Season-preview time is always a little weird. Spring training is the signal that the regular season is coming right up. We’re past the point where we’ve heard about who’s in great shape. By this point we’ve already had players getting injured. And, of course, we’ve had players getting reassigned or released. The Opening Day rosters are clearer than ever, because Opening Day’s in a week and a half. We should do something to prepare for the season, right? Something to lay out how every team looks.
On the one hand, maybe it’s unnecessary, because we’ve been writing about baseball every day, and there have been constantly updating 2018 team projections. If you’re on FanGraphs, you’re more likely to already know what’s going on. On the other hand, some sort of season preview just feels obligatory. You can’t not preview the upcoming season. There seems to be a demand for it. The trick is to do it well, and to be thorough while still being engaging.
I don’t think anyone has figured out the perfect way to do a season preview. What I can say is that FanGraphs, at least, runs a series unlike any other. It might not be perfect, but I like what we have. Consider this the kickoff post. Welcome to the 2018 positional power rankings!
Contained within this post are no actual power rankings. Apologies if I got your hopes up. This is an explainer, so that you’ll better understand what you’re seeing in a short while when a separate post goes up that talks about catchers. This is a summary for anyone who’s new to this series, or a reminder for anyone who forgot what it’s about. If you have a few minutes, here’s the introduction to last year’s series. At the top of that post are links to all the other posts in the series, so you can look at how every position broke down from just before Opening Day 2017.
The way season previews tend to work, you see posts about individual teams, or entire divisions. Although that format is perfectly fine, it’s also a little bit stale, and it doesn’t always offer enough information about context. If you’re a baseball fan, you’re probably a fan of one or two teams. So, you know the most about those teams, and maybe you don’t know so much about the rest. Baseball teams, at the end of the day, are the sums of the players they have, at every position. This is where we get to break down every player at every position. From best to worst, we have numbers and analysis.
Every position will get its own post, and, in fact, rotations and bullpens are split into two posts each, just because of the volume of writing required. The posts show the best teams all the way to the worst, according to our own projected total WAR. The WAR numbers are based on a 50/50 blend of the ZiPS and Steamer projection systems, but this is also informed by manually maintained team depth charts, with playing-time estimates. Obviously, the playing-time estimates are simply best guesses. The projections might end up wrong, or, well, anything. Humans and projections are far from perfect, but this is the best that we’ve got right now, and every single team at every single position also gets a write-up, to add some further commentary. As a side note, if you spot something that doesn’t look quite right in a given depth chart, please speak up. The depth charts can always be corrected, and sometimes we might miss something. It happens. Hopefully we haven’t missed anything big.
Something we always have to point out is that you shouldn’t overreact if you see a multi-position player looking low. If a player is projected to play at multiple positions, then, in each individual post, you’ll see only a fraction of the player’s total WAR. To get the full number, you’d have to add the projections up. It’s also worth noting that players get only one defensive projection, that stays the same across different positions. This is a minor detail, but that projected defense takes all projected positions into account. Try not to worry about this too much. The point is to help you get ready for the season. It’s not to be absolutely perfect about absolutely everything.
Context is the major benefit of this approach to previews. Now, I also like that we have commentary about every team at every position. In the end, this series is awfully thorough. But I really like how this series lays out how a given team compares to all the others. Even if you already know the players at a given position, you might not have a complete understanding of how all the players and depth charts compare to one another. This series is all about rankings. Every team gets a ranking from 1 to 30. I will say it’s easy to get too hung up on the specific rank. It’s better to think about how far above or below a team is from average. For that reason, every post will also include a graph, in case you’re more of a visual learner. In some cases, there might be an enormous difference between No. 1 and No. 2. In other cases, there might be a negligible difference between No. 12 and No. 19. The rank is important, but so is the distribution.
Many of you are already familiar with this series. You get how it works. It’s possible we don’t even need to write this introduction piece every spring. This time, there is one new tweak. The series itself will be run the same way. You’ll see ranks at every position. But there will also be the option to click a link to see how specific teams rank at every position. So, if you’re a fan of, say, the Rockies, and all you want to know about is the Rockies, you won’t necessarily have to open a bunch of tabs. You’ll be able to just click somewhere, and see every position of theirs, complete with the rankings. I think it’s a great supplement, since, by the end of this series, it can be easy to forget about where teams ranked at earlier positions. There are a lot of baseball players. It’s a big league.
I don’t think there’s anything else for me to say, that you won’t be able to figure out on your own. Very shortly, the post about catchers will go up. There will be two posts a day, and, this week, we’ll cover all the position players. Early next week, we’ll have posts about the pitchers, and then there’ll be a summary of everything at the very end. And then? And then, it’s time for the actual regular season. Once the games get going, baseball will sort itself out, in whichever manner it likes. We can never see the whole entire future. But, these are our best estimates of where things stand today. I hope you enjoy this series, and I hope that you find it informative. Even if you don’t think it’s the best season-preview series around, well, it’s the only one we’ve got. Take it!
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.