Orioles' Top 5 left fielders: Trezza'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 favorite at this position.

Here is Joe Trezza’s ranking of the top 5 shortstops in Orioles history. Next week: Center fielders.

Orioles' Top 5: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS

1) Brady Anderson, 1988-2001 (’92-95 as full-time left fielder)
Key fact: Orioles' all-time leader in steals (307) is only player to rank in the top 10 in that category as well as homers (209)

Anderson is one of the trickier Orioles to rank because he appeared in 620 games for the team in left field and 887 in center, spending two more full seasons (five total) as the team’s starter in center than left. But due to his longevity and the position’s historical dearth of it, Anderson’s 623 total games in left are still second most by any Oriole. And given how players are only eligible for one position each in this exercise, this feels like the proper place to give one of the best players in team history his due.

Appearing in all three outfield spots and at designated hitter, Anderson racked up 209 home runs and swiped 307 bases across 14 seasons in Baltimore, to go along with a .257 average and .794 OPS. A glove-first speedster early in his career, Anderson grew into a slugger in the mid-1990s, breaking out for a then-franchise record 50 homers the year he moved full-time to center field. But he was already an All-Star and amply productive by then -- Anderson accumulated 14 Wins Above Replacement from ’92-95 as the everyday left fielder, homering 62 times and stealing 134 bases. His 5-WAR '92 season, during which he paired 21 homers and 53 steals with 100 runs and a .823 OPS, is arguably the best single season by a left fielder in team history.

2) , 1968-72 (’69-72 as full-time LF)
Key fact: Played parts of 17 seasons with Orioles, fourth-most in franchise history

The engine of some of Earl Weaver’s best Orioles teams, the versatile, switch-hitting Buford was acquired as part of the trade that sent Luis Aparicio to the White Sox before the 1968 season. He soon blossomed into Baltimore’s everyday left fielder and leadoff hitter. Using a combination of power, patience and speed that was ahead of his time, Buford fueled the Orioles from the top of the lineup to three consecutive American League pennants from '69-71. He is widely regarded as one of the two best leadoff hitters -- along with or behind Anderson -- in club history.

As a left fielder, you can argue Buford was pound-for-pound the most effective to ever wear black and orange. Across five full seasons in Baltimore, he paired double-digit homers with double-digit stolen bases four times, and accumulated 19 WAR. Fifteen of those wins came as the everyday left fielder from ’69-71, when Buford’s .405 OBP trailed only future Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew among AL hitters. By WAR, Buford was MLB’s third most valuable player during that brief but uncommonly productive stretch.

3) , 1996-2000, ’03-05 (1997-2000 as full-time LF)
Key fact: 659 games played in left rank first in Orioles history

A popular and respected player who had two stints with the Orioles, Surhoff is best remembered as a scrappy, consistent mainstay on the star-studded O’s teams of the late '90s. The ultimate utility player, Surhoff appeared at every position except pitcher in his career, and he was shuffled between both infield and outfield corner spots across parts of eight seasons in Baltimore. But his best years came as the club’s everyday left fielder from 1997 to late July 2000, when Surhoff famously wept after learning he had been traded in a Deadline deal to the Braves. He had coupled at least 20 homers with an OPS north of .780 in three of the four seasons prior, having hit .308 with 28 homers and a .839 OPS during his All-Star '99 campaign. Of the 18 individuals to play at least 1,000 games for the Orioles, Surhoff’s .291 average with the club ranks second all-time.

4) , 1956-59
Key fact: Franchise-best batting average and OPS among left fielders

A bright spot on the basement-dwelling Orioles teams of the mid-to-late 1950s, Nieman arrived in Baltimore as an ancillary part of the deal that fetched future Hall of Famer George Kell from the White Sox in '56. Kell would retire less than two years later, but Nieman developed into a productive, if undervalued, regular for the better part of four seasons.

From 1956-59, Nieman hit .303 with 62 home runs and an .883 OPS, leading the club in average, OPS, walks and WAR. His OPS+ during that stretch was 146, meaning 46 percent better than league average. No qualified Orioles hitter has eclipsed that number even for a single season since Chris Davis in 2015.

5) Gary Roenicke/John Lowenstein, 1978-85
Key fact: Combined to average 129 OPS+ in platoon from ’82-85

Can we use a platoon for the final spot? Why not, when that’s how Roenicke and Lowenstein spent much of their long tenures in Baltimore? Sharing left field duties from 1982 until Lowenstein’s release in '85, the two players combined to form a mean .266 batting average, 33 homers and .839 OPS over those three seasons. The arrangement worked best in its first year, when the left-handed-hitting Lowenstein batted .324 with a 1.032 OPS against righties, and the right-handed-hitting Roenicke posted a .947 OPS vs. left-handers.

In an era when platooning was not a common practice, Weaver’s managing of Roenicke and Lowenstein was considered ahead of its time. It was a harbinger of things to come, born out of necessity when Roenicke, who had hit 25 homers in 1979, homered just thrice in 85 games two years later. Enter the enigmatic Lowenstein, who had spent much of his career to that point as a utility player for Cleveland. The duo combined to hit 45 homers in ‘82 and were both key members of the O’s championship team the following season.

Honorable mentions
We are only considering Orioles players for this exercise, but Ken Williams was a superstar left fielder for the St. Louis Browns in the 1920s and arguably the second-best slugger of that decade behind Babe Ruth.

George Stone hit .301 for the Browns from 1905-10, capturing the AL batting crown with a .358 mark in 1906.

Heinie Manush hit .362 and won two AL doubles titles with the Browns from 1928-30.

Hall of Famer Jesse Burkett was a three-time batting champ before spending three productive late-career seasons with the Browns from 1902-04.

Hall of Famer Goose Goslin compiled three consecutive 100-plus RBI seasons for the Browns from 1930-32.

Gene Woodling was an All-Star at the position in 1959.

Curt Blefary captured AL Rookie of the Year honors playing left field on a part-time basis in 1965.

The Orioles were able to parlay Don Baylor’s huge promise to acquire Reggie Jackson in 1976, but Baylor didn’t blossom into a star until he left Baltimore.

Boog Powell, Ken Singleton and Al Bumbry logged significant time in left field, but ultimately accomplished more at other defensive positions.