2021 Positional Power Rankings: Summary

Over the past week and a half, we’ve published our annual season preview, ranking the league’s players by position and team based on a blend of our projections (a 50/50 split between ZiPS and Steamer) and our manually maintained playing time estimates courtesy of Jason Martinez. The result is a document that rivals The Power Broker for length, though we’ve endeavored to make it more easily digestible. If you happen to have missed any of those installments, you can use the handy navigation widget above to catch up.

Today, I’m going to summarize the results. We’ll look at some tables and pick out a few interesting tidbits in a moment, but first, it’s important to remember that this exercise captures a snapshot of how we project teams to perform now. Teams aren’t static. Since we’ve published our rankings, Eloy Jiménez ruptured his left pectoral tendon and underwent surgery; Luke Voit will miss time with a partial meniscus tear. The Angels reworked their bullpen on Monday. The Rangers announced that Rougned Odor won’t make the Opening Day roster and will be designated for assignment. Players will tweak elbows and hamstrings, lose playing time due to underperformance, and get traded.

That’s why we maintain a Team WAR Totals page, which lists projected positional WAR by team and updates regularly throughout the season as we learn more about who is likely to take the field every day and what shape they’ll be in when they do. Don’t be alarmed: The WAR numbers you see there may vary from what you see on the positional power rankings, mostly because those figures are aware of the injuries and transactions that have altered our playing time estimates since the rankings went live. The Z-Scores I include later use the WAR from the Team WAR Totals page as well. It’s a valuable resource I recommend bookmarking.

But before we get to the Z-Scores, let’s take note of some general trends and fun factoids. First, we’ll look at each team’s positional ranks as of Wednesday afternoon. There are 11 positions, with each team’s overall WAR rank in the last column. Note that the DH column is a little unfair to NL teams, since they’re once again mostly getting projected pinch-hitters and interleague PAs there. This table is sortable, so feel free to poke around:

2021 Projected Positional Ranks
Team C 1B 2B SS 3B LF CF RF SP RP DH WAR
Angels 13 27 13 13 2 22 1 29 17 15 9 10
Astros 20 21 1 4 3 3 19 7 19 23 1 5
Athletics 6 2 24 26 4 13 6 21 20 21 12 14
Blue Jays 3 5 4 6 11 9 3 15 11 13 6 6
Braves 12 1 2 21 27 2 25 3 9 7 28 8
Brewers 24 19 9 24 23 1 14 23 8 5 14 16
Cardinals 21 8 17 11 7 23 13 22 14 11 22 18
Cleveland 11 22 15 25 1 8 22 19 16 10 7 17
Cubs 16 4 21 15 14 6 12 10 28 17 20 19
Diamondbacks 15 16 12 22 25 24 9 20 25 24 23 24
Dodgers 4 3 10 2 9 15 2 1 2 6 15 1
Giants 9 13 19 27 26 19 24 11 18 19 13 22
Mariners 22 29 23 18 17 27 17 18 13 26 11 23
Marlins 29 15 27 20 16 21 16 27 23 25 26 25
Mets 26 6 6 3 19 11 15 6 3 2 17 4
Nationals 19 17 30 7 28 7 18 2 5 18 24 11
Orioles 27 25 25 28 24 18 20 13 30 22 10 27
Padres 10 26 11 1 5 5 7 14 1 4 21 3
Phillies 2 7 22 14 13 20 29 5 10 12 16 13
Pirates 17 30 20 29 12 26 27 30 29 29 30 30
Rangers 28 23 26 30 30 29 28 12 21 16 27 29
Rays 23 11 7 17 21 4 11 9 24 8 8 15
Red Sox 5 18 14 8 8 17 10 16 15 14 4 12
Reds 18 24 28 19 20 12 21 24 6 20 19 20
Rockies 30 20 29 9 29 30 30 25 26 28 29 28
Royals 7 14 18 16 22 14 26 26 22 27 5 21
Tigers 25 28 16 23 18 25 23 28 27 30 18 26
Twins 8 10 5 10 6 16 4 8 12 9 3 7
White Sox 1 12 8 12 10 28 5 17 7 3 25 9
Yankees 14 9 3 5 15 10 8 4 4 1 2 2

A few things jump out. The Dodgers, Twins and Yankees each have nine top-10 finishes; the Blue Jays and Padres boast seven; and the Astros, Braves, Mets, and White Sox have six apiece. The Dodgers’ and Yankees’ excellence doesn’t end there. They’re top five at six different positions, while the Astros and Padres are top five in five. San Diego and Houston are also the only teams with more than one first-place finish, with the Padres buoyed by Fernando Tatis Jr. and their rotation and the Astros tops at second base (a slight shift from our rankings last week) and DH.

Only the Yankees saw all of their outfield spots place in the top 10s (it’s nice to have depth and a DH who can credibly play a corner), and the Dodgers and Twins have all their infield spots occupied by top-10 finishers (albeit with some players sharing time on the dirt). Seven teams have both a rotation and a bullpen in the top 10: the Brewers, Braves, Dodgers, Mets, Padres, White Sox, and Yankees. Meanwhile, eight teams have a rotation and bullpen in the bottom 10: the Athletics, Diamondbacks, Marlins, Orioles, Pirates, Rockies, Royals, and Tigers.

It’s interesting to look at how the top 10 teams by projected total WAR have constructed their rosters. Some teams are good at pretty much everything. The Dodgers might wish their left field projection were better, but they’re sterling everywhere else; did I mention they have nine top-10 finishes, and that we rank 11 positions, and that one of them is DH, where, despite being an NL squad, they check in at 15th? The Dodgers are stacked. The Blue Jays are 1.55 spots worse on average than Los Angeles (7.82 vs. 6.27), but are ranked in the top 15 in all 11 positions; the Yankees also avoid the bottom 15 entirely.

Other clubs spread competence around. The Mets have six positions that land in their respective top-10s, but no first-place finishes. The five top-five finishes for the Astros counterbalance the five spots where they rank in the bottom 15. And having a couple of real standouts can boost a team’s overall outlook, even as it also illuminates the flaws that might undo them should a key piece get injured or underperform. The Angels are a good example of this: Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, and Shohei Ohtani boost a team with seven top-15 finishes (but four bottom-15 rankings) by helping their respective spots in the lineup place first (center field), second (third base), and ninth (DH).

It isn’t all good news. In any ranking, someone has to be last (we perhaps don’t talk enough about the small cruelty of this exercise), and unfortunately a few someones brought up the rear at multiple positions. The Rockies have three last-place finishes (catcher, left field, and center field), and the Pirates and Rangers have two apiece (first base and right field for Pittsburgh, shortstop and third base for Texas); the Pirates are also technically last at DH, but as they’re an NL team, we won’t hold it against them. That dismal showing isn’t surprising: Colorado, Pittsburgh and Texas are all projected to win fewer than 70 games this year. But the depths of their futility are instructive as we contemplate how long it might take them to return to relevance.

Those three teams are joined by the Tigers, Marlins, Orioles, and Mariners in having an average positional ranking of 20th or higher; the Diamondbacks (19.55) could join them if we felt like rounding. Some of those teams’ young players will out-perform their projections — projection systems are often skeptical, or at least conservative, when it comes to prospects — but it’s an underwhelming septet.

Ordinal rankings have their limitations. Some positions cluster tightly together: Twelve teams fall between 2 and 3 WAR at catcher, and 14 clubs’ bullpens are clustered in the same small band, with tiny fractions separating them on the backend. The Astros and Braves flipped spots in the second base rankings this week, but first and second place are separated by 0.1 WAR, and the top three teams at third base are essentially tied. As I mentioned in my introduction, it is important to look at the magnitude of the differences between the rankings, as well as the rankings themselves. Thinking about whether a team falls above or below league average, and by how much, might be a more useful way of approaching things than obsessing over where your favorite team ranked. To that end, I calculated the Z-Scores of each team’s projected positional WAR (again, using the figures on Team WAR Totals page) to show you the number of standard deviations away from league average each team is at each spot:

2021 Projected Positional Z-Scores
Team C 1B 2B SS 3B DH LF CF RF SP RP WAR
Angels 0.2 -1.0 0.0 -0.1 1.9 0.5 -0.5 3.3 -1.2 -0.2 -0.2 0.5
Astros -0.3 -0.7 2.2 1.5 1.9 2.9 1.3 -0.4 0.7 -0.5 -0.7 1.0
Athletics 0.8 1.5 -0.7 -1.0 1.6 0.0 0.2 0.8 -0.6 -0.5 -0.5 0.2
Blue Jays 1.3 1.2 1.6 1.1 0.2 0.8 0.5 1.2 -0.2 0.2 -0.1 1.0
Braves 0.2 2.6 2.1 -0.5 -0.9 -0.9 1.8 -0.9 2.0 0.3 1.0 0.8
Brewers -0.7 -0.6 0.5 -0.7 -0.8 -0.5 2.9 0.0 -0.7 0.4 1.3 0.0
Cardinals -0.3 0.9 -0.4 0.1 0.8 -0.7 -0.6 0.0 -0.7 -0.2 0.1 -0.1
Cleveland 0.2 -0.8 -0.2 -0.8 1.9 0.8 0.6 -0.7 -0.6 -0.2 0.2 0.0
Cubs 0.0 1.3 -0.5 -0.1 0.1 -0.6 0.7 0.0 0.0 -1.2 -0.3 -0.3
Diamondbacks 0.0 -0.5 0.1 -0.5 -0.9 -0.7 -0.6 0.3 -0.6 -0.6 -0.8 -0.7
Dodgers 1.2 1.4 0.3 1.9 0.3 -0.5 0.0 1.8 2.6 2.0 1.2 2.1
Giants 0.6 0.2 -0.4 -1.2 -0.9 -0.4 -0.2 -0.8 -0.1 -0.4 -0.4 -0.7
Mariners -0.5 -1.4 -0.6 -0.2 -0.1 0.4 -1.3 -0.2 -0.5 -0.1 -1.1 -0.7
Marlins -1.9 -0.4 -1.3 -0.5 0.0 -0.9 -0.4 -0.1 -0.8 -0.6 -0.9 -1.0
Mets -0.9 1.1 0.9 1.5 -0.4 -0.6 0.3 0.0 0.9 1.9 1.9 1.1
Nationals -0.2 -0.6 -1.7 1.0 -1.1 -0.7 0.6 -0.3 2.2 1.2 -0.3 0.3
Orioles -1.2 -0.8 -0.8 -1.4 -0.8 0.5 -0.1 -0.4 -0.1 -2.2 -0.6 -1.4
Padres 0.4 -0.9 0.3 2.0 1.0 -0.7 0.9 0.8 -0.2 2.1 1.5 1.3
Phillies 1.7 1.0 -0.5 -0.1 0.2 -0.6 -0.4 -1.3 1.1 0.2 0.1 0.2
Pirates -0.1 -1.4 -0.5 -1.6 0.2 -1.0 -1.1 -1.1 -1.4 -1.5 -1.4 -1.7
Rangers -1.7 -0.8 -0.9 -1.8 -2.3 -0.9 -1.7 -1.2 -0.1 -0.5 -0.3 -1.7
Rays -0.6 0.3 0.8 -0.2 -0.6 0.7 1.2 0.2 0.1 -0.6 0.8 0.1
Red Sox 1.0 -0.6 -0.2 1.0 0.6 1.1 -0.1 0.2 -0.2 -0.2 -0.1 0.3
Reds -0.2 -0.8 -1.3 -0.4 -0.4 -0.6 0.2 -0.5 -0.7 0.7 -0.5 -0.5
Rockies -2.0 -0.7 -1.5 0.7 -1.5 -1.0 -1.9 -1.4 -0.8 -0.7 -1.4 -1.6
Royals 0.7 -0.1 -0.4 -0.2 -0.6 0.9 0.0 -1.0 -0.8 -0.6 -1.2 -0.6
Tigers -0.8 -1.0 -0.3 -0.5 -0.3 -0.6 -0.8 -0.8 -1.1 -0.9 -1.6 -1.3
Twins 0.6 0.4 0.9 0.3 0.8 1.8 -0.1 1.0 0.5 0.1 0.2 0.9
White Sox 2.5 0.2 0.6 -0.1 0.3 -0.8 -1.4 0.8 -0.4 0.7 1.8 0.6
Yankees 0.0 0.8 1.7 1.1 0.0 2.1 0.3 0.7 1.6 1.8 2.0 1.9

This table is also sortable, which makes it easy to spot the outliers, good and bad. I won’t narrate the whole thing except to point out the top five positions, by z-score:

  • +3.3, Angels center field
  • +2.9 (tie) Astros designated hitter; Brewers left field
  • +2.6 (tie) Dodgers right field; Braves first base
  • +2.5 White Sox catcher
  • +2.2 Astros second base

As well as the bottom five:

  • -2.3, Rangers third base
  • -2.2, Orioles rotation
  • -2.0, Rockies catcher
  • -1.9, Rockies left field
  • -1.8, Rangers shortstop

This season has meaningful unknowns. We don’t know how last year’s abbreviated campaign, and the stop-and-start nature of the ramp up to it, will affect a player’s likelihood of injury, or how pitching staffs will adjust to a full-season workload. COVID-19 still looms. Predicting which players’ 2020s constituted signal and which were noise is tricky given last season’s strangeness. We don’t even know how the baseball itself will play this season. Add to that the game’s natural variability and its ability to surprise as stalwarts falter and new stars emerge, and I find that apart from the very good and the very bad, I feel less sure of what to expect from 2021 than at any other point in recent memory, save for last year.

What I do know is that later today, baseball that counts will begin. It will still have elements that make us uncomfortable, or anxious; there’s a still a pandemic on, and so many fans in the stands. But as players take the field and the contenders emerge, our old routines will return. The game will sound more familiar. The hum of the ballpark will come through again. Games will occupy more of our evenings and afternoons, punctuated by disappointments and delights, and stretch out over the days and months such that when October comes (and our projections and predictions have been proved silly or savvy), we’ll feel more sure than we did, today or last year, about who is and isn’t good. Our staff will be there for the whole thing, and I hope you’ll join us. I can’t wait.





Meg is the managing editor of FanGraphs and the co-host of Effectively Wild. Prior to joining FanGraphs, her work appeared at Baseball Prospectus, Lookout Landing, and Just A Bit Outside. You can follow her on twitter @megrowler.

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MorboTheAnnihilator
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MorboTheAnnihilator

If I had to choose one player to significantly underperform his projections it would be Jose Altuve. My bold prediction is that he’s a below average hitter this year defined by a wrc+ of under 100. His statcast numbers largely back up his decline last year and show that he has lost a step speed wise.