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The Case For Bruce: A Look at Right Field in the National League

When I wrote the column about Center Field I had a definite question in mind with the intent of a followup article covering right field as well.  I mentioned the tweet about Drew Stubbs and how it seems to represent a vocal number of Reds fans who are tired of watching Stubbs strike out and suggesting we should look elsewhere for help in center field.

Today I want to offer up my take on right field throughout the National League.  While not as strident in their critique, there are those among the Reds faithful who think Jay is also part of the problem the Reds have in 2011 and cannot envision a successful future that involves his participation.  His young age and lengthy contract lock him into the Reds organization for 5 more years so the only way he leaves is if the organization trades him away.  Why would they want to do that?  Truth is they wouldn’t, let’s see why:

NL Teams Right Fielder Age BA OBP OPS Runs RBI SO SB Def % Games
Arizona Justin Upton 23 .292 .372 .908 103 88 122 21 .963 155
Atlanta Jason Heyward 22 .227 .322 .716 50 42 89 9 .973 117
Chicago Tyler Colvin 25 .154 .208 .522 17 20 54 0 .990 76
Cincinnati Jay Bruce 24 .257 .341 .816 81 94 152 8 .987 151
Colorado Seth Smith 28 .280 .346 .825 64 58 88 41 .977 124
Florida Mike Stanton 21 .267 .358 .908 79 86 157 5 .979 136
Houston Brian Bogusevic 27 .282 .341 .456 17 15 36 3 .987 49
Los Angeles Andre Ethier 29 .292 .368 .789 67 62 103 0 1.000 135
Milwaukee Corey Hart 29 .284 .355 .863 75 57 108 6 .992 120
New York Lucas Duda 25 .292 .370 .852 38 50 57 1 .987 100
Philadelphia Hunter Pence 28 .292 .368 .862 78 90 121 8 .983 148
Pittsburgh Ryan Ludwick 34 .237 .308 .673 54 73 121 1 .991 135
San Diego Will Venable 28 .250 .313 .702 45 38 84 26 .988 115
San Francisco Carlos Beltran 34 .304 .389 .916 76 82 86 4 .994 135
St. Louis Lance Berkman 35 .300 .412 .967 85 91 89 2 .978 119
Washington Jayson Werth 32 .230 .329 .716 65 56 151 16 .980 143

Before I talk about the best right fielders in the league let me offer something of a disclaimer about this list.  I did my best to select the current intended right fielder for each team.  This is easy for the top teams and top players throughout the league but considering this is September, teams that have been out of it since the All Star break are understandably experimenting.  These experiments don’t all make sense, but neither does playing Edgar Renteria at this stage of the season.

The Chicago Cubs are a perfect case in point.  I listed Tyler Colvin as the right fielder for the Cubs but he has only played 34 games in right field of his 76 games played.  In fact, the Cubs and Manager Mike Quade have started 5 different RFs THIS WEEK.  When I mentioned confusing experiments, this would be one of them.  Based on my limited observation as a Reds fan, Tony Campana would always be in my lineup no matter what.  If Marlon Byrd is your CF then play Tony RF or vice versa, but he is too fast to be collecting splinters.

Other teams that seem to not be sure about their right fielder include Colorado, Houston (sans Pence), New York (sans Beltran), and Pittsburgh.  I decided to use Ludwick’s stat line for Pittsburgh as he has received more playing time lately over incumbent Garrett Jones but neither have lit the world on fire.

Most of these players are under 30 years of age and this inexperience shows in a variety of ways.  Bruce and Stanton both fall victim to excessive numbers of strike outs but both have eclipsed 30 home runs.  Jason Heyward has had a season many would suggest is a sophomore slump, but until we learn more about him going forward he may have just had an amazing rookie season.  Justin Upton leads in runs scored but is arguably the worst defender of this group.  The grizzled veterans of the group are also a mixed bag.  Ryan Ludwick has never regained his form since leaving St. Louis and seems to be winding down his career while Jayson Werth has performed abysmally for Washington after signing a career ending 7 year $126 million contract.  Werth looks to be the Nationals version of Ken Griffey Jr. without the injuries.  On the other hand, St. Louis resurrected the career of Reds killer Lance Berkman and he has been outstanding when healthy.  Finally also comeback to prominence this season is Carlos Beltran, late with the San Francisco Giants after starting the year in New York.  He was having a solid year in NY and after returning from an injury of his own has been even better for the Giants just a bit too late to save their waning playoff hopes it appears.

I added in the age and strikeout categories with this table as a means of showing how amazing the talents of Upton, Bruce, and Stanton are considering their tender years.  Jason Heyward will also  qualify in this group if he can return to the production he experienced last season.  With that said here are my National League Top 10 Right Fielders:

  1. Lance Berkman: I would have selected Upton for this honor if not for his 13 errors, double what anyone else in the league committed in right.  Injuries keep Berkman’s production numbers from equaling Upton but when he is in the game he is a force to be reckoned with.
  2. Justin Upton:  I keep repeating to myself, this kid is just 23 years old.  I have shoes that are older.  An amazing talent.
  3. Jay Bruce:  these next three are in a virtual tossup but I give Jay the edge based on combined runs scored and runs batted in.  Now if he can learn to hit a breaking ball…
  4. Hunter Pence:  Hits for a better average than Bruce but not quite as many home runs.  Interesting that his batting average and OPS are higher for the Phillies than they were for the Astros but he is not driving in as many runs.  I am guessing this is just a statistical anomaly.
  5. Mike Stanton:  The youngest player on this list, Stanton is blessed with serious power.  Like Bruce he is a free swinger resulting in more strikeouts than you might like but he has a bright future.
  6. Carlos Beltran:  Loved him as a rookie for the Kansas City Royals and I am happy he seems healthy and swinging a solid bat again.
  7. Corey Hart:  Don’t know if he wears sunglasses at night but he if an overlooked component of the Brewers organization.  Solid bat and a solid defender.  Big production drop off from Beltran’s numbers.
  8. Andre Ethier:  Started the year with a 30 game hitting streak.  The longest in baseball history starting on opening day.  He has battled knee problems the second half of the season before shutting it down for the year on September 7th.  Excellent defender who made no errors this year and hits for a good average.
  9. Ryan Ludwick:  He is the best of a mostly mediocre bunch to fit into position number 9.
  10. Jason Heyward:  Scored or drove in 29 less runs than Jayson Werth but given the size of their contracts I think the Braves are happier with the end result even if it has been a disappointment.  2011 salaries:  Werth ($10,000,000), Heyward ($497,000)

Follow me on Twitter @JohnHeitz

Tags: Andre Ethier Brian Bogusevic Carlos Beltran Cincinnati Reds Corey Hart Hunter Pence Jason Heyward Jay Bruce Jayson Werth Justin Upton Lance Berkman Lucas Duda Mike Stanton Right Field Ryan Ludwick Seth Smith Tyler Colvin Will Venable

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