Surprise positional outlook: Left field

January, 29, 2012
1/29/12
11:00
PM CT
It's now time to take a look at the outfield, and we'll do that by starting on the left side.

Today's position: Left field

[+] EnlargeJosh Hamilton
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesAn injured Josh Hamilton hit just one home run in the postseason, but it nearly won the Rangers a title. The slugger started 81 games in left field in 2011 in an effort to decrease wear and tear.
For a few seasons now, the Rangers have headed to spring training with a goal in mind: keep Josh Hamilton in left field for as many games as possible. Why? Because the club has felt that it helps decrease the wear and tear on his body.

Well, no one played left field more for the Rangers in 2011 than Hamilton. He started 81 games at the position and had a .975 fielding percentage while out there, too. Of course, there are still walls in left field, but he doesn't have as much ground to cover and isn't having to run at top speed all over the place quite as often.

Hamilton, once again, put up solid numbers. He hit .298 with 25 homers and 94 RBIs in 121 games. A home plate collision in Detroit forced him to miss nearly six weeks as he nursed a hairline fracture in a bone in his upper right arm. He came back and continued to play at a high level. He batted .343 in July, helping him hit .295 with 14 homers and 45 RBIs after the All-Star break.

Hamilton also showed a penchant for clutch hits. He had 20 game-winning RBIs. No one in the AL had more (only Ryan Howard had more in the big leagues at 23). Hamilton had 27 go-ahead RBIs, tied for fourth-most in the AL.

RANGERS POSITION OUTLOOK
Jan. 23: Catcher
Jan. 24: First base
Jan. 25: Second base
Jan. 26: Third base
Jan. 27: Shortstop
Jan. 30: Left field
Jan. 31: Center field
Feb. 1: Right field
Feb. 2: DH/Utility
Feb. 3: Bench
Feb. 6: No. 1 starter
Feb. 7: No. 2 starter
Feb. 8: No. 3 starter
Feb. 9: No. 4 starter
Feb. 10: No. 5 starter
Feb. 13: Middle/long relief
Feb. 14: Late-inning relief
Feb. 15: Coaches
Feb. 16: Manager
Feb. 17: Front office
But because of the movement of the outfield and the need for Hamilton to play center field at times, the slugger actually played more games in left field in 2010 than he did in 2011. The Rangers would like to keep Hamilton in left as often as they can in 2012, but that may depend on what happens in center field (stay tuned for that tomorrow).

Hamilton was a warrior in the playoffs, competing despite three detached adductors in his left leg and a torn abdominal muscle. It was clear Hamilton was hurting, especially in the World Series. He hit just one home run in the postseason thanks in large part to trouble getting his bat speed up. Yet that home run was nearly the championship-winner, after hitting it in the top of the 10th. You know what happened next.

Hamilton says he feels great following surgery and is doing full workouts and swinging a bat. His contract expires after the 2012 season and he's set a deadline for the beginning of spring training to get a deal done. If there's no deal, he's said he wants to talk to the Rangers before any other team after the season is over. But he doesn't want the distraction of contracts talks during the season (the Rangers usually prefer it that way too, BTW). As we've chatted about here on the blog, putting a value on Hamilton is difficult because of his injury history. How many years do you pay him? Do you give him an annual salary as if he's healthy? (I don't see how you do that with his injury history). It's complicated, but few players impact a game like Hamilton.

But Hamilton wasn't the only left fielder in 2011. David Murphy started 62 games (played 78) in left field. Nelson Cruz even started 16 games with Endy Chavez (2) and Craig Gentry (1) also seeing a little time there.

Murphy's Rangers career, it seems, is all about being under the radar. But he's an important, versatile player for this outfield. He struggled in May, batting just .191. But Murphy figured it out and hit .375 in July and .351 in September. Murphy played well in the postseason, batting .317 with eight walks and six strikeouts. He had three RBIs and four extra-base hits, getting 41 at-bats.

So look for the 2010 AL MVP to get as much time as possible out in left field. And for Murphy to be a key contributor out there (as usual).
Richard Durrett joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He writes about colleges, the Dallas Stars and the Texas Rangers. Richard spent nine years at The Dallas Morning News covering the Rangers, Stars, colleges, motorsports and high schools.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Elvis Andrus
BA HR RBI R
.305 1 3 8
OTHER LEADERS
HRE. Andrus 1
RBIA. Rios 7
RE. Andrus 8
OPSS. Choo .776
WM. Perez 2
ERAY. Darvish 0.82
SOY. Darvish 23