Over the last couple of years, we’ve previewed the upcoming season by going position by position around MLB, looking at the how teams stack up to their various competitors at each spot on the diamond. We’ve enjoyed doing these pieces, and we like that they provide an alternative to the team-by-team or division-by-division approach to other season previews. By starting at the position level, we can see exactly where a team’s strengths and weaknesses lie, and identify some areas of for potential upgrade as well.
Additionally, by not just focusing on the starter at each position, we’re able to compare and contrast different strategies for manning a particular position on the field. How will one team’s everyday player compare to a left/right platoon? Or is a team with a hot young prospect on the way up in line for a second half upgrade once the service time issues are out of the way? What teams have enough depth to sustain quality performance in case of an injury? These are the kinds of things we can readily identify through this series.
Keep in mind that this is a 2014 season preview series, so we are not taking into account any future value a player may produce, so even if a kid has a terrific future, players are only being judged based on what they are expected to produce this year. Those expectations come from our Depth Charts pages, which combine playing time forecasts based on manually updated rosters with a blend of the ZIPS and Steamer performance forecasts. Our depth charts include the most recent injury diagnoses and what we think we know about future playing time at present, though of course things will change as the season goes along. It’s always good to keep in mind that these are a snapshot of a point in time; things can and will change.
Also, it’s important to keep in mind that some players will have their value spread across multiple positions, so don’t freak out if you see a guy like Ben Zobrist listed with only +1 or +2 WAR at a specific position; his overall value is derived from accumulating value at several spots on the field, and none of these posts will reflect his entire value to the Rays. It should also be noted that multi-position players present a little bit of a challenge for this format, because ZIPS and Steamer forecast individual defensive ratings for a player’s expected primary position, not for every possible position on the field. So, for a player who will primarily play second base but also get some at-bats at shortstop, his defensive rating — it is listed as FLD in the data boxes — will be his expected value at second base, and his value will be slightly overstated when he plays shortstop, as his defensive performance at that position would be expected to be a bit worse.
This is a minor flaw in the system, and should serve as a reminder that these forecasts are certainly not perfect. This is an outline, not a precise calculation, and you shouldn’t worry too much about decimal point differences in rankings like this. Even if one team is forecast for +3.4 WAR and another is forecast for +3.0, there’s little actual difference there, and you certainly shouldn’t get too up in arms about a couple of places of ordinal rank if the overall forecast is essentially even. At some positions, there won’t be a big gap between the #10 and #20 teams, so try not to react too strongly to the number associated with a team’s placement. The value forecast is what you really care about, not so much a team’s rank within a position.
That said, there are different baseline forecasts for different positions. Catchers are projected to produce more value than left fielders, for instance, so the rankings also help to align things within a team’s comparison to its peers at that position. Knowing how your team stacks up against the competition at a given spot is helpful, and it’s one of the reasons we like the positional preview format.
For those interested in a schedule, we’re tentatively planning on rolling out two posts per day, with catchers and first baseman to follow a little later on today. We hope you enjoy the series as our way of leading up to Opening Day.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.