Is Jay Bruce A Top 10 Right Fielder?


On January 25th, MLB Network unveiled their lists of the top 10 right fielders in baseball right now. Bill James, Eric Byrnes, and “The Shredder” all contributed a list of who they thought the top 10 right fielders in baseball were. Here are their lists:

Oct 9, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds right fielder Jay Bruce (32) hits a single in the first inning against the San Francisco Giants in game three of the 2012 NLDS at Great American Ball Park. Photo by Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Bill James:

  1. Jason Heyward
  2. Ben Zobrist
  3. Jose Bautista
  4. Jay Bruce
  5. Carlos Beltran
  6. Giancarlo Stanton
  7. Nick Markakis
  8. Alex Rios
  9. Andre Ethier
  10. Hunter Pence

Eric Byrnes:

  1. Giancarlo Stanton
  2. Jose Bautista
  3. Justin Upton
  4. Ben Zobrist
  5. Carlos Beltran
  6. Jason Heyward
  7. Andre Ethier
  8. Jay Bruce
  9. Nick Swisher
  10. Hunter Pence

“The Shredder”:

  1. Giancarlo Stanton
  2. Jose Bautista
  3. Jason Heyward
  4. Carlos Beltran
  5. Justin Upton
  6. Ben Zobrist
  7. Torii Hunter
  8. Nick Swisher
  9. Andre Ethier
  10. Jay Bruce

As we can see, Jay Bruce appears on all three of these lists, albeit in varying positions. All three lists, while they are very different, all agree on one thing- that Jay Bruce is, in fact, a top 10 right fielder in the game of baseball today. In order to determine whether or not I think he is a top 10 right fielder (and where he would go if he is), I am going to look at several groups of stats. The first stat that I’m going to review is Wins Above Replacement (commonly referred to as WAR.) WAR is a statistic that is used to show how many more wins a certain player is worth to his team, as opposed to a replacement level player. A replacement level player is not an average MLB player at that position. Rather, a replacement level is a bench or a minor league type player. The reasoning behind this is that this is the type of player that a team will typically use to replace that player, and we want to see how many more wins the starter is worth as opposed to a backup type. There is currently no standard way to calculate WAR, and sites such as Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus, etc. all calculate it in a different manner. For this article, I am going to be using FanGraphs’ WAR calculation (commonly referred to as fWAR.)

The second stat that I am going to look at is OPS, which is on base plus slugging percentage. OPS is simply a combination of OBP and SLG. OBP is just the amount of times that a player gets on base for any reason other than an error, fielder’s choice, dropped third strike, or interference. SLG is used to determine the power of a hitter, and is calculated by taking a weighted calculation of a hitter’s total bases (doubles are 2x, triples are 3x, and home runs are 4x) and dividing it by at bats. OPS is a common metric used to determine a player’s hitting prowess.

The third stat that I am going to look at is an adjusted version of Weighted Runs Created, referred to as wRC+. wRC+ measures a player’s offensive value in runs by condensing many offensive numbers into one number. The difference between wRC and wRC+ is that wRC+ is park and league adjusted, which gives us a truer picture of a hitter’s value at the plate. The league average for wRC+ is 100, and every point above or below 100 is a percentage point above or below league average.

Finally, I’m going to look at UZR to determine the player’s value in the field. UZR is simply how above (or below) average a fielder is in terms of runs. This is a compilation of range runs, arm-based runs, double play runs, and error runs.  This measures a fielder’s ability at getting to balls in his zone of the field.   For the purposes of UZR, the field is divided in to 64 zones (technically, there are 78, but  infield line drives, infield pop flies, and outfield foul balls are ignored, as well as the pitcher and catcher.)

For each stat category, I’m going to look at the 2011-2012 leaders in these stats. For the final list, which will be a list of who I believe the top 10 right fielders in baseball are, I’ll weigh the player’s position on each of the other lists equally and determine their positions on that list. If there is a conflict in position, I’ll use the player who is closer to entering their prime to determine the order. Home/Road splits and park environments will also be taken into consideration.

Here are the 2011-2012 leaders for right fielders in WAR according to FanGraphs:

Ben Zobrist is a pretty surprising choice at number one here. While his numbers over the past 2 years are solid (.269/.365/.470, 40 HRs), he mainly creates value with his glove and versatility. Calling him a right fielder might be inaccurate- he played second base, shortstop, and right field extensively last year. He continues to be one of the most underrated players in baseball. Bryce Harper, who made his MLB debut in 2012, was close to making this list- his fWAR was 4.9 (good for 14th), but that was in one one season. If he can have another equal or greater season in 2013, he will have to crack this list to begin the 2014 season. As for Jay Bruce, he was 12th on the list with a 5.7 fWAR over the past two seasons.

Here are the 2011-2012 leaders in OPS according to Baseball Reference:

Jay Bruce makes an appearance here at number 8. Again, Bryce Harper is very close here. He will be the future star of this list if he can continue on like he did in 2012.

Here are the 2011-2012 leaders in wRC+:

Shin-Soo Choo actually would have ended up as 9th on this list, but seeing as he will likely be playing center field for the Reds, I decided not to place him on here. Jay Bruce is 13th on this list with a 119 wRC+ (funny enough, without the park/league adjustments, he is 8th on the list with a 183 wRC+.) This leads to the question of whether Jay Bruce would have nearly as much power playing outside of Great American Ballpark. From ESPN, Bruce had a .963 OPS at home (which would second on our list) but a .718 OPS on the road, with only 13 home runs on the road as opposed to 21 at home in equal at bats. This is definitely concerning.

Finally, the 2011-2012 leaders in UZR, from FanGraphs:

Jay Bruce ended up 11th on this list, just missing out. So, with all of this in mind, let’s look at who I think are the top 10 right fielders in baseball right now.

Oct. 2, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton (27) connects for a base hit during the second inning against the New York Mets at Marlins Park. Photo by Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Josh’s Top Ten:

  1. Giancarlo Stanton
  2. Jose Bautista
  3. Ben Zobrist
  4. Justin Upton
  5. Jason Heyward
  6. Nick Swisher
  7. Carlos Beltran
  8. Andre Ethier
  9. Torii Hunter
  10. Hunter Pence

Choosing between Stanton and Bautista for the top spot was incredibly difficult. Both are great players, and they are an easy answer for 1 and 2. However, I looked at some factors that pushed Stanton over the top for me:

  • His home park was brutal for power (26th in home runs) compared to Bautista’s home park (15th in home runs.)
  • He played better defense (12.1 UZR vs -7.8)
  • He is only 23, and just entering his prime (ie- he could get even better.)

So, at the current time, I do not think Jay Bruce is one of the MLB’s top 10 right fielders right now. If he can find his power stroke on the road and bump his average up, then he could definitely land on this list.

Please comment and share your thoughts!