With spring training games officially under way, we are just over a month away from the start of the MLB regular season! With that, it’s time to continue on with our top-ten position rankings, and after looking at the top ten fielders and center fielders, it’s time to move on to the most talented outfield position- right field. The top six players on this list all are MVP candidates, and besides that, there are plenty of accomplished players that will be meaningful contributors for their team this season. Heck, it may even be the most star-heavy position in all of baseball, so making the list at all is an accomplishment in itself. So, who compromises this prestigious list? Let’s take a look at who will be the top ten right fielders in 2020.
Stats Used (via Fangraphs and Baseball Savant):
wrc+= Weighted Runs Created Plus; 100 is league-average (Ex: A player with a 111 wrc+ is 11% better than league average offensively, while a player with a 93 wrc+ is 7% worse)
xwOBA= Expected Weighted On Base Average
xSLG= Expected Slugging Percentage
drs= Defensive Runs Saved
UZR= Ultimate Zone Rating
ISO= Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average)
OAA= Outs Above Average
xwOBA Con= xwOBA on Batted Balls
WAR= We will use Fangraphs’ Version of WAR
Before we get to the top ten, let’s analyze the notable exclusions from the list:
- Mitch Haniger (SEA) has had multiple surgeries on various injuries, and his status for 2020 appears to be in doubt.
- Adam Eaton (WSH) and Kole Calhoun (ARI) are reliable veteran players, but don’t have much upside.
- Brian Anderson (MIA) has posted back to back 3 WAR seasons, but his defense is better at third base than right field, and his offense is pretty mediocre.
- Franmil Reyes (CLE) is one of my breakout picks this season, but he’s more of a DH type.
- Nick Castellanos (CIN), Charlie Blackmon (COL) and Trey Mancini (BAL) are solid offensive players, but that doesn’t compensate for their poor defense, which hinders their value enough to prevent them from making this list.
#10: Hunter Renfroe, Tampa Bay Rays
2019 Rank: N/A
2018 Stats (117 Games): .248/.302/.504 114 wrc+ 5 drs -0.8 UZR -1 OAA 1.6 WAR
2019 Stats (140 Games): .216/.289/.489 98 wrc+ 22 drs 10.1 UZR 6 OAA 1.9 WAR
2020 Projected Stats: .235/.307/.483 110 wrc+ 19 drs 8.9 UZR 6 OAA 2.5 WAR
The Rays have a knack for buying low on players, only to be rewarded by them having career-best seasons. After acquiring Hunter Renfroe in a package deal for outfielder Tommy Pham, it appears they’ve done so again. Renfroe never lived up to his prospect status as a Padre, but with a 132 wrc+ in the first half last season, he was well on his way to doing so. That is, until his numbers regressed as he tried to play through a foot injury, which first was reported to be a problem on June 23rd, right around when he started to struggle. Now healthy and in a better situation, I expect Renfroe to compliment his elite defense with quality offensive production, and honestly, he may very well be a more valuable player than Pham in 2020.
#9: Alex Verdugo, Boston Red Sox
2019 Rank: N/A
2018 Stats (37 Games): .260/.329/.377 98 wrc+ 1 drs -1 UZR 0 OAA 0.2 WAR
2019 Stats (106 Games): .294/.342/.475 114 wrc+ 13 drs 3.4 UZR 2 OAA 2.2 WAR
2020 Projected Stats: .292/.340/.465 105 wrc+ 12 drs 3.2 UZR 3 OAA 2.7 WAR
When you’re the centerpiece of a trade for Mookie Betts, there is going to be a lot of pressure on you to succeed, especially in a large market like Boston. However, Alex Verdugo should be up to the task. Despite dealing with a back injury and playing in just 106 games last season, he posted a 2.2 WAR, which is a very impressive mark. He doesn’t strike out much, and is able to post high batting averages, which allow him to maintain a solid on-base percentage. Furthermore, he’s a strong defender at all three outfield spots, and in total, should be a consistent 2-3 WAR for Boston, which should satisfy Red Sox fans’ demands. Now, said back injury will likely limit him for the first few weeks of the season, but upon returning, I even then, he projects to play more games than he did in 2019, so a mid 2 WAR is a reasonable expectation.
#8: Max Kepler, Minnesota Twins
2019 Rank: 9
2018 Stats (156 Games): .224/.319/.408 98 wrc+ 10 drs 10.8 UZR 9 OAA 2.7 WAR
2019 Stats (134 Games): .252/.336/.519 121 wrc+ 7 drs 12.7 UZR 7 OAA 4.4 WAR
2020 Projected Stats: .248/.332/.461 108 wrc+ 10 drs 11.9 UZR 9 OAA 3 WAR
Heading into the 2019 season, Max Kepler was one of my breakout picks, so I was very pleased to see him post a career high 4.4 WAR and 121 wrc+. Ironically, since I was high on him previously, he barely moves up on this year’s list, but still, he was an All-Star caliber player and one of the top performers on a AL Central winning Twins team. Some of Kepler’s offensive production came from luck, as he overachieved based on his expected statistics, but increases to his launch angle (18.2 degrees) and barrel rate (8.9%) correlate with a jump in his xwOBACON (.365), so he legitimately was a much better hitter in 2019; he also was able to have a more aggressive approach without seeing a major dip in his walk or strikeout rates, which is encouraging. As a solid hitter with above-average defense at all three outfield spots, he’s actually an extremely similar player than Verdugo. Yet, he’s more accomplished, and even if he regresses, should still be a three-win player for the ascending Twins.
#7: Michael Conforto, New York Mets
2019 Rank: 9 (LF)
2018 Stats (153 Games): .243/.350/.448 120 wrc+ -6 drs -3.5 UZR 5 OAA 3 WAR
2019 Stats (151 Games): .257/.363/.494 126 wrc+ -3 drs -1.3 UZR 6 OAA 3.7 WAR
2020 Projected Stats: .253/.359/.474 120 wrc+ 3 drs 2.4 UZR 6 OAA 3.7 WAR
Michael Conforto had a tough start to his career with the Mets due to various injuries, but after playing 150+ games in each of the past two seasons, he’s proven the ability to remain durable for a full season. That’s critical, as with three straight 3+ WAR seasons, he’s a very important contributor for the Mets. Conforto was able to be more aggressive on pitches in the zone while not swinging at more poor pitches, which prompted his quality of contact to be higher. His .431 xwOBACON is a product of that, as well as his increased launch angle (15.7 degrees), and moving forward, he could be an All-Star in the making with very strong offensive numbers and solid defense as long as he’s not forced to play center field; that likely won’t happen with Brandon Nimmo and Jake Marisnick expected to man the position.
#6: Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies
2019 Rank: 4
2018 Stats (159 Games): .249/.383/.496 134 wrc+ -26 drs -14.4 UZR -13 OAA 3.4 WAR
2019 Stats (157 Games): .260/.372/.510 125 wrc+ 9 drs 10 UZR 1 OAA 4.6 WAR
2020 Projected Stats: .272/.384/.532 131 wrc+ 6 drs 8.5 UZR 0 OAA 5 WAR
As a former #1 overall pick, the 2015 NL MVP, and the owner of the richest free-agent contract in MLB history, Bryce Harper may be the most overly scrutinized player in the MLB, as many see him as bust or an overrated player. Yet, in my opinion, he’s actually become an underrated player. His offensive numbers slightly declined in his first season as a member of the Phillies, but that was due in large part to some bad luck (.366 wOBA vs .387 xwOBA, .510 SLG vs .548 xSLG); his 14.8% barrel rate and 91.3 MPH average exit velocity were actually better than they were in his MVP season. Plus, he was a significantly improved player in the final two months of the season, which may be related to being more comfortable in Philadelphia, which bodes well for year two of their 13-year marriage. After proving that his poor 2018 defensive metrics were a fluke, Harper remains a tremendous, all-around player- he will be a major NL MVP candidate in 2020.
#5: Ronald Acuna Jr. Atlanta Braves
2019 Rank: 2 (LF)
2018 Stats (111 Games): .293/.366/.552 143 wrc+ 4 drs -3.4 UZR 4 OAA 3.7 WAR
2019 Stats (156 Games): .280/.365/.518 126 wrc+ 9 drs 2.8 UZR -1 OAA 5.6 WAR
2020 Projected Stats: .279/.364/.547 131 wrc+ 10 drs 3.2 UZR 1 OAA 5.9 WAR
The consensus top prospect entering the 2018 season, Ronald Acuna Jr. hasn’t needed any sort of adjustment period in the MLB- he’s been worth a combined 9.3 WAR in just 267 career games. Not only his the 22-year-old a very flashy player, but even with a sometimes too aggressive swing, he has a decent approach at the plate, and improved his chase (26.7%) and walk rate (10.6%). Therefore, he’s certainly making the most of his batted balls, which is evident with his .495 xwOBACON, 15% barrel rate, and .572 xSLG from this past season. Additionally, his defense appears to be much better suited in right field, though he hasn’t graded out well from OAA, and with 96th percentile sprint speed and 37 stolen bases, he’s a havoc on the bases. He’s a true five-tool player, and since he’s just 22-years-old, we probably haven’t seen the best of him. That’s a scary thought for the rest of the league.
#4: Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers
2019 Rank: N/A
2018 Stats (148 Games): .206/.312/.498 108 wrc+ 3 drs 5.8 UZR 1 OAA 2.7 WAR
2019 Stats (70 Games): .253/.389/.598 144 wrc+ 4 drs 5.2 UZR 1 OAA 3.3 WAR
2020 Projected Stats: .232/.368/.573 135 wrc+ 9 drs 9.9 UZR 3 OAA 6.1 WAR
Also once a high-end prospect, it’s taken a while for Joey Gallo to develop into the superstar he was supposed to be. He’s being overlooked at the moment because he missed all of August and September with a wrist injury, but quietly, he finally became that player for the Rangers. Had he played a full season, he was on pace for roughly a 6.6 WAR, which is just absurd, as are these numbers: 26.4% barrel rate, .631 xwOBACON, and 52.3% hard-hit rate. Encouragingly, he dramatically decreased his chase rate (24.2%), which also caused his swinging strike rate (16.2%) to also go down; even though he struck out a career-high level, that appears to be a fluke, and he walked at an impressive 17.2% clip. Plus, even though it may not seem like it, he’s actually probably a better defensive outfielder than Acuna Jr., despite being a converted corner infielder- he’s the complete package. Projection systems aren’t buying into Gallo’s limited sample size of elite production, but I’ve seen enough to believe that he’s fully complemented his extraordinary power with an all-around skillset. He’s a six-win player for this season by my estimation, and is a excellent dark horse candidate for AL MVP.
#3: Aaron Judge, New York Yankees
2019 Rank: 2
2018 Stats (112 Games): .278/.392/.528 150 wrc+ 14 drs 8.4 UZR 5.1 WAR
2019 Stats (102 Games): .272/.381/.540 141 wrc+ 19 drs 12.7 UZR 4.6 WAR
2020 Projected Stats: .278/.387/.567 146 wrc+ 20 drs 13.4 UZR 7.2 WAR
Sure, Aaron Judge hasn’t played in 120 games in each of the past two seasons, but believe or not, he’s still every bit the player he was when he posted a 8.3 WAR in his rookie season in 2017. The 27-year-old’s 57.1% hard hit rate and 95.9 average exit velocity each ranked in the 100th percentile last season, and had he not been so unlucky last season (.382 wOBA vs .401 xwOBA, .540 SLG vs .580 xSLG), there may have been no disappointment regarding his production anyways. Plus, based off the improvements he made to his launch angle the farther he distanced himself from his oblique injury, I expect him to have even better offensive numbers that this past season, which is downright frightening. Meanwhile, he also may be the best defensive right fielder in all of baseball right now, and his 14.3% walk rate compensates for some of his swing and miss concerns. Judge was on a mid 6 WAR pace in each of the past two seasons, and assuming he doesn’t have any fluky injuries this season, that’s a floor expectation for him. Right now, he’s the best bet to prevent Mike Trout from winning AL MVP, and remains the face of the Yankees’ rebirth as the “Evil Empire”.
#2: Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers
2019 Rank: 3
2018 Stats (147 Games): .326/.402/.598 166 wrc+ 4 drs 0.6 UZR 4 OAA 7.6 WAR
2019 Stats (130 Games): .329/.429/.671 174 wrc+ -1 drs 1.9 UZR -4 OAA 7.8 WAR
2020 Projected Stats: .322/.422/.615 162 wrc+ 1 drs 1.2 UZR 1 OAA 7.4 WAR
There have been a lot of blockbuster trades made in the past decade, but to me, no team has won a trade more than the Brewers won the trade that sent Christian Yelich from the Marlins to Milwaukee. At the time, Yelich was a very talented player, but even then, the prospect package the Brewers gave up was no small cost. Since then, however, most of the prospects they traded haven’t panned out in Miami, while Yelich has emerged as one of the top players in the entire sport. If you dig deep in the 28-year-old’s batted ball statistics over the years, it’s not a shocker that Yelich has found this much success, considering that he always ranked near the top of the league in exit velocity and hard-hit rate. Yet, he was always a ground-ball hitting machine, but after increasing his launch angle during the stretch run of the 2018 season (right when he went on an MVP run), per his rolling charts from Baseball Savant, he continued that trend into 2019- his launch angle increased dramatically to 11.2 degrees. That’s a major reason why his power has taken off over the past two seasons, and he’s continued to ambush fastballs at a ridiculous level. Now, Yelich still needs to work on his approach as a feared hitter, as his chase rate (30.7%) and swing strike rate (11.5%) both spiked as he saw only 35.9% of pitches thrown to him in the zone, but as long as he keeps hitting the ball in the air, he’s a minimum 160 wrc+ type of hitter. He’s not the greatest defender, but with his incredible offense and stellar base running, he’s the complete package for the Brewers; for the third straight season, he should at least finish in the top-three in NL MVP voting.
#1: Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers
2019 Rank: 1
2018 Stats (136 Games): .346/.438/.640 185 wrc+ 20 drs 16.8 UZR 12 OAA 10.4 WAR
2019 Stats (150 Games): .295/.391./.524 135 wrc+ 15 drs 12.6 UZR 7 OAA 6.6 WAR
2020 Projected Stats: .312/.408/.581 155 wrc+ 18 drs 15.2 UZR 10 OAA 8 WAR
Mookie Betts had a chance to go down as the greatest Red Sox of all time since Ted Williams, but unfortunately for that narrative, he won’t have the opportunity to do so- Boston traded him to the Dodgers in a surprising and perplexing trade. It’s rare for a player to be able to stay in as large of a market as Boston and go to an even better team than the one who won the World Series in 2018, but for Betts, he represents the finishing piece of a downright terrifying team in Hollywood. Sure, the 27-year-old’s 2019 season was nowhere near as productive as his 10.4 WAR MVP season in 2018, but if you can post a 6.6 WAR in a “down year”, that’s very impressive. However, that number should’ve been even higher. Betts’ .408 xwOBA and .573 xSLG, compared to his .380 wOBA and .524 SLG, better paint the picture on the type of quality hitter he is. He hits the ball very hard (46.6%), and better yet, has nearly identical strikeout and walk rates (14.3% K, 13.7% BB). Plus, he was much better (151 wrc+ second half) as the season progressed, which isn’t uncommon for a player coming off of a World Series title, so naturally, his offensive numbers should get back into the upper-echelon. To top it all of, Betts is a superb defender in right field and can wreck havoc on the bases, even though he only stole 16 bases last season. In other words, he may the closest thing we have to a flawless player, even more so than Trout, and for that reason, remains the 2nd best player in baseball. Translation: he’s going to get paid massively when he’s a free agent next offseason.