As September is upon us and major storylines in the baseball landscape are heating up, we now turn our attention to the most overrated center fielders in the game today. From a guy that had one really good season and a handful of mediocre seasons to a former MVP (debatable) to a man that has missed almost as many games as he has played, today’s list has it all.
We have already covered catchers, first basemen, second basemen, third basemen, shortstops, and left fielders. As was the case in those lists, parameters for inclusion are as follows: national recognition, contract, injury history, and/or being held to a standard set previously when that level of production no longer exists or if that production was an outlier. Let’s dive into today’s list and cover the game’s most overrated center fielders.
3 Most Overrated Center Fielders
3. Cedric Mullins, Baltimore Orioles
Our first entry on this list of most overrated center fielders appears because there are those in the national media that have considered him to be snubbed of the AL MVP award in 2021 (he finished ninth in voting), and have also called him a 30-30 player when he has accomplished that feat a whopping total of one time. Debuting in 2018, Baltimore Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins is not a bad baseball player, he’s just not anywhere near as good as advertised.
To this point in his career, Mullins has a line of .265/.330/.435 to go along with 49 home runs and a 110 OPS+. The best season he has had so far was in 2021 when he hit .291/.360/.518 with 30 home runs, 30 stolen bases, and a 136 OPS+. He was by far the best player on a bad team, but in no way was he the Most Valuable Player of the American League.
Mullins is back to his normal levels of production this year with his line of .264/.325/.403 with 12 home runs and a 106 OPS+. This is the player that he is. His 2021 season has made his rate stats very top-heavy as that was his first season as an everyday player, but outside of 2021, they are all generally right around the same levels. This indicates that whatever happened in 21, will more than likely not happen again. One season of 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases does not make a player a “30-30 guy,” and that is why Cedric Mullins lands on our list of the most overrated center fielders.
2. Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
Some of you may be surprised that Cody Bellinger is not number one on this list, and if he played any other position (outside of being a starting pitcher, stay tuned), he probably would be number one. Debuting for the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 25th, 2017, Bellinger holds a career line of .248/.333/.491 with 150 home runs and a 118 OPS+. That doesn’t sound like someone who could be overrated, right? Right?!
From the time Bellinger debuted in 2017 through the 2019 season he carried a line of .278/.369/.559 with 111 home runs and a 144 OPS+. Those three seasons culminated with 2019 which saw him hit .305/.406/.629 with 47 home runs and a 167 OPS+ and go on to win his first NL MVP award. Did he deserve to win that award? Most would say, “yes,” but when you look deeper into the numbers, that award was presented to him due to an unusually strong first half of the season in which he hit .337/.432/.692 with 30 home runs and a 194 OPS+. In the second half, he came back to earth with a line of .263/.371/.546 with 17 home runs and a 140 OPS+.
His competition for the award that year was none other than 2018’s NL MVP Christian Yelich. Yelich missed most of September but had a line of .329/.429/.671 with 44 home runs and a 179 OPS+ for 2019 while leading the NL in batting average, on-base percentage, and OPS+, and leading baseball in slugging percentage and OPS (1.100). The kicker? His greatness was carried across the whole season, not just two months. I covered Yelich in the left fielders entry, so enough about him, back to Bellinger!
Since the start of 2020, Bellinger has hit a paltry .199/.271/.376 with 39 home runs and a 74 OPS+. He has become one of the worst hitters in the league, but despite all of that everyone says that it is only a matter of time before he returns to his world-beating ways. His rate stats indicate that that is not the case as there has been little to no change in them throughout his career, so this is the Bellinger that is here to stay and he is one of the most overrated center fielders in the game.
Cody Bellinger benched by Dodgers as struggles continue https://t.co/43Mx3X2xBz
— MLB on Scoreboard Page (@MLBonSP) August 17, 2022
1. Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins
If you’re standing to read this, you may want to sit down. This might take a while. Byron Buxton debuted for the Minnesota Twins on June 14th, 2015. The top prospect in baseball at the time of his debut, he has gone on to hit .244/.301/.473 with 98 home runs and a 108 OPS+ across his eight seasons in the Majors. He has also averaged playing less than 100 games a season in that same time frame.
For most of the Buxton portion of this piece, we will be utilizing a stat that I invented called Games Played Rate (abbreviated as GPR). I used it previously in the shortstops entry, but it essentially covers exactly what it says. It’s the percentage of Major League games a player has played compared to the total number of Major League games he has had the opportunity to play since the time of his debut. Mostly invented due to the shortened season in 2020, otherwise, I could just use an average of the total games played.
Buxton is one of, if not the biggest offender of GPR. Since debuting, he has had the opportunity to play in 1,100 Major League games. He has played in a total of 585 games for a GPR of 53.18%. If he doesn’t come back from his current injury this season, that will drop to 51.63%. Before this season, in which he has played his most games since 2017, the only season that he played 100+ games (he played 140), his GPR was 50.77%. How did the Twins award him for his constant absence? By signing him to a 7-year, $100 million extension of course!
The best (if not the only) thing Byron Buxton has going for him offensively is power. He has a career home run rate of 4.6% which has climbed since the start of 2020. He strikes out much more than league average (29.1% Buxton; 22% league average) and walks much less (6.5%; 8.4%). He is essentially a Joey Gallo-type player who only plays half the season.
Buxton is widely acclaimed as one of the best players in the game of baseball and as everyone’s favorite center fielder. Even in fantasy baseball leagues, he is drafted in the top 50. Very few fully understand the boon that he actually is to the Minnesota Twins when he perennially spends half the season on the IL. And that is what lands Byron Buxton on our list of the most overrated center fielders as the far and away the most overrated center fielder.