ESPN did a thing recently identifying the top-50 players in the game. The best left fielder on the list was Christian Yelich at #41. With no active guys in our top-20 and only one coming today, it seems like we’re in the deadest of dead times in left field. We are. Or maybe we’re not?
On our lists today, you see six Hall of Famers. And there are two more outside the top-40. What I’m saying is that left field hasn’t been a place where the game’s best players have found themselves, at least not historically. A number of the best players on our lists – guys like Bonds, Rickey, and Raines – had the speed to play center. Al Simmons actually played there a bunch. Joe Jackson and Manny Ramirez are just barely left fielders, and Pete Rose makes Eric’s list, but I put him at first base.
I’m not saying a lot here, maybe just that the current drought isn’t so incredibly shocking.
Left Field – 21-40
Where do we project the active player(s) to finish in our rankings?
Braun will always be one of my least favorite players because of the way he treated his urine handler back in 2012. There are PED users, and there are jerks. You can certainly be one without being the other. Braun, however, has a nice position in the intersection of that Venn diagram for me. The Brewer righty is no longer a very good player, posting just over 2.2 adjusted WAR per season over the last five years. He’s 34 now, and I don’t expect he’s going to move up the charts. It’s incredibly close between him and the two guys in front of him though. Just half a win moves him up two places. I think he’s a slight favorite to get there over the rest of his career. In other words, there’s no shot at a future in the HoME.–Miller
I know there’s a really great joke here about treating one’s urine handler, but I suspect it’s best if I merely invite our readers to silently craft their own middle-school boys locker room jokes.—Eric
Where do our rankings diverge the most from the conventional wisdom?
There’s no conventional wisdom I’m aware of that keeps Willie Stargell or Ralph Kiner out of the Hall of Fame. Since Kiner is pretty close and could earn my vote if I become even more of a peak voter in the future, I’d say we’re most far from conventional wisdom on Stargell. He was a great hitter who couldn’t field and couldn’t run the bases. The value just isn’t there.–Miller
There’s a couple interesting names here. First is Jim Rice. The crowd that propounded “The Fear” thinks we have him too low. The crowd that railed against them probably thinks he’s too close to the in/out line. But once you take into account the effect that the Green Monster had on his fielding stats, he comes out looking a little better than I used to think. Another person of interest: Ken Williams. This ain’t the one who ran the Chisox, but rather a guy whose Hall chances were torpedoed by not becoming a regular until his late twenties. Too bad, heckuva player, and the first 30-30 guy. Remember when that was a thing? In Miller’s column there’s also Lou Brock who doesn’t even make my top-40. I’m guessing that’s not a common perception.—Eric
The only reason I didn’t mention Brock is because, unlike most of the baseball loving population, the Hall of Merit is wise enough not to include him.–Miller
Where do we disagree with one another the most?
Since we mostly don’t disagree much here, I thought I’d pause to talk tangentially about Ken Williams for a sec. For whatever reason, his career basically didn’t start until age 29. From that point forward he rated as one of the AL’s top performers for a decently long while. Every generation seems to have a guy or two who fit this profile: Sudden superstar, emerging out of nowhere at 27 or later who racks up a lot of value thereafter. The integration era had an entire league full of those fellows, and Japanese cross-over stars are kinda in that same category. I’m going to set those two special cases aside because I’m thinking of guys who started their MLB careers very late despite playing through normal development channels. You could make a pretty darned good team out of players with a similar profile as Williams.
C: Chris Hoiles (450 PA prior to age 27)
1B: Jake Daubert (0 PA prior to age 26)
2B: Davey Lopes (49 PA prior to age 28)
3B: Josh Donaldson (328 PA prior to age 27)
SS: Ben Zobrist (303 PA prior to age 27)
LF: “Indian” Bob Johnson (no PA prior to age 27)
CF: Cy Williams (349 PA prior to age 27)
RF: Gavy Cravath (419 PA prior to age 31)
DH: Edgar Martinez (280 PA prior to age 27)
Don Buford (48 PA prior to age 27)
Eddie Stanky (0 PA prior to age 27)
Ken Williams (274 PA prior to age 29)
Hank Sauer (178 PA prior to age 31)
Carlos Ruiz (0 PA prior to age 27)
P: Phil Niekro (89.67 IP prior to age 27)
P: Joe McGinnity (0 IP prior to age 28)
P: Dazzy Vance (33 IP prior to age 31)
P: Babe Adams (26 IP prior to age 27)
P: Tom Candiotti (88 IP prior to age 28)
P: Curt Davis (0 IP prior to age 30)
P: Preacher Roe (2.67 IP prior to age 28)
P: R.A. Dickey (12 IP prior to age 28)
P: Ellis Kinder (0 IP prior to age 31)
P: Hoyt Wilhelm (0 IP prior to age 29)
P: Doug Jones (20.67 IP prior to age 30)
These guys make Jose Bautista’s early years look like a cakewalk. I had to actually cut down the roster because I’d exceeded 25 men. That left Lefty O’Doul (78 PA prior to age 31) and Frank McCormick (103 PA prior to age 27) on the outside of the candy shop looking in.
Oh, and if you’re looking for someone like this in mid-emergence right now, try looking in St. Louis where Tommy Pham (2 PA prior to age 27) has suddenly put it together for the Redbirds.–Eric
I don’t know. Ken Williams and Mike Smith are a few rankings apart. There was once a time when Eric sort of advocated for Charlie Keller’s inclusion into the HoME. But really, there are no big differences.–Miller
Are there any players who MAPES+/CHEWS+ might overrate or underrate?
Ralph Kiner is an extreme peak player who we haven’t elected. Jose Cruz has a relatively low peak, and he’s in. The thing is, Kiner’s peak is so short that his peak value, at least by my system, isn’t amazing, just 12th at the position. His career rank is 30th, and far from 29th. The truth, however, is that MAPES ranks Kiner above Cruz. The Astro great is in the HoME, in no small part, as a function of his era. If you needed to put Kiner in instead, I wouldn’t offer a major objection.–Miller
I see that peak question and raise. If you look at my list on the right, you’ll see a whole mess of peak-oriented candidates. Not only Kiner but Keller, Belle, Williams, and Jones. Mediwck, Kelley, Giles, Rice, and Foster each have a relatively short career, and each of them lags behind because they are peak candidates disguised as prime candidates, but whose peaks weren’t high enough or long enough to offset the garbage time years before and/or after they became good players. Or I don’t value peaks or careers, correctly. I think I’ll say it’s the former so I don’t have to redo 1,000+ players’ profiles.—Eric
In a week, we move to center field. It’s Willie Mays, right? It has to be Willie Mays.