- Kevin Kiermaier, Rays
- Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox
- Adam Jones, Orioles
- Kevin Pillar, Blue Jays
- Jacoby Ellsbury, Yankees
In April, I confidently declared that Ellsbury was “clearly not on the same tier as the others” in my last-place ranking for the Yankees. Yet the Yankees wound up with the most production from center field in the AL East this season. Ellsbury was only partially responsible for that, with a modest bounceback season that included 22 steals and a .750 OPS, his highest mark since 2013. But the secret weapon for the Yankees was Aaron Hicks, who made 50 starts in center when Ellsbury was hurt and posted an .872 OPS at that position.
Ranking the other four depends on how strongly you value defense. FanGraphs ranked Jones last among AL center fielders with -12 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). And even if you don’t put much stock in advanced defensive metrics, my eye test suggests that the 32-year-old Jones is no longer the Gold Glove fielder he once was. Still, I’ll rank him third in the division because of his offensive production (26 homers, 73 RBIs). Ahead of him is Boston’s Bradley, who provided a strong glove and contributed with the bat as well, hitting 17 home runs and driving in 63.
In a full season, the Rays’ Kiermaier would probably rank first. He hit well (a .788 OPS, 15 homers and 39 RBIs) and was his usual spectacular self defensively, compiling 22 DRS in just 98 games. But he missed two months of the season with a hip fracture, with Mallex Smith filling in. Lastly, Pillar was a defensive star in Toronto, but his offense wasn’t up to snuff with the rest of the AL East center fielders.
- Ellsbury/Hicks, Yankees
- Bradley, Red Sox
- Jones, Orioles
- Kiermaier/Smith, Rays
- Pillar, Blue Jays
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