A.L. East mid-season review: Left Field and DH

Rob Carr

The Orioles have a good thing going with their left field and designated hitter rotation. Nelson Cruz and Steve Pearce have provided excellent production while sharing the two positions. How does the rest of the division stack up?

Since the Orioles have been rotating players between left field and designated hitter, we figured that we'd combine the two positions for our mid-season review. I wrote the season preview for left field while Steve Damerell wrote the preview for designated hitters. We both predicted Nelson Cruz to be the second best in the division.

Before the season, Buck Showalter said that Nelson Cruz would play left field against lefties and DH against righties indicating a platoon was in the works. It hasn't exactly worked out that way. Showalter has decided to keep Cruz in the field about half of the time no matter which hand the opposing pitcher throws with. So far this season, he's played 41 games as the left fielder and 45 as the designated hitter.

It's pretty similar across the A.L. East. Three out of the five clubs have employed a significant timeshare in left field this season. The only two that haven't have been the Yankees with Brett Gardner and the Blue Jays with Melky Cabrera. Here's how they've done so far this season.

Brett Gardner .279 .353 .424 2.7
Steve Pearce .316 .383 .567 2.5
Nelson Cruz .287 .353 .567 2.4
Matt Joyce .270 .352 .425 1.7
Melky Cabrera .299 .348 .453 1.4
Brandon Guyer .266 .313 .360 0.9
Daniel Nava .238 .330 .310 0.6

Judging on an individual basis, Gardner has been the best left fielder in the division so far in 2014. However, when we put the total contributions of the position together, Pearce and Cruz have put up the most WAR by a substantial margin. They've accrued just about 5 WAR together this season. About half of that production has come at the DH position but they've combined to form the best tandem so far. Gardner has put up a typically good season while showing a little bit more power than he has in the past with nine home runs, six of which have come at home so Yankee Stadium is helping him. Cruz has been better than anyone could have reasonably expected at the plate this season but has given back some of his value in the field.

His value would be even greater if the Orioles would just let him man the DH position every day. That said, he's hit so well this season, maybe the Orioles should just leave the current plan in place. Perhaps playing the field just less than every other day allows him to stay more connected to the game between at bats and hit better. He does have a .435 wOBA while playing left field and only a .366 wOBA while DHing, which is still very good. On the other hand, DHing more often may keep him healthy.

Who knew that Steve Pearce had this in him? Even I won't take any credit for this. I did write earlier this year that he should be playing instead of Delmon Young but I had no idea he had THIS in him. Pearce already has a career high in home runs with 11 while putting up a .412 wOBA and a 163 wRC+. He's been producing offense at a rate that's 63% better than league average so far.

Matt Joyce has been running hot and cold so far this season. He started hot in April, cooled off in May, picked it back up in June and has been slumping again in July. Joyce is still a disaster against lefties but he's hit righties about as well as ever. His strong on base percentage has led to a productive season so far.

Surprisingly, Melky Cabrera has bounced all the way back to his pre-2013 form. I didn't expect him to bounce back so strongly after an injury marred season and a steroid suspension. He's producing at just about the same rate as his 2011 season when he had a 118 wRC+ with a 120 number this year. 2012 saw him put up a crazy .379 BABIP which led to inflated numbers he'll likely never see again. Despite that, he's been productive this season at the plate. His defense hasn't been nearly as good.

Brandon Guyer has been the other half of the left field platoon in Tampa Bay. It figures that I predicted the platoon to be David DeJesus and Sean Rodriguez before the season. DeJesus has been hurt so Joyce slid over to pick up the slack with Guyer as his sidekick. Guyer has been just below a league average hitter while playing solid defense so he's accrued almost a win above replacement.

The combination of Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes bring up the rear in the division. Nava started the season so poorly he had to be sent to the minors to right himself. They've both gotten on base at acceptable rates but not done much else.

My original prediction before the season went Yankees, Orioles, Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays. It was hard enough to predict who was going to actually play the position for each club let alone which pair of players was going to be best. So far, I'd say the order has been Orioles, Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays, Red Sox. I did ok at the top but the bottom three are a mess.

The designated hitter position in the division has a few of the same characters as left field so let's take a look at them too.

Nelson Cruz .287 .353 .567 2.4
Matt Joyce .270 .352 .425 1.7
Adam Lind .320 .389 .489 1.0
David Ortiz .255 .357 .487 1.0
David DeJesus .269 .367 .440 0.7
Delmon Young .305 .333 .424 0.3
Carlos Beltran .216 .271 .401 -0.8
Alfonso Soriano .221 .244 .367 -1.2

Nelson Cruz shows up at the top of this chart too. He's spent 45 games at DH so far this season and has been excellent while playing the outfield or not. In our DH preview, we predicted Cruz to spend almost all of his time at DH and be the second best DH in the division. He'll have to settle for being the best DH in the division while spending just over half of his time there.

Matt Joyce comes in next on our list but he's only played 19 games so far at DH for the Rays. He's a solid defender so he plays the outfield more often than not, but only when a righty is on the mound for the opponent. Adam Lind has had a solid season from a slash line perspective but his power has gone missing. After hitting at least 23 homers in four of the last five seasons, he's only got four at the break. Despite that, he's been pretty good this season on the back of a .389 on base percentage.

David Ortiz's numbers look to be substantially down from last season except for the 20 home runs he's already put up. But if you correct for his .255 BABIP so far, his numbers would look right in line with his last few seasons. He's still walking a lot and barely striking out, which is impressive for a power hitter. We haven't seen the decline we've all expected quite yet. Joyce's WAR number is pushed up by the time he's spent in the outfield so Ortiz may well have been the second best DH in the division so far this year.

David DeJesus has played the most games at DH for the Rays this year with 37 but he's now on the DL so he won't be increasing that number any time soon. He's been pretty good when he's played.

Delmon Young has played 21 games at DH for the Orioles this season. Despite some timely hits from Young this season, he should continue to take a back seat to Cruz and Pearce in the Orioles Left Field/DH rotation. He still doesn't have much of a role on this team.

The Yankees DH tandem of Carlos Beltran and Alfonso Soriano has been awful this season, accruing a combination of -2.0 WAR between them. Soriano was so bad he was recently designated for assignment and then waived by the club. Unfortunately, Carlos Beltran hasn't been much better. His elbow injury has restricted him to the DH role and now he's on the DL after hitting a ball off the batting cage that broke his nose AND gave him a concussion (seriously). That three year, $45 million contract the Yankees gave him in the offseason isn't looking so hot right now.

If I had to put the teams in order for 2014, I'd go Orioles, Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays, Yankees. Before the season, we predicted the order to be Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays, Yankees, Rays. Just like left field, Nelson Cruz leads the Orioles to the front of the pack. The most interesting discussion in the comments section of the DH article was about the Rays DH situation. Commenter AndrewTorrez bet Steve a beer that "some guy" for the Rays would outhit Alfonso Soriano. Considering that Soriano put up a .264 wOBA before getting released, I'd say you better get ready to buy a round Steve.

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