Hey everyone. We're in the home stretch of my comprehensive look at the Braves' offense. This post is about center field. Here are the links to the earlier posts on the team's catchers,1st basemen, 2nd basemen, shortstops, 3rd basemen, and right fielders.
The Braves shuffled through three main center fielders in 2011, and none of them hit particularly well. Nate McLouth got on base at a fairly good rate (.344 OBP) but offered basically nothing else of value aside from good baserunning. Jordan Schafer was an improvement over McLouth in the field, but his offense was... problematic.
When Frank Wren swung a trade for Michael Bourn at the deadline, Braves fans had good reason to be optimistic for an improvement. Bourn isn't a great hitter--much of his value comes from his defense and baserunning--but "not great" is still a lot better than what the Braves had been getting. Of course, Bourn struggled almost as much in his 2 months in Atlanta as the others had.
The net result was 79 Weighted Runs Created (wRC) in 750 plate appearances for the trio. On a rate basis, that's 70 wRC per 700 PAs, which is slightly worse than the 73 wRC/700 the Braves got from right field (though, as we'll see later, it's a bit better than the left fielders did). Here's how those wRC numbers compare with the rest of the NL center fielders (click to expand):
Hey, at least they were better than the Giants! After the jump, we'll look at what 2012 might bring for Michael Bourn and the Braves.
With McLouth and Schafer exiled to second-division NL Central teams, the Braves' CF picture is quite clear, for 2012 anyway. Barring an injury, Bourn will be out there basically every night. The question is whether he'll be very good with the bat, as he was with the Astros last year, or just mediocre, as he was with the Braves. Though even in the latter case, he'll still be a valuable player overall.
On the pessimistic side of that equation, there are the Bill James projections. James thinks Bourn will be only slightly better than the Braves' center fielders last year, averaging 78 wRC per 700 PAs. That's certainly not unreasonable--it's only a bit worse than Bourn did in 2010--but it's definitely on the low end of the reasonable range.
ZiPS projects Bourn to be even slightly worse than that. It doesn't give wRC, but Bourn's line in the ZiPS projections is .270 / .331 / .354 (compared to James': .274 / .339 / .353). I'd estimate that ZiPS line to be worth around 75 wRC in 700 PAs.
As a contrast, RotoChamp projects Bourn to be worth 86 wRC per 700 PAs, and the Fan projections have him at 84 wRC/700. For reference, Bourn was worth 89 wRC/700 overall last season, and 92 wRC/700 in 2009. So both of those seem like very middle-of-the-road projections. I'd expect him to be around 85 wRC in a full season, too.
If Bourn can put up the kind of numbers that RotoChamp or the Fans project for him, he'd likely be worth around 4 WAR, which would be by far the best total for any Braves' center fielder since Andruw Jones left. Actually, even if he hits at the levels that James or ZiPS projects, he should still easily surpass the Schafers, McLouths, Blancos, and Kotsays of the world.
For one year, anyway, the Braves' center field situation actually looks good.
Tune in on Wednesday for the last position in our round-up, left field, which was home to Martin Prado in 2011... and probably will be in 2012, too.