Top 10 MLB Center Fielders (CF) in 1998

Who were the top 10 MLB center fielders during the 1998 Season? Circa 98 examines:

1) Ken Griffey Jr.

Many will consider this a controversial pick because Jr. clearly declined defensively in 1998. However, when you hit 56 home runs with 146 RBI’s and 20 SB’s, you are going to get the benefit of the doubt from me. Fangraphs defensive metric has him falling from 16.8 in 1997 to -1.1 in 1998. While I don’t trust these metrics, especially when retrograded, I do think there was a noticeable decline in his outfield play. With that being said, a declining Jr. is still an above-average center fielder in my estimation, something that was confirmed by his 9th consecutive Gold Glove award.

Accolades

  • Silver Slugger
  • Gold Glove
  • All-Star
  • Home Run Derby Champion
  • 4th in MVP

2) Andruw Jones

If we were to grade purely based on advanced metrics, Andruw Jones was clearly the top center fielder in 1998. His defensive metrics were off the charts, grading in 37.4 according to Fangraphs, which is higher than any position player that season. Those numbers were backed up by the eye test as Jones would catch almost every baseball hit in his vicinity. Jones made most of his catches look easy and scouts and evaluators took notice by awarding him with the 1998 Gold Glove.  He was no slouch on offense either, hitting 31 home runs to go along with 27 stolen bases.

Accolades

  • Gold Glove

3) Kenny Lofton

Having returned to Cleveland as a free agent (after they traded him to Atlanta the previous season), Lofton had a slight decline in offensive numbers, particularly SLG and OPS. With that being said, Lofton was still a major threat offensively and continued his excellent defensive play in center. Lofton hit 12 HR’s to go along with 64 RBI’s and 54 SB’s. Fangraphs grades his defensive work at 21.3 — the best of his career, and 2nd only to Andruw Jones among CF’s. Lofton was looked upon as a great player, even at that time, having been selected to his 5th consecutive all-star game.

Accolades

  • All-Star

4) Bernie Williams

Bernie would be higher on this list if it was not for his below-average defensive work in CF. There has long been a controversy about Bernie Williams and defensive metrics since those like Fangraphs grade him very harshly (-12.7) but evaluators awarded him a Gold Glove in 4 consecutive seasons from 1997-2000. At Circa 98 we don’t put all of our stock into a metric, especially since it doesn’t replace the eye-test. However, Bernie was worse defensively than anyone else on this list, based on our eye test. Offensively, he was amazing. Bernie hit .339 to lead the league and also hit 26 HR’s with 97 RBI’s.

Accolades

  • Gold Glove
  • Batting Title (.339)
  • All-Star
  • 7th in MVP

5) Ray Lankford

For those who don’t remember, 1998 was one of Ray Lankford’s best seasons as a pro. He smashed 31 HR’s to go along with 105 RBI’s and 26 SB’s as the St. Louis Cardinals’ everyday center fielder. At the time, 1997 was considered a better season for Lankford because he made the all-star team and finished 16th in MVP voting.  However, advanced metrics, like those from Fangraphs, grade 1998 as his peak season. Ironically, 98 would be Lankford’s last campaign as a regular center fielder, moving to left field the following season.

Accolades

  • N/A

6) Jim Edmonds

Jim Edmonds was known as a highlight-reel center fielder throughout the majority of his career. Fangraphs’ defensive metrics seemed to confirm that reputation, except for 2 seasons (1998 and 1999). Edmonds was graded by Fangraphs as a -1.7 center fielder during the 1998 season.  Our eye test conflicts with their numbers, somewhat but even so, his offense was so good that he deserves to be on the list regardless. Edmonds hit 25 HR’s with 91 RBI’s to go along with a .874 OPS. Evaluators of the time clearly disagreed with the metrics (like with Bernie) awarding Edmonds a gold glove.

Accolades

  • Gold Glove

7) Devon White

At 35 years old, many expected White to decline defensively in center field and overall as a player. Apparently White didn’t get the memo as he accomplished one of his best overall seasons for Arizona. White remained an excellent defensive player, grading in at 14.1 on Fangraphs’ defensive metric. He also hit 22 HR’s with 85 RBI’s and 22 SB’s while being selected to his 3rd all-star game (1st since 1993). 98 was quite a swan song for Devon. He was also great in the video game World Series 98 for Sega Saturn.

Accolades

  • All-Star

8) Darryl Hamilton

The late Darryl Hamilton was excellent as the everyday center fielder for San Francisco and then Colorado in 1998. Hamilton was traded by the Giants to the Rockies on July 31st (trade deadline) in exchange for Ellis Burks. His season really took off once he was traded to Coors Field, which has been known to bolster offensive numbers. Hamilton hit a combined 6 home runs with 51 RBI’s while playing gold-glove caliber defense (though he didn’t win the award). Fangraphs’ defensive metric graded him at 11.1 which was by far his best defensive season as a pro.

Accolades

  • N/A

9) Rondell White

White would have been much higher on this list had his season not been cut short on July 20th, after breaking his right ring finger while diving for a catch. In only 97 games, White hit 17 HR”s to go along with 58 RBI’s and 17 SB’s. Fangraphs’ defensive metric was also a fan of his, grading him at 7.4 in only 97 games. He was even better the season before, grading out defensively at 25.3. Our eye test confirmed his defensive excellence.

Accolades

  • N/A

10) Carl Everett

Most fans don’t think about Carl Everett in an Astros uniform, but it’s the place where he transitioned from a player with potential to a bonafide asset. While Everett did not make the all-star game until 2000 (with Boston), his 98 and 99 seasons with the Astros put the league on notice. In 98, Everett hit 15 HR’s and 76 RBI’s (both career-highs at the time). 1998 was also Everett’s first chance to be an everyday center fielder (121 games in CF) and the metrics were favorable. Fangraphs’ defensive metrics graded him as a 5.7 during that season, and even better in 1999.

Accolades

  • N/A

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