FanPost

Who Should Be Starting in Left Field on Opening Day?

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest questions coming into this season is who would be starting in LF on opening day. The Astros have quite a few in house options, as well as the plethora of free agents and trade targets that have been mentioned by the TCB commenters. I'm going to stick to comparing our in-house options of Grossman, Marisnick, and Fowler.

Dexter Fowler

I'll start with Fowler because his is the easiest argument to make. If you shift Fowler to left field, you almost automatically have to insert Marisnick into CF. No one wants to watch Presley or Grossman play CF for a full season. Fowler played 116 games with 505 plate appearances last year. He slashed .276/.375/.399 last year as the Astros everyday CF. Steamer projects him to slash .246/.347/.375 with a wRC+ of 109 and an offensive WAR of 7.8. He was also our third best offensive player by wRC+ with 127 and our second best player by offensive WAR with 17.3. If Fowler had played LF fulltime, he would have been the 8th best LF by wRC+, ahead of players like Melky Cabrera, Alex Gordon, and Yoenis Cespedes. When using offensive WAR he would have been ranked 8th as well, just behind Alex Gordon but still ahead of Cabrera, Cespedes, and the Dallas Rangers $130 Million man Shin-Shoo Choo.

Even though the defensive metrics hate Fowler, most people consider him to be an average defensive center fielder. Below is a chart using Fangraphs Insider Edge defensive data. It includes what they classify as a routine play, a likely play, an even chance to make the play, an unlikely chance, and a remote chance.The numbers are the percentage of plays in those zones they were able to make. I've included Fowler, Mike Trout, Alex Gordon, and Matt Kemp's data. Trout and Gordon are both well regarded as elite defenders, and Kemp is the only qualified CF with a defensive WAR that was lower than Fowler. This gives a picture of where Fowler is defensively. To me the numbers say that he going to make the plays he needs to make, but isn't going to wow you. That screams left fielder to me. Admittedly, this argument is extremely flawed because I do not expect Fowler to shift to left field. I think it could be good for the Astros if he did, but I wouldn't get my hopes up.

Routine

Likely

Even

Unlikely

Remote

Fowler (CF)

0.996

0.800

0.600

0.333

0.100

Trout (CF)

0.992

0.941

1.000

0.667

0.000

Gordon (LF)

0.997

0.929

0.571

0.571

0.167

Kemp (CF)

0.958

0.625

0.333

0.000

0.000

Robbie Grossman

Robbie played 103 games in an Astros uniform last year, good for 422 plate appearances. He slashed .233/.337/.333 with a wRC+ of 95 and an ugly offensive WAR of -3.5. Steamer projects him to slash .241/.331/.353 with a wRC+ of 97 and an offensive WAR of -0.7 next year. That being said, his season was a tale of two halves. The graph below paints a better picture.

AVG

OBP

SLG

wRC+

BABIP

BB%

K%

First Half

0.183

0.301

0.305

78

0.239

14.300

26.000

Second Half

0.262

0.357

0.349

105

0.350

12.300

24.300

Grossman improved significantly in the second half, actually becoming an above average player. A lot of this can be contributed to his BABIP, but I believe he just regressed to his average. His lifetime minor league BABIP is .364, so a major league BABIP of .350 doesn't seem completely out of the realm of possibility. His Major League BABIP of .353 supports that as well. If Robbie is the starting LF on Opening Day, I won't be upset. He brings an excellent walk rate, with average contact skills and little power. If Grossman can maintain his second half stats he can be an excellent LF for the Astros for years to come. Having a player like Grossman who can fight off pitches and walk at a high clip when he is playing well would slot in perfectly at leadoff, with Altuve hitting behind him. Imagine a lineup of Grossman, Altuve, Fowler, Springer, and Carter. It's an exciting possibility for the Astros offense next year.

Jake Marisnick

Marisnick slashed .270/.297/.368 in 50 games with 174 plate appearances, so we are considering a small sample size with him. Steamer projects him to slash .241/.287/.367 with a wRC+ of 83 and an offensive WAR of -7.0. Marisnick's strengths as a baseball player are almost the polar opposites of Grossman. He has average contact skills, a poor walk rate, 10-15 homer potential, and absolutely elite defense. Anyone who has seen Marisnick play knows he passes the eye test. At 6'4"he just seems to glide across the field, and no ball seems out of play for him. A defensive outfield of Fowler, Marisnick, and Springer has the potential to be one of the best in baseball, regardless of how they line up. The question with Marisnick is essentially the same as it is with Grossman, can he continue to grow on his progress at the plate last year? If he can keep his strikeout rate around or below 20% and continue to display some power potential, he would fit in extremely well in LF flanking Dexter Fowler.

Ideal Situation

In my opinion, the ideal situation is for second half of 2014 is Robbie Grossman as the leadoff hitter and Opening Day starter in 2015. He showed the ability to hit for a decent average, get on base at a high clip, and his defense improved as the year went on. He provides the high walk rate that this team needs. That being said, I would keep him on an extremely short leash. Not only is Marisnick clipping at his ankles for a starting job, but Preston Tucker and Domingo Santana are both in AAA waiting for their shot at the job. I don't think there is a right or wrong answer though. Marisnick and Grossman both bring elite skills to the table and both are extremely young with plenty of room to grow. It'll be up to Hinch, Luhnow, and Sid and his brain trust to figure out the best way to succeed and get the Astros to .500 and beyond.