The Weakest Positions on National League Contenders

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Remember the 107-win Giants, the only team to take an NL West flag away from the Dodgers over the past decade? Last year’s crash to an 81-81 record marked a rude awakening, as the post-Buster Posey era got off to a rocky start following the future Hall of Famer’s abrupt retirement after the 2021 season. Now the Giants enter the post-Brandon Belt era as well, as the regular first baseman from their last two championship teams joined the Blue Jays in January.

I mention the Giants because in this National League counterpart to my examination of the weakest spots on American League contending teams, their catching and first base options occupy the first two spots, as they did little to address either position over the winter — a point that’s been overshadowed by the Padres’ spending spree and the Dodgers’ free agent exodus (a phrase I’ve now used for three straight articles and expect to deploy at this year’s Passover seder). The Giants are projected to finish third in the NL West with 84 wins, and while they do have a 41.8% chance of making the playoffs, improvements in both spots could have bumped them up by a good 20 percentage points.

As with the AL installment, here I’m considering teams with Playoff Odds of at least 10% as contenders; that threshold describes 10 NL clubs (all but the Cubs, Pirates, Reds, Rockies, and Nationals). It’s worth noting that because of the general tendency to overproject playing time and keep even the weakest teams with positive WAR at each position (in reality over 10% of them will finish in the red), our Depth Chart values at the team level are inflated by about 20%. That is to say, instead of having a total of 1,000 WAR projected across the 30 teams, we have about 1,200. Thus, I am discounting the team values that you see on the Depth Chart pages by 20%, and focusing on the lowest-ranked contenders among those whose adjusted values fall below 2.0 WAR, the general equivalent of average play across a full season. The individual WARs cited will remain as they are on the Depth Chart pages, however, and it’s worth noting that many of the players here — particularly youngsters with shorter track records — don’t project particularly well but aren’t without upside; hope springs eternal.

In a rare act of restraint on my part, I’ve limited myself to a maximum of two teams at each spot, though sometimes only one team in the league is below the threshold. At two positions, no team falls below my chosen mark, while at another, too many teams do to cover them all; at all three spots, I’ve made brief notes. As with the Replacement Level Killers series, I’m only concerning myself with position players.

Catcher

Giants (Ranked 27th, adjusted value of 1.9 WAR)

As with their AL counterparts on this list, the Astros (1.1 WAR), the Giants came up in my investigation of possible fits for free agent Gary Sanchez. They actually did show interest in Sanchez in late January, but instead turned to Roberto Pérez, a glove-first 34-year-old who agreed to a minor league deal worth $2.5 million if he’s in the majors. The owner of a career 77 wRC+, Pérez is nonetheless good enough behind the dish to project for 1.3 WAR in 237 PA. The laggard here is Joey Bart, who projects for just 1.0 WAR in 371 PA. The heir apparent to Posey was demoted to Triple-A last June amid a dreadful slump, but even after improving upon return, he hit just .215/.296/.364 (90 wRC+) overall. He does have an option remaining, which could open the door for Blake Sabol, a 25-year-old Rule 5 pick from the Pirates who’s more of a corner outfielder who can also catch; he’s strikeout-prone but has decent raw power.

First Base

Giants (23rd, 1.3 WAR)

The post-Belt era isn’t exactly off to a resounding start based on the forecasts for the platoon of lefty LaMonte Wade Jr. (projected for 0.6 WAR in 329 PA at first base) and righty J.D. Davis (0.8 WAR in 301 PA). Wade battled left knee inflammation and couldn’t replicate his previous year’s clutch magic, hitting just .207/.305/.359 in 251 PA; his wRC+ dropped from 116 to 93. Davis hit a more respectable .248/.340/.418 (119 wRC+) mainly while DHing; he has just 200.2 innings of experience at first base and (probably) strict orders not to play third base given his numbers there. Lefty Joc Pederson, who’s experimenting at first base and who projects as the best hitter of the bunch (118 wRC+ to Davis’ 115 and Wade’s 106), could find himself in the mix here as well, as might the versatile Wilmer Flores.

Marlins (21st, 1.5 WAR)

Even while making trips to the injured list for COVID-19, a right wrist contusion, a concussion, and a fractured metacarpal, Garrett Cooper set a career high with 119 games. However, he delivered just 1.4 WAR due in part to his struggles against lefties, his so-so defense, and a 21-point shortfall in slugging percentage relative to xSLG (.415 versus .436), his third time in four years with similarly rough luck. Reigning AL batting champion Luis Arraez, who was acquired from the Twins in the Pablo López trade, could figure in the picture here; capable of playing second or third, he bleeds defensive value when used at first (to pilfer Ben Clemens’ phrasing), but the Marlins’ glut of middle infielders leaves them that option as well.

Second Base

Brewers (25th, 1.8 WAR)

The December trade of Kolten Wong to the Mariners opened up the keystone in Milwaukee, though which way the Brewers will go isn’t yet clear. Our projections bank upon shortstop Brice Turang sliding over to second and getting most of the playing time there (a projected 420 PA, but just 1.0 WAR). His lack of power — he didn’t slug .400 until reaching Triple-A last year — limits his offensive impact. The acquisition of Brian Anderson from the Marlins could bump Luis Urías over from third base, and the additions of Owen Miller and Abraham Toro (the latter via the Wong trade) bring more warm bodies to the party. Urías is by far the best bet to be productive (3.1 WAR overall), but he can’t play two positions at once.

Phillies (21st, 1.9 WAR)

The addition of Trea Turner in free agency has bumped 2019 first-round pick Bryson Stott over to second base to replace the departed Jean Segura. The 25-year-old Stott hit just .234/.295/.358 (83 wRC+) in 466 PA as a rookie, but he did add 10 homers and 12 steals, and was much better in the second half than the first (105 wRC+ versus 58). Small sample though they are, his defensive metrics show that he did better in 47 games at the keystone than 83 games at short. He projects for 1.9 WAR and a 96 wRC+ in 490 PA; it’s his backup options, Josh Harrison and Edmundo Sosa, who weigh this ranking down.

Shortstop

As with the AL, no contender is so bad at shortstop as to slip into the danger zone. Even the Braves, who in offsetting the loss of Dansby Swanson with Vaughn Grissom and Orlando Arcia rank 26th, project for an adjusted WAR of 2.2. The Marlins, who will use Joey Wendle, Jordan Groshans, and perhaps Jon Berti and/or Jacob Amaya to replace the traded Miguel Rojas, are a hair above them at 24th, with 2.3 WAR.

Third Base

The same is true for the hot corner. The 24th-ranked Phillies come in at 2.0 WAR with full-time work from Alec Bohm plus backup contributions from Harrison and Sosa, with the Diamondbacks one notch and 0.1 WAR ahead via Evan Longoria and Josh Rojas doing the bulk of the heavy lifting, and Emmanuel Rivera contributing as well.

Left Field

Braves (29th, 0.9 WAR)

After delivering postseason heroics in 2021, Eddie Rosario battled vision problems in ’22, missing two and a half months following laser eye surgery to correct blurred vision. Overall, he hit just .212/.259/.328 (61 wRC+) in 270 PA. Early indications are that he’s literally seeing the ball well again, which is great to hear, but he’s still a corner outfielder with a career 102 wRC+ (85 against lefties) and a net of 1.4 WAR over the past four seasons. Meanwhile, Marcell Ozuna was utterly terrible (.226/.274/.413, 88 wRC+, -0.6 WAR) for the second season in a row, though his 13.1% barrel rate, .256 xAVG, .and 478 xSLG suggest he was hitting the ball hard enough to generate better results. The two could platoon, though Ozuna’s enough of a liability with the glove that Jordan Luplow, a righty with a career wRC+ of 125 against lefties, could have the honors instead.

Dodgers (22nd, 1.4 WAR)

Ten different players started in left field for the Dodgers last year, but two of the four (Joey Gallo and Gavin Lux) are no longer in the picture and the other two (Chris Taylor and Trayce Thompson) are projected to spend more time at other positions — both in center field, and in Taylor’s case second base as well as shortstop to cover for the loss of Lux to a torn ACL. The team signed David Peralta last month, and he is what he is, a 35-year-old lefty-swinger whose production has grown pretty thin for a corner outfielder; last year, he hit just .251/.316/.415 (104 wRC+), and he projects for just a 97 wRC+ and 1.0 WAR in 441 PA this year. Maybe he’ll be the Dodgers’ big reclamation project, or maybe it will be Jason Heyward after years of diminishing returns in Chicago. Thompson (last year’s reclamation project) and Taylor might still make appearances here, or maybe it all comes together for 25-year-old rookie James Outman.

Center Field

Phillies (29th, 1.2 WAR)

He got a lot of air time last fall thanks to the Phillies’ run, fared much better after being traded from the Angels than before, and led the league in hair, but Brandon Marsh has yet to put it all together at the major league level. The former second-round pick and 60 FV prospect (no. 15 on our list entering the 2021 season) owns an 88 wRC+ through 721 PA over two seasons, though his glove has kept him afloat, and he’s still just 25. The real problem is his performance against lefties (.220/.253/.266 for a 43 wRC+ in 186 PA), and neither Dalton Guthrie nor the aforementioned Sosa is likely to hit well enough to justify serving as his platoonmate.

Right Field

Marlins (26th, 1.3 WAR)

Quick, what’s the next number in this sequence: 88, 138, 92, 113, 83, 116, 66? If you know it, tell us and we’ll slap it into Avisaíl García’s projection, because those are his annual wRC+ numbers dating back to 2016; he hasn’t had two season of above- or below-average hitting since. Likewise, in those even-numbered years with sub-100 marks, he’s produced less than 1.0 WAR, while he’s been above 2.0 in the odd-numbered ones. Will the pattern hold in his age-32 season? The Marlins appear to be banking on it. Either Bryan De La Cruz or Jesús Sánchez, who together figure to cover most of the work in a left field share that I could have included if not for my two-team rule (1.4 adjusted WAR), are the most likely candidates to take the playing time that Garciá doesn’t, but both are young free swingers who haven’t put it all together yet.

Phillies (24th, 1.4 WAR)

With Bryce Harper undergoing Tommy John surgery and likely to miss the first half of the season, the spotlight is again on Nick Castellanos, whose performance in the first year of his five-year, $100 million deal was downright dreadful. Castellanos hit just .263/.305/.389 for a 94 wRC+ (matching his career-worst mark), homering just 13 times and walking a career-low 5.2% of the time. Pick your poison on the defensive metrics — -8 DRS, -10 RAA, -7.6 UZR — they’re all bad, as was his -0.7 WAR. He’s working on adjustments, and our projections cast him as a full two wins better than that overall (1.3 WAR), but even that’s no good; unless he’s suddenly inhabited by the spirit of Mookie Betts, his every inning in the field chips away at his value. The projections suggest Guthrie and Cave will be replacement level, which could be a step up if Castellanos can’t get it together.

Designated Hitter

The lack of defense and the positional adjustment for DHs leave 20 of the 30 teams below 2.0 at this spot even before my adjustments, with most contenders in that wide-ranging group projected to split the work among several players. The Diamondbacks (Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Longoria, Kyle Lewis and others) are the lowest-ranked NL contender at 24th (0.9 adjusted WAR) while the Braves (Ozuna, Travis d’Arnaud, and Sean Murphy) rank 20th (1.0), but there’s still not much separating them from the Giants at 11th (1.5). Move along.





Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

81 Comments
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Roman Ajzenmember
1 year ago

As a long-time Padres fan, I am confused about why they are entirely excluded from this article. Have we been demoted to AAA?

Roger McDowell Hot Foot
1 year ago
Reply to  Roman Ajzen

As a long-time Mets fan, I am rejoicing that they are “excluded” from this article because they don’t have any holes in their roster that were big enough to be counted among the worst in the NL.

David Klein
1 year ago

It really is amazing how deep the team is and jarring after all the years with shallow rosters under the Wilpons.

MorboTheAnnihilator
1 year ago
Reply to  Roman Ajzen

This can’t be a real question. If it is I suggest you work on your reading comprehension.

v2miccamember
1 year ago
Reply to  Roman Ajzen

This is a bit, right? Has to be a bit.

Roman Ajzenmember
1 year ago
Reply to  v2micca

Bingo

Roman Ajzenmember
1 year ago
Reply to  Roman Ajzen

Wow, lots of salty Dodger fans in the comment section today or people with a broken sarcasm radar. Lighten up people, the weekend is almost here.

MorboTheAnnihilator
1 year ago
Reply to  Roman Ajzen

Maybe be better at sarcasm?

Sleepy
1 year ago
Reply to  Roman Ajzen

Not only is it a bad bit, but you used “we” when discussing the professional sports team of your choosing. 0-2.

Lanidrac
11 months ago
Reply to  Roman Ajzen

If you’re going to be sarcastic in text, either it needs to be really obvious, or you need to include some kind of indicator like the classic HTML sarcasm tag.

The Hammerermember
1 year ago
Reply to  Roman Ajzen

How dare you sir !!! How dare you !

philosophery
1 year ago
Reply to  Roman Ajzen

The Padres are really good. Congratulations to Padres fans!

cowdisciplemember
11 months ago
Reply to  philosophery

It seems likely that the Padres will be good, but they’re 0-0. It’s a little soon for congratulations.