State of the Sox: Right Field
Over the next ten days I will be posting an overview of every position on the Red Sox. Today we will be looking at right field. Read the others here: First base, Second Base, Third base, Shortstop, Left Field, Center Field
Right field in 2019:
We’ve now reached most likely the saddest position for the Red Sox in 2020. Mookie Betts has manned right field for the Sox for the past 5.5 seasons, winning an MVP, four Gold Gloves, and being selected to the All-Star team four times. In 2019, Betts hit .295/.391/.524/.915 with 29 home runs, 40 doubles, 5 triples, and a 135 wRC+. He was worth 6.6 fWAR, good for 9th in MLB (0.2 behind former teammate Xander Bogaerts), and was the primary reason that the Sox had the third most valuable right field unit in baseball (worth 6.2 bWAR). Betts had 603 plate appearances while playing right field for the Sox in 2019, with J.D. Martinez contributing 108 plate appearances at the position when Betts needed rest. Right field was arguably the team’s greatest strength in 2019, as it had been in 2018, 2017, and 2016. The Red Sox have Mookie Betts to thank for that.
Depth chart for 2020:
Right field in 2020 is most likely going to be manned primarily by new acquisition Alex Verdugo, health permitting. Verdugo currently has a stress fracture in his back, which could keep him out of the lineup to start the season. Kevin Pillar will probably be the starting right fielder for as long as Verdugo is out, and will most likely be the one to fill in for Verdugo when he needs a rest day or if he misses any additional time later in the season. Martinez could also see some time in right field, but his time there should be limited, barring injuries.
How right field can be better than 2019:
It is very unlikely that right field will be a more productive position for the Red Sox than in was in 2019. Betts is one of the top two or three players in the game, and it is going to be near impossible to replace what he brought to the table. Unless Verdugo breaks out similarly to how Betts did in 2016, there’s really no way that right field will be a more productive position for Boston than it has been for the past several seasons.
How right field can be worse than 2019:
It is obvious that right field could be less productive for the Sox in 2020. Even if Verdugo has the best season of his career, it is unlikely to be as productive as a typical Betts’ season. That said, being less productive than a season from Betts does not mean that right field will be bad for the Sox in 2020. Verdugo is a solid young player with the ability to hit for average with decent power. In 106 games as a 23 year old in 2019, he hit .294/.342/.475/.817 with 12 homers, 22 doubles, and a 114 wRC+. As long as he can stay healthy, it’s not difficult to envision him replicating or improving upon that production in his age 24 season. He might not be the generational star that Betts turned into during his time with the Sox (since 2016, the Sox right fielders have ranked 1st, 3rd, 1st, and 3rd in bWAR among right field units), but Verdugo is a solid player nonetheless.
I can see Verdugo continuing to develop as a player and having a very solid season in 2020. He was a highly regarded prospect before making his debut, and thus far his performance has matched the hype. Something like .280-.300 with 20 homers seems like a reasonable expectation to have for Verdugo in his age 24 season. Pillar should be able to fill in more than adequately when Verdugo needs to rest, and is pretty good depth to have in case Verdugo’s back gives him more problems later in the season. I don’t think that right field is going to be the Sox’ biggest strength—as it has been for the past four seasons—but it should not be a weakness by any stretch.