The question has been asked for what seems like a decade. Over the past 10 years, we have had only had three seasons in which our Right Fielder has had a “successful” season. I’m determining a successful season based on the fWAR (Wins Above Replacement) that player had that season. You are considered above average if your fWAR is above 2. The three seasons are 2011 Rios (4.8 fWAR), 2016 Eaton (6.6 fWAR), and 2017 Garcia (4.4 fWAR). Unfortunately, none of these seasons were sustainable as Rios and Garcia didn’t keep up the production the year after, and Eaton was shipped away to Washington after his 2016 campaign.
Since then, we have had a carousel of below-average right fielders and now, in September of 2021, we have better options than before, but we still sit at this same point. It looks as if now has RF has boiled down to 3 options: Gavin Sheets, Andrew Vaughn, and Adam Engel. To all the Brian Goodwin and Leury Garcia fans out there, I apologize, they are simply not good enough.
So, who will be taking the field when the playoffs begin in October? Let’s break down each of the options:
Engel’s splits this year are have been very impressive. He is batting .248/.339/.505 with a 132 wRC+ and a .360 wOBA. Not to mention, he also has a phenomenal glove in right field, as he had 6 Outs Above Average (OAA) in his last full season in 2019. He also has the most experience out of the other two and continues to get better every season.
That’s it, guys.
We have our guy in right field.
Except for that part where he can’t seem to stay healthy this season…
Engel struggles to stay on the field as he has only played in 33 games this season. He has had a looming hamstring injury that has caused him to make a handful of trips to the IL. He simply might not be reliable enough to pencil him in at that blank RF on the playoff depth chart.
Now, let’s move to Vaughn. Left Field, 1st Base, 2nd Base, 3rd Base put him anywhere and Vaughn will play. He has played Right Field in 11 games this season and seemed to play just as well in right as he did in left. Vaughn is not an excellent fielder by any means, but he has shown his ability to play the outfield at a very serviceable level, which has been very impressive for a career first baseman.
The reason to move Vaughn to RF would be to shift Eloy to LF and Grandal to the DH spot on the days when Zavala/Collins catches. This also leaves the DH spot open for anybody who has been playing well when Grandal is behind the plate. The bat has been there for Vaughn this year as he is batting .240/.314/.409 with a 100 wRC+ and a .313 wOBA. The numbers are not as great as Engel’s but there is obviously a large difference in games played this year and Vaughn has continued to improve as his rookie year has gone on.
When I began writing this article the options were Jake Lamb or Brian Goodwin, but with Sheets getting the September call up and hitting 2 home runs in his first game back, Goodwin and Lamb don’t stand a chance. Lamb was DFA’d a couple of weeks ago, so he is out of the picture. Brian Goodwin, on the other hand, is a watered-down version of Gavin Sheets. Goodwin, like Sheets, is a left-handed power hitter with a low on-base and a subpar glove in right field. The difference is Sheets is 5 years younger with a lot more potential and upside.
Gavin Sheets is having himself a very productive year in AAA Charlotte, as he is batting .295/.362/.507. He is also playing serviceable up in the big leagues, batting .234/.304/.508 and a 119 wRC+. Now, I know, that .304 on-base scares me too. It’s frightening to see, but Sheets has a wOBA of .342 and you can’t look the other way on .507 slugging.
Sheets brings that left-handed power bat that this White Sox team lacks and is always a threat to go yard. Unfortunately, like Engel, the sample size isn’t there. Gavin has only played in 41 MLB games in his career and has a lot to improve on. It’s tough to slot him in at the right field spot for game 1 of a playoff game.
Now, after looking at all the stats and splits, I think we have to go with Adam Engel.
Adam Engel has a great glove in Right Field and has improved his hitting every year he has played in the majors. Engel has some playoff experience with the Oakland series the Sox played in last year, which isn’t a lot, but it’s more than the other two. Sheets simply doesn’t have the ability to play right field as well as Engel when it comes to the defensive side of October ball. Vaughn needs to stay in Left Field as Eloy is the preferred DH to have in the playoffs – having Eloy and Vaughn at the corner outfield positions for every game is asking for trouble. Adam Engel is currently in a rehab stint in Charlotte and should be back in time to get a few weeks of regular season ball before October comes rolling around.
Now, I mentioned this before. Engel hasn’t been healthy a lot this year. What if he has a setback in rehab or the injury starts bothering him when October comes around? Then, I feel you have to go with Gavin Sheets in RF. He has the best available bat off the bench and you could always send Billy Hamilton out there for the late-inning pinch-run/defensive sub. If Engel can’t be there, Sheets is the next best player off the bench to take his spot.
The White Sox do have a great problem though: three solid options who can step up in October.
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