Compiling a list of The Nine best left fielders proved interesting this season because so many of the players on this list were not full time left fielders last season. By my count, three or four of the top nine spent time at a different position in 2012 and as of this publication, they are not all 100% locks to play left field. If you’re reading this during the season and are like, “Hey, #1 plays centerfield!” you might be right. Please take the positionality of the outfielders with a grain of salt.
That said, this was a very deep list. Apologies to many who didn’t make the cut. Prove me wrong and end up on next year’s list.
9. Curtis Granderson/Brett Gardner (Yankees)
Now it may seem strange to have the ninth spot go to two players, but I’m just not sure which Yankee is going to be in left field this season and either one would fit right here on my list, so it’s both of them. Whichever plays there, lands here. Granderson hits for power, but Gardner is much better at getting on base and plays a much better defense. Both players have great aspects of their games and both have weaknesses.
8. Yoenis Cespedes (Athletics)
Cespedes hit nicely in 2012, but missed 33 games and played below average defense. It’s hard to be sure about those flaws because we don’t have any great data from his time playing in Cuba, but he has all the necessary tools to excel in the majors. My hesitation with him is merely that I don’t have nearly as much information about him as I do for everyone else on the list. If he repeats his 2012, he’ll move up the list quickly.
7. Carlos Gonzalez (Rockies)
CarGo’s place on this list is really a testament to his contemporaries rather than a knock on him. He’s on base a lot and hits for power to go along with some good baserunning chops. His defense is something of an open question because certain people love it and certain people hate it. Gonzalez gets help from his park to some degree, so that will cost him just a spot or so on the list. Great player, but not a top five left fielder for 2013.
6. Justin Upton (Braves)
Upton still has his prime ahead of him and is moving to the Braves and left field to play with his brother, but he also had a rough season in 2012 compared to a great 2011. Most people see the talent and expect great things, but he also seems to have developed the reputation as an underperformer. The change of scenery should be good for him because his coaching staff and front office won’t be looking to trade him every day. A good season for Upton is ahead, but not a great one.
5. Matt Holliday (Cardinals)
Holliday is a great and consistent offensive performer and is just starting to slow down defensively at 33. He’s the centerpiece of a great lineup and hasn’t been worth fewer than 4 WAR since 2006. The ceiling might be lower than Upton, but the floor is higher.
4. Alex Gordon (Royals)
Gordon took a while to arrive relative to expectations, but he finally did in 2011 and followed it with a great 2012. He’s a gold glove defender in left and does everything well. Power, speed, and discipline mix nicely in Gordon and for my money, after Ben Zobrist, is probably baseball’s most underrated player. The Royals might not have enough to contend this year, but they have a star in left.
3. Bryce Harper (Nationals)
Harper is another player moving to left this season, and he’s doing it on baseball’s best team. He had a great season for a teenager at 19 and another year under his belt should only make him better. Harper is often referred to as a generational talent, but even if he isn’t Mantle or Mays, a single step forward from last season should be enough to put him near the top of this list. Harper does everything well and should be at the top of this list for years to come.
2. Ryan Braun (Brewers)
Ryan Braun is arguably baseball’s best all-around player. He is an MVP at the plate, runs the bases well, and is consistently improving his defense in left. He’s entering his prime despite having a collection of elite seasons already under his belt and has never missed more than twelve games in a season in five and a half big league seasons. The fact that Braun is second on this list despite that resume tells you something about the man ahead of him.
1. Mike Trout (Angels)
Mike Trout had an all-time great season at 20. The guys who do that, tend to be all-time greats. He hit for power and average, ran the bases as well as anyone in the game, and was among the very best defensive centerfielders in the sport. He was, by far, the best player in the league in 2012. That performance is not something you can easily duplicate, but even 75% of what he was last season would be enough to challenge Braun for first on this list. If Trout was half as good as he was last season, he would still be a perennial all-star. Mike Trout might not be the best player in the league for years to come, but it’s hard not to dream on his talent and get caught up in his 2012 season. Lost in this love letter to Trout is that there is a player on the Angels who is good enough on defense that he is pushing Trout to left in 2013; Peter Bourjos. Trout is the best left fielder for 2013 only because there is someone on his team who is a better defensive centerfielder than he is. Pretty amazing.
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