The National League’s Weakest Positions

The American League edition of this post was published yesterday and can be found right here.

The goal here is to find the positions, before free agency really kicks off, that most need an improvement. I fear that I wasn’t quite clear enough in yesterday’s post — these are based on the 2016 Steamer projections and our in-house depth charts. They’re ranked by standard deviations above or below the mean for WAR, specific to each position. That’s why the order isn’t simply total WAR in descending order, because the average is different for each position.

It’s possible this one might be a bit of a letdown. See, the goal was to attempt to find areas that need addressed through free agency or perhaps a big offseason trade. In the American League, it worked, because basically every team in the AL is a contender, or a move or two away from being a contender, so things like the Angels’ left field spot, the Royals second baseman and the Tigers’ bullpen fit the bill of what we were looking for.

In the National League, though, there are just some bad teams. Bad teams that were bad last year, are going to be bad this year, and are bad enough all-around to where it just doesn’t make sense, yet, to fill their holes with big moves. A lot of this list ended up being bad positions on bad teams that may or may not be addressed, but I did the post yesterday so I’ve kinda gotta do the follow-up today.

* * *

(Dis)honorable mentions: Padres third base, Braves third base, Reds left field, Phillies right field, Brewers second base, Rockies second base, Brewers shortstop, Diamondbacks bullpen, Braves second base, Braves rotation.

#10 Rockies – 1B


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Ben Paulsen 350 .252 .307 .423 .315 -7.7 0.0 1.7 -0.1
Wilin Rosario 280 .275 .309 .473 .333 -2.2 -0.5 -0.6 0.1
Kyle Parker 49 .256 .299 .406 .305 -1.5 0.0 0.0 -0.1
Matt McBride 21 .281 .318 .446 .329 -0.2 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .262 .308 .443 .322 -11.6 -0.5 1.1 -0.2

After declining a $9 million club option on Justin Morneau, who appeared in just 49 games last year due to recurring concussion issues, the Rockies are left with essentially the same collection of players that produced the second-lowest wRC+ of any team’s first basemen in the league last year. Outside of catcher, the rest of Colorado’s lineup is pretty well-set, so it’s potential this need is addressed, but pitching is clearly the team’s top priority, and so an Opening Day Paulsen-Rosario platoon isn’t out of the question.

The solution: Daniel Murphy has been discussed as a potential fit for first base, but the price tag that will come with signing him makes him a questionable buy to play first. The Rockies seem likely to make a trade or two, with Jose Reyes and Carlos Gonzalez, as well as Rosario himself, being possible trade candidates. Though, again, any move the Rockies make is more likely to focus on getting pitching in return, rather than offense.

#9 Diamondbacks – SS


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Nick Ahmed 525 .240 .288 .348 .278 -19.3 0.7 2.0 0.6
Chris Owings 126 .249 .286 .370 .284 -4.0 0.2 -0.1 0.1
Phil Gosselin 35 .267 .306 .376 .297 -0.7 0.1 -0.2 0.1
Brandon Drury 14 .251 .288 .378 .289 -0.4 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .243 .288 .354 .280 -24.4 0.9 1.7 0.8

Ahmed was a top-three defensive shortstop in the National League this year, behind only Andrelton Simmons and Brandon Crawford, so it’s entirely possible the D-backs aren’t actually unhappy in their outlook with regards to this position. There’s also no guarantee he can hit enough to be an everyday starter, as his projected line here is equal to his 2015 performance. In a perfect world, Ahmed is likely more of a backup shortstop/utility man, but for the time being, the D-backs will likely take the fact that they have an elite defensive shortstop for now and give the bat another year or two.

The solution: Probably isn’t one! The D-backs have one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, so Ahmed’s bat has a leash that’s probably longer than most.

#8 Phillies – 2B


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Cesar Hernandez 350 .259 .316 .338 .290 -8.2 0.2 -1.7 0.3
Andres Blanco 175 .250 .305 .380 .300 -2.7 -0.4 -1.1 0.2
Freddy Galvis 140 .246 .289 .368 .286 -3.7 0.2 -0.5 0.1
Darnell Sweeney 35 .231 .291 .351 .281 -1.0 0.0 -0.2 0.0
Total 700 .253 .307 .355 .291 -15.6 -0.1 -3.5 0.5

Help is on the way at the Phillies’ other middle infield position, as top prospect J.P. Crawford is ready to take over shortstop by midseason. The future isn’t as bright at second base, though, where the Phillies will have a trio of fringy utility men in their mid-20s — Hernandez, Sweeney and Galvis — once Crawford arrives, alongside journeyman Blanco. The Phillies have already stated that they won’t be major players in free agency and, like, the Rockies, their biggest concern seems to be pitching depth. Once Crawford arrives, the Phillies seem more likely to rotate Hernandez, Sweeney and Galvis through this spot for one last look at whether anything is in there.

The solution: Probably isn’t one! The Phillies aren’t in a position to start making big moves yet, they’ve got other areas to address, and Hernandez, Sweeney and Galvis are just young and interesting enough to warrant an extended look.

#7 Phillies – SP


Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP WAR
Aaron Nola 191.0 7.6 2.3 1.1 .304 72.0 % 3.88 3.90 2.6
Jerad Eickhoff 165.0 8.0 3.0 1.2 .300 73.0 % 4.00 4.16 1.8
Matt Harrison 150.0 5.0 3.6 1.2 .304 69.1 % 5.05 5.10 0.1
Adam Morgan 120.0 5.5 2.8 1.6 .295 70.8 % 4.93 5.24 -0.1
Alec Asher 104.0 7.0 2.8 1.3 .301 71.7 % 4.40 4.54 0.7
Jake Thompson 85.0 7.1 3.2 1.0 .298 72.8 % 3.91 4.15 0.9
Ben Lively 74.0 7.3 3.2 1.1 .302 71.0 % 4.29 4.34 0.6
Zach Eflin 38.0 5.5 2.5 1.3 .302 70.0 % 4.59 4.69 0.2
David Buchanan 18.0 5.4 3.0 1.2 .304 69.7 % 4.69 4.80 0.1
Total 944.0 6.7 2.9 1.2 .301 71.3 % 4.36 4.48 6.8

The arrival of Nola, the Phillies’ first-round pick in 2014, and the electric debut of Eickhoff, acquired from Texas in the Cole Hamels trade, make the top of this unit a bit more exciting than it was a few months ago. Unfortunately, not much beyond that is exciting. Harrison, if healthy, is likely to occupy a rotation spot, and the debut of Thompson, acquired alongside Eickhoff, will be met with anticipation, but the Phillies need depth. And it’s depth they’ll likely acquire, rather than frontline starters.

The solution: Sign a pitcher or two to low-risk, short-term deals? Maybe a veteran like Colby Lewis or Mike Pelfrey could make sense, or a younger guy out of which the team feels it could squeeze some value, like Dillon Gee. Point is, the solution here isn’t likely to be too exciting.

#6 Marlins – SS


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Adeiny Hechavarria 595 .261 .300 .353 .284 -16.5 -1.2 -1.2 0.6
Miguel Rojas 105 .246 .293 .328 .273 -3.8 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .258 .299 .350 .282 -20.3 -1.2 -1.2 0.7

I understand that this selection is likely to elicit some response. Hechavarria was a three-win player last year, serving as half of one of the better middle infield pairings in the game. It’s the numbers that ordered this list, not me, so there’s nothing I can do about it. The projections still don’t like Hechavarria, as his offense is still decidedly below average, and his value last season was tied up in previously unseen defensive value. Now, the metrics last season backed up the long-time scouting opinion of Hechavarria as an elite defender, so maybe it was the first couple years of poor defensive metrics that were flukes and not last year. If that’s the case, you can mentally adjust this projection for a positive defensive rating. For now, though, this is what we have.

The solution: Nothing. Hechavarria is the Marlins shortstop, regardless of what the projections say.

#5 Diamondbacks – 2B


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Chris Owings 420 .249 .286 .370 .284 -13.5 0.7 -0.4 0.2
Aaron Hill 140 .250 .305 .382 .301 -2.6 -0.2 -0.5 0.2
Phil Gosselin 105 .267 .306 .376 .297 -2.2 0.2 -0.5 0.1
Jamie Romak 21 .214 .271 .367 .279 -0.8 0.0 0.0 0.0
Brandon Drury 14 .251 .288 .378 .289 -0.4 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .251 .293 .373 .289 -19.5 0.7 -1.4 0.4

Owings was supposed to be the team’s future shortstop, then he was leapfrogged by Nick Ahmed, and now he may not even be the team’s future second baseman. Owings had a disastrous 2015 at the plate, and he looks more and more like a future utility man than everyday player. For the time being, though, there isn’t much immediate competition, so perhaps Owings gets a crack at rebuilding his stock.

The solution: Arizona and Cincinnati have reportedly discussed a Hill-for-Brandon Phillips swap, which would improve this spot in the short-term and free up the D-backs to potentially trade Owings or Drury for starting pitching help. However, Phillips would have to waive his no-trade clause to leave Cincinnati, which seems unlikely.

#4 Braves – LF


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Hector Olivera 210 .261 .309 .400 .309 -1.3 -0.1 -1.2 0.2
Michael Bourn 245 .244 .308 .327 .283 -6.5 0.9 0.2 0.0
Nick Swisher 175 .226 .313 .366 .301 -2.2 -0.4 -1.4 0.0
Adonis Garcia 56 .266 .297 .397 .300 -0.7 -0.1 -0.1 0.0
Dian Toscano 14 .222 .282 .343 .275 -0.5 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .246 .308 .365 .296 -11.1 0.3 -2.4 0.1

Olivera’s transition to the outfield is reportedly going well, and the club has said it’s comfortable with Garcia opening the season as the starting third baseman, reinforcing the idea that Olivera will stick in left. Even if that is the case, though, it’s likely that the 31-year-old Cuban will see some time at third, as originally expected, opening up playing time in left for Bourn and Swisher. It’s certainly possible that Olivera greatly exceeds expectations, but the outlook here isn’t bright.

The solution: Hope Olivera knocks people’s socks off with his performance at the plate and in the field. The team will also look to move one of their veteran outfielders, though it if a trade were to be struck, it would be Cameron Maybin on the go, as Bourn and Swisher’s contracts will make them tough to trade a second time.

#3 Phillies – LF


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Cody Asche 350 .255 .308 .413 .311 -2.3 -0.2 -3.0 0.2
Darnell Sweeney 175 .231 .291 .351 .281 -5.2 -0.1 -0.9 -0.3
Nick Williams 77 .255 .289 .409 .302 -1.1 0.0 0.0 0.1
Darin Ruf 70 .241 .307 .407 .311 -0.4 -0.1 0.0 0.1
Aaron Altherr 28 .240 .301 .397 .303 -0.4 0.0 0.2 0.0
Total 700 .247 .301 .396 .302 -9.3 -0.4 -3.7 0.1

Upon the arrival of top prospect and third baseman Maikel Franco last season, the Phillies attempted to transition incumbent third baseman Asche to the outfield. Asche’s bat continues to be just good enough to play, but the early reviews of his outfield defense weren’t good. Altherr impressed in his rookie season playing mostly left field for Philadelphia, but with the absence of outfielders currently on the team, it’s possible he has to move across the field to right, freeing up more outfield time for Asche until the arrival of prospect Williams.

The solution: Probably isn’t one! Altherr will have one of the corner outfield spots, and it’s likely Asche could keep the other one warm until Williams arrives. It’s also entirely possible that the team signs a veteran stopgap option like David Murphy to bolster the outfield’s depth.

#2 Phillies – 1B


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Ryan Howard 420 .229 .292 .412 .304 -5.0 -2.2 -3.7 -0.6
Darin Ruf 210 .241 .307 .407 .311 -1.3 -0.4 0.1 0.1
Brock Stassi 42 .243 .308 .362 .294 -0.8 0.0 0.0 0.0
Maikel Franco 28 .271 .314 .462 .332 0.3 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .235 .298 .410 .307 -6.8 -2.5 -3.6 -0.4

I promise Phillies fans, it’s almost over. Both this list, and your time with Ryan Howard. New general manager Matt Klentak says Howard still “fits into their plans for ’16,” though the team is certainly still looking for ways to dump Howard’s salary. In the meantime, the lefty-masher Ruf serves as a productive half of a platoon. The Phillies just need the other half to be productive, too.

The solution: Hope someone finally takes away Ryan Howard.

#1 Brewers – 3B


Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Luis Sardinas 350 .246 .280 .312 .260 -17.6 0.2 1.0 -0.4
Elian Herrera 280 .249 .299 .343 .282 -9.1 0.1 -1.7 -0.1
Yadiel Rivera 70 .228 .264 .316 .255 -3.8 0.0 -0.4 -0.2
Total 700 .245 .286 .324 .269 -30.6 0.3 -1.0 -0.7

Last year’s trade of Aramis Ramirez opened up a hole at third base in Milwaukee that is yet to be filled. The team lacks internal options, but a thin third base market and the first year of a re-build make it unlikely that the third basemen of the future will be arriving anytime soon for the Brewers.

The solution: Sign a low-risk, veteran stopgap option. David Freese likely gets too pricey to make sense for Milwaukee, leaving guys like Juan Uribe, Casey McGehee or Gordon Beckham for the Brewers.

We hoped you liked reading The National League’s Weakest Positions 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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Doug Melvin
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Doug Melvin

I am out of answers for 3B anyone got any good ideas?

The silver lining in this is that I did not give into my urge to resign Yuniesky Betancourt to man the position this year.

David Stearns
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David Stearns

Good thing I’m the GM of the Brewers and not you, so you don’t have to worry about it.

icbeast
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icbeast

Raffle tickets for fans, winner gets to play 3B next game.