Home Featured Best MLB Players of the 2010s: Left Field

Best MLB Players of the 2010s: Left Field

by Chris Brown

With the 2010s in the rearview mirror, 110 Sports is taking a look back at the best players of the last decade at each position. There’s no one perfect way to evaluate baseball players. For these rankings, we weigh statistics such as OPS (on-base + slugging percentage) and WAR (wins above replacement), which, while imperfect, are good at assessing hitting contributions and overall value, along with various other factors like the player’s best years in the decade, length of high-level production, speed, defense, reputation, playoff experience and awards. 

A general note about eligibility for this exercise: Players are being considered for the top 10 only at the position they played most in the decade. If a player made a significant contribution at another position in the 2010s, they may receive an honorable mention there as well. Let’s get to it.

Left field’s nature as the least demanding outfield spot means it’s also the most constantly revolving. But that doesn’t mean the spot was only full of aging or defensively poor sluggers in the 2010s. To the contrary, there are several multi-dimensional, defensively-gifted players who spent the majority of their time this past decade out in left. Let’s dive right in, starting with a few players who just missed the top 10.

Honorable Mentions

Khris Davis | MIL 2013-15, OAK 2016-19

Davis emerged as one of the most prolific power hitters in baseball in the latter half of the decade, hitting between 42 and 48 home runs with over 100 RBI in three straight seasons from 2016-18. Since the start of the 2015 season, “Khrush” leads all left fielders in home runs (183) and RBI (474) and is fourth in runs scored (389). Davis has always been a poor fielder, though, and has appeared primarily in the DH spot over the last few seasons. And aside from power, Davis hasn’t brought much to the table offensively, with a .244 batting average in the decade and little speed on the basepaths.

Starling Marté | PIT 2012-19

Marte has never been a top-tier power hitter, smacking 20+ homers just twice since his 2012 debut. What he has consistently brought to the table, though, is the ability to steal bases and hit for a solid to good batting average — along with strong defense. The Pirates outfielder, who’s played in center primarily the past two seasons but has more experience in left, is fourth among all outfielders in steals (239), behind only the light-hitting group of Raji Davis, Billy Hamilton, and Jarrod Dyson. Excluding 2017, Marte is averaging 16 home runs, 81 runs, and 34 stolen bases per season since 2013. The reason 2017 is excluded is that Marte played just 77 games that year due to an 80-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Corey Dickerson | COL 2013-15, TB 2016-17, PIT 2018-19, PHI 2019

No one has ever considered Dickerson to be a star, but his career to date has certainly been underrated. The veteran of four major league teams has hit for a .280+ average in every season but one since 2014, and has tallied 20+ home runs three times in that span. Dickerson was named to his first — and only — All-Star Game of the decade in 2017 when he hit a career-high 27 home runs with an .804 OPS. Dickerson also won a Gold Glove in 2018. The overall numbers don’t come anywhere near measuring up against the best, but Dickerson is 14th in WAR, 12th in home runs, and fifth in OPS among those who played at least 400 games in left field in the 2010s.

Other notable players who had significant experience in left field in the decade but played more at another position: J.D. Martinez, Carlos Gonzalez.

Top 10

10. Melky Cabrera | ATL 2010, KC 2011, SF 2012, TOR 2013-14, CHW 2015-17, KC 2017, CLE 2018, PIT 2019

Like Dickerson, Cabrera has never reached star status, but simply put, he’s just been a good hitter for a really long time. The journeyman outfielder played in 130+ games in seven years in the 2010s and hit .279 or better in eight seasons, three times eclipsing the .300 mark. He never topped 20 homers but did tally double-digit bombs six years in the decade. Cabrera stole 20 and 13 bases in 2011 and 2012, respectively, but never reached double digits again. The profile is underwhelming in some areas. The switch hitter does lead all left fielders in hits last decade and is sixth in runs, fifth in RBI, second in doubles and fourth in batting average.

9. Marcell Ozuna | MIA 2013-17, STL 2018-19

Ozuna has been a strong run producer and middle of the order bat for a decent stretch now. The former Miami Marlin had his best year in 2017, hitting .312/.376/.548 with 37 home runs, 93 runs, and 124 RBI in 159 games. Ozuna was named an All-Star for the second time in his career while also earning a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove award. The two seasons that followed in the decade were not as impressive, but Ozuna hit 23 and 29 home runs in 2018 and 2019, respectively, while driving in roughly 90 runs each season. Ozuna is eighth in home runs and ninth in RBI among players who patrolled left field for at least 400 games last decade. His peak was simply way too short and his track record of success not as extensive as others on this list, and his defense has declined notably in recent years, seemingly in large part due to shoulder issues.

8. Alex Gordon | KC 2010-19

One of the best defensive left fielders of all time, Gordon has won seven Gold Gloves in his career, all within the last nine years. The lifelong Royal never showed great home run power, but he did lead baseball with 51 doubles in 2012 after hitting 45 the year before. He was named to three straight All-Star teams from 2013-15 and from 2011-16, Gordon averaged 82 runs, 72 RBI, 18 home runs and 10 steals per season while batting .281/.359/.450. While there was no doubting his fielding skills, Gordon was never an elite hitter and hasn’t even been a productive hitter for the most part since 2015. Despite that, he ranks fifth in WAR, fifth in hits, fourth in doubles and seventh in home runs among players with at least 400 games in left in the decade.

7. Brett Gardner | NYY 2010-19

Gardner has been one of the most underrated players in baseball over the last decade despite playing on seven playoff teams in the 2010s. WAR is not a perfect stat, but it is a highly significant one, and Gardner leads all players who saw at least 400 games of action in left field in WAR over the past 10 years. 

So how has a player who’s only been to one All-Star game been so valuable? For one, Gardner has played in 140+ games in every season of the decade except an injury-shortened 2012. Frequently batting near the top of the Yankees lineup, Gardner also scored 80+ runs each year of the decade except 2012, topping 90 runs four times. Gardner also led the AL with 49 stolen bases in 2011 and tallied double-digit steals in nine years of the 2010s, topping 20 six times. Despite a solid but not spectacular batting average, Gardner has consistently gotten on base at a high clip. And he’s been a strong defender, with his singular Gold Glove from 2016 not doing his abilities in the field justice. Aside from the steals in the early part of the decade, Gardner hasn’t shown elite offensive skills in any major area, which is why he finds himself seventh despite significant cumulative stats.

6. Yoenis Céspedes | OAK 2012-14, BOS 2014, DET 2015, NYM 2015-18

After defecting from Cuba, Cespedes burst on to the major league scene in 2012 at age 26, slashing .292/.356/.505 in 129 games while hitting 23 home runs, stealing 16 bases and finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting and 10th in MVP balloting. Over the next four seasons — with four different teams — Cespedes averaged 29 home runs, 31 doubles, 84 runs, 93 RBI and six steals per season with a .268/.319/.491 batting line. “La Potencia”, as he’s been nicknamed, was named to two All-Star teams, finished top 15 in MVP voting twice and won a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger in that span as well.

Due to hamstring, heel and ankle injuries, Cespedes has suited up for just 119 MLB games over the last three seasons. That combined with his 2012 debut means he doesn’t hold the same cumulative stats as other left fielders. Yet he still ranks sixth in home runs and 10th in RBI among players with at least 400 games in left field last decade and fifth in slugging percentage. At his best, there’s no doubting that Cespedes was one of the most feared sluggers in baseball in the 2010s.

5. Matt Holliday | STL 2010-16, NYY 2017, COL 2018

Holliday’s elite seasons came in the mid-to-late 2000s playing half his games in the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field, but he clearly had plenty left in the tank in the 2010s. The first half of the decade, the then-Cardinal hit 20+ home runs each year and drove in 90+ runs all but once, averaging 24 homers, 37 doubles, 92 runs and 93 RBI per season while slashing .295/.383/.496. During that stretch, Holliday was named an NL All-Star three times, finished top 15 in MVP voting three times and won a Silver Slugger. While injuries limited Holliday in his final four years in the majors, he was still a productive player, smacking 20 and 19 home runs in 2016 and 2017 in 110 and 105 games, respectively.

Unlike several of the players in this top 10, Holliday, while largely respectable in left field, was never a plus defender. And unlike the top three players in this list, he was really never considered one of the elite outfielders in baseball at any point in the 2010s. That being said, Holliday was a consistent high-level player who was generally a reliable source of 20-30 homers, 90-100 RBI, and a .290ish batting average for an extended stretch. He ranks 10th in WAR among players with at least 400 games in left field last decade, as well as eighth in doubles, fifth in home runs and fourth in RBI and OPS. His seven-year, $120 million contract with the Cardinals is widely considered to be one of the biggest bargains of the decade for a high-level hitter.

4. Michael Brantley | CLE 2010-18, HOU 2019

A well-respected, high average, middle-of-the-order bat for the Indians for several years, Brantley was a part of four playoff teams and was named an All-Star four times in the 2010s. His best year came in 2014, when Brantley finished third in AL MVP voting, hitting .327/.385/.506 with 200 hits, 45 doubles, 20 home runs, 94 runs, 97 RBI, and 23 steals in 156 games. After a slowish start to the decade, Brantley averaged 15 home runs, 39 doubles, and 18 steals per season from 2013-15 while hitting .308 with an .828 OPS. He played only 101 total games between 2016 and 2017 due to injury, but rebounded the final two years of the 2010s, averaging 20 homers, 89 runs, 83 RBI, 38 doubles, and eight steals per season while hitting .310/.368/.486.

Brantley has undoubtedly been one of the best pure hitters in baseball when healthy, and despite missed time and a slow start to the 2010s offensively, he still ranks sixth in WAR, fourth in hits, third in doubles and second in average among players who made at least 400 appearances in left field in the decade. His combination of ceiling and consistency just doesn’t measure up to the top three players on this list.

3. Christian Yelich | MIA 2013-17, MIL 2018-19

At a position with a number of veteran impact players, the fact that Yelich ranks so high among left fielders is a testament to just how elite his production has been the last few seasons. Yelich made his debut in 2013, and while he hit for a high average and stole bases (10, 21, and 16 steals in his first three seasons, respectively) right out of the gate, his power for his first few seasons was minimal and he didn’t reach double-digit home runs until 2016. In 2016, the then-Marlins outfielder hit 21 runs while tallying 98 RBI and nine steals and hitting .298, winning his first of three Silver Sluggers. 

After a slight step back in power and average — but an increase in steals — in 2017, Yelich exploded in his first season in Milwaukee. He hit a sensational .326/.402/.598, leading the NL in average, slugging percentage and OPS. He was named an All-Star for the first time, won another Silver Slugger, and scored 118 runs, hit 34 doubles and 36 home runs, drove in 110 riles and stole 22 bases. Yelich won the first of what would have surely been two MVP awards in a row. 

At age 27, he was somehow having an even better season this past year, leading the NL in average (.329), OBP (.429), slugging percentage (.671), and OPS (1.100) through 130 games played before fracturing his right kneecap. Oh yeah, and he had 30 stolen bases at the time of his injury as well. Yelich, who played primarily in right field last season but played more in left than any other spot last decade, has also proven to be a gifted fielder, winning a Gold Glove in 2014. His stretch of high-level production in the 2010s doesn’t match up to the final two players, but Yelich’s ceiling in the decade certainly does.

2. Ryan Bruan | MIL 2010-19

This is where it gets really tricky. Most would agree that Braun and Justin Upton were the best left fielders of the 2010s, but the order is certainly up for debate. Braun burst onto the major league scene in the late 2000s, hitting 34, 37 and 32 home runs in his first three major league seasons while being named to two All-Star teams, winning two Silver Sluggers and twice finishing top 15 in MVP voting. But that was all before the 2010s began.

The first three years of the 2010s were also incredibly impressive for Braun. The lifelong Brewer hit 25, 33 and 41 home runs the first three seasons of the decade, respectively, while surpassing 100 runs scored and 100 RBI each year. He also eclipsed 30 stolen bases twice, with 33 in 2011 and an even 30 in 2010. Braun was an All-Star and won a Silver Slugger each of those years, and his best season occurred in 2011, when he hit .332/.397/.597, leading the NL in slugging and OPS to win NL MVP. With a league-leading .987 OPS, 356 total bases, 41 homers and 108 runs, Braun finished second in MVP balloting the next year.

Braun never reached that level of production again the rest of the decade, but he’s continued to be a highly productive major leaguer ever since. After a shortened 2013, Braun averaged 22 home runs and 14 steals the rest of the 2010s while hitting .278 with a .833 OPS. He hit roughly 20 home runs or more and stole double digit bases in every season, and even as he’s battled smaller injuries, Braun has played in 100+ games each of the last six seasons.

Among players with at least 400 games in left field last decade, Braun ranks second in hits, third in runs, second in home runs and first in RBI. So what’s not to like about Braun’s case for left fielder of the decade? The reason for that shortened 2013 season. Braun was suspended after admitting to using performance-enhancing drugs during his 2011 MVP season. Braun, who appeared to be starting a Hall-of-Fame career in his first years in the majors, will always have a knock on his reputation from that offense. He likely would have been the No. 1 choice without it, but with a really strong candidate just inches behind him, Braun slips to the No. 2 spot.

1. Justin Upton | ARI 2010-12, ATL 2013-14, SD 2015, DET 2016-17, LAA 2017-19

Upton never showed the ceiling of Braun and Yelich, but his consistent, high-level production simply cannot be matched. In an eight-year stretch from 2011-18, Upton played in 145+ games eight times, hit between 26 and 35 homers seven times, drove in 80+ runs six times and stole double-digit bases four times, averaging 13 steals per season. In 2011, Upton finished fourth in NL MVP balloting, hitting .289 with a nearly .900 OPS, 31 home runs, 105 runs, 88 RBI and 21 stolen bases. Upton also won his first of three Silver Sluggers and was named to his first of three All-Star teams in the decade that year.

While Braun has remained a 20-homer threat the past few seasons, he’s dropped off offensively in almost every other way. Upton, meanwhile, hasn’t skipped a beat, hitting 35 and 30 home runs and stealing 14 and eight bases in 2017 and 2018, respectively, before various injuries limited him to just 63 games last season. Among those with at least 400 games at the position in the 2010s, Upton leads all left fielders in games played, runs, and home runs, and is second in RBI and walks and sixth in steals.

While the best years of Braun and Yelich may have been better, but the veteran of five major league teams is only a tick behind, and when you combine that with his longevity as a high-end option and the major knock against Braun, you’ve got the 2010s left fielder of the decade in Justin Upton.

Photos by Ian D’Andrea / Flickr (Braun), “Skoch3” / Wikimedia Commons (Upton), Ian D’Andrea / Flickr (Yelich)

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