Head to Head (Part 6): Ranking the Left Fielders in the NL East
This is the sixth article in the series ranking the best players by positions in the NL East. This one compares the five starting left fielders in the division; listed alphabetically by last name as Jason Bay, John Mayberry, Logan Morrison, Michael Morse, and Martin Prado.
If you missed the article on the catchers, first basemen, second basemen, third basemen, or shortstops, please click here to read it.
5. Jason Bay, New York Mets: At this point in his career, Jason Bay is probably the worst left fielder of the five in the NL East. He’s 33 and he plays like he’s 43; Bay hit just .245 with 12 home runs in 509 plate appearances last season, and he is average to below average defensively. He can run pretty well, going 11-for-12 stealing bases in 2011 and 10-for-10 in 2010, but there’s just not enough good about Bay at this point in his career.
He doesn’t have the power he used to have, and he struggles to hit much over .250. Bay might actually be best platooning at this point in his career. He batted .233/.306/.340 with a .646 OPS against righties last season and .278/.383/.460 with a .843 OPS against lefties. Bay hit a much higher percentage of home runs against lefties, and he wouldn’t be a bad option playing part-time. But at $16 million plus for 2012 and two more years, the New York Mets have to be counting down the days until the deal is over.
4. John Mayberry, Philadelphia Phillies: The Philadelphia Phillies let Raul Ibanez go in the offseason and decided to go with a platoon of John Mayberry, Jr. and Laynce Nix, although Juan Pierre has also been seeing time recently as well. Mayberry had his moments last year as a blossoming star, but he also struggled when asked to perform regularly: 2012 will be a big year for Mayberry to try to cement himself as a starter on the Phillies.
He hit .273/.341/.513 with 15 home runs, 49 RBIs, and eight stolen bases in 296 plate appearances last season. Mayberry was inconsistent, hitting .345 with a .941 OPS in April before plummeting to just .194 in 80 plate appearances when the team tried to play him regularly in May. Mayberry was sent down to Triple-A but came back to play well in the second half of the season, hitting .296 in August and .305 in September. He needs to learn to hit righties better as well, as he posted just a .785 OPS against righties compared to .953 against lefties, but he’s versatile enough on defense that he can play all three outfield positions as well as first base.
3. Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves: Martin Prado dropped off significantly in 2011 in his first season as the starting left fielder, but he should see a return to his career averages in 2012. Prado batted .260/.302/.385 last season but he is a .293/.341/.434 hitter lifetime and he had batted .300 in each of the two seasons prior to last.
Prado switched to left field when the Atlanta Braves acquired Dan Uggla to play second base. He is adequate defensively, but he has the versatility to play second base, third base, first base, and both corner outfield spots. He has decent power, normally hitting in the 10-15 range for home runs, and he hits well against both righties and lefties (.775 career OPS against each). If Prado returns to form in 2012, he could be playing for a big contract after 2013.
2. Logan Morrison, Miami Marlins: Logan Morrison is still raw but he has a lot of potential – he hits for power, he walks a decent amount, and he’s still young enough (24) that he can show substantial improvement in terms of plate discipline and defense.
Morrison batted .247/.330/.468 with 23 home runs and 72 RBIs in 2011, playing well in his first full season as a starting left fielder. He faltered in the second half, batting just .220, and his seasonal totals with runners in scoring position (.182) was less than impressive. But he is a lefty and he hits for good power, and that’s good enough to earn him a spot as the second best left fielder in a division full of left fielders that really aren’t that good.
1. Michael Morse, Washington Nationals: Michael Morse is expected to miss another month with a lat strain, but even with the injury, I still foresee Morse producing more than any of the other left fielders in the NL East. He broke out in a big way in 2011, finishing 19th in the MVP voting after batting .303/.360/.550 with 31 home runs and 95 RBIs in 575 plate appearances.
Morse has awful plate discipline; he walked just 36 times and struck out 126 times, and he needs to show significant improvement in that aspect. But he hits for a higher average than you would expect from a power hitter, as he hit .289 the year before and he’s a .296 lifetime hitter. He’s not great defensively, but he’s versatile enough that he can play both corner outfield spots as well as shortstop and third base, and last year’s position of first base.
Morse posted an adjusted OPS of 147 last season, ninth-best in the league, and time will tell if he can transition well from first base – a position he handled pretty well – to left field.