Friday, October 31, 2014

Ranking Baseball's Positions

During game 7, Harold Reynolds continued his postseason of saying stupid shit when he casually said that third base was one of the weakest positions in the league. This random remark was immediately proven wrong when me, Jon, and Steve being the nerdy nerds that we are just started texting each other names of good third basemen. So take that Harold, with your stupid name.

Anyways, now that baseball is done, let's rate the top positions in baseball. These ratings will look at the overall crop of players at each position. The point is not to say that catchers are worse than first basemen at hitting; this we know. It's about figuring out if there are clusters of good or bad players at the positions right now.

Here we go:



8. Shortstop
Shortstop has really fallen off from the days of Nomar, A-Rod, and Jeter posing shirtless in SI. Troy Tulowitzki is by far the best shortstop, but he cannot stay healthy. Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez were also banged up. Jhonny Peralta actually has the most WAR for this position. That's pretty pathetic. Ian Desmond, Erick Aybar, and someone named Danny Santana on the Twins all posted strong offensive seasons. However, this position was pretty shitty this year and that's even if you include Derek Jeter's -.3 WAR (38th among 40 shortstops with more than 250 plate appearances. Take that Stephen Drew). Andrelton Simmons, Starlin Castro, and Alcides Escobar each failed to improve on their offense. Get it together shortstops.

7. First Base
The Fangraphs leader in 2014 WAR for first basemen was....Anthony Rizzo. I guess he's really good. Miguel Cabrera and Paul Goldschmidt were pretty banged up this year, especially Goldschmidt. Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, and Mark Teixeira were all hurt and ineffective this season. Chris Davis took a huge step back from his insane 2013 season. Adrian Gonzalez and Albert Pujols have fallen from insanely good to just solidly above average. Jose Abreu had an awesome season, but this position still is lacking a bit. Given how easy a position it is to play defensively, it should come as no surprise that there are still good offensive numbers, but only five players were above 4 WAR.

6. Catchers:
Only nine catchers qualified for the batting title this year. Ten did in 2013. That is a pretty good measure of how hard it is to catch every day and stay healthy. The NL catchers are carrying all the weight, with Buster Posey, Yadier Molina, and Jonathan Lucroy all having awesome years. The AL's best catcher is probably Yan Gomes based on this year alone, and Salvador Perez in the future. They are fine players, but not particularly great. Carlos Santana's smooth transition to the hot corner and Joe Mauer's move to first hurt the position -- same with Brian McCann not regaining his old form. This ranking comes from the dearth of decent catchers. Guys like Carlos Ruiz and Evan Gattis, despite huge limitations, are probably top-ten catchers.

5. Left Field
Alex Gordon and Michael Brantley both had awesome seasons. Alex Gordon went from really underrated to probably a bit overrated by the end of the season. He's sort of the perfect example of one specific problem I have with FanGraphs and how it calculates WAR with respect to defense. Namely, he's the third-best defender in his own outfield. Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain both cover better ground, although Gordon has an amazing arm. Gordon's 122 OPS+ in Kansas City is very impressive, but he's not getting to nearly 7 WAR without his defense. The defensive measures are supposed to take account for how hard it is to play defense at each respective position, but if Gordon and Lorenzo Cain switched spots, the Royals would be worse at defense. Not to mention Gordon wouldn't sniff 7 WAR. The position has some other solid dudes as well, including Justin Upton who catches every fly ball like it's his first. Seriously, for a baseball player he catches weird and makes me nervous. Somehow he was a Gold Glove finalist in the NL.

4. Center Field
Home to baseball's best player, Michael Trout, center field also has fucking asshole Carlos Gomez, Andrew McCutchen, and Adam Jones. Those four guys are MVP candidates each year given their ability to play defense at a really hard position and be some of the game's top hitters. The rest of the position is filled with amazing defenders like Juan Lagares and Lorenzo Cain along with fast dudes like Jacoby Ellsbury and Billy Hamilton. My team's center fielder is B.J. Upton. He was rated the 42nd best outfielder by FanGraphs WAR. There are 30 teams.

3. Second Base
After quick glance at the leaderboards for this position, I assumed that this would be the worst or second-worst position. However, defense is, you know, a thing. Second basemen play one of the most important defensive positions, and there are some really good defenders who are above average hitters. Pedroia, Utley, Zobrist, and Howie Kendrick have all had better hitting years, yet the four each had above 4 WAR. That coupled with Cano still being awesome despite playing at Safeco Field makes second base a pretty strong position. This position lacks a lot of depth, however, as only four guys had between 2 and 3 WAR.

2. Right Field
Right field is probably the strongest position at the top with Giancarlo Stanton, Yasiel Puig, and Jose Bautista. Those three were all above 5 WAR. Joining them are other solid players like Jason Heyward (5.1 WAR), Jayson Werth, Hunter Pence, and J.D. Martinez. Given that this position is slightly harder to play than left field because of the longer throw to third, I'm giving them a little leeway for having only okay offense. It's the stars that did me in. I probably ranked this group too high.

1. Third Base
Harold Reynolds is really stupid. Third base had four guys above 5 WAR: Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rendon, Adrian Beltre, and Kyle Seager. That's not a very famous group of guys, outside of future Hall of Famer Beltre, but they were all really good. The same is true of the rest of the position. Third base had 21 guys over 2 WAR. That doesn't even include Brett Lawrie and David Wright who were each banged up. Pablo Sandoval and Evan Longoria had below average years for their respective abilities, which might help explain Reynolds' stupidity. We'll forgive him this time, if only because Tim McCarver was so bad for so long that we have just accepted that Joe Buck et al. on the Fox broadcast will always be awful.

Not Ranked: DH
DH is not a position. It's for fat sluggers to play and then waddle back into the dugout. I've come around a lot on how I feel about the designated hitter. My team, the Braves!, is an NL team and watching pitchers hit is so painful. I'm not really sure what's better. Maybe have eight hitters? No DH and no pitcher hitting? Either way, the ability to DH is great for the American League when it comes to free agents (see Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann last offseason). Or David Ortiz's entire career -- imagine him on the Marlins wearing a hat and trying to catch a pickoff throw. Hilarious.

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