Manuel Margot was certainly one of the brightest spots of last season’s long and arduous 71-91 campaign. His emergence as the team’s present and future center fielder is a welcome sight. It’s an important spot that the Padres have now shored up for the long run. Margot had a good rookie season, finishing sixth in Rookie of the Year voting after hitting 13 home runs with a .263/.313/.409 slash line.
Defensively, where he makes most of his hay, he was even better, with 8 Defensive Runs Saved and 5.2 UZR. Margot also flashed the occasional brilliant, highlight-reel play. He is turning into a catalyst at the top of the Padres’ lineup, and in the most important outfield position, and it showed in 2017 with a 2.5 WAR. The question is, where does Margot rank among the center fielders that roam National League ballparks? Could he have a chance at a Gold Glove soon?
Let’s take a look at where Margot ranks offensively and defensively among the 15 projected starting center fielders in the National League. I considered their 2017 stats and 2018 projections.
Margot left something to be desired with the bat at times. He hit 13 home runs, which surprised many experts, but he did strike out 106 times and posted a slightly-below-average 92 OPS+. He might not have much more in the tank in power, but his peripherals should improve.
Likely the best hitting center fielder in the league right now is in the same division, in Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies. Name an offensive stat and Blackmon was at or near the top of it last season, as he hit .331 with 37 home runs, 104 RBI, 14 triples, and 137 runs scored. Although his offense far exceeded anything Margot has done so far, Blackmon is not exactly a Gold Glove fielder, posting a -5 DRS and -0.6 UZR last year. He was, however, a 6.0 WAR player with the bat. He was in a class by himself in the National League last season and I expect he will be somewhere around there again in 2018.
Tommy Pham of the St. Louis Cardinals is not too far behind as he too was a six-win player. With 23 home runs, 75 RBI and a .306 average, he is the second-best hitting center fielder behind Blackmon. His OPS+ actually was 2 points better than Blackmon’s at 144. 2017 was his first full season, like Margot, so it will be tough to tell if this is sustainable.
Chris Taylor is an interesting case as the debate is up if he really is even the Dodgers’ primary center fielder. Joc Pedersen logged more innings and Taylor also played left field, second base, and spelled Corey Seager at short a few times as well. If we are considering Taylor, he had an insane 2017 that would be tough to repeat (122 OPS+, 21 HR, .288 avg). But he certainly was as productive as any center fielder last year, and so far, he is looking like their Opening Day option, but I do not see how he keeps up what he did last season.
Ian Happ is going to be a star in this league for the Cubs. In 115 games last season, his rookie year, he hit 24 home runs with a 114 OPS+. His defensive metrics, which we will get to in a moment, are equally as impressive. He is projected to flirt with 30 home runs with a full season.
Now that Lorenzo Cain has switched leagues, to the Brewers, he demands to be considered among the best in the business. Michael Taylor of the Nationals and Ender Inciarte of Atlanta are returning from career years, and it remains to be seen if that is sustainable. Starling Marte was suspended for a big chunk of 2017, but seemed to be turning into a star. Odubel Herrera is electric with the bat. He had 42 doubles last season.
Among the 15 projected starting center fielders in the NL, Margot ranked 12th in OPS+, 9th in home runs, and 11th in batting average in 2017. Here is how the average ranking shakes out offensively based on 2017 numbers and 2018 projections:
- Charlie Blackmon, COL
- Tommy Pham, STL
- Ian Happ, CHC
- Chris Taylor, LAD
- Starling Marte, PIT
- A.J. Pollock, ARI
- Lorenzo Cain, MIL
- Odubel Herrera, PHI
- Michael Taylor, WAS
- Ender Inciarte, ATL
- Manuel Margot, SD
- Cameron Maybin, MIA
- Austin Jackson, SF
- Juan Lagares, NYM
- Billy Hamilton, CIN
Defensively, this list is a lot different. Center field is one of the only positions where their skills with the glove might be more important than results at the plate, much like a catcher. If you have a reliable glove in center field, you can prevent a lot of runs and look past average to below-average bats occasionally. Looking at metrics like Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), the best defensive center fielder in 2017 in the National League was Juan Lagares, although Ender Inciarte won the Gold Glove. Lagares led the National League with a 10.4 UZR, and also was way ahead in DRS with 15.
Just below Lagares was Michael Taylor and Billy Hamilton, who both use great speed to cover a lot of ground. Hamilton led the entire league with 13 outfield assists from center. Odubel Herrera is more known for his potent bat, but he posted an impressive 6.8 UZR last season.
Ian Happ, Cameron Maybin, and Tommy Pham were in the middle of the pack, with guys like Charlie Blackmon and Austin Jackson towards the bottom.
Margot was not too far from the top, ranking fifth in UZR and outfield assists and third in DRS. Here is how the defensive rankings shake out, using 2017 metrics and 2018 projections:
- Juan Lagares
- Billy Hamilton
- Manuel Margot
- Odubel Herrera
- Michael Taylor
- Lorenzo Cain
- Ender Inciarte
- Starling Marte
- Ian Happ
- Tommy Pham
- A.J. Pollock
- Chris Taylor
- Cameron Maybin
- Charlie Blackmon
- Austin Jackson
Clearly, Margot is towards the top of the list defensively. If his bat can make some progress this season, the Padres may have a top-five overall center fielder in the National League. It’s nice to have such an important position locked down for the foreseeable future. He is getting respect around the league as well.
No player (minimum 50 balls in play in both halves) improved their launch angle from the first half to the second half last year like Manny Margot, up from 4.5 to 14.3. Slugging crept above average in second half, relatedly. Could hit 20 bombs this year.
— Eno Sarris (@enosarris) January 16, 2018
Margot could assert himself among the league’s best. Overall, with offense and defense included, he is certainly in the top half of the National League center fielders club. Here’s to Margot getting All-Star and Gold Glove consideration in the next few years.