Matt Diaz deserves to be the every day starting left fielder for the Atlanta Braves. His batting skills have earned it for him. If he plays everyday in left, the Braves have a better chance to win the NL East.
The Braves haven't had a regular left fielder since the days of Ryan Klesko. That's so long ago Jason Heyward was in the second grade. Being a left fielder in Atlanta is about as safe as being the defense against the dark arts teacher at Hogwarts. No player has held down the starting position in left for 13 seasons.
The one-and-done fill-ins have included the immortal likes of Garrett Anderson, Gregor Blanco, Ryan Langerhans, Kelly Johnson, Charles Thomas, B.J. Surhoff, Reggie Sanders, and Gerald Williams. The only pseudo-stability occurred when they put a third baseman, Chipper Jones, in left from 2002-2003. This was a complete disater, not only because of Chipper's fielding but because Vinny Castilla provided nothing in his stead at third base.
Matt Diaz had the job for a spell in 2007, but injury prevented him form securing it again in 2008. He deserves a second chance.
The Braves acquired Diaz from the Royals in December 2005. Up to that point, Diaz had only played in 58 career games. No one really knew what he could do. Bobby Cox gave him a chance as a platoon player in the outfield. Since then Diaz has done nothing but hit.
In 470 games as a Brave, Diaz has produced a .314/.361/.466 batting line. This includes two seasons in which he was injured and his production severely decreased.
In his three full seasons, Diaz produced an OPS+ of 114, 123 and 133 (OPS+ is a measure of how far above the league average OPS—set at 100—a player is).
Diaz is clearly an improving, above average hitter. He is certainly better than the Braves' other left field prospects at this time, Melky Cabrera (.259/.319/.355) and Nate McLouth (.169/.282/.268). Putting these two players in the lineup is not much better than having another pitcher hitting in the eighth spot.
Since returning form the disabled listed on June 29th, Diaz has hit .378 with an OPS of 1.182. He hit home runs in three straight games and has a hit in every game he's started since returning.
One knock against Diaz has been his fielding. But Diaz has actually shown improvement in his fielding for four straight years.
Baseball-Reference uses a formula to calculate the number of runs a player is better or worse than an average fielder. Diaz's last four years (staring in 2007) are -5, -2, 0 and 2. The evidence suggests Diaz has worked diligently to improve his defense.
Bobby Cox uses Diaz in a platoon split, only allowing him to start against left-handed pitchers. But in 2007, when Diaz got to play more in left because of injuries, he hit .318 against righties. Diaz simply hasn't had enough of a chance to establish himself against right-handers. If given a chance to face them and adapt, he may well increase his batting prowess against right-handed pitching.
The same thing happened to Ryan Klesko in Atlanta. He platooned and never started against lefties. Then he was traded to San Diego, started everyday, hit just fine against lefties, and became an All-Star.
Allowing Matt Diaz to start everyday in left field gives the Braves the best chance to win. He is much better than the current versions of Cabrera and McLouth. Over his five seasons in Atlanta he has proven himself to be an accomplished hitter and an improving fielder. He has earned the opportunity to provide Atlanta with some stability in left field.
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