A Weird Thing About Outfield Sluggers

This morning, I started working on a post about why perhaps the Cardinals should think twice before pursuing Marcell Ozuna too heavily. The premise of the post was, essentially, that while the team could afford to ignore handedness when targeting Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna isn’t that same kind of impact hitter who crushes everyone, and the team should pause before adding yet another right-handed hitter to an already right-handed heavy line-up.

The Cardinals currently project to play two left-handed hitters (Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong) on a regular basis. Switch-hitting Dexter Fowler bats from the left side against RHPs, but that’s also his weaker side offensively. Even including Fowler, though, that’s three lefties and six righties, and with one of those three being a weak-hitting middle infielder. The Cardinals line-up just doesn’t have much in the way of left-handed power.

So the post was going to suggest that the Cardinals turn away from Ozuna, and instead go for a good left-handed outfield slugger instead. And then I realized that those guys don’t really exist in MLB right now.

Here are the left-handed hitting outfielders who have accumulated at least 1,200 PAs over the last three years, and their wRC+ over that span.

Left-Handed Hitting OFs, 2015-2017
# Name PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+
1 Bryce Harper 1762 0.297 0.417 0.561 156
2 Charlie Blackmon 2037 0.315 0.377 0.537 126
3 Christian Yelich 1866 0.294 0.371 0.449 123
4 Adam Eaton 1464 0.288 0.364 0.431 119
5 Joc Pederson 1342 0.228 0.347 0.450 119
6 Josh Reddick 1522 0.291 0.347 0.451 117
7 Curtis Granderson 1773 0.237 0.340 0.457 117
8 David Peralta 1230 0.293 0.352 0.479 116
9 Dexter Fowler 1294 0.251 0.360 0.439 115
10 Jackie Bradley Jr. 1429 0.255 0.337 0.455 109
11 Kole Calhoun 1999 0.258 0.330 0.419 106
12 Brett Gardner 1928 0.266 0.351 0.404 106
13 Jay Bruce 1771 0.243 0.308 0.480 106
14 Odubel Herrera 1726 0.286 0.342 0.430 106
15 Nori Aoki 1201 0.284 0.347 0.391 105
16 Melky Cabrera 1459 0.288 0.333 0.426 104
17 Kevin Kiermaier 1357 0.263 0.321 0.428 104
18 Carlos Gonzalez 1746 0.276 0.336 0.491 103
19 Denard Span 1433 0.275 0.338 0.407 102
20 Eddie Rosario 1404 0.277 0.307 0.467 101
21 Nick Markakis 1986 0.281 0.357 0.389 100
22 Ender Inciarte 1842 0.301 0.347 0.403 100
Minimum 1,200 PAs, 100 wRC+

22 left-handed OFs have posted a league-average or better batting line in regular playing time over the last three years, but Harper is the only one to crack the 130 wRC+ barrier, and only two others even get over 120 wRC+. A good chunk of the 22 guys on this list are no one’s idea of a slugger, as they got themselves to average offense with OBP, not SLG. No one is going to mistake Brett Gardner, Kole Calhoun, Jackie Bradley Jr., Nori Aoki, Melky Cabrera, Denard Span, Nick Markakis, or Ender Inciarte for a slugger.

Of course, the 1,200 PA minimum does exclude a few guys who haven’t been regulars for three straight years, such as Michael Conforto, Kyle Schwarber, and Cody Bellinger. So it’s not like there are no lefty outfield sluggers in baseball. But those guys are also basically unavailable, so for the Cardinals purposes, that trio doesn’t really matter.

So, yeah, where did all the lefty slugging outfielders go? The shift reducing the effectiveness of left-handed pull players could explain part of this evolution, but it feels overly sudden to have the shift already have changed the game this significantly. More likely it’s just a cyclical thing. Baseball does this sometimes.

But that does mean that, for right now, the Cardinals might have to run a pretty unbalanced line-up. It’s either that or trade for Joc Pederson.





Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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RedsManRickmember
4 years ago

Not that the Reds are likely to deal with the Cardinals, but I’m sure Scott Schebler could be had. He had only ~850 PA the last 3 years, but hit 30 HR in 531 PA last year and fits the more traditional slugger profile than most of the guys on the list.