Braves: Ranking the Right Fielders of the NL East

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Welcome to the next rankings of National League East position players. If you missed the previous few, feel free to go back and check them out:

 

Let’s start with the one and only Bryce Harper of the Phillies, a career 138 OPS+ hitter. He hit for a 198 OPS+ in 2015, which is absolutely insane. Just for reference, in 2019 — the last full season — the league leader was Mike Trout with an OPS+ of 182. If you do the math, Harper was 16% better at run production in 2015 than Trout was in 2019.

But if we just do the last five years, like we have been doing with veteran players in the previous articles, Harper is a 133 OPS+ hitter with a slash line of .265/.389./.510.  From a defensive standpoint, he has a negative value of -3.9 dWAR and -4 DRS since 2016. Harper is one of the streakiest defensive players in the league. In 2019, he was among the best defensive right fielders in the game, but in 2018, he was one the worst.

From a baserunning standpoint, Harper has accumulated an UBR of -6.6 over the last five years. As you can see, he is still terrific offensively but is dreadful in the areas that casual fans don’t notice. Averaging 3.58 WAR per year, Harper is not the player he used to be, but he is still playing at an All-Star level — especially with the bat.

A former Brave, Adam Duvall, will man right field for the Marlins. He is more of a platoon player whose defense is valuable on a competitive team. I know, I know, “but the Marlins made the playoffs last year!” The Marlins also had the worst run differential of all playoff teams in the league, so they are in line for some serious regression.

Although a solid player, Duvall is not anywhere close to the other guys in this position group — as far as talent level goes. He is a career 97 OPS+ hitter with a slash line of .235/.295/472. He obviously has raw power, boasting an ISO of .237. However, if you are getting on base less than 30% of the time, it does not mean much. His splits are terrible when facing right-handed pitchers, but he has averaged 2.32 WAR per 162 games over the last 5 years.

Duvall has spent way more time in left field than right — 3,855.2 innings to just 185.1. He has shown to be extremely valuable in left field with three different seasons of at least 11 DRS, totaling 47. In right field, he has yet to have a year with a positive DRS. It can be hard to measure baserunning for a part-time player, but from 2016-2018, Duvall played in at least 138 games. In those seasons, he accumulated a total of 0.1 UBR. In 2020, he doubled that with 0.2 — proving to be serviceable.

For the Mets, we have Michael Conforto, whose position could change due to the crowded outfield in New York, but this is where he lands on the current depth chart. When he is healthy, Conforto is much better than some fans outside of New York may realize. He is a career 128 OPS+ hitter, with a slash line of .259/.358/.484. He is below average on defense, though, with a -2.1 dWAR over 632 games.

Rounding out the position group are the two horses — Ronald Acuna and Juan Soto. Let’s begin with the latter. Soto’s bat is elite; in fact, if he hadn’t missed the beginning of last season with COVID, there is a possibility he could have beat out Freddie Freeman for MVP — voters love offense and tend to forget about defense, but that is a story for another day. Acuna rivals him because Soto is deficient in areas that Acuna excels at — baserunning and defense.

In 313 games, Soto has an imposing slash line of .295/.415/.557, with an OPS+ of 151. We all know it was a shortened season last year, and Soto missed 13 of the 60 games, but remember when we looked at Harper’s insane 198 OPS+? Soto had an OPS+ of 212 last year. It would obviously regress over time, but that OPS+ was the best we have seen since Barry Bonds had a 263 in 2004. Want to look at someone not connected to HGH? 212 is the highest since Rogers Hornsby hit 222 for St. Louis in 1924. Again, in a shortened season, but Soto can straight rake.

The fact that Acuna can even rival him shows how bad Soto’s defense is. Honestly, Soto should not be in right field. He profiles as a left fielder; in fact, Kyle Schwarber — who will be in left field for the Nationals this year — has been better defensively than Soto. But, as of now, Soto is slated to play in right field this year.

In 313 games, Soto has accumulated -2.9 dWAR. From a DRS standpoint, one can really see why. In 2,603.2 innings, he has -14 DRS. Last year was terrible. He had -8 DRS in only 289.1 innings. From a baserunning standpoint, Soto has an UBR of -2.2 since 2018, but since 2019, that mark is -4.2. Remember, UBR factors in all baserunning except stolen bases. His rival just happens to be really good at those. Soto averages 5.02 bWAR per 162 games played.

Now, onto the Braves young phenom, Ronald Acuña Jr. His bat will not quite stack up to Soto’s, but he has still been very impressive. In the same number of games, Acuña has a slash line of .281/.371/.538 with an OPS+ of 133. Some people may say he had a down year last year, but offensively, that just is not true. He had the best OBP and OPS of his career; in fact, he was 22% better from a wRC standpoint than his career average. Defensively, he definitely profiles better in right field than he does center, which Christian Pache will man for the foreseeable future. He is not elite with the glove but is above average, which is a lot better than Soto can say.

Thus far, Acuña has accumulated 1.3 dWAR — most of which came from his time in center field. though. So, let’s look at DRS; in 1,120.2 innings at center, he has 9 DRS. In only 383.1 innings in right field, he has 9 DRS. Just to reiterate, Soto had -8 DRS in 289 innings, whereas Acuña had nine in just 94 more innings. That is a difference of 17 DRS in a very small sample size.

We already knew Acuña had the edge from a baserunning standpoint, but let’s look at the numbers. He has accumulated 7.1 UBR to Soto’s -2.2, and that is not even factoring in the wSB of 4.9 that Acuña has added as well. He averages 6.26 bWAR per 162 games played to Soto’s 5.02. If you like fWAR better, Soto averages 5.69 per 162 games played, and Acuña averages 6.05 — both playing exactly 313 games.

From a full body of work standpoint, Acuña stands as the king of the East for right fielders. Fans that only look at offense will obviously disagree. Just because it is easier to understand an offensive stat sheet, doesn’t mean it is the only thing that matters. That is a different subject, for a different day. Today is not that day, and Acuña reigns supreme.

Here are your Right Field Rankings:

  1. Acuña
  2. Soto
  3. Harper
  4. Conforto
  5. Duvall

Wow, what a strong position group. Easily the strongest right field group in the National League. What are your rankings? Please leave them in the comments.

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