Positional Power Rankings: Left Field

For an explanation of this series, please read Dave Cameron’s introduction from Monday. All the posts in the series can be found here.

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 Indians

Role 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 Mariners

Role 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 Dodgers

Role 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 Jays

Role 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 Cubs

Role 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 Angels

Role 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 Orioles

Role 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 Mets

Role 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 Braves

Role 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 Twins

Role 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 Tigers

Role 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 Sox

Role 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 Phillies

Role 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 fan UZR number existed, while Nix did not have one. Thus, to stay consistent with the rest of the positional rankings done before this, Nix is being treated as if he has exactly average defense in left field.

Nix and Mayberry should begin the season in left field, but in all actuality, both are simply keeping the seat warm until prospect Domonic Brown proves ready for everyday action at the big league level. ZiPS likes his bat significantly more than the rest of the bunch. That should provide value to the Phillies, despite only projecting to garner 150-200 plate appearances this season. Veteran Juan Pierre is also in the picture, but with the gluttony of options fighting for playing time, he should not see more than a smattering of plate appearances in left field.

17. Miami Marlins

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Logan Morrison L 550 .261 .360 .456 -9 2
Reserve Scott Cousins L 75 .234 .287 .372    
Reserve Bryan Peterson L 75 .259 .334 .379    

Logan Morrison is an intriguing player in this ranking system. The bat provides significant value. Even in a down season in 2011, Morrison still compiled an above-average wOBA and 20 home runs, and his offensive numbers are projected to improve across the board this year. ZiPS only projects Matt Holliday to have a higher on-base percentage amongst starting left fielders.

So why only seventeenth? Defense. Morrison was 13-runs below the league average last season and is only projected to be marginally better in 2012. It mitigates the effectiveness of his bat, which is why many have assumed that the young man will eventually find his way to first base.

Cousins and Peterson do not project to see many plate appearances, especially if Morrison enjoys more success at the plate in 2012 than he did in 2011. Therefore, they should not affect the overall value of the Marlins’ left field production over the course of the season. If these power rankings were not rounding to the nearest 0.5 WAR, though, the two could have combined for another half-win together and pushed the Marlins further up the rankings.

16. Oakland Athletics

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Coco Crisp S 375 .264 .320 .391 5 1.5
Reserve Jonny Gomes R 200 .220 .309 .374   0.5
Prospect Collin Cowgill R 125 .243 .312 .360   0.5

As Wendy published on Wednesday, these rankings are working under the assumption that Yoenis Cespedes will garner the majority of the plate appearances available in center field. That pushes Coco Crisp to left field, where the majority of his value lies in his middling on-base percentage and above-average defensive numbers. His plate appearances are a bit low because he should still see some time in center field.

Crisp only hit .211 against left-handed pitching last season, so it makes sense that Billy Beane would target a right-handed power hitter to handcuff Crisp in left field. Jonny Gomes will be that guy for the beginning of the year. Eventually, though, it seems that prospect Collin Cowgill should take over the (very) soft platoon role. He comes from the Diamondbacks via trade and absolutely lit up Triple-A last season to the tune of .354/.430/.554. Oakland will have a tough time keeping him out of the batters box if he mashes yet again in Triple-A to begin the season.

15. Pittsburgh Pirates

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Alex Presley L 550 .275 .324 .426 1 2
Reserve Nate McLouth L 150 .243 .340 .391 -6 0.5

Presley surprised many last season, grabbing an everyday role with the Pirates and finding some legitimate success. He hit .298/.339/.465 and was worth +1.2 wins in only 231 plate appearances. ZiPS projects some regression from those numbers at the plate. Presley should still provide league-average production in left field, though, which is extremely valuable for the Pirates at the league minimum.

After some tough times in Atlanta, Nate McLouth found his way back home over the winter, but in a slightly different capacity. He will no longer be the guy in center field. That torch has been passed. Instead, McLouth should serve as a reserve outfielder for all three outfield positions. That defensive versatility should make him valuable off the bench, especially with his walk rate and skills on the base paths.

14. San Diego Padres

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Carlos Quentin R 500 .254 .344 .458 -8 2
Reserve Kyle Blanks R 100 .233 .315 .407   0.5
Reserve Chris Denorfia R 50 .259 .320 .381    
Reserve Mark Kotsay L 50 .254 .307 .355    

The Padres’ left field situation closely mirrors that of the Marlins. Carlos Quentin projects to be above-average at the plate, but faces serious limitations in the field. Those limitations could be compounded by a move to PETCO Park, too, where he will have more area to cover in the outfield with his limited range. Thus, despite the fact that Quentin should help anchor the Padres’ batting order, his overall value is somewhat stunted because he should give several runs back with the glove.

Unlike the Marlins, though, the Padres have an intriguing reserve outfielder in Kyle Blanks. The young man was a top prospect just a couple years ago, but has struggled to adjust to big league pitching. ZiPS still sees the power/patience combination, however. The underlying skills are there. If he can get a little BABIP luck, he could surprise some folks with his offensive numbers. Denorfia and Kotsay are what they are at this point in their careers. Neither should see enough plate appearances to significantly alter the positional value, however.

13. San Francisco Giants

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Melky Cabrera S 500 .284 .330 .435 -5 2
Reserve Nate Schierholtz L 150 .267 .316 .420 5 0.5
Prospect Francisco Peguero R 50 .274 .295 .375    

Melky Cabrera will begin the season in left field, while Angel Pagan patrols center field. ZiPS continues to project positive things for Cabrera at the plate. It’s certainly a regression from his .305/.339/.470 marks with the Kansas City Royals last year, but his production is not falling off a cliff. The 27-year-old should still provide significant value for his team this year.

The above table is curiously missing Brandon Belt. While time in left field is certainly a possibility, this rankings exercise projects him to largely take over in right field and push Schierholtz to a reserve role, which is reflected in the above table. Schierholtz should be a productive fourth outfielder, too, providing good defense and some occasional pop off the bench. Peguero could sneak in near the end of the season and garner some at-bats with another good season. He has hit over .300 at every level throughout the past three seasons and is largely considered a Top 10 prospect in the system.

12. Cincinnati Reds

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Chris Heisey R 400 .258 .317 .446 2 1.5
Reserve Ryan Ludwick R 225 .253 .322 .430 -1 1
Prospect Todd Frazier R 75 .242 .307 .423    

Heisey surprised many people — including myself — last season when he launched 18 home runs. The ZiPS projections do not see him showing as much power this upcoming year, but he should continue to be a nice little player. He provides defensive value in left field and should still be above the league average in terms of his offensive production. The young man should also see some time in center field, spelling Drew Stubbs for the occasional day off.

The interesting portion of the Cincinnati projections lies in the arrival of Ryan Ludwick. The big guy struggled with the Padres and Pirates in 2011, but can he return to form and once again be the power bat now that he finds himself in a hitter-friendly ballpark? He should also provide veteran leadership to a young team that is hoping to make some serious noise in the NL Central. Frazier should also wedge his way into the picture late in the season, though ZiPS does not necessarily believe that he will be able to replicate his minor league success once reaching the big leagues once again in 2012.

11. Houston Astros

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter J.D. Martinez R 525 .281 .335 .414 5 2
Reserve Jason Bourgeois R 100 .273 .311 .351 2 0.5
Reserve Jack Cust L 75 .235 .357 .415 -1 0.5

J.D. Martinez — a 20th-round selection out of Nova Southeastern University in the 2009 Draft — is not only projected to start at the major league level this upcoming season, but is also projected to be a league-average left fielder. His power numbers may not be off the charts. His on-base percentage may not be phenomenal. J.D. Martinez, however, projects to be solid in every aspect of his game. His value jumps up a notch when including the defensive numbers, as well.

Bougeois will split time in center and in left this upcoming season. His production at the plate is limited due to a lack of power and a low walk rate, but his speed and defensive aptitude help make up for those shortcomings. It will also be interesting to see what the Astros do with Jack Cust. His ZiPS projections are in line with what we have come to expect: huge power, huge walk rate, little contact. That still has value, but it becomes rather limited once realizing that the vast majority of plate appearances in left field will be given to Martinez and very little remains for Cust.

10. Washington Nationals

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Michael Morse R 600 .273 .331 .475 -8 3
Reserve Rick Ankiel L 75 .231 .293 .386    
Reserve Mark DeRosa R 25 .244 .300 .277    

Morse broke onto the scene for the Nationals in 2011, hitting .303/.360/.550 with 31 home runs in 575 plate appearances. ZiPS sees the 30-year-old regressing a bit in all categories, but still being well above-average at the plate. Morse suffers from the same limitations that have dogged both Morrison and Quentin, though Morse is projected to hit for more power. I also allotted him more plate appearances, which accounts for the extra win given to him in the rankings.

Many national writers have talked up Rick Ankiel over the past two weeks. They say he appears more comfortable, more calm. While it’s certainly good to hear Ankiel feels better in his surroundings, he will probably spend more time in center field than he will in left field — both because Morse has locked down the position and Roger Bernadina should not produce enough at the plate to garner 500 plate appearances at this level. DeRosa spent the 2011 season in the Giants organization. He remains versatile with the glove and can get the bat on the baseball, but the power is gone. ZiPS reflects that, too.

9. Tampa Bay Rays

Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Desmond Jennings R 550 .259 .339 .392 7 2.5
Sam Fuld L 150 .245 .322 .348 7 1

This will be the first full season of Desmond Jennings, and it appears that he will mainly patrol left field for the Rays. The +2.5 WAR for Jennings is admittedly conservative based upon his ZiPS projections, though the projections do expect him to regress in his on-base percentage and slugging numbers. He was worth +2.4 wins last season in roughly 300 plate appearances. With decreased power and a bit lower OBP, he will likely be in the +2.5 to +3.0 WAR range. I opted to be on the conservative side, but the difference between +2.5 wins and +3.0 wins is rather insignificant over the course of a season, anyway.

Sam Fuld endeared himself to baseball fans across the country, sprinting and sprawling across the entire Rays’ outfield. His offensive numbers should come back to earth this season. Defensively, though, he still provides significant value to a big league club. Expect him to see time at all three outfield positions at some point this season, but the majority of his time will likely be spent in left and center.

8. Boston Red Sox

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Carl Crawford L 550 .282 .325 .448 7 3
Reserve Ryan Sweeney L 75 .282 .341 .385 2 0.5
Reserve Cody Ross R 75 .254 .319 .426 -1  

Crawford will likely miss Opening Day with a wrist injury. He is projected to bounce back from his below-average 2011 season, hitting for more power and a better batting average overall. His above-average defense in left field also helps bolster his overall projected WAR for the season. Of course, it’s conceivable that Crawford could bounce back in a big way and compile a four-win season or better, just as he has done five times in his career already.

The Red Sox also have Ryan Sweeney, who should get the majority of his plate appearances in right field. He should provide some depth and a decent bat in left field early in the season as the team waits for Crawford to come back from injury. Ross — who was seeking a three-year deal at one point — carries the occasional pop in his bat, but is mostly a reserve outfielder at this point in his career without much value to the positional rankings overall.

7. Arizona Diamondbacks

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Jason Kubel L 450 .277 .342 .487 -7 2
Reserve Gerardo Parra L 250 .279 .336 .411 8 1.5

The Jason Kubel signing was one of the more unexpected agreements of the offseason. Not because Kubel is a poor major league baseball player, but because the Diamondbacks already had Gerardo Parra — a young outfielder who just won the Gold Glove and was worth +2.8 wins in 2011. The addition of Kubel upgrades the power and overall production with the bat in left field, which will undoubtedly augment the team’s overall production from left field. Parra should still see plenty of time in left field, too, helping lessen the impact of adding Kubel’s defense to the team outfield as a whole.

6. Colorado Rockies

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Carlos Gonzalez L 550 .294 .352 .521 1 4
Reserve Tyler Colvin L 125 .245 .286 .451 1 0.5
Reserve Eric Young Jr. S 25 .258 .339 .358 -1  

The Rockies’ left field situation was harder to project than originally thought because Carlos Gonzalez routinely plays all three positions in the outfield. With the addition of Michael Cuddyer in right field and the emergence of Dexter Fowler as an everyday player, however, CarGo should play almost exclusively in left field. Still, to be on the safe side, his plate appearances in left field were adjusted to allow a modest amount of starts at other outfield positions. In terms of his offensive abilities, the young man is a stud. He hits for average, draws some walks, and hits for power. ZiPS projects CarGo to closely mirror his 2011 numbers this upcoming season.

Colvin came to the Rockies in the Ian Stewart trade. He has always been a fringy player in the big leagues, but everything has not clicked for a prolonged period of time in which he has been able to establish himself in the league. ZiPS does not think 2012 will be that season, either. Young Jr. does not project to do enough with the bat or in the field to be truly impactful to the Rockies’ 2012 production in left field.

5. Texas Rangers

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Josh Hamilton L 450 .289 .342 .497 4 3.5
Reserve David Murphy L 200 .269 .328 .422 2 1
Reserve Craig Gentry R 50 .247 .309 .334 8  

Hamilton will likely see some time in center field this season. Due to his injury history and age profile, though, he should garner the vast majority of his plate appearances this season in left field. He will continue to provide plus-defense in left and will be above-average at the plate. ZiPS foresees Hamilton regressing in his slugging percentage and in his overall power output, which should lessen his value over the course of the year. Perhaps ZiPS believes Hamilton has reached the peak of his career and will now begin his gradual decline, which is not out of the question. He will turn 31-years-old this year, after all.

Murphy should continue to be an extremely useful fourth outfielder. His .319 wOBA was roughly league-average in left field last season. ZiPS projects improvement from him across the board, which should help him to build upon his +1.1 WAR from 2011. He is also projected to be better-than-average defensively. That should be yet another improvement from his UZR was -3.7 last season. Gentry can be a plus-defensive reserve, as well, though the majority of his time will probably be in center field.

4. Kansas City Royals

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Alex Gordon L 650 .278 .358 .464 5 5
Reserve Mitch Maier L 50 .246 .324 .353    

The Royals finally saw the Alex Gordon they thought they were drafting with the second-pick of the 2005 Draft. He is projected to continue that success this upcoming season and solidify himself as one of the best left fielders in all of baseball. The offensive numbers are expected to dip a bit, though they will remain well above-average and be bouyed by good defense. He should help anchor an exciting Royals batting order and is one of the favorites to win the Silver Slugger for left field.

Maier should not see much time in left field. He should see many more starts in center field, as the organization will be transitioning from Melky Cabrera to Lorenzo Cain, and should split the remainder of his time being the primary reserve outfielder for both corner outfield positions. His reputation is that his defense is above-average at all three positions in the outfield. It does not project to matter in left field, though, as Alex Gordon will receive as many plate appearances as he can physically handle.

3. New York Yankees

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Brett Gardner L 625 .260 .352 .370 18 5
Reserve Andruw Jones R 75 .234 .335 .455 1 0.5

Gardner does not profile as a traditional left fielder, yet he will be the main reason the Yankees have elite production from left field. His main value comes from his ability to draw a significant number of walks, his speed on the base paths, as well as his plus-plus defense in the outfield. The fan UZR projects Gardner to be worth almost two wins with his glove alone. That is crazy for a left fielder. He should not hit for much power — as is traditionally thought of as necessary for the position — but he more than makes up for it with plus secondary skills.

Andruw Jones is not the player he once was, but still possesses power in his swing, a good eye, and average defensive skills. As a fourth outfielder, those attributes are extremely desirable. Jones should not see much time in left field this year. That is largely due to Gardner putting up five-or-six win seasons, though, and not significant deficiencies in Jones’ game as a reserve outfielder. He provides pop off the bench and can capably handle multiple offensive positions if an unforeseen injury occurs.

2. St. Louis Cardinals

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Matt Holliday R 600 .288 .371 .484 2 5.5
Reserve Allen Craig R 75 .276 .329 .454   0.5
Reserve Erik Komatsu L 25 .254 .328 .350    

The number one and number two rankings in this exercise are largely interchangable. Matt Holliday has been overshadowed since joining the Cardinals due to the presence of Albert Pujols, despite consistently producing huge numbers in left field. ZiPS projects another five-or-six win season from the slugger, which would make six-consecutive five-plus win seasons. The power numbers are not as prestigious as they were with the Colorado Rockies, but he has continued to pound out 20-plus home run seasons with the Cardinals. As a general manager, you can safely bank on 20-plus home runs and a five-plus win season from Holliday and rarely be disappointed … or would have to go back to 2006 to be disappointed.

Allen Craig made a name for himself in the postseason. He profiles a bit like a bat without a legitimate home on defense, but he should float around the Cardinals’ infield and outfield in order to take advantage of his production at the plate. ZiPS still likes for him to hit for power and average. Craig is still recovering from an injury this spring, though, so Rule 5 draft pick Erik Komatsu could see a handful of plate appearances.

1. Milwaukee Brewers

Role Player Bats PA ZiPs BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG Fielding WAR
Starter Ryan Braun R 650 .296 .360 .525 -5 6
Reserve Norichika Aoki L 50 .289 .338 .393    

Appeal discussions aside, Ryan Braun and the Milwaukee Brewers deserve to be number one on this list. Braun compiled a +7.9 win season in 2011 and is projected to still have the best offensive season for a left fielder, despite the fact that ZiPS calls for declines in all three statistical categories. The only part of his game that keeps him from being head-and-shoulders better than Matt Holliday and the crew in St. Louis is the glove. The results have improved over each of the past three seasons — so perhaps the fan UZR should be adjusted to reflect further improvement — but it still projects to be below average overall.

Aoki comes to the Brewers from Japan and brings an intriguing skill set. His potential impact will likely come in right field, however. He also could see increased plate appearances if Braun comes down with an injury, though Braun has had at least 600 plate appearances in each of the past four seasons. The overall production from left field will fall squarely on the shoulders of Ryan Braun, which is exactly where the organization wants it to be.

J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).

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11 years ago

Belt won’t play right field, if he gets playing time out there it will be in left.

11 years ago
Reply to  Mike

He says he’s more comfortable in right then in left, because that’s where he played in H.S. He’s got the arm to be a good RF, but I don’t know about the range. RF at AT&T is pretty enormous..

11 years ago
Reply to  Mike

You are correct, the writer is wrong.
The Giants have made it clear that their backup OF is Aubrey Huff (with Gregor Blanco having an outside chance) and that if Belt plays a position regularly, it will be 1B.
Although it is possible that the Giants may come to their senses and change that stance, until they do, they should be ranked lower both here and in RF than they are in this series.

11 years ago
Reply to  Mike

Belt is not helping the Giants. Gerardo Parra a 24 year old, at $450k should be traded for to get help in the OF —Parra a young outfielder who just won the Gold Glove and was worth +2.8 wins in 2011 is not appreciated by the D’backs, who don’t like Latino players.