There are a number of left fielders that have played ten seasons or more, but none of them are slam dunk Hall of Famers. So, what they have accomplished this season could go a long way in determining whether any of them will make the cut. As we well know, there is the value necessary to make it, but the voters also like counting numbers. We will take a brief look at the current players looking to build on their Hall of Fame resumes.
Michael Brantley– Houston Astros
Brantley is currently on pace to have five wins across the board for the first time in years. Brantley has two issues when it comes to a Cooperstown candidacy. First, his injury history has limited his counting numbers. This is doubly important considering that he has never hit more than 20 home runs in a season. Simply put, voters dig the long ball and just isn’t Brantley’s game.
In many ways, Brantley is a throw back to a previous generation. He isn’t particularly good defensively, he doesn’t run the bases well, and he isn’t all that flamboyant. He just hits. He doesn’t strike out. Previously this season, he went through a streak of almost 50 plate appearances without a swing and miss. Read that again. I’m not talking a streak without strikeouts. It was a streak without a swing and miss. That’s unheard of these days.
Alex Gordon– Kansas City Royals
Gordon and Brantley are similar in that they won’t have the counting statistics necessary for enshrinement. Yet, their value comes from different places. 2019 marks the first time Gordon has been below average according to defnsive runs saved. It also is the last year of a contract that has been pretty disastrous for the Royals. I suppose there is a possibility that he could come back for much less, but the Royals would probably like to move on.
In a normal universe, a two or three win player would have no problem finding work, but these are new times. Losing teams really don’t want to pay the price for an average player and winning teams usually have someone better than average. Just last season he was +18 according to defensive runs saved, so maybe a team might take a chance on him rediscovering his glove like he has done with the bat this season.
Justin Upton– Los Angeles Angels
It’s been a lost season for Upton because of injuries. He missed the first two months and have gotten off to a dreadful start. However, with two months left there is time for him to get things turned around and at least put up good percentage numbers. Upton has always been a good player, but has never been a great one. More was expected as a number one overall pick and that might hurt him when it comes time for voters to vote.
The Angels seem to have a habit of sinking money into these guys. At least he has some job security as the Angels can’t justify cutting him and with his huge contract they will find a spot in the lineup for him. He is still young enough to rebound from a bad season and return to the level of play he was exhibiting before. Two or three more seasons of production might be enough to give him the counting numbers.
Ryan Braun– Milwaukee Brewers
Given his numbers, most people would naturally assume that Braun is a Hall of Famer in waiting. At 35, he is beginning to show signs of age. He can’t play everyday and he only shows occasional glimmers of greatness, but they are enough to give him respectable numbers. The problem is how you justify his candidacy given his place in the PED history of the game.
A part of that depends on timing. If you are able to produce after getting caught you can quiet the whispers. However, optics are also key. Andy Pettitte is probably the model of how to handle the scandal. You come clean and admit wrongdoing. Braun did the opposite and even soiled the reputation of the courier that handled his testing sample. If it were a lesson on how to be an ass then Braun would be professor emeritus. The question will be whether time will heal all wounds.
Brett Gardner– New York Yankees
Gardner is a player in the mold of Alex Gordon. He has been a plus defender in left field and center field for over a decade. He is a combined +8 this year according to defensive runs saved and that reached a peak of +33 in 2010. In other words, in that season he was worth almost four wins defensively. Like Gordon, the offensive numbers aren’t overwhelming. This year he is demonstrating more power than he ever has and he still might not reach 20 home runs.
The question for guys like Gordon and Gardner is whether the BBWAA will recognize different forms of value. Traditionally they haven’t, but the BBWAA continues to get younger and more progressive and in another decade that will probably be more so when guys like Gordon and Gardner will be on the ballot.
Shin-soo Choo– Texas Rangers
Choo rounds out a current crop of left fielders that don’t fit the stereotypical mold. Still, with another productive season or two he will surpass 50 wins in the win shares/5 model and will approach 40 wins in the two WAR models. Choo has always gotten on base everywhere he has been. Injuries have derailed his counting numbers some, but even when healthy he didn’t put up huge power numbers. He just got on base and got on base often.
Like the others, he needs to finish his career with some strong seasons and he needs some imagination from the voters. He has one more big season on his contract (21 million) and then the Rangers will likely let him go. If he finishes 2020 like he has been playing in 2019 he will find work somewhere. If he sputters then his career might be finished.