Sep 17, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Marte (6) is congratulated by teammate McCutchen (22) after scoring a run against the Chicago Cubs during the third inning at Wrigley Field. (Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports)

NL Central Left Field Rankings


If I ask a hundred different people to provide me a list of left field rankings among players in the National League Central, everyone would most likely have the same player in the top slot. In fact, I think most lists would have the same names in the second spot as well. The only spots where I had difficulty was #3 and #4.

Here’s my take on the NL Central left field raknings:

February 21, 2013; Maryvale, AZ, USA; Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Braun prepares for a pop fly drill during spring training at Maryvale Baseball Park. (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

1. Ryan Braun – Milwaukee Brewers

I don’t think this is even a debate. After winning the NL MVP in 2011, Braun accentuated his arrival to baseball stardom with his 2012 season which was also a 40-30 campaign. I think it’s fair to say this guy is a top 10 player in the bigs…no questions asked. Braun led the NL in runs (108), home runs (41) and OPS (.987).

One question is that for the past two years, all the off-season chatter concerning Braun has revolved around PEDs and this year, the Biogenesis “scandal”. After Braun won his NL MVP in 2011, it was released that he had tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone, a test result he would eventually have thrown out and a 50-game suspension overturned due errors in the collection process.

Questions for 2013:
1. Two years, same question: Braun and PEDs. Will this wear on him? Didn’t appear it phased him in 2012, but another year of fighting off the allegations and innuendo might create a breaking point.
2. Despite the overturned result and statement regarding Biogenesis, how long will this be “Braun’s team”? Eventually, the “chatter” becomes irksome to teammates, right?

AB AVG OBP SLG HR R RBI SB BB SO
2012 598 .319 .391 .595 41 108 112 30 63 128
3 YR 593 .318 .384 .563 33 106 109 26 59 102
PROJ 590 .308 .378 .553 33 102 107 23 60 112

Projected WAR: 5.9

Oct 18, 2012; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Holliday (7) hits an RBI single against the San Francisco Giants during the fifth inning of game four of the 2012 NLCS at Busch Stadium. (Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

2. Matt Holliday – St. Louis Cardinals

A couple of years ago, Holliday would have easily challenged Braun for the top spot. Not so much these days, but it’s not like Holliday has completely fallen off the face of the earth either. From an offensive standpoint, I don’t think Holliday gets as much recognition as he should. He has never posted a season with an wRC+ at 100 or lower (lowest: 104 in his rookie year of 2004). And lest we forget, Holliday won a batting title in ’07.

Nowadays, I think we all sit back and wait for the inevitable decline. Despite the numbers Holliday posted in 2012, it might have been the first sign of such. For the second season in a row, he hit under .300. His walk rate decreased while the strikeout rate increased. He is 33, so that’s all we need to proclaim he is in clear regression, isn’t it?

Questions for 2013:
1. How far off will the offense “slide” this season? Most projections reflect that he will continue on that downward path.
2. How much longer before we hear of how bad the Holiday deal is? He still has four years at $17MM each year left on his deal. Of course considering the price these days, $17MM might be on the cheap.

AB AVG OBP SLG HR R RBI SB BB SO
2012 599 .295 .379 .497 57 95 102 4 75 132
3 YR 547 .302 .385 .517 26 91 93 5 68 106
PROJ 558 .290 .375 .492 25 88 94 5 69 112

Projected WAR: 4.3

Feb 16, 2013; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cincinnati Reds left fielder Ludwick (48) poses for a photo during photo day at the Reds Spring Training Facility. (Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports)

T3. Ryan Ludwick – Cincinnati Reds

Didn’t hear a lot about Ludwick prior to the 2012 season. His signing went largely under the national radar which created more talk in Cincinnati than anywhere else. Makes sense and to some it might have been that some hoped Ludwick would be a stopgap until the next breakout guy came through the system, maybe Denis Phipps. Ludwick surprised us all…except maybe Ludwick himself.

On the field, 2012 proved to be a bounceback season for Ludwick. As the season passed, his teammates appeared to have taken his lead. We pose the question s about where the Reds will find their leadership this season, look at #48. When Ludwick hit the market after last season, the one word we heard was “regression” and that led to some saying they preferred the Reds not re-sign him.

One thing to consider: leadership. Just sayin’.

Questions for 2013:
1. Was last season an aberration? Seriously, did anyone have Ludwick compiling the season he did? Every projection I’ve seen has shown a serious decline for Ludwick’s 2013 as compared to 2012.
2. How much of the leadership responsibilities could Ludwick assume for ’13? Of course, Dusty might have something to do this.

AB AVG OBP SLG HR R RBI SB BB SO
2012 422 .275 .346 .531 26 53 80 0 42 97
3 YR 467 .253 .326 .433 19 57 75 0 47 114
PROJ 433 .255 .328 .450 20 57 73 1 43 104

Projected WAR: 1.5

Feb 18, 2013; Mesa, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs left fielder Soriano (12) poses for a picture during photo day at Fitch Park. (Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports)

T3. Alfonso Soriano – Chicago Cubs

For as much was made about Ludwick bouncing back last year, Soriano could make the same claim. After suffering through an atrocious 2011, Soriano posted his best season since ’08. Add that he discovered some defense. Of course, we still hear the talk of the Cubs dealing Soriano (he’s due $36MM over the next two seasons).

Now we must see how far Soriano will regress back to what he was producing before last season, As with Holliday and Ludwick, Soriano is no spring chicken. In fact, he’s the elder statesman among NLC left fielders at 37.

Questions for 2013:
1. How soon before Soriano approves a deal so that the Cubs can move on? The Cubs would have loved to have already had done this last year. Remember, Soriano rejected a deal that would have sent him to San Francisco.
2. Wonder what Soriano thinks of that decision now? He’d have a ring…

AB AVG OBP SLG HR R RBI SB BB SO
2012 561 .262 .322 .499 32 68 108 6 44 153
3 YR 511 .255 .312 .489 27 62 92 4 39 130
PROJ 493 .247 .305 .457 24 61 80 4 37 128

Projected WAR: 1.6

5. Starling Marte – Pittsburgh Pirates

I can hear the Pirate faithful now…”Once again, a lack of respect.” Let’s see. Everyone listed ahead of Marte has at a minimum a Silver Slugger and All-Star Game appearance. Marte has the talent, but he must put in the time. That’s all. Not a slight. I know some incorporate projections into their rankings, but I do not put as much stock in to that.

In other words, show me something over a full season. He did hit the stage with a bang last year. No question that in three to five years Marte could challenge for #1 on this list provided he lives up to projections and expectations. But I don’t use those (projections and expectations) in rankings as much as others.

Questions for 2013:
1. Can Marte adjust and get the walk rate (4.4%) and whiff rate (27.5%) in line? He must improve on this if the Bucs plan on using him in the lineup’s top spot this season (They did in 34 games last year).
2. How long of a leash will Marte have? Pittsburgh has Alex Presley and Jose Tabata.

AB AVG OBP SLG HR R RBI SB BB SO
2012 167 .257 .300 .437 5 18 17 12 8 50
PROJ 500 .270 .314 .433 12 69 57 24 26 122

Projected WAR: 2.7

Recap:
1. Braun
2. Holliday
T3. Ludwick
T3. Soriano
5. Marte

This list will not be in the same order prior to next season, Soriano will likely be gone and I do expect Marte to make an impact for Pittsburgh this season. If St. Louis is to contend, Holliday’s bat will be a key cog. Same for Ludwick in Cincy. Both are in the clean-up spot for a reason.

If you’re wondering why Ludwick and Soriano are tied, it’s that close for me and I for one thing that goes Ludwick’s way, another goes to the Soriano side of the tally.

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