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Bryce Harper and J.D. Martinez: Baseball's best right fielders visualized

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This post looks at the right fielders who are delivering the most value, and the ones that aren't, using a Tableau data visualization to graphically present the information.

All hail the king
All hail the king
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

For those who have been following the previous posts in this series, a pattern should be emerging--there are around 6 to 8 good players at each position, around 6 to 8 that aren't getting the job done for whatever reason, and the rest in the middle. Some positions have a clear leader, others a tight bunch. Right field establishes a completely different standard due to one man who's being paid the grand sum of $2.5 million this year. That's okay--he's only in his fourth season and won't turn 23 until the regular season is over.

The foundation for this post is a Tableau data visualization which plots FanGraphs Dollar Value (FG$V) on the horizontal axis and the player's pro-rated 2015 salary on the vertical. This data is updated daily, so bookmark the data viz and refer back to it often. There's lots of information that can be seen by hovering over data points, and the various filters can be used to winnow the data down to a manageable level. I've added a feature I should have months ago which shows players who will be free agents after this season in red. At this point in the season, the plate appearance threshold can possibly be moved to 200 to cut down on the data points. Go crazy with it--you can't break anything.

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Look at what Bryce Harper does to the horizontal axis--there is almost a $15 million difference in FG$V between Harper and the #2 player, Giancarlo Stanton, and the injured Stanton won't be adding value anytime soon. That's around a 50 percent difference between #1 and #2--here's the spread for all positions (data through 7/8--I had to attend a wedding over the weekend):

Pos Leader Team FG$V Second Team FG$V Diff
C Buster Posey Giants $27.2 Stephen Vogt Athletics $19.9 36.7%
1B Paul Goldschmidt Diamondbacks $37.7 Miguel Cabrera Tigers $26.7 41.2%
2B Jason Kipnis Indians $39.0 Brian Dozier Twins $26.0 50.0%
SS Brandon Crawford Giants $22.5 Xander Bogaerts Red Sox $18.0 25.0%
3B Josh Donaldson Blue Jays $39.5 Todd Frazier Reds $32.6 21.2%
LF Alex Gordon Royals $23.5 Yoenis Cespedes Tigers $21.6 8.8%
CF Mike Trout Angels $41.0 Lorenzo Cain Royals $29.3 39.9%
RF Bryce Harper Nationals $45.4 Giancarlo Stanton Marlins $30.8 47.4%
SP Max Scherzer Nationals $38.0 Corey Kluber Indians $30.6 24.2%
RP Dellin Betances Yankees $14.0 Aroldis Chapman Reds $11.0 27.3%

That's the operational definition of busting the curve, although a strong argument can be made for Jason Kipnis as well. Harper's ability on the field has never been in doubt as much as his ability to stay on the field, with extended runs on the disabled list in 2013 and 2014. He's another of the new breed of outfielder who has a healthy disrespect for fences, and if he can stop trying to run through them, he'll have a long and glorious career.

His slash line of .343/.471/.709/1.180 is beyond ridiculous and almost impossible to place in context. Let's try--seasons in which a player batted .340 or higher with an OPS of 1.180 or higher--I was going to make a table, but a table with only one person isn't much of a table. Of course, I'm describing the immortal season Tip O'Neill* had in 1887 with the Cardinals (then the Browns and playing in the American Association). That's history, ladies and gentlemen, when a batting average/power list doesn't include names like Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, Willie Mays or Hank Aaron.

*I trust the average BtBS reader knows this is not former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Tip O'Neill. I also trust that the average reader is aware of the fact O'Neill represented districts in Massachusetts from 1953-1987. I will be greatly disappointed to learn if this trust has been misplaced.

Giancarlo Stanton is out until at least August, and with a wrist injury, it's fair to speculate on how well he'll bounce back. He still leads the majors in home runs (he could be overtaken by Albert Pujols, Harper or Todd Frazier by the time this runs), and what he was doing to balls is potentially punishable under the terms of the Geneva Conventions. Let's take another long, loving look at the home run he hit out of Dodger Stadium last May:

The Marlins lost the game 11-1, but that's a minor point. That wasn't even Stanton's longest home run of the year, and of the seven home runs that have gone 475 feet or farther, he has two of them. He's hitting the ball harder than anyone:

Rank Player Team Velocity
1 Giancarlo Stanton Marlins 97.7 MPH
2 Ryan Braun Brewers 93.9 MPH
3 Jorge Soler Cubs 93.8 MPH
4 Yoenis Cespedes Tigers 93.7 MPH
5 Joc Pederson Dodgers 93.6 MPH
6 Miguel Cabrera Tigers 93.6 MPH
7 Mike Trout Angels 93.5 MPH
8 Prince Fielder Rangers 93.3 MPH
9 Ryan Howard Phillies 93.3 MPH
10 Paul Goldschmidt Diamondbacks 93.1 MPH

This data is from Daren Willman's* Baseball Savant, and the full list can be seen here. He's a plus defender as well, and it won't be long before the monster contract he signed will look like an absolute bargain.

*There was an article in Rolling Stone about Daren, and since all of us at BtBS love Baseball Savant and his willingness to help us out when we ask, we're extremely happy for any recognition he receives.

George Springer had all the hype behind him when he made his debut with the Astros in 2014--one of the top prospects in baseball, potential savior of a moribund franchise, etc. He had enough power, but seemed overwhelmed, batting only .231. This shows the dangers of relying on batting average alone, as his wOBA was .352 and his Baseball Prospectus True Average was .304, recognizing the value his walks and power added. So far this year he's had about as many plate appearances as he had last year and put up essentially the same numbers, so the rest of the season projects out to around a 30 HR/60 RBI. Don't blame the RBIs on him--for a team that's 49-38 through Wednesday, they're 26th in baseball in the number of baserunners they've had. Take that number with a grain of salt--the A's are first, and what has that done for them?

Shifting to the upper left part of the chart, there's a quintet of players who show the folly of throwing large dollars at players on the wrong side of 30. Leader of this pack is Matt Kemp, who was really something to behold until he suffered a string of injuries in 2012. What power he still has went to the place where power goes to die in Petco Park. He's actually stayed healthy this year (knock on wood), but he's not the MVP-caliber player he was. Derek Norris has been performing well for the Padres, but they'll long rue the day they swapped a 26-year-old Yasmani Grandal for Kemp, let alone the other pieces in that trade. That trade alone will pay the entire value of Dodgers GM Andrew Friedman's 5-year, $35 million deal.

Carlos Beltran, Alex Rios and Shin-Soo Choo are merely players to whom Father Time finally caught up, but in Choo's case, at 32, he's a bit young to be part of that discussion. Beltran had an outstanding run with the Cardinals, but it was hard to believe he could sustain it, and he hasn't, and the Yankees still owe him $15 million for 2016. The one that concerns me is Carlos Gonzalez, who's only 29. He had "left knee patella tendinitis" last year that caused him to lose half a season, and he hasn't appeared to rebound well this year. His hitting value had decreased dramatically even prior to the injury, and it's not unreasonable to speculate this injury will never really heal. It won't bankrupt the Rockies, but he was a nice piece that might have to be replaced.

I don't want to brag, but Jose Bautista follows me on Twitter, so that's enough for me to mention him here. The Blue Jays are trying to be one of the few examples of trying to construct a roster like a fantasy team, and from an offensive standpoint, they're certainly getting it done, with the third-highest cumulative team BWARP in baseball. Bautista is a key part of that, continuing the excellence he's shown for the past five years.

J.D. Martinez was ensconced in left field for the Tigers in 2014 with Torii Hunter in right. Hunter decamped to Minnesota over the winter, and Martinez was moved to right to fill the hole, a move that doesn't always work out well. The defensive measures disagree on his performance--FanGraphs has him slightly above average, Baseball Prospectus below, and with his offensive production, it's irrelevant. There will be greater emphasis on his offense with Miguel Cabrera on the DL, although other Tigers will also have to step up.

The "cannon for an arm" archetype for right field has never really been true--for confirmation, look at Jeff Francoeur, one of the better-fielding outfielder in recent memory, and he's a journeyman. There are some players with rifles for arms like Jorge Soler, but like every other position, there's no way a right fielder can overcome offensive deficiencies with stellar defense. As long as players like Bryce Harper or George Springer are putting up the offensive output they are, there will be a place for them on the field.

Scott Lindholm is a writer and editor for Beyond the Box Score and a contributor to BP Wrigleyville. Follow him on Twitter @ScottLindholm.