MLB's Ultimate All-Lefty Team of the 2010s

Martin FennFeatured Columnist IJune 13, 2021

MLB's Ultimate All-Lefty Team of the 2010s

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Many challenges surrounded the 2020 MLB season, which was unlike any other in history. Because of that, baseball fans hardly got to appreciate the previous decade left in its wake. 

    So we're taking a moment to recognize some of the greatness of the 2010s by diving into the decade's best left-handed hitters and pitchers.

    We will assemble a lineup based on things like wins above replacement and accolades. Some other players might get nods based on dominance in a shorter period if said dominance was particularly profound.

    One more distinction: switch-hitters aren't included. That means no Francisco Lindor or Jose Ramirez, who might otherwise deserve spots.

C: Brian McCann

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Some readers might be asking, "What about Joe Mauer?"

    Well, Mauer might deserve a spot were it not for the fact that he was almost exclusively a first baseman or designated hitter by 2014. Conversely, catcher remained Brian McCann's primary position through his final season in 2019. That gives him the nod.

    This is not to say McCann isn't deserving. His 33.4 FanGraphs WAR (fWAR) during the 2010s is the highest among left-handed backstops and fifth among all catchers. He was one of the best game-callers and won three Silver Slugger Awards in the 2010s.

    Indeed, McCann could hit the ball out of the park. He hit 20 or more homers in nine straight seasons from 2008 to 2016, with his 191 homers in the 2010s handily leading all catchers. He also ranked third in RBI.

    The power stood out even more in part because of how sound McCann was behind the plate. He twice led the National League in range factor per game as a catcher (2011 and 2013) and later repeated that feat in the American League (2016 and 2017). McCann also posted 105.9 framing runs above average from 2010 to 2019.

1B: Joey Votto

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    With respect to Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, this wasn't a contest.

    Cincinnati Reds legend Joey Votto led all first basemen in fWAR in the 2010s. He and Miguel Cabrera finished the decade tied for first in weighted runs created plus (wRC+), which is impressive, considering Cabrera won a Triple Crown and two MVPs in that stretch.

    Votto also won an MVP in 2010, mashing 37 homers and driving in 113 runs to go with an NL-best 1.024 OPS. As elite as those numbers are, they hardly do Votto's prominence as a hitter any justice.

    In his prime, the Canadian had arguably the best feel for the strike zone of any left-handed hitter since Barry Bonds. He led baseball in OBP three times, also leading the NL in that same category on four more occasions.

    Votto's .428 OBP for the decade is 29 points higher than Cabrera's, the next closest first baseman. His walk rate (17.0 percent) was nearly identical to his strikeout rate (17.7). That's incredibly impressive given Votto also slugged .516 in the 2010s. He also ranked seventh at the position in home runs and, interestingly, was third in steals.

    Not to mention, Votto could play defense. He won a Gold Glove in 2011 and ranked third in defensive runs saved at the position during the decade.

    The 37-year-old might be in the twilight of his career, but his prime was something to behold. We could see him enshrined in Cooperstown.

2B: Robinson Cano

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    Things get a bit difficult here. There is sure to be some outrage over Robinson Cano's selection, and that's fair.

    Cano was suspended after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2018. He took another PED-related suspension in November last year. The second infraction has all but eviscerated any chance he had of getting into Cooperstown.

    What do we make of the positive tests occurring when Cano was in his age-35 and age-37 seasons? Do they tarnish the full body of work? If not, that body of work is too hard to ignore.

    Cano racked up 46.2 fWAR in the 2010s and was worth 10 wins more than Ben Zobrist, the next-closest qualifier at second base. He hit .300 with an .855 OPS and led all second basemen in homers (237) and RBI (878).

    Seven of Cano's eight All-Star selections came in the 2010s. He won four consecutive Silver Slugger Awards from 2010 to 2013, also winning a pair of Gold Gloves during that stretch. Cano also finished fifth or better in the MVP voting on four separate occasions.

    Whether his legacy has been totally soiled is up for debate, but he sure could hit, especially earlier in the decade.

3B: Kyle Seager

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Kyle Seager's selection is predicated on his consistency and defensive value.

    He often demonstrated good pop, even if he didn't walk a lot. The Seattle Mariners lifer hit 20 or more homers in eight consecutive seasons from 2012 to 2019. He had an OPS+ of at least 111 or higher in five of those seasons, including a 133 OPS+ in 2016.

    The Charlotte, North Carolina, native was even better defensively. He ranked seventh among qualified third basemen in defensive runs saved during the decade, also ranking in the top 10 in ultimate zone rating (UZR). Seager captured a Gold Glove in 2014, which was also the year of his only All-Star selection.

    Other names might have been more deserving if not for constraining factors. Jose Ramirez is a switch-hitter. Matt Carpenter spent just as many seasons primarily playing first base. He didn't have the most sparkling defensive reputation, either.

    Seager might not have the star power, but he's been a very good player.

SS: Brandon Crawford

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Readers might have noticed we have chosen a couple of guys who have spent their entire careers with the same team. Brandon Crawford joins that list.

    The San Francisco Giants shortstop was a definitive figure in a decade that saw the organization capture three World Series titles. He has never been the most prolific hitter, though he did win a Silver Slugger Award in 2015. However, what makes Crawford the choice is his outstanding glove work.

    He ranked second at the position in defensive runs saved during the 2010s, trailing only Andrelton Simmons. He won three consecutive Gold Glove Awards from 2015 to 2017, consistently making plays ranging to the glove side and in the hole.

    Crawford had his moments in the batter's box as well. He hit .304 with four RBI in San Francisco's seven-game World Series victory over the Kansas City Royals in 2014. There was also his grand slam in the 2014 National League Wild Card Game that broke a 0-0 deadlock and spurred the Giants to victory. Interestingly, Crawford is in the midst of his finest offensive season yet with a 151 OPS+.

    Francisco Lindor, Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Reyes might all have claims if they weren't switch-hitters. Still, we could do worse than the slick-fielding Crawford, an elite defender with solid pop.

    As an aside: He's now played the most games of any Giants shortstop in history.

LF: Christian Yelich

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    Don't get caught up in the misconception Christian Yelich suddenly found stardom in 2018. His talent had long been on display in Miami.

    Indeed, Yelich led all qualified left fielders—discounting Bryce Harper, who would move to right field—in fWAR from 2013 to 2017. He won a Gold Glove in his sophomore campaign and hit .300 in his age-23 season before breaking out with 21 homers and a 135 OPS+ in 2016.

    He was well established when the Milwaukee Brewers acquired him from the Marlins in January 2018. Still, it is indeed true Yelich's superstardom reached new heights in Milwaukee.

    The California kid captured NL MVP honors in 2018, slashing .326/.402/.598 with 36 homers and 22 steals. That MVP season was marked by an absurd stretch during which Yelich posted a 1.219 OPS and 25 homers in 65 games after the All-Star break.

    As exceptional as that season was, Yelich might have been better the following year. He led the majors in slugging (.671) and OPS (1.100), hitting .329 with 44 homers and 30 steals. He ranked third in fWAR and second in wRC+ and might have won his second straight MVP if he hadn't suffered a broken kneecap in September.

    His success resulted in a nine-year $215 million contract with the Brewers signed ahead of the 2020 campaign.

CF: Charlie Blackmon

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    This was tough because there were so few standouts who spent the overwhelming majority of the decade in center field.

    Maybe Jacoby Ellsbury could be the selection, but the injuries and lackluster production during his stint with the New York Yankees weigh heavily. Curtis Granderson played more right field than center, while Brett Gardner mostly stuck in left field.

    Charlie Blackmon has spent the past few seasons as the right fielder in Colorado, but he was more renowned as the Rockies center fielder.

    Whereas some players on the list are more defensive-oriented, Blackmon was all about offense. He hit .304 with an .869 OPS during the decade. Blackmon frequently showcased his blend of speed and power, stealing 129 bases while also hitting 30-plus homers in two seasons.

    The Dallas native's best season came in 2017. Blackmon slashed .331/.399/.601 with 37 homers and 104 RBI. He led the majors in runs scored (137), hits (213), triples (14) and total bases (387), winning his second Silver Slugger Award and finishing fifth in the NL MVP voting.

    Blackmon would make the NL All-Star team in each of the next two seasons, racking up 182 hits in both years. He hit 32 homers and 42 doubles in 2019, capping off quite the decade after spending the first few seasons of his career as a bit of a platoon guy.

RF: Bryce Harper

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    Laurence Kesterson/Associated Press

    Bryce Harper might still be one of the most polarizing figures in baseball, but he is also one of the best, and has been for some time.

    He was named NL Rookie of the Year after debuting at just 19 years old in 2012, slashing .270/.340/.477 with 22 homers and 18 stolen bases. The former high school phenom would make the All-Star team again in 2013 but didn't exactly seem to be taking up the mantle as the next great superstar. That changed in 2015.

    Harper's 2015 NL MVP campaign is one of the greatest individual seasons ever. He led the majors in OBP (.460), slugging (.649), OPS (1.109) and OPS+ (198), hitting .330 with 42 homers, 38 doubles and a 197 wRC+.

    Although Harper never quite used that as a launching pad to becoming the best player in baseball, he was still one of the better hitters over the next four seasons.

    Harper's walk rate ranked toward the top of MLB from 2016 to 2019. He also ranked third among all outfielders in RBI—first, depending on how one views eventual DH-only types Khris Davis and J.D. Martinez.

    At 28, it's possible Harper's prime is only just beginning. He had the second-highest OPS+ of his career in 2020 and ranks in the 96th percentile in xwOBA and xSLG this season. Regardless, he was the left-handed right fielder of the decade.

Extra, Extra

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    We're including another spot for designated hitter. That selection is easy enough.

    David Ortiz consistently struck fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers, ranking first in wRC+ among qualified hitters from 2010 to 2019. Big Papi hit .292 with a .945 OPS from 2010 to 2016, the final season of his career. He led the majors in OPS (1.021) in his last season.

    Ortiz displayed his usual October heroism for the Boston Red Sox in 2013, winning World Series MVP after slashing an absurd .688/.760/1.188 with two homers and six RBI.

    The Red Sox legend was one of the most iconic left-handed sluggers of his generation and is very likely to land in Cooperstown when the time comes.

SP: Clayton Kershaw

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Do we even need to spend time on this choice? Clayton Kershaw is not only the best left-handed pitcher of the 2010s. He is the best pitcher of the decade, period.

    Kershaw's 59.1 fWAR ranked first among all starters in that stretch. He also ranked first in ERA. The accolades are even more plentiful, as Kershaw won three NL Cy Young Awards and even captured MVP honors in 2014. He won five ERA titles and had two separate 20-win seasons, firmly cementing his status as one of the best pitchers in MLB history.

    The left-hander could retire today and would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. However, Kershaw only turned 33 in March. He's got plenty of baseball left.

SP: Chris Sale

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Chris Sale is another no-brainer in the starting rotation. 

    He entered the majors as a 21-year-old and was used exclusively out of the bullpen in the first two years of his career with the Chicago White Sox. However, it was not long before he made his presence felt in the starting rotation.

    The Florida Gulf Coast product went 17-8 and made the All-Star team in his first full season as a starter in 2012. Just two years later, he posted a 2.17 ERA in 26 starts and led the AL in ERA+ (173).

    As good as Sale was in Chicago—he led the AL in fielding independent pitching (FIP) in 2015 and had an MLB-high six complete games in 2016—he was that much better following a trade to the Boston Red Sox.

    Sale led the majors in innings pitched (214.1), strikeouts (308) and FIP (2.45) in 2017, going 17-8 with a 2.90 ERA. He was even better the following season, going 12-4 with a 2.11 ERA and career-high 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings in 27 starts, though he dealt with shoulder inflammation late in the season. No matter, Sale returned to help lead the Red Sox to a World Series title. 

    The 32-year-old has given hitters nightmares for years, with his velocity, wipeout breaking stuff and funky delivery making him incredibly challenging to deal with. Sale has always had good command, as well. He is the all-time leader in strikeout-to-walk ratio.

SP: David Price

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    For some athletes, the number of times they've been traded can be a dubious distinction. In David Price's case, it speaks to his inimitable value in the mid-2010s.

    Price played for three teams in 2014 and 2015. He was one of the top prizes of both trade deadlines, going from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Detroit Tigers in 2014 and later from Detroit to the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015.

    However, simply labeling Price a trade chip detracts from his dominance in Tampa Bay. He made three straight All-Star teams from 2010 to 2012, throwing over 200 innings in each season and winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2012 after going 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA.

    Despite his pedigree, Price always carried the reputation as a guy who struggled in October. He went 0-3 in his first three playoff starts with the Rays. The 2007 No. 1 pick had a 2.30 ERA in 11 starts after being traded to the Blue Jays in 2015, but the team lost both of his ALCS starts.

    Price would get his redemption as a member of the 2018 world champion Red Sox. He threw six scoreless innings in Game 5 of the ALCS against the Houston Astros. He earned the win in Game 2 of the World Series after scattering three hits and two runs, and then threw seven innings of one-run ball in Game 5.

    It's been a wild career arc for Price, but he was undoubtedly one of the best starters of the 2010s.

SP: Jon Lester

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Jon Lester was a bulldog during the decade. He never had overpowering strikeout stuff but instead excelled with good fastball command and a strong mind for what might best be termed "pitchability."

    Lester made five All-Star teams in the 2010s, three as a member of the Boston Red Sox and two with the Chicago Cubs. He won a title with both the Red Sox and Cubs in the 2010s and was terrific in each of those runs.

    Lester dominated in the 2013 playoffs, posting a 1.56 ERA in five starts and giving up just a single run in 15.1 innings during the World Series. That October might have been Lester's most dominant, but the context surrounding the 2016 season with the Cubs might have meant more.

    The fiery lefty's decision to sign with Chicago ahead of the 2015 campaign demarcated the franchise's transition from a rebuilding club to a legitimate contender in the NL. The Cubs realized their potential in 2016, thanks in part to Lester.

    He went 19-5 with a 2.44 ERA in the regular season, finishing second in the NL Cy Young voting. He elevated his game in October, outdueling Johnny Cueto in a thrilling Game 1 of the NLDS. He was co-MVP of the NLCS after posting a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    The veteran responded to a loss in Game 1 of the World Series by earning the win with a strong outing in Game 5. He then threw three innings of relief on just two days' rest in Game 7, which was one of the standout performances in an all-time classic.

    Lester built an excellent body of work in the 2010s, but it's the tremendous playoff track record that really cinches his spot.

SP: Madison Bumgarner

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Speaking of guys with spectacular playoff resumes, Madison Bumgarner has entered the chat.

    The 31-year-old's struggles in Arizona and injuries toward the end of his time in San Francisco have probably led some to forget just how good he was at his peak. 

    Bumgarner made four straight NL All-Star teams with the Giants from 2013 to 2016. He extended his streak of at least 200 or more innings pitched, one that began in 2011, and was as capable as any starter in going the distance.

    It wasn't just about eating innings. Bumgarner had a sub-3.00 ERA in all four of those seasons, routinely giving San Francisco quality starts. Injuries would intercede in the next couple of years, but Bumgarner had a respectable 3.90 ERA in his final campaign with the Giants in 2019.

    But MadBum might be the best World Series pitcher in the modern era. He has thrown 36 innings in the Fall Classic, having given up just one run and 14 hits. That's absurd.

    It's also about the situational heroism. Bumgarner threw a complete-game shutout in Game 5 of the 2014 World Series to stake San Francisco to a 3-2 series lead. Just three days later, he came out of the bullpen to throw five scoreless innings and help lead the Giants to their third title in five years.

    Bumgarner was as imposing as any in his prime, and every bit a big-game pitcher as any other in baseball. Not to mention, he won a pair of Silver Slugger Awards.

RP: Aroldis Chapman

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Aroldis Chapman is to relievers what Clayton Kershaw is to starters in the 2010s: the best of the bunch.

    Chapman led all relievers in fWAR last decade. His 14.84 strikeouts per nine innings is the best during that stretch, while his 273 saves rank third. He made six All-Star teams and even finished eighth in the NL Cy Young voting in 2012.

    Rajai Davis' homer off Chapman in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series is one of the most memorable moments in the history of the sport. However, what gets lost is the fact that he threw 42 pitches to record an eight-out save in a must-win Game 5. Chapman also threw a scoreless bottom of the ninth after giving up the homer to Davis. 

    There is no question Chapman has had some playoff shortcomings. By and large, however, he has been one of the most dominant relievers ever.

RP: Andrew Miller

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    Andrew Miller began his career as a starter in 2006, but 10 years later, he would become known as one of the sport's most dominant left-handed relievers.

    The Boston Red Sox converted Miller to a full-time relief role in 2012. He would fully unlock his strikeout stuff the following season.

    Miller had 48 strikeouts in 30.2 innings in 2013. He was even more dominant in 2014, posting a 2.34 ERA in 42.1 innings with the Red Sox before being traded to Baltimore, where he had a 1.35 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 20 innings.

    It wasn't until 2016 when Miller really became a household name. He had a 1.39 ERA in his first 44 appearances with the Yankees before being dealt to Cleveland, where he built his reputation as a bullpen weapon unlike any other.

    The left-hander had a 1.55 ERA and 0.55 WHIP to close the regular season. He then held opponents scoreless through his first 16 innings of postseason work and picked up ALCS MVP honors, though he stumbled in Game 7 of the World Series, giving up four hits and two runs in 2.1 innings.

    Despite the sour end to an otherwise sensational season, Miller came back every bit as strong in 2017. He had a career-best 1.44 ERA en route to his second All-Star appearance.

    Miller has been a bit of disappointment since signing with the St. Louis Cardinals. Still, it shouldn't detract from the prominence he held within the game, especially in 2016 and 2017. He was basically Josh Hader before Hader.

                    

    All stats obtained via Baseball Reference, FanGraphs or Baseball Savant, unless otherwise noted.

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