Let’s talk about something depressing: the Red Sox outfield. As a group, Red Sox outfielders have amassed all of 1.8 fWAR in 2022, ranking 24th in baseball. They’ve also produced some of the most inconceivably baffling moments of the entire season.
Fortunately, Enrique Hernández has returned from injury to bring a bit more stability to the group, although he’s been splitting time between his usual center field role and the infield. However, with Trevor Story seemingly nearing his own return from injury, the Red Sox will soon have an an embarrassment of, well not riches, but something in the outfield, with time needing to be shelled out between Hernández, Alex Verdugo, Tommy Pham, Jarren Duran, Rob Refsnyder and maybe even Christian Arroyo and Franchy Cordero. Now, not all those guys will stick at the MLB level once Story comes back. In fact, Cordero only recently got recalled and he’s been playing more first base than outfield this season.
Still, even if the Red Sox send down one or two guys, there will still be more mouths to feed than opportunities available. In addition, while it sure seems like the Red Sox are quiet quitting on the 2022 season, they still have to construct a lineup every day, so why not try to optimize it? That’s what we’ll be doing today; providing the best three outfielders to put out there for offense, the best for defense, and the best overall trio. (By the way, technically, J.D. Martinez has outfield experience, but he hasn’t played there for a single inning this year, so we’ll keep him out of this exercise).
Alex Verdugo, Tommy Pham, Christian Arroyo
It may seem like blasphemy not to have Hernández in there, but hear me out: You’ve got to ride the hot hands and these three are the hottest hitters on the Red Sox right now.
Verdugo has not had the greatest campaign this year. But he’s started to find success over the last month or so, producing a 147 wRC+ in August. He’s also pulled himself to just about even in overall wRC+ for the season and was a better than average hitter in his first two seasons in Boston. Not many of his outfielder contemporaries can say that.
Pham is another seemingly obvious choice. Picked up for a player still to be named later at the trade deadline, the former Cincinnati Red has been crushing it in Boston. In fact, in his 78 plate appearances with the Red Sox, he has a 117 wRC+ and a hard hit rate of 50 percent. Hitting the ball hard is nothing new for Pham, who has a career hard hit rate of 47.1 percent, so getting his bat in the lineup as much as possible right now makes all the sense in the world, even if we are basing it a bit on small sample size magic.
Arroyo may seem like an odd choice here. After all, he had never played in the outfield at the MLB level before this season (to say nothing of the fact that he’s the guy shouting to the heavens to help him find the fly ball in the clip above). However, if the Red Sox can find a way to get his bat in the lineup right now, they need to do it. Arroyo can rove all over, so he’ll also get time at second and short, but once Story is back, those chances will be more limited. When that time comes, the Red Sox may be able to live with him taking more reps in the outfield if he keeps up his recent hot streak, as he has a 160 wRC+ during the second half of the season and a 110 wRC+ overall.
Enrique Hernández, Alex Verdugo, Franchy Cordero???????
Selecting the offensive side was easy; choosing the defense side is more a game of pick your poison. Hernández is the easy choice and would be the pick to play center field, a position he’s dominated as a fielder in his time with the Red Sox. He produced 14 defensive runs saved as a center fielder last season and already has three this year despite missing a large chunk of time due to injury. Interestingly though, as pointed out recently by Jake Devereaux on the Red Seat Podcast, Hernández’s offense when he plays center has actually been less than ideal. Last season, during a year in which he had a 110 wRC+ overall, Hernández had a mark of just 79 as a center fielder. That may mean nothing, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.
After Hernández, were’ not so much picking the best defenders as we are picking the ones who aren’t the absolute worst. Verdugo is OK in the field, although I wouldn’t expect him to win any Gold Gloves during his career. This year he does have a positive mark in UZR and his arm grades out better than most of the rest of the outfielders on the team.
After Verdugo, things get even more bleak. Duran has been awful as a defender despite possessing great speed and a pretty good jump. Arroyo has similarly been lost on defense in the outfield, where he is playing out of position to begin with. Refsnyder is OK but far from great, with negative marks in several defensive metrics. Similarly, Pham can get you by, but he’s mostly toting negative defensive metrics as an outfielder. Similarly, Cordero rates poorly on most defensive metrics, but, surprisingly, he has (barely) positive marks for his arm and UZR, whereas everyone else I just named does not. That’s not much of a difference maker, but it is the only one I’m seeing.
Enrique Hernández, Alex Verdugo, Tommy Pham
This is the best mix and probably the one most people would pick even without the research. (Why did I do this again?) Hernández’s offensive work hasn’t been great this year, but in a season marred by injury, that can be forgiven. Assuming he slowly gets back to normal at the plate, he’s a must-play in center for all he brings to the table defensively. Heck, even if he is mediocre or worse as a hitter, his defense is still that valuable. Meanwhile, Verdugo is a decent player on both sides, with much more upside on offense, and with his recent success at the plate, he’s a no-brainer as well. The same can be said of Pham, especially if he keeps up what he’s been doing since the trade deadline.
All statistics are from prior to games played on Aug. 25.