2015 Fantasy BaseballFantasy Baseball

2015 Fantasy Baseball: The Fielding Chronicles — Left Fielders

Why should you read this article?

That’s the question everyone is asking themselves at this point. When you can get hard hitting offensive analysis all over the internet, why would you pay attention to fielding for your fantasy team? The simple answer is that you can’t contribute to anyone’s fantasy team as long as you’re sitting on the bench. Teams are becoming much more savvy about fielding and before too long a merely good hitter will find himself on the bench if he can’t field his position adequately.

This brings us to the outfield where teams aren’t so fanatical about fielding. You’ll notice a higher percentage of neutral and below average fielders in left than any other outfield position. There is a good reason for it. If one looks at the defensive fielding spectrum in terms of difficulty, you’ll see left field somewhere next to first base on the easy side of the ledger. That means that anyone that can swing a big stick will be put there eventually.

How does this fielding thing work?

Outfield is treated a little different than the other positions. We are combining all of the fielding numbers across the three outfield positions. We combine the innings and the defensive runs saved into one number. It should be obvious to point out that many of these outfielders suffered in center field or right field, so it looks like they are below average when they might actually serviceable.

For our purposes, we use the fielding bible system by John Dewan. It is updated daily at billjamesonline.com. While we do have some lag time from when the numbers were compiled for this article, considering the fact that we are looking at career numbers, the difference should be negligible. Dewan expresses the numbers in positive or negative defensive runs saved. That makes it easier to interpret than similar systems.

The three outfield slots are split up into zones. Every time a ball is hit into a fielder’s zone it is rated as either an easy, medium, or difficult play. Video scouts will measure the rate of a typical ball being successfully converted into an out. After all the plays are measured, a number of plays that are expected is established. If a player makes more than that number then he has a positive rating. If he has fewer plays than he has a negative rating.

The Elite

Innings DRS DRS/1000 2014
Alex Gordon 6318 +91 +14.40 +27
Brett Gardner 6226 +87 +13.97 +5
Starling Marte 2926 +39 +13.33 +9
Bryce Harper 3401 +26 +7.64 -1
Carl Crawford 12645 +70 +5.54 +1

There were some who thought that Alex Gordon should have been the MVP of the American League last season. That certainly was a progressive point of view given his pedestrian offensive numbers. The genesis of that thought came from the fact that he was so valuable defensively. A positive 27 runs is a ridiculous sum for an outfielder. Brett Gardner has been the only left fielder to compete with Gordon over the past few years in defensive production.

I didn’t buy into the Gordon as MVP talk when you consider how valuable Mike Trout has been over the past three years overall. However, Gordon was easily among the best five players in the American League last season. The trouble is that he may not even be among the best five left fielders offensively. That’s the trick on draft day. You have to look past the hype and evaluate a hitter on his merits as a hitter. At most spots it’s pretty easy, but with guys like Gordon and Gardner it can be difficult to separate the leather from the wood.

The Middle of the Pack

Innings DRS DRS/1000 2014
Christian Yelich 2025 +10 +4.94 +10
Coco Crisp 11250 +34 +3.02 -17
Curtis Granderson 11018 +29 +2.63 -3
Yoenis Cespedes 3340 +8 +2.40 +11
Carlos Gonzalez 6444 +13 +2.02 -5
Marlon Byrd 11452 +15 +1.31 +6
Colby Rasmus 6509 +7 +1.08 -7
Justin Upton 9054 +9 +0.99 0

Ironically, most of these players did not start off as left fielders. In fact, some of them are not playing left field exclusively now. Carlos Gonzalez is spending most of his time in right field these days, but the vast majority of his innings came in left field. Some of these guys (Coco Crisp, Curtis Granderson, and Colby Rasmus) have been centerfielders for the most part, but their current teams wanted to minimize the damage that their lack of range has caused. In some instances, it has improved their performance.

In particular, Yoenis Cespedes and Christian Yelich seemed to have found a home in left field according to their performances last season. That means that both can endure a bit of a slump (as Yelich has) and still get put on the lineup card on most nights. That is stark contrast to the guys on the next list.

The Trailers

Innings DRS DRS/1000 2014
Josh Hamilton 7312 -9 -1.23 -1
Matt Holliday 13362 -25 -1.87 0
Michael Brantley 5941 -12 -2.02 -3
Michael Saunders 4329 -11 -2.54 +5
Matt Joyce 4938 -14 -2.84 0
Melky Cabrera 10027 -31 -3.09 -6
Alejandro De Aza 4612 -18 -3.90 -2
Ben Revere 4315 -17 -3.94 -18
Chris Coghlan 4034 -50 -12.39 -15
Jonny Gomes 4956 -62 -12.51 -9

Chris Coghlan must have a private detective business on the side. He must have gotten pictures of several managers and general managers in compromising positions. That’s the only way to explain his continued presence on big league rosters. His career WAR sits at -0.3, but he has been a big fat -7.2 in terms of defensive WAR. You have to put up better offensive numbers than that to get regular playing time anywhere. He’s minus seven wins worse than a typical AAA regular corner outfielder. In other words, you could probably find a homeless guy that might turn out better.

Jonny Gomes is technically worse, but he has hit on occasion and that at least helps explain why some teams want to give him another chance. He is hanging on by a thread in Atlanta, but at he has power potential. The rest are fairly close to average, but again we see an example in Ben Revere of a guy that supposedly should be a positive impact fielder. He just can’t seem to cut it in center field and he doesn’t have the offense to stick in the corner outfield. The Phillies hope to deal him before the end of the season.

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