2024 Positional Power Rankings: Introduction

Ronald Acuña Jr.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the 2024 positional power rankings! As is tradition, over the next week and a half, we’ll be ranking every team by position as we inch closer to Opening Day next Thursday. This is always something of a funny exercise. You read FanGraphs regularly, after all — a fact for which we are very grateful — and are well-versed in the various signings and trades that occurred over the offseason. You know that Shohei Ohtani is now a Dodger, just as you’re aware that Juan Soto is a Yankee and Dylan Cease a very recent Padre. And yet, you’re still keen to know more about the game and what it might look like between now and October. The positional power rankings are our answer to that impulse.

This post serves as an explainer for our approach to the rankings. If you’re new to the exercise, I hope it helps to clarify how they are compiled and what you might expect from them. If you’re a FanGraphs stalwart, I hope it is a useful reminder of what we’re up to. If you have a bit of time, you’ll find the introduction to last year’s series here. You can use the navigation widget at the top of that post to get a sense of where things stood before Opening Day 2023, a spring that saw a host of rule changes take the league by storm.

Unlike a lot of sites’ season previews, we don’t arrange ours by team or division. That is a perfectly good way to organize a season preview, but we see a few advantages to the way we do it. First, ranking teams by position allows us to cover a team’s roster from top to bottom. Stars, everyday contributors, and role players alike receive some amount of examination, and those players (and the teams they play for) are placed in their proper league-wide context. By doing it this way, you can more easily see how teams stack up against each other, get a sense of the overall strength of a position across baseball, and spot places where a well-constructed platoon may end up having a bigger impact than an everyday regular who is good rather than great. We think all of that context helps to create a richer understanding of the state of the game and a clearer picture of the season ahead.

We will have a post for each position, with starting pitchers and relievers getting two pieces each to allow us the space to do the league’s rotations and bullpens justice without taxing your patience. Each post will start with a brief summary of the position, then rank each team’s group of players from the best down to the worst based on projected WAR. Those WAR numbers are arrived at using a 50/50 blend of the ZiPS and Steamer projections and our manually maintained team depth charts (courtesy of Jason Martinez), which include playing time estimates for every player. Importantly, this approach means the rankings are not an expression of the preferences or opinions of whoever is responsible for writing up that position, though if the author thinks there’s something about a team’s situation that the projections aren’t capturing (and that might result in the club over- or under-performing relative to expectations), they’ll often tell you so in that team’s capsule.

Of course, what a player is projected to do and what he actually does can diverge over the course of a season, sometimes significantly. Some players will exceed our expectations; others will lose innings or plate appearances to injury or under-performance. Some teams will end up being active in the trade market, while others will lean on their prospects and bench players to weather whatever the season throws at them. What you’ll see here are our projections coupled with our very informed best guesses about playing time. If you notice anything that strikes you as off about how we’ve allocated that playing time, please let us know. Obviously, we won’t be totally spot on; baseball always has the potential to surprise us. And while I want our projections to be right, I’m personally OK with a bit of the unexpected sneaking in, even as I hope it’s the result of unanticipated star-turns and not poor health; baseball would be awfully boring if the preseason projections were truly omniscient.

Beyond that, a few additional words of caution. First, it is important to remember that if a player is projected to play multiple positions, his WAR total in any given position’s post may strike you as low. That may be because the projections are down on him, but just as likely, it’s because the number you’re looking at only reflects the WAR projected at that specific position. To arrive at the projected WAR for, say, Spencer Steer, you’d need to add up his projections across all of the positions where we expect him to see playing time. It is also important to remember that each player only gets one defensive projection, which remains the same across the different positions, though that number does take all projected positions into account.

Another thing folks tend to fixate on is the ordinal rankings themselves. That’s understandable. You want your favorite team to do well, and for division rivals to fare poorly. But it is important to look at the magnitude of the differences between the rankings, as well as the rankings themselves. To help illustrate this, there is a graph of each team’s projected WAR at the position at the top of every post. Sometimes the gaps between teams are small; a minor shift in production or playing time could mean moving up or down a couple of spots. At some positions, though, there may be quite a bit of difference between the first and second ranked teams (what was once known as “The Trout Effect”), but then much less between, say, the fourth and 15th, with some of the teams that come after bunched up around a similar projection. It’s not that where a team ranks is unimportant, it’s just that the distribution is important, too, and thinking about whether a team falls above or below average, and by how much, might be more telling than the ranking next to the club’s name.

Our first ranking will go up in short order. We’ll cover all of the position players this week, with the pitchers — both starters and relievers — and a summary post slated to go up next week before Opening Day. If you’re interested in seeing how your favorite team fared across all 11 positions, I’ll include a table with each team’s rankings and cumulative projected WAR in my summary post, and of course every team’s projections are available in our Depth Charts. We hope the rankings are illuminating and useful, both in understanding the season we might have and for recalling the signings, trades, and Tommy Johns that might have faded from memory over the winter. Again, thank you for reading.

And now, to the catchers!

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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2 months ago

It’s the most wonderful tiiiiiiiiiime of the yeeeeeeear~

No, but seriously, this is like the first signs of spring for Opening Day. And it’s fun to look at and see where everybody thinks the league is relative to the projections, and discuss them all. Always enjoy these.