We've discussed all the infielders of AL East, now it's time to move to the outfield. Left field is full of semi new faces for this season, with only Brett Gardner and Carl Crawford spending the entire 2011 season on their current team. Eric Thames, Desmond Jennings, and Nolan Reimold all spent a chunk of time at their teams' AAA affiliates last season, and will look to impress during a full season of major league ball.
Though Gardner and Crawford will be just were they were last season again, they will both be looking to improve upon a down year. Crawford was a complete disaster in 2011, so he'll be looking for improvement across the board. Gardner's offensive numbers were a bit lower than they had been in his prior two seasons, even though he hit a career-high number of home runs. His defense certainly didn't suffer at all from his dip in offense, but Yankee fans would certainly prefer he return to 2010 form at the plate.
With that being said, let's look at the numbers and decide which left fielder leads the bunch.
All stats via fangraphs, of course.
Brett Gardner easily led the left fielders in WAR for 2011, but Desmond Jennings did really great things in his 63 major league games. Only Gardner and Carl Crawford played in more than 100 games last season, while Nolan Reimold and Eric Thames appeared in 66 and 95, respectively. The home runs among this group are not nearly as plentiful as they are at most other positions, so none of these guys will be winning home run crowns anytime soon. Carl Crawford has generally been the biggest consistent contributor to that statistic in the past, though Reimold beat him by two in 2011, while the others range from low double digit dingers to only a handful.
After signing a hefty contract with the Red Sox in 2011, Carl Crawford was an absolute disaster in pretty much every way. His WAR was the lowest of his career by a good margin, though his power numbers didn't tank as badly as the rest of his performance did. Carl Crawford is a much better player than he was in 2011, and I have little doubt he'll be better going forward if he can stay healthy. The Green Monster will disrupt a bit of his defensive abilities, but adjustment is certainly not out of the question.
Blue Jays' Eric Thames and Orioles' Nolan Reimold's triple slash numbers from 2011 were quite similar. Neither played close to a full season due to beginning the year at AAA, but based on what they've done in their careers so far, I would expect Thames' numbers to be a little better and Reimold's to be a little worse projected out across an entire major league season.
On defense, there is little competition. That is not to say that Carl Crawford (pre-Boston) and Desmond Jennings are terrible defenseively, because they aren't. However, Gardner is just a wizard in the field. He has no Gold Gloves to show for it, but he has received two Fielding Bible awards in recognition of what he can do defensively. What he lacks in offensive power, he more than makes up for with his contributions with the glove. That won't impress as many people as tons of power might, but it really is the crux of his great value to the Yankees.
If 2012 goes as I expect it to, these numbers will look very different at the end of the season. Will Brett Gardner still come out on top because of his plays in the outfield? Will Desmond Jennings separate himself from the others over the course of an entire season? Or will Carl Crawford bounce back to the player the Red Sox thought they were getting?