013-15, SF 2016-17, TB 2018, SEA 2018

He never hit for much power, but Span’s on-base abilities made him one of the top leadoff hitters in the game during his prime. The lefty swiped double-digit bags eight times in the 2010s, including a career-high 31 in 2014, when he also led in the NL in hits (184) and finished 19th in MVP voting. His production has slipped in his mid-30s, but from 2010-15 Span hit .282/.340/.386 while averaging 19 stolen bases per campaign.

Austin Jackson | DET 2010-14, SEA 2014-15, CHC 2015, CHW 2016, CLE 2017, SF 2018, NYM 2018

Like Span, Jackson rarely hit for great home run power, with his career high of 16 homers in 2012 being the only time he surpassed 12 long balls in the decade. But also similarly to Span, Jackson was a pretty consistent contributor in batting average and steals. He bounced around a lot in the second half of the 2010s, but early in the decade with the Tigers were Jackson’s best seasons. He finished second in Rookie of the Year balloting in 2010 after hitting .293/.345/.400 with 27 steals in 151 games. Over the next four seasons, Jackson averaged 11 home runs and 16 steals per season with a .269 average before his numbers began declining. Among players with at least 400 games in center last decade, Jackson ranks ninth in both hits and WAR.

Top 10

10. A.J. Pollock | ARI 2012-18, LAD 2019

Injuries limited Pollock to fewer than 100 games in all but four seasons last decade, but his peak performance trumps any of our honorable mentions. The longtime Diamondback’s best season was undoubtedly 2015, when Pollock hit .315/.367/.498 with 39 doubles, 20 home runs, 111 runs, 76 RBI, and 39 steals in 157 games. Pollock finished 14th in MVP voting that year, was selected to the All-Star Game and won a Gold Glove. 

In 2017 and 2018, the only stretch of Pollock’s career with two straight seasons of 100+ contests, he averaged 18 home runs and 17 steals per year with an .801 OPS. Despite being 33rd in games played among center fielders last decade, Pollock is 12th in WAR in addition to sixth in OPS, revealing just how productive he’s been when healthy.

9. Jacoby Ellsbury | BOS 2010-13, NYY 2014-17

Ellsbury had more success than Pollock, but the general profile is the same: a great player when healthy, but seemingly injured more than he was healthy in the 2010s. After playing in just 18 games in 2010 due to injury, Ellsbury returned for his best major league season in 2011. He played in 158 games that year, tallying 119 runs, 46 doubles, 32 home runs, 105 RBI, and 39 steals while being named an All-Star, capturing a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger, and finishing beyond only a 24-win Justin Verlander in AL MVP balloting. Ellsbury missed significant time with injuries again in 2012, but returned to steal an MLB-leading 52 bases in 2013, albeit with just nine home runs. 

After agreeing to a seven-year, $153 million deal with the Yankees in following that season, Ellsbury averaged 130 games played, 10 home runs and 26 steals per season with a more disappointing .264/.330/.716 batting line in the four years that followed. He then missed the final two years of the 2010s entirely before being released by the Yankees. With all that missed time and dropoff in production, Ellbury’s cumulative stats don’t measure up at the position — except for his sixth rank in steals — but there’s no doubting Ellsbury’s dynamic profile at his best.

8. Kevin Kiermaier | TB 2013-19

The Rays outfielder has brought a significant power-speed combo to the table in recent years, but make no mistake, he wouldn’t be anywhere near the top 10 if not for his greatest attribute: his elite defense. Since his rookie season in 2013, the three-time Gold Glove winner leads all outfielders in defensive WAR and is second among all MLB players. With his outstanding range, athleticism, and strong arm, Kiermaier was simply put the best defensive outfielder of the last 10 years. 

Kiermaier has hit double-digit home runs in all but one season since 2014 — topped by a 15-homer campaign in 2017 — and surpassed 15 steals four times in that stretch. His hitting profile aside from that isn’t especially impressive though, as he’s exceeded a .265 batting average just once in his career and the last two seasons has hit .217 and .228, respectively. Kiermaier, like Ellsbury and Pollock, has also battled injuries in the 2010s, surpassing 110 games played in just two seasons.

7. Charlie Blackmon | COL 2011-19

Now is where the quality of resumes really takes a step forward in center field. Blackmon has spent his entire career with the Rockies, and although he didn’t play a full season until 2014, he’s certainly made the most of his time in the majors since. Blackmon hit roughly .290 with around 20 home runs in both 2014 (when he made his first All-Star team) and 2015, and after stealing 28 bases in 2014, he swiped a career-high 43 bags the next year.

While the steals never reached that height again, Blackmon found his power stroke in the final four years of the decade, tallying 29, 37, 29, and 32 long balls in those seasons. Blackmon’s best year came in 2017, when at 30 years old, he hit an NL-best .337 with a 1.000 OPS and an MLB-leading 213 hits, 137 runs and 14 triples. He also tallied a career-high 37 home runs and 104 RBI that year while swiping 14 bads and finishing fifth in MVP voting. In that four-season stretch from 2016-19, Blackmon averaged 36 doubles, 32 homers, 120 runs, 86 RBI, and 11 steals per season while batting .315/.376/.558. 

For Blackmon, a four-time All Star and two-time Silver Slugger, the length of top level production in the 2010s wasn’t as extensive as others. And his defense in center has been very weak compared to others on this list. But without a doubt, Blackmon was one of the top hitters not just in the outfield, but in baseball over the second half of the decade.

6. Curtis Granderson | NYY 2010-13, NYM 2014-17, LAD 2017, TOR 2018, MIL 2018, MIA 2019

Recognized for his contributions to the community outside of baseball as a four-time Marvin Miller Man of the Year and Roberto Clemente Award winner, Granderson was one of the most well-respected and admired players in baseball over the last few decades. His bat declined significantly in the past few years leading up to his retirement, so it’s easy to forget that he was also one of the best hitters in baseball early in the 2010s. 

Following a solid but injury-shortened 2010 season, Grandson finished fourth in AL MVP voting in 2011, playing in 156 games and impressively leading the AL in both runs (136) and RBI (119) along with tallying 41 homers and 25 steals with a .262/.364/.552 batting line. He never matched that overall production again, but Granderson did hit a career-high 43 home runs the next season with 100+ runs and RBI, and from 2014-17 he averaged 26 homers and seven steals per year.

Granderson’s drop in near the end of the decade, as you’d expect from a player entering their late 30s, was extreme. He also frequently posted a poor batting average, even in his better years. And though his peak in the decade, while high, was short, Granderson’s production in the years to follow clearly makes him one of the top center fielders of the decade. Among players with at least 400 games in center field last decade, Granderson ranked third in homers, fifth in runs and RBI and seventh in OPS.

5. Matt Kemp | LAD 2010-14, SD 2015-16, ATL 2016-17, LAD 2018, CIN 2019

Kemp spent the latter half of the decade in the corner outfield spots, but still played more in center than anywhere else in the 2010s. The then-Dodger started the decade strong, hitting 28 home runs with 89 RBI and 19 steals in 162 games in 2010. But 2011 was undoubtedly his best year. Kemp hit .324/.399/.586 that year in 161 games, tallying an NL-high 115 runs, 39 home runs, 126 RBI, and 353 total bases along with 40 stolen bases. Kemp was named to an All-Star team for the first time, won a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove, and finished second in MVP voting behind Ryan Braun, who later admitted to taking PEDs during that season.

He never approached even 20 steals again, but Kemp was certainly productive for several years to come, hitting 20+ homers in five of the next seven seasons, surpassing 100 RBI twice and being named to two more All-Star teams. Among players with at least 400 games in center field last decade, Kemp ranks fourth in hits, third in doubles, fifth in home runs, second in RBI and fourth in OPS. His ceiling, while elite, just didn’t last very long compared to others, but even as he slipped from true stardom, Kemp was a significant contributor for most of the 2010s.

4. Lorenzo Cain | MIL 2010, KC 2011-17, MIL 2018-19

Throughout the course of his 10-year career, Cain has been more or less the model for what you might picture as a great center fielder: someone with the ability to hit for average, strong on-base skills, outstanding defense, great speed and even a little bit of pop. 

Let’s break that down a bit: the Brewer-turned-Royal-turned Brewer again hit .280 or better six times in the 2010s, five times topping .300. His .288 average for the decade is third among all center fielders, and his .347 OBP ranks sixth. Cain somehow only has one Gold Glove to his name, but his defensive WAR for the decade is highest among all outfielders and third-highest in all of baseball. He also has won two Wilson Defensive Player of the Year awards and one Fielding Bible Award. While never a league leader in steals, Cain swiped double-digit bags every year from 2012-19, topping 20 stolen bases four times. Finally, while never a power threat by any means, Cain has hit 10+ homers four times in his career, with a career-high 16 coming in 2015.

With all that in mind, it’s not hard to see how Cain ranks third among center fielders in WAR in the decade. He doesn’t rank higher because his ceiling was lower than the three players to follow — who all were true five-tool stars at their best — but Cain’s performance in the 2010s should not be completely overshadowed by others.

3. Adam Jones | BAL 2010-18, ARI 2019

Jones never showed the quite the upside of players like Kemp and Blackmon, but he was an extremely consistent, high-level player throughout most of the decade. Jones hit 15+ home runs every single year of the 2010s, surpassing 25 homers seven years in a row. For all but the very beginning and end of the decade, the longtime Oriole was essentially a lock for around 30 home runs and 80+ RBI each season with a .280ish batting average. In a seven-year stretch from 2011-17, Jones averaged 153 games played, 29 doubles, 29 homers, 86 runs, 87 RBI and eight steals per season with a .279 average, earning All-Star honors four times, one Silver Slugger, three Gold Gloves and finishing top 15 in MVP balloting three times.

Among players with at least 400 games in center in the 2010s, Jones, who in December signed a two-year contract to continue his baseball career in Japan, ranks first in games played, hits and RBI as well as second in doubles and home runs. The two players above him here have shown higher peaks, but Jones was undoubtedly one of the very best players to handle center field in the decade.

2. Andrew McCutchen | PIT 2010-17, SF 2018, NYY 2018, PHI 2019

McCutchen hasn’t been a high-impact player in a few years, so it’s easy to forget just how incredible he was earlier in the decade. The longtime Pirate was named an NL All-Star for five consecutive years since 2011-15, and in the final four of those years, McCutchen won four Silver Sluggers, one Gold Glove and finished top five in MVP balloting every season. McCutchen won MVP in 2013 after hitting .317/.404/.508 with 21 homers, 38 doubles, 97 runs, 84 RBI and 27 steals in 157 games. 

As evidenced by his MVP finishes, 2013 was far from his only outstanding season in the decade. In a four-season span from 2012-15, McCutchen averaged 154 games played, 35 doubles, 25 homers, 96 runs, 90 RBI and 19 stolen bases per decade while hitting an impressive .313/.404/.523. Even after that stretch, McCutchen hit 24, 28 and 20 homers the next three seasons, twice topping 10 steals, before an ACL tear cut his 2019 short. Among players with at least 400 games in center in the 2010s, McCutchen trails only Trout in WAR and is also second in games and hits, first in doubles, fourth in homers and third in RBI and OPS.

1. Mike Trout | LAA 2011-19

Is an explanation even worthwhile here? Trout has been the undisputed best player in baseball for most of the last decade, and is well, well on his way to being one of the best to ever play the game. Since his first full season in 2012, the Angel has been an All-Star every year, won a Silver Slugger in seven of eight seasons and finished top two in MVP balloting seven (!) times as well, winning the award three times. In the 2010s, Trout led the AL in runs four times, in RBI once, in walks three times, in OBP four times, in slugging three times and in OPS four times. Trout’s 162-game average in his career is 34 doubles, 39 home runs, 122 runs, 102 RBI, 27 stolen bases, and a .305/.419/.581 batting line. 

Trout’s exactly 1.000 OPS is the eighth-highest in MLB history. His 10.5 WAR in his rookie season is the best in MLB history. Trout also, unsurprisingly, leads MLB in WAR for the 2010s by a wide margin over (72.8 to 53.8) over Joey Votto in second. I could go on and on and on about Trout, but no more is needed to support this call, the easiest one of any position. Mike Trout is the undisputed center fielder of the 2010s.

Photos by Dennis Heller / Flickr (Jones), Ian D’Andrea / Flickr (McCutchenTrout, Cain)

You may also like

Leave a Comment