Right Field has been the home of some of the best outfielders in baseball history. Roberto Clemente, Ichiro Suzuki and Al Kaline all have nine or more Gold Gloves and Larry Walker, Vladimir Guerrero and Dave Winfield sported some of the strongest arms in the history of the game. According to ESPN.com, Los Angeles Dodgers’ Manager Don Mattingly thinks Yasiel Puig is the best in the sport right now.
“We feel like, right now, Yasiel is the best right fielder in baseball,” Mattingly told reporters. “This guy dominates right field.”
For most of the all-time great outfielders, we mostly have just highlights to go off of. If you base Puig’s defensive ability on these merits, he’s a mixed bag. Sometimes he will make one of the most spectacular catches of the year then he’ll struggle like this and then he’ll struggle then succeed in the same play like this.
With such a variety of good and bad plays, it’s tough to tell if Puig is one of the best right fielders in baseball or the worst. Fortunately, advanced statistics have moved into the world of defense. Unfortunately, they might be the most deceptive stats in the game.
According to Fangraphs Allen Craig has a higher Range runs above average, a stat determined by how the fielder is able to get to balls hit in his vicinity. Hunter Pence has a higher rated ARM rating, which is determined by what the runners do on a hit or a fly ball out.
There is no one who thinks Craig can cover more ground than Puig and few think Pence has a stronger arm, but what the defensive metrics do show, and the highlights back up, is the need for consistency. Every play counts exactly the same in defensive metrics. If Pence hits the cutoff man and keeps runners from advancing while Puig air-mails a throw to the plate trying to make a spectacular play then Pence gets the favorable stat.
While defensive metrics may not be perfect, they do have value. Until Puig can stay focused on an every-play basis, hit his cutoff man and make the smart play he will not be the best in the sport. Puig has shown unbelievable development at the plate by increasing his walk rate and decreasing his chase rate. If he can reciprocate this development to his defensive abilities he can become the game’s best right fielder and will be an MVP candidate for years to come.