Top left fielders of the 21st century

Bonds is the obvious winner, but the top three are dogged by PED rumors and suspensions

On to the outfield. This is the sixth installment of my every-other-Friday rankings of the best players of the 21st century, and we’re now departing the infield in the direction of left field.

We come to a position that has an unhappy story. The top three left fielders of the period from 2000 through 2020 were all shadowed by allegations of performance-enhancing drug use.

“They can test me every day if they choose to,” Barry Bonds, the clear frontrunner in my rankings, said defiantly during his career. It’s true that he never failed a PED test and never publicly admitted to using steroids, though rumors were rampant. Bonds testified in court that he was given PEDs that he had believed were flaxseed oil and arthritis cream. He was initially convicted of obstructing justice, but the ruling was overturned on appeal.

The cases of the two runners-up in my standings are more clear-cut. Manny Ramirez and Ryan Braun were both suspended for PED use. Ramirez was docked 50 games in 2009 and 100 games for a repeat offense in 2011. Braun served a 65-game suspension in 2013.

My rankings are based on a 10-part formula — click here to learn how it works — and the statistics accumulated by all three players remain on the books to this day, tainted or not. So I have rated them the same way as everybody else.

Bonds is the obvious leader among the 57 men who made at least 2,500 plate appearances between 2000 and 2020 and played more than 40% of their games in left field.

The Giants superstar was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player four straight years from 2001 through 2004, and he reached a superhuman 1.647 bases per out between 2000 and 2007, when his career came to an unceremonious end.

The rankings, of course, exclude Bonds’s first 14 seasons in the big leagues (1986-1999), when he piled up 445 home runs and 2,010 hits. He added another 317 homers and 925 hits after the turn of the century.

The gap between Bonds and his competitors is enormous. My formula ranked all 57 left fielders from top to bottom, assigning the maximum score of 1,000 points to Bonds and 0 points to the last-place finisher. Everybody else’s score was determined by relative performance.

Ramirez occupies a very distant second place, 249 points behind Bonds. Braun trails the frontrunner by 305 points. Bonds holds similarly wide leads in several key categories, including BPO (567 points ahead of any other left fielder), slugging percentage (133 points ahead), and wins above replacement (12.5 ahead).

Two components — quality and longevity — are necessary to produce an outstanding score in my formula. A player needs to put up strong rates (such as batting average and BPO), while also racking up large totals (as in games played and hits).

Here are the previous winners:

Catcher: Joe Mauer

First baseman: Albert Pujols

Second baseman: Robinson Cano

Shortstop: Derek Jeter

Third baseman: Alex Rodriguez

What follows are profiles of the 10 top-rated left fielders, then a list of the rest of the pack (No. 11 to No. 57). Each profile includes a player’s score, his cumulative stats for the century, and a few pertinent notes. (Click here to learn more about the 10 statistical categories.)

1. Barry Bonds (2000-2007)

  • Score: 1,000 points

  • WAR: 59.1 total, 9.7 per 162 G, -5.2 defensive

  • Averages: .322 BA, .724 SLG, 1.647 BPO

  • Scoring: 1,152 R generated, 189 per 162 G

  • Totals: 986 G, 925 H

  • Notes: Bonds’s dominance was breathtaking. Forget left field for a moment. Let’s widen the scope to all players who made at least 2,500 plate appearances after 1999. Bonds finished 43% ahead of the runner-up in BPO, Mike Trout at 1.155. And Bonds was the only player in the period to bat higher than .300 and slug higher than .600.

2. Manny Ramirez (2000-2011)

  • Score: 751 points

  • WAR: 44.2 total, 4.9 per 162 G, -16.6 defensive

  • Averages: .315 BA, .591 SLG, 1.080 BPO

  • Scoring: 1,763 R generated, 197 per 162 G

  • Totals: 1,453 G, 1,642 H

  • Notes: Ramirez actually outperformed Bonds in a rate category, generating 197 runs per 162 games, which tied him with Alex Rodriguez for the best run production by anybody at any position. Ramirez never won an MVP trophy, though he finished in the top 10 in the balloting seven times this century.

3. Ryan Braun (2007-2020)

  • Score: 695 points

  • WAR: 46.6 total, 4.3 per 162 G, -10.2 defensive

  • Averages: .296 BA, .532 SLG, .900 BPO

  • Scoring: 1,882 R generated, 173 per 162 G

  • Totals: 1,766 G, 1,963 H

  • Notes: Braun debuted with the Brewers as the National League’s Rookie of the Year, then won the MVP Award four seasons later. He topped the NL in slugging percentage twice and runs, hits, and home runs once apiece. He ranks second to Bonds among all 21st century left fielders in total WAR.

4. Matt Holliday (2004-2018)

  • Score: 691 points

  • WAR: 44.4 total, 3.8 per 162 G, -13.3 defensive

  • Averages: .299 BA, .510 SLG, .893 BPO

  • Scoring: 2,061 R generated, 175 per 162 G

  • Totals: 1,903 G, 2,096 H

  • Notes: Holliday’s greatest season came in 2007, when he paced the National League with a .340 batting average, 50 doubles, and 137 runs batted in. Denver’s thin air undoubtedly helped, though Holliday remained a strong player after the Rockies traded him in late 2008. He batted a solid .293 in eight seasons with the Cardinals.

5. Carl Crawford (2002-2016)

  • Score: 582 points

  • WAR: 39.1 total, 3.7 per 162 G, 1.4 defensive

  • Averages: .290 BA, .435 SLG, .777 BPO

  • Scoring: 1,628 R generated, 154 per 162 G

  • Totals: 1,716 G, 1,931 H

  • Notes: Crawford was fleet of foot. He led the American League in stolen bases four times during his nine seasons with the Rays, peaking at 59 steals in 2004. He also topped the league in triples on four occasions. Only two of the top 10 left fielders had defensive WARs above zero, and Crawford was one of them.

6. Carlos Lee (2000-2012)

  • Score: 565 points

  • WAR: 27.6 total, 2.3 per 162 G, -10.5 defensive

  • Averages: .284 BA, .484 SLG, .795 BPO

  • Scoring: 1,996 R generated, 164 per 162 G

  • Totals: 1,972 G, 2,129 H

  • Notes: Lee racked up more hits in this century than any other left fielder, beating runner-up Holliday by 33. He posted batting averages of .300 or better in six seasons, cresting at .314 with the Astros in 2008.

7. Alfonso Soriano (2000-2014)

  • Score: 541 points

  • WAR: 28.7 total, 2.4 per 162 G, -10.0 defensive

  • Averages: .270 BA, .500 SLG, .812 BPO

  • Scoring: 1,897 R generated, 156 per 162 G

  • Totals: 1,966 G, 2,094 H

  • Notes: Soriano began his career as a second baseman, eventually shifting to left because of his defensive deficiencies. But he could always hit. He is one of just seven left fielders this century with a BPO above .800 and an SLG of .500 or better.

8. Christian Yelich (2013-2020)

  • Score: 499 points

  • WAR: 31.9 total, 5.3 per 162 G, -3.2 defensive

  • Averages: .296 BA, .488 SLG, .905 BPO

  • Scoring: 997 R generated, 165 per 162 G

  • Totals: 978 G, 1,108 H

  • Notes: Yelich was a solid player for the Marlins — batting .290 over five seasons — but he blossomed after being traded to the Brewers in 2018. He was named the National League’s MVP that year and finished second in the balloting the following season. He also picked up a pair of batting crowns in 2018 and 2019.

9. Justin Upton (2007-2020)

  • Score: 497 points

  • WAR: 33.7 total, 3.1 per 162 G, -7.0 defensive

  • Averages: .265 BA, .474 SLG, .820 BPO

  • Scoring: 1,661 R generated, 155 per 162 G

  • Totals: 1,739 G, 1,681 H

  • Notes: Upton has brought consistent power to his five clubs over 14 years. He has hit more than 25 home runs in eight different seasons. He reached the pinnacle for the Tigers and Angels in 2017, totaling 35 homers and 109 RBIs.

10. Brett Gardner (2008-2020)

  • Score: 495 points

  • WAR: 42.8 total, 4.5 per 162 G, 12.8 defensive

  • Averages: .259 BA, .401 SLG, .769 BPO

  • Scoring: 1,306 R generated, 137 per 162 G

  • Totals: 1,548 G, 1,384 H

  • Notes: Gardner has played all 13 years with the Yankees. He hasn’t been flashy. His batting average has never exceeded .277 in a full season, and he has won only a single Gold Glove despite solid fielding ability. But he ranks fifth among all 21st century left fielders in total WAR.

Everybody else