Over the last couple of weeks, we published our annual season preview series by going position by position around the league. If you missed any of the posts, they can be accessed by that helpful widget up above. Today, we’re also going to summarize the results of the series. Let’s start by diving right into the results of the ordinal ranks, which we’ll break into three tables for easier digestion. Infield first!
There’s a reason we use projected value and not just average ranking by position when talking about a team’s strength, since the margins between ranks can be deceptive. But this also gives you a decent idea of the amount of balance a team has across positions, and right away, it’s hard not to notice the Astros. Not only are they at the top of both middle-infield lists, but they’re No. 5 on the catcher list, No. 10 on the third-base list, and No. 15 on the first-base list.
Houston projects to get average or better production at every infield spot, something that can also only be claimed by the Cubs, Dodgers, and Indians, three of the very best teams in baseball. The Giants are close to joining that group, with only third base falling a little bit short, and the Blue Jays would be in this mix if they had a real first baseman.
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the Phillies, who only rank in the top half of the infield spots at third base, where they appear at 15th. They ranked 26th at catcher and first base, 22nd at second base, and 24th at shortstop. Among other reasons, this is why the Phillies aren’t going to win this year.
|7||Red Sox||Diamondbacks||Blue Jays||Angels|
|30||Diamondbacks||White Sox||White Sox|
There’s no better reminder of why you shouldn’t just average ordinal rankings than the fact that the Angels have the best outfield in baseball, even though they rank 26-1-9 from left to right. But because Mike Trout is so much better than every other center fielder, and because left field is a barren wasteland, having Trout and any random Triple-A player would be better than having the next-best center fielder and the best left fielder. And the Angels have someone better than a random Triple-A player in left, if only slightly so.
But if you wanted the most balanced strong outfield, you’d probably take the Marlins. They rank 12th in left, fourth in center, and third in right, the only team with above-average ranks at all three spots. That strength across the board grades them out as the second-best outfield in baseball by projected value, and the best among teams who don’t have an alien unfairly patrolling center field.
This table isn’t as fun for White Sox fans, who ranked 21st in left, 30th in center, 30th in right, and then 15th out of 15 at DH. And Rick Hahn has basically admitted that they’ll trade Melky Cabrera — the guy keeping them out of last in left — the first time anyone makes him an offer they like. So, yeah, the worst outfield in baseball might actually be even worse than this makes it seem.
|16||Blue Jays||Blue Jays|
This one’s easier to read, since there are only two columns. The Dodgers ranked at the top in both starting and relief pitching, so, yeah, this is a good pitching staff. The Mets, Nationals, Cubs, Cardinals, and the Astros also have top-10 rankings in both spots, as teams that have good pitching tend to be strong in both areas. Or, maybe more accurately, teams that want to win don’t let themselves go into the year with a bad rotation or bullpen, because neglecting either is a great way to miss the postseason.
Neglecting both is how you get to be the Reds (#30 SP, #25 RP) or the Twins (#26 SP, #28 RP), who both are in rebuilding mode despite some interesting position players because they’re expected to give up a lot of runs this year. And if you wonder why our forecasts aren’t that high on the Royals, look no further than their pitching (#23 SP, #27 RP) ranks. While they’ve been carried by a great bullpen in recent years, our forecasts aren’t particularly sanguine about this group of relievers, and the rotation remains a weak spot.
Now, as I’ve mentioned, you don’t really just want to look at rankings, and helpfully, we maintain an updated total of projected future value by position right here on the site. While the numbers on that page, and in the table below, will be a little different from the numbers in the PPR — mostly because injuries and transactions have changed the playing time allocations slightly since those posts were published — you can get a pretty good idea of the relative strength and weakness of every team by looking at this table and sorting to your heart’s content.
(The values at DH for NL teams reflect expected value from pinch-hitters)
The Dodgers are good. The Cubs are good. The Indians are good. The White Sox are not as good. We have some limbs we’re really going out on around here. And for those who ask, projected WAR won’t line up exactly with projected wins, because wins aren’t perfectly linear; there are interactions between players that lead to higher or lower levels of run-scoring or -prevention, and then quality of opponents also play a factor into a team’s expected win loss record.
As always, we hope you enjoyed the series. It’s a huge effort to produce, but hopefully you found it useful in preparing you for the 2017 season, whether providing confirmation bias for your existing excitement or causing you to buy a bulk shipment of brown paper bags to wear to the games.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.