Wednesday, February 23, 2011

MLB Network's Top Ten: Left Field

Let's not beat around the bush. It's rather surprising to see Raul Ibanez make the top ten list. He barely cracked the list, coming in at number ten, but it's still a surprising choice. Here's the list:

10- Raul Ibanez, PHILLIES
9- Carlos Lee, Houston Astros
8- Jason Bay, New York Mets
7- Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves
6- Delmon Young, Minnesota Twins
5- Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals
4- Carl Crawford, Boston Red Sox
3- Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies
2- Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers
1- Ryan Bruan, Milwaukee Brewers

Ibanez is clearly in the down swing of his career and will play in what should be his last year with the Phillies in 2011. After joining in the Phils in 2009, Ibanez jumped out to a red hot, MVP caliber start. After an injury caused him to miss time, 'Rauuuuuul' was never the same after returning to the lineup. He struggled most of the remainder of the season and into the playoffs. He still managed to hit a career high 34 home runs, but his average fell to .272, his lowest since 2000. Last year was the opposite for Ibanez; after getting off to a very slow start, he bounced back to have a solid second half of the season. He still hit only 16 homers though, with a .275 average. Offensively, Ibanez was the 14th ranked left fielder in baseball last season. While not a bad fielder, he's rather slow in the outfield as well. His numbers can't be expected to improve in 2011, and 16 home runs with a .275 average are not indicative of a top ten outfielder.

The top five at this position is absolutely stacked. Any of the top three could easily be switched into the top spot. Bruan has been one of the best outfielders in baseball since he stepped into the league in 2007. His numbers last year, (.304, 25 homers, 103 RBI) were down from his previous season (.320, 32, 114). Still, Braun hasn't had a bad year in the big leagues and is a major threat every time he steps to the plate.

Hamilton bounced back from a tough 2009, in which he hit .268 with 10 home runs and 54 RBI during an injury riddled season, in a big way. He had career highs in average (.359), home runs (32), OBP (.411), slugging percentage (.633), OPS (1.044) and doubles (40). He also drove in 100 runs and scored 95 while capturing his first MVP award. Those numbers speak for themselves, Hamiltion is a beast.

Gonzalez had a tremendous breakout season for Colorado in 2010. Entering the season, he'd amassed just 580 career at bats over two seasons. Gonzo's 587 at bats in 2010 broke his total for his career while he set new career highs in just about every category during a tremendous season. He hit .336 with 34 home runs, 117 RBI, 34 doubles, nine triples, 26 stolen bases and 111 runs scored. Gonzalez finished third in the NL MVP race, coming in behind just Joey Votto and Albert Pujols. While Gonzalez and Hamilton will have a hard time repeating those staggering averages, they should be ranked just ahead of Braun on the list because of what they were able to accomplish last year.

Crawford joins a Red Sox team that made a huge splash during the off-season, acquiring star studded talent in the likes of Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. Crawford is the definition of a five-tool player. It will be interesting to see how Crawford acclimates to Boston in the first season of his career away from Tampa Bay, but being such a dynamic talent, Crawford isn't likely to be fazed. He's a career .296 hitter, he just missed his first 20 home run season last year with 19, and is one season removed from stealing 60 bases. He's also a tremendous outfielder and the combination of Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury should cover every inch of left and center field. If Crawford stays healthy, there's an excellent chance that he'll break his previous high 110 runs scored with that loaded lineup in Boston.

Holliday flies under the radar in St. Louis thanks to Albert Pujols after being a star in Colorado, but he is a tremendous ballplayer. He's looking to return to his 2007 form, when he finished just behind Jimmy Rollins in the NL MVP voting. That season, he had 636 at bats, hit .340, 37 home runs, 137 RBI, 50 doubles and scored 120 runs. He's been very good from the Cardinals, but if he finds the stroke he had in Colorado, the National League could be in trouble.

The list rounds out which a bunch of very good players, not quite in the elite status of the top five. Prado had an excellent season last year for the Braves, while Bay and Lee are looking to bounce back from their worst season in years.

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