This may be the most “historical” category, in which I mean that there are no active players to be found in the top 30 all-time for right fielders. [that link is based on 40% participation at the position] The highest ranked is Mookie Betts, sitting just outside the top thirty, worth exactly 50 bWAR so far. But he’ll certainly move up, especially since he is aged only 28 to this point. If we look only at right fielders to that point in their careers, Betts jumps all the way up to fifth. Though we do lose some names, most notably that of Babe Ruth, since he did not become a right fielder until relatively late in his career. But based on performance so far, Betts might well end on the ballot here, by the time of his retirement.
But among the top ten, there’s just one man at the position to have played since the eighties: Larry Walker, who is 10th-ranked with 72.7 bWAR. On that basis, it seems surprising he was only elected in to Cooperstown in his final year of eligibility. His first time on the ballot (2011), Walker received just 20% of votes, which perhaps indicates how things have evolved in baseball analysis since. His relative lack of longevity (less than two thousand career games) and a perception of the Coors effect (his career OPS was over 200 points higher at home than on the road) likely delayed his arrival in the Hall of Fame.
Walker is also one of the few leading right fielders to have been a positive on defense, worth +2.0 dWAR. Al Kaline (+2.8) is also there or thereabouts, but easily the best defensive RF is Roberto Clemente at +12.2. He’s tied with the rather less well-known Jesse Barfield for most career dWAR by a right fielder - perhaps not for long, since both may soon be overtaken by Betts, who is already at +11.7. Conversely, Sam Crawford (-18.1) and Reggie Jackson (-16.4) have the worst defense among the top ten. Though both are still a good deal better than the all-time traffic cone at the position, belonging to Gary Sheffield’s career dWAR of -27.7.
Here are your top 10, with their names as usual going over to the appropriate Baseball Refernce page:
Best RF ever
As well as any Negro League names that Jack might care to suggest, there are a couple of names outside the top ten, who perhaps might end up making it onto the ballot. Tony Gwynn at 69.2 bWAR comes in twelfth, but has an amazing rep as among the best plate discipline of his era, with only 434 K’s in 10,232 PAs. The other candidate is Ichiro, who makes the top 20 with 60.0 bWAR, despite not making his MLB debut until he was 27. In a similar way to Betts, if we filter production by right fielders from that point on in their career, Suzuki becomes a top-five player at the position - albeit still worth little more than half the bWAR Ruth put up from age 27 on.
Still, I’ve a feeling this one could end up being one of the more one-sided polls in the series. Ruth’s record speaks for itself, dominating the game when he played in a way that even Barry Bonds couldn’t replicate. He’s also 3-0 with a 0.87 ERA as a starting pitcher in World Series games - suck on that, Bazza - though we should probably discount his performances on the mound for this specific poll!
As usual, we need to narrow the candidates down to five or thereabouts, for the final poll. This will be done largely on the basis of recs in the comments, though the decision of the judging committee i.e. me, will be final in this regard. Just identify the player in the subject line, and make your case in the body of the comment. If you agree with a choice already made, give it a rec. If you don’t see your choice, post a new comment. I will delete subsequent top-level comments about the same player. Poll to follow on Friday! Since we’re going away for the weekend (San Francisco, to see Sparks!), I’ll be writing this one up tomorrow, so don’t delay those comments and recs!