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Best Left Fielders of 2008

Other positions:  1B | 2B | SS | 3B | DH | CF | RF | CA

Like I did last year, I'm going to spend the few two weeks discussing the top ten players at each position based on 2008 performances.  This year I'm using Justin's stats, which have all the nice features of the home-brewed stats I calculated last year, but with the added benefit of making Justin do all the work:

  • BaseRuns-derived offensive linear weights, with park adjustments.
  • League-adjusted replacement-level, since AL pitching is stronger than NL pitching.
  • Proper position adjustments using the CA - SS - 2B/3B/CF - LF/RF - 1B - DH spectrum.
  • Combined STATS and BIS zone ratings converted to runs to measure fielding.

Players are listed at the position they played the most, but the defensive numbers from all positions are included, and players' contributions to multiple teams are combined. For the top ten players at each position, I've listed their offensive contribution above replacement level and their defensive contribution (position adjustment plus fielding relative to position) compared to average.  Position and fielding are broken out in the table at the end.  If you add offense plus position, you'll get a number with the same use as VORP, but better.

To help you put the Total Value number in perspective, here are some benchmarks given a full season of playing time:

  • League-average is about 20 runs above replacement.
  • The cut-off for true All-Stars is in the 40 run range.
  • Top 5 MVP candidates are worth at least 70 runs above replacement.
  • MVP winners have been in the 90-100 run range the past few years.

Without further ado, here are the top ten left fielders of 2008 (2007 numbers here):

10. Jack Cust (40 off, -11 def, 30 tot) -- You want to know why Billy Beane's reputation as a phenomenal GM is deserved and not just a results of Michael Lewis' extended fluff piece?  Look no further than Cust, who was freely available to multiple teams for multiple years.  Sure, his batting average still stinks, but all those walks and homers matter, too.

This is as good of a spot as any to mention one of the only flaws in Justin's Total Value system.  Position adjustments are calculated by weighting the time spent by each player at each position by the position's value on the defensive spectrum.  But the data doesn't provide playing time at DH, meaning players who are considered non-DHs but spent significant time at DH are overrated (no penalty for DH time.)  And players listed as DHs might be underrated because they get a full DH penalty plus likely poor fielding ratings.  With the data available, there's no good workaround, except manually.

For example, Cust receives only a 3 run penalty for his position when it really should be more like a dozen run penalty.  Oh well, we can deal with that.  If you kick Cust out of the top ten (which we probably should) he's replaced by Carlos Lee at 26 total runs above replacement.  Once again, Lee wasn't even as valuable as Mark Ellis.

9. Pat Burrell (37 off, -7 def, 30 tot) -- Burrell was an early-season MVP candidate, and I could still make a half-hearted argument for him as a top-ten candidate using Win Probability Added.  The key in all of this is that somehow he managed to rate as a league-average corner outfielder this year.  If only that mattered on the free agent market...

8. Jason Bay (51 off, -33 def, 32 tot) -- No, that defensive rating is not a typo.  He was -11 runs with the Pirates and -15 runs with the Red Sox.  I'm guessing there are still issues with Fenway (one reason Dewan's +/- is better than the regular BIS zone rating), but given Bay's track record of league-average defense, that Pirates number also seems really low, especially for only four months.  Notice that his overall rating is higher than the sum of his offense plus defense -- that's because Justin's stats cap the defensive penalty on the low end at whatever a full-time DH would deserve, for better or worse.

7. David DeJesus (32 off, 0 def, 32 tot) -- I'm surprised to see that DeJesus didn't rate better as a left fielder considering he tended to rate above-average in center field, but maybe the Royals saw this coming.  Or maybe not, considering they also thought Joey Gathright was deserving of a full time role.

6. Willie Harris (17 off, 15 def, 32 tot) -- I might be blowing the surprise you'll find at #5 after the jump, but Harris was only a small step behind possible AL MVP Carlos Quentin in total production.  Sure, he trailed by 35 runs offensively, but he also led Quentin by 30 runs in the field.

5. Carlos J Quentin (52 off, -15 def, 37 tot) -- Sorry, I've spent too much time writing about this guy this year.  He's good, but overrated.  Get over it.

4. Johnny Damon (46 off, -4 def, 42 tot) -- He might not be a plus center fielder any more, but that's still his most valuable position to the Yankees.  I find it interesting that even thought Damon has excellent speed, his least productive year of the past three came with his highest ground ball rate -- Damon does hit his fair share of home runs and he needs to get the ball to the gap to create more doubles and triples.

3. Ryan J Braun (43 off, 2 def, 45 tot) -- Ryan Braun, defensive asset?  It was obvious left field was a better fit for his skills, but who knew he'd be this good?  If he could bump his OBP up .050 points by taking a walk now and then, he'd be one of the best ten players in the game.

2. Matt T Holliday (52 off, 2 def, 54 tot) -- Holliday held the number one spot last year and he did pretty well for himself again this year, even though the media seemed to forget about him.  Great bat, good glove, and a potential blockbuster trade target next July.  If you give the next guy full credit for his defensive shortcomings, Holliday's moves up into a tie.

1. Manny Ramirez (73 off, -19 def, 56 tot) -- Manny rated as -2 runs in left field after joining the Dodgers.  Might the story of 2008 be that he's a much more valuable fielder than us statheads have assumed?  If he creates seven more wins than replacement with his bat again, nobody's going to care if he fields in a skirt.

Now for the top twenty-five most productive left fielders in 2008: 

Rank Player Off Pos Field Total
1 Manny Ramirez 73 -5 -14 56
2 Matt T Holliday 52 -6 8 54
3 Ryan J Braun 43 -7 9 45
4 Johnny Damon 46 -3 -1 42
5 Carlos J Quentin 52 -6 -9 37
6 Willie Harris 17 -2 18 32
7 David DeJesus 32 -2 2 32
8 Jason Bay 51 -7 -26 32
9 Pat Burrell 37 -6 -1 30
10 Jack Cust 40 -3 -7 30
11 Carlos Lee 40 -5 -9 26
12 Fred D Lewis 24 -5 5 24
13 Adam Dunn 32 -5 -3 24
14 Raul Ibanez 44 -7 -17 24
15 Alfonso Soriano 30 -5 -3 23
16 Josh D Willingham 24 -5 1 21
17 Luke B Scott 26 -4 -1 20
18 Chase Headley 15 -4 8 19
19 Conor S Jackson 29 -8 -2 19
20 Chris Dickerson 14 -1 4 17
21 Garret Anderson 20 -4 -1 16
22 Carl Crawford 13 -5 7 16
23 Omar Infante 10 0 4 14
24 Matthew Joyce 16 -3 1 13
25 Fernando Tatis 19 -3 -3 13

And the bottom five, including a candidate for the least productive player in all of MLB:

Player Off Pos Field Total
Wily Mo Pena -13 -2 2 -13
Matt Diaz -6 -2 -3 -10
Esteban German -1 -1 -6 -7
Nick L Stavinoha -6 0 0 -7
Jacque Jones -5 -1 0 -6
Rob Mackowiak -4 -1 -2 -6
So Taguchi -3 -1 -3 -6