Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Fun with Baseball Reference

Picking a weak spot in the Braves' batting order this year is not unlike picking out a malapropism in a Sarah Palin speech, but I want to point out the situation in left field. Melky Cabrera is the nominal starter there and he has an OPS of .476. Matt Diaz spells him in left and his OPS is a robust .501. The Braves do not have a home run from their left fielders, despite the fact that left field should be the easiest position at which to find a hitter, other than first base.

The problems in left field are nothing new for this team. While I was messing around with Baseball Reference in an attempt to find punch and judy hitters who have career slugging percentages higher than the Braves' current collective .350 SLG (answer: David Eckstein has a career slugging percentage of .358), I came across this page listing the players who have started the most games at each position for every Braves team in history. The Braves have had a different left fielder every year since Chipper manned the position in 2002 and 2003. Moreover, Chipper only moved to the position because the Braves had cycled through candidates ever since trading Ryan Klesko in the disastrous Quilvio Veras deal. That trade set the stage for a decade of a revolving door in left, with just about all of the participants providing substandard production.

In short, the Braves have thought for the better part of a decade that left fielders are fungible and that the team can find solid production at the position on the cheap. (The same case can be made at first base, with the difference being that the Braves did produce Adam Laroche to play the position reasonably well for a three-year stretch, whereas the team has not found any left fielders in the farm system.) However, the Braves' confidence in finding economical options at the position has been misplaced. Think about that the next time you're watching Melky struggle through another at-bat.

1 comment:

chg said...

Left field offense should be fungible, but the Braves find a way to turn the position into a liability year after year. I cannot understand it.

In the last two full seasons, four NL left fielders have batted .705 or less with a minimum 400 AB's. Two of those were Atlanta Braves. You almost have to try to find a LF'er that cannot give you .700 OPS.