2020 MLB Top Ten: Left Fielders

We’ve officially analyzed the top ten players at each infield position heading into the 2020 MLB season, so now, it’s time to shift to the outfield. We’ll start in left field, which has seen a recent surge in talent thanks to the performances of a few rookies last season, while others had major breakout seasons. It’s also a position that has a lot of strong offensive producers, but at the cost of defense, so overall, this was a very interesting list to put together. So, who will be the top ten left fielders in 2020? Let’s take a closer look.

NOTE: Designated hitters (Giancarlo Stanton and JD Martinez) not considered, players considered are projected to play left field this season.

Stats Used (Via Baseball Savant and Fangraphs):

wrc+= Weighted Runs Created Plus; 100 is league-average (Ex: A player with a 111 wrc+ is 11% better than league average offensively, while a player with a 93 wrc+ is 7% worse)

xwOBA= Expected Weighted On Base Average

xSLG= Expected Slugging Percentage

drs= Defensive Runs Saved

UZR= Ultimate Zone Rating

ISO= Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average)

OAA= Outs Above Average

WAR= We will use Fangraphs’ WAR

Before we get to the list, let’s look at the players who just missed the cut:

  • JD Davis (NYM) had an elite offensive season, posting a .383 xwOBA, but he was a liability defensively, and there ought to be concerned about his lack of track record heading into 2019.
  • Joc Pederson (LAA*) was worth 3 WAR last season, but he’s strictly a platoon player, and his expected statistics are much worse than the level he produced at last year.
  • Avisail Garcia (MIL) and David Peralta (ARI) are solid all-around players, but their inability to stand out in any one area does hurt their value.
  • Mike Tauchman (NYY) was excellent defensively last season, but his offensive production isn’t going to be sustained, and like Davis, he had no track record of success heading into last season.
  • Andrew Benintendi (BOS), AJ Pollock (LAD), and Justin Upton (LAA) are popular players, but their average offense doesn’t make up for their below-average defense.

#10: Andrew McCutchen, Philadelphia Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies v Milwaukee Brewers
Photo Cred: The Spun

Age: 33

2019 Rank: 7 (RF)

2018 Stats (155 Games): .255/.368/.424 121 wrc+ 2 drs -0.8 UZR -10 OAA 2.7 WAR

2019 Stats (59 Games): .256/.378/.457 120 wrc+ 2 drs 1.8 UZR -1 OAA 1.5 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .257/.379/.445 116 wrc+ 0 drs -1.3 UZR -6 OAA 2.4 WAR

After signing a three-year contract with the Phillies worth $50 million, Andrew McCutchen was expected to be the table-setter for a team with playoff aspirations. To his credit, he was performing those duties through June 2nd, where the 33-year-old tore his ACL. At the time, Philadelphia was in first place in the NL East, but after that, they stumbled down the stretch, finishing in fourth place with a sub-.500 record. Luckily for the team, McCutchen is expected to be ready for opening day, so he can expect him to play in 130 or so games this season. That’s a major boost for them, as even though the injury provides some uncertainty about his outlook moving forward, he’s still a very impactful contributor. Although he’s no longer the five-tool superstar he once was, McCutchen’s tremendous plate discipline has allowed him to have plenty of offensive value, as he’s posted an on-base percentage of .360 or better in each of the past three seasons. Plus, his sprint speed (28.8 ft/sec) still was in the 91st percentile last season, and is right on par with where it was during his prime seasons- he’s still a great athlete. In the end, it’s McCutchen’s defense that may be where he’s weakest at, but even then, his poor defensive metrics in 2018 may have come from playing right field at Oracle Park and its wide dimensions; he’s been roughly an average corner outfield defender since departing from the Giants. Now, I expect him to regress to below-average defensively, but still, he’s a lock to post an elite on-base percentage, and that in itself makes him valuable enough to maintain a spot on this list.

#9: Marcell Ozuna, Atlanta Braves

ozuna
Photo Cred: Bleacher Report

Age: 29

2019 Rank: 4

2018 Stats (148 Games): .280/.325/.433 107 wrc+ 8 drs 4 UZR -1 OAA 2.8 WAR

2019 Stats (130 Games): .243/.330/.474 110 wrc+ 2 drs 5.7 UZR -8 OAA 2.6 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .269/.356/.496 120 wrc+ 1 drs 4.2 UZR -6 OAA 3.2 WAR

Coming off an amazing 2017 season in which he posted a 143 wrc+ and 5 WAR for the Marlins, Marcell Ozuna was a hot commodity on the trade market before being acquired by the Cardinals. At the time, St.Louis likely saw him as a budding superstar capable of elevating the team’s performance, and although the team did make it to the NLCS this season, Ozuna’s two-year tenure with them has to be seen as a disappointment. After all, he barely compiled more WAR (5.4) in that two-year stretch than he did in 2017 on its own. One main issue with the 29-year-old was his decline in arm strength and defense, as he was a very poor defender in left field last season, and a shoulder injury has destroyed his ability to throw out runners on the bases. That’s put more pressure on him to produce offensively, but he’s been merely a slightly above-average hitter. Strangely, he’s been one of the league’s most unluckiest hitters in terms of wOBA/xwOBA gap, as he ranked in the 96th percentile in hard-hit rate. However, as MLB.Com’s Mike Petriello wrote in November, Ozuna may not actually be the elite hitter those numbers would suggest, and for complicated reasons, he can’t assume his wOBA will be any higher than .340. That’s fine, as he projects to be around a 3-WAR player, but those expecting Ozuna to get back to his 2017 form are missing the entire picture. Although he took a one-year deal with the Braves to boost his market, I’m only expecting slight improvements from the Dominican outfielder this season.

#8: Eloy Jimenez, Chicago White Sox

eloy
Photo Cred: ESPN

Age: 23

2019 Rank: N/A

2018 Stats: N/A

2019 Stats (122 Games): .267/.315/.513 116 wrc+ -11 drs -5.1 UZR -11 OAA 1.9 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .275/.323/.526 122 wrc+ -11 drs -4.6 UZR -10 OAA 2.9 WAR

Throughout his career, Eloy Jimenez was seen as a superstar prospect for the White Sox, as after being traded from the Cubs in a package for Jose Quintana, he dominated the minor leagues with his 80-grade raw power. Heck, even played a game in the majors, the White Sox signed him to a six-year contract with two club options, which at the time, and still now, looks like a steal for the team. The overall statistics from Jimenez’s first season – 116 wrc+, .349 xwOBA, and 1.9 WAR – aren’t particularly impressive, and are actually a bit underwhelming. However, I’m expecting a much better season from the 23-year-old. For starters, his 47.9% hard-hit rate was elite (92nd percentile), and if he can improve on his 9.5-degree launch angle, he’ll be able to hit for more power in the future. Plus, he was clearly bothered at the end of July and August with a hip injury, which hurt his offensive numbers. Therefore, when he was seemingly healthy in September, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he produced at an extraordinary level (184 wrc+), as his hard-hit percentage skyrocketed in that month, per his rolling states charts on Baseball Savant. So, if I’m so confident that Jimenez, despite his lackluster plate discipline and launch angle can be a high-end slugger, why does he rank just 8th on this list. Well, to be frank, he was simply putrid defensively in left field, and as a prospect, was seen as below-average in that area. Perhaps with his solid sprint speed (27.7 ft/sec, 70th percentile), he can develop to become an average defender, but until he does so, I see him as a power-centric outfielder, which does hurt his value. I’m really excited to see if Jimenez can make massive strides forward in his second season for a White Sox team looking to contend this season, but for now, this is the highest I can put him on this list.

#7: Mark Canha, Oakland A’s

Mark Canha
Photo Cred: The Mercury News

Age: 30

2019 Rank: N/A

2018 Stats (122 Games): .249/.328/.449 114 wrc+ -4 drs 1.4 UZR 0 OAA 2.1 WAR

2019 Stats (125 Games): .273/.396/.517 146 wrc+ -2 drs -2.1 UZR 3 OAA 4 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .254/.377/.472 130 wrc+ -4 drs -1.8 UZR 3 OAA 3.4 WAR

During his long tenure as the lead decision-maker of the Oakland A’s, Billy Beane has constantly found value where other teams can’t. In the 2014 Rule 5 draft, he selected outfielder Mark Canha, and although he didn’t provide much of an impact early on, he’s really found his place over the past two seasons, posting a combined 6.1 WAR. However, this past season is where it truly came together for Canha, as he improved in practically every category, and was a four-win player as a result. Most notably, his walk rate (13.5%), chase rate (25%), and hard-hit rate (41.1%) were significantly better, and with that, he was able to post a career-high 146 wrc+. Now, with a .362 xwOBA compared to a .386 wOBA, it can be expected that he takes a slight back in terms of production this season, but nevertheless, he’ll still be a well-above-average offensive threat. As for his defense, the 30-year-old will never be a world-beater in the outfielder, but he’s proven to be at least average defending his position, which is more than enough considering his offensive production. Even with expected regression for the upcoming season, Canha is a mid 3 WAR player, and will be a key impact player for an A’s team looking to get back to the postseason for the third straight season.

#6: Kyle Schwarber, Chicago Cubs

schwarber
Photo Cred: Bleed Cubbie Blue

Age: 26

2019 Rank: N/A

2018 Stats (137 Games): .238/.356/.467 115 wrc+ 2 drs 9.8 UZR -8 OAA 3.2 WAR

2019 Stats (155 Games): .250/.339/.531 120 wrc+ -1 drs -0.9 UZR -10 OAA 2.6 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .255/.359/.516 124 wrc+ 0 drs 0 UZR -9 OAA 3.1 WAR

The Cubs have been in the press this season for mostly negative reasons, as they’ve been extremely quiet this offseason due to a payroll crunch, but despite that, they remain arguably the favorites to win the NL Central. Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Javier Baez will draw most of the attention, but quietly, there is another Theo Epstein acquisition that has gone under the radar. Kyle Schwarber was expected to be a superstar catcher when drafted fourth overall in 2014, but after suffering a brutal knee injury in 2016 and defensive questions at the position, he transitioned into an outfielder. The initial results weren’t pretty, as he posted a mediocre 1.7 WAR, but over the past two seasons, he’s become an important part of the team- he’s been worth a combined 5.8 WAR. The 26-year-old is never going to be a star defender in the outfield, and there are major disagreements about his defensive value based on his drs, UZR, and OAA, but nevertheless, he isn’t a liability. That’ll do the trick, as quietly, the former University of Indiana standout has become an excellent offensive producer. His xwOBA (.375) and xSLG (.553) last season were not only career-highs for him, but it shows that he underperformed compared to his actual numbers; when you rank in the 99th percentile with a 51.2% hard-hit rate, you deserve better. Plus, although his walk rate regressed last season, that was likely a fluke, considering his chase rate was roughly the same, and by increasing his launch angle, his raw power translated more into actual results. Schwarber’s inability to stick as a catcher may mean that Cubs fans always seem him as a disappointment, but he’s been far from that. Hopefully, with better luck this season, he can prove himself to be the tremendous player that he is, especially since his production peaked down the stretch. Rather than try to trade him, he’s a player Chicago should continue to have hit at the top of their lineup.

#5: Tommy Pham, San Diego Padres

pham
Photo Cred: DRaysBay

Age: 31

2019 Rank: 1

2018 Stats (137 Games): .275/.367/.464 130 wrc+ -2 drs -0.3 UZR 1 OAA 4.1 WAR

2019 Stats (145 Games): .273/.369/.450 121 wrc+ 1 drs 0.4 UZR -11 OAA 3.3 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .281/.377/.474 125 wrc+ 0 drs 0.1 UZR -5 OAA 3.6 WAR

Throughout his early career, Tommy Pham wasn’t regarded as much of a prospect at all- he was a 16th round pick in 2006, after all. However, something clicked for him as a 29-year-old; he burst onto the scene, posting a 6.2 WAR and a 149 wrc+. However, just one season later, the Cardinals traded him to the Rays, and this offseason, Tampa Bay traded him to the Padres. For whatever reason, the 31-year-old can’t seem to stick in one spot, which he’s probably used to as a former disregarded minor-leaguer; he’s always played with a major chip on his shoulder. In my opinion, that makes him a very likable player, but unfortunately, he’s experiencing some clear signs of regression as he heads into his age-32 season. Pham still hit the ball hard at a high rate in 2019 (44.8%), but certainly not as much as in 2018 (49.9%), and perhaps most concerningly, suffered an even greater decrease to an already troubling launch angle (5.1 degrees). Therefore, he’s not maximizing on his hard contact, which would explain the massive drop-off in his xSLG (.462). Plus, his OAA went from average to -11 in left field this past season, which is common for a player on the wrong side of 30. Yet, at the same time, I still think Pham will be a very productive player in San Diego. For all the concerns about him regressing with age, his sprint speed (28.7 ft/sec) hasn’t yet suffered, so there’s still plenty of hope he can get back to being at least an average corner outfield defender. As for his offense, he clearly struggled down the stretch as he played through multiple injuries, so with better health in 2020, he could get back to being a .380s xwOBA type of hitter. If that’s the case, then Pham will turn out to be a huge acquisition for a Padres team with serious aspirations, though as mentioned, that’s far from a lock. Regardless, how he performs this season will be an interesting storyline to closely monitor.

#4: Bryan Reynolds, Pittsburgh Pirates

reynolds
Photo Cred: The Athletic

Age: 25

2019 Rank: N/A

2018 Stats: N/A

2019 Stats (134 Games): .314/.377/.503 131 wrc+ 3 drs -3.5 UZR 2 OAA 3.2 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .300/.363/.481 119 wrc+ 4 drs -3.9 UZR 4 OAA 3.3 WAR

After a disastrous 2019 season, the Pirates appear to be heading towards a very painful rebuild under new general manager Ben Cherington, and they’ve started it by trading outfielder Starling Marte. However, it wasn’t all doom-and-gloom for Pittsburgh last season; Bryan Reynolds established himself as a building block for the future. The 25-year-old was the centerpiece of the trade that sent franchise icon Andrew McCutchen to the Giants in 2018, and with that, comes a lot of pressure to produce. However, if 2019 is any indication, Reynolds is already on his way to exceeding even the highest of those expectations. In 134 games, he posted a 3.2 WAR and 131 wrc+, and although he slightly overachieved his expected statistics, his xwOBA (.357) is still tremendous. Even if his .387 BABIP can’t be sustained, his pure hitting ability means he can probably maintain a BABIP in the .350s range, which is enough for him to have a wrc+ around 120. Plus, unlike some of the other players on this list, the Vanderbilt product also is a solid defender (3 drs, 2 OAA) in the outfield; he’s an all-around contributor. He may have never have been seen as a top prospect, but Reynolds has been a productive player since he was in college, and at this point, he’s the type of reliable player that can give Pirates fans hope for the future.

#3: Michael Brantley, Houston Astros

brantley
Photo Cred: ABC13 Houston

Age: 32

2019 Rank: 8

2018 Stats (143 Games): .309/.364/.468 124 wrc+ -3 drs 0.5 UZR -5 OAA 3.5 WAR

2019 Stats (148 Games): .311/.372/.503 133 wrc+ 8 drs 1.1 UZR -6 OAA 4.2 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .306/.367/.481 125 wrc+ 0 drs 0.7 UZR -6 OAA 3.6 WAR

Coming off a 6.5 WAR season in 2014, Michael Brantley looked to be on his way to becoming a superstar for the Indians. However, as too many stories go, that’s when the injury bug came back to haunt him; he played in only a combined 101 games between 2016 and 2017. However, the 32-year-old managed to stay healthy in 2018, posting a 3.5 WAR in 143 games, which he was able to spurn into a two-year, $32 contract with the Astros, who go exactly what they wanted from him- a 4.2 WAR in 148 games. Brantley’s never going to be the type to make a ton of hard contact, but he’s also not going to strike out much (10.4%), and with Houston, he was able to make slight improvements to his barrel rate (5.8%) and launch angle (10.6 degrees). In general, Brantley’s a fairly easy player to project in terms of offense (.360xWOBA 2018/.362 xwOBA 2019) and defense (-5 OAA/-6 OAA) due to his consistency; if his durability questions are seriously behind him, the Astros should expect him to have a WAR in the 3.5-4 range. He may not have the upside that the top two players on this list have, but every contender needs to have a stable presence in their lineup, and that’s what Brantley will be for Houston in a contract year.

#2: Austin Meadows, Tampa Bay Rays

meadows
Photo Cred: Sportsnet

Age: 24

2019 Rank: N/A

2018 Stats (59 Games): .287/.325/.461 109 wrc+ -9 drs -6.5 UZR -2 OAA 0.2 WAR

2019 Stats (138 Games): .291/.364/.558 142 -6 drs -1.6 UZR -2 OAA 4 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .285/.358/.549 131 wrc+ -3 drs -0.8 UZR -1 OAA 3.8 WAR

The Rays have long been cited as arguably the smartest organization in the MLB, as they tend to come out on top on every trade they make. There’s no better example than their 2018 midseason trade with the Pirates, as they sent Chris Archer to the Rays for Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, a flamethrowing prospect Shane Baz. Since then, Glasnow has become an ace-caliber pitcher, Baz is flourishing in the minors, and Archer is coming off a 5.02 FIP season. As for Meadows? As per usual with Rays acquisitions, he’s transformed himself into an All-Star. Not only did the 24-year-old post a spectacular 142 wrc+, but based on his expected statistics, that type of production may be sustained; he made significant adjustments to his launch angle (16.7 degrees), walk rate (9.1%), and barrel rate (12.5%), so he obviously became a different player with an analytically-savvy organization. Plus, although Meadows is a putrid defender in right field, he’s been about average in left field(0 OAA, 2 drs), and because of the additions of Hunter Renfroe and other athletic outfielders, he may see more time at his better corner outfield position. The Rays will never have the budget that the Yankees or Red Sox do, but they’re able to make up for it in brainpower, and the acquisition of Meadows is a prime example. Especially if he’s healthier this season, I expect another All-Star campaign from the former 9th overall pick.

#1: Juan Soto, Washington Nationals

soto
Photo Cred: ABC7 San Francisco

Age: 21

2019 Rank: 3

2018 Stats (116 Games): .292/.406/.517 145 wrc+ -5 drs -4.2 UZR -6 OAA 3.7 WAR

2019 Stats (150 Games): .282/.401/.548 142 wrc+ 1 drs -0.7 UZR 6 OAA 4.8 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .284/.403/.541 144 wrc+ 2 drs 0 UZR 7 OAA 5.4 WAR

How many players are a World Series champion, have a combined 8.5 WAR, and are one of the top players in the game, and just turned 21? Few players have ever had the start of their career than Juan Soto has had, and better yet, he’s just getting started. After an incredible 2018 rookie season, it was expected for Soto to take a slight step back in 2019. Instead, he got even better. By doubling his launch angle (12 degrees) and hitting the ball even harder (47.8% hard-hit rate), his xSLG skyrocketed (.484 to .576), while his elite plate discipline numbers were essentially the same (16.4% BB, 20% K). Therefore, he’s in rare company as a hitter who has tremendous pure hitting ability, excellent on-base skills, AND the capability to hit for a lot of power. Furthermore, Soto also made real efforts to improve his defense this season, per multiple reports, and by every metric, he was very successful in that quest. Juan Soto has done everything in his power to be one of the premier players in all of baseball. At just 21-years-old, he appears to be destined to win multiple MVPs throughout his career, and in my opinion, that could even come as soon as this season for defending champion Nationals.

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