WAR figures show Royals boast best outfield
Angels, Marlins also among top units, according to the metrics
A case can be made that the Royals' Alex Gordon, Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain form the best defensive outfield in Major League history. Factoring in offense, the world of analytics narrowly favors Kansas City's outfield over those of the Angels and Marlins.
Using WAR available at FanGraphs, I calculated the top 10 outfields in MLB -- three starters and one backup -- based on 2014 performance. The Royals' four outfielders -- with Alex Rios replacing Nori Aoki for 2015 -- had a combined 14.8 WAR last year, which would give them the top outfield in MLB. Completing the top 10 outfields, with one reserve included, are the Angels (14.6), Marlins (14.5), Orioles (13.6), Cardinals (13.0), Pirates (12.8), Giants (10.9), Dodgers (10.5), Tigers (9.8) and Nationals (9.3).
An inside look at the Top 10 outfields in the game heading into 2015:
A return to form by Rios in right after a down year in Texas would compensate for Kansas City's loss of Aoki as a free agent. Gordon (6.6 WAR), Cain (4.9) and Dyson (3.1) are pure gold. The flexibility of Cain, who rates among the game's best with the glove in both center and right, is the key. When the Royals roll out their dominant bullpen with a lead, they like to move Cain to right and insert Dyson, whose speed is on the elite level, in center. With Gordon widely acknowledged as the game's best in left, this is an otherworldly outfield -- as the Angels discovered, stunningly, in their American League Division Series sweep at the hands of eventual AL champion Kansas City. And young Terrance Gore is as fast as Dyson, adding to the wow factor.
AL Central outfield WAR rankings
1. Royals: 14.8
2. Tigers: 9.8
3. Indians: 8.8
4. Twins: 4.4
5. White Sox: 4.2
Josh Hamilton being the real Josh Hamilton could transform the Angels' outfield into the game's best with 2014 AL MVP Award winner Trout (7.8 WAR), underrated Kole Calhoun (3.6) and capable fourth wheel Collin Cowgill. Hamilton is the key. If he gets comfortable and finds his old form alongside the incomparable Trout, this unit can be historically great.
Miami's Giancarlo Stanton, runner-up to Clayton Kershaw in the NL MVP Award race, is challenging Trout, Andrew McCutchen and Buster Posey as the best player in the game. Christian Yelich (4.3) and Marcell Ozuna (3.7) are big talents, and esteemed Ichiro Suzuki is arriving as the backup, comfortable in all three roles.
NL East outfield WAR rankings
1. Marlins: 14.5
2. Nationals: 9.3
3. Mets: 7.2
4. Braves: 2.6
5. Phillies: 1.7
Steve Pearce's 4.6 WAR and eight runs saved in 43 outfield appearances lift the O's, who have All-Star Adam Jones' 5.4 WAR in center and Alejandro De Aza and David Lough at the corners.
AL East outfield WAR rankings
1. Orioles: 13.6
2. Blue Jays: 9
3. Rays: 7.4
4. Red Sox: 6.9
5. Yankees: 6.7
Adding Jason Heyward's 5.1 WAR as arguably the game's premier right fielder defensively elevates the Cards in the company of Matt Holliday, Jon Jay and electric Peter Bourjos. Jay is the chess piece here, capable of playing all three positions. Few center fielders are in Bourjos' class defensively.
NL Central outfield WAR rankings
1. Cardinals: 13.0
2. Pirates: 12.8
3. Brewers: 9
4. Cubs: 4.7
5. Reds: 3
The Bucs shoot up the charts if gifted Gregory Polanco excels in right alongside Starling Marte (4.1 WAR) and the great McCutchen (6.8). Third baseman Josh Harrison (4.9 WAR) played 52 games in the outfield; include him and the Pirates are right there with the elite. Travis Snider, who played 100 games in the corner outfield spots last year, is the primary backup.
NL West outfield WAR rankings
1. Giants: 10.9
2. Dodgers: 10.5
3. Rockies: 6.8
4. Padres: 6.7
5. D-backs: 6.1
The Giants have new left fielder Aoki joining Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence (4.7 WAR), with Gregor Blanco in support. It's a versatile, October-tested group, with a star in Pence, one of the game's most colorful and endearing characters.
The Dodgers bid farewell to Matt Kemp, hoping gifted rookie Joc Pederson delivers in center. Lightning-rod Yasiel Puig (5.1 WAR) is back in right, a showstopper with stunning skills, and a left-field platoon of Carl Crawford and Scott Van Slyke had a combined 5.3 WAR. Andre Ethier and Chris Heisey are solid.
The Tigers have a bold new look with Yoenis Cespedes, Anthony Gose and J.D. Martinez, with Rajai Davis in support. Gose is an upgrade defensively in center, and Cespedes is a spectacular left fielder who should flourish offensively behind Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez in a loaded lineup. J.D. Martinez had a breakout 2014 season and should continue to deliver. Davis is an adaptable veteran who can fly.
A healthy, big year by Bryce Harper teaming with Jayson Werth (4.8 WAR) and Denard Span (3.8) gives the Nats an outfield comparable to any. Hard-nosed Nate McLouth is a proven commodity with speed capable of handling all three spots.
An exciting outfield to watch has been assembled in San Diego. The Padres' new star-power unit of Justin Upton, Wil Myers and Kemp has the ability to double its WAR figure, depressed in 2014 by Myers' health and Kemp's slow start. Playing to their capabilities, they can rise toward the top of these rankings, with Will Venable, Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin providing proven depth.