Where Does Your Second-Best Outfielder Belong?

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - APRIL 03: Outfielder Sam Fuld #5 of the Tampa Bay Rays catches a ball against the Baltimore Orioles during the game at Tropicana Field on April 3, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

Interesting piece from Howard Medgal on Mets manager Terry Collins' apparent preference to put his better corner outfielders in left field rather than right. Megdal:

My primary question, and one I plan to ask Terry Collins the next time I see him, is why he seems to value left field defense so much more than right field defense. The first nine games have provided a window into his view of both. Of the nine games in right field so far, Carlos Beltran started six of them. On his three days off, Lucas Duda got the call each time. In left field, without Jason Bay around, Willie Harris started six times, Scott Hairston twice, and Lucas Duda once.

--snip--

To be clear, I'm not saying Collins necessarily has this preference, and if he does, he may have reasons why. But the use of his defensive resources so far have favored left field over right field, an unorthodox choice. And yesterday, it helped cost the Mets an eighth-inning lead.

Yes, it's unorthodox. Most managers put the guy with the best arm in right field, regardless of his range, and Lonnie Smith (or Lucas Duda) in left field where he can't hurt the team as much.

Theoretically, anyway. I'm on a bus at the moment and can't check any of my books, but my memory suggests that more balls are hit to left field than to right, for the simple reason that there are more right-handed batters than left-handed, and players pull the ball more often than go the other way.*

* Feel free to refute this argument if you've got the evidence at hand, since I don't.

Now, if more balls are hit to left field than right, wouldn't you rather place your second-best outfielder there? It certainly makes sense to have a strong arm in right field, but it also makes sense (to me, in the immediate absence of data) to have some range in left field. And if your rangiest corner outfielder doesn't throw as well as the other guy? Well, that makes filling out the lineup card all that much easier.

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