The 2022 Replacement-Level Killers: Left Field & Right Field

Nick Castellanos
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

While still focusing upon teams that meet the loose definition of contenders (a .500 record or Playoff Odds of at least 10%), and that have gotten about 0.6 WAR or less thus far — which prorates to 1.0 WAR over a full season — this year I have incorporated our Depth Charts’ rest-of-season WAR projections into the equation for an additional perspective. Sometimes that may suggest that the team will clear the bar by a significant margin, but even so, I’ve included them here because the team’s performance at that spot is worth a look.

As noted previously, some of these situations are more dire than others, particularly when taken in the context of the rest of their roster. Interestingly enough, four of the six teams below the WAR cutoff for right field also make the list for left field: two of them because they’re far below, and the other two because they’re just a hair above, and we might as well acknowledge those situations within this context. As such, I’ve used the rankings of the right fielders to determine the order of the capsules; those that also cover left field include an asterisk. I don’t expect every team here to go out and track down upgrades before the August 2 deadline.

All statistics in this article are through July 27, though team won-loss records and Playoff Odds are through July 28.

2022 Replacement-Level Killers: Left Field
Team AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Bat BsR Fld WAR ROS WAR Tot WAR
Braves .219 .264 .428 88 -5.8 0.1 -5.1 -0.2 0.5 0.3
White Sox .247 .291 .387 92 -3.6 0.1 -6.3 -0.2 1.0 0.8
Cardinals .244 .302 .387 97 -1.6 -0.7 -1.5 0.7 1.4 2.1
Red Sox .266 .310 .386 91 -4.2 -0.4 2.3 0.7 0.7 1.4
Statistics through July 27. ROS = Rest-of-season WAR, via our Depth Charts.
2022 Replacement-Level Killers: Right Field
Team AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Bat BsR Fld WAR ROS WAR Tot WAR
Phillies .227 .278 .350 75 -12.4 -2.4 -8.8 -1.4 0.6 -0.8
Red Sox .198 .262 .320 61 -17.5 -0.6 -0.2 -1.1 0.6 -0.5
Braves .217 .295 .374 86 -6.7 2.4 -6.7 -0.1 1.8 1.7
White Sox .260 .323 .381 102 0.8 -0.5 -7.0 0.1 0.7 0.8
Padres .233 .288 .326 76 -10.7 2.1 1.8 0.2 0.6 0.8
Cardinals .229 .313 .351 93 -3.5 2.0 -3.1 0.5 1.1 1.6
Statistics through July 27. ROS = Rest-of-season WAR, via our Depth Charts.

Phillies

Bryce Harper was the National League’s Most Valuable Player last year, but he’s been limited to just 64 games overall and eight in right field due to a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right (throwing) arm and a fractured left thumb. The UCL injury limited him to designated hitter duty, but he continued to rake (.318/.385/.599, 167 wRC+ overall) until an errant fastball from Blake Snell hit him on June 25. He underwent surgery to implant pins to help heal the thumb, but as of Monday, doctors decided that he hadn’t progressed enough to have them removed; he’ll be reevaluated next Monday. Once Harper is cleared, he’ll likely need at least a couple of weeks to ramp up and complete a rehab assignment. If there’s good news, it’s that he has also been undergoing treatment on his elbow (he had a platelet-rich plasma injection in May) and plans to test his ability to throw once the pins are out.

Harper’s move to DH meant that Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos, the two defensively challenged sluggers whom the Phillies signed to big free-agent deals, had to play in the same outfield on most days; thus far, Schwarber has started in left field 89 times and Castellanos in right 84 times. The former has hit for a 119 wRC+ and leads the NL with 31 homers, but the latter has been terrible, batting just .246/.291/.365 (83 wRC+) with eight homers as well as [puts on protective goggles] -6.7 UZR, -7 RAA, and -12 DRS in 723.2 innings in right field. His -1.4 WAR is tied with Robinson Canó for last in the majors among position players. Ouch.

As NBC Sports’ Corey Seidman noted, pitchers have attacked Castellanos with low-and-away breaking balls that he has been unable to lay off. He owns a career-worst 45% chase rate (7.2 points above his career mark) and a corresponding career-high 57.8% swing rate, a combination that fits the pattern of a player pressing. Additionally, he has a career-high 42.7% groundball rate, about six points above his norm, and his .245 xwOBA on pitches outside of the zone is 33 points below his norm; his .103 xwOBA on low-and-away breaking pitches is an 81-point drop from last year and is 36 points below his norm. His overall Statcast numbers (87.8 mph average exit velocity, 7.1% barrel rate, 33.8% hard-hit rate, .299 xwOBA) are all career worsts, as is his 17.5% swinging-strike rate.

If you’ve been reading this series, you know that the Phillies have already made the list at shortstop, third base, and center field. More than likely they’re just going to gut it out here, hoping that either Harper can return to the field or Castellanos can get back on track.

Red Sox*

Remember when the Red Sox had the game’s best right fielder in Mookie Betts and decided they didn’t want to pay him? They traded him for a package headlined by Alex Verdugo, who hit for a 126 wRC+ with 1.8 WAR in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but tailed off to a 107 wRC+ with 2.0 WAR over last year’s full season, and is now down to an 85 wRC+ (.265/.306/.370) with 0.4 WAR this year. He’s accumulated that total while starting 91 of the team’s 99 games in left field; Franchy Cordero has matched his WAR by slugging .593 in just 31 PA at the position.

Verdugo’s Statcast numbers are down relative to last year but right in the vicinity of his career norms. What appears to be off is that he’s hitting a lot more harmeless fly balls. From 2017 to ’21, he had a 27.7% fly ball rate, a 1.83 groundball-to-fly ball ratio, and a 38.1% pull rate, but this year, he’s up to a 32% fly ball rate, with his GB/FB dropping to 1.52 and his pull rate to 33.8%. In his first two years with the Red Sox, his fly balls traveled an average of 320 feet and produced an .818 xSLG, which he surpassed by 82 points, but this year, his fly balls are down to 313 feet, his xSLG has dropped to .741, and he’s fallen a whopping 198 points short of that. Some of which may be the new, deader ball and some of it bad luck, but it might also be his approach.

With a 7–17 July, the Red Sox have sunk to 50–50, though they still have Playoff Odds of 26%, hence their inclusion here. They have bigger problems in the other corner of the outfield. Jackie Bradley Jr. was a valuable player when he could provide exceptional defense in center field and a reasonably solid bat. But even at his best, he rarely produced enough offense to play in right field, and now that he’s not hitting much (.211/.259/.318, 58 wRC+ overall) in making 67 starts in right field and another 27 in center, the combination doesn’t work at all; he’s 0.4 wins below replacement level. The Sox have used Christian Arroyo (16 starts), Rob Refsnyder (12 starts), Cordero (10 starts) and Jarren Duran (four starts) at the position as well. Refsnyder has played acceptably there and hit .312/.389/.505 (149 wRC+) in 108 PA overall, his most sustained production in a major league career that has included parts of seven seasons with six teams. Arroyo, an out-of-place infielder, has not only hit .133/.200/.244 in 50 PA as a right fielder, but also produced a defensive gaffe so remarkable…

… that it moved this scribe’s 5 1/2-year-old daughter to artistic expression.

If the Red Sox were to make a move toward contending, the list of stopgap corner outfielders who are pending free agents and have a wRC+ of 100 or better isn’t a deep one, consisting of the Diamondbacks’ David Peralta and the Pirates’ Ben Gamel, both of whom have played more left field than right. Expand the definition to “more productive than what’s on hand” and the list of such players would include the Reds’ Tommy Pham (and Tyler Naquin, who was traded to the Mets on Thursday night), the Athletics’ Chad Pinder, and the Rangers’ Kole Calhoun. Adding a player with some club control remaining may make more sense; the Cubs’ Ian Happ heads the list, with Oakland’s Ramón Laureano, San Francisco’s Mike Yastrzemski (in Fenway!), and the Mariners’ Mitch Haniger (if healthy) also coming to mind. For what it’s worth, the Red Sox aren’t viewed as likely suitors for Juan Soto, whose acquisition would at least fill the star-shaped void left by the trade of Betts.

Braves*

General manager Alex Anthopoulos’ on-the-fly remake of the Braves’ outfield last July resulted in the acquisitions of October heroes Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario, and Jorge Soler as well as a championship. Now, if he could just get lightning to strike twice. So far, the team has gotten less than nothing from left field, where Marcell Ozuna (42 starts), Adam Duvall (26 starts) and Rosario (13 starts) have done most of the damage. Ozuna, who has additionally made 52 starts at DH, is third on the team with 18 homers but has hit just .223/.277/.405 (87 wRC+) overall with -0.5 WAR. If there’s good news, it’s that his 13.8% barrel rate and 45.3% hard-hit rate suggest that his results have been out of alignment with his quality of contact, as does his .257 xBA and .492 xSLG. Maybe he’ll come around.

Duvall scuffled for most of the first half while spending more time in center field than left, hitting .213/.276/.401 (86 wRC+). On Saturday, he jammed his left wrist against the outfield wall while in pursuit of a foul ball; diagnosed with a torn tendon sheath, he’ll undergo season-ending surgery. Rosario, meanwhile, returned in early July after missing two and a half months following laser eye surgery to correct blurred vision. Overall, he’s hit just .160/.196/.240 while playing both outfield corners (including 12 starts in right field), and since returning, he’s managed just a 52 wRC+ in 58 PA.

In right field, the Braves’ production has lagged due to the early-season absence of Ronald Acuña Jr. as well as his subsequent underperformance. After tearing his right ACL last July, Acuña didn’t make his 2022 debut until April 28, and he spent his first month back splitting time between DH and right field before playing the field more regularly. He hit .281/.372/.455 (131 wRC+) from the point of his return through June 25, when he fouled a ball off his left foot. After missing the next four games, he’s slumped to .214/.327/.286 (80 wRC+) with one homer in 98 PA. His overall 113 wRC+ (.259/.357/.398) is still the highest of any Braves outfielder besides Michael Harris II, and his rest-of-season projection for 1.8 WAR trails only Aaron Judge, Soto, Betts, and Kyle Tucker among right fielders, but his health is a wild card.

With spare parts Guillermo Heredia, Travis Demeritte, and Orlando Arcia unlikely to provide the level of production the Braves need (except perhaps as the short half of a platoon), Atlanta figures to be in the market for at least one corner outfielder and maybe two. Happ might be the best of the non-Soto options, and the lefty-swinging Peralta could be part of a platoon.

White Sox*

Last year the White Sox were able to overcome the ruptured pectoral that limited Eloy Jiménez to 55 games, winning the AL Central by 13 games. This year has been another story. Jiménez has played just 24 games due to a right hamstring strain and hasn’t been able to get going since returning three weeks ago, hitting just .222/.264/.383 (82 wRC+), as the Sox — who have dealt with numerous other injuries as well — meander around .500 (they’re 49–49 at this writing).

In Jiménez’s absence, AJ Pollock, who after being acquired from the Dodgers in exchange for Craig Kimbrel was initially slated to play right field, has done the bulk of the work in left field. Unfortunately, he’s hit just .237/.280/.354 with career-worst marks in wRC+ (80) and WAR (-0.2) — that after last year’s career-best 137 wRC+ with Los Angeles. Right field has been a patchwork involving Gavin Sheets (37 starts, plus 15 at DH, eight at first, and two in left), Adam Engel (27 starts, plus 19 in center), and Andrew Vaughn (21 starts, plus 26 at DH, 17 in left, and 10 at first). Vaughn has hit well (.291/.339/.452, 125 wRC+) but has netted just 0.6 WAR due to dreadful defense (-9 DRS, -7 RAA and -5.7 UZR in the outfield corners). Neither Sheets (.225/.290/.367, 89 wRC+) nor Engel (.247/.297/.357, 86 wrC+) have been productive, and the former has been dreadful afield, too (-6 DRS, -5.7 UZR, -3 RAA). To make matters worse, center fielder Luis Robert has been out since July 15 after experiencing light-headedness and blurred vision, though he just began a rehab assignment on Thursday.

The White Sox skimped at second base this past offseason and made the Killers list there. They’re said to be focused on acquiring starting pitching at the deadline, but if they’re to get back into the playoff hunt, they’ll need a substantial addition to their outfield as well. Here’s another spot where Happ would be a great fit, and while trades between the Cubs and White Sox were once considered anathema, the two teams have hooked up three times in the past five years, including deals for Jiménez in 2018 and for Kimbrel last July 30, after doing so just twice in the previous 25. There’s only one Happ, however, and I’ve hypothesized his destination too many times to count in this series, so odds are that the Sox go the rental route instead.

Padres

After producing 4.0 WAR for the Padres in 2020–21 — his best stretch for the Padres since ’16 — Wil Myers has been limited to 32 games this season by a right thumb contusion and right knee inflammation, the latter of which has sidelined him since early June. When available, he’s hit just .234/.276/.306 (65 wRC+) in 134 PA for the Padres, producing all of 0.1 WAR. In his absence, the Padres have tried a number of options, by far the best of which has been Nomar Mazara. Once viewed as a star in the marking, the now 27-year-old was released by the Tigers after just 50 games last year. After signing a minor league deal in March, he spent all of April and May with El Paso. Since joining the Padres when Myers went down in early June, he’s hit .288/.343/.386 (112 wRC+) in 143 PA, though after a sizzling start, that wRC+ has dropped 27 points over the course of his last 33 PA, a span during which he’s also plunged from 0.8 WAR to 0.5.

Myers is currently on a rehab assignment at Triple-A El Paso and could join the Padres this week. A platoon with the lefty-swinging Mazara could stabilize the position, but bigger things — much bigger things — might be possible here. Per multiple reports, the Padres are widely viewed as the top suitor for Soto, perhaps “as likely as the other 28 teams combined,” as one executive recently told The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal.

If they don’t land Soto, the Padres could revisit last year’s experiment with Fernando Tatis Jr. in the outfield; after returning from a bout of left shoulder inflammation last August, he played seven games in center field and 20 in right field before reverting to shortstop. Tatis has yet to play this year after undergoing surgery to repair his scaphoid bone of his left wrist, and Ha-Seong Kim has done a good enough job at shortstop that there’s thought of temporarily moving Tatis again. Tatis could head out on a rehab assignment with Double-A San Antonio later this week, and at least in the short term, his position may be determined by what happens at the deadline. Happ is another player in whom San Diego has expressed interest, possibly with a blockbuster that would also involve Willson Contreras.

Cardinals*

After three seasons of ups, downs, injuries, and diminishing returns, Tyler O’Neill broke out with a 34-homer, 5.7-WAR season in 2021, but that player has rarely been sighted in 2022. The 27-year-old has hit just .228/.293/.345 (83 wRC+) with five homers and 0.2 WAR, and he’s been even worse than that in three of the four months; his wRC+ progression from April to July has gone 55, 64, 156, 72, with that June breakout bookended by trips to the IL for a right shoulder impingement (19 games missed) and a left hamstring strain (23 games missed). While on a rehab assignment for the latter injury, he was hit by a pitch on the right wrist, causing a contusion and a whole lot of inflammation. Oy.

Though O’Neill said a couple weeks ago that he was “knocking on the door” of being fully healthy, it’s fair to wonder if that still applies. Only in that middle stretch of 52 PA between injuries did he sustain much productivity, and neither his Statcast numbers before or after offer a whole lot of optimism. While his rest-of-season projection for 1.3 WAR is the majors’ highest among left fielders, he may not be healthy enough to manage that.

Elsewhere in the outfield, Dylan Carlson has been solid but unspectacular, hitting .259/.329/.422 (115 wRC+) with six homers and making 44 starts in right field and 29 in center. Regular center fielder Harrison Bader, though, has been out since late June due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot, and he played just one game on a rehab assignment last week before being shut down again. Carlson can handle the middle pasture, but the Cardinals need help in the corners. Rookies Juan Yepez and Brendan Donovan and sophomore Lars Nootbaar have all started at least 26 games in the outfield and helped keep the team afloat, but they’re not enough. The 24-year-old Yepez, who has hit .254/.298/.459 (113 wRC+), is a 30-grade fielder to begin with, and he’s currently on the IL due to a Grade 2 strain in his right forearm, suffered while throwing home. Donovan, a 25-year-old utilityman, has made at least half a dozen starts at six different positions (all four infield spots and the outfield corners), plugging leaks everywhere while hitting .281/.396/.377 (129 wRC+). The 24-year-old Nootbaar has made 19 starts in right field, five in center, and two in left, hitting .208/.296/.376 (94 wRC+).

While starting pitching has been viewed as a bigger need for the Cardinals at the deadline, there’s clearly enough uncertainty that they could use at least one significant addition in the outfield. What’s more, they’re now viewed as the most likely team besides the Padres to land Soto thanks to the success of their recent drafts and proliferation of low-level prospects. Rookie third baseman-turned-second baseman Nolan Gorman could be a centerpiece of the deal, with Héctor Gómez reporting that Carlson could be among the players involved as well, and ESPN’s Jeff Passan mentioning lefty Matthew Liberatore.





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.

15 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Scoreboardmember
2 months ago

Just confirming…
– is the Yankees’ non-presence on the LF list because Hicks has played enough innings their?
– Or put differently… Gallo has been moved around enough between LF/RF to keep the Yankees’ numbers up across all three OF spots?

sadtrombonemember
2 months ago
Reply to  Scoreboard

Didn’t they literally just trade for a left fielder who is meaningfully above replacement?

Scoreboardmember
2 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Yes… and that still wouldn’t prevent them from being on this list though, right?

sadtrombonemember
2 months ago
Reply to  Scoreboard

I would think it would. I bet the prewrite on this had the Yankees on it.

johndarc
2 months ago
Reply to  Scoreboard

Naquin is on here as a trade suggestion even though he just got traded. So probably not.

keithk
2 months ago
Reply to  Scoreboard

Yeah, it’s funny to not see Gallo on the list who seems like the ultimate replacement level killer in the OF (though Fangraphs does have him with a positive WAR at the moment). But the methodology is doing this by position so I’d imagine all the other positives in the Yankee outfield outweigh his “contributions”.