April 25, 2017
The Disappearing Left Fielder?
The left fielder has become an endangered species. That's an odd statement to make, but the data say it’s true, and the reasons why tell us some interesting things about where the game of baseball is going. And it starts in this graph right here:
This is a graph from 1998 to 2016. I took the 30 players who recorded the most plate appearances as left fielders during each year. These would be the “starting” left fielders, and they are the top line on that graph. The bottom line is a everyone else who appeared as a left fielder. The lines represent the raw number of plate appearances that each group made in their capacity as left fielders. Guys who usually played in left, but who were moonlighting at first that day, didn’t count.
Over the last 10 years or so, the percentage of plate appearances taken by “starting” left fielders has declined. In 2016, only 56.2 percent of plate appearances by left fielders were taken by the “starters.” In 2015, only the bare majority–50.9 percent–of left field plate appearances were taken by starters. It wasn’t always this way. In 2006, starting left fielders accounted for 69.3 percent of all left field plate appearances.
As some point of comparison, here’s the same chart for center fielders: