This is the sixth installment of my twelve part series chronicling position battles between the Yankees and Red Sox. Today, we’ll evaluate left field, where the two players combined for 94 stolen bases and led the league in respective universal zone ratings (UZR) in 2010. Carl Crawford and Brett Gardner are among the league’s fastest and most efficient players, offensively and defensively. Economically, they are worlds apart, but which player will have the better 2011?

Left Field:

Red Sox: Carl Crawford (2010: .307, 110 runs, 19 HRs, 90 RBIs, 47 SBs w/ Tampa Bay)
Yankees: Brett Gardner (.277, 97 runs, 5 HRs, 47 RBIs, 47 SBs)

Not many people expected the Red Sox to land then free agent outfielder, Carl Crawford. Crawford, who played his first nine seasons in Tampa Bay, was heavily rumored to be heading to Los Angeles to join buddy, Torii Hunter. However, Crawford spurned the Halos and decided to stay in the AL East. There’s no denying Crawford’s talent, offensively and defensively. Outside of his injury plagued 2008, Crawford has stolen at least 46 bases since 2003. Crawford shown flashes of power too, hitting at least 15 home runs in four of his nine seasons. Add in his .296 career batting average and .337 on-base percentage and you realize that the Red Sox now have one of the game’s most dynamic offensive threats.

Defensively, Crawford won his first Gold Glove last season and has posted UZRs over 16.4 over the last three seasons. Bottom line, the guy is a stud defensively.

Crawford will go from hitting in an above average lineup to a lineup that may be the best in the league. Crawford will go from having the protection of Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, and BJ Upton, to Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, and David Ortiz. Crawford will hit either first or second in the Boston lineup and is a virtual lock for at least 100 runs and 45 SBs with a batting average around .300. Bottom line, he’s going to give Yankee fans headaches for the next seven years.

Bill James 2011 Projection: .300 BA, 93 runs, 14 HRs, 71 RBIs, 42 SBs

It’s hard for any player to follow up after Crawford’s impressive resume, but Brett Gardner matches him in a few areas. Gardner led the Major Leagues last season in UZR (21.5) while only committing one throwing error. Gardner led the Yankees with nine outfield assists and registered as an 16.9 on the ‘Range’ scale, which was best in baseball. Gardner is arguably baseball’s best defensive left field. Gardner, who is a natural center fielder, can only look to improve in his second season ‘getting used to’ playing left field.

Offensively, there’s no disputing Gardner’s annoying presence on the base paths. Gardner was success in 84% of his stolen base attempts (47 for 56). At the plate though, Gardner really disappointed after the All-Star break. After posting a .309/.396/.385 line before the All-Star break, Gardy tailed off big time in the second half, posting a .233/.366/.332 line. Gardner’s strike out total was way up too in the second half, whiffing in 25% of his at-bats.

Bottom line, Gardner is going to save a ton of runs defensively in the outfield. His .383 on-base percentage will create opportunities for the big bats in the lineup. Expect the 27-year-old Gardner to hit ninth, steal bases, and make ESPN Web Gems at least once per week.

Bill James 2011 Projection: .275 BA, 101 runs, 5 HRs, 46 RBIs, 50 SBs, .377 OBP


Edge: Red Sox

The Red Sox new $142 million toy gets the advantage over our $425,000 man. Crawford’s five-tool talent outweighs Brett the Jet’s, jets. Both players are gonna rock defensively, but offensively, there’s really no comparison.

Yankees 4
Red Sox 2

Check back tomorrow as we evaluate another place of speed, center field.