What do we have here? For an explanation of this series, please read this introductory post. As noted in that introduction, the data is a hybrid projection of the ZIPS and Steamer systems with playing time determined through depth charts created by our team of authors. The rankings are based on aggregate projected WAR for each team at a given position. The author writing this post did not move your team down ten spots in order to make you angry. We don’t hate your team. I promise.
Also, keep in mind that these lists are based on rosters as of last week, so weekend transactions are not reflected in the rosters below. In some cases, teams have allocated playing time to different reserves than these depth charts show, but because they’re almost always choosing between near-replacement level players, the differences won’t move the needle much if at all.
This time last year, the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were first and second on this list, respectively. This, of course, had mostly to due with the presence of Ryan Braun and Mike Trout. This year, Braun will be in right and Trout is expected to patrol center. This, along with the expected progression/regression of certain players has mixed up the top tier of the left field positional power rankings.
The departure of Braun and Trout from this list also flattens the peak a bit — whereas the Brewers and Angels were projected to receive more than five wins from their left field, the highest-projected left field in 2014 comes in at a shade above four wins. So, who grabbed the top spot?
Much has been made of Mike Trout’s rise to prominence at such a young age, and rightfully so. However, Bryce Harper has been making quite a name for himself on the senior circuit. Since the beginning of the 20th century, only three players have been worth more wins through their age-20 season than Harper — Mel Ott, Ty Cobb, and Al Kaline. This is not bad company, at least if you are specifically looking at the company of baseball players. Though Harper was limited last season by injuries, his walk rate improved, his strikeout rate decreased, and he saw an uptick in power. When Harper needs to be spelled, Washington has the option of Nate McLouth, who should fill in in an admirable way. If the Nationals are going to compete at a level that many are expecting in 2014, Harper will/should have a big part to play. This is assuming that his sometimes, how would you say, hyper-aggressive style of play doesn’t lead to an extended DL stint.
Matt Holliday seems to be creating his own aging curve. While he has been declining, he hasn’t been declining in a way we may be used to seeing from such a productive player. Holiday is entering his age-34 season, and hasn’t been worth less than 4.5 WAR since 2006. The projections see him dipping below 4 WAR this season. His plate discipline has been pretty dang consistent over the past four seasons, but his power and defense are starting to decline with age. Still, three and a half wins is nothing to sneeze at (it would also be hard to actually sneeze at a win), and when you add some help from Allen Craig, left field should not be a big concern for a Cardinals team that is poised to make yet another deep postseason run.
Timing is everything when trying to build a competitive team from the ground up, and the Royals were hoping that the stars would align when Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas were brought on to compliment Alex Gordon in the hopes of building a big power threat in the middle of the lineup. Hosmer and Moustakas have shown flashes, but they still haven’t perhaps lived up to the hype quite yet. Meanwhile, Alex Gordon continues to decline. Gordon will still be good, just not as good as his 2011 or 2012 seasons. He hasn’t had many problems staying in the lineup, which should bode well for the Royals, as an intriguing but still-unproven Justin Maxwell looks to be Kansas City’s fourth outfielder. A small bounceback in BABIP should help Gordon, who still provides runs on defense and on the basepaths, but he came close to sniffing league-average offensively in 2013.
When a player can produce nearly five wins in 436 plate appearances, he is doing something right. Based off wRC+, CarGo had his best season at the plate in 2013, hitting 49% better than league average. He also did well on the base paths and had previously-unseen value in the field. These were all good things, but are prime for regression, as the projections show. Gonzalez had a large spike in strikeout rate in 2013, though his walk rate and on-base percentage was fairly consistent. With Gonzalez, it all comes down to power and defense, something that saw large upticks last season. If he can repeat in those areas, he should be able to outplay his projections. If he regresses there, then he becomes simply a very-good outfielder. His health, like always, remains a question as well, and any missed time will lead to some mix of Corey Dickerson, Charlie Blackmon, or Brandon Barnes seeing more playing time.
With the departures of Nelson Cruz and Craig Gentry, and the addition of Shin-Soo Choo, the Rangers outfield has seen a bit of a mixup in 2014. Last season, the Rangers outfield combined for a 99 wRC+, just a hair better than the 97 wRC+ the entire squad achieved. It was clear that the Rangers front office was interested in improving their hitting, as they brought on both Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo. Choo signed for big money, as a player who hit 51% better than the league in his walk year would be expected to do. Choo’s baserunning and defense can be described as poor. Technically, they can be described as outstanding, but that wouldn’t really be accurate. Choo’s value comes from his bat and his ability to get on base. The former will probably regress faster than the latter, but Choo should still provide some good value for Texas in the next few seasons. The projections see some regression, which is to be expected for a player who posted career highs in nearly every category last season. Given Choo’s skillset, he will probably age a little better than your regular left fielder, but will always kind of hang around that 3-4 win area. That is not a bad thing, certainly, and Choo’s presence should help bolster a Rangers lineup that was right around league-average last year.
Projecting a player like Starling Marte isn’t easy. Well, it’s easy for a computer, probably. But it’s hard for us, due to the fact that we really only have one season to go off of. The projections expect Marte’s BABIP to regress a fair bit, as his 2013 mark of .363 looks unsustainable. And while that mark was quite high — good enough for 8th best among qualified hitters — we can’t say for sure it’s totally unsustainable, because we just don’t know. We do know that speed can help with BABIP, and that Marte does have some speed. The rest is fuzzy, and we’ll need more time to make proper hypotheses.
Garrett Jones’ departure should open up some playing time for Jose Tabata as well. He’s still young and showed some promise last season, at least from the plate. He’ll get most of his playing time in right field, most likely, but a combo of him, Marte, and the very muscular Travis Snider should produce well for a Pirates team looking to stay in playoff contention again this season.
Yoenis Cespedes saw a fairly drastic drop in production between 2012 and 2013. His OBP, SLG, BB%, and K% all moved in the wrong direction, and 2013 as seen as a subpar year, at least compared to his rookie season. He did have some nagging injuries, which could certainly have played a part. It could also be that teams have learned how to pitch to him more effectively. Nevertheless, it’s unlikely that he will produce the paltry .318 wOBA of last season, and the projections see a bit of a bounceback for him as well.
Craig Gentry will most likely get time in every outfield position, barring injury of a starter. He’ll provide enough defensive value as a fill-in, but won’t and shouldn’t be counted on as a bench bat or long-term replacement in Oakland.
Now that Jacoby Ellsbury is a Yankee (pause for Boston fans to dry heave), Gardner will see the majority of his time in left field. He was a valuable center fielder last season, and valuable left fielder before that, so he should be able to still save some runs in left for 2014. He will have to in order to have value for the Yankees, as the projections see him floating down to a league-average or worse hitter this season. He should still be a good base runner, but his lack of power and just-OK OBP will have to be made up for in other areas.
If Justin Upton’s 2013 season were an Oreo cookie, those two sweet chocolate wafers would have encased a filling that tasted like hot garbage. Despite an easily rememberable cold streak, he still finished the season as a three-win player, but those days might be over. His big spike in strikeout rate was offset some by a rise in power numbers, but those power numbers could be a result of a heightened HR/FB rate. He’s a streaky player to be sure, and still young enough, but it seems as if Justin Upton’s best days may be behind him.
|Scott Van Slyke||14||.245||.325||.411||.324||0.1||0.0||0.0||0.0|
Los Angeles was thought to try and trade one of their outfielders in the offseason, as Yasiel Puig’s rise to prominence created a bit of a logjam. The Dodgers apparently saw that as a good problem to have, and considering the general health track record of the outfield, that might not be a bad idea. Crawford is now four seasons removed from his last truly productive season, and projects to be a two-win player. This isn’t bad in a vacuum, but it is bad when you consider Crawford’s contract. A combination of age and a proclivity for injury have brought Crawford’s value down considerably, and he’s no longer considered a power/speed threat.
Ethier will see time in both corners, and perhaps even a little center. He’s a streaky player, which could be detrimental depending on which version of Andre Ethier shows up when it’s his turn in the outfield rotation. His hitting should even out to be above-average overall, but his usage might look like a head-scratcher to fans at times if the bad Either rears his head.
If science were ever to find a way to keep Carlos Quentin healthy, he’d be a force to be reckoned with. His on-base/power combo is buried by his inability to stay on the field with any consistency — he appeared in less than 120 games in six of his last eight seasons. The Padres, of course, are aware of this, and have prepared for it by loading up on other outfielders to fill in for when Quentin eventually gets hurt. Seth Smith and Kyle Blanks could form a decent platoon, but Blanks hasn’t been a bastion of health himself. It’ll be a game of musical outfielders, and when the music stops, San Diego will hope to have enough bodies left to patrol the outfield.
With Mark Trumbo gone, and with the Angels finally realizing that Mike Trout should be manning center, Josh Hamilton has been moved to left. To call Hamilton’s 2013 a disappointment would be a bit of an understatement. His power numbers took a dive, and a move from Arlington can’t be all to blame. A career-low in ISO (and a .110 drop from 2012) is indicative of something else affecting his usual power stroke ways. He really struggled against lefties last year, to the tune of a 61 wRC+. J.B. Shuck had more success against lefties than righties, despite hitting from the left side, so he may see more time in a platoon if Hamilton’s struggles continue. Hamilton is now just a good player, not a great player. He should bounce back from a disastrous 2013 season, though he won’t be the superstar of old.
Colin Cowgill hasn’t shown much promise to this point, and if he continues to struggle, he may find himself being optioned sooner than later. If that’s the case, and J.B. Shuck needs to fill in elsewhere, we may see some LF appearances by (gulp) Raul Ibanez.
With Domonic Brown being permanently installed in the Philadelphia outfield, Phillies fans were finally given a chance to see what he could do when given a chance. Brown posted a low BABIP in 2013, but it was actually fairly consistent with his major-league track record. The projections see Brown repeating his 2013 season, more or less, which is not a bad thing at all. Brown was pretty much league-average against lefties last season, so he shouldn’t be a candidate for a platoon.
Mayberry will see the majority of his playing time in center, most likely, and Ruf will probably be used to spell Ryan Howard at first more than anything, so left field is Brown’s job for 2014. And if 2014 Domonic Brown is a decent copy of 2013 Domonic Brown, the Phillies left field situation should be OK. The rest of that team, however …
Mark Trumbo is now in Arizona where, if history is to be believed, he will continue to strike out and hit home runs. Both his strikeout rate and home run rate were at career highs in 2013, and Trumbo has pretty much nailed down his profile. He is who we thought he was, to borrow a phrase. The projections actually see an uptick in offense for Trumbo this season, but an overall downturn in WAR due to a decrease in playing time. He won’t need to play so much first base as he did in L.A., can’t DH obviously, and it’s likely that he’ll get spelled by Gerardo Parra a fair deal.
Parra provides a tremendous upgrade over Trumbo in defense, and Parra does handle right-handed pitching better as well. In truth, Trumbo and Parra would make for a good platoon pair, but Arizona did not trade away Tyler Skaggs and Adam Eaton for a platoon bat. Parra will also see action at every outfield position as well, so his time in left will have to be limited. The amount of time Cody Ross sees will have to do with how well and how quickly he recovers from hip surgery. He only saw one plate appearance in Spring Training, and isn’t expected back from the DL until mid-April. Depending on his recovery, he may also spell Trumbo at times, though he wouldn’t be a platoon candidate.
Michael Brantley is fine. He’s fine. That’s the best way I can put it. He’s an OK hitter with no power who can steal some bases. He’s a lefty that can hit righties.
Ryan Raburn is also fine. He’s a little-better-than-OK hitter with some power who can’t steal bases. He’s a righty that can hit lefties.
Brantley and Raburn make for good platoon partners, but Raburn will have to fill in in right and perhaps DH as well. Both players are serviceable, and, if used in conjunction, could be better than the sum of their parts. The Indians are looking at a (you guessed it) league-average left field. There are worse things to have.
Christian Yelich had a fairly impressive debut in 2013, posting a 116 wRC+ and 1.4 WAR in just 62 games. He hit for little power, and struck out nearly 25% of the time, but that’s to be expected from a 21-year old in his first taste of big-league action. Steamer and ZiPS are fairly torn on Yelich, the former seeing him as a 1.2-win player, the latter as a 2.1-win player. Steamer sees his offense declining quite a bit, and his defense dropping off some as well. ZiPS sees a lesser decline in offensive production and a significant increase in defensive prowess. Yelich’s .380 BABIP isn’t that sustainable, so some offensive decline is certainly to be expected. All signs point to him being a promising young outfielder, but it’s unlikely he will make much of an upward move in 2014.
Jeez, move Ryan Braun to right field, and suddenly the Brewers have a below-average left field. Who would have thought? Oh, you would have. Good job. Khris Davis did his best to replace Braun’s power when Braun “went up north to live on a farm” for much of the 2013 season. Davis posted an unworldly .316 ISO over 153 PA, and owned a 160 wRC+ for the season. Davis did have impressive power numbers in the minors, though not to this extent, and the projections have sniffed that out. He’ll get most of the opportunities in left, mostly due to a lack of other options. Davis is an interesting case in that while his 2013 power is almost certainly not sustainable, the sample is simply too low for us to really say by how much.
Logan Schafer will also see some time in left, but he should only be a defensive replacement at any outfield position. A career .336 SLG won’t turn any heads, but as a late-scratch fill-in, or late-inning replacement, he should fill in fine.
#18 Red Sox
Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes should make for adequate platoon partners, but none of them will see enough playing time in left field for them to rank any higher on this list. Nava will also play some right and maybe some first, while Gomes will split his time between left and some DH, while also filling a role as a pinch hitter. Gomes has performed well against lefties over his career (136 wRC+), but saw a substantial decline against southpaws in 2013 (115 wRC+). If those struggles continue, he might lose some playing time to Mike Carp, though Carp hasn’t mashed against lefties either. The projections call for Gomes to sustain his production and for Nava to fall off a bit. Add Carp and a sprinkle of Grady Sizemore to the mix, and the left field of the defending champs could be better, but won’t hurt them enough to negate their production at other positions.
David Lough is a prototypical glove-first fourth outfielder. The Orioles, however, have decided that he deserves a shot in an everyday role in left field. It’s not the worst move, as Lough should provide enough value with his glove to keep his spot, assuming Steve Pearce and his lefty-mashing ways (I know, small sample) force Baltimore’s higher-ups to force a platoon. We have Nelson Cruz projected for 35 LF plate appearances, but that would be 35 too many at this point, though a long season can bring out the crazy in every team sometimes. Lough is a corner outfielder who will bat 7th or 8th in the lineup. What he’ll do seems a whole lot easier to guess than how to actually pronounce his last name.
Ooof. Oh boy. I mean … just … yikes. I mean, that basically sums up the bad news. The good news is that Ackley had a fairly-good second half, powered mostly by a strong August, and has continued to hit in Spring Training this season. I know, but I don’t have a lot to work with here. Saunders, too, saw a resurgence in the second half of 2013, and there was some news that perhaps he was playing through some injury problems to start the season. The two aren’t platoon partners, so they will probably begin the season in competition for the job in a race to suck less. Corey Hart will start the season in RF most likely, and Morrison is more of a 1B/DH guy at this point, but then again who isn’t on this team. Happy 2014, Mariners fans.
Until Ricky Nolasco came along this year, Josh Willingham was the highest-paid free agent in Minnesota Twins history. At the time of the signing, it seemed like a decent move. His power stroke played well in Target Field and he slugged his way to a 3.4-win season in 2012. This all came apart in 2013, as his wOBA dropped by 68 points, his strikeout rate hit a career high, and he only saw 111 games due to injury. The injury probably had some play in his declining stats, as well, and the projections seem to correct for this a bit. Still, neither system see him producing at the levels we’ve known him to in the past.
Jason Kubel will most likely see most of his time at DH, though he could back up Willingham here and there. The Twins also have about a billion mediocre outfielders floating around the minors that could fill in should Willingham succumb to injury again.
#22 White Sox
|Alejandro De Aza||385||.262||.323||.396||.317||-2.1||0.5||-0.6||0.7|
Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo will most likely platoon in left field to start 2014, which is pretty gross if you cheer for the White Sox, but pretty great if you cheer for extremely cool names. Viciedo will most likely only appear versus lefties, which will leave the bulk of the work to De Aza. The projections see De Aza continuing his power/speed ways, but also he him continuing his trend of poor contact skills and bad on-base percentages. Luckily for both, they shouldn’t get any real competition at that position, since Adam Eaton will stick in center and Avisail Garcia should stay in right. In the battle of cool names; two men enter, one man leave, nobody produces.
#23 Blue Jays
Melky Cabrera got good, then great, then busted, then hurt, then crappy. The last two probably have something to do with each other, but until we see how healthy Melky is to start the season, it will be hard to know how much. And even when he is healthy, what Melky will be there? If his 2012 campaign with the Giants wasn’t aided by PEDs, it certainly was aided by a .370 BABIP. The projections see a bit of a rebound for Cabrera, but certainly not near his season with the Giants or even his 2011 effort with the Royals.
Kevin Pillar is a speedy guy who can’t hit or get on base, so he will likely be a fourth outfielder or defensive replacement if he ever makes it back up from the minors. The job is Melky’s for now, and he is having a promising Spring, for whatever that is worth.
Eric Young has two things going for him right now — he’s fast and he’s not Lucas Duda. Both things technically make him valuable, but Young’s speed makes him a bit of a one-hit wonder. If he stays healthy, he’ll do well on the base paths. He will not get on base at a very good (or even decent) clip, and he certainly won’t hit for power. Even his gaudy 48 steals last year came at the price of 11 times caught, meaning he barely broke even when it comes to a productive base-swiping rate. He’ll stick in left for now, as the Mets have no real outfield prospects poised to breach the majors. Young could be swapped for Juan Lagares if the former’s hitting really takes a step back, or Lucas Duda could push Young out if Duda … sorry, can’t finish that sentence.
David DeJesus is a perfect kind of player for Joe Maddon and the Rays. He’s a capable, affordable, platoon-able outfielder. The only problem is, it’s not clear who would platoon with DeJesus, since neither Guyer, Forsythe, nor Joyce are all that formidable against lefties. Somebody could come to relevance, or DeJesus could simply be buried in the lineup against lefties, but the Rays will have to figure something out, and they probably will or probably already have. DeJesus won’t run or hit for power, but his defense and not-terrible hitting is good enough for the cash-strapped Rays at this point.
Junior Lake looks a lot like Alfonso Soriano on the field — similar build, similar gate, similar swing. There isn’t really anything to take from that, it’s just something I noticed watching him in Arizona. He has speed, but will have trouble translating it since he won’t get on base that much. He strikes out far too much and walks far too little. He did provide adequate defense in Chicago in limited time last year, though he will have to really flash the leather to prove valuable in 2014. Luckily, the Cubs aren’t really looking toward 2014 as a competitive year, so they’ll have the time to watch and work with Lake all season. Though, if he really struggles, he might get sent back down for more seasoning and give up playing time to Justin Ruggiano.
Rajai Davis is weird. He’s always shown good speed, but could never really parlay that into any defensive value. He hits about as well as a typical speedy guy will, and won’t be worth a whole heck of a lot in 2014. Andy Dirks is going to miss the beginning of the season with a back injury, so that means that the still-somehow-employed Don Kelly could see time in a platoon role with Davis. This is all assuming that the Nick Castellanos experiment at third base doesn’t fail and Castellanos isn’t sent to left field. Right now, left field in Detroit is a bit of a work-in-progress, with the work appearing to be some aggressive finger crossing.
Yes, Michael Morse could bounce back to hitting like he did in Washington, or close to it. Yes, Gregor Blanco could continue to improve his on-base skills and crack the average-hitter threshold. But if you’re running a baseball team, do you really want to bet your team’s future on that? If you do, congratulations, you are just as smart as the Giants front office! Morse has trouble staying on the field, Blanco has trouble being worth more than a defensive replacement, and they both have trouble convincing me that the Giants left field situation will turn out any way north of “total dumpster fire.”
The irrational Astros fan in me thinks Robbie Grossman should be worth at least a fraction of a win, but perhaps the numbers are right. He just looks like he should have more tools than he does. He gets on base OK, doesn’t hit for power, and — at least as far as one year’s worth of data shows — isn’t very valuable on defense. I will continue to hold on to hope, however. As my colleague Carson Cistulli put it in his FanGraphs+ write-up of Grossman, “Imagine David DeJesus, except maybe not quite as good and 10 years younger and also different in a thousand other ways. Maybe you’re thinking of Robbie Grossman.”
Marc Krauss would probably make a better lumberjack than baseball player, but baseball player pays better so I totally understand his reasoning. He has trouble getting on base, but does have some pop in his bat. He is having a fairly good Spring, though if he makes the team it will likely be as a part-time first baseman or backup outfielder.
J.D. Martinez got cut, so those two are about your only two options, though I have heard that Houston is looking to clone George Springer and have the both of him man the corners by the All-Star Break.
Ryan Ludwick had some bad luck in 2013 as he separated his shoulder on opening day and wasn’t really the same after that. He’s also unlucky in that he continues to get older, but most of us drew bad cards in that respect. If his power returns, he could still reach 20ish home runs, but he’s a liability both on the basepaths and in the field. He might sniff league-average, but that’s probably his ceiling.
Ludwick and Chris Heisey project to be about the same player at this point, but hey, at least they’re not Skip Shumaker. If both Ludwick and Heisey really stink it up, Donald Lutz could see more playing time. He’s flashed power in the minors, though that came with poor on-base skills. Cincinnati’s outfield is a hot mess right now, save for Jay Bruce and potentially Billy Hamilton, so it’s unclear just what the plan is for 2014, but it probably won’t be very attractive.