Originally expected to be the primary home of Desmond Jennings in 2012, left field had more turnover than was probably expected. While Jennings did appear in 111 games in left, the Rays used a total of eleven different players at the position.
Left fielders for the Rays did not get on base at a frequent rate (more on that later), but when they did, they typically scored. Despite finishing 19th in on base percentage at the position, the Rays were third in runs scored by their left fielders, and ranked first in the American League. A large part of this was due to the Rays penchant for running, as they were fourth in stolen bases and second in success rate. Jennings was a major part of that, swiping 25 bases while being caught only once while in left. Hideki Matsui even displayed a bit of a pulse in left, batting .280 with both of his home runs as a left fielder.
Defensively, the Rays were amongst the best in baseball, as their left fielders made only a single error all season. While they did not have many chances, finishing 25th in baseball, they converted the opportunities they had into outs, and were a big part of the Rays run prevention. Jennings was perfect in the field all year in both left and center, and ranked second in Total Zone Runs and fourth in range factor.
For as many runs as Rays left fielders scored, it could have been much better. With Jennings typically batting leadoff in left, the Rays ranked only 23rd in batting average, 20th in slugging, and 19th in on base percentage. Jennings himself posted a batting line in left of only .249/.318/.403, in what could be considered a disappointing season.
Defensively, there really were not any problems, unless one wants to get on Brandon Guyer for making the only error Rays left fielders had on the season (although the home run he hit for his only hit in the big leagues this year probably cancels that out).
Looking Ahead To 2013:
What happens with Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton will likely play a major factor as to left field for the Rays in 2013. If Upton does not return, then Jennings may end up as the primary center fielder. Should Upton return by virtue of the qualifying offer, then Jennings would likely be the primary left fielder. Either way, the Rays need Jennings to take that next step in his development towards becoming a bona fide offensive threat at he top of the lineup. Jennings played reasonably well prior to his injury, posting a .265/.333/.398 line with 20 runs, three home runs, eleven RBI, and eight stolen bases as of May 11th. If the Rays can get that type of production from him over an entire season, it may be the spark that offense needs.
Should Jennings move to center, the Rays may likely look within the organization to fill in at left. Guyer has shown that he can hit the ball in the minors, and could conceivably get a chance to win the starting job. Sam Fuld was one of the top left fielders defensively in 2011, despite appearing in only 75 games there. In fact, given how much Joe Maddon loves to platoon players, Guyer and Fuld may evolve into a timeshare if Jennings moves over.
The free agent class for left fielders is very top heavy, but an interesting name that could be on the Rays radar is Scott Hairston. On a woeful Mets team, Hairston produced a .263/.299/.504 slash line with 20 home runs. While he does not draw walks, only 19 in 398 plate appearances, he does have some power, and the positional flexibility that the Rays like, as Hairston spent time at all three outfield positions in 2012.
In 2013, Desmond Jennings will be a starting outfielder for the Rays. But given B.J. Upton’s likely departure, that will likely come in centerfield. Because of that, left field could be a revolving door for the Rays throughout the year.