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2010 in Arizona: Left-field

Left-field was another position where the Diamondbacks had issues last season, and where the level of production was not what we wanted, from a spot generally regarded as an engine-room for the offense. League OPS for the position was .781, but the Diamondbacks managed .719 from their left-fielders, a number which finished ahead of only the Cubs and Padres. While Arizona hit a semi-decent .265, we managed just 13 home-runs for the season, well below the league average (20.2 HR).

It's an area that will need to show considerable improvement in 2010, if the team is to come anywhere close to challenging for the NL West. After the jump, we'll take a look at some of the causes for 2009's disappointing returns, and see whether there is any hope for optimism in the coming season.

2009 Performance
1. Gerardo Parra: 66 starts, .290/.324/.404
2. Eric Byrnes, 46 starts, .226/.270/.393
3. Conor Jackson, 19 starts, .182/.264/.253
4. Ryan Roberts, 12 starts, .279/.367/.416
5. Alex Romero, 11 starts, .248/.306/.338

Left-field proved to be another area of flux for the Diamondbacks in 2009. Don't like the current incumbent? Wait until tomorrow - it'll probably be someone different. Conor Jackson started the season off expected to be the everyday occupant of the spot, but his encounter with a fungal lung-disease ended the year for him in disappointing fashion. largely robbing the team of their top 2008 WAR producer (outside of starting pitchers, 'Hacks would like me to remind you all!). Eric Byrnes proved little better in 2009 than 2008, with injuries and ineffectiveness again combining to cause some thoroughly-unacceptable numbers. I guess we should be happy that he did appear in 32 more games than the previous season, and his OPS+ increased by five points. To sixty-seven. And, moving rapidly on...

Gerardo Parra got the call-up from Double-A in mid-May, and saw the bulk of the LF playing time thereafter [he saw starts at all three positions in the outfield, but since about two-thirds of them were in left, we'll discuss him here]. He hit a credible .290, good enough to see him get some consideration in the Rookie of the Year voting, in which he finished eighth. However, he managed only 25 walks in 491 trips to the plate, and with only five home-runs, his power was nothing to write home about, and Parra ended with an overall OPS+ of 85. The numbers also concealed a disturbing split: against left-handers, Parra hit only .220, is still awaiting his first extra-base hit off a southpaw, after 100 at-bats, and has an OPS there of just .470.

His defense in left was something of a mixed bag - four assists, yet also three errors, in a total of 577 innings at the position [about the equivalent of 64 complete games]. UZR has him as slightly positive, with a UZR/150 of 3.2, and that would seem about right, as he showed decent range and the Parrazooka occasionally showed its power (if not necessarily its accuracy...). His base-stealing certainly could do with improvement, as he was caught stealing seven times in 12 attempts. On the other hand, he took the extra base on 47% of opportunities, above the league average of 39%.

Helping fill out the back of the position was Roberts: Parra's weakness against LHP led to him bravely stepping into the gap despite having played just 15 outfield games in his entire pro career before this season. Roberts didn't suck - indeed UZR viewed his stint there warmly, though a dozen starts is far short of enough to draw any conclusions. The other outings went to Alex Romero and Trent Oeltjen, neither of whom will be with the Diamondbacks in 2010, or contributed much to them in 2009 (except an adorable accent and cute smile, I am contractually obliged to remind you).

Top Remaining Free Agents
Name Age 2009 Sal. 2009 OPS+
Matt Holliday
Johnny Damon
36 $13m
Endy Chavez
32 $2.05m
Scott Podsednik
$500k 98
Marcus Thames 33 $2.275m 99
Chance of AZ free-agent activity: v.low.


2010 Depth-chart and Projections

  1. Conor Jackson: .266/.342/.425
  2. Gerardo Parra: .272/.321/.381
  3. Ryan Roberts: .250/.333/.379

The big question concerns Jackson: has he recovered from valley fever? After an abortive attempt to return in the middle of last year, there was a question as to whether he would even be tendered a contract. However, the signs this winter have been better. In 23 Dominican Winter League games, Jackson hit .425, with an OPS of 1.150, and also went 9-0 in stolen-base attempts. Now, obviously, that is not the majors, but it certainly beats...oh, I dunno, hitting .250 and getting sent home from winter ball, like certain Arizona outfielders I could mention. Though no deal has been arranged with Jackson, the team did make an offer, so it's now just a matter of time [IIRC, last year, settlement was reached just before Conor and the team went to arbitration]

It will be interesting to see what happens to Jackson's power. After hitting fifteen bombs in 130 games during the 2007 season, his numbers fell back somewhat in 2008, though an increase in double and BA helped maintain his overall OPS+ at exactly the same total. In 2009, Jackson dropped off the chart, with one home-run in thirty games. I'm hoping this was due to the early, energy-sapping effect of valley fever, and his numbers will thus return to normal. While playing own in the Dominican, Conor had two home-runs and six doubles in those 23 games, which is grounds for some mild optimism.

There is some debate going on at the moment as to whether Jackson will be playing regularly in left-field or at first-base for Arizona. While he prefers the outfield, and the evidence suggests he is a better defender there, it is, to a certain extent, outside his direct control, since it depends on whether Brandon Allen shows himself a credible candidate at first on an everyday basis. If that happens, then we could still see Jackson at first against tough left-handed starters. But if Jackson does move to first on a full-time basis, it will really pose as many questions as it answers, with the dilemma of who should replace Jackson in right?

Byrnes might have first claim, simply on the basis of the team trying to wring some value out of him - with this being his free-agent year, he should certainly lack no motivation. With Parra's brutal numbers against left-handers (discussed above), Byrnes should start in RF if Jackson has been moved to 1B when we face a southpaw [While Roberts certainly ripped them last season too, his bat may be more useful as an infield replacement]. But against the more normal right-handed pitching, the picture becomes more cloudy in the absence of Jackson. Charitably assuming Byrnes matches his career numbers, his split vs. RHP is a .720 OPS. Parra last year was .801, and that's why I give Parra the edge on our depth chart.

[Update] Please delete all references to Eric Byrnes from the above entry. :-)