What do we have here? For an explanation of this series, please read this introductory post. As noted in that introduction, the data is a hybrid projection of the ZIPS and Steamer systems with playing time determined through depth charts created by our team of authors. The rankings are based on aggregate projected WAR for each team at a given position. The author writing this post did not move your team down ten spots in order to make you angry. We don’t hate your team. I promise.
Also, keep in mind that these lists are based on rosters as of last week, so weekend transactions are not reflected in the rosters below. In some cases, teams have allocated playing time to different reserves than these depth charts show, but because they’re almost always choosing between near-replacement level players, the differences won’t move the needle much if at all.
Well, we got through six of these things last week and perhaps the most consistent observation was that the Marlins infield is atrocious, but the outfield is here to buck that trend. At least, right field will, as the Marlins are one of five teams that are nearly indistinguishable at the top, followed by seven next-tier groups, and then the rest of the league is probably engaged in some private grumbling.
The graph says there are no superstars here, but I’ll definitely take the over on at least one of the top five posting a six win season.
|Scott Van Slyke||14||.245||.325||.411||.324||0.1||0.0||0.0||0.0|
This guy. We’re kicking off right field with one of the most divisive players in the league. Does he showboat too much? Is he too aggressive? Is he a clubhouse cancer? Will Brian McCann assassinate him? These are questions that may interest journalists but not our projection systems. Last season, Puig did two things that would usually cause us FanGraphs-types to cry “luck” – he posted a .383 BABIP with a 16.9 percent swinging strike rate. Our various projections think he’ll repeat some of his high BABIP ways, forecasting a range from .326 to .347. Meanwhile, none of the projection systems worry that he’ll strikeout more this season, despite whiffing at a rate that puts him side by side with noted whiffmasters Ryan Howard, Pedro Alvarez, and Josh Hamilton. Two of those guys typically strike out around 30 percent of the time. The other is Hamilton, who probably provides a fantastic comp for Puig. The current scuttlebutt is that Puig will leadoff for the Dodgers, which seems like a strange way to leverage his mix of aggression and power. He does project to have the best on base percentage on the team, so maybe it’s not so strange.
In case Puig goes radioactive — Dan Mattingly is already grumbling about injuries — the Dodgers have a three win outfielder in Andre Ethier available, or will at least once Matt Kemp returns. Scott Van Slyke is a perfectly capable fourth outfielder too and Joc Pederson is lurking somewhere off the page. Yeah, they’re stacked. The other four teams with high quality right fielders can’t say the same.
With a slightly more aggressive playing time projection for Stanton, the Marlins could have actually ranked first in a position. That hardly makes up for their infield rankings, but at least they have one dynamic position player. Shoulder and leg issues have resulted in only 239 games played over the last two seasons. That’s not what you want to see from a player entering his age 24 season. If the injuries keep piling up, we’ll be forced to wonder if he’ll reach age 30 in the majors. He has plenty of time to shake the injury prone label, but it won’t be long until we’re officially “concerned.” Oh, I almost forgot, he projects to hit about 35 home runs with a .280 ISO. This is a case where the Fans projection is actually right in line with the other systems. Since the fans usually run a little hot, does that mean all the systems are too rosy?
There are a bunch of other names on that list. Don’t make me talk about them.
#3 Blue Jays
Once upon a time, Bautista wrecked all spring training pitches seen. Then he proceeded to do the same during the regular season. That was 2010. In 2009, I watched maybe five Jays games, and always to see the other team. In 2010, I dropped everything to watch as many Bautista plate appearances as possible. With all apologies to Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout, I haven’t seen a more dominant hitter since Barry Bonds. Injuries sucked the life out of Bautista the last two seasons, but he’s once again hitting like it’s 2010. Based on reports and that teeny-tiny spring sample, he may finally be fully recovered from his injuries. He’s entering his age 33 season, so even if he’s completely healthy now, he probably won’t be at some point this season.
If we have to talk about Moises Sierra or Kevin Pillar, then it’s a lost season for the Jays. There is no margin for error with this roster.
Our projections love, love, love Ryan Braun, but our hearts and minds are less certain. After all, this is a guy who was caught using PEDs, somehow got off clean, and then was caught another way. Presumably, Braun is no longer using PEDs (at least the specifically banned kinds), and we’ve never really figured out how to put that in a statistical model. On the one hand, strength gained through the use of PEDs need only be maintained. On the other hand, PEDs can confer a number of competing long term advantages and disadvantages. It’s a confusing picture. In any case, maybe we expect a little less power and fewer stolen bases – he only swiped four last season in 253 plate appearances, a pace of about 10 per 650 plate appearances. He’ll probably be very good if healthy, and maybe he has another seven win season in him.
The Brewers hope they don’t need to ask Logan Schafer or Caleb Glindl to fill in for Braun, because they very much aren’t Braun.
Last season, Heyward was bad, then pretty good, then banged up. We’re all familiar with Heyward experiencing injuries. He managed a full season in 2012 and flashed his upside with a six win performance. We think he can be better. His career wRC+ is just 119, yet our projections call for a range of 121 to 134. The Fans come in on the high end, but Steamer is right there with a 132 wRC+ projection. When he’s on the field, he’s been fantastic defensively, so that ensures a high floor for the Braves regardless of which hitter shows up.
Of course, there is a very real chance that Jordan Schafer or Joey Terdoslavich will see considerable time. Schafer’s speed offers an actual major league skill, but his defense and bat are somewhat less than incredible (if you enjoy understatements). Perhaps you noticed Justin Upton’s name – he could slide over if the club prefers Evan Gattis in left field in the event of a Heyward injury.
So I bet you weren’t expecting to find Josh Reddick directly behind Heyward? To be fair, the A’s are projected to be a full win behind the Braves whereas the 12th ranked Giants are just four runs back from Oakland. We’re also seeing the Athletics’ depth at work, since four of the next six teams have an outfielder with a higher WAR projection than Reddick. Still, the man is underappreciated. He was recovering from a wrist injury most of last season, which sapped his power at the plate. He posted two consecutive seasons of 108 wRC+ baseball prior to the injury, and a return to that level of production wouldn’t be shocking. He’s an asset on the bases and elite in right field, where his career UZR/150 is over +20 runs. He’s entering his age 27 season, and relative youth is always a good thing. A healthy Reddick probably outperforms this projection.
An unhealthy Reddick is backed by Craig Gentry, who is currently recovering from a back injury. Gentry is another underappreciated player. He’s a deceptively decent hitter despite an utter dearth of power, runs the bases very well, and features elite center field defense. He was worth 3.4 WAR in just 287 plate appearances last season. He’s posted 7.8 WAR in his last 709 plate appearances! Did I mention exclamation point? Part of that is platoon management, but not all of it. We’re talking about a player who has a career 29.5 UZR/150 in center field. It doesn’t matter that he’s 20 percent below league average when batting against same-handed pitchers. I wish we got to see him start through his peak. I promise, I won’t get this excited about any other backups.
#7 Red Sox
Shane Victorino is back in the spring lineup after battling a thumb injury, but he’ll have to get ready for the season quickly. Victorino isn’t a classic right fielder – really he’s a center fielder who was forced to right field by Jacoby Ellsbury rather than any defensive deficiency. He was worth 24 runs in the field over 122 games last season according to UZR (DRS says 23 runs so there’s agreement). The hitting component of Victorino’s game is a little curious. He’s had trouble batting from the left side in recent seasons, but saw some improvement last year. He had even better results as a right-handed batter against righty pitching, but his peripherals were ugly. Any drawn out struggle from the left side could unleash a media storm in Boston.
The Sox will lean on Daniel Nava as the primary backup in case Victorino is injured or forced to take reps in center field. Nava has shown a useful and timely bat in Boston, but his defense is not an asset. He’s a more-than-solid backup, but I’m sure the preference is for Victorino to take more reps than we project.
I still remember when Jay Bruce reached the majors and promptly refused to make an out. Once he conceded that out-making is part of mortality, he made a lot of them. And that was our first taste of Jay Bruce: Streaky Expletive. Bruce is still playing the streak game, and research shows that consistent production has slightly more value to a team than streaky production. I don’t think the Reds are going to complain. Historically, Bruce has been good at staying on the field, and we like his defense more than you might expect from watching him play.
Skip Schumaker is not a desirable backup, but Chris Heisey is showing signs of a breakout in this apocalyptic post-Dusty world. Five home runs, five doubles, and 14 total hits in 42 spring at bats are good. Of course, he’s also yet to walk, which some might describe as less good. Regardless of sample size arguments, I’d put my money on Heisey as the primary backup if Bruce hits the skids.
Just from this chart, you might think that we’re really skeptical about Allen Craig staying healthy. We actually project another 140 plate appearances at first base, and if I were a betting man (wait, I am) I would project more time at first and less in the outfield. Craig’s just another fruit of John Mozeliak’s obvious deal with the devil. I’ll point out that Craig was an uncelebrated prospect who is now very much celebrated; just in case you haven’t read that in the last week. He’s not exactly an asset in right field, but he’s also a temporarily passable fielder – at least until he isn’t. Defensively fringy outfielders can crater pretty suddenly, especially if injury intervenes. Perhaps a splinter in the heel or a pebble in the shoe will force a move down the defensive spectrum.
Backing up Craig’s bat is Peter Bourjos — assuming that Mike Matheny won’t want Jon Jay’s arm in right field too often — and he takes the opposite approach to value by swinging softly and carrying a big glove. Our defensive projection of two runs is light, even if he’s only getting 140 plate appearances at the position – that’s because his defensive projection is for center field. Jon Jay and Shane Robinson are perfectly tolerable backup outfielders, but Oscar Taveras is the man to watch if he ever manages to stay on the field.
Here we have a budding star projected to play almost every game. Myers was a neutral defender and baserunner last season. It’s his offense that makes him stand out as a prospective franchise player. Last season, he raked in 373 plate appearances with the help of a .362 BABIP. That smells fishy, but he’s always posted high BABIP’s. He’s one of those guys who makes noisy contact and maybe we should expect the BABIPy ways to continue. This season should educate us in that regard. Of particular note is his batted ball profile, which skewed a bit more towards ground balls than I like from a burgeoning power hitter. That might partially explain why his .185 ISO came in below his minor league numbers (he also played in a few high octane environments). Our projections expect more of the same in 2014 but with hefty BABIP regression. There’s scope for a LOT more upside here.
David DeJesus and Logan Forsythe play baseball in case Myers hits the disabled list. We could also see Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce, Sean Rodriguez, and Brandon Guyer. After all, we’re talking about the Rays.
It’s been awhile since I’ve felt a strong team allegiance, but there used to be a time when I was a Phillies fan. I was raised that way. I think I really gave up rooting for only the Phillies when they opted to extend Ryan Howard over Jayson Werth. I say that to point out that I really like Werth. Our projection systems do too, picking a full season pace over three wins. Oliver actually calls for a 5.3 win season compared to 3.8 wins from the Fans. There’s a role reversal. The main problem for Werth and the Nationals is that nobody – neither man nor machine – believes that Werth will be healthy for a full season. That’s (partly) why they signed Nate McLouth this offseason. Werth should be great while on the field, even if his defensive value has completely eroded. McLouth should at least outperform replacement level by a win or so. That’s nice for a backup.
In my mind, Hunter Pence is inextricably linked with Bruce. Both bashers came up around the same time and mangled the competition. Where Bruce revealed his streaky ways, Pence just kept on hitting. After it looked like he might be done mashing in 2012, Pence turned around to post his best overall season. While he hit better in 2011, last season featured superb baserunning and above average fielding. Our projections don’t expect a repeat of either number, and we’re also expecting his hitting stats to regress to a .329 wOBA (.356 wOBA last season). I guess it takes hefty, three-pronged regression to go from a 5.4 win season to a 2.5 WAR projection. I’m comfortable suggesting that maybe, just maybe, he’ll perform between those two numbers. The Fans agree, they expect a four win season.
Gregor Blanco is a perfectly adequate defense-first backup. The Giants need everything to go right for them if they want to compete. That probably means a full season of Pence if not another career year. Giants fans should hope Blanco gets all of his work spelling Mike Morse and Angel Pagan.
Torii Hunter “plays the game the right way.” Quip aside, I remember watching this guy in 2008 and thinking he had maybe one more year as a starter – you know, that buffer year where a guy has no right playing full time but has enough name value that he does anyway. Well he proved me very wrong in 2009 and 2010. Then 2011 happened and I said, “surely he’ll be in a part time role soon.” Since then, he’s just gone on hitting and hitting. His peripherals have gotten worse and worse and he just doesn’t care. That’s all a long way for me to say that I’m done betting against this guy. We project him to be a league average outfielder and he’ll probably do it, despite worsening defense and plate discipline. The Tigers better hope he keeps on keeping on because Hunter’s entering his age 38 season and there really isn’t much depth behind him. Rajai Davis, Don Kelly, and (eventually) Andy Dirks are tolerable backups, but they also have to share left field. Everyone’s talking about Detroit’s shortstop problem, but they’ll have an easier time adding value in the outfield.
After last year’s Jeff Francoeur’s related disaster, Kansas City actually has an adequate outfielder in Norichika Aoki. He’ll provide tolerable production as a leadoff hitter, though he gave some value back on the bases; last season he stole 20 bases, but got caught 12 times. Besides that flaw, he plays solid defense and reaches base at a good clip.
Maxwell is a fun platoon bat. He tends to produce “true” outcomes. Jarrod Dyson is the homeless man’s Billy Hamilton. For whatever it’s worth, I think Maxwell will get more platoon work in right field than we currently project.
We’re projecting Gerardo Parra to take about 200 plate appearances at every outfield position. On the right side of the outfield, he’ll be sharing time with Cody Ross, who is a wrong-handed platoon bat. Ross is also opening the season on the disabled list as he continues to recover from August hip surgery. He isn’t terrible against right-handed pitchers, but he’s decidedly below average. He’s been unreasonable to left-handed pitchers.
All this was said to point out that Parra may see considerably more time as the club’s right fielder once certain stakeholders realize that Ross has the hips of a man twice his age and a blatantly obvious platoon split.
Hey! I found Francoeur. Actually he was cut 25 minutes ago as of this writing, but we have a freeze on playing time adjustments until these blurbies are all released.
Who we actually find is David Murphy playing the strong side of a platoon with probably Ryan Raburn. Murphy’s coming off the worst year of his career, which was largely driven by a 106 point decline in BABIP (.333 in 2012, .227 in 2013). A little positive regression puts him right in line with his projection. Raburn is a sweet lefty slayer, which should make this a very offensively productive platoon. His defense lacks polish.
The Yankees have a fun mix of old people lining up for right field this year. Carlos Beltran and Alfonso Soriano are expected to share most of the right field duties while the other player hits for the pitcher. Both “outfielders” are injury risks and thus better suited for the bat only role. Ichiro is a shadow of his former self, but I could see him doing a lot of defensive replacement work this season. We have to assume that one of these guys is going to land on the disabled list, which will press the others into a more regular fielding role.
|Matt den Dekker||28||.227||.277||.355||.279||-0.7||0.0||0.0||0.0|
A couple days ago, I agreed to take over the depth charting for the NL East. I forgot that I was going to have to figure out how to handicap this Mets outfield nightmare. At least Granderson is probably the every day right fielder when healthy, so this part is easy. That fielding projection must be for center field, I expect him to perform well defensively in right. That would move the Mets all the way up to 13th in these rankings. Chris Young and Juan Lagares could steal some reps when they aren’t playing in center.
Originally, this was a time share between Will Venable and Chris Denorfia, but the injury to Cameron Maybin has opened up more time in center field for Venable. Denorfia is recovering from a sore shoulder, but is publicly “unconcerned.” He is coming off a season that featured a career high in plate appearances and defensive value (+15 UZR, +20 DRS). Defensive metrics consider him inconsistent year-to-year, so it’s hard to set a clear expectation. He’ll platoon with Seth Smith early on. Despite that Smith is the left-handed bat in the platoon, he’ll probably play much less frequently.
For a young player coming out of a weak farm system, it’s shocking that Kole Calhoun was never a well-regarded prospect. He hit very well in the minors and features a well-rounded offensive profile. He has some power, can swipe a few bases, and knows how to work the plate. Not everybody is positive about his defense, but he showed good range in at least one spring game that I observed. If things go sideways in Calhoun’s sophomore season, the club can give more reps to characters like Collin Cowgill and J.B. Shuck. They’re both better suited for background roles.
Oswaldo Arcia showed the plate discipline numbers of Howard without the power. He did a reasonable amount of mashing in the minors, so it’s fair to expect that skill to surface in the majors – eventually. His sophomore season is bound to be filled with hiccups. Since the Twins aren’t playing for anything (except perhaps trying to trade mediocre pitchers at the trade deadline), they can afford to give Arcia all the time he needs to adjust to major league pitching. He was atrocious in the field last season, and I don’t really know what else to say about that. It needs to get better.
There are some other guys on the depth chart, but they don’t matter to the Twins’ future.
Hanging out at the bottom of the Pirates list is Gregory Polanco. The right fielder of the future features center field quality defense and a projection for a non-terrible bat. Scouts expect a lot more from the stick, even as early as this season.
The Pirates have some other players on the roster that need to be cleared out first. Jose Tabata is signed through 2017 with a pair of option years tacked on the end. He combines unexciting offense with unexciting defense. His baserunning used to be exciting, but now that too is unexciting. It all adds up to a one win player, which is fine when you don’t have a prospect with a one win floor waiting in Triple-A. A team like the Tigers could use Tabata for depth.
There’s also the matter of Travis Snider. The club snatched him up because he’s destroyed Triple-A pitching but never quite transitioned to the majors. He’s entering his age 26 season so there is still time for a late breakout. The lefty hitter has been solid this spring which could mean a platoon with Tabata while we wait for Polanco’s turn. Snider could also be Gaby Sanchez’s platoon at first base.
The Wheeze Kids 2.0 decided to balance their youthful outfield with a familiar face. Entering his age 36 season, Byrd is also coming off the best season of his career, which included 4.1 WAR and 24 home runs over 579 plate appearances. Byrd’s swinging strike rate spiked with the power output and he also benefited from a friendly .353 BABIP. He usually posts high-ish BABIP’s so that’s not ultra-damning. Our projections expect his wRC+ to drop from 136 to somewhere between 93 and 119. The Fans are on the low end with a 100 wRC+ projection. Whatever way you slice it, Byrd looks like a nice complementary player to a playoff roster, not the starter of a team that needs a lot of help.
Darin Ruf looks like a guy who missed his narrow window. Kudos to him for opening it in the first place, but I’m not sure he’ll ever make the active roster now that he’s out with a rib cage injury. John Mayberry Jr. is being aggressively shopped while the team tries to figure out how to roster Tony Gwynn Jr. and Bobby Abreu. I can feel you out there shaking your heads, I don’t know what to say.
When we pulled the depth charts, the Mairners were still acting like Corey Hart was an outfielder. Over the weekend, Lloyd McClendon admitted that was probably a pipe dream, and Michael Saunders is the de facto starter at this point. Hart may prove healthy enough to get some right field time in the second half, but a guy coming off two knee surgeries should have never been ticketed for the outfield to begin with. Saunders is nothing special, but at least he can cover some ground and not embarrass himself, which is the bar the Mariners outfield set last year.
Last spring, the Phillies dumped Nate Schierholtz to make room for Laynce Nix. It’s easy to mock that move now, but Nix appeared to be 95 percent of Schierholtz for one-third of the cost. In any case, the Cubs said ‘Ooh gimme!” and proceeded to turn Schierholtz into a full time, contributing outfielder. He combined a career best 21 home runs with league average defense and baserunning. That was worth 1.4 wins last season and we project it to be worth another 1.2 wins this year. Again, the Tigers could really use this kind of player.
Lined up in the backfield are Justin Ruggiano, Emilio Bonifacio, and Ryan Sweeney, all of whom are engaged in some kind of platoon at another position. None of these players will be a part of the next Cubs contender, but they could be used to acquire a player who will.
No we didn’t forget Alex Rios, we just don’t think he’s that good at the real version of baseball (as opposed to the fantasy version in which Rios rates highly in slain dragons and stolen princesses). It’s kind of weird because he’s been worth 7.3 WAR over the past two seasons, but then again he posted negative 1.1 WAR in 2011. Rios could easily outkick our baserunning and fielding projections by a few runs and he’s entirely BABIP dependent on offense. I’ll happily take the over on this projection, but it is fair to point out that he’s not as good as his reputation.
Ah nostalgia. Nick Markakis was the Stanton of the 2008 Orioles – the one bright spot in a sea of floating crap. Since then he’s been thoroughly mediocre. Last season was his worst, he lost the team one run over 700 plate appearances according to FanGraphs’ team of accountants. His defense is craptastic and his ISO fell below .100 for the first time. We project a rebound in the power department, which will be enough to make him a useful role player. We also expect the Orioles to begin testing the waters on a replacement, with Steve Pearce, Nolan Reimold, and Francisco Peguero (disabled list) possibly seeing some time.
When I searched to remind myself who, exactly, is Steve Pearce, I was greeted with some congressman’s face. Like Congress matters to people searching the internet. As it turns out, Pearce was quietly productive in 138 plate appearances last season, although he failed to put any bills before the House of Representatives (according to Wikipedia not mentioning such). He’s also entering his age 31 season, so no need to get excited. Poor Reimold has shown a stout bat several times in his career, but the injury monster always wins the day. Last season, he did not show a stout bat. I’m not sure how much longer he’ll be an Oriole.
In 2011, Michael Cuddyer posted a 121 wOBA as part of a nearly three win season for the Twins. Following that season he signed with the Rockies, prompting expectations for further offensive production. Instead, Cuddyer reminded us that he’s in his mid-30’s and the decline phase of his career. Last season was a healthier time for Cuddy (which is not to say healthy), and he produced as we thought he might in Colorado. His career best 140 wRC+ was a bright spot for a mediocre Rockies team. I’m sure they’re praying for similar production this season, but our projection systems are shouting for regression. Meanwhile, he really needs to hit well to overcome his terrible defensive marks.
The good news for the Rockies is that in addition to Carlos Gonzalez, they’ll be rostering three to four center fielders. That leaves plenty of choices for a defensive replacement. Frankly, a +10 defensive right fielder would almost certainly outperform Cuddyer overall. Probably, one of Drew Stubbs, Charlie Blackmon, Corey Dickerson, and Brandon Barnes are +10 right fielders.
L.J. Hoes seems to be the nominal right fielder while the Astros decide whether or not they care if George Springer becomes Super-Two eligible. That could mean one to four months of starting for Hoes. In case you’re curious, he profiles as a very fifth outfielder. Marc Krauss hit a bunch of home runs back in 2010, and he’s been channeling Jack Cust in the minors for the past two seasons. I guess that’s worth exploring. I’d rather find out if he has a bat than start Hoes, but the ‘Stros employ smarter gentlemen than me.
#30 White Sox
Down here in the lonely basement we find Avisail Garcia – who really isn’t that bad. At least that’s what we say about him, but a walk through his player page is cringe-inducing. Over just half a season, he lost a full win in the outfield according to UZR. DRS says it was only a minus three runs effort, so we can cross our fingers for better. His plate discipline was terrible, that’s no surprise to anyone who watched him. Like a lot of aggressive hitters, he makes loud contact that translates to a high BABIP, a lot of whiffs, but a (barely) tolerable strikeout rate. He’s also entering his age 23 season after already destroying the minors, so he has a lot of time to adjust to major league pitching. Chicago (really either team) is the perfect place for him to develop.
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