If for some reason you have been under a rock for the past week or perhaps you’ve been cranking up the INXS, putting on your mother’s coke bottle eye glasses, and hollering “Where’s the cat at” until the Right Field Positional Power Rankings were unveiled, be sure to acquaint yourself with the methodology of the following. The quick and dirty is that the projections are a hybrid of Steamer and ZiPS, it takes into account expected playing time and players at multiple positions.
Right field seems like a place you put slow-footed sluggers that can murder the ball at the plate, and yet I remember playing a lot of right field because it was thought that I would do the least amount of defensive damage at the position. The combination of big offense and bad defense at the position might be changing — look closely at this year’s crop and you could be underwhelmed by the bats, and you’ll also see some players that produce despite low-powered plate production. And yet, one of the most exciting young (and, yes, powerful) players in baseball is atop the chart at the position — at least the Marlins have one thing going for them.
Right field — maybe not as sexy as your father’s right field, but still fairly attractive.
The batting average could be a little generous for a guy that struck out more than 28% of the time last year, but Stanton just turned 23. He’s still pre-peak when it comes to most plate discipline peripherals, and he could be expected to improve his strikeout rate. Elite power can also turn outs into hits, and he certainly has elite power. Since he entered the league, his .282 isolated slugging percentage is second only to Jose Bautista over the same time frame. Elite power, good patience, and decent fielding — that makes you the best at your position. Even if the skinflint team you’re on can’t afford to provide you with a decent backup.
Jason Heyward. He’s good! Really, really good. And… done. Obviously Heyward made some progress last season, and much of it was in the power department. A positive for Heyward is the fact that he hit fewer ground balls this season — fly balls are good for the power stroke. Maybe less positive is the fact that his ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio regressed closer to career norms as the season went on, but still, if you look at his season as a whole, he hit fewer ground balls and showed more power. Seems like he can do that again, especially once you consider his frame and swing. He probably won’t get platooned with Jose Constanza again, as crazy as that was, and while there would be a massive drop off in talent if he was hurt, a Constanza/Reed Johnson partnership could do a decent job of filling in for a while.
#3 Blue Jays
Given his age (32) and injury history, it’s probably good for the Blue Jays that Jose Bautista’s backups are slightly better than Heyward’s. And you could say that Rajai Davis is a better corner outfield defender than he’s shown. With Anthony Gose still in the system, there are a few different configurations that could either serve to fill in for an injured Bautista or keep him healthy with periodic rests. And it’s worth trying to keep that bat in the lineup — even in a down year that was ended prematurely with a wrist injury, Bautista showed his customary power and patience to the tune of park-adjusted offense that was 40% better than the league average. He’s still got some great years in him.
Josh Hamilton might not have the best approach at the plate. And one of his best skills — making contact on bad pitches outside the zone — ages more poorly than other skills. But he’s only 32 and he does offer value with his base running and defense that will help mitigate any negatives that come from a rising strikeout rate. A few nicks and cuts shouldn’t hurt the team too much, either. Mark Trumbo, with all his flaws, is pretty powerful for a backup. This group of outfielders is deep and has elite upside.
Jay Bruce is 26. He’s only 26! His power is trending upwards, his patience has settled in at an above-average rate, and he’s not a terrible defender or baserunner, at least not at this point in his career. With a little bit of BABIP love and a slight defensive bounce-back, he could return to his three-plus win days. With a lot of BABIP love, he could have a career year. But of course, the prudent thing is to forecast him for negative defense, some hiccups on the basepaths, and enough patience and power to be comfortably above average. Behind him a platoon of Paul and Heisey could provide power, patience and defense, but just not all in one place at one time.
Because he is 36, age has to be the first thing that is discussed with Carlos Beltran. He has averaged over 600 plate appearances over his last two seasons, but that does feel like a coup after the two seasons he lost to knee injury. Now that he’s battling a toe thing in the spring, it’s a little easier to remember that at one point it was fair to wonder how much time he had left in a starting role. When he’s in there, he’ll still have power and patience and he won’t cost the team anywhere either. When he’s not, the team has good depth to make up for his absence. If it’s not Matt Carpenter — he might win the starting role at second base — it’s probably Matt Adams, who is projected for an above-average wOBA based mostly on his power. He would add to depth at the position by playing first base and pushes Allen Craig to the outfield, where he was a neutral defender with a great bat. Or the Cardinals call up Oscar Taveras, perhaps the best prospect in the minors. This is a deep team.
It’s so… Ben Zobrist that Ben Zobrist is atop the depth chart in right field and is projected for the bulk of his plate appearances at other positions. Or maybe it’s Rays-ian. In any case, it’s not a surprise to see a deep chart at this position given the Rays platoon-heavy versatility-first philosophy. Zobrist is above-average in all facets of the game, but when super prospect Wil Myers is ready, he’ll probably move back to second base most days, unless he’s needed at shortstop. Myers should show power and patience in his debut, even if the contact rate is a question, but if he struggles, Brandon Guyer might even be able to give above-average production if he’s limited to facing lefties — provided his shoulder is fine after surgery last year. Hopefully the Rays won’t have to run their designated hitter out there in right field very often, or need defensive replacement Sam Fuld a ton.
Andre Ethier doesn’t think he’s a platoon player — just a few more hits versus southpaws every season and people would be off his back, he said recently — and his manager agrees, saying that Ethier will be out there as an everyday player. And that he’d sit him occasionally against a tough left-hander. It’s not just a few singles that separate Ethier from being a platoon-neutral player, however. He walks less, strikes out more, and loses a fair amount of his power against lefties (.215 ISO vs RHP, .115 ISO vs LHP), and with power that’s more ‘above-average’ than ‘no-doubt,’ that’s significant. But even if he’s a punch-and-judy guy against 1/3 of the league, Ethier has power and patience and the ability to make contact against the other 2/3 of the league. He’s not a statue out in right field, either. It might be nice if a team as deep as the Dodgers didn’t have to go to a backup middle infielder or an untested rookie when their outfielder was out of the lineup, though.
The Oakland depth chart was a frequent topic of conversation at the FanGraphs retreat, at least in circles where this correspondent was included. The team is known for its love of the platoon and belief in roster depth, and they have multiple options at each position. While the infield might be kicking the ball around during spring training, the outfield has four excellent defenders with decent bats. All things equal, you’ll probably want to start Josh Reddick for his power most days, since Chris Young’s defense is less important in right field. But Reddick may find himself at designated hitter some days. Or it might Yoenis Cespedes or even Coco Crisp at DH as they nurse a nick or cut. There is no consensus on which outfielder is the best defensive center fielder — if you think it’s Chris Young you won’t be alone — so this depth chart may need some reworking depending on what the team thinks of Coco Crisp’s glove. In any case, Oakland has good-but-not great outfielders, and great depth, and that’s how they ended up above the fold.
The mountain man turns 34 this year, and he’s returning from a year marred by injury. Even if the wrist injury affects his power, he’s shown enough patience and defense that he should be close to a league-average player. He’s a high-percentage base stealer even into his thirties, and his double-digit walk rates have followed him into even the worst of seasons. It’s probably folly to believe in his recent improvement in swinging strike and strikeout rates — given his age — but in a full year, it would be a good idea to forecast him for scratch or better defense, good work on the basebaths, and elite patience. The power is an open question mark. When he’s out, and Bryce Harper is needed in left, it’ll be the Shark (Roger Bernandina) taking his iffy plate discipline and good corner-outfield defense to the field.
When you compare the production of the right fielders in Baltimore to their counterparts in Boston, it might be tempting to say that Boston’s are being under-rated. After all, Victorino has accrued six more career wins than Markakis, and in fewer plate appearances. But you have to remember that Victorino put up those wins as a center fielder, and his defensive value is lessened in right field. Once you put them on level playing fields, they’re much more comparable. Markakis doesn’t quite provide the same level of production when it comes to his athleticism — his fielding has eroded and he’s not quite the baserunner he used to be — but the Oriole can still make a lot of contact with above-average power and patience. And he’s not quite a negative in other facets of the game. Nate McLouth is a wild card at this point in the game, but as a two-week replacement, he should be able to field his position and run into a few powerful drives.
Yes, Torii Hunter had a .389 batting average on balls in play last year and that’s not likely to continue. But! Hunter has been hitting more and more ground balls and fewer and fewer fly balls and infield fly balls as he’s aged. These changes in his game are more conducive to better BABIPs, especially when they are paired with improvements in his line drive rate as they have been. These might all be conscious alterations to his game — after all, he’s not as fast or as powerful as he used to be, so ground balls make more sense. Now a full-time corner outfielder, his glove is likely to be an asset, and even if his speed has waned, he shouldn’t be a negative on the basepaths. He’s just around league average when it comes to walk and strikeout rates, and if you add it all up, you get a slightly better than league average right fielder. Now the Tigers just have to hope that the veteran won’t go down to injury — he’s been very resilient over his career — or that backup Avisail Garcia shows some improvement in his plate discipline. Otherwise the team will feel a little light on days where their new number two hitter is out of the lineup.
Even if the 31-year-old Norichika Aoki’s work was a surprise to some, it seems likely he can provide a reasonable facsimilie of his 2012 work. If you focus on his defense in the corners — Carlos Gomez was recently extended and looks like the everyday center fielder these days — he was an asset. The former center fielder should have been good with the glove in right field. He isn’t the most powerful bat — the league-average isolated slugging percentage might have been the most surprising aspect of his production last season. It might be best to forecast some regression there. The contact rate and the baserunning were both strengths of his game in Japan that seem likely to translate well (and did). So if you add a little value with the glove and take a little away with the bat, and leave the contact rate and speed, you still end up with the fact that Aoki is one of the league’s best bargains, and an average major leaguer. Outfield prospect Kris Davis may slug his way on to the roster this spring, but it’s more likely the team will use the stout non-prospect Caleb Gindl to fill in during those rare stints during which Aoki needs a breather. The little man has some pop.
This ranking might have angered some, so including the park factors and pushing it up to #14 from #20 will hopefully calm the reflux. Hunter Pence could certainly push the Giants up a few spots higher on sheer willpower and weirdness alone, but if you look closely at his peripherals, the news isn’t good. He just put up the worst strikeout rate of his career, built on the second-worst swinging strike rate of his career. Both numbers are in the midst of a three-year decline. He never had much patience, and now his power is trending downwards. His wheels are fading, and his defense — which was always iffy when it came to routes — is suffering. The last two years he’s been a negative in the field, and last season his bat was only two percent above league average. He’s never been a line drive hitter, or never once hit them at a rate that was league-average or better, and that usually manifests itself in a bad batting average that has been propped up to respectable by a streaky month or two. Last year that streak never came, and with the rest of his decline in mind, it makes sense to wonder if Pence is a great asset in right field any more. If he isn’t, Blanco should give enough patience and defense to hold the entire unit steady, but he doesn’t have the upside you might want coming up behind the Human Praying Mantis.
Will Venable is 30 years old. Is that surprising? He’s spent many years on sleeper lists, but it looks like he won’t ever wake up to his full potential at this point. The tools that made him so alluring are a little duller these days, and though he has gradually whittled away at his strikeout rate, he never ironed out the platoon problems, and so his upside has been limited. Some of his nascent patience never really came to fruition either, and by now his defense is starting to fade. He’ll still be at least two thirds of an above-average player, most likely, and now that the fences in right field will be a little closer, the lefty might even have a career year. The breakable Denorfia offers some security blanket, at least against lefties, but Mark Kotsay wishes he was thirty.
The first comment on this piece when it originally pubbed was a reaction to this ranking and the Rockies’ ranking. Well, kudos. The Rangers dropped to #16 from #8 once the park was factored in. Nelson Cruz is no longer as athletic as he used to be, as judged by his value added by fielding and baserunning metrics. He still steals some bases, but as you can see from his Bill James four-component speed score, his wheels are no longer the asset they used to be. He never took a lot of walks really, and he strikes out a little much. But he’s got enough power to be above average when you take the whole package into account, and he’s got decent backups on a team with good depth. That’s actually fairly important — last season was the first in the 33-year-old’s seven-year career in which he crossed the 600-plate-appearance threshhold. It might be surprising to see him come in below the likes of Michael Cuddyer and the right fielders in Colorado, but his relative frailty has to factor in on some level. His best backup, Leonys Martin, will probably see the bulk of his time in center field, leaving the flawed Julio Borbon as the backup plan.
After a challenge trade saw Snider land in Pittsburgh, he began the tough, post-hype task of attempting to secure a major league starting role. He did manage to improve his plate discipline in 2012, but the power he showed in 2011 has not returned to the big leagues with him since. He still looks like a monster with many-tooled upside, as his highlight-real catches and tape-measure power suggest. And at 25, he could put in a peak year performance this year. But he still strikes out too much, and even the projections as they currently stand might seem optimistic once the season is over. Garrett Jones is a bit old, and also a lefty, so it’s not a natural platoon, but they may pick the veteran over the rook from time to time. There’s only so many whiffs a manager can take before he changes the lineup, if only to make a temporary point. Jose Tabata also looks resurgent in camp and could push the young southpaw.
#18 Red Sox
The Red Sox drop from #10 to #18 after the park factors were put back in. Shane Victorino is 33 years old, too, and has less power than Cruz, but he has the benefit of falling from a more well-rounded peak. He’s still good on the basepaths, and he can still play center. Do you believe his platoon splits are a problem? Maybe not. Even if he’s not a natural platoon partner, Jonny Gomes can mash taters off lefties in his sleep. The Boston outfield will probably be a work in progress all year, though. If the team isn’t competitive in the middle of the summer, they’ll likely jettison their current center fielder for longer-term assets, and either move Victorino to center field or audition prospect Jackie Bradley, Jr in center. Ryan Kalish just had another shoulder surgery and his career could be in trouble, or he could come back healthy and provide at least platoon-worthy production at one of the corners. In any case, with all of these possible moving parts, it’s nice to have an outfielder that can hit in a couple spots in the lineup and play all three outfield positions, even if he’s not quite the high-flyer he used to be.
Every other year or so, Cuddyer lays a stinker. He’s been injured (2012), and bad (2010) and both (2008). Sometimes his defense undoes much of the good his bat has in it, like it did in 2009 when he hit 32 home runs and still didn’t crack three wins of value. But now relegated mostly to outfield and first base, his defense has been more ‘meh’ than ‘yuck’ the last couple of years, and that allows his average patience and above-average power to push the full package past the average right fielders. Behind him, Tyler Colvin is all power (against-right handers) and not much else, but along with the speed-first Eric Young, he provides the team with a decent backup plan. Colvin may even end up playing most of the year if the team finally trades their veteran, in which case you’d downgrade the positional ranking slightly, but not by much. It’s still not this position that’s going to cause the Rockies heartburn this season, even if the extreme park factors in Colorado dropped this ranking from #7 to #19.
At 27, Delmon Young is ostensibly headed into his prime years, but you’d be forgiven for not noticing. His power — his greatest asset — already looks like it’s in a decline from a peak that came three years ago, and he’s a minus in every other facet of the game. His defense has never been a positive in a full season, and his baserunning has been a negative more often than it’s been a positive. Young’s walk rate since 2010 is only better than three qualified batters over that time frame, and none of those three players have regular jobs any more. One is Yuniesky Betancourt. His character doesn’t seem like it makes up for any of his on-field failings, either. At least the Phillies have other options. Domonic Brown is projected for another 400+ plate appearances in left field, but with the varied cast of characters behind the two players, it makes sense that there will be some mixing and matching in Philadelphia. Hopefully for their fans, that mixing and matching will gradually phase out the rotund one.
#21 White Sox
Alex Rios has had a roller coaster of a career. Both the hero and the goat and sometimes for the same team, he’s now coming off a strong showing in the World Baseball Classic if that means anything to you. It’s hard to put stock in these things, even if he put up a career-best 125 wRC+ last year, because all you have to do is remember back to 2011, when his offense was a career-worst 41% worse than league average. And it’s not easy to see why Rios goes in and out of the tank — some years he has good power, some years he has little power. It might all be less worrisome if he had some patience to fall back on (he doesn’t), or if he was a positive in the field no matter what was going on at the plate (he isn’t). He should be good — in which case he could outproduce this ranking fairly easily — but if he isn’t, Jordan Danks and his strikeouts won’t be enough to make the Chicago faithful forget. There’s a lot of risk here.
Appropriately, the Twins will be handing their right field job to a player with less than 400 plate appearances in the big leagues. That isn’t to say that Parmelee doesn’t have some upside. He could walk at a double-digit rate, and he should have above-average power. But the strikeout rate is a question, and on defense he looks like the first baseman in right field that he is. If his minor league strikeout rates are to be believed, and not the contact rate he put up in 288 plate appearances last year, Parmelee the manatee could swim up the charts a few spots. But if the strikeout rate is closer to last year’s rate, and the power is only about league average, he won’t add value with his glove or his feet, and he could begin losing playing time to someone like Darin Mastroianni or Joe Benson, especially if center field goes to someone like Aaron Hicks. The personnel is here to improve upon this ranking, but it’s probably not going to do so this season.
Fernando Martinez is 24 years old, has been around for ever, and has never once managed to put up a combined 600 plate appearances in one season. If he was a better player, we might lament that poor run of health. But he strikes out too much, never added patience, and hasn’t capitalized on his former promise. While he keeps the seat warm for better prospects like George Springer, the other Martinez will show some power and be scratch on the basepaths and in the field. It’s not the kind of thing that will net him a long-term starting job in the bigs, and though J.D. Martinez will be needed in left field, there is a way to construct this roster that puts Fernando on the bench from the get-go without bringing prospects up too early. That still might not improve the Astros’ left field situation much, considering the flaws the other Martinez owns.
Moving Drew Stubbs to right field saps much of his value, as he’s a good defensive center fielder. But is he a Michael Bourn? Probably not. And so Stubbs moves to right field, where his strikeouts conspire with his defense to rob him of most of his value. A little bounce back in power and patience — he showed more of both in the past than he did this eason — would improve his ranking some, but probably not much. And asking him to up his power when he’s moving from Cincinnati to Cleveland might be a little much, too. Nick Swisher is a good player and we know all about him, but if you move him to the outfield full time, you’d need a replacement at first base, and none of the characters the Indians have tried there recently have proven they belong.
Cody Ross is nearly 50% better (with respect to the league) against lefties than he is against righties! That screams platoon player. There’s another way to put it, though. Against righties, Cody Ross is nearly average, as his weighted runs created are only eight percent worse than league average. He’s crazlebeans against lefties, where his offense is 41% better than the league, and his isolated slugging percentage (.290) would rank with the elite sluggers in the game. So you don’t have to strictly platoon him, particularly when the guy behind him doesn’t have much better than league average offensive upside anyway. So Ross should start most days, and Parra will be somewhat of a platoon partner and a little bit more of a defensive replacement and injury caddy. Adjusting for the park slid this group down from #17 to their current ranking.
Despite the platoon splits that Nate Schierholtz has put up to date (minor), this looks like it will be almost a straight platoon. It’s not so much that Schierholtz is bad against lefties (10% worse than league average), it’s that Scott Hairston loves southpaws. He’s almost a Cody-Ross-lite, with an .224 ISO against lefties. The Chin adds value on defense and the basepaths, too, but just can’t hack it against righties enough (86 wRC+) to be a full-time answer at the position. There are plenty of outfielders coming up in the system, but none of the corner outfielders are ready just yet. That means Theo and company will cobble together a right fielder out of their scraps. It might not be as ugly as some expect, but you shouldn’t call it pretty.
If Saunders seems too decent to have here, at this point in the list, it’s partially because he’s been getting credit for some time in center field in the past. It’s also partially because of the projection systems — all of them see Saunders taking a step back from some of his career highs last season, particularly in the power department. But Saunders has shown more patience in the past, and could walk more in the future. He also should show positive defensive numbers in the corner outfield, as long as the center fielder stays healthy. And the 26-year-old doesn’t necessarily need to step back, power-wise, especially in a year where the fences are moving in. Saunders could easily move the Mariners up in the rankings, even with Raul Ibanez and Casper Wells dragging the team down. He was, after all, the MVP of pool D in the WBC.
This probably will get ugly. The idea is the same as it is in Chicago — pick up two platoon bats and make it work — but the players involved are that much less established. Mike Baxter is patient. He can take a walk. It’s unclear if he has other skills to bring to the table. Against righties at least, he has representative power, and his defense and baserunning look like they can be scratch. But he’s probably not a great everyday player. Andrew Brown was a waiver wire scrap heap pickup that was picked up for his platoon splits against lefties. Some of those splits came in really nice offensive parks. He hasn’t really shown anything in the bigs, even against lefties. This probably will get ugly.
It sounds like Ichiro will be needed in left field some in the early going, since the home ground in that part of the park is bigger and Brennan Boesch is not a good defender. But once Teixeira returns, it won’t be long until Curtis Granderson is back in the fold, and by then it should be Ichiro full time in right field. We know that Ichiro is old, but this ranking feels a little light. He’s still an asset defensively on the corners, he still adds value on the basepaths, and he can still make contact with the best of them. If his new home stadium and division help arrest the decline in his power stats — and his short time as a Yankee last season seemed to suggest it could — Ichiro could easily outpace this projection. Even at 39 years old. Behind him, Boesch could benefit from a short porch in right and a fresh start, and is a decent pickup that could help push this ranking north despite his plate discipline and defensive issues.
Frenchy arrives, and he rakes. Perhaps the pitchers don’t know how he’ll swing at everything, or maybe he is just driven by the need to impress new coworkers. We can’t know these things. But at some point in every honeymoon, Frenchy reverts. He starts reaching, he stops walking, and he runs his team out of an inning or ten. His arm — always impressive — can’t make up for the circus routes he takes in the outfield. The smile becomes a grimace. It’s just a weird yo-yo. In his career, he’s had three seasons where he’s been healthily above average, four where he was basically a replacement player, and one (2012) where he was the worst everyday player in baseball. He obviously has decent upside, since he’s done it three times before, but at 29, The Artist Formerly Known As The Natural seems far removed from his upside-heavy days. It’ll be tough, at times, to forget the name Wil Myers in Kansas City, but this year, and this year alone, it’s no fait accompli that the Frenchman ends up at the bottom of this list at the end of the season. All he has to do is reverse most of the trends in his peripherals — ground-ball rate, reach rate, isolated slugging percentage, speed score, strikeout rate, and defensive metrics. Simple!