I thought that this would be the last post of this series, but I was reminded yesterday that I have to write about the DH, which means a post about Raul Ibanez is coming in the near future. Get excited.
These posts really don't need an introduction anymore, because you likely know by this post that I've been breaking down the players of the AL East by their position like the title says. If you happen to have missed any of the posts we've already covered, you can find them here: catchers, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, left field, and center field.
Today the subject is right fielders, and only one of them is new to the AL East this season. Ryan Sweeney joins the Red Sox after being traded in the Andrew Bailey trade, Jose Bautista returns to the Blue Jays to hit many more home runs, while Nick Swisher, Matt Joyce, and Nick Markakis will all be back for the Yankees, Rays, and Orioles, respectively. I'm sure you already know who has completely separated themselves from the other right fielders in the division, but graphs and specific numbers lie beyond the jump to confirm your suspicions.
So...yeah, this is not close. Jose Bautista has just been in a league of his own the past few seasons, especially compared to his fellow right fielders in 2011. Bautista hit 43 home runs, leading all of baseball for the second straight year. He also led all players in walks, thanks in large part to the large number of intentional walks he was issued for being one of the only real offensive threats in the Blue Jays' lineup for a better part of the year. If Jose Bautista continues to be as dangerous offensively as he's been, having Adam Lind batting behind him will do little to convince a pitcher they wouldn't just rather pitch to the inferior threat and take their chances.
It's really a shame that Nick Swisher has to compete with how amazing Jose Bautista is at the same position, because at first glance, it minimizes how good Swisher actually is. He had a rough go of it at times in 2011, but was 9th in rWAR among all right fielders last year, and 7th in rWAR at his position since 2009. That's certainly not as bad as some try to make him out to be when they clamor for him to be replaced because of his postseason struggles. I don't know what the future holds for Swisher after this season, but he has been a very valuable player in his time in New York, and I certainly wouldn't be sad for the Yankees to bring him back until one of our prospects is ready to take over in a few years.
Matt Joyce was productive in his own right for the Rays during the 2011 season. He stole the most bases, had the 3rd most home runs, and the 2nd highest wRC+ among the AL East right fielders. Joyce's average and on base numbers weren't very far off of Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis', but Joyce edged him out by four home runs to separate their slugging% and Markakis had one less stolen base. Defense really makes the different in their 2011 WAR numbers.
The Red Sox will be depending on Ryan Sweeney for at least the time being in right field, which looks kind of ugly in terms of WAR based on his 2011 numbers. His triple slash numbers could certainly be worse, but in 299 plate attempts last year, Sweeney managed to hit only one home run. He hasn't reached double digit home runs since he played in AAA for the White Sox back in 2007, and he doesn't have the base stealing ability to make up for his complete lack of power. Without stolen bases or home runs to fall back on, the Red Sox will depend on the raw numbers and defense for production out of Sweeney, which they will no doubt be hoping amounts to more than 0.1 WAR in 2012.
With all the outfield prospects starting in the low levels of the minors for the Yankees this season, it will be very interesting to see whether or not they resign Nick Swisher when the year is up, or go with some sort of stopgap to hold them over until one of the young kids is ready to take over. His postseason numbers have not been very good, but Swisher has certainly been extremely valuable since coming to New York, and the deal that brought him to the Yankees will remain one of the best trades Brian Cashman has been able to accomplish to date.