clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Assembling the Perfect Reds Left Fielder

The Free Agent market stinks. Let's build a better ballplayer.

Need to borrow your eyes and biceps, Adam.
Need to borrow your eyes and biceps, Adam.
Dilip Vishwanat

Remember the Young, Frank, 'n Stynes outfield? Yeah, we all got some good laughs out of that one. Nice knockers, Dmitri! Anyways, Jack McKeon's sly homage to Mel Brooks' comedy about the assembly of a monster was all well and good for the late '90s, but these are more serious times. So Red Reporter has gone about building the perfect team, position by position, constructed from the skills and appendages of players past. Today: Left field.

Contact: By Batting Average, the top two seasons for a Red left fielder belong to Mike Donlin (.351, 1903) and Cuckoo Christiensen (.350, 1926). I confess to having never heard of either player. Donlin had a fairly substantial major league career, though just a year-plus in Cincinnati. Christiensen turned out to be a one-season wonder, slumping badly after his great ‘26 and never playing another big league game.

Pete Rose played a bit longer, hit .307 as a Red, won three batting titles, and retired with the most Hits in major league history. He wins. An honorable mention to Pat Duncan, who also hit .307 as a Red with the fifth-most games in LF in club history. Duncan debuted on the championship 1919 team as a 25 year-old. Had it not been for the war and the chaotic nature of early professional baseball, his big league career would have started much earlier.

Power: the recency and awesomeness of Adam Dunn’s Reds career led me to believe this would be an easy call, but I was wrong. Dunn’s 270 rally-halting round-trippers is 4th on the team’s all-time list. He’s also the only Reds left fielder that I can find whose SLG (.520) doubles his AVG (.247).

But a couple of other sluggers warrant a close look. George Foster’s 1977 MVP season (the only 50+ HR year of the ‘70s) was better than any of Dunn’s. It also underscores the different offensive environments the two faced. Frank Robinson is of course one of the game’s all-time greats, and the challenge here is how to account for Robinson’s shifting defensive career in Cincinnati. Robinson was stationed in right field for the ‘61 pennant winners, which is where I think of him. But he came up in left and totaled more games there (696) than in right (533), though for his career the order is switched.

Even if Robbie is considered a left fielder for our purposes, I'll still give Dunn the slight edge on raw power. Dunn played more games in left (940) than either Robinson or Foster (882), and his .273 ISO beats them both (Robinson - .251; Foster - 0.228). Dunn played in the greatest power era and mostly in GABP, but still - his power would’ve played in any time. Example: the Ol’ Kentucky Homer. It's not like he was dinging a bunch of wall-scrapers.

Plate Discipline: Adam Dunn. His walk rate was nearly 17% as a Red, which is nuts. Robinson is well behind here at 11% - and he received more intentional passes. Deadballer Bob Bescher (more below) walked almost 13% of the time, but played when the walk rate was a bit higher. For more context, Joey Votto's career walk rate is 15% (though it's been over 18% the past two years).

Speed is normally the province of center fielders, but every once in a while the Reds will have a real burner at the position. The best was Bob Bescher, who led the league in steals for four straight years in the deadball era. His 81 swipes in 1911 stood as the NL record until Maury Wills broke it 52 years later (and it's still the club record). According to Peter King of the Enquirer, Bescher was caught only 3 times in 1911.

For a modern honorable mention, Gary Redus stole 146 bases (at 79%) as a mostly left fielder in the mid-’80s. Frank Robinson also gets a nod for 157 steals (74%) and terrorizing opposing middle infielders when breaking up double plays.

Arm: Dunn once backed up U. Texas quarterback Major Applewhite, but as much as I loved the lug his throwing strength and accuracy underwhelmed. Foster sailed a seed to home plate in Game 6 of the '75 World Series to halt a Red Sox rally in the 9th but wasn't generally known for his arm. Once again I'm compelled to go with Pete Rose, who also was not known for his arm strength but did lead the NL in Assists for a left fielder for three years. Foster and Robinson placed among the leaders in Assists but never topped the field. Among all the categories here, this is the one I'm the least confident about.

Glove: The Reds have been no exception to the general rule of starting bat-first players in left field, but some of those bats have accompanied pretty decent gloves (Bat-man Kevin Mitchell was not one of them). The nod goes again to Rose, who rates at 52 runs above average and tallied a 2.13 Range Factor (9 * Assists + Putouts / innings) in his 644 games in left. His numbers were better there than in right field, where Rose won his two Gold Gloves. He also has the team's top two seasons by defensive runs saved for a left fielder.

You could also make arguments for Foster (40 runs, 2.20 RF/9 in 882 games) and Robinson (39 runs, 2.12 RF/9 in 696 games). And for what it's worth, Bill James calls Grahamophone favorite Charley Jones "one of the best defensive outfielders of his time."

Robinson should probably get extra credit for contending with the slope of Crosley Terrace. I'm not sure why he moved from left to right (and first base in between), but he reportedly like the little hill so much that he recommended Baltimore build one when designing Camden Yards.

Durability: Dunn played 160+ games three times, but it's tough to top the irrepressible Pete Rose. Rose of course played just about every game, leading the league in games (as a Red) four times and playing 155+ in nine other years.

Intangibles: Maybe Rose is too obvious of a choice to ignore, but I'm going with Jerry Lynch. "Lynch in a Pinch" was a part-time starter and an extraordinary pinch hitter, probably the best in team history. Bill James suggests in the New Historical Baseball Abstract that Lynch, with only 210 PAs, could have been named league MVP in 1961: "Lynch had big, big hits; game after game, when the Reds were in danger of falling short, Lynch came up the big hit to put them back in front, and the Reds, picked to finish sixth, won the pennant."

Tigermetrics: Left field does not produce the pretty boys we see in center or right, that's for sure. I'll go with Reds HOFer Mike McCormick, who started on the '40 champions. Plus, look at the competition. Yowzas.

Final Tally: Rose - 4; Dunn - 2; Bescher - 1; Lynch - 1; McCormick - 1. How did Frank Robinson not win one of these?