When I speak of great center fielders today, invariably a few names pop up. Trout, McCutcheon, Jones, and the two young stars in Betts and Pederson are the usual culprits. There is a smattering of Lorenzo Cain and Carlos Gomez depending on how deep the conversation goes, but usually no mention of Kevin Kiermaier nor AJ Pollock. This doesn’t totally surprise me given that Kiermaier was a midseason call up last year and Pollock has some durability issues. That said, both have earned their spot among those names with their stellar performance in limited time.
Kiermaier and Pollock came up overshadowed in their farm systems. In their final appearances on Baseball America’s top ten prospect lists, both sat at the bottom of those lists at number ten. Though that is not exactly a poor place to be, it is certainly outside of what guys you think of when you think of a team’s future. Generally, those are the guys you throw out there on the table when discussing trades and shrug at their mention. On those same lists, they were listed as the best defensive outfielders in their respective systems with Kiermaier also getting the best defensive arm nod. Suffice to say, they were marketed as the typical defensive center fielder or maybe a 4th outfielder. Those types of players don’t excite as prospects, they don’t pop up on a ton of people’s radars, and they certainly don’t receive lofty expectations.
On an aggregate level, the two players have displayed that they are among the league’s best center fielders. Being in the company of Mike Trout and ahead of such stellar names is astounding and even I did not think it would shake out similarly. It is worth saying that they are helped by McCutcheon’s slow start and Gomez’ awful year. However, even using 2013 and 2014 they are in great territory as McCutcheon registers a 6.89 mark and Gomez lands at 6.98. It is also worth noting that – in the case of Pollock – staying on the field is a skill. We haven’t reached the point where we can call him a durability concern, but it is something to consider when looking at his numbers. This is not a perfect method for evaluating players; however, it does a great job of putting into context how well the two have performed over this time period.
Kiermaier has been as advertised providing an insane amount of defensive value, but also bringing other tools to the table. Kiermaier split his time between right field and center field in 2014. Despite having about half the time on the field as his counterparts, Kiermaier ended up at eighth in UZR and thirtieth in Fangraph’s defensive rating. He has advanced beyond that this year and is leading both categories by basically playing all his time in center field. On top of that, Kiermaier has added a good amount offensive value. Kiermaier has swiped a reasonable amount of bases, which is expected to improve as he becomes savvier on the bases, and been a quality base runner with his plus speed. In spite of his less than stellar walk rate, Kiermaier has provided a slightly above average wOBA along with an above average strikeout rate, wRC+, and a healthy eighty percent contact rate. This combination of skills makes me even more hopeful going forward that Kiermaier can improve as long as he can generate more opportunities on base.
Pollock brings to the table a balanced set of offensive and defensive production. Pollock, just like Kiermaier, did not fail to produce the defensive value he was trumped-up to bring. Using both 2014 and 2015, Pollock places himself sixth in UZR and seventh in the defensive rating among his center field counterparts. Currently, Pollock provides a bit more with the bat than Kiermaier posting slightly better walk and strikeout rates with solidly above average marks in wOBA and wRC+. Pollock has also been stellar on the basepaths swiping fourteen last season and already his fifteen this year. Pollock is just one of those guys that can do it all. That’s hard not to love.
Sometimes guys can get lost of in the shine of other stars. Kiermaier and Pollock are two perfect examples of that. That said, the two of them are clearly deserving of praise. Next time when you are talking about some of the game’s best players, bring these two up.