Orioles

Orioles

With fans stuck inside and no live sports for entertainment, it's time to look to the past. Over the next few weeks, NBC Sports Washington is putting together a Best of the Century team for the Baltimore Orioles. Through the past two decades, there has been a surprising amount of star power to come through Charm City, and now we can determine who has truly been the cream of the crop.

Previous positions:
Catcher
First Base
Second Base
Third Base
Shortstop
Right Field
Center Field

After a few days with obvious selections, we now arrive at the position with the fewest stars, and therefore no obvious favorite: left field.

Left field is a position generally reserved for the worst defensive player on the field, save potentially first base, and relies on strong offensive production to accrue value. Unfortunately for the Orioles, many of their left fielders this century have provided neither strong defense nor a quality bat, leaving a wide open race for best of the century.

 

The pure volume of different players to lead the team in starts in left any given year is staggering. In order, B.J. Surhoff, Brady Anderson, Melvin Mora, Lary Bigbie, Jeff Conine, Jay Payton, Luke Scott, Nolan Reimold, Felix Pie, Nate McLouth, David Lough, Hyun-Soo Kim, Trey Mancini and Dwight Smith Jr. have all had seasons as the number one choice in left this century. That's 14 names in 20 seasons.

Mora had the best year, with 4.7 WAR in 2002, but it was his only season as the primary left fielder and he already made the list as a finalist at third base. Nobody else has a season above a paltry 2.6. Because of this, simple longevity will go a long way here. Though, it shoud be noted, Luke Scott will be appearing as a DH and not LF, for those wondering where the century's games leader in left is. 

Here are the top contenders at left field, in chronological order.

The Contenders

Larry Bigbie (2001-05)

Bigbie spent more years as the Orioles' left fielder than anyone this century, but they weren't particularly impactful year. He never managed to tap into his power, hitting just 31 home runs in his five seasons in Baltimore.

He also struggled mightily to stay on the field; only once did Bigbie play more than 83 games in a season in Baltimore. His best season, by far was 2004 when he hit 15 home runs, batted .280 and had 2.1 WAR. His 2003 was on pace to have even better numbers, and he finished with a 117 OPS+ compared to 2004's 101, but he missed almost half the season.

Nolan Reimold (2009-13, 2015-16)

Another player with the tools to succeed who never put it all together, Reimold was notorious among Orioles fans as a talented but snakebitten player who could also never stay healthy.

His best year was his first, when he hit 15 home runs and batted .280 with a 2.6 WAR - if those numbers sound familiar, just compare them to Bigbie's. The next four seasons, theoretically his prime as a 26-29 year old, saw him play 29, 87, 16 and 40 games, respectively.

Reimold was a well-above average hitter in three of his first four seasons in Baltimore, when he was on the field. Unfortunately for him, that didn't happen often enough.

Nate McLouth (2012-13)

McLouth only played 201 games in Baltimore, just the third-most for any team in his career and 12th-most of any Oriole this century. It just so happens he picked the right time.

McLouth is a finalist based primarily on his half-season with the Orioles in 2012, when he helped solidify the outfield and bring the Orioles their first postseason berth in more than a decade. He hit 7 home runs and stole 12 bases in just 55 games, giving him a 111 OPS+.

He had a nice 2013 too, with 12 home runs and 30 stolen bases, but he will be remembered in Baltimore for his role on the 2012 team.

Trey Mancini (2016-present)

Mancini's 2019 was easily the best season of anybody on this list, with 35 home runs, 97 RBI and a .291 batting average in his age-27 breakout year. The Notre Dame product accumulated 3.5 WAR as the de facto face of the franchise, establishing himself as a longterm piece of the rebuild.

 

He's hit at least 24 home runs in three straight years, already leading all O's left fielders this century with 86 career home runs, despite not joining the majors until 2016. His fielding is somewhat behind his bat, as he's miscast in the outfield instead of his usual first base, but that matters less in left field than other positions.

It may be early, but in a field without much competition, Mancini could be the choice after just three full seasons, one of which was a down year.

The Winner

For the first time, I went into this debate without having any idea where I was going to end up. After going through the numbers, however, Trey Mancini seems like the clearest choice. At left field, he is the Best Oriole of the Century.

The longevity isn't there, though no one candidate holds a monopoly on games played at the position. His peak, however, was stronger than expected. His 2017 and 2019 seasons rank third and first, respectively, at the position among the candidates, and they were strong enough to boost his career WAR (6.6) more than twice as high as anybody else on this list.

Luke Scott would perhaps have provided stiffer competition if he wasn't listed as a DH, so Mancini lucks out some there. But, on the basis of his first three seasons as a regular, Mancini is deserving. 

He has yet to experience any of the team success enjoyed by McLouth and, to a degree Reimold. But if the front office believes that his breakout season was legitimate, there's no reason to think he can't stick around and be a veteran presence on the next great Orioles team.

Mancini has accepted the mantle of team leader well, even taking over for Adam Jones' longtime locker spot in the clubhouse after he left prior to last season.

In a vacuum, picking a player with just three seasons may seem strange. But this looks like a pick that will age very will in the next few years as Mancini continues to endear himself to the city of Baltimore. He is the correct pick for Best Oriole left fielder of the Century.

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