Left Field Is A Platoon Because Most Left Fields Are Platoons

One day we’re just going to up and rename this site “Too Many Outfielders,” because we’ve been talking about it for literally years. You’d have thought the trade that sent Matt Kemp south would have cleared things up, but, nope: There’s still Andre Ethier and Joc Pederson and Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig and Scott Van Slyke and Enrique Hernandez and inexplicably Alex Guerrero and now Trayce Thompson and what the hell, I think I see Reggie Smith, Shawn Green, & Ron Fairly being fitted for uniforms, too.

Anyway, we know that Pederson (CF) & Puig (RF) are getting the first cracks to reprove themselves at those positions. Beyond that, Ken Gurnick made a very valid observation that left field is still a big pile of stew:

Last year for the Dodgers, left field became the position that nobody could keep, and not much has changed since. Eight players started there in 2015 — the most of any of the eight positions — and most of those players are returning in 2016, with no clear starter going into Spring Training and possibly none coming out of it.

Carl Crawford started the most games in left field for the Dodgers last year, but his 42 starts were the fewest for a club leader at the position since 1998. Andre Ethier was next with 38 starts, and Ethier’s bounce-back season would seemingly give him the edge in a playing-time scramble that last year included Scott Van Slyke, (31 starts), Alex Guerrero (27), Justin Ruggiano (13), Enrique Hernandez (5), Chris Heisey (3) and Scott Schebler (3).

It’s true. It’s a crowded situation where all the pieces don’t really fit together, particularly Crawford and Ethier, since both are lefties who should never, ever face other lefties. It’s not ideal, even when I’m higher on Crawford (109 wRC+ as a Dodger, not to mention some playoff heroics) than most. But there’s a difference between “not ideal,” and “bad,” right?

A few weeks ago, August Fagerstrom caught my eye with a look at 2016’s best platoon situations, by the projections:

Team Pos vsR vsR wRC+ vsL RH_wRC+ wRC+ Fld WAR
NYM 2B Neil Walker 119 Wilmer Flores 110 116 1.1 3.5
BOS OF Jackie Bradley Jr. 103 Chris Young 112 106 2.8 3.3
STL 2B Kolten Wong 101 Jedd Gyorko 115 106 0.8 3.1
LAD LF Andre Ethier 122 Scott Van Slyke 121 122 -7.1 2.9
NYM OF Michael Conforto 116 Juan Lagares 92 107 2.0 2.9

His methodology was “to account for roughly two-thirds of baseball pitchers throwing right-handed, I assigned 67% of the playing time to the left-handed batter, and 33% to the righty,” and out of 40-something platoon situations, the Dodgers left fielders come out looking pretty good. This sort of goes back to a discussion we’ve had here for years; Ethier’s nice 2015 wasn’t unrelated to the fact that he faced fewer lefties than ever. If he’d played every single day, he’d have been less valuable. It’s all but indisputable. It’s not about needing more time; it’s just not a skill he has.

Last year, Dodger left fielders had 657 plate appearances at the position. To think that ends up something like 400 Ethier, 200 Van Slyke, and 50+ assorted other bench pieces (with both Ethier and Van Slyke picking up a few extras in RF or as PH), well, that’s not bad. That seems average at worst for the position, and as the projections above show, potentially above-average. (FanGraphs has them as the No. 9 LF combo, and that doesn’t even include platoon splits.)

Of course, that doesn’t solve the Crawford issue. It’s hard to find a way for this all to fit together, especially until Guerrero is moved. Then again, as we’ve learned time and time and time again, these things solve themselves. It’s not hard at all to see Pederson failing to rebound from his poor second half. Puig is anyone’s guess. Another Crawford injury seems all but guaranteed at some point. Thompson has minor league options. Like the rotation, the lack of star power may be made up for with tons of depth.

If that’s not exciting because there’s no obvious starter like an Alex Gordon, Michael Conforto, or Justin Upton, that’s understandable. That said, it’s also worth noting, there’s just not that many starting LF any longer. It’s become a position of platoons and fill-ins.

Seriously, though. Last year, there were 23 players with 400 plate appearances in center field. There were 20 in right field. There were just 10 in left, and that number may even decrease now that Yoenis Cespedes is playing center in New York and Michael Brantley will miss time due to injury. This is just what the position is like these days.

This is subject to change at any point, of course. A trade seemingly has to come. Of course, we’ve been saying that for years. For now, the collection of misshapen parts in left field actually seems like it could be better than you’d think.

About Mike Petriello

Mike writes about lots of baseball in lots of places, and right now that place is MLB.com.