Best of the Decade: Right Field

Click here to read Best of the Decade: Catcher
Click here to read Best of the Decade: First Base
Click here to read Best of the Decade: Second Base
Click here to read Best of the Decade: Third Base
Click here to read Best of the Decade: Shortstop
Click here to read Best of the Decade: Left Field
Click here to read Best of the Decade: Center Field

Opening Day for most teams is tomorrow, so we’ll finish up a look at position players of the 2010s with right fielders today.

Fangraphs Top 30 by WAR (2010-2019)

Baseball Reference Top 30 by WAR (2010-2019)

If you want an explanation of any of the more advanced metrics in the tables, click here or navigate to the top of the page and click on the post titled “Best of the Decade: Catchers.”

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The Four Horsemen of Right Field

Mookie Betts leads the pack among right fielders in the 2010s. I gave him the nod over the gentlemen below because Betts has played at an extremely high level since his debut and has simply brought a lot of value to his teams in a short period of time. He has posted at least 6 rWAR in every full season he has played, and he has played between 250 and 400 fewer games than the other guys in this section. Betts is the owner of a .301/.374/.519 career triple-slash and brought the coveted power-speed combo to the Red Sox for the first six years of his career, launching 139 home runs and stealing 126 bags in that time frame. The one-time MVP will now suit up in Chavez Ravine for the Dodgers and look to get this next decade started right. Worth noting, of course, is that he’ll be there for the next 12 years on the heels of a $365 million extension.

At one point in his career, it looked like Giancarlo Stanton could chase the all-time home run record. He still could; he has 308 home runs in ten seasons, but injuries have slowed him down sporadically throughout his career. Last year, he played just 18 games but he should be fully healthy this season and resume his home run hitting as usual. Stanton is 22nd all-time in home runs before an age-30 season, one home run behind Babe Ruth, so again, Stanton could chase the all-time greats if he manages to remain healthy. I doubt he gets over 600 but he could get to 500 if he stays on the field. Lots of ifs in the future, but the past is set: Stanton was the best power hitter of the 2010s.

Jose Bautista is an incredible story. He was a Rule 5 draft pick in 2003 and debuted in 2004, playing for four teams in the majors before landing with the Blue Jays. He didn’t morph into the Joey Bats we all know until 2010, when he burst onto the scene with an MLB-best 54 home runs. He finished the decade with 285 home runs and six all-star appearances, and is best known for two things: this monster batflip in the 2015 ALCS and getting punched out by Rougned “Golden Gloves” Odor in 2016. For your reference, the best angle of the punch happens in that linked video at 3:03. Enjoy.

Wunderkind Bryce Harper has been nothing short of an enigma throughout his career. He has certainly been the most hyped position player prospect in my lifetime, and my dad agrees that Harper was probably the most hyped position player prospect in his lifetime. So both generations agree: Harper received a lot of fanfare before his big league debut.

Harper made good on that hype: he slashed .270/.340/.477 with 22 home runs and 18 steals in his rookie season in 2012 at age 19, taking home National League Rookie of the Year honors. He hit the disabled list for a period of time in 2013 and 2014 before having one of the best offensive seasons in history in 2015; his 197 wRC+ in 2015 ranks 20th among all individual seasons since the start of World War II. That year, Harper took home the NL MVP unanimously thanks to his obscene .330/.460/.649 triple-slash, 42 home runs, and nearly as many walks (124) as strikeouts (131). People thought that in that year, at age 22, he had finally ascended to another plane of being, but he came back down in following seasons, slashing .267/.391/.505 with 87 home runs from 2016-2018. After the 2018, Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million megadeal with the Phillies and continued to post solid numbers with 36 home runs and a .260/.372/.510 triple-slash. Now 27, Harper has plenty of time to continue chasing records; his 219 career home runs are 21st all-time for any player younger than 27.

Tier Two

Jason Heyward, much like the aforementioned Bryce Harper, has been enigmatic throughout his career. Through the first six years of his career, he put up nearly 30 rWAR and over 25 fWAR thanks to excellent offensive and defensive play, but his play dropped off after inking a big deal with the Cubs prior to the 2016 season. The main culprit in Heyward’s decline is the fact that he hasn’t been barreling balls at the same rate he did in the earlier stages of his career. He’s hit infield pop-ups, the worst type of ball in play, at a much higher clip with the Cubs than ever before, and he hasn’t been hitting the ball as hard when he has put the ball in play.

J.D. Martinez has had an interesting career thus far. He was drafted by the Astros and was honored as their Minor League Player of the Year in 2010 before his first taste of big league ball in 2011. He was projected to be an impact bat at the major league level but never figured it out in Houston, slashing a paltry .251/.300/.387 in three seasons with the Astros before getting cut right before the 2014 season. The Tigers then picked Martinez up and the rest is history.

In his first year in the Motor City, Martinez hit .315/.358/.553 with 23 home runs in 123 games and that was only the start of his brilliance. He hit 38 home runs in 2015, 22 more in 2016, and then totaled a ridiculous 45 long balls in just 119 games with two teams in 2017. He’s spent the last two years in Boston where he’s been their primary designated hitter and given Boston their money’s worth, slashing .317/.392/.593 with 79 home runs. It’s very possible that Martinez finishes his career in a similar fashion to Nelson Cruz and ends up playing into his 40s and providing excellent value as a DH.

For a period of time in the first half of the decade, Carlos Gonzalez was one of the best right fielders in the game. He always struggled to stay heathy but when he was on the field he was stellar. From 2010-2013, he slashed .311/.370/.556 with 108 home runs and 27 steals and won a batting title, Coors Field-assisted, of course. In those four seasons alone, he put up 15 rWAR and has never quite been able to match that level of production. He’s still trying to latch on with a big league team for 2020 but even if he has to hang up his spikes, he will have put together a very solid big league career.

Shin-Soo Choo has led his league in an offensive stat once in his entire career: hit by pitch in 2013. That is a testament to how consistent he’s been over the past decade; the South Korean has amassed 24.1 rWAR and 26.2 fWAR since 2010. Like I said, he’s never been a standout but he has a .271/.376/.438 slash line, the most notable leg of which is his on-base percentage. Choo’s 710 walks since 2010 rank seventh among all major leaguers (not just right fielders) above some notables like Miguel Cabrera, Bryce Harper, and Curtis Granderson. Though Choo has never led the league in walks, it’s fair to say that he has an elite eye at the dish and should continue to contribute so long as he can maintain his plate discipline.

George Springer has been a really solid big leaguer since his 2014 debut. A lifelong Astro, Springer has slashed .270/.361/.488 over six years with good power and respectable speed. Perhaps most impressively, Springer has completely managed his stutter, an issue which has plagued him his entire life. ESPN did a great piece on his stutter a few years ago and that cemented him as one of my favorite players in the game. Yes, he’s an Astro, which is a contentious label to own right now, but he’s a good ballplayer and a good dude who happens to be one of the better right fielders of the past half-decade.

Prime and Pre-Prime

Ronald Acuña Jr. has been one of the best players in baseball since his debut. He has amassed a cool 9.9 rWAR and 9.3 fWAR over the two seasons he’s played in the big leagues and his numbers are among the best of all-time for any player before their age-22 season. Most impressively, Acuña’s 67 home runs before his age-22 season rank fourth all-time behind Mel Ott, Tony Conigliaro, and Frank Robinson. Pretty good company to be in.

Acuña hasn’t played the majority of his games in right field, but that’s where he’ll be lining up for the foreseeable future given Inciarte’s presence in center field. On top of that, Acuña can play every outfield position well, so it seems unfair to confine him to right field, but that’s where I’m putting him for now. He’s going to be one of this decade’s top outfielders, so look out.

Aaron Judge has been one of the best power hitters in the game since his debut and the fact that the Yankees have him and Stanton in the middle of their order seems unfair. He owns a .273/.394/.558 career triple-slash, the latter two legs of which are tops among all right fielders in the 2010s. Injuries have slowed him down in each of the past two seasons, but he’s played to a 162-game pace of 45 home runs so if he could stay healthy for an entire season, we could see another really special season out of Judge some time soon.

Michael Conforto has played more games in left than in right since the start of his career but he’s going to be the every day right fielder for the Mets from here on out after being a right field regular last year, so I put him in this article. “Scooter” has been pretty underrated in his career; he owns a .253/.353/.481 triple-slash and has 109 home runs in 578 games. He’s played over 150 games in each of the past two years and hit 28 and 33 home runs, respectively, and he figures to continue anchoring the Mets lineup if they can ink him to an extension after the 2021 season.

Austin Meadows currently has coronavirus but that shouldn’t slow him down for more than just the near future. A once-top prospect with the Pirates, Meadows never found his footing until he was shipped to the Rays in the 2018 Chris Archer deal. Since then he’s simply been excellent; the 25-year-old has slashed .289/.361/.552 with 33 home runs and 12 steals in 148 games for Tampa. It’s safe to say the Rays have found their right fielder for the next few seasons, the only question is whether or not they will be able to keep him on a team-friendly contract.

Another former highly touted prospect, Nomar Mazara hasn’t quite figured it out like Meadows has. Mazara was young for his level throughout his entire minor league career and scouts banked on him developing his plate discipline and hit tool, but the changes never came. Mazara is just a .261/.320/.435 career hitter who has hit 79 home runs in four seasons, split into seasons of 20, 20, 20, and 19. The White Sox acquired him this past offseason so he will suit up alongside Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert in what will be one of the most exciting outfields in baseball. Maybe Eloy can help Nomar finally tap into his power potential.

Max Kepler is one of just nine German-born players to debut in the big leagues over the past thirty years. He will likely retire as the most successful German-born player considering some of the offensive numbers he has put up. He started his career off slow, posting just 4.5 rWAR through his first three seasons but he’s combined for 7.3 rWAR over the past two years including last season in which he slashed .252/.336/.519 with 36 home runs in 134 games. Perhaps his coolest accomplishment is that he hit home runs in five straight at-bats against Trevor Bauer. More on that here.

Trey Mancini has carved a nice role out for himself in Baltimore. Unfortunately, Mancini is going to miss the whole season due to his ongoing battle with colon cancer. He wrote an incredibly optimistic and touching piece in The Players’ Tribune back in April (read here) and I strongly recommend you give it a read. Trust me, it’s worth it.

When he’s been on the field, Mancini has been a solid contributor. Last season was his best; he slashed .291/.364/.535 with 35 home runs while splitting time between right field and first base. It’s unfortunate that his diagnosis came on the heels of his breakout season and I hope that he’ll be able to return to the field as soon as possible.

You know what you’re getting with Franmil Reyes: a walk, strikeout, or home run. Reyes, over 40% of the time in his career, has ended a plate appearance with one of those outcomes and will now have a full-time DH role in Cleveland where he can mash. He quietly launched 37 long balls last year split between the Padres and the Indians and there’s no denying the power is real. Now that he doesn’t have to worry about defense, I’m excited to see what’s in store.

Quick Hits

Puig Your Friend, or so people have been told on Twitter by the one and only Yasiel Puig. Puig burst onto the scene during in his 104-game 2013 debut, slashing .319/.391/.534 with 19 home runs. He followed his electric 2013 season with an even better 2014 and his play fell off from there. He has a .277/.348/.475 career triple-slash with 132 home runs and 79 steals, which is pretty solid for a seven seasons of work. He also still has a cannon of an arm and I strongly recommend watching a Puig highlight reel if you find yourself with extra time.

Josh Reddick, shockingly, was one of the better right fielders of the 2010s, checking in just outside the top-10 by Fangraphs and at #6 by Baseball Reference. He has just one box of black ink on his Baseball Reference page—12 sacrifice flies in 2017—but being an above-average player for a lot of years gets you in the discussion for best of anything, which is what gives Reddick his place in this article.

Hunter Pence probably had his best stretch prior to the 2010s but he still played solid ball in the first half of the decade. He will forever be known for his insane eyes and his flailing swing. He’ll suit up for the Giants in 2020 much like he did the rest of the decade; he played there from 2012-2018 with a break in Texas in 2019.

Torii Hunter, like Pence, did his best work before the 2010s. What makes Hunter’s performance in the former half of the past decade so impressive is that he still managed to put up high-quality seasons well into his 30s. In 2012, at age 36, Hunter logged a 5.4 rWAR season for the Angels by slashing .313/.365/.451 with 16 home runs in 140 games.

Jay Bruce has really only been ever to hit right-handed pitching at an elite level and he’s done that incredibly well; Bruce slashes .254/.326/.488 with 229 of his 312 career home runs against righties. He also had the most RBI of any right fielder of the 2010s, which is partially a product of being a power hitter behind on-base machine Joey Votto and partially a product of his ability to stay on the field.

Nick Markakis opted out of the 2020 season with 2355 career hits. He’s entering his age-37 season in 2021 season and if he continues to hit, he could reach 3000 hits with four solid seasons. If he does, he’d probably be the first member of the 3000-hit club to not make the Hall of Fame. He also has the honor of being involved in one of the funniest announcing gaffes ever (link here).

It’s unfortunate that Mitch Haniger has never been able to stay on the field because when he’s been healthy, he’s been good. Haniger boasts a career .267/.348/.480 triple-slash line but he’s only played in 66% of his team’s games.

In the Wings

Jo Adell can play center field and has come up as a center fielder but thanks to Mike Trout, he’s going to have to figure it out elsewhere. I think he’s most likely to end up in right field but that could easily change. Adell slashed an impressive .289/.359/.475 across three levels in the high minors as a 20-year-old in 2019. The power is real, the speed is real, and Adell is real. Angels fans should be excited about potentially seeing this gem in 2020.

The trouble with Alex Kiriloff and Trevor Larnach is that they can’t both play right field. Right now, neither of them can play right considering that Max Kepler is entrenched there and the playing time problem doesn’t look like it will be solved any time soon. Regardless, both of these first round picks can hit. Kiriloff is a career .317/.365/.498 hitter in the minors with 36 home runs in 279 minor league games. Larnach owns a .307/.385/.468 slash line with 18 home runs in 169 minor league games. The Twins just need to find a spot for these promising right fielders; they’re both an injury away from a regular big league role.

JJ Bleday lit college baseball on fire in 2019, leading Vanderbilt to a National Championship with a slash line of .347/.465/.701 and 27 home runs in 71 games. He’s stumbled a little since joining the Marlins minor league ranks but to his credit, he was very aggressively assigned to high-A for his first taste of pro ball, which is incredibly rare, even for a college draftee. Bleday should be a faster mover and given the lack of exciting talent in Miami right now, I’d be surprised if we don’t see him suiting up for the Marlins soon.

Trent Grisham, formerly known as Trent Clark, will be an interesting prospect to watch in 2020. He exhausted his rookie eligibility in 2019 but is a youngster who brings an intriguing combo of power and speed to the table. Right now, he’s best known for letting a ball through his legs that cost the Brewers the 2019 National League Wild Card Game, but he has a long and bright future ahead of him and he’ll have plenty of time to make up for his mistake.

Julio Rodriguez is yet another interesting youngster in the right field category. Rodriguez suffered a hairline fracture earlier this week that will keep him out of play in 2020, but we could see him as early as 2021 in his age-20 season. The Dominican has an obscene .322/.395/.534 slash in the minors and is just 19. A young, highly-touted prospect with the last name Rodriguez in Seattle rings some bells…

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