Indians left fielders of the 21st century

Jonathan Daniel

If you're not yet sold on Michael Brantley as the Tribe's left fielder for the next four years, take a refresher course on who has held down that position for the team in recent years.

Michael Brantley signed a long-term extension with the Indians this week that will keep him under team control through 2018. I've already said how much I like the extension (and explained why), but I know not everyone is sold on it. Some fans don't see much value in locking up a player who's not an All Star, but a team that's solid at every position has a big leg up on the competition. I don't think anyone is expecting the Indians to have Albert Belle, circa 1995 out there every season, but I do think some of us are overlooking just how grim left field has been in most recent years.

What's below is just players' production on offense, so I'll note that in the last 14 years, Coco Crisp is the only really good defender the Indians have given significant time in left field. The defense for everyone else who is listed below ranged from mildly above average (like Jason Michaels) to downright awful (like Matt Lawton)

Note that Progressive Field has mildly favored pitchers in most years of the 2000s, enough that if the Indians were hitting exactly as well as the average American League left fielder, their OPS would be 5-15 points lower.

2000

Indians with 50+ PA while playing LF: Richie Sexson (214), David Justice (107), Wil Cordero (158), Russell Branyan (60)

Combined production of all Indians LF: .272/.335/.440, .775 OPS, 19 HR, 4 SB

Production of all American League LF: .286/.358/.462, .819 OPS, 21.9 HR, 15.1 SB

Four players spent a decent chunk of time in left field, none of them for as much as half the season. This will become a pattern. The combined production of Tribe left fielders is a solid step back of the AL average at the position. That will become a pattern too.

2001

Indians with 50+ PA while playing LF: Marty Cordova (301), Wil Cordero (161), Russell Branyan (98), Ellis Burks (67)

Combined production of all Indians LF: .263/.317/.438, 755 OPS, 24 HR, 3 SB

Production of all American League LF: .270/.336/.429, .766 OPS, 19.9 HR, 17.4 SB

Wil Cordero was dreadful, keeping the Indians a touch below average at the position for the year.

2002

Indians with 50+ PA while playing LF: Russell Branyan (149), Chris Magruder (113), Ben Broussard (101), Matt Lawton (93)

Combined production of all Indians LF: .207/.285/.349, 633 OPS, 18 HR, 4 SB

Production of all American League LF: .264/.331/.434, .765 OPS, 21.6 HR, 10.5 SB

That's a miserable batting line. All four guys were bad that year, as none of them had an OPS better than .726. Magruder's OPS was .501.

2003

Indians with 50+ PA while playing LF: Matt Lawton (272), Coco Crisp (174), Jody Gerut (159)

Combined production of all Indians LF: .280/.345/.442, .788 OPS, 21 HR, 13 SB

Production of all American League LF: .286/.344/.462, .806 OPS, 22.4 HR, 12.5 SB

Gerut was very good that year, but he spent most of his time in right field, while Lawton hit well as a DH and right fielder that year, but slumped when in left field.

2004

Indians with 50+ PA while playing LF: Matt Lawton (573), Coco Crisp (138)

Combined production of all Indians LF: .296/.368/.451, .819 OPS, 26 HR, 26 SB

Production of all American League LF: .281/.348/.453, .801 OPS, 22.4 HR, 12.7 SB

Hey, a single player spending most of the season in left field! Lawton edged out the average left-field production in the American League, making this the first year in the 2000s in which that happened for the Indians (of course, Lawton was a butcher with the glove, but that's another matter)

2005

Indians with 50+ PA while playing LF: Coco Crisp (612), Jody Gerut (65)

Combined production of all Indians LF: .302/.353/.466, .819 OPS, 18 HR, 15 SB

Production of all American League LF: .278/.335/.426, .772 OPS, 19.2 HR, 13.5 HR

Here's the best year the Indians have had in left field all century. Crisp (with a small bit of help from Gerut, who did well in his limited time in left that year) far outdid the AL average. He was also strong defensively, making this the only year in the 2000s that the Indians have gotten 3+ WAR from left field (~4.5).

2006

Indians with 50+ PA while playing LF: Jason Michaels (530), Todd Hollandsworth (99)

Combined production of all Indians LF: .258/.311/.393, 704 OPS, 13 HR, 12 SB

Production of all American League LF: .280/.347/.449, .797 OPS, 20.1 HR, 13.0 HR

With Crisp having been traded away, Michaels took over. He was a large downgrade.

2007

Indians with 50+ PA while playing LF: Jason Michael (217), David Dellucci (187), Kenny Lofton (178)

Combined production of all Indians LF: .259/.315/.404, .718 OPS, 15 HR, 7 SB

Production of all American League LF: .275/.335/.426, .760 OPS, 16.9 HR, 11.8 SB

It was back to a committee in 2007, with Michaels and Dellucci in a platoon for most of the year, and Lofton taking over for the season's final two months. Michaels was better than he had been in 2006 (helped by the platoon), but Dellucci was a wreck.

2008

Indians with 50+ PA while playing LF: Ben Francisco (321), David Dellucci (174), Shin-Soo Choo (112)

Combined production of all Indians LF: .266/.340/.422, .761 OPS, 16 HR, 4 SB

Production of all American League LF: .267/.336/.430, .766 OPS, 20.4 HR, 10.1 SB

Choo was tremendous while playing left (his OPS was 1.122 in those games), allowing the Tribe to fight the position to a draw, despite weak production from the other two guys.

2009

Indians with 50+ PA while playing LF: Ben Francisco (178), Matt LaPorta (115), Trevor Crowe (108), Shin-Soo Choo (86), Mark DeRosa (62)

Combined production of all Indians LF: .253/.313/.417, .730 OPS, 18 HR, 18 SB

Production of all American League LF: .267/.338/.442, .780 OPS, 22.4 HR, 15.7 SB

Five different guys! Choo again hit well, as did DeRosa. Sadly, the three guys who spent the most time at the position all did poorly.

2010

Indians with 50+ PA while playing LF: Austin Kearns (273), Trevor Crowe (166), Shelley Duncan (146)

Combined production of all Indians LF: .273/.344/.418, .762 OPS, 16 HR, 11 SB

Production of all American League LF: .273/.338/.430, .768 OPS, 18.1 HR, 21.8 SB

Another year of basically league-average play in left field for the Indians, led by Duncan's .867 OPS in limited time.

2011

Indians with 50+ PA while playing LF: Michael Brantley (276), Shelley Duncan (121), Austin Kearns (110), Travis Buck (86)

Combined production of all Indians LF: .233/.303/.336, .639 OPS, 7 HR, 13 SB

Production of all American League LF: .251/.311/.393, .704 OPS, 16.3 HR, 17.5 SB

Duncan was again the best of the bunch (maybe we should remember him more fondly than we do), but he wasn't nearly as good as he had been in 2010, and the others were all below average.

2012

Indians with 50+ PA while playing LF: Johnny Damon (197), Shelley Duncan (191), Ezequiel Carrera (104), Aaron Cunningham (53)

Combined production of all Indians LF: .215/.277/.321, .598 OPS, 11 HR, 12 SB

Production of all American League LF: .256/.322/.428, .750 OPS, 22.1 HR, 15.4 SB

This is why I was so excited about the Indians signing Michael Bourn last winter. His arrival allowed Brantley to move back to left, which allowed the team to avoid another year like this. A .598 OPS shouldn't happen at any position in the American League.

2013

Indians with 50+ PA while playing LF: Michael Brantley (606)

Combined production of all Indians LF: .290/.343/.414, .757 OPS, 12 HR, 17 SB

Production of all American League LF: .256/.318/.406, .724 OPS, 19.2 HR, 11.6 SB

For the first time since 2006, one player was able to handle a majority of the time in left field, no more cycling 3 or 4 mediocre guys through the lineup. Brantley hit well above the AL average for left fielders.

In conclusion...

In 14 seasons, the Indians have gotten better than average hitting from left field just three times (2004, 2005, and 2013), roughly league-average production in three other years (2001, 2008, 2010), and below average production in the other eight seasons.

Factoring in offense and defense, Brantley's 2013 is probably the second best season the Indians have gotten out of left field in the 2000s, behind only 2004, when Crisp was so good. When you factor in defense, those two seasons are the only tines the Tribe has been above average,

I'd be delighted with five more years like the one Brantley gave the Indians in 2013.

.

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