Saturday, October 10, 2009

Best Right Fielders By Season, 1954-2008

And now we come to the final installment of this series. It's the right fielders. You know the guys I'm talking about. The ones who hit for power and gun down baserunners.

All I can say about the National Leaguers early on is dang! From 1954 to 1972 you see nothing but Hall of Famers: Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson and Roberto Clemente. Over in the AL you have Al Kaline and some Hall of Very Gooders: Hank Bauer, Rocky Colavito, Roger Maris, Bob Allison and Tony Oliva. Interestingly enough, Maris wasn't even the most valuable right fielder in the game the year he hit those 61 homers. Frank Robinson's only AL topper season was 1966, the year of his Triple Crown.

Bobby Bonds ends the NL's Hall of Famer streak. Reggie Smith was a two-time topper in center field, and he did the same as a right fielder. Reggie Jackson was the AL's best seven times between 1969 and 1980. Shucks, I suppose that's why he's in the Hall of Fame. Dave Parker topped the NL three times in four seasons at his impressive peak. Dave Winfield only shows up twice.

Ken Singleton may be underrated, but his poor fielding ensured that he'd only top the league once. Sixto Lezcano, Jack Clark and Dwight Evans did it twice, and I have no idea how guys like Jay Johnstone, Leon Roberts and Mike Davis crept in here. Tony Armas may have been a "two true outcomes" kind of guy, but his good fielding and a career year at the plate made him co-best for 1980. Pedro Guerrero and Tom Brunansky were a pair of solid sluggers who had their moments in the sun.

The National League between 1984 and 1991 was mainly a battle between Tony Gwynn and Darryl Strawberry. One of those guys continued producing for the next decade and ended up in the Hall of Fame. The other was derailed by drugs and ended up in the "What Could Have Been" file. Jesse Barfield was a back-to-back topper in 1985 and 86, and Devon White barely outdid him in 1987. Despite qualifying for the Rookie of the Year Award in 1987, White finished fifth in the voting. Jose Canseco took three of four between 1988 and 1991, losing out only to Ruben Sierra in 1989.

Larry Walker may have been the best NL right fielder of the '90s, topping the league four times. When Walker wasn't beating out the competition, guys like David Justice, Reggie Sanders and Sammy Sosa were able to shine through. Speaking of Sosa, it's cool to see that he was the best National League right fielder in 1996. I remember the Cubs being criticized for signing him to a large extension in the middle of the 1997 season. Turns out they were just locking up the best guy at his position at the time. We all know Sosa won the MVP next year, but ironically, Vladimir Guerrero beat him out value-wise. In the American League the '90s seems to be a toss-up between Paul O'Neill, Manny Ramirez and Tim Salmon. Rob Deer manages to weasel his way in there during a weak 1992 though.

Bobby Abreu, Ellis Burks, Gary Sheffield and Brian Giles. Fine players all, but each stands atop the NL right field rankings only once. J.D. Drew, to my utter surprise, does it twice. The last two seasons have seen probable one-timers Corey Hart and Ryan Ludwick take the title. The AL this decade has belonged to Ichiro Suzuki three times, Magglio Ordonez twice and Trot Nixon, Vladimir Guerrero and Nick Markakis once each (I know Manny Ramirez won it in 2000, but I lumped him in with the '90s earlier).

Five of these guys were toppers in both leagues. Robinson, Smith, Winfield, Lezcano and Vladimir Guerrero.

The NL team leaders are the Braves and the Padres (didn't expect that second one) with four each. Over in the AL the Yankees take leadership of their fifth position with five.

So that's it for this series. I hope you enjoyed it. I'm sure my methodology could use some improvement, but I'm satisfied with it for now. Perhaps in the future I'll be able to rerun this series with more extensive and accurate results as more data becomes available.

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