A recent Twitter debate (I know, I know) stirred some thoughts and intuitions about the Brewers’ centerfield battle. Specifically, I believe Michael Reed is probably the best overall centerfielder on the current roster, but Reed himself faces the triple whammy of three other candidates without options, a question mark about whether he is a starter or a 4th outfielder, and limited time in centerfield himself. This last item may seem uncontroversial, but it cuts to an interest issue facing some players in terms of scouting record and statistical record. For example, digging through BaseballAmerica reports, one may find that (current frontrunner?) Rymer Liriano is scouted in terms of his ability to play RF (BA grades him basically passable even only for RF), but Liriano himself has seen plenty of career time at CF (213 games). On the other hand, one may find BA suggesting that Reed is a CF-style outfielder that was in fact blocked by Tyrone Taylor for two consecutive years; between 2014 and 2015, Taylor started 210 games combined between Advanced A Brevard County and AA Biloxi, while Reed got the spare change (10 games).
This matters, to some extent, because MLB teams largely practice “determinism” with their defensive players. As elite athletes with multifaceted tools (a player without great speed could be surehanded or have a great arm; a player with great speed might not have a great arm, etc.), baseball players rarely play positions in the MLB that they did not previously play in the minors. The exceptions in this case prove the rule, of course, as elite defensive players like SS or C may move to 2B (for the former) or RF (for the latter), and there is the “Ryan Braun wheel” of 3B-LF-RF-1B (he’ll eventually make it there), which is an established “corner player” pattern. So, in this case, even the scouting acknowledgment that Reed was a CF-caliber outfielder blocked by an even better or more athletic or more highly-regarded CF prospect may work against Reed (for example, the youngster was supposed to prepare for a 2016 MLB CF role in the Arizona Fall League, but Reed did not make it out of RF or LF in his fielding games).
— David Moore (@sanschain) February 26, 2016
So, any debate about CF will be speculative for the 2016 Brewers. Outside of Kirk Nieuwenhuis, the Brewers do not have a truly “CF-first” CF option. Their best possible prospect at that position may be anywhere from 2-to-14 months away from playing that position at the MLB level, and their best immediate prospect at that level has been consistently blocked from CF playing time at the minor league level.
All of this leads me to ask, what type of CF candidate is Liriano? Many press reports focus on the youngster’s speed as an asset in CF, and the player himself has said he loves to run out in the field. But, these words unfortunately appear as more spring training fluff in some regard, given that even some of the strongest scouting reports when Liriano was a top prospect never really pegged him as a CF. Despite the sometimes incomplete or context-free fielding statistics collected in the minors, I am beginning to compile a set of statistics to attempt to answer the question, “What type of CF will Liriano be?” Liriano’s major experience comes in 2014 AA and 2015 AAA, so let’s compare Liriano with major part-time and starting CF in the 2014 Texas League.
For today’s post, I’ve collected 17 CF candidates from the 2014 Texas League. These candidates roughly fall within 20% of the games total posted at CF by Liriano, or 20% of the Putouts total by Liriano (this is to try and capture players that simply had bulk games played totals at CF, as well as potentially elite defenders that played fewer games there). The following candidates are ranked by both Fielding Percentage (I know) and Range Factor per Game (I know, I know, imperfect stats):
|Player||G||A||E||FPCT (.980 Median) / Range*G (2.43 Median)|
|C. Oberacker (MID)||22||2||–||1.000 / 2.95|
|J. Ramsey (SPR)||36||3||–||1.000 / 2.58|
|B. Burns (MID)||81||3||5||.978 / 2.80|
|L. Adams (NWA)||104||3||4||.985 / 2.55|
|R. Ortega (SPR)||57||8||3||.979 / 2.51|
|J. Skole (FRI)||92||4||5||.978 / 2.47|
|R. Liriano (SAN)||37||6||1||.989 / 2.38|
|A. Aplin (COR)||42||1||3||.971 / 2.36|
|R. Fuentes (SAN)||39||5||5||.951 / 2.49|
|D. DeShields (COR)||78||3||5||.973 / 2.32|
|D. Cleary (TUL)||99||7||4||.983 / 2.40|
|A. Melker (ARK)||40||3||2||.980 / 2.43|
|T. Masley (TUL)||40||7||4||.961 / 2.48|
|E. Chapman (NWA)||35||1||1.000 / 2.40|
|K. Hudson (ARK)||45||–||–||1.000 / 2.27|
|T. Jankowski (SAN)||28||1||2||.969 / 2.25|
|M. Long (ARK)||50||4||–||1.000 / 2.08|
From this basic picture, one might draw the tentative conclusion that reports about Liriano’s speed are less important than questions about his glove and arm. While the CF just fell short of the median Range Factor, Liriano did surpass the fielding percentage median. Perhaps most importantly, Liriano showcased the arm that should help him stick as a true RF option: Liriano ranked in the top 25% of regular CF candidates in terms of Assists.
This series will continue as I can assemble more defensive statistics, but at the very least, one can begin to understand that even if the Brewers’ CF situation is not perfect for 2016, they could end up with a surehanded and strongarmed CF that can compensate for other shortcomings.