2015 Positional Power Rankings: Introduction

Over the last three years, we’ve previewed the upcoming season by going position by position around Major League Baseball, looking at the how teams stack up to their various competitors at each spot on the diamond. This format provides a bit of a different look than a traditional team or division based preview, and gives us the ability to do some things that you might find in other outlets. For instance, 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 exclusively a 2015 season preview series, so we are not taking into account any future value a player may produce; even if a young star 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 manually updated playing time forecasts with a blend of the ZIPS and Steamer performance projections. 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 take unexpected turns.

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 individuals posts will reflect his entire value to the A’s. 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 WAR, there’s little actual difference there, and you certainly shouldn’t get too up in arms about a couple of places of ordinal ranking 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 tackling the position players this week — Mike Petriello kicks things off with a look at the league’s catchers later today — and will break down each team’s pitching staff next week. We’ll also be adding in a few posts compiling the data and showing how things have changed from last year to this year, as we’ll try and add some context to where the biggest improvements might come from. We hope you enjoy the series.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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9 years ago

Maybe in the case of Prado/Zobrist types you could parenthetically include their overall WAR, to avoid the myriad of ‘why is Prado only 0.7 WAR – he’s an OBP monster?’ time wasters…