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Padres' Top 5 left fielders: Cassavell's take

@AJCassavell
April 28, 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

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 favorite at this position.

Here is AJ Cassavell’s ranking of the top five left fielders in Padres history. Next week: center field.

• Padres All-Time Around the Horn Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS

1. Gene Richards, 1977-83
Key fact: Richards ranks first among Padres left fielders in WAR, runs, hits, steals and total bases.

For a franchise with a history of some excellent outfielders, the Padres have mostly employed their biggest contributors in right field. That leaves Gene Richards to seize the crown of top left fielder. From 1977-83, Richards racked up 19.0 bWAR, practically double that of the next closest qualifying left fielder. An elite speedster, Richards broke the live ball era rookie stolen-base record in '77 by swiping 56 bags, which helped him finish third in National League Rookie of the Year Award voting. Richards departed for San Francisco before the club's '84 pennant run, but he still left an important legacy in San Diego, finishing with a .291/.357/.387 slash line across seven seasons. Among qualifying Padres, Richards ranks in the franchise's top five in batting average (tied for fifth), runs scored (third, 484), position-player WAR (fifth), hits (fourth, 994), triples (second, 63) and stolen bases (second, 242).

2. Greg Vaughn, 1996-98
Key fact: Vaughn's 50-homer season in '98 remains the only 50-homer campaign in franchise history.

Richards takes the title of top left fielder for his sustained success. But no primary left fielder in franchise history had a higher peak than Greg Vaughn. He mashed 50 homers -- shattering Ken Caminiti's franchise record of 40 -- and served as a middle-of-the-order force on the team's run to the 1998 pennant. In the postseason, Vaughn launched the decisive homer against Randy Johnson in Game 1 of the NL Division Series, then he went deep twice in Game 1 of the World Series. Vaughn might have challenged Richards had he stuck around longer, but he was dealt to Cincinnati that offseason. Ultimately, Vaughn spent only two full seasons in San Diego -- an injury-marred, replacement-level '97 season and a '98 campaign that goes down as one of the most prolific in franchise history.

3. Carmelo Martinez, 1984-89
Key fact: Martinez's 82 homers are the most in franchise history among primary left fielders.

Speaking of pennant-winning left fielders, Carmelo Martinez made an instant impact as a rookie on the Padres' 1984 squad. He arrived in the three-team trade with the Cubs and Expos that also brought lefty Craig Lefferts to San Diego, and both played crucial roles in the Padres' first NL title. Martinez batted .250/.340/.395 and finished sixth in NL Rookie of the Year Award voting. He spent six seasons in San Diego, finishing with a .748 OPS and 9.7 WAR, trailing only Richards among Padres left fielders. He also ranks second in hits (577), runs (286) and total bases (948).

4. Rickey Henderson, 1996-97, 2001
Key fact: Henderson was a Padre for his 3,000th career hit, collecting it on an emotional day in San Diego -- Tony Gwynn's final game.

Rickey Henderson was no longer at the peak of his powers during either of his two stints in San Diego, but late-career Rickey was still an extremely effective player. In parts of three seasons with the Padres, Henderson reached base at a .399 clip, and he recorded 91 of his record 1,406 stolen bases. Henderson was unquestionably more productive during his first Padres stint; he sat atop the order for the team's run to the 1996 NL West title (then homered in Game 1 of the NLDS).

But Henderson's second stint was markedly more memorable. He notched his 3,000th hit on the final day of the 2001 season, after breaking two longstanding Major League records that year. Henderson passed Babe Ruth for the all-time walks lead and Ty Cobb for most runs.

5. Phil Plantier, 1993-95, '97
Key fact: Plantier's 34-homer '93 campaign is the second-best single-season tally for a Padres left fielder.

The list of available left-field options gets notably thinner after the top three or four. Historically, the Padres' best left fielders either had short tenures or moved to the opposite corner. So that leaves us with a few options, and Phil Plantier's time included quite a peak. He posted an .843 OPS with 34 homers in 1993 and continued to slug during the strike-shortened '94 season. He never reached those heights again -- in San Diego or elsewhere -- but Plantier made just enough of an impact in multiple seasons to edge out a handful of one-year options.

Honorable mentions
• The Padres replaced Vaughn with Reggie Sanders in 1999, and Sanders raked, posting a .285/.376/.527 slash line and 4.1 WAR in his lone Padres season.

Justin Upton's 2015 campaign is one of the team's most productive offensive seasons of the past decade.

B.J. Upton, Justin's brother, notched a .748 OPS over parts of two seasons. In 2016, he hit three walk-off dingers while playing Gold Glove Award-caliber defense before he was traded.

Carlos Quentin's .816 OPS is second only to Vaughn among multi-year Padres left fielders.

Scott Hairston was a productive outfield and utility piece on the Padres from 2007-10, accruing 6.8 WAR.

Jerry Turner spent nine seasons in San Diego and ranks in the top five among Padres left fielders in most cumulative stats.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.