Next up in our position by position debate, we are going to review leftfield. If you are just catching on we have been doing a debate on who has the better player at each position between the Red Sox and the Yankees. To be clear, this is not a debate on who has the better team, just the better player at each position. A debate on who has the better team would require much more than a position by position evaluation.
Red Sox Leftfield
The Red Sox have had a lock on leftfield for several years now with one of the better hitters in the game. Manny Ramirez is the perfect complement to David Ortiz in the lineup. He has consistantly mashed in that lineup and in my opinion is one of the reasons the team has had so much success recently. Take away Manny, and David Ortiz draws 200 walks a season as every pitcher goes after JD Drew or Mike Lowell instead. With Manny in the lineup, teams don't want to put Ortiz on. Last season was a bit of a down season for Manny. He batted .296 with 20 homeruns and 88 RBI's, which is much less than what the Red Sox are used to getting from him. The last time Manny posted less than 100 RBI's was in 1997 when he was playing for Cleveland. You would have to go back to 1994 to see when he hit fewer homeruns (17 in 290 at bats). What may be a concern is that he had more at bats last season than he did in 2006 when he batted for a .321 average with 35 homeruns and 102 RBI's. Could this mean the decline of Manny? Maybe, but I wouldn't count on it just yet. The man has had leg problems in the past but he can still mash. Not to mention that for the first time in a while he actually showed up to spring training on time, and didn't ask to get traded during the off season.
Defensively, Manny is an adventure. He has a strong arm but his range is limited. Lucky for him Fenway park has a pretty small left field. He also makes some questionable plays like the time he cut off Johnny Damon's throw, which was hilarious.
Speaking of Damon, it appears that the Yankees are ready to pencil Damon in as the everyday left fielder. Damon also had a down year in 2007. He started the season with a calf injury after he reported to spring training out of shape. He got hot at the end of the season and that helped boost his numbers. Nonetheless, he ended with a .270 average with 12 homeruns and 63 RBI's. He did have 27 stolen bases and only got caught 3 times, but for the most part 2007 was a down season for him. He even lost his job at centerfield and there were talks of having him DH and play first base, typically an idea used for beast-sized sluggers who have entered the twilight of their careers. When he started playing left field however, things started to click for him. I saw one game where he made 3 amazing catches complete with full out sprints and daring dives. He also had a pretty good ALDS hitting a pair of homeruns including a 3-run shot in the only game the Yankees won.
Winner: Red Sox. Damon has Manny beat in defense despite the weak arm, but Manny can still mash. Even if last year was an indication of Manny's decline, I don't expect it will be complete by this season. I still expect Manny to hit 30 homeruns with a .300 average. Its tough to compare them because they are such different players. Damon's a speedy lead off hitter. Manny's a giant slugger. There will be areas where Damon will be better than Manny, but all-in-all you gotta go with Manny.