San Francisco Giants: Top 10 Center Fielders in Franchise History
The San Francisco Giants were founded in 1883. They have won more games than any team in Major League baseball history. This is one of many all-time lists we’re producing this offseason.
The San Francisco Giants have had some amazing Center Fielders in their history. Thanks to Baseball Reference, we have the ability to compare players from different eras and from different centuries. We will be able to compare Giants from both New York and San Francisco, dating back to the beginning of our national pastime.
While the number one center fielder in franchise history is a forgone conclusion, there are still some interesting members, and interesting players left off this list. Obviously the members of the list will be discussed later, but what about those left off?
To start out here, I set a minimum of games played for the organization at 250 games played. This would mean a player would have had to play roughly two seasons with the club. The interesting thing about that limit is that it doesn’t change the top ten in this case, even if there was no minimum. However, when discussing recent and former Giants, it does affect a few of their rankings, but not by a whole lot.
The notable omissions section would include Angel Pagan, Andres Torres, and yes, Aaron Rowand. Andres Torres actually grades out at as the 12th best centerfielder in franchise history by WAR, with a 7.8 WAR in a Giants uniform. Angel Pagan follows suit at 16th in franchise history with a 5.4 career WAR. Rowand came in at 22nd with a 2.5 career WAR. Want to know my favorite finding?
I took away the 250 game minimum and just looked at everybody, and got a look at players who have only spent a season or less in a Giants uniform. Deion Sanders, Tsuyoshi Shinjo, Steve Finley, and Kenny Lofton all had a higher WAR in their one season than active and current center fielder, Denard Span. Span has a ways to go in the next few years to get higher on the overall list though. Anyways. Here is the list!
No. 10: Marvin Benard, 8.6 WAR
Bernard is relatively fresh in the minds of Giants fans. His final year was easily his worst, but the on-base machine helped provide base-runners for a certain powerful force in the middle of the Giants’ lineup. Despite season batting averages being below .300 for the most part, Bernard’s OBP was consistently good. His best two seasons came in 1999 and 2000, totaling 202 runs scored in both years. He totaled only 239 all his other seasons by the bay.
Bernard spent his entire career with the Giants, so his career numbers are his numbers with the Giants. With a career slashline of .271/.343/.402/.744, Bernard’s consistency was something to enjoy. He wasn’t a massive power threat, amassing 54 home-runs over his 8 years. Despite not being a significant power threat, he’s actually has the fourth highest HR total on the list in these player’s times with the Giants.
Bernard’s defense wasn’t the greatest either as he was worth a -.6 dWAR for his career. Overall, Bernard was a very good Giant and rightfully has a place on this list.
No. 9: George Gore, 9.3 WAR
Gore is a name unfamiliar to 99.9% of Giants fans. He played for the New York Giants 1887-1892. There aren’t that many who played in the 19th century on this list, as opposed to some of our other lists. Gore didn’t strikeout very much and had a BB/K Ratio of more than 2:1 for his career. As evidence of his on-base threat, Gore’s on base percentage with the Giants was 99 points higher than his batting average, signs of a big time on base threat. He stole a total of 117 bases in his time as a Giant. He scored a ton of runs, 441 in his six seasons with the Giants to be exact.
Gore was not a power threat at, as many at that time weren’t. Evidence? His slugging percentage was lower than his on-base percentage with the Giants. In his overall career numbers, Gore had a higher slugging percentage, and a higher batting average thanks to his successful time with the Chicago Cubs.
Gore is one of those that we would never immediately lump into the picture because we don’t have the eye test for him. However, that should not be a knock against his place in franchise history.
No. 8: Cy Seymour, 11.8 WAR
When you look at the list overall on Baseball Reference’s play index, their years of service are somewhat misleading in that format. You’d have to flip over to the player page to actually get the full picture. Seymour is another one of the 19th Century club on this list. The Play Index has him as a member of the Giants from 1896-1910, which is misleading. Seymour started out as a member of the New York Giants in 1896, and played there through the 1900 season. Between 1901 and 1906, Seymour played for the Baltimore Orioles and the Cincinnati Reds before being traded back to the Giants in 1906. He then finished his career with the Giants.
Seymour’s numbers in his combined stints are pretty decent overall. A lack of power is the big knock on his resume. Seymour’s Giants slash-line comes in at .285/.329/.369/.697. Seymour is the only one in the top ten with a sub-.700 OPS with the Giants. Oddly enough, his career OPS a .752, clearly benefitting from his .800+ OPS during his tenure with the Reds. The lack of power numbers is something that just comes with the territory though, considering Babe Ruth‘s record breaking 29 home-run season came in 1919. Seymour was long gone before then.
Seymour’s place on this list is likely a benefit of his 10 years in a Giants. However, the replacement factor does need to be factored in. For his time, Seymour was a good player. And for that, he has a place on our list.
No. 7: Fred Snodgrass, 13.5 WAR
Snodgrass is our first Dead Ball Era player, bucking the trend of 19th century players. Snodgrass again was not a significant power threat (11 home runs in 9 career seasons), like many of his time. He did get on base at a high clip though, and was quite the base-stealer as well. Sometimes, stolen base numbers can be a little inflated when you look at 19th century ballplayers, as the stolen base statistic included going first to third, second to home, first to home, on plays as well.
The stat had been somewhat whittled down by the time Snodgrass came into the league, but the current version of stolen bases scoring and ruling didn’t come into effect until 1950. So his WAR might be slightly inflated because of that. As I get that out of the way, we take a look at Snodgrass’ numbers.
He stole 198 bases for the Giants, with his top year being 1911 where he stole a total of 51 bases (within that stat category at least). His career slash line is relatively impressive, but he is one of those curious cases of the slugging percentage being lower than his on base percentage. A career slash-line of .275/.367/.359/.725 is nice. How did he pull off such a high on-base percentage? A total of 386 career walks will definitely do that.
Overall, Snodgrass was the typical “dead-ball era” player. A lot of walks, a lot of stolen bases as a way to manufacture runs. Snodgrass had a very good career and easily has a rightful place on this list.
No. 6 Brett Butler, 13.6 WAR
Butler’s place on this list is affected by the fact that he has only three seasons in black an orange. Despite that fact, Butler’s WAR/Season number is better than most on this list, coming in second only to our number one. Butler was not a power hitter by any stretch, totaling 54 home-runs in 17 years. What was Butler’s calling card? Speed in bunches.
Butler stole 558 bases in his career, and had 125 in his three years by the bay. Butler got on base at a .381 clip in the orange and black, scoring 317 runs in three seasons. Butler was a fantastic Giant and would easily be higher on this list if he spent more than three seasons in black and orange. Overall numbers punish you when you spend less years in one place, especially when you go spend the majority of the next seven years with the Dodgers.
Butler was a good Giant though, and really broke out when he came to the Giants. While starting his career with the Indians, he didn’t really have a whole lot of success until the end of his time there. In his first season with the Giants he had a 6.1 WAR, the best of his career. After that he only jumped above 5 once over the remainder of his career. Honestly, his place on this list is no where near being up for debate. A good Giant he was, even though he betrayed Giants fans after 1990.
No. 5 Benny Kauff, 14.4 WAR.
Kauff actually succeeded Snodgrass as the Giants’ centerfielder following the 1915 season. Kauff played from 1916-1920 for the Giants. Kauff was a slugger in his time, amassing 275 extra base hits in his eight year career. Kauff hit 49 home-runs, topping out at 12 in 1915. He spent a few years bouncing around between a couple of Federal League teams before Joining the Giants in 1916. He ended his career with the Giants in 1920.
Kauff boasts a career .769 OPS which is really good for a player in his time. For example, Kauff has the 13th highest career OPS for those who played from the beginning of baseball until 1920. Intriguing enough, he is the first person on this list to have a slugging percentage during their time with the Giants above .400 since Marvin Bernard at number 10. As I said, Kauff was a slugger for his time, which explains his high RBI totals. Kauff’s RBI totals never dipped under 50 when he played a full season, and he topped out at 74 RBI in his first year with the Club.
Kauff has a rightful place on this list, being one of the better sluggers of the Dead-Ball era, and enjoying great success with the New York Giants.
No. 4 Chili Davis, 16.9 WAR
Davis is a Giant that many people should remember. While his batting average and other numbers fluctuated, his home-run totals and RBI totals never took a hit. Davis is the quintessential slugger. A batting average with the Giants of .267 is by far the worst on this list. His slugging percentage, however, is third highest on this list. Davis’s lack of swing discipline could easily be a determining factor in his WAR with the Giants.
Davis enjoyed the best years of his career, at least in home-run totals, away from the Giants. His best year with the Giants was when he posted 24 home-runs. However, he had five better seasons, all with teams not named the San Francisco Giants. Davis did have his best WAR with a team in a Giants uniform, mainly due to the fact his defense during his San Francisco tenure was not terrible. Elsewhere, Davis struggled with the glove. Overall, Davis has three world series rings, two with the Yankees and one with the Twins.
Davis is a three time all-star, and had his best tenure in terms of WAR with the Giants. There is no doubt he belongs in this spot on the list.
No. 3: George Van Haltren, 25.1 WAR
Van Haltren is the first player on the list in the twenties for WAR with the Giants. Van Haltren wasn’t necessarily an elite player of his time, but he was still a solid professional. Multiple years in a Giants uniform always helps the WAR total. And if you are hovering above 2 or 3 WAR a season on average, your numbers with said team should be pretty good. Van Haltren’s .414 slugging percentage gives him a “slugger of the times” title. He amassed 312 extra base hits with the Giants, mainly doubles.
Van Haltren also had a .321 batting average in his time with the Giants, and is the first player on this list to have amassed more than one thousand hits in their time with the Giants. Despite Van Haltren’s hitting ability, he actually was a decent pitcher.
Van Haltren only threw 22 innnings in his time with the Giants, but his pitching numbers elsewhere are quite interesting. His best season pitching, statistically came with the Chicago Cubs, where he threw 245 innings and had a 3.56 ERA. Crazy!
Van Haltren won’t be known for his pitching prowess in a Giants uniform. However, he had many good years as a centerfielder for the Giants and deserves this place on the list.
No. 2 Bobby Thompson, 25.8 WAR
Thompson is always known for, “the shot heard ’round the world.” He did more than just that, accumulating the second highest WAR by somebody who played centerfield for the New York Giants. Thompson played for the Giants for nine years, including a half a season stint later on thanks to a trade. Thompson totaled 198 Home-runs and 704 RBI in his time with the Giants. Thompson’s best years came in New York, considering most of his years came there.
A slashline of .277/.337/.484/.821 over his time in San Francisco is mightily impressive. He is the first on the list to break an .800 OPS and is just the second to have a slugging percentage above .400. He didn’t have the stolen base numbers as many others have had, only 31 in his time with the Giants.
Thompson started out as a centerfielder, with his career starting in 1946. Thompson made the move to third base once a certain star came along in 1951 and 1952 and stole the show in centerfield. Thompson still played roughly 30 games a year in centerfield, and another 30 in left. Thompson is an all-time great Giant. But he isn’t THE All-Time great. That belongs to number one on our list.
No. 1: Willie Mays, 154.6 WAR
Willie Mays, is easily the number one player on this list, and arguably the best player in the history of Baseball. Mays’ glove was equally as incredible as his bat. Mays AVERAGED 7.3 WAR per season. Baseball Reference would say that 8+ WAR in a season is MVP level. Mays nearly averaged that every season.
Mays won rookie of the year in 1951, and only played 34 games in 1952. He served in the military in 1953, then resumed his dominance in 1954. He won the MVP Award in 1954, with a batting average of .345 and an OPS of 1.078! Mays was incredible with the bat, we know the big numbers. His slashline was .302/.384/.557/.941 over his 22 year career. 660 home-runs, 3,187 career hits, 1,859 RBI, and 336 stolen bases, Mays was exceptional for his entire career.
One dynamic we hadn’t discussed was defensive stats, and even looking at defensive WAR. Well, Mays defense add 18.1 wins to the team over his time with the Giants, which is pretty darn good. Mays had 6 seasons of 10 WAR or higher, topping out at 11.2 in 1965. Mays was an all-star every year from 1954-1973, but was voted MVP only twice in his career. Only twice!
Mays was probably a forgone conclusion as number one on this list. Stay tuned as we get closer to revealing our all time 25 man roster!
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