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Friday, March 20, 2009

Breaking Down the NL East: Left Fielders

It’s been difficult to find time to complete my Breaking Down the NL East series, but I have managed to get to the left fielders, of which we have a couple of old guys, a couple of young upstarts, and a man who appears to be stuck, going nowhere in mediocrity. Garrett Anderson and Raul Ibanez move in from the AL West to try their hand at NL pitching, Josh Willingham has been unable to find his way off horrible teams, and Daniel Murphy and Cody Ross look to solidify themselves in everyday roles as each of their teams try to topple the Phillies. So, here is my ranking and projections of the NL East Left Fielders.

First (Score 1.625): Raul Ibanez has played on a team with some potential however the Seattle Mariners are struggling to find an identity outside of Ichiro. Now, with the Philadelphia Phillies, Raul has the opportunity to hit behind one of the most prolific power hitters in years and despite his age and contract, should be an upgrade over the departed Pat Burrell. Ibanez is unlikely to drive in as many runs as he had in Seattle, mainly because of the guys in front of him, but he should still protect Howard in the batting order. Again, aside from his age, the only other issue facing Ibanez, but really the Phillies in general; are the number of left handed bats that will be populating the everyday lineup. I see Raul hitting .290 and 27 home runs in Citizen’s Bank Park and driving 104 adding only more offense to the most offensive team in the league.

Second (2.625): This may be a bit of a surprise, but Cody Ross of the Florida Marlins has quietly become a solid major league hitter driving in 22 dingers and 73 RBIs in 2008. This year he should be a full time player and the only thing that will hold him back will be the other guys in the Marlins lineup. He has also been the most clutch performer in his short career, slugging over .600 with runners in scoring position. I don’t expect a drop off for Ross, but as he becomes the focus of opposing pitchers, he may have a hard time getting a pitch to hit. Cody is going to go for .284/33/86 in 2009 for an anemic offense.

Third (3.25): The Washington National’s Josh Willingham was a guy I had high hopes for a couple of years ago, but with an injury and really lackluster play, I’m afraid he has become simply an adequate player who is not going to wow anybody at this point. A platoon player on most teams, for the Nationals he will be a starting player. He comes in third here not for what he will potentially do as much as what he has done the past couple of years. Taking into consideration that he was hurt, he will see better offensive numbers, but I don’t project him having a blockbuster year like I would have back in 2006. The National left fielder will reach .271/24/80 and he will be happy he did.

Fourth (3.5): The new Atlanta Brave, Garrett Anderson was one of the Angel’s most consistent hitters in the last decade and was instrumental in getting the Halos their first World Series Championship. He is now, clearly, on his way out of the game as I think he was just looking for a place he can play everyday. His 3 year average of 16 home runs and 85 RBIs won’t blow anyone away in the NL East, but it should keep him in the top half of the batting order. That being said, he is not going to bring the glory back to Atlanta and he should probably be no more than a stopgap for a year or two until the Braves can find a younger replacement. He is projected right at his averages .283/16/83 because there is no reason to think otherwise.

Fifth (4.0): Daniel Murphy of the New York Mets could be the next Dale Murphy or the next Murphy Brown. It is just too soon to tell. But based on the short amount of time he got last year, he should be no less than a platoon player for the Metropolitans in 2009. He was decent in the clutch with anything less than two outs, but again, I emphasize that that could all change as he gains the major league experience. This year, I do expect him to struggle a little bit, especially if he starts off hot and opposing teams start gathering data on Murphy. Should that happen it will be interesting to see just what kind of hitter he can turn himself into. This season I don’t expect him to hit like Dale, but certainly better than a fictional television news anchor. Right now I will lowball him with .250/5/45, but that could get better with playing time.
This is not necessarily a weak group of left fielders, but it is not one that will be fighting for MVP votes to be sure. I am looking forward to seeing how well Murphy does in New York, although I would rather see him flounder than do well against the Phillies. Additionally interesting will be how well Ibanez fits into the Philadelphia lineup and if Cody Ross can continually build on his last three seasons to become the next Marlins player to get traded to a contender.

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