The 2019 Replacement-Level Killers: Corner Outfielders

The A’s corner outfield spots could use an upgrade, with Chad Pinder often pressed into service in left. (Photo: Keith Allison)

Traditionally, the outfield corners are home to heavy hitters. This year’s crop of right fielders has combined for a 110 wRC+, one point ahead of first basemen for the current major-league high as well as the highest mark at the position since 2011. The left fielders’ collective mark of 106 is the majors’ third-highest, one point ahead of that of third basemen, and the position’s second-best mark since 2011.

Even so, several contenders — which for this series I’ve defined as teams who are above .500 or have playoff odds of at least 10.0%, a definition that as of today currently covers 17 teams — are getting meager offensive production at one corner or another, by which I mean receiving less than 1.0 WAR at the spot, which makes them eligible for a place among the Replacement Level Killers. As the July 31 trade deadline approaches, they may want to do something about that, particularly since there’s no August waiver period during which they can tweak the roster. Having said that, I’m somewhat less focused on these teams’ eventual solutions, whether via trades or internal options, than I am in pointing out the problems.

Also, note that I’ve ruled out including the Angels among the left fielders, since the mid-June return of Justin Upton, who had been sidelined for nearly three months by turf toe, has already provided the team a substantial upgrade; even while slumping lately, he’s accounted for 0.3 of the team’s 0.6 WAR in 25 games, a 2.0 WAR pace over 162.

Replacement Level Killers: Left Fielders
Rk Team AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Bat BsR Fld WAR
27 Giants .210 .283 .373 71 -16.3 1.4 -0.7 -0.6
22 Athletics .239 .321 .361 86 -8.0 -1.5 4.4 0.5
21 Angels .247 .322 .395 94 -3.1 2.0 -3.1 0.6
20 Indians .260 .327 .408 93 -3.8 0.2 0.6 0.6
All statistics through July 24. Rk = WAR rank among all 30 teams.

Giants

You have to admire the Giants’ commitment to the bit, as they’re on pace to receive less than zero WAR from their left fielders for the third straight season. Eleven different players have spent time at the position, with none drawing more than Mike Yastrzemski’s 83 PA, and four other players (Alex Dickerson, Gerardo Parra, Tyler Austin, Mac Williamson) getting at least 50 PA there. Lately it’s been mostly Yastrzemski (.254/.298/.480, 98 wRC+ in 189 PA, while splitting time at both outfield corners) and Dickerson (a sizzling .357/.411/.694, 183 wRC+ in 107 PA), the latter of whom is in a two-position platoon with the righty-swinging Austin Slater (.255/.367/.569, 142 wRC+ in 60 PA).

All three have been among the team’s hottest hitters as the Giants have climbed above .500, but that isn’t to say that state of affairs will last; Dickerson is the only one of the trio who projects as even a league-average hitter the rest of the way. It’s understandable that manager Bruce Bochy would ride the hot hand in left field, and the good news is that most of the players who have dragged the position’s production down are no longer part of the organization, or at least no longer on the active roster. Still, if the Giants are serious about sticking around to contend, an extra corner bat would help once the inevitable regression hits.

Athletics

The A’s have more or less gone with a platoon in left field, with Robbie Grossman starting against righties but hitting a thin .257/.352/.383 overall (102 wRC+) and Chad Pinder starting against lefties and hitting an even skinnier .243/.282/.408 (81 wRC+). Good defense (UZRs of 3.1 and 1.5, respectively, and DRSes of 4 and 6) has propped up their value, such as it is, but the A’s, who currently occupy the second AL Wild Card spot, can do better. Pending free agents such as Alex Gordon, Nicholas Castellanos, and Yasiel Puig —  the last two of whom have less experience in left field than right field incumbents Mark Canha and Stephen Piscotty do — offer the chance for upgrades.

Indians

When I checked in on the struggles of the Indians on May 23, their left fielders (primarily Jake Bauers and the just-released Carlos Gonzalez) had combined for a gruesome 38 wRC+ (.194/.278/.236), and their right fielders (primarily Tyler Naquin and Jordan Luplow) weren’t much better (.233/.300/.380, 75 wRC+). Since, then, it’s been a different story, with the two positions hitting for 142 and 134 wRC+, respectively; with Bauers and rookie Oscar Mercado doing the bulk of the work, the left fielders have hit .316/.372/.558. Lately, Mercado has been playing center field regularly, with Bauers and Luplow platooning in left and Naquin getting most of the reps in right.

It’s working; as Craig Edwards pointed out, Mercado, Naquin and Luplow alone have been worth 2.6 WAR since June 1, about a week after I checked in. Separately, Edwards suggested that Puig or Corey Dickerson would be sensible fits, and unlike the aforementioned Gordon and Castellanos, wouldn’t require the Indians to deal with a team in their own division.

Replacement Level Killers: Right Fielders
Rk Team AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Bat BsR Fld WAR
26 Diamondbacks .254 .307 .408 84 -10.0 -0.9 0.4 0.0
25 Giants .246 .291 .412 82 -10.3 0.0 5.8 0.5
24 Braves .280 .352 .430 103 2.0 -1.6 -4.7 0.5
23 Cardinals .269 .346 .434 106 3.6 0.2 -5.0 0.8
All statistics through July 24. Rk = WAR rank among all 30 teams.

Diamondbacks

On February 1, I pitched Adam Jones as a potential solution to the Indians’ corner woes, but they didn’t heed my advice, and the 33-year-old ex-Oriole went unsigned until March 11, when he signed with the Diamondbacks. Despite the late date, he hit a robust .280/.328/.500 with 11 homers and a 110 wRC+ through the end of May, but he’s been unable to sustain that, hitting just .250/.303/.333 with two homers and a 65 wRC+. While his average exit velocity over the two periods has remained unchanged and unimpressive (86.1 mph), his xwOBA has dropped from .359 in the first stretch to .275 since because his groundball rate has risen from 41.9% to 50.9%, with his groundball-to-fly ball ratio rising from 1.01 to 1.76. While he’s started 86 of the team’s 103 games, he’s netted all of 0.2 WAR. Mea culpa.

Last week, Jones was rumored to be on the market himself; it makes more sense for the Diamondbacks (52-51) to be sellers than buyers. They don’t really have an obvious alternative in-house, as backup Tim Locastro offers speed but not much else, and Blake Swihart hasn’t hit and isn’t healthy (he’s been sidelined by an oblique strain since June 1). Their Triple-A Reno outfield is like a Who’s Who of What Didn’t Work in 2015, with Abraham Almonte, Travis Snider, and Yasmany Tomas getting the most playing time. If they’re upgrading, they should be looking to the future, not for a rental.

Giants

I addressed this situation above already, but here’s an idea: with the Rangers losing eight of nine to fall to 51-51, perhaps the Giants could bring back old friend Hunter Pence, who at age 36 has reworked his swing mechanics and has hit .293/.348/.572 with 15 homers, a 131 wRC+, and 1.5 WAR; by comparison, he managed just a 77 wRC+ and -0.2 WAR in 2017-18 while dealing with various injuries. If the Giants don’t get him, somebody else will…

Braves

Last summer, 34-year-old Nick Markakis made his first All-Star team on the strength of a first half with a 133 wRC+ and 2.5 WAR. Since then, in roughly a year plus a week, he’s fallen apart, hitting for a 98 wRC+ and 0.5 WAR (106 and 0.4 this year, respectively), and suddenly, those what-ifs about his chance at 3,000 hits (he has 2,341) seem rather silly. Though his average exit velocity has increased from 90.6 mph last year to 91.1 mph this year, so has his groundball rate, from 43.3% to 48.1%; meanwhile his defense has declined precipitously, from 1.1 UZR to -5.8 (2 to -6 in terms of DRS), and Statcast’s sprint speed numbers say he’s lost a step.

For in-house options, the Braves do have Matt Joyce, who’s been consigned to a pinch-hitting role for 66 of his 79 games played, and Adam Duvall, who has bopped 29 homers in just 388 PA at Triple-A Gwinnett; the latter hasn’t played in the majors this year after going just 6-for-53 after an August 2018 trade to the Braves and finishing with a 69 wRC+. Duvall could at least fill the short half of a platoon with Markakis, who’s hit for a 57 wRC+ in 96 PA against lefties, but an additional bat would be a boon.

Cardinals

Between Dexter Fowler bouncing back from a nightmarish season in which he battled depression and suffered a season-ending foot fracture, Jose Martinez shifting to the outfield following the acquisition of Paul Goldschmidt, and Tyler O’Neill making a case that he belongs in the majors, the Cardinals appeared to have options to fill right field this year, but none of them has been particularly satisfying. Fowler has rebounded from his 62 wRC+, -1.2 WAR struggle with a 101 wRC+ and 1.1 WAR while making 44 starts in right field and 35 in center (where Harrison Bader has slumped), but Martinez, who had previously hit for a 130 wRC+ from 2016-18, has been utterly mediocre (105 wRC+, -3.1 UZR, 0.3 WAR). O’Neill — who’s actually started just once in right but 22 times at the other two outfield spots — has slipped from last year’s 114 wRC+ and 1.3 WAR ( just 142 PA) to 95 and 0.2, with a 3.4% walk rate and 37.6% strikeout rate to boot. Given that the team is just 11th in the league in both scoring (4.61 runs per game) and wRC+ (91), they could really use a boost here.

O’Neill has been the subject of recent trade rumors, and Martinez remains better suited to an AL team in need of a DH, so a shakeup may be in order, but with Marcell Ozuna on the verge of free agency, and Tommy Pham, Stephen Piscotty, and Randal Grichuk all having been traded in the past two years, the team’s outfield depth has thinned considerably. If they’re dealing any of the aforementioned players (and Fowler would appear to be unlikely given $29 million remaining on his contract after this season), they probably need one in exchange, along with help in the rotation and bullpen.





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. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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Original Greaser Bob
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Original Greaser Bob

Not sure why the Cubs aren’t leading (lagging?) the pack in LF.

BenZobrist4MVP
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BenZobrist4MVP

Probably because of Kris Bryant’s 20 games there.

Original Greaser Bob
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Original Greaser Bob
BenZobrist4MVP
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BenZobrist4MVP

That must not be including Bryant’s 160 wRC+ as a LF.

Original Greaser Bob
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Original Greaser Bob

Are there minimum PAs for team stats? Furthermore at this point how much could 20 ABs move the total war number accumulated by Schwarber and any other qualified players?

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You’re right it only shows Schwarber and Zagunis.

jtmorgan
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jtmorgan

Use the drag down for the splits to see what they actually got out of a position. By using the position tabs it’ll put multiple players there and you’ll see some teams have something like 2-3x as many PA as possible for that position.