Baseball’s Biggest Over- and Underachievers, by Position

Take a look at this. That’s a breakdown of projected WAR, by position, for every team in baseball between now and the end of the year. Click some of the column headers to learn things that you didn’t need to learn. The Angels project to be best in center field! The Rockies project to be best at shortstop! The Mets project to be a bad team! It’s a neat page, and it’s a page that is constantly updating, based on a variety of inputs.

It’s also a page that existed before the season, the data being the same data that showed up in our 2014 Positional Power Rankings. At one point, we had projected full-season WAR by position for everybody, based on the projections and the depth charts. Now that it’s the middle of June those preseason projections mean only so much, but I thought it could be informative to compare actual positional WAR to projected positional WAR, over the fraction of the season that’s in the books. At 18 different positions, we can already observe teams who are off from their preseason projection by at least two wins. At two positions, there’s a difference of at least three wins. Let’s take a quick look at all of these over- and underachievers.

An example calculation: the Mariners were projected for 4.8 second-base WAR. They’ve played 65 games, so 4.8 * (65/162) comes out to about 1.9. The Mariners have actually produced, to this point, 1.3 second-base WAR, yielding a difference of -0.6. Hopefully that all makes sense. On now to the list.

Astros Rotation, +3.4 WAR

This shouldn’t be a huge surprise. Before the year, the Astros were projected to have the worst rotation in baseball, which made sense, given that the Astros were assumed to be one of the worst teams in baseball. By this point, the projections figured the Astros would have about 2.0 starting-pitcher WAR. In truth, they’re at 5.4 as a team, and Scott Feldman hasn’t even been particularly good. This is mostly about the emergence of Dallas Keuchel. Collin McHugh, also, has been an enormous surprise, and Jarred Cosart is pitching more competently than you might’ve thought. The Astros’ staff right now ranks in baseball’s upper-third, and this is why the Astros’ rebuild might be a little ahead of schedule.

Cubs Rotation, +3.0 WAR

Six pitchers have started for the Cubs, and one has posted an FIP over 4, and he’s done so by all of nine points. Jeff Samardzija was going to be good, presumably, but the rest were all question marks. Jason Hammel has fulfilled the Cubs’ wishes by pitching at the level he pitched at the last time he was good and healthy. Edwin Jackson has been better than his ERA, and Jake Arrieta has shown a good deal of promise. This could be something of a wreck come the season’s second half, but to date, this has been a true plus.

A’s Left Field, +2.6 WAR

This isn’t entirely because of Yoenis Cespedes‘ arm, but if I said it were, some of you might believe me, given the recency bias. In truth, a chunk of this is just Brandon Moss playing left field when he’s hit some of his dingers, but Cespedes has also improved, and the A’s, of course, have been an overall terror.

Rockies Center Field, +2.3 WAR

You want to say it’s Charlie Blackmon, right? Some of it is Charlie Blackmon, sure. But Drew Stubbs, also, has batted .328 as a center fielder. And in Corey Dickerson’s 34 plate appearances while playing center, he’s knocked 15 hits and five dingers. There’s been incredible depth, at a position that was up in the air as recently as March. The Rockies are playing without Carlos Gonzalez, and they have the personnel to survive.

Rockies Shortstop, +2.2 WAR

The Rockies were already projected to be baseball’s best at short, but Troy Tulowitzki has elected to keep himself healthy and elevate his game somehow. It seems to me, Tulowitzki has been the guy closest to Mike Trout in true talent. It was always just a matter of not ending up on the disabled list, and, so far, good news. A healthy Tulowitzki is one of the all-time greats.

Braves Rotation, +2.2 WAR

Back in March, the Braves were mourning the loss of both Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen. They were projected for a rotation FIP of 3.92. Right now they have a rotation FIP of 3.41, because Ervin Santana learned a changeup and Aaron Harang learned magic. They haven’t even been able to find much room for Alex Wood, who was awesome over seven starts. Minus two good starters, the Braves still have too many capable starters.

Brewers Catcher, +2.1 WAR

Three straight years, Jonathan Lucroy has dropped his strikeout rate. Three straight years, Lucroy has increased his walk rate. His power has been steady, and a couple years ago, he posted a 137 wRC+. Right now he’s at 154. Over the winter, there was talk that Lucroy was baseball’s most underrated player. The argument’s only been strengthened, as he’s an unknown player who’s also performed like an MVP candidate. Friday he turns just 28.

Twins Second Base, +2.0 WAR

Here, the team was projected for 1.4 WAR. Brian Dozier has already almost doubled that. Dozier, see, is a good player, who the projections thought was not a good player. That’s why this difference exists.

Marlins Right Field, +2.0 WAR

What the projections didn’t understand was that, last season, Giancarlo Stanton was hampered by lower-body problems. This year he’s healthy and he’s hitting like he’s hit before, with quality defense to boot. And because of his health, he’s barely missed any time, meaning the Marlins haven’t had to turn to Reed Johnson as a substitute. Stanton is one of the major reasons why the Marlins haven’t yet flopped in the absence of Jose Fernandez. They’re down 50% of their superstars, but the 50% remaining is one hell of a superstar.

Angels Rotation, +2.0 WAR

One thing the projections didn’t know was that Tyler Skaggs would get his old velocity back. Another thing the projections didn’t know was that Garrett Richards was going to break out. Richards was always an interesting breakout candidate, but you can never project one of those safely. Doesn’t mean they don’t happen, though. Richards alone has made this rotation acceptable.

Rangers First Base, -2.0 WAR

And now we flip to the other side. Turns out the projections assumed the Rangers would have a healthy Prince Fielder. Fielder got hurt, played hurt, and ended up sidelined, hurt. His replacement is now also hurt. Everybody on the Rangers is hurt. Which makes the fans hurt. Everything hurts.

Orioles Third Base, -2.1 WAR

It’s not amazing that the Orioles are hanging around in the race. What’s amazing is how they’re doing it. Chris Davis has taken a major step back, Matt Wieters might not play the rest of the season, Manny Machado has been a mess, and Ubaldo Jimenez has regressed. Oh, Chris Tillman, also, has struggled. This is mostly about Machado and his .266 wOBA. There’s talk the Orioles might even elect to demote him, and as insane as that seems, is it insane, really? Is it really?

Pirates Rotation, -2.1 WAR

It’s good to be rid of Wandy Rodriguez, but Francisco Liriano has gotten worse and Gerrit Cole has gotten himself sidelined. Edinson Volquez has been a problem despite seemingly taking a step or two forward, and what we’re left with is a starting rotation that simply doesn’t look good enough to carry a team to October. You never know when Liriano might figure everything out again, but then, you also never know when he might un-figure it out, afterward.

Nationals Left Field, -2.2 WAR

Bryce Harper wasn’t real good when he played, and then he stopped playing. This wasn’t supposed to be about Nate McLouth, Ryan Zimmerman, and Kevin Frandsen. Harper will be back, but his absence has helped to keep the Nationals from pulling away.

Phillies Left Field, -2.2 WAR

The one thing no one ever questioned was Domonic Brown’s power. He had plenty of other question marks, but the power was legit. Thought experiment: take Domonic Brown, and then take away his power. And then bat him a few hundred times. And by “thought experiment”, I mean “this is what the Phillies have had to deal with.”

Red Sox Right Field, -2.3 WAR

Instead of playing a lot of Shane Victorino, they’ve been without Victorino, and they’ve had to put up with lousy performances from Daniel Nava and Grady Sizemore. Red Sox right fielders have combined to post a 48 wRC+. They’ve been good for a .248 wOBA, off from the preseason projection by 81 points. At least the defense has been also not good.

Padres Second Base, -2.7 WAR

At the start of the year, Jedd Gyorko signed a six-year contract extension. Since then, he has performed like the worst regular or semi-regular player in baseball. One season ago, he would’ve been a Rookie of the Year candidate in a league with fewer rookie superstars. Now Gyorko is the guy helping to keep some of the attention away from the similarly mysterious Chase Headley. Yonder Alonso can’t hit either. The Padres are depressing.

Rockies Rotation, -2.7 WAR

What’s gone well for the Rockies, for the most part, has been stuff with the group of position players. The rotation, though, is being out-WAR’d by Corey Kluber. A whole lot of that has to do with the number of fly balls leaving the yard, but it’s also been a problem that Brett Anderson’s barely pitched. Not that he’s a guy the Rockies should’ve been counting on, but the projections sure like him when he’s able to stand on a mound. Jordan Lyles has kept this rotation afloat, which is not what anyone would’ve wanted to hear about the group. Jhoulys Chacin needs to be better. I see he just today turned in a solid start, but I’m going to need more convincing.

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.

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8 years ago

“The Padres are depressing.”
– This is not false.

8 years ago
Reply to  Shadi

Indeed, it might even border on being an Eternal Truth.

8 years ago
Reply to  joser

They will be until they go brown taco fulltime.

And enough of the shameless pandering with the camo. Insulting cash grab.

8 years ago
Reply to  joser

Return of the 70s A&W Root Bear color scheme!