Historically, teams have commonly used left field to hide their defensively challenged power hitters because it is seen as one of the least taxing positions in the sport. And while that is still often the case today, the best left fielders are able to separate themselves from the one-dimensional sluggers with outstanding defense. In fact, some of the best fielding players in the league roam the left side of the outfield. Left field is certainly not the deepest position in baseball, but there are quite a few valuable and exciting players who call the position home.
10. Adam Duvall
After being shipped from the San Francisco Giants to the Cincinnati Reds in July 2015, Duvall burst onto the scene last season. In his first full season at age 27, he hit 23 home runs in the first half, participated in the Home Run Derby, and was named to the National League All-Star team. He struggles to get on base, and his production fell off considerably in the second half, but he still managed to hit 33 home runs, slug .498, and compile the second-most Defensive Runs Saved in the NL with 16.
Gardner’s bat has never been anything special, but the combination of his speed and defense has made him a very valuable player throughout his career. Now 33 years old, Gardner’s game hasn’t changed all that much. Over the last three seasons, Gardner swiped 57 bases and accumulated 8.5 Wins Above Replacement with around league average offense. In addition, he was awarded with his first Gold Glove last season, leading the American League with 12 DRS.
8. Alex Gordon
Alex Gordon has consistently been one of the best defenders in baseball since he entered the league, winning the Gold Glove each year from 2011-2014 and the Platinum Glove in 2014. However, his last couple of seasons have been marred by injuries, leading to the decline of both his offense and his defense. Come Opening Day, Gordon will be 33 years old, making it difficult to believe that he will return to the All-Star level that we came to expect from him.
7. Khris Davis
Last season, Davis emerged as one of the game’s most prolific power hitters. He slugged 42 home runs, and his .524 slugging percentage ranked third among left fielders while his 123 wRC+ (where 100 is league average) comes in fourth. He strikes out a ton, doesn’t walk much, and plays poor defense. But when you mash 42 home runs, it’s not hard to overlook your flaws. Davis is one of the strongest players in the league, and I’m not sure anyone crushes the ball quite like he does.
When healthy, Brantley has proven to be among the most talented hitters in the league. In 2014, he was worth 6.0 WAR and finished third in AL MVP voting, hitting .327 with an .890 OPS. Since then, injuries have prevented him from returning to that level, and he only appeared in 11 games last season. In addition, he underwent shoulder surgery last August, putting his return to the field even further in question. Brantley and his sweet swing have the potential to be much higher on this list, but he must prove he is healthy first. If he is able to do that, the 2016 AL Champion Cleveland Indians will become even more formidable.
5. Justin Upton
In his first season with the Detroit Tigers, Upton’s numbers were not pretty. He had his worst offensive season and finished with the third-most strikeouts in the AL. And while he did tie a career-high with 31 home runs, he also set a career-low with a .310 OBP. However, the poor numbers are mainly due to an abysmal first half in which he had an uninspiring .670 OPS. But he put those struggles behind him and came alive in the second half. In 68 games after the All-Star break, Upton had a .916 OPS and hit 22 home runs, which is why I am inclined to believe he will rebound with a productive 2017.
4. Ryan Braun
Over the last couple of seasons, Ryan Braun’s career has seen a bit of a renaissance. After back-to-back 30-30 seasons in 2011 and 2012, Braun served a suspension in 2013 for violating MLB’s drug policy and struggled to return to form once he returned. Braun’s best days are likely behind him, but since the start of 2015, he has hit 55 homers and stolen 40 bases. And his 131 wRC+ in that span ranks second among all left fielders. Braun’s career will forever be clouded by controversy, but that won’t stopp him from producing well into his thirties.
At just 25 years old, Yelich is one the best young players in the game, and he keeps getting better. He was great from 2013-2015, but he really broke out last season, setting career-highs in multiple categories. In 2016, he tripled his 2015 home run total, crushing 21 homers, and he increased his slugging percentage from .416 in 2015 to .483 last season. His impressive .376 OBP was also a new career high. On top of being one of the top hitting outfielders in the league, he is also a plus-defender, compiling 32 DRS since the start of 2014. The Miami Marlins have an exciting core of young position players, and Yelich may be the best of the crop. If Miami finds itself anywhere near the postseason within the foreseeable future, expect him to be at the forefront.
Marte continues to be one of the best-kept secrets in baseball. He steals bases, runs the bases extremely well, hits for average and power, and plays spectacular defense. Since the start of 2013, Marte has hit .292 with a 123 wRC+. Those offensive numbers alone would make him a very good player, but he also happens to be among the game’s premier base stealers and defenders. In that same span, he has stolen 148 bases, swiping at least 30 each season, while racking up 68 DRS, tied for fourth-most in all of baseball. Marte is truly one of the most talented all-around players in baseball and deserves so much more attention.
This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. In 2015, Céspedes was dealt to the New York Mets at the trade deadline and immediately captivated the city of New York with his electrifying style of play. In 57 games with the Mets in 2015, he hit .287 with 17 home runs and a .942 OPS, leading the team to its first World Series in over a decade. He was always an excellent player with the Oakland A’s, Boston Red Sox, and Tigers, but he truly blossomed into a superstar once he joined the Mets. Over the last two years, his 135 wRC+ is tops among left fielders and his 66 homers rank second. Out of necessity, he has spent a lot of time in center field with New York, but he will now be back in left field full-time, where he plays fantastic defense and is able to put his cannon of an arm on full display. He missed some time due to injury last season, but Céspedes remains the game’s best left fielder.