2020 Positional Power Rankings: Right Field

Yesterday saw us examine left and center field. Today, we bring the outfield review to a close with a look at right field.

“History” is almost certainly too strong a word for something that’s only been tracked for a limited amount of time and that can so easily slip below the radar, but last year, for the first time during the stretch covered by our splits (2002 onward), right fielders provided more offense than any other position. Both they and first basemen collectively finished in a virtual tie for the positional lead in wRC+ at 108, but a closer look shows that right fielders produced 210.6 batting runs, compared to 209.4 for first basemen. That’s a difference that the slightest tweak in park factors might change, but it’s worth noting nonetheless, particularly after right fielders finished just 4.7 runs behind first basemen in 2018; the gap had been over 100 runs — still just a few per team per season — in favor of the first basemen in each of the previous four seasons.

Driving that 2019 performance were the NL’s top two MVP contenders, winner Cody Bellinger and runner-up (and 2018 winner) Christian Yelich, with 2018 AL winner Mookie Betts third, but here’s the thing: those guys are on the move. Bellinger, who started 102 times in right field, 28 at first base, and 21 in center, enters this shortened season as the Dodgers’ regular at the last of those positions, having demonstrated the athleticism to handle the job, at least on a part-time basis. Oh, and there’s also the matter of his having Betts as his new outfield neighbor thanks to that February blockbuster. As for Yelich, who made 121 starts in right field before his season ended on September 10 due to a fractured right kneecap, he’s back in left field, where he spent most of 2014-16 and much of ’18, and where his defensive metrics have generally been the strongest. Newcomer Avisaíl García will play right.

Of course, there’s plenty of talent at the position beyond the MVP winners. Aaron Judge hits the ball harder than anyone in the game; his problem has been injuries, not performance. Ronald Acuña Jr., who’s on the top tier when it comes to the game’s most electrifying players, is slated to play mostly in right field after spending most of his 2018 and ’19 seasons in left and center. Michael Conforto, miscast in center, has taken to right, Max Kepler has come into his own, Joey Gallo showed signs of breaking out before getting hurt, and Bryce Harper is still a force. Further down the list are late bloomers like Hunter Dozier (another relative newcomer to the position), Brian Goodwin, and Michael Yastrzemski; former top prospects hoping to turn things around such as Nomar Mazara and Gregory Polanco (a 2018 breakout set back by injuries last year); and onetime first-rounders looking for that first sustained taste of success in the majors, such as Kyle Lewis, DJ Stewart, and Lewis Brinson. And hopefully, Jo Adell will debut this year. It’s a group as worth watching as any position.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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3 years ago

Has the statute of limitations expired on criticizing the Braves for manipulating Acuna’s service-time? Or the almost inexplicably team-friendly extension?