Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/15/14

The Indians outfield defense is going to be really good. As Jeff Sullivan noted, the addition of Michael Bourn makes the outfield defense very good as it pushes two good center fielders (Michael Brantley and Drew Stubbs) to the corners. That last part is what really struck me about the move. Over my roughly 17 years of watching baseball, I’ve always been told that a corner outfielder is a guy who can hit and hit for a lot of power, indicating that it’s an offense-first position. But during the past five years or so, we’ve seen players like Brett Gardner, Carl Crawford, Ben Revere, Brantley, and now Stubbs moved to a corner, seemingly indicating that teams are more willing to accept less power in exchange for more OBP, speed, and defense. So I decided to do a little investigating. The first step was to look at how the offensive production of corner outfielders has changed in the recent past. Left field peaked a little higher than right field (probably with a little help from He Who Shall Not Be Named), but right field has done a better at keeping its hitting production up, remaining solidly above-average. Left field, on the other hand, has seen a pretty dramatic drop in production, though there was a modest rebound in 2012. I was curious about the component skills/tools of OBP and ISO, so … Looking at OBP, right field has declined along a similar pattern to the rest of the league. It has gotten worse, but it largely retains its advantage. Left field, however, has seen its advantage on the rest of the league slip away. What about ISO? We see a similar pattern. Right field declines, but it maintains a similar gap with the rest of the league. Left field, again, sees its gap dwindle, though it still has an advantage in the power department. One thing I hadn’t expected at this point was a difference between right fielders and left fielders. While it may simply be a fluctuation in the talent cycle, it makes me wonder if there’s a difference between left fielders and right fielders. Perhaps, the left field profile is changing while right fielders have stayed the same. Looking at the names above, Gardner, Crawford, and Brantley have spent most of their non-CF time in left. But are there other indications of a profile change? If teams are starting to make up for the lost power, speed and defense are other areas we would expect to see an increase. Looking first at stolen bases … We see another significant difference between left fielders and right fielders. Left fielders have increased their stolen base total by over 300 (or 10 per starting LF) in the past 9-10 years, and while right fielders have also increased their totals, it’s only by about 100 stolen bases (or ~3 per starting RF). But stolen bases are only part of the story. If speed is really coming back, we’d expect to also see a rise in overall baserunning … Which we do. And guess what? Yep, left fielders have made significantly more gains in the baserunning department than their corner outfield counterparts. It seems as though LF has been quite a bit speedier than it had been, and while right field appears to be a little faster, it hasn’t increased at the same pace. The last remaining piece of the puzzle is defense. Defense, however, is the hardest part of the puzzle to solve. Defensive metrics like UZR, +/-, etc. are good for individuals because they compare against “the average”, but of course, “the average” can change. A +5 defender now may not be the same as a +5 defender 10 years ago. Another issue is how defense interrelates. Let’s use the Angels as an example. Mike Trout will make fewer plays in LF with Peter Bourjos in CF than Vernon Wells in CF. That doesn’t mean Trout is worse with Bourjos in center than with Wells. It means Bourjos covers more ground in center than Wells and gets to more balls, negating the need for Trout to get to as many. So we have issues. There isn’t a Defensive Efficiency for the outfield, and in all honesty, Defensive Efficiency works so well because it’s the entire team working together, not specific parts. And of course, we can’t simply assume that LF or RF defense has improved because their speed seems to have increased (bad routes, arms, etc.). I’m not sure I’ll be able to prove a whole lot here. When I began this exercise, I expected to group left field and right field together because, superficially, they are very similar positions. Theoretically, it doesn’t require more range to play LF than RF unless park dimensions dictate such, and while one probably prefers a stronger arm in right field, it doesn’t seem like the two positions would require different defensive skill sets. And if they are similar defensive positions, then why the different offensive profiles? Is it simply talent fluctuation? Is it a conscious decision? Have teams decided that two good defensive outfielders are more necessary? While I expected the two corner OF spots to respond in a similar fashion, it appears they are different breeds instead of birds of a feather.

GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Andrew Luck to students: 'I'm only 25, I don't have advice'

Mark Sanchez: Tebow is another arm while Bradford recovers

Report: Former LSU CB Jalen Collins failed multiple drug tests

Six players suspended for White Sox-Royals brawl

Stephen A. Smith blasts Brady for missing White House visit

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Bruce Jenner: "For all intents and purposes, I am a woman"

Report: Angels, Rangers talking Josh Hamilton trade

Roger Goodell calls both Los Angeles stadium plans 'viable'

Five-star hoops star Malik Newman commits to Miss State

Crabtree on joining Raiders: 'Ain't got nothing to lose'

Report: Hardy gets in 'verbal altercation' with teammate

Peyton Manning announces $3 million gift to Tennessee

WATCH: Leah Still scores TD in Temple spring game

WATCH: Todd Gurley shares video of himself sprinting

5 most boring NFL prime time matchups for 2015

Steve Carell, Emma Stone to star in Bobby Riggs-Billie Jean King film

Calipari’s new project: Create virtual reality experience for fans

Maurice Jones-Drew will retire with the Jaguars on Tuesday

Ovechkin jokes about taking a chair from Nassau Coliseum

Uniform colors have already been picked for Vegas NHL team

Golden State: Not losing to New Orleans, but still snoozing

Ventura, Royals need to simmer down before someone gets hurt

The Mets and their weak opponents

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Leah Still scores in Temple spring game

Sanchez shares thoughts on Tebow

Stephen A. Smith blasts Tom Brady

Kris Humphries apologizes for Jenner tweet

5 boring NFL prime time matchups

Bruce Jenner: "For all intents and purposes, I am a woman"

Jameis Winston vs. Marcus Mariota: Perception vs. reality

Report: Gronk dating former Patriots cheerleader

NFL exec compares Jameis Winson to JaMarcus Russell

NFL does not care about Rams' future in St. Louis

Nothing gleams like late-round draft gold

The Ultimate All-Living MLB Team

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.