Identifying Baseball’s Biggest Positional Holes

Technically, free agency has started, but it hasn’t really started. The Yankees re-signed outfielder Chris Young. The Mets signed a minor league catcher. Things have gotten underway, but not in the way that many people care about.

What we really care about are the big moves. But before those start coming in, I want to look at something.

Here’s a fact: The Angels have a huge advantage over every other team with Mike Trout. Like, crazy huge. Using our team depth charts and a little math, we can determine that the Angels center field group, because of Trout, have a projected WAR that is 3.6 standard deviations above the mean. Statistically, anything above three is considered to be an “outlier.” Mike Trout is an outlier, but you don’t really need math to know that.

Other teams with similarly huge advantages in talent are the Giants with Buster Posey and the Rockies with Troy Tulowitzki. But that’s neither here nor there. We’re talking about free agency, where you don’t need to sign a player if you’ve already got a great one. Instead, let’s look at the other side of the spectrum and see which positions have a projected WAR furthest below the league average. No team has a positional disadvantage that’s as large as the Angels advantage in center field, because if they did, that team would just get different players. There’s a cap on how poorly one can play and still be on a roster. There’s really no cap on how good one can be. But somebody’s got to be the worst. Before free agency really gets kicks off, let’s take a look at baseball’s biggest current holes.

#1o Phillies – RF


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Marlon Byrd 595 .243 .292 .394 .301 -6.9 -1.5 1.1 0.4
Grady Sizemore 35 .240 .301 .372 .300 -0.4 0.0 -0.2 0.0
Cesar Hernandez 35 .260 .309 .338 .290 -0.7 0.0 0.1 0.0
Kelly Dugan 35 .248 .303 .385 .305 -0.3 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .244 .294 .389 .301 -8.3 -1.5 1.0 0.5

Ah, the Phillies. Get to know the Phillies. This isn’t the last time you’ll see them on this list. As for Marlon Byrd, he’s actually been quite productive the past two years, to the tune of +6 WAR. Steamer’s got him at just half a win in 2015. You see, Byrd is 37 years old. He’s clubbed 49 dingers in the last two seasons. In his previous 11, he had hit just 82. In 2014, he dropped 34 points from his most recent year’s wOBA, and in 2015, Steamer projects him to drop 29 more.

The remedy: See below.

#9 Phillies – LF


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Domonic Brown 455 .255 .316 .422 .324 2.7 -0.6 -7.7 0.3
Grady Sizemore 140 .240 .301 .372 .300 -1.7 -0.1 -0.9 0.0
Darin Ruf 35 .237 .310 .394 .313 -0.1 -0.1 0.0 0.1
Cesar Hernandez 35 .260 .309 .338 .290 -0.7 0.0 0.1 0.0
Kelly Dugan 35 .248 .303 .385 .305 -0.3 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .251 .312 .405 .316 -0.1 -0.8 -8.5 0.4

There’s those Phillies again. Their current outfield situation isn’t exactly ideal, to say the least. Here’s the kicker: you’re not going to see it on this list, but if you were to navigate over to the center field portion of our depth charts and scroll all the way down to the bottom, you’d find the Rajai Davis/Ezequiel Carrera duo in Detroit at 30. Right after them, you’d find Ben Revere and the Phillies in last.

But this is about right field, and Domonic Brown. In 2013, Brown did a lot of things he’d never done before. In 2014, he went right back to not doing those things, but this time even worse than in the past. The forecasts have him bouncing back a bit at the plate, but he’s also proven to be one of the game’s biggest defensive liabilities in the outfield, and that’s not likely to change as he ages. Without very much speed, he really needs to hit to have any value.

The remedy: The Phillies seem like the consensus favorite for Cuban corner outfielder Yasmany Tomas, so help may be on the way. There have also been rumors of potentially trading Brown. This one could change significantly by opening day.

#8 Twins – LF


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Jordan Schafer 350 .229 .303 .313 .279 -9.5 1.4 1.0 0.1
Chris Parmelee 140 .249 .321 .393 .318 0.4 -0.2 -0.4 0.3
Eduardo Nunez 105 .262 .303 .373 .299 -1.2 0.1 -1.2 0.0
Aaron Hicks 70 .232 .319 .348 .301 -0.7 0.0 0.2 0.1
Max Kepler 35 .229 .276 .328 .270 -1.2 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .239 .307 .342 .291 -12.2 1.3 -0.3 0.4

What you find in Minnesota is a hodgepodge of role-players-at-best with varying skills. Jordan Schafer, who is probably the de facto leader of the pack, is really fast, but can’t hit and has been graded poorly by advanced defensive metrics. Chris Parmelee is a guy who can hit, but not enough to be a first baseman, which is where he should probably play defensively. Eduardo Nunez is more of a utility infielder than an outfielder. The problem with the Twins left field situation is that they don’t appear to really have a left fielder.

The remedy: Maybe Torii Hunter? The Twins are reportedly in on Hunter, who could push Oswaldo Arcia back to left, shoring up this hole. A possible midseason addition of Byron Buxton could shake up the Twins outfield, as well.

#7 Brewers – 1B


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Adam Lind 385 .272 .338 .451 .346 7.6 -1.2 -1.2 1.1
Luis Jimenez 210 .242 .276 .371 .285 -5.6 -0.1 0.1 -0.3
Hunter Morris 70 .243 .286 .408 .304 -0.8 0.0 0.0 0.0
Matt Clark 35 .217 .275 .320 .267 -1.4 0.0 0.0 -0.1
Total 700 .257 .312 .416 .320 -0.2 -1.2 -1.1 0.6

The first substantial move of the offseason was the Brewers acquiring a first baseman, yet here we are. Jeff Sullivan already wrote about how first base in Milwaukee has been baseball’s worst position over the last two years, and it doesn’t look much better for 2015. Lind is decent, but he’s struggled to stay healthy over the past three years and needs a platoon partner, as he is unable to hit left-handed pitching. Currently, his platoon partner appears to be Luis Jimenez, who doesn’t project to hit any-handed pitching.

The remedy: It’s already there! But they could still potentially add a better right-handed bat than Jimenez to platoon with Lind.

#6 Marlins – C


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Jarrod Saltalamacchia 512 .221 .301 .376 .301 -6.3 -0.1 -6.3 1.4
Jeff Mathis 64 .196 .256 .299 .247 -3.4 -0.1 0.4 0.0
J.T. Realmuto 32 .243 .298 .353 .290 -0.7 0.0 0.0 0.1
Rob Brantly 32 .242 .286 .333 .275 -1.0 0.0 -0.2 0.0
Total 640 .220 .296 .365 .294 -11.4 -0.3 -6.1 1.5

What you see here is baseball’s worst catcher situation, according to Steamer, though that’s not as much a reflection of Jarrod Saltalamacchia as it is the rest of the group. Despite our WAR numbers not including Saltalmacchia being maybe the worst pitch-framer in the MLB, he still isn’t the worst catcher currently atop his team’s depth chart. That probably goes to Chris Stewart or Tyler Flowers. But Flowers has Josh Phegley behind him and Stewart has Tony Sanchez – both of whom are suitable backups. What Saltalamacchia has behind him is a collection of replacement-level catchers, and so the Marlins are stuck with just Jarrod Saltalamacchia, which isn’t a great thing to be stuck with.

The remedy: There isn’t one. The Marlins signed Saltalamacchia to a three-year, $21 million dollar contract last offseason.

#5 Marlins – SS


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Adeiny Hechavarria 630 .252 .292 .341 .280 -17.8 -0.3 -4.7 0.3
Ed Lucas 35 .245 .293 .338 .282 -1.0 0.0 -0.3 0.0
Donovan Solano 35 .253 .303 .338 .287 -0.8 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Total 700 .252 .293 .342 .282 -19.1 -0.4 -5.2 0.4

Maybe this one’s up for debate, because maybe you think Hechavarria is a better defender than what the numbers suggest. Regardless of your stance on the matter, the numbers are what we’re working with here, and the numbers think Hechavarria has had about the worst range of any shortstop in baseball since he entered the league. He also doesn’t hit very well and doesn’t have great speed. Put those three things together and you get the player with the most negative WAR in the MLB since the start of the 2013 season, minimum 1,000 plate appearances. Going solely by WAR, Hechavarria has essentially been the worst starting position player in baseball over the past two years, and the forecasts don’t expect too much to be different in 2015.

The remedy: There isn’t one. The Marlins seem to like Hechavarria, he’s still young, and he made a good deal of progress in 2014.

#4 Braves – 3B


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Chris Johnson 525 .265 .304 .390 .305 -3.9 -1.0 -9.8 0.3
Ramiro Pena 175 .241 .297 .335 .282 -4.4 -0.2 -0.2 0.1
Total 700 .259 .303 .376 .300 -8.3 -1.1 -10.0 0.4

This one may come as a bit of a surprise, because as recent as 2013, Chris Johnson was a pretty productive player! Problem is, he’s a lot like Domonic Brown in the sense that 2013 included Chris Johnson doing things he’d never done before, and that he stopped doing those things in 2014, this time even worse than in the past. He’s also like Domonic Brown in the sense that the numbers agree he’s been among the worst defenders at his position since he entered the league, which isn’t likely to change as he ages.

The remedy: There likely isn’t one. There are a number of solid free agent third basemen on the market, and perhaps the Braves are a dark horse for one of them, but at the moment they don’t appear set on adding a third baseman. Johnson is owed $6 million in 2015 and is under a guaranteed contract for two more years after that.

#3 Dodgers – SS


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Erisbel Arruebarrena 350 .210 .257 .298 .248 -16.7 -0.1 -0.9 -0.4
Miguel Rojas 175 .221 .269 .285 .249 -8.2 0.1 0.1 -0.1
Justin Turner 105 .266 .326 .381 .315 0.3 -0.1 -1.2 0.4
Darwin Barney 70 .233 .283 .316 .268 -2.3 0.2 0.6 0.1
Total 700 .223 .273 .309 .260 -26.9 0.0 -1.3 0.0

Occupying shortstop for the Dodgers in 2014 was Hanley Ramirez, but now he’s a free agent. It’s certainly possible they’re able to retain Ramirez, but teams like the Yankees, Giants, Tigers or Mariners could be in the mix, too, so they’re going to have some competition. Neither Dee Gordon or Alexander Guerrero seem like realistic options at shortstop, so if the Dodgers are unable to retain Ramirez, Cuban defector Erisbel Arruebarrena could be in the mix for the majority of the playing time in 2015. The forecasts don’t especially like him, though perhaps these numbers are a bit skewed, as the forecasts don’t know about Arruebarrena’s reputation as an elite defender from Cuba. The big problem though, is Arruebarrena’s bat, which was not particularly impressive in the minor leagues and projects to be pretty terrible in the majors, for the time being.

The remedy: Maybe Hanley Ramirez. Maybe a lower profile guy like Jed Lowrie or Stephen Drew for a year or two. The most likely scenario, if they don’t re-sign Hanley, is probably some collection of the guys above holding down the fort for 2015 until Corey Seager is ready in 2016.

#2 Marlins – 1B


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Garrett Jones 490 .242 .305 .410 .315 -0.9 -1.9 -3.7 -0.1
Jeff Baker 105 .246 .298 .380 .300 -1.4 -0.3 -1.3 -0.2
Justin Bour 105 .251 .311 .390 .306 -0.9 -0.1 0.2 0.1
Total 700 .244 .305 .398 .310 -3.2 -2.3 -4.8 -0.2

You’re starting to see why, despite elite talents like Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Fernandez and Christian Yelich, the Marlins are still not a very good team. Where they’re bad, they’re really bad. And we didn’t even address second base. The Marlins signed Garrett Jones to be their everyday first baseman last year, but the problem with that is Garrett Jones shouldn’t be playing every day. He should be playing against right-handed pitchers only. The problem with that is the Marlins lack a right-handed platoon bat to pair with Jones. Jeff Baker’s there, but that’s about all Jeff Baker is. The first base situation in Miami is pretty messy.

The remedy: There probably isn’t one. The Marlins will likely ride out the Jones/Baker platoon for one more year before doing something to address the issue in the 2016 offseason.

#1 Phillies – 1B


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Ryan Howard 385 .224 .304 .397 .308 -2.4 -2.7 -4.6 -0.6
Maikel Franco 175 .251 .288 .410 .307 -1.2 0.1 1.3 0.2
Darin Ruf 140 .237 .310 .394 .313 -0.3 -0.2 0.1 0.1
Total 700 .235 .301 .400 .309 -4.0 -2.6 -2.5 -0.2

Phillies, Phillies, Phillies. You already know all about Ryan Howard. Over the last three seasons, he’s been worth a combined -1.0 WAR. Similar production is expected to continue in his age-35 season. You also already know all about Ryan Howard’s contract, which wasn’t even factored into this analysis. Not only do the Phillies have the biggest black hole in baseball with Howard at first base, they’re paying him as much as any position player in the league. Here’s a fun fact: the starter at each position for numbers two through eight on this list will earn a combined ~$34 million in 2015. That’s seven players. Ryan Howard will earn $25 million in 2015. That’s one player.

The remedy: Two more years.

Honorable mentions: Giants third base, Astros first base, Rangers right field, Reds left field, Yankees shortstop, Pirates catcher, Blue Jays second base, Cubs catcher, Cubs left field.

We hoped you liked reading Identifying Baseball’s Biggest Positional Holes by August Fagerstrom!

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August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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Phillies113
Member

Well, it could be worse.

…I’m not really sure HOW, but it could be.

Spa City
Member
Member
Spa City

It would be worse if your superstar middle-infielders were aging and injury-prone, your superstar pitcher was coming off a serious injury, and your other star pitcher was likely to be traded. As long as those things don’t happen, the Phillies should be just fine.

Phillies113
Member

(weep)

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas

How could it be worse? Your nose could be gushing blood.

ReuschelCakes
Guest
ReuschelCakes

Is this racist?

“Not only do the Phillies have the biggest black hole in baseball with Howard at first base, they’re paying him as much as any position player in the league.”

Plucky
Guest
Plucky

Well he has gotten so overweight his fielding is assisted by the gravitational field he generates, so there’s only a little bit of hyperbole going on

Matt
Guest

Yes. Asking if that is racist is savagely racist. And also funny. Does that make me a savage racist?