Last season the best defensive–and possibly offensive–outfield in the league belonged to the Atlanta Braves. You could argue that the Anaheim Angels–once Mike Trout arrived permanently–could’ve challenged the Braves for that reputation. With Jason Heyward and the since-departed Michael Bourn both having Gold Glove-type seasons, it would be hard to convince me anyone played better defense than the trio in Atlanta that included former Braves left fielder Martin Prado.
Is it possible that Atlanta–despite losing two of their defenders–could again be the best outfield in all of Major League Baseball? Three other teams–the San Francisco Giants, Kansas City Royals and Angels–are going to challenge for that reputation.
To make my prediction, I used two advanced statistics to generalize both offense and defense for the three (current) starters for each team. I favor weighted on base average (wOBA) to address all aspects of offensive accomplishments and ultimate zone rating (UZR) to summarize defensive ability.
The Angels are easily the best offensive outfield with Trout, newly-acquired Josh Hamilton, and three-year veteran Peter Bourjos. No one will doubt the prowess of Hamilton and Trout at the plate, but could we reason that one–or even both–are in for a regression this season? Hamilton–who is also the weakest defensively–could be an injury risk and it might be next to impossible for Trout to replicate 2012. For Bourjos–whose strong point is definitely defense–you can expect an average level of offense from him. I have Anaheim’s outfield averaging around a .356 wOBA and a 4.9 UZR.
The World Champion Giants might have the least enticing outfield in the group. Hunter Pence, Gregor Blanco and Angel Pagan are all decent defenders and if they play a bit above their ability, could stand up with the best in the league. For right now they may just be the best in the National League. Offensively–though injured most of the season–Pence is the best hitter in the group while Blanco and Pagan are terrific on the basepaths. Pagan had a great year hitting with the Giants in 2012 and is expected to reach the same level this season. The Giants are outmatched by the other three outfields as their wOBA should be around .323 with a UZR of about 4.5.
The Royals have an interesting group with defensive–and offensive–standout Alex Gordon. Joining him will be Lorenzo Cain and s0-so defender Jeff Francoeur. Francoeur could see his playing time diminish with Jarrod Dyson ready to take on a bigger role with the Royals. Cain has great potential defensively and should have some good numbers at the plate if he’s able to get over 600 at bats in 2013. Francoeur’s better days are definitely behind him and unfortunately he’s holding the other two back in consideration for the best outfield in baseball. If Dyson does end up winning the job from Francouer, then the trio are right up there with the best in the league. As it stands now, the outfield with average around a .320 wOBA and a UZR of 5.1.
Having looked at the three aforementioned outfields, I still give the Braves the edge as best overall outfield. Even having lost Bourn and Prado, Heyward will head another elite group anchored by the brothers Upton. Both Justin and B.J. can be great fielders, but one of the main reasons the Arizona Diamondbacks were willing to part with Justin Upton was a perceived lack of toughness when making plays. I don’t think that stigma will follow him to Atlanta now that he’s sharing the field with his older brother. B.J. Upton‘s first three years with the Tampa Bay Rays produced great numbers for both offense and defense. He’s seemed to regress ever since so Braves fans can only hope that a change of scenery will revive his career. If that’s the case, it won’t even be a competition for who has the best outfield. Regardless, I’ve got a wOBA of .338 and a UZR of 5.7 for the Braves outfield.
So, by a slim margin, I’m proclaiming Atlanta the best defensive outfield in the MLB for 2013.