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2008-positional-preview-left-field | January | 2008 Articles

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2008 Positional Preview: Left Field

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We've covered the entire infield so far in our position-by-position preview for the 2008 Braves. Left field has been a point of contention among Braves fans since Matt Diaz enjoyed his breakout 2006 campaign. Some fans feel that he has proven himself enough against both lefties and righties to shed his platoon role, while others believe that his success is in part due to his not playing full time. Yet again, the 29-year old outfielder may have to settle for only a portion of the playing time in left field with the left-handed Brandon Jones knocking at the door to the majors. Since his time at Florida State University, two things have been constant for Diaz: He has put up impressive numbers at every stop and the respect he's gotten hasn't come close to what would be expected from the performance. To put it simply, Diaz is a scout's worst nightmare. He's average physically, isn't all that fast, isn't much of a defender (although he is improving), has horrible plate discipline, and employs one of the most awkward swings I've ever seen. With all those things going against him, he was labeled as a product of aluminum bats in college and a AAAA-player who wouldn't be able to have success in the majors once he got to the high minors. After spending seven pro seasons between the Kansas City and Tampa Bay organizations (and receiving only about 120 major league at-bats), Atlanta acquired him for Ricardo Rodriguez, a then 28-year old journeyman pitcher. Diaz set the bar pretty high for himself with his breakout '06 campaign. Most fans and analysts expected his production to regress. As he's done his entire career, Diaz proved his doubters wrong and stepped up just about every statistical category this past season. Diaz turned in a .338/.368/.497 line with 12 home runs and 45 RBI's in 358 at bats. The only part of his offensive game that had an even somewhat dramatic increase was his power but along with that there were minors improvements across the board. His .865 OPS put him right behind Manny Ramirez with the ninth highest OPS of any major league left fielder (min. 375 PA). The peripherals behind his offense screams fluke but my intuition tells me otherwise. Matt Diaz just happens to be one of those very rare players who has enough talent to hit for a high average while displaying bad plate discipline and nothing out of the ordinary that can be pointed to in explanation. He is a phenomenon as far as baseball players go. His .385 BABIP is almost 100 points north of average but I really don't see all that much of a regression there in the future. Maybe 15 or 20 points but not enough to severely affect his offensive output. One thing we can explain is his power surge this past season. Diaz brought his fly ball percentage up seven points to right around 34%. Does he keep it that high is the question though. I wouldn't bet either way on that one. I just really don't know. As I said before, the one thing that has divided Braves fans on Diaz is how much playing time he should get. He's been a platoon player the past two seasons and I can understand both views on the subject. When you look at his splits, there is a definite drop-off between his numbers against lefties and righties but they still aren't anything to scoff at. Diaz put up a .964 OPS against lefties (propelled by a .356 BA and a .580 SLG) and a .756 OPS against righties. The question that we have to ask is: Can Brandon Jones provide a .750+ OPS playing as half of a platoon? Last year in Richmond, Jones hit .289/.359/.430. While those stats don't blow you out of the water, they are indicative of exactly what type of player Jones is. They're solid and combined with his defensive skills in left, I'm all for at least trying him out in a platoon. Diaz playing everyday is always a fall-back plan. The end result and breakup of playing time will probably be decided by Brandon Jones' performance in spring training. One thing is for certain though. The Braves are solid in left field any way this works itself out. Bill James' predictions on both seem very optimistic. He has Diaz penciled in for a .330/.364/.505 line in 406 at-bats with 13 home runs and Jones down for a line of .284/.354/.468 in 250 at-bats with nine home runs. I pretty much agree with James on Diaz. I think he'll be at .325/.355/.495 with 12 home runs next year, however I'm taking a bit more pessimistic road for Jones since I think he'll have an adjustment period in the majors. I'll put him down for a line of .270/.340/.450 with around  seven home runs. Overall, Diaz by himself or a combination of the two should leave the Braves with a comfortable left field situation.

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