Due to an unfortunate data error, the numbers in this story did not include park factors upon publication. We have updated the data to include the park factors, and the data you see below is now correct. We apologize for the mistake.
If for some reason you have been under a rock for the past week or perhaps you’ve been closing your eyes, plugging your ears, and hollering “I can’t hear you” until the Left Field Positional Power Rankings were unveiled, be sure to acquaint yourself with the methodology of the following. The quick and dirty is that the projections are a hybrid of Steamer and ZiPS, it takes into account expected playing time and players at multiple positions.
The importance of the left field position has been on the rise in recent years. In 2012, left fielders accounted for more than 109 WAR, which is the highest total since 2004 when some guy named Barry Bonds produced almost 12 WAR. But the contributions last season were typically with the bat. The prototypical big bat/weak glove left fielder seems to hold true in 2012 as the -16.1 fielding rating for left fielders lags considerably behind center and right at 36.3 and 0.3, respectively (even in a year when Alfonso Soriano comes in at 11.8!). While left field doesn’t typically feature players quite as dynamic as those often found in center, as you’ll see below, there are definitely some of the league’s better hitters who occupy the “seven”.
To steal a line from the contemplative Bradley Woodrum, “(T)he danger of ordinal rankings is that we intrinsically assume the distance between each point is the same or close to the same,” which is an excellent point. Some rankings have a good deal of separation while others are tightly packed with very subtle (and perhaps tenuous) advantages. The power rankings aren’t long term, they are for 2013.
Since this is left field specific, Ryan Braun and the Brewers emerge as the #1, if only because we expect Mike Trout to see some time in center. But that’s not to suggest Braun doesn’t belong in the conversation among the game’s elite hitters. For six consecutive seasons, Braun has demonstrated the rare combination of commodities including exceptional power and speed with great plate discipline. He followed up his 7.6 WAR MVP 2011 season with 7.9 WAR 2012. Entering his age-29 season, the projection sees a slight step back in the power department, reflecting a slugging percentage and wOBA just shy of his career averages. Braun is unquestionably an elite talent and despite some of the tangential tomfoolery that has rubbed a little shine off his star, there’s no reason to expect he won’t continue to perform like one in 2013.
The statistical community consensus AL MVP and real-world runner up, Mike Trout is projected here to produce at an elite level, but not quite otherworldly as he was in 2012. Before you grab your pitchforks, be sure to understand that the 490 plate appearances assumes that Trout will be also featured in center field a good deal. Just 21-years-old, it would probably be foolish to project a repeat of one of the greatest offensive performances in recent history, but the projection above only sees moderate regression across the board.
Mark Trumbo put together a solid 2012 campaign but the projection above accurately represents some mash up of his first half and second half where he was an All-Star in the former and fell apart in the latter. For being rather heavy-footed, he was surprisingly not terrible in the outfield last season, and although his time will be mostly spent at DH, it’s likely he sees some time in left where he’ll provide a decent amount of value to the Angels. Vernon Wells might see a handful of innings in left field if only because it’s difficult to pay him $21 million dollars to look pretty.
One of the most consistently productive left fielders in baseball for the last six seasons, Matt Holliday just keeps plugging along, producing 36 WAR since 2007. He just turned 33 so what we know about aging curves suggests his best years are probably in the rear view mirror, and the projection reflects that, as the .368 wOBA would be the lowest since his debut in 2004. He no longer runs and his defense has been in pretty sharp decline over the past three seasons. Even so, Holliday will pack enough in his bat to give the Cardinals great production in left field, likely weighing in with another 25 home runs and 100 RBI.
Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig could fill in if disaster strikes and it actually might be Craig that would take over if they needed a longer term replacement with Matt Adams an option at first base. Carpenter can fill in at first and third and might even open the season as the starting second baseman.
The better half of the Upton family attack in Atlanta, Justin Upton might not ever reproduce his fantastic 6.4 WAR season from 2011, but the projection likes him quite a bit better than his 2012 2.5 WAR season. He’s still young, so there’s warranted optimism that he can regain a power stroke that should produce a goodly number home runs to go with 20 steals while playing plus defense. A change of scenery and opportunity to play with his brother B.J. could certainly help in the mental category and he’s young enough to prove that he can still be a superstar.
There’s not much depth behind him in Reed Johnson and Jose Costanza. Although they could probably fill in aptly in a platoon role, there’s no doubt the Braves brass would want it to be brief.
Carlos Gonzalez has seen his WAR go from 6.2 to 3.9 to 2.7 over the last three seasons and according to UZR, his defense has a lot to do with it. If he could convince the league to play the entirety of their schedule at home, he’d be up with the Braun’s and Trouts of the world as his home split was .368/.437/.609 versus .234/.301/.405 on the road. He started developing hamstring issues late in the season, eventually getting shut down on the September 23. He may have been playing hurt for weeks as his slash line from mid August to the end of the season was just .215/.284/.344.
He enters 2013 in his age-27 season, and the projection is rather bullish on his ability to get back to an elite level at 4.8 WAR, which would represent his second best season after his 2010 breakout. He’s probably a better defender than -2.5, but his range might also be wrapped up in his health, so his legs are going to have to literally and figuratively carry him if he’s going to flirt with 5 wins. Should the wheels fall off, super-utility guy Eric Young could fill in with decent defense and little bat, so if the Rockies plan to return to the #5 slot here next season, they’ll need a healthy CarGo to do it.
Harper is also projected for another handful of plate appearances in right field, so his total WAR production is expected to a skosh higher than 3.7. After producing 4.9 WAR as a 19-year-old, the projection sees roughly a repeat of 2012 with slight regression in his slugging and a step back in the overall value of his defense. It’s hard to keep a level head when thinking about Harper, whose season was among the very best for 19 year old rookies in history. Almost every projection system has Harper hitting 20 home runs and stealing more than 15 bases — a feat accomplished five times by 20 year olds in history, including the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Vada Pinson, Orlando Cepeda, and the kid up there at #2. While he might have monstrous seasons in his future, the projection tries to temper expectations, but I’d expect to see the Nationals jump up a couple notches next year in these rankings.
Tyler Moore is probably the first backup to Harper and he should provide a nice source of power to the Nationals, although he doesn’t project as a particularly strong defender.
Technically tied with the Nats, the Royals feature Alex Gordon in left, and the projection thinks his 2012 regression was for real. After a career year in 2011, Gordon saw his power and speed drop off significantly, although his fantastic defense kept him from falling too far. He’s a good defender, but probably still due for more defensive regression, and a .347 wOBA looks a lot more like the Alex Gordon of 2008 than the one we’ve seen over the last couple of seasons.
Lorenzo Cain could back up if need be, pushing Jarrod Dyson into center field, which is probably the short term solution should the need arise, with David Lough a possibility should he make the squad out of camp due to his torrid Spring.
Bucking the trend of aging curves, Josh Willingham put up his most valuable season at the age of 33 with a .260/.366/.524 line, belting 35 home runs and driving in 110 runs, amassing 3.9 WAR. The projection is rather dubious about 2013, although a 3 win season from Josh Willingham isn’t necessarily something to scoff at. Ignoring the fact that Willingham may not finish the season as a Twin, he has nonetheless provided them very good value on the contract they gave him two seasons ago. If the Twins didn’t have such tremendous depth at DH (yeah, that’s sarcasm), he’d be best suited not trying to catch fly balls, but with the current roster construction, they don’t have much of a choice but trot him out on the field as long as he lasts.
If Darin Mastroianni doesn’t win the center field job outright, he’ll rove enough to see some time in left, and given Willingham’s history of health, he should fall into a number of at bats. Against the odds, 2012 was really the most healthy season from Willingham in the past five years. The list of his ailments prior to last year are a physical therapist dream: Shoulder, thigh, neck, ankle, foot, elbow, knee, groin. You name the body part and Willingham has probably complained about it. 630 plate appearances is probably optimistic.
A nose in front of the Twinks, the Padres will squeeze as much value out of the injury prone Carlos Quentin in left field. 525 plate appearances might be optimistic though. He’s averaged just over 400 PA’s over the last four seasons and he’s already been complaining about his knee in Spring Training. If he did manage 500+ PA’s, he’s certainly a productive power hitter but his defense can be a circus at times, and -5.5 might also be a bit kind.
If Quentin misses time, a mix of Jesus Guzman, Mark Kotsay, and maybe Kyle Blanks could ostensibly fill in, with Kotsay potentially being the main beneficiary. None of the three add much value in short-term roles if only to be more palatable defensively to Quentin.
Marte might be just 24 with not much in the way of major league experience, but he’s the presumptive starter in left field for the Pirates. If Marte isn’t a five tool talent, he’s at least 4.5 with plus speed and enough pop in his bat for double digit home runs. He’s a very good defender and he’s coming off a big Dominican Winter League performance, but given his youth and inexperience, it’s a little difficult to project him. The projection above actually sees improvement from Marte in batting average and on base percentage and thinks he can replicate his slugging percentage. If he manages to put together more than the 560 plate appearances reflected above, he could push 3 wins but there’s the real possibility that Jose Tabata spells him occasionally in a roving fourth outfielder role.
Between Marte and McCutchen, the Pirates have to be pretty pleased with two thirds of their outfield for the foreseeable future, and if Tabata can realize his potential and grab the starting role in right, the Bucs could be set for years in the outfield.
The Athletics will look to squeeze 2.7 WAR out of left field with some combination of Cespedes, Smith, and Young. Cespedes wasn’t particularly helpful on defense with a UZR of -9.6, hurting his overall WAR despite a highly successful offensive season. In his rookie campaign, Cespedes hit .292/.356/.505 with 23 home runs and 16 stolen bases in 129 games. He’s a free swinger who makes mediocre contact on balls outside of the zone and the projection seems to think he’ll take a step back on BABIP with a concomitant dip in his batting average while maintaining a respectable on base percentage.
Smith will play somewhere when a right hander is on the hill, which is obviously frequent. Some of that time will no doubt be in left field and over 440 plate appearances in 2012, Smith managed 1.4 WAR. And since the Athletics once again stockpiled outfielders, it’s rather unknown when and where Chris Young might play, but if the A’s want to start protecting Cespedes to a greater degree and/or value defense in left, it’s possible Young could fall into a good deal of time in left field. The projection above isn’t terribly bullish, but even in a disappointing and injury prone season, Young produced 2.8 WAR over just 363 plate appearances.
The perennial fourth outfielder, David Murphy was finally handed a starting role and he turned in his finest season at .304/.380/.479 with 15 home runs and 10 stolen bases, amassing 4.0 WAR. The projection suggests a little regression and perhaps realism about what kind of a hitter David Murphy is at a true-talent level, which reflects about a rough combination of his 2011 and 2012 seasons. If Leonys Martin doesn’t win the center field job outright, there’s a possibility he roams around the outfield to spell the regulars and pick up a good number of games in left, but that is a battle which remains to sort itself out.
There’s also the possibility that the team wants to experiment with Mike Olt in left field when Texas faces left handers since Murphy has struggled versus lefties over his career (though he improved markedly in 75 at bats in 2012). He might not be flashy, but Murphy gives the Rangers a lot of value for the money, signed to a deal paying him about $5.7 million for 2013. If he can produce what the projection forecasts, he’ll be a bargain.
The Rays check in with Matt Joyce, who stumbled in 2012 after his impressive 3.8 win season of 2011. The projection thinks he can do more though, with improvements across the board both offensively and defensively. It seems like Joyce has been around for a while but he enters 2013 at just 28, if he could manage to figure out how to be at least passable versus left handed pitching, he has the potential to put up good power numbers. Serial backup Sam Fuld will spell him occasionally and the role of Kelly Johnson is likely to be ever-evolving but for the sake of Rays fans, let’s hope they don’t wind up relying on him for a corner outfield assignment.
Ludwick returns to the Reds to reprise his role as lefty masher. He did hit .275/.346/.531 overall but where his wOBA versus right handed pitchers was .364, he managed .397 against southpaws. He might not get back to his 37 home run season in 2008, but last year, Ludwick hit 26 home runs while cutting his strikeouts marginally. His defense won’t win any hardware, though the projection suggests he’s capable of better than his -4.7 rating from 2012. Ludwick turns 35 in July, so it’s unknown if he’ll give the Reds market value on his two-year $15 million dollar contact. He was healthy for most of 2012 but he did spend at least one stint on the disabled list each of the previous three seasons. Given his age, the Reds might keep the training team on their toes.
Chris Heisey saw his ISO drop from .233 to .135 between 2011 and 2012 and the re-signing of Ludwick coupled with the Shin Soo-Choo pickup pushes him to backing up all three outfield slots. He’s a decent fielder with intriguing power, and gives the Reds a good bat off the bench and/or a late-inning defensive replacement for Ludwick.
Brett Gardner will play center in Curtis Granderson’s stead until his return. When that time comes is entirely up to the healing speed of Granderson’s forearm, but when he’s back, Gardner will likely shift to left field. The projection puts Gardner at about 55% in left field, and providing very good value there, in large part due to excellent defense.
The remainder of left field is likely some amalgam of Ben Francisco, Juan Rivera, Ichiro, and newly acquired for the pile, Brennan Boesch. Rivera might be needed more at first base until that wreck is cleared so perhaps Ben Francisco and Ichiro/Boesch form some kind of platoon for the first couple of months. Or at least until they go out and get somebody new. Stay tuned.
Domonic Brown is the presumptive starter headed into 2013 after years of top prospect status. Brown has little left to prove after hitting .296/.373/.461 over seven seasons in the minor leagues but yet so much to prove at the major league level. Still just 25-years-old, Brown has good power and speed and has demonstrated good command of the strike zone. He’s yet to perform well on the big stage with just a .236/.315/.388 line over 492 plate appearances, but he will apparently get every opportunity to demonstrate his potential. So far this spring, he’s given the Phillies a lot to get excited about, hitting four home runs while batting .375/.453/.625 over 56 plate appearances. If he can stay in the lineup regularly, his WAR projection ought to well exceed the above. Should he stumble, journeyman Laynce Nix and an unproven Darin Ruf wait in the wings.
There are a lot of moving parts in the Philly outfield, however. Ben Revere should start in center which leaves John Mayberry without much of a job if the team truly intends to give Delmon Young a starting gig in right. Any kind of an injury, poor start, or hot start could thrust Ruf, Nix, and/or Mayberry into more playing time, and it’s not out of the question that Brown doesn’t stick long in what might be a make-or-break kind of season for him with this team. Time will tell.
Since the 2000 season, 56 players have played left field for the Seattle Mariners and about 80% of them could play better defense than Michael Morse or Raul Ibanez. In the annual search for “the big bat,” the Mariners went all irrational and traded away cost controlled value for a year of beefcake Michael Morse. And Morse can certainly hit when he’s healthy with a career ISO near .200 and a 30+ HR season just two years past. Defensively, he’s better than Raul Ibanez but that’s like saying Macklemore is somewhat better lyrically than Trever Bauer. The projection isn’t optimistic that Morse will stay healthy all year, and sees a good degree of regression with the bat. A -3.2 fielding projection is probably a best-case scenario too, so he’ll have to hit the snot out of the ball to sniff 2 wins.
Ibanez will see some time versus right handed pitching and no doubt his veteran presence will calm the nerves of Eric Wedge. Casper Wells is probably unlikely to break camp due to a front office which has seemingly compartmentalized rationality somewhere deep in the basement of Safeco Field. I’d say something about Jason Bay, but then I’d need to go kick puppies.
Annual trade rumors notwithstanding, Alfonso Soriano rather surprisingly turned in a 4 win season in 2012, hitting .262/.322/.499 with 32 home runs and 108 RBI while actually playing quite good defense. Now 37, the projection sees that bubble bursting in 2013 with regression across the board and having about half the value he provided a season prior. Soriano’s also likely to be shipped to another team if the price is right so it’s very possible we’ll see another player in left field for the Cubs by August.
Sappelt is the likely first option to Soriano and he’ll be an upgrade defensively, and over the course of a full season he could provide double digit home runs and stolen bases, but he’ll probably need to wait until 2014 to get the chance.
#19 Blue Jays
One of the more shrewd signings of the off season, the Blue Jays pick up Melky Cabrera on the cheap due to what I’d describe to my rugrats as “bad choices.” The projection is a little bearish on playing time for Cabrera, who has been a pretty healthy player over his career, having never spent time on the disabled list. There is a looming cloud relative to Cabrera’s prior transgressions, however, and it’s been floated that he could be disciplined retroactively because all of this Biogenesis shenanigans. So the inherent skepticism in the projection is perhaps warranted.
Eyes will almost certainly be on his power performance as a Blue Jay, with many wondering if his recent spike in ISO as a Royal and Giant sync up with some nefarious science in his body. But Cabrera is still just 28, and knowing what we know about hitter aging curves it wouldn’t be completely out of, ahem, left field, to think that his power ought to be on the upswing. It’s true that as a Brave, his power was nonexistent, but that completely ignores the decent pop he had as a Yankee just the year prior:
Time will tell. But for the time being, the Blue Jays have a left fielder in Cabrera that should give them good production for the next two seasons. Backing up will be Rajai Davis, who will presumably back up all outfield slots heading into 2013 unless Colby Rasmus falters, in which case it’s possible he falls into regular playing time in center. But as far as left field goes, the speedster probably won’t see much time unless the league finds more books to throw at Cabrera.
Because of the evils of rounding, the Astros fall below the sinister Blue Jays, but manage to remain in the top 2/3 of the rankings. Chris Carter appears to have the angle on the starting left field job in Houston. The right-handed Carter doesn’t really discriminate relative to pitcher handedness in his ability to hit for power, and in fact he actually possesses a higher career ISO vs. RHP at .234 vs. .171 vs. LHP. So he should avoid a platoon situation. His move from the Coliseum to Minute Maid should only help his production as the Coliseum was 16% below league average in home runs for right handed bats where Minute Maid was 8% above. Carter is a classic three true outcomes kind of player and if given the projected 450+ plate appearances, there should be plenty of highlight reel material for Houston fans.
There’s still a very real possibility that the club selects J.D. Martinez over Carter, although that looks unlikely. They’re both right handed, so a traditional platoon wouldn’t be an option. But Martinez is a year younger and is probably a little better defensively. There are some scenarios that could play out where Carter finds himself at DH and/or at first base, clearing the way for Martinez to see more action. But for now, Carter looks like the guy.
The Diamondbacks jettisoned Justin Upton and Chris Young which opened things up considerably in the outfield, solidifying Kubel’s starting role in left field despite a defensive ability that has been described as “between bad and horrific.” After slowly deteriorating in Minnesota, the move to Arizona revived his career, hitting 30 home runs and driving in 90. The projection above doesn’t see too much in the way of regression though based on an uncharacteristically high HR/FB rate, the Diamondbacks ought not expect another 30 bombs. Kubel turns 31 in May and while he doesn’t represent a long term solution in left for Arizona, he should provide decent value to the club for 2013.
Presuming Adam Eaton starts in center and Cody Ross is healthy enough to start the season in right, Gerardo Parra will likely fall into some playing time in left field and overall, provides a good depth option in case injuries hit in one of any of the three outfield slots.
There’s a growing “I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it” contingent growing relative to Carl Crawford’s debut as a Dodger. A superstar with the Rays, Crawford has been derailed by substandard production and injuries since 2010. Part of the great salary dump of 2012, Crawford was the presumed left field starter until his elbow started to give him trouble in the Spring, and now it’s anyone’s guess if he’ll be ready for opening day. The projection isn’t particularly tickled with his offensive prospects for 2013, although a positive fielding rating would be his first in three years. It’s really anyone’s guess what kind or how much of Carl Crawford the Dodgers get in 2012, but 1.7 WAR would probably be considered a huge victory at this stage.
Skip Schumaker will back up all outfield slots and maybe even second base, but doesn’t do enough with his bat to warrant much enthusiasm. Jerry Harison might start in left field if Crawford isn’t ready to go, but also provides insurance at third base. Prototypical quad-A Alex Castellanos and youngster Yasiel Puig have a shot to make the team as a fourth outfielder, which has value when Carl Crawford is your presumptive starter. But all told, left field isn’t a strength for the Dodgers. But no worry, they might not need much from the position to do well in 2013.
Gregor Blanco can play some mean defense, and if he couldn’t, he’d be well under replacement level. In 2012, he hit .244/.333/.344 but his 10.1 fielding rating elevated his WAR to 2.4. As the left handed complement to the left field platoon, Blanco is likely to get the lion’s share of plate appearances in left field and even if the projection thinks his defense regresses a bit, he’s better than league average due to his defense. Torres is almost a mirror image bat from the right side, with perhaps a dose of extra power. His defense is known to be anywhere from good to great, and it’s likely that he’ll roam all over the outfield when the need presents itself. For the Giants, it’s an all defense, little offense proposition in left field, but they’ve got other guys that can carry that load.
Michael Brantley has developed into a nice little left fielder with scant power, a touch of speed, but a good ability to get on base and play a passable defense. Brantley turns 26 in May, so perhaps we could see a little glimmer in power production, but the projection isn’t so optimistic. He won’t get your blood pressure up, but Brantley is a cheap, passable option for the Indians in left and he does enough well to warrant a starting position, even if it’s just to be a win and a half above replacement.
#25 White Sox
One of the more entertaining bats to watch in batting practice, Viciedo possesses unquestioned power. But his work against right handed pitchers suppresses his value considerably. Viciedo bludgeons lefties, with a .350/.391/.642 line against them in 2012 — but he managed just .225/.271/.380 against right handed pitchers, who he faced over 400 times last year. Still just 24, there’s certainly room for improvement for the stocky Cuban slugger and the projection above reflects that. He’s expected to improve across the board and if manages to keep himself on the field for the bulk of the season, he could provide the White Sox for 2+ WAR.
DeWayne Wise and Jordan Danks will back up all outfield positions, and since they’re both left handed, it’s possible they spell Viciedo when there’s a particularly unpleasant right hander on the hill, and there are many in the American League. If Viciedo continues to develop, the White Sox should find themselves several slots higher in 2014.
This one is still unsettled. In terms of the future and true talent, the Orioles would probably prefer for Nolan Reimold to grab hold of the starting job in left field, but he’s been dinged up this Spring and when he’s played, he hasn’t impressed. But then again, neither has McLouth. The likely outcome is a Reimold/McClouth platoon which will probably work better than either of them holding the position outright. Canzler might see time at DH, first base, and/or left field. The maybe future of left field, Xavier Avery was recently sent to AAA. There’s just not a whole lot of hope for more upside than what’s projected here.
With Brennan Boesch out of town, it looks like Andy Dirks will get more reps than previously thought. The projection sees Dirks coming back to earth after posting a .322/.370/.487 line in 2012. That might have a lot to do with the fact that the preponderance of his at bats were in a platoon role and he’s going to be leaned on to see more time against left handers in 2013 due to the heel injury to Avisail Garcia. Dirks just turned 27, so he should be in his prime years. If and when Garcia returns, a modified platoon could be employed by the Tigers but it will probably have a lot more to do with what Dirks has done to date.
The future is Nick Castellanos, who is hitting the tar out of the ball so far this Spring. While it might be more likely that the 21-year old starts at AAA, should Dirks fail to deliver and Castellanos continue to rake, it’s possible we could add another name to the list above.
#28 Red Sox
The Red Sox left field will likely feature a revolving door of players. Jonny Gomes will do his lefty-mashing thing when he’s not DH’ing, providing middling to occasionally embarrassing defense in the process. The remainder of the platoon equation has yet to play out and there are a variety of story lines to keep an eye on. Mike Carp would be a natural fit to play left when a right hander is on the hill, but they may well need him at first base for a period of time given the hip issues of Mike Napoli. Or, Gomes could move to DH, opening up LF for Daniel Nava and/or Jackie Bradley against right-handed pitching. Nobody here is going to provide fantastic defense unless they give Bradley the platoon nod, and one wonders how Gomes is going to look out there trying to navigate the monster, but they have no shortage of options.
It’s something to say that a -9.7 fielding rating would represent great improvement, but that’s exactly what it would mean to Lucas Duda. Duda, 27, showed flashes of offensive prowess in 2012, only to settle with a .239/.329/.389 line overall to go with cringe-inducing defensive skills. The projection thinks he can improve slightly with the bat and significantly with the glove, and even so, he might be just slightly better than replacement level. There’s latent potential there, but we’ve yet to see much from Duda that can’t be classified as fits and spurts. Somewhere, Eno Sarris weeps.
I kind of wonder if the Marlins might call Mark McLemore or B.J. Surhoff to see if they’re available. Juan Pierre as a starter says enough about the state of the Marlins, but that he’s backed up by the likes of Chris Coghlan and Chone Figgins says even more without any analysis at all. Neat.
It’s going to be a long season for Marlins fans. Nowhere to go but up here.