Throughout January and February, MLB Network will rank the top 10 players right now ahead of the 2019 season. Here at M-SABR, we are specifically interested in MLB Network’s most statistically-influenced list, compiled by “the Shredder.” In this series, we will react to the Shredder’s list and offer our own, based on our own statistical analysis. Check back every Monday and Wednesday for our recaps of the lists, which release at 9:00 PM Eastern every Saturday on MLB Network. Today, we are looking at the Shredder’s top 10 left fielders.
MLB Network’s Top 10 Left Fielders Right Now
- J.D. Martinez [2018: NR]
- Giancarlo Stanton [2018: NR]
- Ronald Acuña Jr. [2018: NR]
- Tommy Pham [2018: NR]
- Justin Upton [2018: 3]
- Juan Soto [2018: NR]
- Marcell Ozuna [2018: 1]
- Michael Conforto [2018: NR]
- Khris Davis [2018: 6]
- David Peralta [2018: NR]
Reaction To The Shredder
J.D. Martinez (who is really more of a DH than anything else) is the Shredder’s number one left fielder in baseball. And while his placement on this list is questionable, there is no denying he is one of the best hitters on the planet. He finished third in all of baseball behind just Mike Trout and Mookie Betts with a 170 wRC+, and a 162 DRC+ on his way to winning not one, but two Silver Sluggers, and to top it all off, a World Series championship. Even with his subpar defensive and base running skills, his hitting pushes him to the top spot on the list.
Last year’s best left fielder, Marcell Ozuna, tumbled down to number seven on this year’s list after a dismal debut year with the St. Louis Cardinals, and honestly, it might not be low enough. Although his 8 DRS was the highest out of anyone on the top ten list, his 2.7 fWAR landed him just fourteenth among left fielders and he finished as barely an above-average league hitter with a respective 106 and 109 wRC+ and DRC+. While he did improve much in the second-half, this spot on the list makes us to believe the Shredder thinks he can come somewhat close again to his 2017 campaign.
Justin Upton is another player who was placed high on the list, more so due to previous years’ production, rather than his performance in 2018. He has been one of the most consistent hitters of the decade, but his 3.1 fWAR and 115 DRC+ both placed outside of the top ten left fielders in 2018.
The trend of past performance dictating the Shredder’s list is especially evident in their decision to place 2017 NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton at #2 over two of the best young stars in baseball: Ronald Acuña and Juan Soto, who landed at three and six respectively. Stanton did finish third out of left fielders with a 4.2 fWAR, but he played more than 40 games more than each of the rookies, who both finished just behind Stanton at 3.7 fWAR. The rate stats tell the true story. Soto and Acuña each finished at least 15 points higher in both wRC+ and DRC+ than Stanton. Now, this is no dig at Stanton –he is still one of the most prolific power hitters in baseball — but he should not be higher than two rookies who vastly outperformed him last year. Also, the fact that Soto is so low that he’s behind Upton is ridiculous.
Moving down the list, we find Tommy Pham at #4. After a fantastic breakout season in 2017, Pham struggled with the Cardinals this season and posted just 1.5 fWAR throughout 98 games. Then in a surprising move, he was traded to the Rays where he completely turned his season around. In just 39 games with his new team, he put up 2.5 fWAR, thanks to a 191 wRC+. With over 10 fWAR the past two seasons, Pham is proving to be one of the most underappreciated players in baseball and he lands in a good spot on the Shredder’s list at number four.
Rounding out the list at spots eight through ten are Michael Conforto, Khris Davis, and David Peralta. Conforto suffered a shoulder injury at the end of 2017 that carried into the 2018 season, and it may have hurt his performance. He improved enough as the season progressed, posting a 143 wRC+ in the second-half that landed a spot as a top-ten left fielder in baseball. A primary DH, Davis has been one of the most consistent hitters in baseball recently (literally, he has hit .247 the last FOUR years!) and with three straight years of 40+ homers, is one of baseball’s best power hitters. His 2.6 fWAR places him dead last on the list, but his 135 DRC+ was good enough to put him at nine on the Shredder’s list. Lastly, Peralta had himself a breakthrough year with the fifth-best fWAR in left field at 3.8 and a more-than-respectable 130 wRC+.
The most notable name left off the list was easily that of Andrew Benintendi. After a rookie campaign landed him eighth on the Shredder’s list last year, Benintendi more than doubled his fWAR to 4.3, second-best among left fielders behind just his teammate J.D. Martinez. With improvements in all of his rate stats too, it is hard to see why Benintendi fell off the list. It really points to the added depth of this position in recent years, but still it is a surprise Benintendi was a no-show from the Shredder.
M-SABR’s Top Ten Left Fielders Right Now
- Ronald Acuña
- J.D. Martinez
- Juan Soto
- Giancarlo Stanton
- Tommy Pham
- Michael Conforto
- Andrew Benintendi
- David Peralta
- Khris Davis
- Michael Brantley
The reigning National League Rookie of the Year, Ronald Acuña, tops our list this year. In his age-20 season, he put up monster numbers for the Braves, including a historic stretch in mid-August when he hit eight homers in just eight games. His overall fWAR of 3.7 and wRC+ of 143 fell comfortably short of J.D. Martinez’s 5.9 fWAR and 170 wRC+, but Acuña led all of left fielders in the second-half posting 3.4 fWAR and a wRC+ of 171. We are assuming Acuña is more of the player he showed to be in the later portion of the season, but it is not an unreasonable assumption to be made from such a young prospect and one who has a ceiling as high as the moon.
While ceiling may be the word to use for Acuña, Soto has one of the highest floors ever seen from a teenager. His 16% BB-rate placed him fifth in all of baseball (min. 400 PA) and his OPS never dropped below .800 in a month and only once below .900. He is as complete of a hitter as rookies come, and rounds out what seems to be a clear top-3 for us.
Although he struggled mightily in his move to New York, Giancarlo Stanton is still one of the scariest hitters in baseball and put together a 4.2 fWAR season in a down year. We’ll see if he adjusts to New York and gets back closer to his 2017 form, because with his capabilities, he should be much closer to the 151 DRC+ in his MVP year than the 114 DRC+ this past one.
As previously mentioned, Pham was a man of two seasons last year and the result will probably be something in the middle going forward. An overall DRC+ of 118 was a bit concerning of a drop off, but he should bounce back closer to his mark of 130 the year prior. Good baserunning and defense solidifies his spot in the top half of our list.
Michael Conforto definitely did not play like the sixth-best left-fielder in baseball in 2018, but we are confident he can continue his strong second-half and return to the all-star caliber player he was in 2017. Once his shoulder fully healed, we saw flashes of this and he finished with a solid 2.2 fWAR in the second-half. Heading into his age-26 season, Conforto can easily still improve into a top-5 or higher left fielder.
Ok, Andrew Benintendi was a below-average hitter in the second-half of the year last year — but in no way should that take one of the best all-around talents in left field off the top-ten list. He still finished all the way up at second in fWAR, and his 4 DRS was tied for second best out of the left fielders on our list. Not to mention the fact that he had two iconic catches in the postseason this year, one of which was arguably the play of the year and put the Red Sox one step closer to the World Series.
David Peralta had himself a fantastic, albeit under-the-radar season for the Diamondbacks. He posted a 3.8 fWAR and a 130 wRC+, good for fifth among left fielders. He is also the best fielder on this list with 5 DRS in his 2018 campaign. He more than doubled his home run total from his previous year to 30 this year, so it will be interesting to see if this level of power is sustainable for him.
Khris Davis is one of the best hitters on this list — his 135 DRC+ was second among left fielders — but it is not good enough to put someone who is a true DH higher up on the left fielders list. We know who Khris Davis is, and while a great hitter, does not do enough to stack up to the level of the guys above him on this deep list.
Lastly, Michael Brantley gets a spot on our list in another situation where we’re projecting him to do more than he has recently. A 3.5 fWAR is not bad in any means, but after a long history with injuries, 2019 may be the year where he is fully healthy and has himself a year comparable to that in 2014 where he finished third in MVP voting.
Marcell Ozuna and Justin Upton were two tough guys to leave off the list, but I think it points more towards the surge of depth at this positions rather than Ozuna and Upton themselves. Even guys like Joc Pederson and Kyle Schwarber will make a run at the list next year, but unless some of these guys start switching positions, it will be a hard climb up the ladder.