Despite what you may hear from some old-timers, the inclusion of analytics has done nothing but enhance our appreciation of the game and how it’s played. One positional area benefiting greatly from this statistical evolution are outfielders – thanks mainly to such defensive metrics as fly ball closing rate and runs saved, in addition to the many hitting categories.
Taking all criteria into account, let’s examine the ten best units in the game today.
10. Washington Nationals
Any outfield that includes Bryce Harper is automatically among the best. Fortunately for Washington, there is more to this unit than just the 42-homer, 99-RBI MVP. Jayson Werth is aging, but still can be effective. The Nats snatched Ben Revere away from Toronto, hoping to add to his three straight seasons of hitting .300 or better. Revere and young Michael A. Taylor are tasked with supplanting Denard Span and adding depth on a ballclub that was depleted by injury.
9. Arizona Diamondbacks
A.J. Pollock is probably MLB’s best unknown commodity. In a breakout season that was 2015, the Notre Dame product hit .315 with 20 homers and 76 RBI, earned an All-Star appearance and was the NL’s Gold Glove winner in center. David Peralta also improved greatly in his second season – notching 17 home runs and driving in 78 to go along with a .312 average and a league-best 10 triples. That speed was also useful in the field, as he and Pollock helped the D-Backs outfield collect 37 runs saved.
8. New York Mets
Granted, Yoenis Cespedes has the occasional brain lapse. Yet there is no Mets fan who will say they aren’t grateful to see him back. His presence in the lineup again makes New York a World Series threat. While Cespedes is entertaining, Michael Conforto is blossoming. He improved steadily at the plate during his time at the big league level, and his arm in left field is underrated. Equally overlooked was the power display of Curtis Granderson – hitting 26 home runs last year. Juan Lagares, who earned a Gold Glove in 2014, can be utilized in late-game situations.
7. Toronto Blue Jays
Whether its home runs or the bats flips that come after the home runs, Jose Bautista is captivating. Since 2010, he’s averaged 38 round-trippers (227 total) and been an All-Star in each of those six seasons. Kevin Pillar generates the same excitement due to his play in left field – climbing outfield walls to prevent would-be extra-base hits. The Blue Jays’ hopes of a second straight AL East crown depends almost as much on the output of the third outfielder as it does on an effective rotation.
6. Houston Astros
Houston’s rise to the top of the AL West wasn’t heavily affected by the presence of Carlos Gomez. After acquiring the center fielder from Milwaukee, he hit just .242 and had only 13 RBI as an Astro. Good health and a contract year are the perfect ingredients for a rebound in ’16. Additionally positive vibes have come from the October performance of Colby Rasmus. Right fielder George Springer, age 26, and reserve Jake Marisnick, age 24, are establishing themselves as long-term solutions for the franchise.
5. Chicago Cubs
No group will be better at producing runs – as Jason Heyward joins Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler and Dexter Fowler. That combination alone presents trouble for National League pitchers. Yet the problem last year resided in the ability – or lack thereof – to perform well on defense (a matter which became painfully evident during the NLCS loss to New York). Heyward, a three-time Gold Glove recipient in right field, significantly fills a void on a team that didn’t have many weaknesses when the offseason began.
4. Los Angeles Angels
Mike Scioscia’s club is coming off a year in which it was 20th in runs scored and 27th in batting average. Two outfielders were far from blame, however, for that poor showing. Mike Trout, of course, is the best all-around player in the American League. Additionally, Kole Calhoun was a true bright spot in ’15. His career-best numbers included 26 home runs and 83 RBI. Even though left field remains a question mark, the duo of Trout and Calhoun (along with Albert Pujols) will likely carry the lineup. It might not be enough to win the AL West, but it’s enough to make up one of the elite outfields.
3. Miami Marlins
The crucial qualifier when making predictions is something along the lines of “if healthy.” Nowhere can that be better stated than in Miami. Giancarlo Stanton is, at times, a one-man offense – whose towering blasts soar over fences, and even buildings. In 74 games last year, he drilled 27 homers and drove in 67. A hand injury put a premature end to his 2015 campaign. And, naturally, the Marlins suffered in Stanton’s absence. The 26-year-old is primed to pick up where he left off. He, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna are capable of making the Fish a surprise contender in 2016…if healthy.
2. Kansas City Royals
“Defense wins championships” is usually a cliché reserved for football. It did apply, however, to the Royals. Lorenzo Cain has some of the best instincts in center field, as well as on the basepaths. Somehow, there’s no Gold Glove to show for his work. Perhaps Alex Gordon can offer one of his four trophies. Alex Rios has departed, meaning the speedy Jarrod Dyson is set to take his place – and is going to improve this unit’s already outstanding range in the field.
1. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Bucs’ starting outfield trio may not be the best in terms of hitting. They may not even be the best collectively with the glove. But together, the grouping of Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte provide a balance of talents that all other teams strive to match. McCutchen and Marte are established – combining for 177 RBI in 2015. Polanco, on the other hand, still has potential to fulfill. Any means of growth on his end will prove critical to the Pirates’ drive for a third straight playoff appearance.