Blue Jays’ Top 5 left fielders: Matheson’s take

April 27th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favourite at this position.

Here is Keegan Matheson’s ranking of the top five left fielders in Blue Jays history. Next week: Center field.

1) George Bell: 1981, '83-90
Key fact: Bell was the first Blue Jays player to win the American League MVP Award (1987).

Toronto’s first MVP Award winner still sits among the club’s all-time greats, ranking seventh in games played (1,181), fifth in hits (1,294), sixth in home runs (202) and fourth in RBIs (740).

Bell starred on the great Blue Jays teams throughout the mid-late 1980s that couldn’t quite get over the hump in the playoffs, including in '85 when Toronto went 99-62 but lost to the Royals in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.

In Bell’s MVP Award-winning season, he put up some eye-popping numbers for the Blue Jays. Then 27, Bell hit .308 with a .957 OPS, including 47 home runs and 134 RBIs, both career highs. That was enough to narrowly beat out Detroit’s Alan Trammell and Minnesota’s Kirby Puckett.

2) Shannon Stewart: 1995-2003, '08
Key fact: One of just five Blue Jays to steal 50-plus bases in a season.

Stewart's career falls entirely into the long stretch between the World Series runs of 1992 and '93 and the return to playoff glory in 2015. Stars like Roy Halladay and Carlos Delgado were the face of many of those teams, but Stewart’s contributions as a speedy .298-hitting left fielder deserve more love than they have received.

Stewart was drafted and developed into a very good everyday outfielder by the Blue Jays -- something they would love to repeat sometime soon -- and hit .298 with an .805 OPS over his tenure with Toronto. Along the way, Stewart stole 20 or more bases in four consecutive seasons from 1998-2001, including 51 steals in ’98.

His peak came in 2000, when Stewart was valued at 4.9 fWAR after hitting .319 with an .882 OPS, including 21 homers and 20 steals. How Stewart made it through his 14-year career without sneaking into an All-Star Game is the real mystery here.

3) Frank Catalanotto: 2003-06
Key fact: Posted an OPS north of .800 in three of his four seasons with Toronto.

Catalanotto didn’t see much left-handed pitching in Toronto -- or in his career -- but he mashed righties. Signed as a free agent prior to the 2003 season, Catalanotto gave the Blue Jays four strong seasons at the plate, finishing with a .299 average and an .806 OPS over that period.

Power wasn’t Catalanotto’s game, as he peaked at just 13 home runs in 2003, but he hit for a steady average and never struck out more than 62 times in a season, leaving him with a solid on-base percentage.

4) Reed Johnson: 2003-07
Key fact: Led all of Major League Baseball in 2006 when he was hit by 21 pitches.

Johnson was hit by 80 pitches over five seasons with Toronto, but along the way, he hit a few back.

Johnson filled the Kevin Pillar role before Pillar came along, an all-effort outfielder who rarely finished a game without being covered in dirt from head to toe. Johnson put up respectable numbers throughout his tenure and was a fan favourite, but his peak undoubtedly came in that 2006 season. He hit .319 with an .869 OPS, including a career-high 12 homers, which was good for 4.4 fWAR.

5) Candy Maldonado: 1991-92, '95
Key fact: Maldonado had the first game-winning hit in a World Series game outside of the United States.

Maldonado etched his name in Blue Jays history on Oct. 20, 1992, when he hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth to win Game 3 of the World Series. That gave the Blue Jays a 2-1 lead over the Braves in a series that very easily could have tipped in the opposite direction.

Over parts of three seasons, Maldonado appeared in just 250 games for the Blue Jays, but he was a legitimate contributor while he was in town. With a .272 average and an .825 OPS, including 20 homers in 1992, Maldonado deserves plenty of credit for his performance alongside the bigger names of Roberto Alomar, John Olerud, Dave Winfield and Joe Carter.

Honorable mentions
Carter spent more time in right field than left with the Blue Jays, so he'll be ranked with that talented group in two weeks. ... Those on the edge included Dave Collins, who put up 4.7 fWAR over just 246 games, Barry Bonnell (4.4 fWAR in 457 games) and Melky Cabrera (2.9 WAR in 227 games). Rajai Davis was further down the list with just 1.4 WAR over 345 games, but the speedy fan favourite is always worthy of a mention.