Nationals' Top 5 right fielders: Camerato's take

December 2nd, 2021

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their careers while playing for that club.

These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only!

Here is Jessica Camerato’s ranking of the top five right fielders in Nationals/Expos history:

1. Vladimir Guerrero, Expos (1996-2003)
Key fact: Guerrero was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018

The top right fielder on this list, is one of the best talents to have played for the Expos/Nationals franchise. The batting-glove-less phenom played the first half of his 16-year career with Montreal. While on the Expos, he earned four consecutive All-Star selections (1999-2002) and a Silver Slugger Award in three of those seasons (‘99, ‘00, ‘02).

Guerrero has the highest batting average (.323), slugging percentage (.588), OPS (.978) and at-bats per home run (16.1) in franchise history. He also is second in home runs (234) and OPS+ (148), third in triples (34) and sixth in bWAR (34.7) while ranking eighth in games played (1,004).

“His natural ability was off the charts, like nobody I’d ever been around,” said F.P. Santangelo, a former Expo (1995-98) and Nationals television analyst. “I played with him for four years in Montreal, and I saw him from age 19 through 22 or 23. We used to joke and say it was like he was playing Wiffle ball in the backyard with his friends -- but it was Major League Baseball.”

Looking at Guerrero’s 988 appearances as a right fielder, he is the franchise’s headliner across statistical leaderboards. He recorded 110 more homers, 249 more runs, 597 more hits, 356 more RBIs and 39 more stolen bases than the second-ranked right fielder in each category.

“One of my favorite Vladdy stories is, he would use a different bat early in his career every at-bat,” Santangelo said. “He would go through the bat rack, pick them up, kind of feel it, then he’d look at you on the bench and -- with his eyes and mannerisms because he didn’t speak English -- basically ask you if he could use your bat. You’d just go, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m not using it.’ So he’d go up there with a different bat every time based on the feel during the game in the bat rack. You just don’t do that. Guys have their numbers on their bats, it’s their bat, you don’t touch their bat. But Vladdy would use a different bat all the time.”

In the field, Guerrero led National League right fielders in putouts (twice), assists (twice) and double plays (once) while playing for the Expos.

He signed with the Angels in 2004 and won the American League MVP Award in ‘05. In total, he accumulated nine All-Star nods and eight Silver Slugger Awards over his career.

2. Bryce Harper (2012-18)
Key fact: The Nationals selected Harper with the first overall pick in the 2010 Draft

Like with Guerrero, Bryce Harper’s mark on the franchise goes beyond his position. Harper debuted on April 28, 2012, at 19 years old and immediately made his presence known, winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award and earning an All-Star selection.

The accolades piled up over his eight years with the Nationals -- the 2015 NL MVP Award, six All-Star honors, a Silver Slugger Award and the ‘18 Home Run Derby title. During Harper’s MVP campaign, he led all of baseball in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS+ and offensive win percentage.

“In my nine years here as a broadcaster, I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited on the air than when Bryce Harper got a hold of one,” Santangelo said in 2020. “Anybody that ever saw Bryce play in D.C., when he connected, it had a different sound and it went in different places than home runs ever went in Nats Park, or wherever we played.”

In Expos/Nationals history, Harper is second -- to only Guerrero -- in slugging (.512), OPS (.900) and at-bats per home run (18.0), third in OPS+ (139), walks (585) and offensive win percentage (.709), sixth in home runs (184) and eighth in bWAR (27.5). Harper leads right fielders in walks, and he is second in games played, homers, runs, RBIs.

In four postseason series with the Nats, Harper hit five home runs over 19 games, including three in the 2014 NL Division Series against the Giants.

3. Larry Walker, Expos (1989-94)
Key fact: Walker was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2020

began his Hall of Fame career in 1984, when he signed with Montreal as an amateur free agent. Five years later, he made his Major League debut and played the first six of his 17 seasons as a member of the Expos. During that time, Walker won two Gold Glove Awards, a Silver Slugger and an All-Star selection in 1992. He was voted the Expos Player of the Year in '92, and led the NL in doubles (44) in ‘94.

“When I think about Larry Walker, I think of ‘complete baseball player,’ in every sense,” Santangelo said. “Everyone talks about the average, the power, the defense, the throwing, the accuracy, the arm strength. But when I think of Larry Walker, I think of maybe one of the best baserunners I’ve ever seen. Just a natural ability, a natural feel on the bases, and fearless. … He could go first-to-third, second-to-home, stretch a single into a double, read a ball that’s going to drop in the outfield before most could and just take off, go back and tag up on a ball [where] you’re like, ‘Why is he tagging?’ and then it works out and it’s perfect, better than anybody I’ve ever seen.”

Among Expos/Nationals right fielders, Walker is second in doubles (125) and stolen bases (84), and third in games played (567), runs (316) and hits (563). In franchise history, he ranks sixth in slugging percentage (.483), OPS (.839) and OPS+ (128), seventh in offensive win percentage (.654) and ninth in bWAR (21.1).

Walker went on to win the 1997 NL MVP Award and three batting titles as a member of the Rockies.

4. Rusty Staub, Expos (1969-71)
Key fact: Expos retired Staub’s number (10) in 1993

donned an Expos uniform for three of his 23 Major League seasons. He earned an All-Star selection in each of those years, which coincided with leading Montreal in home runs during that span. Staub also was named the Expos Player of the Year by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in 1969, and he paced the team in RBIs from 1970-71 and batting average in ‘69 and ‘70.

Staub slashed .295/.402/.497 with an .899 OPS and 149 OPS+ in 518 games for Montreal. He has the highest OPS+ and offensive win percentage (.723) in franchise history, while his .402 on-base percentage ranks second.

“He was the first icon in Montreal baseball history,” Santangelo said. “He was ‘La Grande Orange’ when they played at Jarry Park. He was the first Expo that the people of Montreal fell in love with. … He learned how to speak French, and the fans just loved the fact that he was so invested as a player in Montreal that he would actually learn the language.”

5. Jayson Werth (2011-17)
Key fact: His accomplishments are recognized in the Ring of Honor at Nationals Park

inked a seven-year deal with the Nationals in 2010 and went on to close his 15-season Major League career in Washington. The Nats made the postseason in four of those years, including in 2012 when he grinded through a 13-pitch at-bat and belted a ninth-inning, walk-off home run in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Cardinals. Werth hit 61 homers as a Nationals right fielder, including his 200th career shot in ‘16. In June that year, he tallied two walk-off hits over the course of four games. Werth led the NL in offensive win percentage (.769), and he topped all NL right fielders in fielding percentage (.992) the following season. He hit .263/.355/.433 with a .788 OPS and 113 OPS+ in 808 games with the Nationals.

“It’s the intangibles,” Santangelo said. “It’s the presence and what he brought to the table on a daily basis in the clubhouse, on the plane, on the bus, that showed young players like Bryce Harper, that showed players that may have been here before and lost, what it means to be a winning person and a winning player. He didn’t care what anybody thought of him. He wasn’t out to make friends, he was out to win. And that’s what Jayson Werth was all about -- winning.”

Honorable mention

Ellis Valentine, Expos (1975-81)
He was named to the 1977 NL All-Star team and won a Gold Glove Award the next season. Among franchise right fielders, Valentine is second in hits (616) and at-bats (2,127) and third in homers (91), RBIs (329) and doubles (123) while ranking fourth in games played (555). He slashed .288/.329/.476 in 638 games with Montreal.