After several posts and roughly 100,000 words, we’ve come to the end of the 2018 Positional Power Rankings. It’s our own FanGraphs version of a season preview, and in case you’ve missed anything — or in case you’ve missed everything! — you can navigate through the series using that little handy widget up above. We’ve got write-ups about every single team at every single position, informed by our own depth-charts projections. The projections don’t consider, say, character, or morale, but they do consider what players have done on the field. What players have done on the field is a great indicator of what players are likely to do on the field.
If you read all the way through the series, you might not need this post. You would already have an inkling of which teams have value, and where. All this is is a summary of what we’ve already published. Here, you can look at everything in one place, to maybe get the fullest understanding of how all the teams are presently built. If you’re game, let’s all examine some big giant tables.
Should you just want to look at a bunch of projected positional WAR, we have a whole page for that. And not only do we offer that page now — it’ll stay live all season, updating every day, with new information and new projections as necessary. If you look at that table, you’ll see pretty much all the numbers we published in this series. Some numbers look different now from how they did when a given post went up, because there have been injuries, transactions, and depth-chart adjustments. That link contains the newest information, and I’m using it for everything below.
This table is sortable. It looks almost just like the linked table, except instead of showing projected positional WAR, it shows every team’s positional ranks. That makes this a little easier to read, probably.
There are 11 positions, and then the last column is just for overall team WAR. Note that the DH column might be slightly unfair to NL teams, since they’re just getting projected pinch-hitters in there, for the most part. But that’s a small thing. Nothing worth focusing on.
This might be the easiest way to see how well the Astros are constructed. If it’s not the easiest, it might be the most revealing. We know the Astros are very good, because they just won the most recent World Series, and then they traded for Gerrit Cole. The Astros’ row in the table doesn’t tell any secrets. But, it’s not just that the Astros rank first in overall WAR. They rank first at three positions, including the rotation. Then they also rank second, fifth, fifth, sixth, and seventh. Oh, and ninth. That’s nine top-10 rankings, out of 11 positions. The Astros’ worst ranking comes at first base, the one position where they aren’t among the upper half of baseball teams. The Tigers’ best ranking comes at first base, where they’re 15th, versus the Astros being 19th. The Astros are very good, and very deep, and very intimidating. I know it would be wise to bet the field, when it comes to figuring out who’ll win the World Series, but the Astros’ odds are about as high as a single team’s preseason odds can get.
Speaking of the Tigers, they’re one of only two teams that don’t have a single top-10 ranking at any spot. Even, say, the Royals are seventh at catcher. The White Sox are 10th at first base. The Tigers are joined by the Marlins, who top out ranking 11th at catcher. Incidentally, the catcher mostly responsible for that ranking was just placed on the disabled list. It’s not supposed to be a big deal, but it’s not the way anyone wants to begin a season. Pity poor J.T. Realmuto.
Seven different teams have at least one first-place positional ranking. Just like the Astros, the Yankees have three of them. Those are the only teams with multiple. There are seven teams that don’t have at least one top-five positional ranking. Unsurprisingly, the Astros have the best average ranking, followed by the Cubs and Dodgers. The Marlins bring up the rear, and they’re followed by the Tigers and White Sox.
You might be somewhat interested in balance. I calculated a quick standard deviation of the 11 positional ranks for every team. The Blue Jays come out as the most balanced ball club. They’re first at third base — Josh Donaldson is amazing — but everywhere else, they’re somewhere between ninth and 17th. The Jays are followed by the Cubs and Cardinals. The least balanced club appears to be the Rockies, who have two top-five positions and five bottom-five positions. They’re followed by the Nationals and Angels.
This second table is also sortable. It’s not as easy to understand as the table above, but it’s also more informative. Instead of showing team ranks, I’m showing the number of standard deviations each team is at each spot away from the league average.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you you ought to worship Mike Trout, but, out of all the major-league baseball players, Trout is probably the most worshippable. Thanks to Trout, the Angels are 3.7 standard deviations better than the average team in center field. Here are the top five(ish) positions, according to this method.
- +3.7, Angels, center field
- +3.1, Yankees, bullpen
- +3.0, Astros, second base
- +2.6, Yankees, designated hitter
- +2.5 (tie), Red Sox, right field; Yankees, right field
And if you’re going to look at the best, you also have to look at the worst. Here are the bottom five(ish) positions, according to this method.
- -2.2, Phillies, catcher
- -2.0, Marlins, rotation
- -1.9, White Sox, rotation
- -1.8 (tie), Royals, bullpen; White Sox, designated hitter
- -1.7 (tie), White Sox, center field; Diamondbacks, catcher
Now, one of my favorite things about major-league baseball is also one of the easiest things to forget. Every single player at the level is amazing. Every single player has been selected to be of major-league caliber. Even the Rule 5 selections have been chosen because teams think they could be good enough to cut it. The Phillies rank worst here, at catcher. Jorge Alfaro is 24 years old and very powerful. He could surprise and have a strong season. And the White Sox, there, in center field? Adam Engel is 26 years old, with a background of hitting in the minors. He’s a terrific defender, and he could surprise and have a strong season. Every team that looks bad at a position could end up good at the same position. One should never underestimate a major leaguer’s level of talent.
But maybe that’s my optimism getting to me. I don’t like to push it down. The projection systems don’t have human feelings. The projection systems sometimes have strong opinions. Someone like Alfaro will project a lot better if and when he improves his on-field performance. So is the nature of analysis.
To wind down, I can tell you that, according to total WAR, the Astros project to have the best infield, followed by the Cubs and Dodgers. The worst projected infield belongs to the Marlins. And I can tell you that, according to total WAR, the Angels project to have the best outfield, followed by the Red Sox and Yankees. The worst projected outfield belongs to the… Marlins. I don’t know how many different ways there are to tell you it’s going to be a long season in Miami, but, you know, on Tuesday afternoon, playing an exhibition against a college team, Lewis Brinson hit a home run at 116 mph. In one way, it’s absolutely meaningless. It’s the very definition of meaningless. In another way, 116 is pretty hard, right? If Brinson can do that once, Brinson can do that twice. Brinson is a prospect with a legitimate chance of breaking out. He could save the Marlins’ outfield on his own. He could practically pull the Marlins forward on his own. I wouldn’t bet on it, but this is the excitement of a rebuilding roster. You try to find any hope anywhere, and you cling to it for all that it’s worth.
Very soon — alarmingly soon — we’re going to have baseball games that count. Some teams and players will play to their projections, while others will leave their projections behind. As the games go in the books, this series will be forgotten, as season previews always are. But this is how we think things are going to go. Stay tuned to watch us look very smart, and very dumb.
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.