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Rays best-ever series, Final Part: RF

Our all-time best-season-ever series now has a full lineup

Chicago Cubs v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

As we approach the start of the 2018 season, we arrive at the end of our “Rays Best-Ever Season” series, a series which has created the following starting lineup so far:

SP 2012 David Price

RP 2012 Fernando Rodney

C 2008 Dioner Navarro

1B 2007 Carlos Peña

2B 2009 Ben Zobrist

3B 2010 Evan Longoria

SS 2009 Jason Bartlett

LF 2010 Carl Crawford

CF 2015 Kevin Kiermaier

RF Vote below!

Not a bad squad.

Now we arrive at right field, the final position in the baseball box score (9), and a position that has been oddly quiet throughout Rays history. That being said, here are the five candidates for best season by a right fielder in Rays history:

Best seasons from Rays right fielders

Name Year G R HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG wRC+ DRS fWAR rWAR
Name Year G R HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG wRC+ DRS fWAR rWAR
Jose Cruz 2004 153 76 21 78 11 0.242 0.333 0.433 96 -2 2.0 1.7
Ben Zobrist 2010 151 77 10 75 24 0.238 0.346 0.353 100 8 3.8 4.6
Matt Joyce 2011 141 69 19 75 13 0.277 0.347 0.478 126 1 3.6 3.0
Wil Myers 2013 88 50 13 53 5 0.293 0.354 0.478 129 -3 2.3 1.9
Steven Souza 2017 148 78 30 78 16 0.239 0.351 0.459 120 7 3.7 4.2

For me, this is really a binary choice, but let’s quickly get down to the main candidates through a little process of elimination. Myers was a blast in his first MLB action, but half a season just isn’t enough. Jose Cruz is on this list largely because of the relative weakness of the position, he was below league average by both his bat (96 wRC+) and his defense (-2 DRS) - let’s really hope that’s not the best of things for the Rays. (It’s not.) Ben Zobrist has to get a look, but two things: 1) he’s already starting at second base, and 2) while his overall value was the highest in the chart above, part of that value came from being used everywhere on the field, a fact proven out by the fact that he only played a little over half his 2010 games in right field (80 starts there, 103 total games played at the position). Therefore his actual contributions to the position are a bit lower in actuality than they appear above.

If you accept the elimination of those three, it comes down to 2017 Souza vs. 2011 Joyce. Let’s do this Dr. Jack/Bill Simmons category-breakdown style:

Power

If we go strictly by home runs, Souza holds an 11-homer advantage. However, that’s due in part to whatever is going on with the baseball, as the two are a lot closer when we zoom back and look at overall power using something like ISO where the gap shrinks to 19 points, extra-base hits where Joyce’s 32 doubles erase the entire gap for an exact tie in XBH (53), or even slugging percentage where Joyce actually holds a 19 point advantage.

This one seemed like Souza’s from the jump, but the fact that he had only 21 doubles last season was quite surprising, and given that Joyce was able to collect the same number of extra-base hits in seven fewer games, we’re going to give a slight advantage to Joyce.

If that seems like a silly reason for victory, don’t worry, we’re making up for it right now.

Durability

Souza played seven more games, so he gets the tiny edge that Joyce just got right back. We’re back to square one.

On-base skills

Despite differing approaches in how they got on base, the end result was another very tightly contested affair for these two. Souza sported a .239 batting average, but he walked 84 times en route to a .351 OBP that tops Joyce by a tiny margin of four points. Joyce, for his part, relied on a much better batting average (.277), but he walked only 49 times on the season, hence the OBP lead to Souza.

In a case this tight, it helps to get a little perspective. In 2017, the league-wide OBP was .324; in 2011, it was .321.

Well, that doesn’t help matters. In fact, it just makes things even tighter, since the four-point gap in favor of Souza is nearly matched by the three-point gap between league-wide OBPs over those two seasons. This breakdown is going to come down to the little things.

Baserunning

Baserunning can’t really tilt the scales too, too far, but as was just noted, this comparison is tight enough that all the little things are going to matter. Here, once again, we have a tight one, though. Souza stole three more bases in his candidate season, but Joyce was actually a bit more valuable by FanGraphs’ baserunning stats, holding a 2.2 run edge over Souza (5.5 to 3.3). The Baseball-reference grittier baserunning stats lean towards Joyce as well. He took the extra-base 61 percent of the time, compared to just 37 percent for Souza. And while Joyce made an out on the basepaths one more time than Souza (6 to 5), he was also only caught stealing once, compared to four times for Souza.

This is a tight one, and certainly a category not as important as the first couple, but Joyce takes a slight lead in this insanely tight matchup.

Fielding

Thankfully this category is a bit easier. All the available metrics skew towards Souza, as he holds the lead in DRS, as seen above (7 to 1), and he also holds the edge in dWAR (0.2 to -1.0). By basically every metric, Souza was solidly above average in right field in 2017, while Joyce was decidedly below average.

That’s a win for Souza, and in what has been an insanely close matchup, it’s enough for this writer to swing his vote to Souza.

Plus, I’m pretty sure Joyce never pulled any stunts like this:

And just to clarify, pulling stunts like that are a heavy plus and definitely played a role in my vote for Souza.

Who you got?

Poll

Which season from a right fielder was the best in Rays history?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    2004 Jose Cruz
    (1 vote)
  • 11%
    2010 Ben Zobrist
    (13 votes)
  • 8%
    2011 Matt Joyce
    (9 votes)
  • 18%
    2013 Wil Myers
    (20 votes)
  • 61%
    2017 Steven Souza
    (68 votes)
111 votes total Vote Now