Starting in 1939, six men have roamed left field at Fenway Park for what we can call a significant period of time:
- Ted Williams, 1939-1960
- Carl Yastrzemski, 1961-1974
- Jim Rice, 1975-1987
- Mike Greenwell, 1988-1995
- Manny Ramirez, 2001-2008
- Jason Bay, 2008-present
From 1996 to 2000, the Red Sox went with, in chronological order, a mashup of Greenwell and Reggie Jefferson (1996), Wil Cordero (1997), and Troy O'Leary (1998-2000) — a generally awful combination that led to much wailing and gnashing of teeth for Red Sox fans the world over.
There were also Ted Williams' war years, 1943-45 and 1952-53. Assorted characters played the outfield in Williams' absence during World War II, and Baseball-Reference doesn't specify who played what position, but they all acquitted themselves well, and Bob Johnson in 1944 had one of the best seasons you've never heard of in a Red Sox uniform. The same could not be said of Williams' Korean War replacements, who were uniformly awful.
So out of the past 70 years, six players stood in front of the Green Monster for 60 of them.
With Jason Bay's 100th RBI Wednesday, it marks the 26th time in those 60 years that the left fielder has reached that milestone (27th, if you add together Ramirez's and Bay's totals from 2008). With his 31 home runs and counting, it's the 22nd season with a left fielder at 30 home runs or better. Drop the cutoff to 25, and it's the left fielders' 31st (32nd adding Ramirez and Bay again).
Home runs and RBI are a pretty terrible way to judge offensive capabilities across eras though — Yaz hit during the era of the pitcher, while Williams was the lone offensive threat in an awful lineup the last 10 years of his career. Greenwell also was at his prime during an offensively depressed period.
Here are some OPS+ thresholds, with how many times these six men have reached them in 60 years:
- 120 OPS+ — 47 times
- 125 OPS+ — 41 times
- 130 OPS+ — 39 times
- 150 OPS+ — 29 times
During those 60 years, Sox left fielders have posted a 150 OPS+ or better nearly half the time. Jason Bay, incidentally, is the only one not to achieve that level (Greenwell's monster 1988 says hello). A chart showing the left fielders' OPS+ since 1939 is after the jump.
I took out the war years on this chart, which shows an overall pattern of decline, which makes sense going from Williams to Yaz to Rice to Greenwell, yet notice how rarely the line drops below 100. From 1962, Yaz's second season, to 1991, the Red Sox never produced an OPS+ below 100 out of left field. For that matter, Yaz's rookie season was the only dip below 100 in a nonwar year between 1939 and 1991 — 47 qualifying years and just one OPS+ below 100. In 1992, Greenwell was injured and his replacement was Billy Hatcher, bringing that streak to an underwhelming end.
Rice picks up around year 33. You can see his 1977-79 peak cresting over the 150 mark in the middle of the chart. Greenwell's arrival in 1988 is evidenced by the sharp spike, but alas, he never fulfilled that promise despite being a solid player for several years. After the aforementioned period of mediocrity, Manny Ramirez's introduction brings some life back into the chart.
This isn't meant to be terribly scientific. I didn't go back and look at overall club production from the left field spot, or how the production out of left measured up against the league. It's just meant as an appreciation for the incredible run the Sox have had at one position over the past 70 years. For a great look at the Sox' left-field success versus the Yanks' center-field success using WARP, check out this Baseball Analysts post.