American League Left Fielders And The Vortex Of Yuck

DETROIT, MI: Left Fielder Brennan Boesch #26 of the Detroit Tigers is called out on strikes on a half swing by Home Plate Umpire Mike Winters during a MLB game against the Seattle Mariners at Comerica Park. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

The defensive spectrum moves from easiest position to field (DH) to the toughest (C), and the idea is that it should be easier to find a good-hitting DH than a good-hitting first baseman, and so on. The traditional spectrum:

Designated hitter
First baseman
Left fielder
Right fielder
Third baseman
Center fielder
Second baseman
Shortstop
Catcher

That’s the idea, anyway, and it's usually pretty close to what actually happens. The 2010 OPS rankings by position in the AL:

1. RF - .791
2. 1B - .788
3. LF - .769
4. DH - .758
5. 3B - .729
6. CF - .725
7. 2B - .719
8. C - .686
9. SS - .669

The top four are clumped together and shuffled a little, but for the most part, those rankings were pretty close to what were expected.

Now the same rankings for the AL in 2011, through June 14th:

1. 1B - .795
2. RF - .762
3. DH - 756
4. CF - .735
5. SS - .705
6. 3B - .683
7. C - .681
8. 2B - .676
9. LF - .669

Notes:

  • Left fielders in the AL have been collectively terrible;
  • Left fielders are usually where you can stick an iffy fielder in order to get a good bat in the lineup;
  • This has not been happening in 2011;
  • Because left fielders in the AL have been collectively terrible;
  • If you could print this article out, roll it up, and give the AL left fielders a whack on the nose while shouting, "No! NO! BAD left fielders!", that’d be a huge help.

It’s still June, so there are certainly sample-size issues that could correct themselves by October. But, wow. The average American League left fielder is the worst hitter in his lineup -- the equivalent of a shortstop in 2010. Where are your Manny Ramirezes, your Pat Burrells, your Ryan Brauns, yearning to clank (and rake) free? The left fielders with the most starts at their position for each AL team:

Carl Crawford (BOS) - .243/.276/.388, 81 OPS+
Brett Gardner (NYY) - .282/.363/.426, 113 OPS+
Sam Fuld (TAM) - .228/.279/.345, 78 OPS+
Corey Patterson (TOR) - .278/.308/.422, 100 OPS+
Luke Scott (BAL) - .251/.332/.455, 117 OPS+
Ryan Raburn (DET) - .203/.236/.323, 56 OPS+
Austin Kearns (CLE) - .195/.290/.280, 64 OPS+
Juan Pierre (CHW) - .259/.324/.304, 75 OPS+
Alex Gordon (KCR) - .283/.350/.457, 126 OPS+
Delmon Young (MIN) - .246/.272/.316, 63 OPS+
David Murphy (TEX) - .242/.307/.333, 75 OPS+
Milton Bradley (SEA) - .218/.313/.356, 92 OPS+
Vernon Wells (LAA) - .192/.235/.329, 59 OPS+
Josh Willingham (OAK) - .234/.313/.417, 102 OPS+

Brett Gardner: offensive juggernaut.

Those numbers include time at other positions (such as Luke Scott at first) but they give you an idea of the severity of the suck. The NL isn't having the same problem. The names up there will change as the season goes on -- Kearns has already lost most of his starting time to a) Grady Sizemore being healthy, and b) hitting like Austin Kearns, while Milton Bradley was traded to Forced Retirement for a Player to Be Named Later.

But it’s still really impressive, how bad left fielders have been this season in the AL. I hope they’re catching the ball at least.

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