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Who's the best left fielder in the AL East?

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Last year, the left field position was a strong one for the Orioles. How does it look in 2015?

Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s just get used to it right now — left field for the Orioles isn't going to be as good as it was last year. Here’s who fans saw out there in 2014:

  • Nelson Cruz: 252 PA, .916 OPS, 49% better than the average LF
  • David Lough: 154 PA, .689 OPS, 8% worse than the average LF
  • Steve Pearce: 120 PA, .825 OPS, 27% better than the average LF
  • Alejandro de Aza: 88 PA, .888 OPS, 42% better than the average LF
  • Delmon Young: 72 PA, .761 OPS, 8% better than the average LF
  • 2 PA from Quintin Berry

That’s some high-powered production. In 2015, Cruz is gone and Pearce is expected to play in right field. In projecting the players and their value in left field, I used the FanGraphs Depth Charts projections. These are a blend of Steamer and ZiPS, with playing time allocated by the site’s writers. I like combining multiple projections instead of relying on just one.

Here's how the division is projected to shake out.

Baltimore Orioles

  • Alejandro de Aza: 490 PA, .317 wOBA, 1.5 fWAR
  • David Lough: 105 PA, .294 wOBA, 0.2 WAR
  • Delmon Young and Travis Snider are also projected to get a few games in left.

de Aza has been about average throughout his career with the White Sox, hovering around 2 fWAR per year for the last several years. The defensive numbers are wishy-washy on him (career +12.3 runs by UZR, -18 by DRS, although the majority of that negativity comes from playing center) but his defensive reputation is decidedly better than Nelson Cruz’s, meaning Lough won't provide as much value as a defensive replacement as he did in 2014.

Lough is also left-handed, just like de Aza, and and the latest news has him heading to the DL. For these reasons it’s possible that Nolan Reimold, a righty who has shown some pop in the past, will share time with de Aza in left. ZiPS has Reimold being exactly replacement level in 175 PA.

Toronto Blue Jays

  • Michael Saunders: 525 PA, .327 wOBA, 2.4 WAR
  • Kevin Pillar, Dalton Pompey, Steve Tolleson, and Chris Colabello combining for a few games here and there.

Saunders came to the Jays from the Mariners in the J.A. Happ trade. But due to a knee surgery, he won't be ready for Opening Day, which is a problem for the Blue Jays since his replacements are, well, replacement-level. The law firm of Pillar, Pompey, Tolleson, & Colabello are expected to produce 0.1 fWAR. That’s total, not each.

Tampa Bay Rays

  • Desmond Jennings: 350 PA, .312 wOBA, 1.3 WAR
  • David DeJesus: 140 PA, .306 wOBA, 0.3 WAR
  • John Jaso, Brandon Guyer, and Stephen Souza as needed.

Jennings has been pretty good for the Rays, stringing together three consecutive 3+ win seasons. That was as a center fielder, though. In 2015 he’s expected to move to left field to make way for Kevin Kiermaier, which will hurt his value.

New York Yankees

  • Brett Gardner: 595 PA, .325 wOBA, 3.1 WAR
  • A collection of Chris Young and Tyler Austin.

Gardner has been underrated throughout his career, which is difficult to imagine given that he plays for the most famous team in the biggest media market. He’s a very well-rounded player who’s above average in hitting, baserunning, and fielding.

Boston Red Sox

  • Hanley Ramirez: 490 PA, .359 wOBA, 3.0 WAR
  • Brock Holt: 105 PA, .302 wOBA, 0.1 WAR
  • Daniel Nava and Allen Craig should also see time at the corner

Ramirez was signed by the Red Sox this past offseason, returning him to the team that drafted him. He’s moving to left field to accommodate Xander Bogaerts at shortstop and Pablo Sandoval at third base. Ramirez has never had a good defensive reputation, so putting him in left field will hurt the Red Sox less than he hurt the Dodgers and Marlins. He’ll contribute a lot of runs at the plate, however; he has a stellar career wOBA of .376.

Holt toured all of Fenway Park last year, putting in time at every position except pitcher and catcher in 109 games. That flexibility helped him to a 2.3 fWAR season.

Ranking

There's three nominal tiers of left fielders in the division, but the Blue Jays' situation with Saunders means there's really only two. The Red Sox and Yankees have the best left fields in the division. The 0.1 fWAR difference between Ramirez and Gardner isn't enough enough to justify ranking one over the other, but the wild card that is Ramirez’s defense is. Having never played the position, he comes with less certainty, so I’ll put him second to Gardner.

Below them, there’s the second tier of Michael Saunders, but it’s unclear how much he’ll be playing this year. The latest estimates have him missing most of the first half. It’s a sharp drop from him to his replacements, so I’m docking the Blue Jays a win, which brings them down into the tier of the Orioles and the Rays, who coexist at the bottom of the division — although everyone is projected to be worth at least 1 fWAR.