Left field has traditionally been a power of power for big league lineups, and for the past decade, it has also been a place for teams to hide poor defensive players. Think Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Carlos Lee, Adam Dunn, and Pat Burrell.
In 2011, however, that standard has begun to shift. The league-average wOBA for left fielders (.320 wOBA) was lower than both center field (.324) and right field (.334). Players such as Brett Gardner, Desmond Jennings, and Alex Presley project to start in left field for their respective teams. Those are not the traditional left field types that we grew accustomed to watching over the past ten or fifteen years, but as we will see, that does not mean the teams with those players rank near the bottom of the positional rankings.
Let’s take a look …
30. Cleveland IndiansRole Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR Starter Aaron Cunningham R 300 .243 .306 .391 0.5 Reserve Fred Lewis L 150 .237 .324 .357 0.5 Reserve Shelley Duncan R 150 .228 .309 .398 -2 Reserve Michael Brantley L 100 .270 .330 .367 -2 0.5
The injury to Grady Sizemore caused significant repercussions for the Indians’ outfield. It forced Brantley to center field and left a vacuum of talent in left. Cunningham and Duncan are likely to battle throughout spring training for the starting role, but neither are everyday outfielders in this league. The nod is given to Cunningham in this ranking exercise, though ZiPS projects him to be the worst starting outfielder in all of baseball.
Brantley should be back in the late-summer, which should provide some relief. Until then, Fred Lewis can face off against some of the tougher right-handed pitchers, despite the fact that he only hit .247/.342/.341 against righties last season.
29. Seattle MarinersRole Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR Starter Mike Carp L 500 .252 .317 .414 -5 1 Reserve Casper Wells R 100 .219 .293 .403 5 0.5 Reserve Michael Saunders L 50 .220 .298 .339 3 Prospect Trayvon Robinson S 50 .214 .294 .342 -1
Carp possesses legitimate power in his swing and hit a combined 33 home runs between Triple-A and the big leagues last year, but ZiPS sees the slugger regressing significantly in 2012. The only reason he gets so many plate appearances in this exercise is that none of the other options are very appealing.
The prospect, Trayvon Robinson, is the most promising name on the list by far. He came over from the Dodgers last season after hitting .293/.375/.563 in Triple-A. The young man could easily see the majority of plate appearances amongst the Mariners’ left fielders, but the organization could opt for another year of minor league seasoning before handing him an everyday role. After all, his ZiPS projections do not suggest any improvement if he were to see significant time this season.
28. Los Angeles DodgersRole Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR Starter Juan Rivera R 350 .265 .318 .408 1 Reserve Jerry Sands R 200 .235 .308 .415 0.5 Reserve Tony Gwynn Jr. L 75 .258 .319 .350 Reserve Jerry Hairston Jr. R 75 .259 .319 .373
Rivera is 33-years-old and has seen his power decline precipitously over the past two years, yet he is projected to start in left field for the Dodgers. Sands should get another chance to stick in the big leagues. ZiPS isn’t too thrilled about his potential at the plate, though. Gwynn and Hairston are interesting reserve players, but Gwynn barely hangs on to major league rosters as a fifth outfielder and Hairston is more comfortable in center or the infield.
The Dodgers will trot out a combination of misfits into left field in 2012. While Rivera should be passable with the bat, he has below-average foot speed and should struggle in the field. The organization projects to be syphoning off plate appearances by the beginning of the summer.
27. Toronto Blue JaysRole Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR Starter Eric Thames L 400 .250 .313 .428 -5 1 Reserve Rajai Davis R 100 .259 .299 .365 -2 Prospect Travis Snider L 200 .247 .304 .407 4 0.5
Toronto has long assumed that Travis Snider would be mashing at the big league level at this point in his career, solidifying the opposite corner outfield position to Jose Bautista, but it simply has not happened. ZiPS does not foresee Snider improving much in 2012, either. That should leave the door open for Thames to garner the vast majority of the plate appearances. The Blue Jays hope Thames’ breakout season in Double-A during the 2010 season is a harbinger for things to come at the major league level.
Rajai Davis should provide veteran depth at all three outfield positions throughout the course of the season, though ZiPS does not project him to do anything at the plate. His dismal 2011 season could mark the beginning of the end to his journeyman career.
26. Chicago CubsRole Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR Starter Alfonso Soriano R 500 .245 .297 .453 1 Reserve Tony Campana L 125 .273 .317 .328 7 0.5 Reserve Reed Johnson R 75 .261 .310 .385 -1
Trade winds have swirled around Soriano all winter, but it appears that Chicago will retain his services for another season. His bat still provides pretty good pop. His secondary skills have degraded to the point, however, that his overall value to the Cubs is negligible.
Campana is a little spark plug who can cover significant ground and flash a little leather in the outfield. At the plate, though, he leaves a lot to be desired. That should limit his plate appearances and keep him from stealing too much playing time away from Soriano. The ageless Reed Johnson will assuredly see some time as well, though ZiPS sees him as the least productive of the three outfielders in ’12.
25. Los Angeles AngelsRole Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR Starter Vernon Wells R 450 .255 .298 .422 0.5 Reserve Ryan Langerhans L 50 .220 .319 .360 Prospect Mike Trout R 200 .267 .338 .414 6 1
Vernon Wells may have only compiled a .285 wOBA last season and was worth only +0.3 wins, but the Angels do have two things working in their favor. First, ZiPS projects a “bounce back” season of sorts for Wells, which should aid the overall production for the position. Second, the Angels still have Mike Trout lurking in the shadows.
The reserve position for the big league squad remains in flux, though a few projections believe Langerhans to be the favorite to land the job. Also, don’t forget that Mark Trumbo played a little outfield last season. It’s not out of the question that the 6-foot-4 slugger nets some plate appearances in left field this year, especially if the organization does not wish to promote Trout until later.
24. Baltimore OriolesRole Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR Starter Nolan Reimold R 350 .246 .325 .416 -1 1 Reserve Endy Chavez L 175 .270 .301 .361 3 0.5 Reserve Jai Miller R 25 .221 .288 .426 Prospect Matt Angle L 50 .250 .314 .304
Reimold has experienced a roller coaster career in the majors. He should receive the bulk of the plate appearances in left field — and would be worth more than +1 win if ZiPS did not project a power drop off — but Endy Chavez is likely to steal plate appearances against tough right-handers. Chavez should provide some value with the glove, too.
The sleeper prospect is Matt Angle. Howard Bender wrote about Angle in this article for RotoGraphs. He has good speed, draws walks, and has been knocking at the big league door. Still, it would be nice to see Reimold get a full, season-long shot in left field. He produced at the plate in the only season in which he received 400+ plate appearances in a big league season. The Orioles would perhaps do well to give him another chance.
23. New York MetsRole Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR Starter Jason Bay R 500 .249 .344 .419 -5 1.5 Reserve Scott Hairston R 150 .246 .308 .423 0.5 Prospect Kirk Nieuwenhuis L 50 .238 .304 .398
Jason Bay has never provided the type of value for which the Mets hoped when they signed him to a 4-year, $66M contract after the 2009 season. It appears he will fall short of expectations yet again this season. The walk rate is certainly healthy, but the overall performance should keep him from netting a +2.0 win season for the third-consecutive season in New York.
Hairston never provides enough to be an everyday starter, but his defensive versatility and power at the plate make him a very useful reserve player. He should serve in that role nicely for the Mets. Nieuwenhuis, though, could see some plate appearances as the season wears on and the Mets fall out of the postseason race. The young man hit .298/.403/.505 in Triple-A last season and is poised to make his big league debut in 2012. ZiPS does not believe he will do much once donning a big league uniform, but the Mets are building toward the future. Finding out what they have in players like Kirk Nieuwenhuis is important.
22. Atlanta BravesRole Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR Starter Martin Prado R 550 .281 .325 .417 2 2 Reserve Matt Diaz R 75 .255 .307 .375 Prospect Jose Constanza L 75 .263 .310 .322
Martin Prado and the Braves ranking in the bottom third of the left field rankings is frankly surprising. When it comes down to it, though, Prado only provides limited value with his lack of power. Most other left fielders with a lack of power make up for it with plus-defense. That is simply not there with Prado. He is an average defender in left field, but that only adds to the mediocracy of him as a left fielder — which is still valuable, just less so in the context of these rankings.
Diaz and Constanza do not project to do enough with the bat to matter. Not only with they not steal plate appearances from Prado throughout the course of the season, but the projection systems also do not see either player providing much value when they do get their plate appearances at the position.
21. Minnesota TwinsRole Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR Starter Ben Revere L 525 .276 .322 .325 10 2 Reserve Trevor Plouffe R 75 .244 .296 .398 -5 Prospect Joe Benson R 100 .227 .308 .378
The Twins are hoping to emulate with Ben Revere what the Yankees have done with Brett Gardner in left field. The problem, however, is that Revere is not as good defensively and does not have the walk rate that Gardner possesses. Despite that, Revere puts the ball in play and should put pressure on the defense with his speed. He will not hit for power, but will hit for average, steal bases, and play above-average defense. Over the course of a long season, that is worth a couple of wins.
Plouffe wore out his welcome at shortstop last season and should see some time in the outfield in 2012. He projects to be the “power bat” of the left field crop for the Twins, though that term is utilized liberally in this instance. The player to truly look for is Joe Benson, who has made an impression within the organization and amongst the fan base. ZiPS suggests any potential cup of coffee with the big leagues will ultimately be unsuccessful. That should not keep the Twins from exploring their internal options to improve the lineup, though.
20. Detroit TigersRole Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR Starter Delmon Young R 400 .283 .317 .441 -8 1.5 Reserve Andy Dirks L 150 .261 .305 .383 0.5 Reserve Don Kelly L 75 .256 .302 .378 Reserve Ryan Raburn R 75 .255 .308 .429 -3
The prevailing thought process has Delmon Young playing primarily designated hitter this season. General manager Dave Dombrowski stated last month, however, that Jim Leyland would utilize multiple players — Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, Brennan Boesch — as DH. That should leave plenty of plate appearances for Young in left field. Of course, the Ryan Raburn experiment (as Chad Young outlines) at second base should also help alleviate the logjam in left field and give Delmon Young more time in left field than previously assumed.
Andy Dirks played more left field than any other outfield position last year, and that should continue to be the case in ’12. The big league results have not yet mirrored the success he enjoyed in the minor leagues. In his second big league season, though, he should improve at the plate — perhaps even more than ZiPS predicts. Kelly also should see time in left field, though most of his efforts last year were in right field and at third base. With the potential fiasco that is Miguel Cabrera playing third base, Kelly could see significant time at both third base and still in right field as a utility player.
19. Chicago White SoxRole Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR Starter Dayan Viciedo R 550 .274 .328 .431 -1 2 Reserve Brent Lillibridge R 150 .230 .299 .378 0.5
Viciedo has dipped his toes into the deep end in each of the last two seasons. In 2012, though, it appears that the White Sox will push him right in and rely on him to be their primary left fielder. He possesses plenty of power, hitting 20 home runs in Triple-A in each of the last two seasons, but ZiPS believes the transition may not be completely seamless to the big leagues. It will be interesting to see if his lack of discipline at the plate gets exploited.
Fourth and fifth outfielders are exceedingly fungible on a big league roster. Brent Lillibridge projects to be the primary reserve outfielder for Viciedo to begin the season. He should garner a majority of the leftover plate appearances because no other legitimate big league outfielder threatens his position on the team. His bat is nothing to write home about, but if he can provide positive defensive value, he should help augment the White Sox’s left field production overall.
18. Philadelphia PhilliesRole Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR Starter Laynce Nix L 250 .241 .296 .430 0.5 Reserve John Mayberry Jr. R 225 .246 .300 .427 2 1 Reserve Juan Pierre L 75 .279 .331 .329 -2 Prospect Domonic Brown L 150 .273 .330 .465 -3 0.5
Though the two-year contract over the winter was a little generous, the Phillies should have a semi-productive platoon for the beginning of the year in left field. Both Nix and Mayberry are better-than-average defenders with some pop and OBP issues. The above table has Mayberry with a touch more value because his...
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