Previous Sessions in the WAR Lords Series:
For the next step in my ongoing quest to quantify the greatest Rockies ever by position, I'm revealing the best performers at the right field position.
Once again, I'm using Sean Smith's historical WAR database (not Fangraphs) to compile these numbers (with a big assist to the fabulous Baseball Reference; here is the glossary of the terms Smith uses and an explanation of how WAR is calculated.
Right Field, according to Tom Tango's positional adjustment scale, is given a rank of -7.5, equal to that of a left fielder. While right field requires a stronger, more accurate arm, more balls on average are hit to the left fielder. In either case, most MLB clubs rely on corner outfielders for offensive production, deemphasizing their defensive contributions--though indications are that the traditional view is changing.
Right fielders are expected to not only to catch fly balls but also are especially expected to deny baserunners advancing to an extra base. Particularly desired traits for right fielders are arm strength and accuracy (as they are farthest from third base) as well as instincts (depth perception and tracking skills).
As this applies to the Rockies, right fielders in Coors have a smaller area to cover in the outfield relative to left and center field, making arm strength and accuracy more important than range.
Only three players have played in right field for over 100 games in Colorado's franchise history (Larry Walker, Brad Hawpe, and Dante Bichette--who was included as a left-fielder), rendering this position group fairly shallow in quantity, much like first base. Also like first base, one player shines well above the competition. However, there is still some room for surprises on the list.
Note: most if not all of these players played multiple outfield positions with the Rockies. I have placed these players in this category subjectively on the basis of where I believe they provided the greatest impact to the Rockies. In case of an average rank tie, career WAR is the tiebreaker.
1. Larry Walker
Career WAR: 44.1 (1st)
Top Three Seasons: 18.3, 1997-1999 (1st)
Top Season: 9.0, 1997 (1st)
Average Rank: 1
Walker is far and away the greatest Rockies outfielder ever. He was signed before the 1995 season, just in time for Coors Field to open and the formation of the Blake Street Bombers. Walker remained with the Rockies until midway through the 2004 season, when Colorado essentially traded him for salary relief (which was then used to sign Dexter Fowler). While with the Rockies, Walker made four All-Star games, won five Gold Gloves, two Silver Sluggers, and the 1997 NL MVP award.
His MVP campaign in 1997 was his best year with the Rockies (the best season by a Rockie, period). Walker was unconscious, hitting .366/.452/.720/.494 with 49 HRs, 130 RBI, 33 SB, and 409 TB! That's flat out amazing as a hitter (59 BRAA), but it gets better--according to Smith's metrics Walker was an asset on the bases (7 Bsr), avoiding hitting into double plays (2 GIDP), in the field (5 TZ), and with his outfield arm (5 OFarm). In all, he was worth 9.0 WAR in 1997.
That was Larry Walker--the total package as a baseball player, as well as a class clown.
The argument isn't that Walker wasn't great. It's obvious that he was. No, the question is if Walker is the greatest Rockie ever (Todd Helton obviously being his main competition)? I looked at Helton's career a few weeks back.
Let's look at Walker's Rockies career (average is per Rockies PA):
What does this mean? On a per PA basis during his Rockies career Walker was worth about 0.1 Runs Above Replacement. In other words, Walker was good for one WAR per every 109 PA--stunning production. If extrapolated over a 600 PA season, Walker averaged about 5.52 WAR as a Rockie. On this measure and by PA wOBA he bests Todd Helton (.421 wOBA and .007573 WAR/PA--4.54/600 PA season), but as they say, health is a skill.
While Helton has accumulated (through 2008, a period of 12 seasons) 7117 PAs, Walker got only 4795 PAs as a Rockie over ten seasons. This was due to Larry having minor (and major) injuries nearly every season he was with the Rockies (he only had 600 PAs in two of his ten Colorado seasons). It's the old counting stat vs. rate stat argument. Which is more important, longevity or per PA production?
According to my methodology, Helton's grades out higher in career WAR (53.9-44.1) and 3 year WAR (21.9-18.3) while Walker leads in one season WAR (9.0-8.8).
As such, I'll call this one for Todd Helton as the greatest Rockies position player ever. If Walker had stayed healthy, he would probably top this list (as his superior rate stats show).
Considering his Montreal and St. Louis seasons, Walker's total career WAR was 67.1, putting him squarely in Hall of Fame consideration. In fact, his MVP award and sustained excellence gives Walker arguably a stronger argument than Helton for the Hall of Fame.
2. Brad Hawpe
Career WAR: 2.0 (3rd)
Top Three Seasons: 4.4, 2005-2007 (2nd)
Top Season: 2.7, 2007 (2nd)
Average Rank: 2.33
Brad Hawpe was an eleventh round selection out of LSU in the 2000 draft. The converted first baseman moved quickly through the system, making his debut in 2004. Since 2005, Hawpe has been the team's primary right fielder, meaning that he has the second most games played in right field in franchise history (665 and counting).
Surprised to see Hawpe with only 2.0 career WAR? This is especially surprising given that Hawpe produced 4.4 WAR between 2005-2007. Unfortunately, both 2004 (-0.7) and 2008 (-1.7) were awful years for Brad. Why is this? A historically bad year in the field in 2008, the worst that I've seen in this study (closest was Dante Bichette's 1999, in which he had a TZ of -31).
In 2008 Hawpe had a nice year at the plate (.283/.381/.498/.379), worth 14 BRAA, but his TZ was -36 and he wielded a -7 OFarm! In 2007, Hawpe had enjoyed a TZ of 2 and in 2006 his strong outfield arm was worth 8 runs, but both of these trends turned ugly in 2008. His defense this year has been better than last year, but by no means does it approach league average, while his hitting is about at last year's level.
The 30 year-old Hawpe is likely in his prime years, meaning that his offensive and defensive numbers will only decline from here on out. Given this fact, his $7.5 million price tag next year (with a $10 million club option for 2011), and the glut of talented young outfielders the Rockies possess, it is probably time for the Rockies to move Hawpe for whatever they can get for him in the offseason. His bat simply is counteracted by his bad defense (he's got 45 career BRAA and a -53 career TZ). And yes, I've been advocating this for a while now.
Career WAR: 2.4 (1st)
Top Three Seasons: 2.4, 2000 (3rd)
Top Season: 2.4, 2000 (3rd)
Average Rank: 2.67
I have fond memories of Jeffrey Hammonds (he was very useful to my first ever fantasy baseball team), who was acquired in the Dante Bichette trade following the 1999 season. Despite having the unenviable task of following the popular Bichette, Hammonds succeeded in filling in for an injured Larry Walker and in all three outfield positions. The 29 year old Hammonds hit 20 HRs and had 106 RBIs while batting .335/.395/.529/.395 while providing neutral fielding value and was selected to the All-Star game. It was by far the best year in Hammonds' career, after which the Rockies let the Brewers overpay for his services.
Career WAR: 1.3 (4th)
Top Three Seasons: 1.3, 2004 (4th)
Top Season: 1.3, 2004 (1st)
Average Rank: 4
Jeromy Burnitz, like Jeffrey Hammonds, was a one year mercenary for the Rockies that produced great results in place of Larry Walker (in this case due to him being traded). The burly 35 year old free agency acquisition (scrap heap department) actually played a decent amount of center field too, but the majority of his time was in right. Burnitz mashed 37 HRs with 110 RBIs as a Rockie while hitting .283/.356/.559/.380 that was mitigated somewhat by his TZ of -7 in the field. The end result was a slightly below league average season.
Unfortunately for Burnitz, he had priced himself too high for the Rockies (plus, Gen R needed to be implemented), so he signed with the Cubs for three times the money he earned with Colorado.
5. Gabe Kapler
Career WAR: 0.8 (5th)
Top Three Seasons: 0.8, 2002-2003 (5th)
Top Season: 0.7, 2002 (6th)
Average Rank: 5.33
Gabe Kapler is an interesting case in that he was good before he came to Colorado as a 26 year old as part of the Todd Hollandsworth trade in 2002 and performed well after the Rockies sold him to the Red Sox midway through 2003, but didn't particularly benefit from the Coors Field effect.
Over what equated to a third of a season's worth of plate appearances, Kapler was merely a league average player in part time duty spelling Walker. For these services Kapler actually made the largest salary of his career (much of which was picked up by the Red Sox). Kapler was out of MLB after 2006 (and was managing a Red Sox minor league affiliate), but somehow caught back on with the Brewers in 2008, posting one of the best years in his career, which still endures with Tampa Bay this year.
Other Rockies right fielders that contributed positive value to the club were: Mark Little (0.7), Mark Sweeney (0.6), Dustan Mohr (0.4)
Now that I've completed the lists of position players, I'll be tackling over the next few weeks relievers and starting pitchers, and then I'll conclude with the all-time greatest Rockies teams.