Way out in left field. Isn’t that our description of someone who’s completely clueless? Isn’t that where you stick the kid that’s not paying attention half the time? Well, that certainly translates to the major league level. Left field is where you put the guy with a big bat, but he could hurt your team defensively if he played anywhere else (a la Adam Dunn, Manny Ramirez, etc.). Now, not all the guys on this list are going to be bad fielders, but the point is that this is a position that heavily favors the offensive side of the game. Gold gloves are more the cherry on top than the whole dessert. So, here’s MLB Network’s list:
1. Ryan Braun (.332, 33 HR, 111 RBI, .994 OPS, 33 SB)
2. Matt Holliday (.296, 22 HR, 75 RBI, .912 OPS)
3. Josh Hamilton (.298, 25 HR, 94 RBI, .882 OPS)
4. Carlos Gonzalez (.295, 26 HR, 92 RBI, .889 OPS, 20 SB)
5. Mike Morse (.303, 31 HR, 95 RBI, .910 OPS)
6. Alex Gordon (.303, 23 HR, 87 RBI, .879 OPS, 17 SB)
7. Josh Willingham (.246, 29 HR, 98 RBI, .810 OPS)
8. Desmond Jennings (.259, 10 HR, 25 RBI, .805 OPS, 20 SB – 63 games in rookie season)
9. Brett Gardner (.259, 7 HR, 36 RBI, .713 OPS, 49 SB)
10. Carl Crawford (.255, 11 HR, 56 RBI, .694 OPS, 18 SB)
Since there are a few guys in left field that rely more on speed and defense, I decided to include SB’s in the equation, and eliminated batting average. Here’s what I came up with:
1. Josh Hamilton – the highest WAR in the group, and is the only one to rank in the top 3 in 6 categories (ranking at the top in OPS and ISO in addition to WAR). His TZL isn’t great, but again, this is an offense-driven position.
2. Ryan Braun – I’m not buying the PED scandal whether you think he got off on a technicality or not. The guy’s numbers have been consistent over the last 4-5 seasons, and 2011 wasn’t some giant leap up into the spotlight. He’s the only one on the list to rank in the top 5 in 8 categories. The only reason I have him behind Hamilton is because a full season of a healthy Josh Hamilton is going to produce more than Ryan Braun.
3. Carlos Gonzalez – the only remaining left-fielder to rank in the top 10 in 8 categories. I also would put him lower than the other two, because his home/away splits aren’t great. But, he’s still in Colorado, so I expect him to put up big numbers again.
4. Matt Holliday – he’s 32, and hasn’t hit 30 home runs since 2007. Why MLBN has him ranked so high, I have no idea. That being said, he still ranks in the top 10 in seven categories.
5. Brett Gardner – he has three top-3 rankings (TZL, DRS – a ridiculous 49!! – and SB), and the 4th highest WAR in LF the last two years. He’s not an offensive force to be reckoned with, but he still creates (and eliminates) runs with his legs (10th highest wRC+).
6. Josh Willingham – none of his stats really stand out, but when you look at his numbers across the board, he’s very consistent. The only guy left on the list to have six top-10 appearances, even though he has nothing in the top 5.
7. Carl Crawford – I’m going to go out on a limb and say there’s no way he performs as poorly in 2012 as he did in 2011. He had career worst numbers in several categories, at the age of 29! And, even with that terrible year he still ranks in the top 10 in 4 categories, and has the 6th highest WAR the last two years.
8. Mike Morse – he’s the same age as Crawford, and has had some decent production the last couple years – 5 top-10 rankings. But, I don’t see why he would be rated higher than the usual Crawford (not the one we saw last year). And, there are already some questions about his health swirling in spring training.
9. Alex Gordon – he has the best WAR among anyone left to choose, and has 3 top-10 appearances, too. I don’t have him as high as MLBN because he’s basically had one stellar season that was preceded by 4 seasons of both mediocrity and injury. But, he’s just 28, and should continue to improve.
10. Alfonso Soriano – no question he’s a terrible defender. But, with this position being offensive-minded, he ranks in the top 10 in 4 of 6 offensive categories, and has the 10th highest WAR in left. Defense and the fact he’s 36 are the reasons he’s behind Crawford, Morse and Gordon.
Honorable mention goes to Seth Smith and Logan Morrison – they both had three top-10 appearances. And, once again, I think MLBN is crazy for including a kid in the top 10 that hasn’t even had a full season to prove himself. Desmond Jennings played in just 63 games last year. And, while 10 home runs and 20 stolen bases is impressive, you can’t possible use those numbers to project how he will perform over a full season as pitchers make adjustments. Well, that’s my top 10 – what’s yours??