You've assuredly heard lots about the players who will be most important in this World Series. Buster Posey, Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Matt Cain, Pablo Sandoval—they were deserved all-stars in July, and they've been talked to death this October. But why think of the World Series as a battle between the usual stars? We saw that, at the All-Star Game. The Giants won. Let's instead think of this as a series between two fine, unheralded center fielders.
We'll start with Detroit's Austin Jackson. During the regular season, Jackson hit .300/.377/.479, with 5.5 WAR. Going by UZR, he had a fine year in the field too, with a 4.1 rating. Among center fielders, he ranked in the top 10 in almost every meaningful statistical category. He was fourth in WAR (finishing ahead of Bryce Harper, Adam Jones, and Josh Hamilton), fourth in OBP, fifth in wOBA, and fifth in wRC+. He strikes out a bit too often (22 percent of the time in 2012), but he walks, drawing one in 10 percent of his plate appearances this year. Basically, the only center fielders who inarguably outplayed Jackson were Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen.
Angel Pagan ranks just behind Jackson. He hit .288/.338/.440 during the regular season, and posted 4.8 WAR. He struck out much less often (14.7 percent of the time) and stole 17 more bases than Jackson. He also clubbed 38 doubles and a staggering 15 triples—lots of extra bases. Recall, the Giants landed Pagan in the offseason from the Mets for two mediocre players, one of whom was last year's center fielder, Andres Torres, who is older than Pagan but is a vastly inferior hitter and negligibly better fielder. What a franchise!
Jackson and Pagan will never be mentioned with their more lauded contemporaries because they lack defining standout skills. Both are speedy, yet neither is Michael Bourn. Both hit for average, but not on Andrew McCutchen's level. Both hit for power, but not on Mike Trout's level. And when's the last time one of them did something like this?