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Fun with Numbers: Center field

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I continue my tour around the diamond with the guys who clog the highlight reels with great catch after great catch. But, those plays don't directly contribute to their stat line, although those who owned pitchers from say, the Cardinals, owe Jim Edmonds a debt of gratitude. In addition to slinging leather, these guys can also mash and steal a base. Last season, 17 center fielders hit 20 or more homers and 21 stole 15 or more bases.

I'll start in the AL East with a player who wants to get on the field any way possible.

AL East
Jerry Hairston Jr., Bal
Hairston has played in only 44 percent of Baltimore's games the past two seasons. He hit for a career-high .303 average in 86 games in 2004 and provided double-digit steals for the fourth straight season. After six years at 2B, Hairston saw time at five different positions last season, ceding the full-time 2B job to Brian Roberts.

Johnny Damon, Bos
As part of the amazing Red Sox championship run, Damon reached career highs in HRs and RBIs. However, he turned in his lowest stolen base total since 1997 with 19. Damon set the table best at home, hitting 50 points higher at Fenway Park than on the road. He's a career .275 hitter against AL East opponents.

Bernie Williams, NYY
Williams still gets the job done, smashing 22 homers with 70 RBIs last season. As part of that potent lineup, he crossed the plate more than 100 times for the eighth time in his career. Unfortunately, Williams' batting average has dropped precipitously the past two seasons, off 38 points from his career average.

Carl Crawford, Tam
Speed kills. Crawford solidified his place as a fantasy stud with a strong 2004 campaign. He finished second in the major leagues with 59 steals (two straight seasons above 50 thefts), scored more than 100 runs, and hit a solid .296. Crawford enjoyed hitting at Tropicana Field, where his clip was 59 points higher than on the road.

Vernon Wells, Tor
Fantasy owners and Blue Jays brass are banking on Wells returning to his 2003 form. He was limited to 134 games last year and achieved two-thirds of his 2003 extra-base hits total. Wells has hit for a .290 average during his three years as a starter, ripping an extra-base hit every nine at-bats.

AL Central
Scott Podsednik, ChW
Podsednik was the major-league stolen base leader with 70 steals last season. However, he managed a feeble .313 on-base percentage and .244 batting average. Miller Park was clearly not kind to Podsednik last season, as he hit only .213 at home (.256 in his two years in Milwaukee). He'll need to improve those marks in Chicago to set the line moving for Paul Konerko and Frank Thomas.

Grady Sizemore, Cle
Sizemore appeared in 42 games for the Indians last season and hit .246 with four homers and 24 RBIs. The 22-year old Sizemore matured at the plate in 2004, posting a career-high 13 homers with 10 steals at Akron before being called up. Fantasy owners can expect speed (at least 10 steals in his four minor-league seasons) and runs this season.

Alex Sanchez, Det
Those who left the draft depending on Sanchez to carry their team's stolen base efforts in 2004 were left wanting, as he played in only 16 games after July 1. Prior to that date, he had swiped 18, and was on his way to battle for second place in thefts in the AL. For his career, Sanchez posts a stolen base every third game.

David DeJesus, KC
DeJesus was a pleasant surprise for fantasy owners, getting a chance to shine in 2004. He had 25 extra-base hits and drove in 39 runs. DeJesus torched opposing pitchers in August, hitting at a .359 clip. Fortunately for fantasy owners, getting caught swiping a base doesn't normally count against you. He was successful on only 42 percent of his attempts.

Torii Hunter, Min
Hunter topped the 20-HR mark for the fourth straight season and knocked in 81 runs. Though his RBI and runs-scored totals represented single-season lows during that four-year period, he did swipe 21 bases. That total tied him for ninth among center fielders.

AL West
Steve Finley, LAA
After 14 years in the National League, Finley returns to the American League with the Angels. Splitting time between Arizona and Los Angeles last season, the soon-to-be 40-year-old outfielder posted a career-high 36 home runs. Finley failed to reach double-digit steals for just the second time in his career.

Mark Kotsay, Oak
Kotsay dominated opposing pitching in the cavernous Network Associates Coliseum, hitting at a robust .346 clip (59 points higher than on the road). His power production picked up in the second half of the season, when he hit 11 of his 15 home runs. He also clubbed a career-high 190 hits, which placed him second behind Juan Pierre among all center fielders.

Jeremy Reed, Sea
The 23-year old outfielder enters 2005 hitting behind Ichiro, which means a boatload of RBI opportunities await. In his 18-game September call-up, Reed had a .397 batting average and stole three bases. He played 124 games between Triple-A Charlotte and Tacoma, hitting 12 home runs and stealing 24 bases.

Laynce Nix, Tex
The Rangers are overflowing with young talent, with the 24-year-old Nix is expected to make another leap forward this season. He mashed 14 homers and knocked in 46 runs overall, but scuffled after the All-Star break and hit .218. Nix struck out roughly every third at-bat in 04.

NL East
Andruw Jones, Atl
Am I the only one frightened by the fact that Andruw Jones has yet to hit his 28th birthday? Over the past seven full seasons with the Braves, Jones has averaged 32 home runs and 97 RBIs. Fantasy owners keep wondering whether he'll take the next step and become a true five-tool threat. The past three seasons, Jones has dipped under double-digit steals and his career average remains below .270.

Juan Pierre, Fla
Pierre smashed more than 200 hits and scored 100 runs for the third time in four seasons and rose to within one point of his career-high batting average. He has averaged 50 steals per season during that stretch. To put his feat in perspective, roughly five players per season steal 40 or more bases.

Carlos Beltran, NYM
Beltran stood atop most big-market-cap wish lists entering this offseason and naturally gravitated to New York, although most expected him to wear black pinstripes instead of blue. One of the best-kept secrets to major league fans prior to last season, Beltran has been a fantasy favorite for years, with five years of 22 or more home runs, 100 RBIs and 100 runs in the past six seasons. Oh, and the 31 steals per season during that time make him fantasy gold.

Kenny Lofton, Phi
Lofton joins his sixth team in four seasons, taking over the center field duties in Philly. His injury-plagued 83-game tour of duty with the Yankees in 04 ended a string of 12 straight seasons with double-digit steals. He did steal 30 bases between the Cubs and Pirates in 03. In those 12 full seasons of play, Lofton averaged 103 runs scored, 44 steals and a .300 average.

Brad Wilkerson, Was
Fantasy owners cast off Wilkerson in droves after a miserable first two months to his 2004 campaign. In his first 50 games, he clubbed just six homers with 16 RBIs. He finally got things going with a power-laden June (nine homers, 17 RBIs), but never built his batting average to any great height. In fact, the .248 he hit in June was his second-best month of the season. To put his year in perspective, 25 of his 32 home runs were solo shots.

NL Central
Corey Patterson, ChC
Patterson returned to the Cubs lineup with a strong effort in 2004, posting tremendous numbers in four categories. He's just 25, and with Sammy Sosa on the block, he'll be expected to step up his game in 05. Patterson's 32 steals tied him for 10th in the major leagues and marked a career high. Twenty-three of the steals came after the All-Star break.

Ken Griffey Jr., Cin
Since joining the Reds, Griffey has appeared in 57 percent of 810 contests. In his lone full season with the club, he mashed 40 homers and knocked in 118 runs, but that was in 2000. He did join the 500-HR club last season on Father's Day and hit one more before being sidelined for the duration of the season. Griffey still generates interest in fantasy circles, going in the 15th-round of a recent "experts" draft, as everyone holds out hope that he can return to form. To put his career in perspective, Griffey launched 40 or more home runs seven times from 1993-2000.

Jason Lane, Hou
Lane did nothing to distinguish himself in 2004, hitting .272 with four homers. Of course, with Carlos Beltran out of the mix, he's got center field and the flagpole all to himself. The Astros are banking that the 28-year-old Lane begins to display the big power numbers in Houston that he did in the minors. He launched 38 bombs for the Double-A Round Rock Express in 2001 and had 15 homers and 13 steals for the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs the following season.

Brady Clark, Mil
Clark will shift over from RF this season, flanked by Geoff Jenkins and Carlos Lee. In two season with the Brewers, he's provided solid but unspectacular numbers. However, a quick glimpse into his stats revealed that his batting eye improved in 2004. He took 32 more walks last season, boosting his on-base percentage and generating more scoring opportunities. Clark should steal 20 bases this year and score more runs as the leadoff man.

Jason Bay, Pit
The 2004 NL Rookie of the Year crushed 26 home runs and knocked in 82 runs for the youthful Pirates. Showing great maturity at the plate, Bay hit .324 with runners in scoring position and drove in 61 runs.

Jim Edmonds, StL
As part of the Cardinals' own "murderer's row," Edmonds tied his career high with 42 homers in 2004. He reached 100 runs and RBIs for the fourth time in his career. His .927 career OPS ranks him 20th among active players.

NL West
Luis Terrero, Ari
Prior to his July call-up, Terrero did a little of everything for the Triple-A Tucson Sidewinders of the Pacific Coast League. He hit for average (.316) and power (23 extra-base hits), and demonstrated speed with 14 steals. Terrero swiped 10 bases in his 62 games with the big club. The only concern is that he hit an anemic .212 in front of the home crowd in 118 at-bats.

Preston Wilson, Col
Wilson was a hot commodity in fantasy drafts last year after a monster 2003 season. Injuries limited the slugger to 58 games in 2004 and he was finally put on the 60-day DL in August. In five full seasons prior to the injury-plagued 04, Wilson averaged a shade under 28 homers and 94 RBIs, not to mention 20 stolen bases. To look ahead to 05 by looking back to 03, Wilson hit .302 at Coors Field with 84 RBIs.

Milton Bradley, LAD
Bradley went to Los Angeles in a deal for two minor leaguers after a bad breakup with the Cleveland organization. Just 26, Bradley stands to be a 20-HR, 20 SB player for years to come. Of course, he'll need to be more consistent at the plate, tallying less than 10 RBIs in three separate months. In 23 May contests, he drove in just four runs (three of those were driving in himself on home runs).

Dave Roberts, SD
Roberts was an important fantasy player prior to his acquisition by the Red Sox in 04. He stole 33 bases in 68 games with L.A., and posted just five with Boston. Unfortunately, his insertion in the lineup damages production at every category save steals. His batting average was 22 points lower than the league average, and four homers with 35 RBIs provided no value.

Marquis Grissom, SF
Grissom posted his best power numbers in nearly a decade, slamming 22 home runs and 90 RBIs for the Giants last season. Those 22 home runs tied him for 40th among outfielders in 2004. He also hasn't topped 20 steals since 2000.

Next time, I'll finish the tour of position players by reviewing the exploits of the league's right fielders. From the hit machine that is Ichiro Suzuki to the five-tool monsters of Vladimir Guerrero and Bobby Abreu, right fielders weigh heavily on the minds of managers on draft day.

The countdown to Opening Day is down to 72 days.