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2016 MLB thread. Baseball is upon us! Royals are the champs - Page 344

post #10291 of 73600
$100 a ticket for top deck???

Guess I'll be catching the Doyers at the shortstop eyes.gif
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
unless my buddy hooks me up
post #10292 of 73600
Pavilion seats are like $150 frown.gif
It might rain too
post #10293 of 73600
Thread Starter 
Gonna try and do a major update today, about five articles per post.
post #10294 of 73600
Thread Starter 
Projecting the NL standings.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
If there's ever an article that makes you look back six months later and eat crow, hats or myriad other semi-edible items, it's team predictions. Stories like Baltimore and Oakland in 2012, however, make being wrong a good deal of fun.

Spring is here -- though I wouldn't know it by the snow in my driveway -- so it's time once again to run the final projected standings in the ZiPS projection system and brace for reality. (For AL projections, click here.)

Seasons are simulated a million times using a Monte Carlo method, the percentile performance of player projections and estimates of roster construction. There are other bits of mathematical nerdery involved (linear algebra for the win!), but I'm sure you want to get down to the results, so here we go.

NL East

The Washington Nationals may have the best projected record in the National League, but that's still not enough to get them more than a projected coin flip to win the division. The Atlanta Braves having the second-best projection in the NL keeps Washington from being a lock, but there's very little to dislike about the Nats.

As mentioned above, the Braves have the second-best projection in the NL. Losing Chipper Jones hurts and the Juan Francisco/Chris Johnson combination won't come close to replacing him. But except for Dan Uggla's incredible shrinking batting average and the hopefully temporary presence of Gerald Laird, the lineup is solid. If you're looking for a 1993-esque race between the two top teams in the NL, here's where you're likely to find it.

You're seeing the back end of a great period in Philadelphia and while the team still has enough talented players to be a troublemaker with a little bit of good fortune, it's a team clearly a step behind the top two in the league. They still have too many players that you'd rather have in 2008 than 2013, which is a problem, because this is 2013. ZiPS is hopeful about a Roy Halladay bounceback, but that's easier for a computer that hasn't seen him pitch this spring. Even if the Phils remain mired in mediocrity, they're still better than the others.

Welcome to the others. The Miami Marlins are starting to look like a little league team that brought in Giancarlo Stanton as a ringer and the main drama surrounding the New York Mets is whether the Wilpons find a magical genie to come up with the $900 million in loans due in the next two years. Both teams have a lot of interesting young talent, but it's not enough to make a difference this season.

NL East -- Projected 2013 standings

WAS 94 68 -- .580 50.2% 0.4% 23.6% 73.8% 7.8%
ATL 91 71 3 .562 37.8% 0.8% 27.0% 64.8% 6.4%
PHI 82 80 12 .506 10.9% 5.5% 17.9% 28.8% 2.5%
NYM 66 96 28 .407 0.6% 43.9% 1.8% 2.4% 0.2%
MIA 65 97 29 .401 0.4% 49.5% 1.5% 1.9% 0.1%

NL Central

I'm a little sad that we're not going to see Aroldis Chapman in the rotation now (or probably ever), but coming off an easy NL Central win and not a ton of offseason noise from the competition, it's hard to blame the Cincinnati Reds for playing it safe. I remain unconvinced that Shin-Soo Choo can be an asset in center field defensively, but he'd have to have the lateral mobility of a wheelbarrow to not be an upgrade from the offensively-challenged Drew Stubbs.

The St. Louis Cardinals are just about the safest team in baseball, with the smallest range of likely win totals. The major league roster is a fairly established bunch and the Cards do have reserve troops at most positions, most notably the amazing Oscar Taveras. Still, the offseason was a bit of a downer as they made little effort to upgrade on shortstop Pete Kozma, who has a bleak résumé before September 2012, and made a puzzling move to lockup Ty Wigginton for multiple years.

The Milwaukee Brewers bumped right to the .500 mark by virtue of adding Kyle Lohse this week. Corey Hart better finish his recovery quickly because Alex Gonzalez, Starting First Baseman, sounds like a rather depressing reality TV show. The Brewers are unlikely to be a top-tier team, even in a good year, but they're close enough now to possibly be at least interesting.

Pittsburgh is another place that Kyle Lohse would have been a good fit (assuming they would pay him), as the Pirates are similar to the Brewers in that they're in that "slightly competitive" tier in the division. The Bucs won't really go into the legitimately interesting category until we see pitching prospects Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon in black-and-yellow. ZiPS does give the Pirates nearly a 1-in-5 chance to make the playoffs, so it's certainly not a team without hope.

The Chicago Cubs are the likely last-place team this year, but I strongly believe it's a better team than their record last year, a definite step up from the likes of the Twins or Astros. They've cobbled together a rotation that, while not even remotely an elite one, will no longer frighten small children. The Cubs are maybe a competent third baseman and some luck with Brett Jackson away from being a nearly .500 team.

NL Central -- 2013 projected standings

CIN 90 72 -- .556 46.3% 4.0% 15.7% 62.0% 6.8%
STL 85 77 5 .525 25.2% 10.1% 16.9% 42.1% 4.2%
MIL 81 81 9 .500 15.0% 17.2% 13.3% 28.3% 2.7%
PIT 77 85 13 .475 8.5% 28.9% 8.8% 17.3% 1.6%
CHC 74 88 16 .457 5.1% 39.8% 6.4% 11.5% 1.0%

NL West

The projections do reflect the hit the Los Angeles Dodgers take from losing Hanley Ramirez and a grumpier innings estimate for Zack Greinke in light of his recent arm soreness, so no need to mentally chop off a couple wins. The Dodgers won't win any awards for thrift (that would be an odd award), but they've put together a solid, if overly expensive, team for 2013. They are slight favorites, but there's plenty of room for an unhappy end to the season.

The San Francisco Giants remain in the thick of it, about the quality of last year's team. Last year's team won the World Series, so that's not necessarily a bad thing, but the Dodgers and Diamondbacks are likely to be better than they were last year. Warning: ZiPS is assuming that Brandon Belt won't continue to be benched for weeks every time he goes 0-for-4.

Too much was made of the Arizona Diamondbacks losing out in the Justin Upton trade. While one can envision them having done a little better with the long-term return in the trade, Prado's a solid addition. Adam Eaton's injury bumped them down slightly, but Gerardo Parra's a perfectly competent fill-in. Arizona's deep stable of starting pitchers gives them ample opportunity to make a big addition come July.

Getting Jedd Gyorko onto the roster is big for the San Diego Padres, but what they really need was some good news regarding their stable of injured pitchers. Instead, their injury situation got worse, with Casey Kelly having Tommy John surgery next week. The lineup is quite adequate, but the rotation is likely to keep the Friars from competing.

The Colorado Rockies enjoyed their 2012 season so much that they thought they'd bring everybody back for an action-packed sequel. That's perhaps a bit unfair as they can expect their desired starting rotation to be healthier this year -- it's almost impossible for them to be less so -- but it's still an organization that's going to have a tough time competing. Having Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez pays for a lot of sins, but not that many. At least the team will likely be less depressing than last year's edition.
NL West -- 2013 projected standings

LAD 90 72 -- .556 41.5% 2.9% 19.4% 60.9% 6.4%
SF 87 75 3 .537 29.7% 4.9% 20.0% 49.7% 5.0%
ARI 85 77 5 .525 23.0% 6.7% 18.9% 41.9% 4.1%
SD 73 89 17 .451 3.6% 35.8% 5.4% 9.0% 0.8%
COL 70 92 20 .432 2.1% 49.8% 3.5% 5.6% 0.5%

Projecting the AL standings.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
If there's ever an article that makes you look back six months later and eat crow, hats or myriad other semi-edible items, it's team predictions. Stories like Baltimore and Oakland in 2012, however, make being wrong a good deal of fun.

Spring is here -- though I wouldn't know it by the snow in my driveway -- so it's time once again to run the final projected standings in the ZiPS projection system and brace for reality. (We'll start with the AL and run the NL on Wednesday.)

Seasons are simulated a million times using a Monte Carlo method, the percentile performance of player projections and estimates of roster construction. There are other bits of mathematical nerdery involved (linear algebra for the win!), but I'm sure you want to get down to the results, so here we go.

AL East

With a few of the historical powers stumbling this year, the O's showing a pulse and Toronto's makeover, there's no division that's more wide open than the American League East.

The Toronto Blue Jays were the fourth-place team last year, but they won the winter, pillaging the remains of the Miami Marlins and New York Mets like medieval Vikings. A better designated hitter than Adam Lind and a swift recovery of Brett Lawrie from another injury would be nice, but when you pick up R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes in an offseason, you shouldn't be too greedy.

The Tampa Bay Rays are the closest threat to Toronto, losing James Shields and B.J. Upton but, as usual, cobbling together a pretty good team led by some potentially dominant starting pitching. They're not likely to dominate the division, with offense the big question, but no franchise does a better job at patchwork repairs than the Rays.

The Boston Red Sox are likely to receive at least some dead-cat bounce after an embarrassing 2012 season, and though the team's offseason additions are short-term moves, the new players -- such as Ryan Dempster and Shane Victorino -- will give the club a boost at least for this year.

Every time I run these numbers, the Yankees get worse, as another player ends up having his expected playing time drop due to injury. The Yankees exemplify why settling for "good enough" in the offseason is dangerous. If the Bombers hadn't played it safe -- not picking up a true impact OF/DH and going with a Triple-A catcher as Plan A -- the rash of injuries wouldn't have hurt the lineup as hard as it has.

If the O's finish in last place, they're likely the best last-place team in baseball. Even projected for fifth, they have a reasonable shot at the division and the wild card. Those percentages would have looked healthier if the team hadn't essentially stood pat all winter, but in most other divisions, 82 wins is good enough for second or third, not last.

AL East -- projected 2013 standings

TOR 94 68 -- .580 42.9% 5.8% 25.2% 68.1% 6.9%
TB 88 74 6 .543 23.1% 13.4% 25.8% 48.9% 4.5%
BOS 84 78 10 .519 13.2% 23.3% 20.9% 34.1% 3.0%
NYY 83 79 11 .512 11.3% 26.7% 18.4% 29.7% 2.6%
BAL 82 80 12 .506 9.5% 30.7% 16.7% 26.2% 2.2%

AL Central

The Detroit Tigers are considered the class of the division and rightfully so, with the best projected odds of winning their division of any team in baseball. But quality can't be confused with inevitability or invincibility, and other teams in the AL Central are adequate enough to take advantage of a down Tigers year with a little bit of luck.

Cleveland would have been fourth in the projected standings, but the addition of Michael Bourn was enough to leapfrog the team to second. The lineup projects as one of the best in the AL, but the problem remains the pitching, especially the rotation. There's upside though. It's hard to believe now, but Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir were once two of the brighter young pitchers in baseball. ZiPS is suspicious about Kazmir, but if he's really healthy, he's one of the players that could absolutely torch his projections.

A quiet offseason for the Chicago White Sox leaves them likely to be around .500 in 2013, still enough to be threatening if the pitching stays healthy. One potential issue: There's not a lot of organizational depth to handle any nasty surprises.

In Kansas City, there's a wide belief that the James Shields trade made the Royals contenders. It didn't. But Shields and Wade Davis do improve the team this year, even if Wil Myers in right would look a lot nicer than Jeff Francoeur.

To make the playoffs, the Minnesota Twins need quite a bit of help, and they will likely look to trade veterans for prospects as the season progresses. Mike Pelfrey and Vance Worley are likely to keep the rotation from being as historically inept as last year, but only just barely.

AL Central -- projected 2013 standings

DET 91 71 -- .562 55.1% 1.8% 10.0% 65.1% 7.5%
CLE 80 82 11 .494 15.1% 11.6% 9.4% 24.5% 2.5%
CHW 80 82 11 .494 14.7% 12.0% 9.0% 23.7% 2.4%
KC 79 83 12 .488 13.8% 12.9% 8.8% 22.6% 2.3%
MIN 66 96 25 .407 1.3% 61.6% 1.1% 2.4% 0.2%

AL West

Only a lesser back end of the rotation keeps the Los Angeles Angels from being the projected best team in baseball. I wouldn't like paying for the end of Josh Hamilton's contract, but the Angels will like paying for the front of it, even if the park change makes his raw statistics look a bit disappointing next to his Texas numbers.

It was a disappointing offseason in Texas, but unlike the O's and Rockies, among other teams, it wasn't for a lack of effort. The Rangers finished a runner-up on a few top free agents, but there's still some good news: The team is still pretty good. I'm a little disappointed the Rangers didn't give Robbie Ross the final spot in the rotation, as Nick Tepesch is likely to be a replacement-level holdover until Colby Lewis potentially returns.

As for the A's, 78 wins may sound disappointing after their 2012, but they did get some unexpected greatness from unexpected places and the Rangers and Angels are tough teams. ZiPS has the A's as the hardest-to-predict team in baseball (more on this in ESPN The Magazine's April 1 issue) and has the team as a 50/50 shot to win 72 to 89 games. That's computer for "who the heck knows?"

The Seattle Mariners made some noise about being in the mix for some of the big name free agents, but in truth, the organization just isn't there yet. While the Mariners apparently participated in some bizarre baseball scavenger hunt for 1B/DH types (successfully), the team's fortunes won't turn around until its stable of pitching prospects -- led by Taijuan Walker -- graduates to the majors.

The Houston Astros are still early on in their rebuilding, and that effort is going to take a while. There's really not a lot of upside in the team, and a successful season for the Astros would involve pretty much every player beating his projection by a country mile. Chris Carter may be fun to watch in Houston, as his plate discipline has improved and he slugged 11 homers in 122 road at-bats with the A's last year.

AL West -- projected 2013 standings

LAA 93 69 -- .574 49.0% 0.3% 18.7% 67.7% 7.3%
TEX 91 71 2 .562 39.5% 0.6% 20.7% 60.2% 6.2%
OAK 78 84 15 .481 7.5% 6.2% 9.5% 17.0% 1.5%
SEA 74 88 19 .457 4.0% 11.2% 5.7% 9.7% 0.9%
HOU 57 105 36 .352 0.1% 81.7% 0.0% 0.1% <0.1%

Six players who wowed me this spring.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Spring training performances and statistics can be very misleading. Often major league hitters are facing minor league pitchers, or sometimes major league pitchers are simply working on refining a certain pitch and get hammered. When scouting hitters in person it’s almost more important to pay attention to the pitcher the hitters are facing and where the pitches are in the zone. Honestly, no one cares if a guy hits a home run off an 88 mph fastball down the middle of the plate. However, if that same guy goes yard on an inside fastball off of Justin Verlander or a nasty slider down and away off of David Price, it matters.

This was the first time I spent spring training watching entirely the Cactus League in Arizona. While young players such as Aaron Hicks, Julio Teheran and Jackie Bradley Jr. impressed scouts across the country in the Grapefruit League, six particular players in Arizona impressed me. They performed far beyond what I was expecting, and I’m intrigued to see if they can maintain the brilliance they displayed this spring.

Yasiel Puig | OF | Los Angeles Dodgers

I had heard a lot about Puig. When I entered the Dodgers’ clubhouse, I quickly spotted Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett. I also saw a guy who looked like an NFL linebacker. His shoulders made him look as if he were wearing quarterback pads under his shirt.

When I asked Dodgers manager Don Mattingly and members of his coaching staff what they had seen from Puig so far, they raved about his athleticism and incredible talent. They also warned me that Puig was “raw” and would need more seasoning. However, after watching him for two weeks, he was clearly one of the best players of the spring. He displayed incredible speed, power, defense and arm. He has the look of the ultimate five-tool player whose bat plays when the ball is in the strike zone at all velocities. Granted, Puig’s lack of walks is a concern (zero this spring), but the talent is undeniable. Could he do what Yoenis Cespedes did for Oakland last season? Easily.

However, I also saw the “raw” player. His secondary leads more resembled those of a high school player, and there were a couple of instances where he was on first base when a batter drew a walk and he didn't seem to know what to do. The Dodgers still have an outfield of Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford; Mattingly and general manager Ned Colletti will have some extremely difficult decisions.

Lonnie Chisenhall | 3B | Cleveland Indians

When I was general manager of the Washington Nationals in 2008, we invited Chisenhall to Nationals Park for a pre-draft workout. I fell in love with his swing and projected that he would develop into a .280-.290 hitter with 40 doubles and 15-plus homers. We were prepared to draft Chisenhall with our second-round pick, but the Indians took him with the 29th overall pick in the first round. When I shared this with new Indians manager Terry Francona, he agreed with my assessment except that my home run projection was too low.

Oddly, the Indians have buried the 24-year-old Chisenhall the past two seasons. In 2011, he was given only 223 plate appearances, then got only 151 in 2012. Instead, the Indians gave 32-year-old journeyman Jack Hannahan most of the playing time. Not this year. Chisenhall told me he felt revitalized with Francona taking over. He appreciated Francona giving him a clear shot at the third-base job. Relaxed, Chisenhall hit .404/.473/.745 with four homers this spring. He can hit the fastball on both sides of the plate, and goes the other way extremely well. How he does against secondary pitches will determine his ceiling, but his swing and consistent sweet spot contact should result in a solid season.

Brandon Belt | 1B | San Francisco Giants

After the Giants made Belt their fifth-round pick in the 2009 draft, Belt dominated the minors at three levels in 2010, hitting .352/.455/.620 with 43 doubles and 23 homers. Since then, Belt has struggled and had to make some adjustments. He made his major league debut in 2011, but big league pitchers killed him inside, then pounded him away. He got caught in between, and then came myriad new batting stances and approaches that led to more failure. Eventually, he turned it around and won the starting first-base job, entering this past offseason with confidence. Starting for the world champions will do that.

Now he enters 2013 not trying to win a job, not trying to make an adjustment, but rather knowing he’s a big leaguer and belongs. That attitude and approach was reflected in his spring numbers: .433/.460/.900 with seven home runs. He handled good fastballs and nasty breaking balls on both sides of the plate, which portends a much-improved offensive season for Belt and the Giants.

Lorenzo Cain | CF | Kansas City Royals

Legs, knees, groin, hand -- you name it, the 26-year-old Cain has hurt it. If he ever stays healthy -- and that is a big if -- he could become a player similar to Mike Cameron. He has the power to hit 15 to 20 home runs a year and the speed to steal 25 to 30 bases a year. He can run down the ball in center field and is extremely athletic. He has a tremendous amount of charisma and positive energy. But he’s got to stay healthy.

Adam Eaton | CF | Arizona Diamondbacks

While the rest of baseball talked about Arizona’s acquisitions of Martin Prado, Brandon McCarthy and Heath Bell, most Diamondbacks insiders knew Eaton had a chance of being the new every-day player on the roster who'd make the biggest impact. Indeed, he had a huge spring, hitting .390/.403/.542 in 62 plate appearances. His range in the outfield was as impressive as his speed to beat out infield hits. He possesses a hockey player’s mentality, and his aggressiveness opened eyes. As the baseball adage goes: The kid will have a dirty uniform by the national anthem. He was an easy favorite as my choice for NL Rookie of the Year. I love this player and his approach to the game.

During the weekend, news came that Eaton would miss two months with a left elbow sprain. The news couldn’t have come at a worse time because he looked like the leadoff man the Diamondbacks have been raving about and desperately need. But as long as he can return as scheduled, he will be a difference-maker in Kirk Gibson’s lineup and perhaps force himself into the NL Rookie of the Year race by season’s end.

Michael Saunders | RF | Seattle Mariners

It was a mixed bag for the 26-year-old Saunders this spring, but he also was one of the most improved players I saw. His swing is much better and his hard-nosed approach to the game rubs off on his teammates. He still can be victimized by high-quality pitching, but 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases is a realistic stat line by season’s end. His long home run for Canada at the World Baseball Classic was impressive, as was winning the MVP award of Pool C.

He’s by no means a table-setter, nor a middle-of-the-order bat. Rather, he’s a support player who covers a lot of ground in right field and plays the game the right way. The Mariners, like Saunders, are one of the most improved teams in the league from a year ago. And while most of the attention will be on the new acquisitions of Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales, as well as the development of Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero, don’t sleep on Saunders.

Astros, Selig and the issue of tanking.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Bud Selig says he has no problem with the Houston Astros' strategy, or their payroll level of $25 million. From Brian Smith's story in the Houston Chronicle:

"I do trust the organization," Selig said. "Look, every organization goes through certain phases. They have chosen the path with some very qualified people. And the only way you can really build a solid organization, a solid team, is through a very productive farm system. And I think they're doing it the right way. There's no question in my mind."

Selig referenced longtime St. Louis and Brooklyn front-office leader Branch Rickey as being his "all-time executive baseball hero." According to Selig, Rickey was adamant it took at least three years to even judge the initial stage of a rebuild. Selig also referenced the Atlanta Braves, offering a reminder that a team that made 14 consecutive playoff appearances from 1991-2005 -- a strike wiped out the 1994 postseason -- and won the 1995 World Series spent the latter half of the 1980s as one of the worst teams in pro sports.

"(The Astros are) getting good draft choices. They've drafted very well and wisely. And I think Houston fans have a lot to look forward to," Selig said. "If their rebuilding program is as good as I think it is and they think it is, they're going to create a lot more great memories."

My opinion: It's a bad idea for anybody within the institution of baseball to endorse "getting good draft choices" as a good thing. The reality is that as seasons play out, some club executives for struggling teams begin to privately hope for higher placement in the draft. But to make roster decisions to foster a worse record and better draft placement is really dangerous, because what it boils down to is this: It's a strategy to lose.

Baseball has kicked legends Joe Jackson and Pete Rose out of the sport, along with others, because of gambling scandals, out of a fear that the fans' confidence -- the customers' confidence -- in the integrity of the competition might be eroded. There must be a basic integrity to the games: There must be at least the perception that the players involved need to try to win.

And the same standard must always apply to the work of the front offices.

ESPN Baseball Tonight with Buster Olney
Buster Olney talks to Jerry Crasnick about Bruce Bochy and something Bud Selig should have never said. Plus, he continues the division previews with the AL Central.

More Podcasts »
Privately, rival executives really like what the Astros are doing, in stripping down the organization and rebuilding from the ground up. But there is queasiness about the question of whether Houston is angling for better draft picks, in fielding a team on which the highest-paid player, Bud Norris, is set to make $3 million, or about what CC Sabathia makes in three weeks. There are more than a dozen Major League Baseball players who will make more individually than the entire Houston team.

Everybody in baseball is well aware that part of the reason the Tampa Bay Rays are so good now is that for years they had terrible teams with terrible records and therefore picked at the top of the draft, gaining access to the best talent, like Evan Longoria and David Price. The same thing happened with the Washington Nationals, and their draft placement netted them Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.

But the failures that led to those top draft picks were long and organic. In the years leading up to the year that the Nationals chose Strasburg, their payroll climbed from $37 million in 2007 to $55 million in 2008.

The Astros' payroll, on the other hand, has declined precipitously, from $103 million in 2009 to $93 million in 2010 to $77 million in 2011 and, in the first year under new owner Jim Crain, to $61 million last year. Now it's down to $25 million.

Before the latest collective bargaining agreement, teams could strip down payrolls and devote the savings to signing bonuses in the draft, to signing players in the international market. But under the new rules, there are hard caps on what teams can spend on the draft and on international free agents. So generally speaking, a franchise that chooses not to spend available revenues on the payroll for its major league team is keeping the money.

Five million of the Astros' $25 million payroll is going to pay off the salary of Wandy Rodriguez, who was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates last season in the midst of Houston's tidal wave of trades of veterans. The Astros started last season at 26-34, on a pace to win 70 games. But in the weeks that followed, Houston dumped many established players -- Brett Myers, Rodriguez, Chris Johnson, Carlos Lee, Brandon Lyon and others -- and the Astros went 29-73 the rest of the way.

They will pick first in the draft this year, after picking first last year, and after opening this season paying each member of their 25-man roster an average of $800,000 apiece, it stands to reason that they will pick at or near the top of the draft next year.

But let's hope -- let's assume -- that this is not the Astros' aim. Because if any MLB team did this, chasing draft-pick placement and thinking of high picks as an asset worth pursuing, this strategy for losing wouldn't be that far removed from a very ugly word: Tanking.

It would be a really, really bad thing for baseball if some team made a concerted effort to lose games and then was rewarded for that, and if the strategy of losing became commonplace, without forewarning paying customers that what they are witnessing is a designed farce. It would be a really, really bad thing for baseball if this became a common strategy, with owners and general managers of multiple teams shaping their rosters in such a way that would give them a better chance for access to the top of the draft.

And because the new CBA gives each team more money to spend in the draft the higher they pick, you could argue that it incentivizes tanking much more than the old CBA ever did.

It is extremely important for players -- and teams -- to work to maintain the perception that such a thing as tanking does not exist. If Kennesaw Mountain Landis, the commissioner who banned the members of the 1919 Black Sox, were around today, he would remind us of that.

Romero's demise

Wrote here last week about how the Toronto Blue Jays had the option of sending Ricky Romero to the minor leagues because he has fewer than five years of major league service time, and in the end, that's what the Blue Jays decided to do. From Richard Griffin's piece:

All winter and throughout spring training the Jays had maintained confidence in Romero as the team's fifth starter, but GM Alex Anthopoulos hastily called an emergency staff meeting after Romero pitched 4 1/3 innings vs. the Pirates on Tuesday, allowing six hits and three walks. The decision was made to send last year's ace to the low minors. The meeting was attended by Anthopoulos, [Manager John] Gibbons, pitching coach Pete Walker and assistant GM Tony LaCava.

The club had assured Romero all winter and at a pre-spring training meeting that he would be in the rotation. However, he has spent the last 10 days attempting to incorporate an adjustment to his delivery that Walker maintains will benefit his health in the long run. That allowed them to make the move with a clear conscience.

"We ran out of time in making the adjustment," Anthopoulos said of the move.

Romero felt like he had make progress in his outing Tuesday. J.A. Happ will be in the Jays' rotation to start the year.

The fight for jobs

1. Jason Giambi was emotional when told he had made the Indians' roster.

2. Freddy Galvis added the outfield to his résumé.

3. Luis Mendoza was picked for the No. 5 spot in the KC rotation, over Bruce Chen.

4. Devin Mesoraco beat out Miguel Olivo for the backup catcher spot in Cincinnati.

5. The Giants are keeping Chad Gaudin.

6. Derek Lowe has won a spot in the Texas bullpen.

7. It looks like Jackie Bradley Jr. will start the season with the Red Sox. On the other hand, the Dodgers sent Yasiel Puig down to Double-A.

Dings and dents

1. David Wright returned to action, on a back field.

2. Wilson Betemit is expected to miss six to eight weeks.

3. Avisail Garcia landed on the disabled list.

4. Chris Perez pitched in a Cactus League game and is good to go.

5. For the Twins' Anthony Swarzak, it's just a matter of time.

6. Oakland has a couple of injuries to infielders.

7. The Giants are hoping that Pablo Sandoval will be in their lineup this weekend, Alex Pavlovic writes.

8. A couple of Padres passed tests, but they lost their backup third baseman, who was going to play in place of Chase Headley.

9. Bryce Harper keeps getting on base, but he's hurting, to the point that he's going to see a specialist Wednesday morning.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Adam Wainwright's contract talks are on-going, with some sense that a deal will get done before he throws his first pitch.

2. The Marlins set their rotation, Joe Capozzi writes. Ricky Nolasco, Nate Eovaldi, Wade LeBlanc, Henderson Alvarez and Kevin Slowey. Jacob Turner was sent to the minors, Juan Rodriguez writes.

3. The Tigers shouldn't wait to pay Justin Verlander.

4. The Brewers re-signed Yuniesky Betancourt.

5. The Twins' Brian Dozier is shifting to second base.

6. Hyun-Jin Ryu will start the second game of the season for the Dodgers.

7. What the Angels really traded Vernon Wells for was flexibility, Jeff Fletcher writes.

Tuesday's games

1. Jeremy Bonderman showed some limits. Eric Wedge declared him all but out of contention for the rotation. From Geoff Baker's story about the Mariners: "Barring a trade, though, the rotation will clearly be Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Joe Saunders, Blake Beavan and Brandon Maurer."

2. Matt Harrison struggled.

AL East

• Lyle Overbay is getting a three-day tryout with the Yankees.

• The Rays' roster appears set.

• John Lackey is taking it day by day.

• Dustin McGowan looked good in an outing.

AL Central

• Rick Hahn feels like the White Sox will be right in the middle of the AL Central race. They have a great early-season schedule, and need to take advantage of it.

• The Tigers are surgically deploying their surplus of arms.

• The Tigers have let other teams know that infielder Ramon Santiago is available. Some teams like him, but are concerned about his salary, feeling he's overpriced at $2.1 million for this year.

AL West

• Jered Weaver had a good day for the Angels.

NL East

• The Mets were not a good team coming into spring training, and now they're getting worse, because of injuries, and Shaun Marcum is the latest victim. On Tuesday's podcast, I thought Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer made a really good point, as Tim Kurkjian and I went through the NL East preview: The Marlins and Mets are going to be so bad, it appears, that they should boost the chances that three NL East teams -- the Phillies, along with the Nationals and Braves -- make the postseason.

• Scouts have thought in the past that Ryan Zimmerman suffered from the yips in throwing the ball, and now he's coming back from surgery and has adjusted his mechanics. Zimmerman says he's fine, in this Adam Kilgore piece.

• Dan Haren is ready for the start of the regular season.

• Domonic Brown has a kindred spirit in Wally Joyner.

NL Central

• The Pirates' rotation is built on Band-Aids, writes Dejan Kovacevic.

• Mike Matheny is going to the next level as manager.

• David DeJesus is welcome everywhere, writes Gordon Wittenmyer.

• In reference to the Kyle Lohse signing: There is a perception among rival evaluators that pitchers who leave the Cardinals regress, for one reason or another, and Bernie Miklasz writes about that here.

Under the terms of his deal with the Brewers, Lohse will make $4 million in 2013 and have an additional $7 million deferred, without interest, until 2016-2018. He'll get an additional $333,000 if he pitches 190 innings this season, $333,000 if he pitches 190 innings in 2014 and $334,000 if he pitches 190 innings in 2015.

NL West

• Earlier this spring, Giants president Larry Baer talked about wanting to lock up general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy to long-term deals. So it shouldn't be a surprise if extensions are announced very soon.

• The Diamondbacks suffered a rash of injuries in their exhibition Tuesday -- to Aaron Hill, Jason Kubel and Willie Bloomquist. Kubel's injury could be another hammer against the Arizona outfield; the Diamondbacks lost Adam Eaton last week.

• The Dodgers' new shortstop is on Cruz control, writes Vincent Bonsignore.

• Troy Tulowitzki is ready to go.

Lohse deal sets Brewers up for a fall.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Miami Marlins are doing a Buy One Get One Free thing with their Opening Day tickets, like a grocery store selling pickles. The Houston Astros are prepared to open the year with a $20 million payroll (plus $5 million in Wandy Rodriguez salary) and a team that could match Casey Stengel's Mets for consecutive 106-loss seasons.

Within that context, Brewers owner Mark Attanasio deserves this: No owner in baseball can say he has made a more concerted effort to win within the confines of his market than Attanasio has over the past six seasons.

It was Attanasio who greenlighted the trade for CC Sabathia in 2008, who fired manager Ned Yost with a week to go in a push to make the playoffs. It was Attanasio who made a serious offer in an attempt to keep Sabathia, and then did the same with Prince Fielder -- deals that would've really stretched the Milwaukee budget. It was Attanasio who gave the go-ahead for the deals for Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, and for the free-agent signings of Randy Wolf and Aramis Ramirez. Attanasio greenlighted the winter offer to Ryan Dempster a few months ago, and is the reason Ryan Braun is locked up through 2020.

Attanasio is like the Juan Pierre of owners: Somewhat limited in how much production he can generate, but you cannot ever fault the effort.

ESPN Baseball Tonight with Buster Olney
Buster Olney talks to Tim Kurkjian about Kyle Lohse's deal with the Brewers. Plus, he continues the division previews with the NL East.

More Podcasts »
To the great credit of the Brewers' fan base, it has responded, strongly supporting the team; Milwaukee had a payroll of $96 million last year, and the team finished sixth among 16 NL teams in attendance.

But there is a price to be paid for all of that aggressiveness, and that credit card bill is going to land in the mail sometime soon. Which is why I don't think the signing of Kyle Lohse made sense for them.

Look, Lohse is a good pitcher, and I agree with what GM Doug Melvin said Monday: The Brewers are a better team with him. Their rotation was very thin, which is why they tried to sign Dempster in the offseason, and now they can run out Lohse and Yovani Gallardo, with improved chances to make the playoffs.

Maybe this will be enough to push them into the postseason again. And they get Lohse on really nice terms. Because of the deferred money in the deal -- Lohse will make $4 million in salary in 2013, with $7 million deferred to 2016-2018, along with salaries of $11 million in 2014 and 2015 -- officials estimated the present-day value of Lohse's contract to be something in the range of $9.5 million annually. This for a pitcher who finished eighth in the majors in ERA in 2012. That's only about two-thirds of what Dempster is making annually, and not a whole lot more than Joe Blanton.

But through the years, the Brewers' farm system has been gradually eroded by trades, and back in February, Keith Law ranked the Brewers' player development strength at 29th among 30 teams.

Now, in signing Lohse, the Brewers sacrifice their first-round pick, which was 17th overall. A rival general manager mused about this possibility last week, noting that history is filled with examples of players picked at 17th or earlier who never made a dent in the big leagues.

"But then you have the case of someone like [Mike] Trout," the GM continued, noting that Trout was picked 25th overall by the Angels. "You have Shelby Miller [picked 19th in 2009]. You lose the opportunity to get talent -- relatively cheap talent. When you give up the picks, you lose the access to the talent."

The Brewers' first pick won't come until No. 54 overall; in fact, they will be the last team to make a selection.

That's especially important for a mid-market team such as the Brewers, who are surrounded by teams with a macro view in the NL Central. The Cardinals' payroll is a little higher than Milwaukee's, and their farm system is generally regarded as the deepest in the majors. The Reds' organization has a ton of talent. The Pirates are viewed as a team with very good player development right now, starting with pitcher Gerrit Cole. The Cubs are rebuilding their farm system.

Meanwhile, the Brewers have pushed to win every year, and meanwhile, they are drifting into more talent debt. They have Braun to build around, but their major league roster is thin in high-end players, and in depth.

This is what happened with the Minnesota Twins over the past decade, and now the Twins are faced with a massive rebuilding, especially in their organizational pitching -- and it could be a long road back for Minnesota.

None of that will seem to matter in the great moments this summer, if the Brewers challenge the Reds and Cardinals, and if they make the playoffs. But to me, the signing of Lohse feels like a tipping point, when Milwaukee pushed forward at a time when it really needed to take a step back.

Phillies lineup construction

The Phillies have to decide what to do with their leadoff spot. It's an odd lineup to construct, given all of the various elements -- most notably, how heavy it is in left-handed hitters.

A. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, both left-handed hitters, will hit third and fourth.

B. Jimmy Rollins is a switch-hitter and can run, but isn't really a high on-base percentage guy (.296, .320, .338 and .316 in OBP from 2009 to 2012). In addition, Rollins doesn't hit that well as a right-handed hitter -- .218 last year.

C. Domonic Brown has had a great spring and the Phillies are excited about him, but he's left-handed, like Utley and Howard, and Charlie Manuel won't want to put too much on him at the outset.

D. When Michael Young is swinging the bat well, he can hit anywhere from second to sixth in a lineup. And he's having a decent spring.

E. Carlos Ruiz will open the season with a 25-game suspension, meaning that Erik Kratz will catch.

F. Ben Revere is fast and doesn't hit for power.

So if you're in Manuel's shoes, you probably start with this: Utley, Howard and Brown are going to hit third, fourth and sixth, respectively.

Then you look for the right-handed hitter who follows Howard, in the No. 5 spot, someone who can do some damage against lefties, and Young is probably that guy. If Manuel hits Rollins fifth, then he'll essentially create a string of four consecutive hitters who are more vulnerable against lefties, from Utley to Brown. You could hit John Mayberry Jr. fifth against lefties, with Young batting second, Rollins in the leadoff spot and Revere eighth.

Then you decide the best spot for Revere -- and he is a higher OBP guy than Rollins right now, and more likely to run. I'd hit him leadoff, with Rollins in the No. 2 spot. That means Mayberry probably would hit seventh when he starts against lefties, with Laynce Nix platooning against righties and Kratz eighth.

Here's the bottom line: It's a lineup that will be better against right-handers than lefties, no matter how Manuel draws it up, and it'll be important for Utley and Howard to get back to doing damage against lefties. Howard, who hit .173 against lefties last season, has come into spring training refocused on hitting the ball to left field, and that will help him against southpaws.

For the readers: How would you construct the Phillies' lineup?

More on Puig

Wrote here yesterday about how Yasiel Puig had a higher batting average than on-base percentage in spring training -- because he had no walks, and a sacrifice fly -- and so in preparing for Monday's podcast about Puig, Jayson Stark looked up the history of players accomplishing that rare feat in the regular season and discovered this: Billy Beane, the lord of Moneyball and advocate of on-base percentage, is one of the few. In 1989, he batted .241, with a .238 OBP.

"I am reformed," Beane said Monday, laughing. "Do as I say, not as I do."

Ticket dirt

From Chris Matcovich of, some interesting ticket data points regarding the secondary ticket market for this upcoming season (all numbers are as of Monday morning).

• The two teams who broke from the StubHub deal, the Yankees and Angels, have seen 11.06 percent and 34.23 percent increases respectively.

• Although Red Sox tickets are down 21.43 percent from last season at this time, Fenway Park hosts six of the top 10 highest-priced games currently.

• The highest premium for an Opening Day game is 216.48 percent for the Giants compared with their season average ticket price

• The American League has the highest average ticket price at $84.44; the AL East is the highest priced division at $94.22, while the NL Central is the cheapest division at $73.56

• Year-over-year MLB ticket prices are up 5.87 percent ($75.08 vs. $79.49).

Teams with top five average price
1. Red Sox: $118.72
2. Tigers: $111.72
3. Blue Jays: $100.99
4. Yankees: $100.19
5. Cubs: $98.58

Teams with lowest average price
1. Brewers: $57.74
2. Rockies: $59.00
3. Braves: $60.90
4. Marlins: $62.48
5. Royals: $63.47

Highest priced Opening Day tickets
1. Giants: $254.04
2. Orioles: $237.24
3. Red Sox: $230.69
4. Yankees: $216.88
5. Tigers: $202.84

Largest percent increase from 2012
1. Tigers: 69.68
2. Dodgers: 45.04
3. Astros: 42.95
4. Pirates: 40.83
5. Padres: 36.51

Largest percent decrease from 2012
1. A's: 29.38
2. Red Sox: 21.43
3. Marlins: 18.56
4. Braves: 17.27
5. Phillies: 16.08

Five most expensive games
1. Sept. 26, Rays at Yankees: $411.56
2. April 5, Cardinals at Giants: $254.04
3. Aug. 17, Yankees at Red Sox: $248.93
4. July 19, Yankees at Red Sox: $244.35
5. Aug. 16, Yankees at Red Sox: $241

Hicks and service time

Aaron Hicks won the Twins' center field job. From Mike Berardino's story:

By starting Hicks' service time "clock" now, the Twins could cost themselves additional millions through salary arbitration as soon as 2016 and could allow Hicks to reach free agency one year sooner (after 2018) than he otherwise might.

Twins general manager Terry Ryan seemed to take offense Monday, March 25, at this notion.

"The guy has earned it," Ryan said of the former 14th overall draft pick in 2008. "I find it almost humorous that people are talking about service time, starting the clock. We didn't trade (Denard) Span and (Ben) Revere to stall the next guy.

"I don't know in the last 20 years or however long Bill (Smith) and I have been in the general manager's job that we have put a guy back because of service time. Who have we done that to? I don't recall it."

In my opinion: The question of when to start service time is just part of the business. If Hicks has a down year in 2016, he won't think it's wrong to take a raise through arbitration. No, he would make what the parameters of the business, shaped by the collective bargaining agreement, allow him to make.

When the Rays hold a prospect down in the minor leagues to ensure the timing of his service-time clock maximizes his value, that's not personal; that's a company doing what it believes to give itself the best chance for success.

Along the same lines: Tim Britton writes that sending Jackie Bradley Jr. to the minors at the start of the season is a smart move. I agree completely.

With Bradley in limbo, Ryan Sweeney is in a tough spot.

Chavez on Mo

From Charlie Moynihan, producer at ESPN: "I interviewed Eric Chavez at Diamondbacks camp. As a former teammate of Mariano Rivera and someone who faced him many times when he was with Oakland, Chavez knows the Yankees' reliever very well. Below is a phenomenal quote Chavez gave me on camera, and I thought your blog readers might appreciate it. Chavez said:

"'Being able to throw one pitch [cutter] his whole career and dominate the league is a feat we will probably never see in the game again. To me, it is the single greatest accomplishment in sports. What he did over a period of time with just one pitch is pretty amazing.'"

The fight for jobs

1. As expected, Scott Kazmir was named the No. 5 starter with the Indians. He had been throwing great all spring.

2. Shelby Miller is the No. 5 starter for the Cardinals.

3. Edinson Volquez will be the Opening Day starter for the Padres.

4. The Angels have a few decisions remaining.

5. Brandon Maurer has had a great spring, and appears to have won a job in the Seattle rotation.

6. Steve Clevenger is going all out to make the Cubs.

7. The Twins cut Drew Butera.

8. The Rockies sent Drew Pomeranz to the minors.

9. Evan Gattis appears to be the backup catcher for the Braves.

10. Jeff Baker made the Rangers' roster.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Chris Young opted out of his deal with the Nationals. Which makes sense, because he's nearing the end of his career and he wants to pitch in the big leagues.

2. The Rockies may trade catcher Ramon Hernandez soon, Troy Renck writes within these notes.

3. Within these Derrick Goold notes, there is word that Matt Adams will start the year in the big leagues and that Michael Wacha is being assigned to Triple-A.

4. The Tigers traded catcher Curt Casali to the Rays to keep a pitcher they like.

5. The Royals cut two veterans.

6. Laynce Nix is in the outfield mix for the Phillies, but Charlie Manuel described what he's really looking for: Someone who gets hot.

7. Chien-Ming Wang is back with the Yankees and happy about it, writes Erik Boland.

8. The Orioles traded for another pitcher, writes Roch Kubatko.

9. Placido Polanco is doing something for the first time: Batting cleanup.

10. The Marlins are signing Matt Diaz, as Juan Rodriguez writes.

11. Hiroyuki Nakajima may start the year in the minors, writes John Shea.

12. Scouts watched Chris Capuano throw.

Dings and dents

1. David Freese got an injection in his sore back.

2. Brett Lawrie is going to miss the start of the season.

3. Wilson Betemit appeared to suffer a significant knee injury.

4. Henry Rodriguez was cleared to pitch.

5. Jesse Crain is facing some final exams.

6. Bronson Arroyo escaped injury, and his manager called it a miracle.

7. Derek Jeter is being reevaluated today.

8. Alex Rodriguez is on the mend, Page Six reports.

9. The Diamondbacks will soon have to decide what to do with Cody Ross, writes Steve Gilbert.

10. Shaun Marcum is hurt again, as Andy Martino writes.

Monday's games

1. Homer Bailey was hit hard.

2. Brett Myers was hit hard again.

3. Mike Minor had a bad day.

4. Matt Moore's command continues to be an issue.

NL East

• A scout on the swing of Bryce Harper, who has been wrecking baseballs this spring: "Controlled violence."

• I've heard Pedro Feliciano is throwing at 82-83 mph, so little wonder the Mets want him to work on his velocity in the minors.

NL Central

• Alfonso Soriano might be indispensable to the Cubs, writes Gordon Wittenmyer.

• The Pirates won't have good weather at the start of the season, it appears.

• Baseball is fun again for Pedro Alvarez.

NL West

• Wilin Rosario has evolved into a big-time power hitter.

• Colorado is a place that makes a riddle out of pitching, writes Tyler Kepner.

• Zack Greinke struggled in his return to the mound, but appeared healthy.

• Yasiel Puig's stay with the Dodgers won't be long, writes Dylan Hernandez.

AL East

• J.P. Arencibia has convinced his manager he can catch the knuckleball.

• Brandon Gomes has a future in the Rays' bullpen.

• Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos spoke with Richard Griffin.

• For Mike Napoli, it's all systems go, writes Scott Lauber.

AL Central

• Billy Butler offers a constant for the Royals, writes Bob Dutton: He can hit.

AL West

• The return of Derek Holland's changeup could be big for the Rangers.

• Aaron Hill gives back.

• The Astros are getting close to settling their roster.
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Yasiel Puig is forcing Dodgers' hand.
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An evaluator who has logged a lot of spring trainings in Arizona considered the buzz that has surrounded the Los Angeles Dodgers' 22-year-old Yasiel Puig, and decided that the last time he could remember this much interest was back in the mid-80s, when Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire began establishing themselves as stars.

The evaluator wasn't saying Puig is going to be as good as Canseco and McGwire, and he certainly wasn't making a reference to PEDs. He was talking about how scouts and baseball executives see something unusual and different in Puig, because of how hard he plays, because of how he doesn't seem to miss any time he swings at pitches in the strike zone.

"He's very, very intriguing," said the evaluator. "He's still raw in some areas, but the passion with which he plays, and all the tools that he's had. He's been very good."

That's an understatement. Puig is hitting .547 this spring, and actually, he has a higher batting average than on-base percentage (.527). Pitchers have started pitching to him the way they might in the regular season, spinning breaking balls and busting him inside with fastball -- and when they eventually get around to throwing it over the plate, he squares up the ball. He seems to run with such aggressiveness that it's as if he'll keep on running until he gets tagged out.

This is a player who will have almost as many at-bats this spring (53) as he has accumulated in minor league baseball (82), which only further complicates the Dodgers' forthcoming decision on what to do with the right-handed-hitting outfielder.

There is no question that Puig has been the best player in the Dodgers' camp. Heck, he's been the best player in spring training, in either the Cactus or the Grapefruit League. If this decision were to be made the way cuts are made with JV basketball teams, Puig would open the season starting for the Dodgers.

But there are a whole lot more factors involved, and No. 1 is the fact that the Dodgers already have three All-Star outfielders in place, who will make a combined $53.5 million this year -- left fielder Carl Crawford ($20 million), center fielder Matt Kemp ($20 million) and right fielder Andre Ethier ($13.5 million). Crawford and Ethier are each signed for five more seasons, and Kemp is signed for seven more seasons, and it's very hard to imagine the Dodgers would simply bench one of those players based on about 60 plate appearances in March.

ESPN Baseball Tonight with Buster Olney
Buster Olney talks to Jayson Stark about Yasiel Puig's statistical anomaly and the Yankees desperate move. Plus, he begins his division previews with the AL East.

More Podcasts »
The Dodgers' No. 1 priority for Puig right now is that he plays every day, to gain more experience in learning how to play defense, throw to the right bases and run more efficiently. After all, he was signed to a $42 million deal just last summer after defecting from Cuba and barely has any experience playing in the U.S. Unless there is an injury to one of the three starting outfielders -- and Crawford seems to be doing well in his comeback from Tommy John surgery -- Puig may well open the year in the minors.

But even if that happens and Puig is sent down, that would hardly preclude a rapid promotion, especially if Ethier and/or Crawford struggled against left-handed pitchers. Puig can play left field, he can play right, he can play center field, and depending on how the veterans fare, the Dodgers might like to have Puig in the big leagues to give manager Don Mattingly a right-handed-hitting option against lefty starters.

He might like having the competition, too, a player whose presence will push veterans, who will energize the other players. Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson has long talked about the importance of always have at least a handful of newcomers, because they come to the park each day with unaffected enthusiasm and they can't wait to play. Some Dodgers joked with third-base coach Tim Wallach about Puig after Hanley Ramirez was hurt and Luis Cruz was moved to shortstop, asking them if he could start transitioning Puig to third base, to make sure he's in the lineup.

Puig hasn't drawn a walk this spring, which reminded Mattingly of what he used to say about Robinson Cano, who drew only 18 walks in 2006 while hitting .342: What, you're going to tell him to stop hitting .340 and take more walks? Puig has shown absurd strength, yet like Vladimir Guerrero, he always seems to barrel up the ball.

"Sometimes, you get those big guys like Wily Mo Pena and he's got a big long swing," said one Cactus League observer. "But Puig has such a short, quick swing."

It's a quick swing, and it's also a small sample, and might not even be a good sample. But it has everybody in the Cactus League talking, including the Dodgers, as they try to figure out with to do with such a unique talent.

Puig's breakout spring is getting goofy, says his manager.

Freese's injury

David Freese's back pain has persisted. From Derrick Goold's story:

Third baseman David Freese was a last-minute scratch from Sunday's game because of recurring back pain that requires an evaluation today to get to the bottom of an injury that has persisted for nearly three weeks. Freese joins Carlos Beltran, who has a small fracture in his toe, as starters who will have three or fewer exhibition games to play.

If, that is, they are available at all before the Cardinals leave Friday evening for Arizona. Freese's aggravation of a previous injury comes a day after closer Jason Motte was diagnosed with a strain in his right elbow.

"It's not the way you ever want to finish a camp," general manager John Mozeliak said. "We just have to take everything day to day, and it can't be a knee-jerk reaction. Let's see where we are in the next couple days."

Yankees and Wells

Here's the part about the Yankees' willingness to take on $13 million of the money still owed to Vernon Wells: Why the heck didn't they spend that money on Russell Martin last fall, to retain him at catcher?

Instead of having a good defender at a premium defensive position, they have now invested that money in a corner outfielder who has been in decline the last couple of seasons and wasn't even used as a regular player for much of 2012. The general reaction to the Wells deal around baseball Sunday night was surprise that the Yankees would absorb that much money of Wells' contract -- although some evaluators say Wells has looked good this spring, with increased bat speed.

Keep in mind, too, that the Yankees are getting about $7 million to $8 million in salary relief, because the WBC is picking up every nickel of Mark Teixeira's salary while he's on the disabled list, after getting hurt in the course of the event. Similarly, the Dodgers are being compensated for Hanley Ramirez's salary.

By the way: Martin was ejected in the first inning of the Pirates' game Sunday.

Wells said his goodbyes in the Angels' camp, writes Jeff Fletcher. He made a graceful exit, writes Marcia Smith.

Jeter issues

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has been extremely respectful of Derek Jeter's history, his work ethic and his goal-setting, in leaving open the possibility that Jeter might come back quickly.

But it's worth reviewing the facts:

1. This is a 38-year-old middle infielder coming back from a significant leg injury, and he didn't run at all before spring training began.

2. He hasn't played more than five innings in the field at any exhibition, and after playing in the field intermittently in a handful of games, he was sore enough -- and Jeter's pain tolerance is legendary in the Yankees' organization -- to require a shot of cortisone.

3. When Jeter was able to get on the field Saturday in a minor league game, serving as a DH and running at half speed for four plate appearances, he became sore in a different spot near his ankle and was shut down again Sunday.

Cashman did say that the Yankees won't activate Jeter until he shows he can play nine innings at shortstop in back-to-back games, because that's what the position requires.

I'm not a doctor, but given all the facts and all that he's feeling now, I'd be surprised if Jeter was back before late April or early May. When he does return, the question of how effective he can be defensively will be his next hurdle.

Jeter is likely to miss Opening Day, Cashman told reporters.

Rapada's journey

Clay Rapada has pitched in the big leagues in six different seasons, accumulating 148 appearances in that time, which is remarkable considering that he never really planned to be in baseball that long.

Rapada, who's now 32, was originally signed by the Cubs when he was 22 years old, for a signing bonus of $6,000 and an education fund of about $14,000, and it surprised him when one evaluator in the Chicago organization told him that he probably wasn't going to make it to the big leagues. You'll probably get a couple of years in professional baseball and that'll be it, he was told, because so few guys make it.

So Rapada's thought was that he'd play baseball, then teach math in middle school someplace -- he'd always been good in math, scoring 650 on that section on his SATs -- and then eventually get his masters and become a professor, maybe at Old Dominion University, which is closer to where he grew up in Norfolk, Va.

But when he was in Class A, one coach mentioned to the left-hander that maybe he should try throwing from a lower angle. Rapada initially felt some discomfort throwing sidearm, and then gradually became accustomed to the delivery, through some awkwardness. Pitchers do what they refer to as a Towel Drill, holding a towel as they go through the act of throwing, to help them repeat their motion without the stress of throwing a baseball. As Rapada did the Towel Drill with his revamped delivery, his pitching hand finishing in an upward motion, he thought it all very strange.

But it worked for him, and in the summer of 2007, he was summoned to the big leagues for the first time, and lo and behold, the same evaluator who had told him he wouldn't make it to the big leagues -- a comment that Rapada didn't fully understand, but remembered, many years later -- was in the ballpark for his debut.

Rapada has taken some classes while playing baseball, picking away at his degree, and he intends to get those last 45 credits or so to finish, he said Sunday, while waiting to throw a bullpen session in the Yankees' camp.

The fight for jobs

1. Looks like Dylan Axelrod will be the No. 5 starter for the White Sox.

2. Ryan Flaherty is forcing the Orioles to make a really tough decision.

3. Freddy Galvis appears to have won a job with the Phillies.

4. The Jays picked Henry Blanco over Josh Thole for the start of the season.

5. Jemile Weeks was sent to the minors, writes John Hickey.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Twins don't know what their rotation will be.

2. The Orioles are calling other teams about Luis Ayala.

3. Buck Showalter reeled off the names in his rotation, with one exception.

4. Travis d'Arnaud was sent to the minors.

5. The Padres cut Freddy Garcia.

6. Jurickson Profar is likely to open the season in the minors.

7. The Rockies signed Jon Garland, while cutting some other pitchers.

8. The Mariners signed Endy Chavez, as Geoff Baker writes.

Dings and dents

1. Bad news for the Pirates: Jeff Karstens is headed to the DL.

2. A couple of Mets are pushing to be ready on Opening Day.

3. A Mets prospect broke his wrist.

4. Henry Rodriguez has a sore elbow.

5. The Indians think Chris Perez will be ready for Opening Day.

6. Looks like Scott Baker will miss the first half of the season, writes Gordon Wittenmyer.

7. The Marlins are hoping for a midweek return from one of their infielders.

8. Pablo Sandoval is still hurting.

9. Adrian Gonzalez is out of the Dodgers' lineup with a bruised forearm.

10 hottest flashpoints for 2013 season.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Jim Leyland wore a small smile last week as he talked about team chemistry. He said if you win, you've got a great clubhouse, but if you lose, then it's said you have a bad clubhouse.

He's right, of course. Almost everything else follows success and failure, and there are some situations in baseball this season -- let's call them the Tinderbox Ten -- that could be inflamed this year, depending on how events play out.

Here are the 10 most inflammatory situations in baseball in 2013:

1. Charlie Manuel's status with the Philadelphia Phillies
Manuel made it clear recently that he'd like to continue managing beyond 2013. But his contract is set to expire this fall, and general manager Ruben Amaro isn't ready to commit beyond this season. From The Associated Press:

"We'll see what happens at the end of the year and go from there," Amaro said.

Manuel isn't one to make demands, but it seems he's a bit peeved.

"I'm not disappointed in it at all. I don't know if I get it or not," Manuel said. "I think they can do whatever they want to do. That's how I look at it. Actually, when you get right down to it, it doesn't bother me a whole lot because I have nothing to do with it. If you stop and think about it, I don't have nothing to do with it. I mean that in a good way."

On top of that, there is a perception that Manuel's heir apparent -- Ryne Sandberg -- is already on the big league coaching staff, something Amaro has flatly denied.

Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are having good springs, and on paper, the Phillies have the easiest early-season schedule in the National League. But Roy Halladay is struggling like crazy to find his old stuff, and if the Phillies start slowly -- at a time when the team is in win-now mode -- Manuel's situation may well come to a head. It's not exactly a secret in baseball that Manuel and Amaro are not the closest of pals.

2. The battle for the L.A. area market
The respective ownerships of the Dodgers and Angels have made no secret of the fact that they have spent big dollars to win immediately -- not in 2014, not in 2017. It's playoffs or bust. The Dodgers have more than doubled their payroll in less than a year, including the signing of the most expensive free agent of the winter in Zack Greinke, and the Angels signed the second-most-expensive free agent, Josh Hamilton. And the Angels signed Hamilton just a year after signing Albert Pujols in their ongoing market fight with the Dodgers.

So there will be enormous pressure on these two teams to win, which will be exacerbated if one of them is winning and the other is losing.

If the Angels or Dodgers are struggling, could it mean the manager is in trouble? Could it mean that one or both teams could move swiftly to make changes with players or staff? We'll see.

But failure will be met with change, in some form, because losing just won't be accepted benignly.

The Angels' pitching this spring has not been good, Mike Scioscia acknowledged. Rival evaluators think their rotation is extremely thin.

3. Yunel Escobar and the Tampa Bay Rays
The shortstop and his new teammates are in the honeymoon phase -- everybody is saying the right things, everybody seems happy with the new arrangement. And it's very possible that this will continue, because Escobar has to understand how much he has at stake to make this relationship work, and because the Rays are known to have a relatively easy and tolerant work environment.

But if Escobar regresses, and his demeanor and play become an issue, it's hard to imagine the Rays are going to be especially patient. Escobar's reputation precedes him, the Rays don't have a lot of money invested in him and they've got other guys who can play shortstop. There is every reason for Escobar to be on his best behavior -- but that was the case in Atlanta and Toronto, as well.

4. Mark Appel and the Houston Astros
Last year, the Astros' strategy was to draft high school shortstop Carlos Correa at No. 1 overall and sign him for a modest bonus of $4.8 million, and then use the savings to be more aggressive in other parts of their draft. The Astros may have actually rated Appel higher than Correa, but opted to go with the shortstop as part of their overall draft plan.

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Will Houston draft Mark Appel this year?But this year, Appel -- now a senior at Stanford, after rejecting an offer from Pittsburgh last year -- is viewed as the clear No. 1 of the draft by Keith Law, who notes there may be a gap between Appel and others in the draft class, such as Jonathan Gray of Oklahoma.

So the question for the Astros is this: Will they draft Appel at No. 1, knowing that the negotiations could be a major wrestling match? Appel, who is represented by Scott Boras, won't have the same kind of leverage he did last year, given that he cannot simply return to college -- but he could take the longer track of refusing their offer and threatening to play independent league baseball.

In referring to the Astros' strategy earlier this week as part of comments about the compensation system, Boras was not complimentary.

"The integrity of the game has been compromised,'' Boras told USA TODAY Sports. "What baseball has done, it has created a dynamic where draft dollars are affecting the major leaguers. Teams are constructing clubs to be non-competitive, like Houston and Miami, so they can position themselves where they can get more draft dollars. Clubs are trying to finish last to create more draft dollars. And this dramatically affects the wild-card and major league standings.''

Certainly, the American League West greatly benefits having the low-budget Astros joining the division this year. The Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners will play 22 to 23 games against the Astros and Chicago Cubs -- who combined for 208 losses last year -- giving them a potentially huge advantage in the wild-card races.

"The integrity of the game,'' Boras says, "is very damaged by this system. Draft dollars is the latest currency for GMs. And the best way to earn draft dollars is to sabotage your major league team and finish last.''

If the Astros pick Appel, the subsequent negotiations could be a big-time showdown.

5. Nolan Ryan's standing with the Rangers
This standoff has been playing out for weeks, and some friends of Ryan believe he will walk away. There is a perception among rival officials that some staffers working under general manager Jon Daniels want Ryan out. From the outside looking in, the whole thing seems a little silly.

Ryan hasn't significantly undercut the Rangers' baseball operations planning to the point that he's shoving them out of the way. Anybody under Daniels who is frustrated with Ryan should stand down because, well, he's Nolan Ryan, with a long history in Texas and with the Rangers. If Ryan sometimes gets a little more credit than he deserves, big deal.

And on the other side, it's not exactly clear what Ryan is looking for, because he doesn't seem interested in doing all the day-to-day heavy lifting. Daniels and his staff does that. Does Ryan want more authority? Or just some? And is all of that so important that he'd walk away from the team?

We'll see.

6. The New York Yankees' summer of reckoning
I wrote here the other day about all that is at stake this season for Hal Steinbrenner, following the winter of austerity.

7. The Toronto Blue Jays
The expectations are very high in Canada after the Blue Jays invested a ton of money in this year's makeover, and as is the case with all teams in the AL East, their weaknesses could take them down. The Rays should have an excellent bullpen, and the Orioles, Yankees and Red Sox may all have strong bullpens. The Jays, on the other hand, have major question marks, given the health concerns of Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos and others, and they don't have a lot of depth. Ricky Romero may be the first to find out that the pressure has been turned up: He really struggled last year and he is having problems again this spring. Plus, GM Alex Anthopoulos seemed to hint the other day that Romero's spot in the rotation isn't assured. This will not be a business-as-usual summer in Toronto.

8. Giancarlo Stanton and the Miami Marlins
The slugger expressed his frustration with the Marlins' operations last fall after the massive trade with Toronto. But he's kept his feelings under wraps this spring, speaking positively about the year ahead. His patience will be challenged this season, however, because there seems to be absolutely no reason for any opposing pitcher to throw him strikes, given that the guy hitting behind him could be either Casey Kotchman or Placido Polanco. Stanton is a smart guy, which gives him a better chance to cope with the long summer likely ahead of him. But there will be a day when his relationship with the Marlins reaches a head -- perhaps when they push him to sign a long-term deal.

9. Johan Santana and the New York Mets
They are headed for a divorce after a contractual marriage that hasn't played out the way either side envisioned. Santana has been hurt, and as he enters the last year of his contract with the team, he's dealing with arm issues again.

It's going to be important for the two sides to communicate regularly and respectfully to try to bring this relationship to a graceful conclusion. But as we saw earlier in spring training, there is major potential for ugliness.

Santana doesn't know when he'll pitch again.

10. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals
The Reds and Tigers will go into the season as strong favorites to win their respective divisions, so it's not as if the fans in Pittsburgh and Kansas City expect their teams to roll into the playoffs. But there is a strong desire for marked improvement -- for the Pirates, to finally climb at least to .500, after 20 straight losing seasons, and for the Royals, to contend all summer. The Pirates have some hope on the horizon, given the young pitching they have hoarded in their farm system, and Kansas City spent to significantly upgrade its pitching, adding James Shields, Wade Davis and Ervin Santana to a rotation that already includes Jeremy Guthrie.

But the early-season schedule for each team is absolutely brutal -- here in the blog, we rated Pittsburgh's early schedule as the toughest in the NL, and the Royals have the toughest early schedule in the AL. For example, from April 29 to June 2, 29 of the 32 games Kansas City plays will be against teams that had records over .500 last year.

If the Pirates and the Royals can get through that first stretch with a record close to .500, they could be set up for a summer of fun. If not, there could be ramifications.

News and notes

• St. Louis closer Jason Motte will open the season on the disabled list. From Derrick Goold's story:

Motte pitched a scoreless inning against the Mets on Thursday in Port St. Lucie, Fla. His last pitch zipped at 97 mph, and he was able to complete his post-appearance work without any discomfort or hints of trouble. On the bus ride back to Jupiter, he felt his arm tighten up and the elbow seized when he tried to extend his arm to set his phone down. The Cardinals sent Motte for an MRI scan on Friday, and the results of it were read by the team's medical staff.

The MRI showed what [GM John] Mozeliak called a "mild" strain of the tendon, or a Grade 1 strain. The MRI did not reveal any damage to the ligament, Mozeliak said.

• Pablo Sandoval suffered a setback.

• Jesus Montero was whacked in the head.

• In a story this week for ESPN The Magazine, I wrote about how Joey Votto is an omnivore, guessing on pitches -- breaking balls, changeup, fastballs. Watch what he does here, in sitting on a slow curveball from Yu Darvish. Darvish wasn't sure why Votto gestured.

• Halladay is facing a new reality, writes Jayson Stark. It's a chess match, writes Matt Gelb.

From Gelb's story:

When asked to evaluate Halladay's performance, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said he would not discuss it. He then added, "He was OK. He got his work in."

• The high percentage of cut fastballs being thrown by the Mets' Jon Niese has raised eyebrows among rival evaluators. There has always been concern that pitchers who rely heavily on cutters will sometimes lose velocity.

• Officials say Boras continues to ask for $14 million to $15 million a year from those interested in Kyle Lohse.

• Julio Teheran continues to have a great spring.

The fight for jobs

1. The Phillies sent Darin Ruf to the minors.

2. The Nationals have two No. 1-caliber catchers, and they will split the playing time, writes Adam Kilgore.

3. Francisco Cervelli has emerged as the No. 1 catcher for the Yankees.

4. The Orioles have a ton of candidates for the No. 5 spot in their rotation. They optioned Zach Britton to the minors.

This is part of the reason why I picked the Orioles to win the AL East: They somehow have developed a culture in which most or all of the players understand and embrace the idea that they will get opportunities, and if they fail, the team will try somebody else. This is not common, and it allows the Orioles to have great flexibility in maneuvering from game to game.

Britton's response to being sent down, detailed here by Roch Kubatko, was exactly what a team would hope for:

"It's disappointing, but I think you understand it's a fierce competition and guys have thrown better than me. Plain and simple," Britton said. "I have some things I need to get better at. Coming off that injury last year, I still feel like there are some adjustments that need to be made and it's easier to do that down there than the big league level. Especially because we want to win right off the bat. Hopefully, spend a month down there, get everything straightened out and then help the team. And I feel like that's more beneficial, rather than starting with the team and struggling and not feeling right. I think it's beneficial and I'm going to use it that way."

No excuses, no casting blame, complete accountability. This is how the Orioles' culture has evolved.

5. Chris Getz won the Royals' second-base job, over Johnny Giavotella.

6. A couple of newcomers figure to be on the Tigers' roster.

7. Scott Kazmir had a tough day.

8. Casey Coleman was upset about being sent down.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Yankees officially announced the Chien-Ming Wang deal.

2. Ron Roenicke is looking for some bench help.

3. The Cubs are looking for infield help, writes Jesse Rogers.

4. The Marlins signed an infielder.

5. The Rays cut a veteran.

6. The Astros are expected to sign Ronny Cedeno.

7. The Athletics signed a 6-foot-8 first baseman.

Dings and dents

1. Stephen Strasburg took a liner off his left wrist.

2. Derek Jeter doesn't want to talk about his ankle anymore, Mark Feinsand writes. He did not look good on the bases, writes George King.

3. And so it goes for the Twins: A promising pitcher is hurt.

4. A White Sox pitcher is encouraged.

5. Another Marlins prospect got hurt.

6. Chad Billingsley may or may not be ready to open the season.

Scouting Kyle Zimmer, Angels prospects.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Some notes from minor league camps the past two days.

• Kyle Zimmer (the No. 27 overall prospect) threw on Monday afternoon in Surprise in a minor league game against Texas, and showed the same assortment of stuff that made him a top-five draft pick last year, but still found himself squared up a little too often.

He was 92-96 mph without sink but with some riding life on his arm side. His curveball was plus (or better), 81-83 with tight rotation and downward break; he threw what looked like a slider/cutter at 85-86 with more tilt to it, although he may have been getting on the side of the curveball. He flashed a changeup at 85-86 with good arm speed but didn't use it as much as he should.

The fastball's lack of sink or tail combined with a very clean arm action makes it a little easier for hitters to see than you'd expect for a pitch at that velocity, and when he tried to bury 94 in on the hands of Lewis Brinson, the Rangers' first-round pick last year, Brinson turned on it and drilled a line-drive homer out to left. Zimmer, duly chastened, struck Brinson out on curveballs the next time up.

• John Lamb threw for Kansas City, as well, now two years off Tommy John surgery, but the stuff was ugly, mostly 85-87 with no arm speed and bad body language, as if he's hesitant to throw the ball at any speed.

• In the other A-ball game, Miguel Almonte, the No. 10 prospect in the Royals' system and one of several sleeper prospects I named for Kansas City, was 93-96, up from 91-94 when I saw him last summer, with an above-average changeup at 84-85 that he just needs to stay on top of better through his delivery. He turns 20 next week, and even though he has only 27 innings in the U.S. so far, I think he'd be ready for some kind of role in full-season ball.

• On Monday evening, the Los Angeles Angels held their annual prospects game, with two teams comprising most of their best prospects, with just one major omission, shortstop Jose Rondon, who's out with a broken hamate bone. The Halos also used the game as an opportunity to get Tommy Hanson some more work, and he looked solid, sitting mostly 88-89, getting some cut on the fastball when he went to his glove side, with a plus curveball all night that had depth and 11-to-5 break, and, more importantly, that he could throw for strikes. The slider, once his best pitch, was more average at 81-83. His key going forward will be to drive the ball down more consistently, because when he leaves the fastball up, he's going to get whacked.

• Other than Hanson, it was a parade of power arms for the Angels. Austin Wood, who hit 101 mph in a minor league game last week, was 92-96 with very good plane, flashing a plus-plus slider at 82-85 that just needs to be more consistent and even an average or slightly above-average changeup, as well. This is night and day versus what he was at USC, where the Trojans had him pitching like a finesse guy and he wasn't letting go enough to get that kind of bite on the slider.

• Mark Sappington, their fifth-round pick last year (one round ahead of Wood), started out around 94 and by the end of his first inning was sitting at 96, with a hard slurve at 81-83, coming out like a slider but with more depth like a curveball. He's got a great pitcher's build and stays on line toward the plate, with some effort that might eventually leave him in the bullpen.

• Two Angels arms from the Dominican Republic impressed in one-inning stints. Yency Almonte was 92-94 with a big-breaking slider at 77-79, showing a very loose arm that he hasn't learned to harness yet. Victor Alcantara threw just a handful of pitches but sat 93 and touched 95, showing a very quick arm and a little more body control than Almonte had. Both will probably spend the summer in Tempe.

• Other than Rondon, the Angels' top hitting prospects all played, with Kaleb Cowart (their top prospect and No. 23 overall) lining a triple down the first-base line and taking an 0-2 slider on the outside corner to the left-field warning track for an impressive fly out. Taylor Lindsey (No. 2 in their system) also did what he does, singling and tripling, both to right field, and even running a little better than he had in the past. Randal Grichuk (No. 6) was the one standout on the other side of the ledger, with two ugly punchouts, one on a curveball down, one on a fastball up.

• On Tuesday, I caught a few innings of Chris Stratton, the Giants' first-round pick in the 2012 draft and the No. 3 prospect in their system, in a low-A game. He was just 87-89 without much arm speed, although both his curve and slider were above-average pitches. Stratton had been 90-94 most of last spring at Mississippi State in a breakout season that saw him among the SEC's strikeout leaders thanks to that slider; at this point in spring training, however, I'd expect to see a little more velocity than what he showed.

Lohse a short-term fit for Brewers.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Run prevention was a major problem for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2012, as they ranked 13th in the National League in team ERA, ahead only of three teams that averaged more than 100 losses between them, although Milwaukee's issues were more in the bullpen (a league-worst 4.66 reliever ERA) than the rotation.

That said, Kyle Lohse does help them this year, probably by about two wins, on a contract (three years, $33 million) that seems pretty reasonable relative to market values for starters of his caliber.

If the Brewers are logical, they'll have Lohse take the spot currently occupied by Chris Narveson, who was a little above replacement level across two seasons in their rotation before missing most of 2012 due to injury. Lohse provides the Brewers with bulk innings, which Narveson can't guarantee, and would be a solid two-win upgrade over what Narveson might give them if healthy for 30 starts.

It seems just as likely, however, that the Brewers will use Lohse in lieu of Wily Peralta (the No. 73 prospect in baseball), whose spring began late after shoulder stiffness and who is less of a known quantity than Narveson or Mike Fiers; Peralta has greater upside than either of those guys, but greater uncertainty due to his lack of major league experience.

I'd rather see them roll the dice on getting above-average performance from Peralta, who has a power arm and can miss bats and generate ground balls, than on the known yet lower-ceiling quantity of Narveson. Even a good year from Peralta and the addition of Lohse doesn't put them in the class of the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals, but it does get them in position to pass one of those teams if either suffers a major setback.

Three years for Lohse is very reasonable given how well he pitched in the past two seasons and his track record of health. However, for the Brewers -- a team that looks like its roster is sliding out of contender status rather than improving its chances of reaching the playoffs -- it makes more sense as a contract Milwaukee could trade next offseason or in mid-2014, as the team is not likely to be very good by the time Lohse's deal reaches its final year. That said, the reported dollar figures would make him tradeable later in the contract as long as he stays healthy.

It also hurts the team to lose its first-round pick for this signing, No. 17 overall, in a draft that's pretty heavy with college starters, especially when the team's farm system already ranked as the second-worst in baseball; the Brewers' first pick this year won't be until No. 54, by which point 27 other teams will have had at least one selection, and their draft bonus pool this year will only be a little over $3 million in total.

The Cardinals benefit by picking up the first compensation pick, No. 28 overall, on top of their regular first-round pick at No. 19, which should give them an additional $1.65 million (based on the 2012 slot figures) to spend on their draft class this year. While it's not a great draft class overall, there will be several high-ceiling high school guys available with that 19th pick, and the Cards will be in great position to take a player who slid a little due to bonus demands, after which they can save some money at pick 28 or 57 by taking a player who'll sign under one of those slot numbers.

Scouting Reds, Cubs and M's prospects.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Some notes from the weekend on minor league fields in Goodyear and Mesa.

• Robert Stephenson was the Cincinnati Reds' first-round selection in 2011 and ranked as my No. 48 prospect coming into this year, second in the Reds' system behind Billy Hamilton. He threw a superb four innings on Saturday, filling up the strike zone with two pitches, a fastball at 93-98 mph and a slider at 79-81 that was almost unhittable.

Stephenson stays over the rubber well and takes a long stride toward the plate, but he's pretty late turning his pitching arm over and is stiff when he gets out over that front side. He also has a head-bobble after release, which is usually a bad sign for the pitcher's command, but in Stephenson's case, command isn't a problem. I'd like to see a third pitch from him, and I do wish the delivery was cleaner -- especially getting that elbow turned around sooner -- but the size and command of two plus pitches is a special, front-of-the-rotation combination.

• On the other side of the field, however, things weren't so pretty, as right-hander Victor Sanchez, whom the Seattle Mariners signed for a $2.5 million bonus about 20 months ago, looked awful, overweight and under-velocitied.

Sanchez had an appendectomy and a hernia operation this winter, so this was his first start of the spring, but that doesn't entirely explain the weight gain, slow arm, or 89-92 mph fastball (mostly 89-90) that Reds hitters had no problem squaring up. His changeup was flat and up at 89-90, leaving his curveball -- his only decent pitch -- at 74-78, showing pretty tight rotation with a short break.

The main concern here is that he's barely 18 years old and already has a conditioning issue -- he's listed at 6-foot, 255 pounds, and I'd peg his weight at least 10-15 pounds over that. He'll have to shed some of those extra pounds and hope to get his arm back to full strength in extended spring as he comes back from the offseason procedures.

• On Sunday, I saw two more Reds Class A arms, both right-handers, over at the Chicago Cubs' minor league complex. Dan Langfield was their third-round selection in 2012, an arm-strength guy out of the University of Memphis, but was just 91-92 on Sunday, with an above-average curveball at 74-76. Sal Romano was their 23rd-round pick in 2011, signed to an over-slot deal, and was 89-91 with an average curveball at 76-77 with a below-average change. He's got some head violence in his delivery and a lot of effort, but he's got a great pitcher's build with tree trunks where his legs should be.

• The two Cubs arms of note on Sunday came in at opposite ends of the spectrum. Starling Peralta, who was selected by Arizona in the Rule 5 draft this winter but quickly returned to the Cubs, touched 97 and sat around 94 with an inconsistent slider, slurvy at 75 mph, but with real bite at 81 in on a left-handed hitter's hands. There's some effort there but I can see why a team would at least pay $25,000 -- per Rule 5 guidelines -- for an extra look. Robert Whitenack, however, looked awful in his comeback from 2010 Tommy John surgery, sitting 85-87, way below what he was pre-surgery. He's a cautionary tale for every one of us (myself included) who looks at that operation as risk-free. Most guys come all the way back, but maybe one in 10 don't.

• I didn't see most of the Cubs' main hitting prospects, even the lower-tier guys, but did catch a few swings from second baseman Gioskar Amaya. He showed a compact stroke and the ability, maybe even the tendency, to try to keep his hands inside the ball rather than getting around it to drive the ball to the gaps. Jeimer Candelario didn't play; Dan Vogelbach homered to deep right and struck out twice. Their recent Cuban signee, pitcher Armando Rivero, probably won't get into game action until mid-April, when he'll start in extended spring training.
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Jemile Weeks was sent to the minors? I thought he was decent. And he plays for the A's.
post #10297 of 73600
Originally Posted by ShannonsCrooks View Post

Jemile Weeks was sent to the minors? I thought he was decent. And he plays for the A's.

You must have missed 2012.
post #10298 of 73600
Thread Starter 
Scouting Reds and White Sox prospects.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
I headed to Goodyear, Ariz., on Friday hoping to see Robert "The Lighthouse" Stephenson, but he's scheduled to pitch Saturday (which I'll see as well). Instead, I got to see a solid collection of prospects from the Cincinnati Reds' and Chicago White Sox's A-ball rosters, which was a pretty good consolation prize.

• The Reds' first pick from the 2012 draft, right-hander Nick Travieso, started and threw two innings for their low-A club, working from 91-94 with a slightly higher arm slot than he showed last summer right after he signed; it's closer to three-quarters now, with a slimmer, better-conditioned body. He threw mostly fastballs, mixing in a changeup at 81-83, and generally looking looser and more starter-like than he did last year.

• Drew Cisco was the Reds' sixth-round pick in 2010 and signed for second-round money away from a scholarship to Georgia, but he needed Tommy John surgery shortly after signing and didn't pitch in a professional game until last year. He is a command/control right-hander with a fringy fastball, sitting 88-89 on Friday with good two-seam life and an average curveball at 74-77. His arm isn't very quick, and he doesn't use his lower half as much as he should.

• Myles Jaye started for the White Sox's low-A club, working 90-94 from the windup and 89-91 from the stretch with a short, early-breaking slider that was average when he finished it out front but below that otherwise. He also flashed a hard changeup that wasn't separated enough from the fastball to be effective. Jaye struggled badly in the rotation in low-A last year, but the arm strength and the chance for an average (or maybe better) slider make him a good candidate for a move to the bullpen, where he might sit more in the 93-94 range.

• Two more of the Reds' top picks from last year played as well. Outfielder Jesse Winker and shortstop Tanner Rahier both hit several balls hard without much to show for it, with Winker mixing in a pair of four-pitch walks. I loved Rahier's swing when he was in high school, and it's still very sound, with good balance throughout and a simple, direct path to the ball. Winker's swing is a little less sound, as he bars his lead arm, but he has much better hand strength than I saw from him in high school and his overall approach is advanced. 2011 second-rounder Gabriel Rosa, who hit .179/.188/.256 in rookie-level Billings last year, looked as you might expect from that stat line.

• Courtney Hawkins probably wishes I hadn't come to Goodyear on Friday. The White Sox's first pick in the 2012 draft punched out three times, all in ugly fashion, with one walk his only positive note on the day. His timing was way off, swinging through fastballs up in the zone and chasing changeups down and even in the dirt before they reached the plate. He's a better player than that, but it was a poor showing. Fellow day-one selection from last year Keon Barnum didn't play, as he's out until early May after breaking his right hamate bone earlier this month.

• I mentioned on Twitter that there were a few surprises. The biggest one was Cincinnati pitcher Sean Lucas, its 25th-round pick last year as a senior sign out of SUNY-Albany. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound lefty was 90-93 with an average changeup, which he used to depants Hawkins, and an average to slightly above-average slider at 76-79. His arm works well enough that I could see him starting, although he could move very quickly if the Reds kept him in a relief role. For that point in the draft and I assume a modest signing bonus, that's a tremendous find by the Reds' northeast scouting supervisor, Lee Seras.

• The White Sox rolled out Braulio Ortiz, a 21-year-old Dominican right-hander who will make his U.S. debut this year. He showed an easy 92-94 mph fastball, without a ton of life to it but very little effort as well, coming from a low three-quarters slot that should be tough on right-handed hitters. His main off-speed pitch was a slider, although he kept getting on the side of it. Given the lack of sink or life on the fastball, it might help to raise his arm slot a tiny amount so he can get some tilt on the slider.

The other pleasant surprise for the White Sox was outfielder Jason Coats, drafted as a senior last year out of TCU. He was on my draft rankings heading into the spring of his junior year, but a poor showing that spring killed his stock and he ended up returning for his senior season. He's all bat -- maybe a 20-grade runner -- but he was squaring stuff up all day, and it sounded (from White Sox staffers) like he has been doing that all spring. He's already 23, so I hope they start him in high-A Winston-Salem, along with second baseman Joey DiMichele, one of my favorite non-top 100 guys from last year's draft.

• On Thursday, I saw Clayton Blackburn pitch for the San Francisco Giants' Double-A club in a generally uneventful game, and he did more or less what he usually does -- throw a ton of strikes with an average or fringe-average fastball, 87-91, and a solid-average or better curveball at 74-76. Blackburn looked like he was playing catch, using his lower half well in his delivery with just a moderate stride, although he was getting under the ball a little rather than using his 6-3 frame to get some downhill plane on the fastball. My only real concern is that he looked heavier this spring, although that could come off as the season goes on.

The top five defenders for 2013.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
On May 30, 2012, the Braves were in fourth place in the NL East and their rookie shortstop, Tyler Pastornicky, wasn't hitting. But even worse than his .243 average was his defense.

At Baseball Info Solutions, we evaluate a player's defensive contributions in a holistic statistic called defensive runs saved. DRS breaks defense into components such as range and arm and looks at specific types of plays, such as bunts and potential double-play balls. It then combines those factors and puts them in the context of the runs saved or cost for a team by each player.

In just 332 innings at shortstop (roughly 25 percent of the season), Pastornicky cost the Braves 16 runs. Enter Andrelton Simmons. Simmons had much less experience in the upper minors than Pastornicky, but scouts raved about his defensive tools. He did not disappoint. He saved the Braves 19 runs in 426 innings before a broken finger shortened his season.

Because of that stellar defense, Simmons ranks at No. 137 on the BBTN 500, and he has the best defensive projection of any player in baseball. Check out the top five, according to Baseball Info Solutions.


1. Andrelton Simmons | SS, Atlanta Braves
Projected DRS: 20

It may seem like a bold prediction to designate Simmons as the DRS leader before he has even played 50 games in the majors, but when you look at his numbers from his limited time in 2012, you may wonder if we are still too conservative. Simmons saved 19 runs with his stellar defense in only 49 games in 2012, likely one-third of the playing time he'll receive this season. He had the second-most runs saved at shortstop -- still well short of Brendan Ryan's 27 runs saved -- and the 10th-most runs saved at any position.

So far, Simmons has not shown any real weaknesses in his defensive game, but he is perhaps most effective due to his lateral range. He, Ryan and J.J. Hardy were the only three shortstops to make seven or more plays above average to both their left and their right last season.


2. Brett Lawrie | 3B, Toronto Blue Jays
Projected DRS: 19

Even with an injury that limited him to 123 games last year, Lawrie still edged David Wright (20 to 16) for the most DRS at third base.

In his two seasons, he has converted 25 of his 43 double-play opportunities, which is right at the league average, and his excellent range is somewhat counterbalanced by a slight tendency to misplay some balls. Still, those small imperfections pale in comparison to his truly elite skill.

Lawrie is the best in baseball at fielding straight-on balls, a skill that shines at third base, where he has the opportunity to aggressively charge down-the-line swinging bunts. Last year, he made 14 plays above average on straight-on balls, which was the most of any infielder since 2009.


3. Brendan Ryan | SS, Seattle Mariners
Projected DRS: 17

Ryan may not generate the excitement of some of the younger players on this list, especially those who can contribute offensively as well as defensively, but he is the safest bet to produce an elite defensive season in 2013.

It took a few years for Ryan to find regular playing time at shortstop, but from 2009 to 2012, he played in at least 830 innings at short per season and saved at least 18 runs in each of those four seasons. Combined, his 92 DRS since 2009 are 18 more than the second-best player, Ben Zobrist, who has 74.

Ryan's defensive profile is similar to Simmons'. In his four years as a full-time player, Ryan has never cost his team a run in any component of DRS, and he has converted 21 plays above average on plays to his left and right per season.


4. Alex Gordon | LF, Kansas City Royals
Projected DRS: 15

Gordon broke into the majors as a third baseman, and despite some modest defensive success in his first season, he cost the Royals nine runs over the course of the 2,800 innings he played at third for them. That all changed when Gordon became a full-time left fielder in 2011. In the two years since, he has saved 44 runs, nearly double the 24 saved by Brett Gardner, the left fielder closest to him.

Gordon's success has been built more on his arm than his range, which explains why third base seemed like a natural position for him. Gordon has thrown out 26 baserunners without the help of a cutoff man over the past two seasons, more than any other outfielder. Still, Gordon has shown much better range on fly balls in the outfield than on ground balls in the infield. Some of that is likely due to the competition.

Left field is a position where some teams still try to hide their offense-first players with limited defensive capabilities, and that can make Gordon appear better by comparison. However, it also seems likely that Gordon is better at covering ground in left field than at third base, which may be due to the decreased importance of reaction time to range.


5. Josh Reddick | RF, Oakland Athletics
Projected DRS: 15

Reddick is the lone name on this list that had some serious competition from the other players at his position. His projected 15 DRS beat Jason Heyward by one run. Last year was similar, as Reddick and Heyward (at 22 and 20 DRS, respectively), distanced themselves from the rest of the players at their position.

The defensive duel between Reddick and Heyward is made all the more interesting because of their contrasting styles. Heyward has elite range, saving 19 or more runs with his range in each of the previous three seasons. However, Heyward has also cost the Braves eight runs over that span because of his modest arm. Meanwhile, Reddick has good (but not elite) range -- he saved 13 runs because of his range in 2012 -- but bridges the gap with Heyward with his arm, with which he saved six runs in 2012.

Gray keeps rising, Appel still No. 1.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Winter has officially passed, which means that things are starting to heat up on the scouting path for the 2013 draft. This week we saw the first start of the season by one of the best arms in the class, the dynamic-duo from Georgia continuing their quest for world domination, and the collegiate bats doing whatever the opposite of world domination is.

• One of the most impressive things about Jonathan Gray's current run of dominance is that he's done it against quality competition, and this weekend he was facing another solid lineup in TCU. Once again, Gray was up to the challenge. The Oklahoma right-hander struck out 12 and gave up just one earned run in his nine innings of work, and didn't give up a hit until the sixth inning. Gray once again hit 100 mph on guns, and his wipeout slider kept the Horned Frogs off-balance all day.

• Mark Appel was making his first start in two weeks -- Stanford was off for spring break last week -- and the Cardinal right-hander did show some rust. In a 6-4 victory against Utah, Appel gave up just one run and struck out 11 over his eight innings, but did give up six hits and the secondary offerings weren't as good as they have been for the most of the year.

"(Appel) certainly wasn't as good as he was against Fresno State or Texas, but that's a tough standard to live up to" a National League scout said. "The velocity is there, the command is so much better than last year and with respect to [Gray], he's the best player in the class and it isn't even close."

• TCU's decision to make Andrew Mitchell their closer may have solidified the Horned Frogs bullpen, but the decision also meant that one of the most talented arms in the 2013 class was relegated to only 11 innings pitched this season. Thankfully, Mitchell was moved into the rotation Sunday, and the right-hander showed why he's so highly regarded. Mitchell went only 4 2/3 innings, but he struck out six and all six hits the right-hander gave up were singles. With a fastball that can get up to 97 and a good curveball and change, Mitchell has a chance to go in the top half of the first round come June.

• If there was a chief concern teams had about Arizona State's Trevor Williams coming into the season was an inability to miss bats despite having above-average stuff. The Sun Devil right-hander got off to a solid start, but has really struggled over his last two outings in conference play. After giving up 13 hits and seven earned runs against Washington State last week, Williams was generally ineffective against Oregon State, going five innings and giving up three runs and seven hits.

"I'd say he's one of, if not the most, frustrating pitchers in the class," an AL East scout said. "I don't know if it's a case where he's just not trusting his stuff against better competition, but it sure seems like something is going on. Two weeks ago he'd be a guy I'd recommend in the top 10. Now I'm not so sure."

• There was good and bad news regarding Ryne Stanek's start on Saturday against South Carolina. The good news is that Stanek did throw strikes, giving up no walks and striking out seven in a complete game victory. The bad news is that he was allowed to throw 125 pitches on short rest. Even with six days between starts, that's on the high side, and adding unnecessary stress on the 21 year-old's right arm.


• The Austin Meadows-Clint Frazier on March 12 had the hype of a heavyweight fight in scouting circles, and popular opinion after Frazier hit two mammoth homers was that Frazier had passed Meadows on draft boards.

Not so fast my friend.

Meadows has been red-hot lately, going 8-for-11 over his last three games with two homers and three doubles. In addition to the scorching hitting, the left-handed hitting outfielder has been a force on the bases with 11 stolen bases in his ten games so far.

"Meadows would certainly go ahead of Frazier for me, and I say that with all due respect" an NL Central scout said. "He's going to play center field, he's going to steal 30 bases, and he's going to hit. I like Frazier a lot, but he's a corner outfielder and he doesn't have the projection that Meadows does. It would be a mistake to take (Frazier) over Meadows."

Frazier hasn't exactly been chopped liver at the plate, himself. The right-handed hitting outfielder hit his seventh homer of the season on Tuesday, and no player has more bat speed in this year's class. Even as a guy who's future is more than likely at a corner outfield position, Frazier has a chance to go high, thanks in part to his offensive upside and the lack of any semblance of depth in the collegiate ranks.

• Keith Law and I were in Tempe to see New Mexico third-baseman DJ Peterson last Wednesday, and the results were mixed at best. This weekend, Peterson faced what will likely be the toughest pitcher he'll see all year in Nevada right-hander Braden Shipley. Peterson failed to accumulate a hit against the Wolfpack right-hander, flying out twice and grounding into a double play.

"For me, it's simply a matter of scouting with stats on Peterson" an AL scout said. "I can't take a one-tool guy who's going to more than likely end up at first base on day one unless he's got 70-80 power, and (Peterson) doesn't have it. The numbers are great, but if you put [San Diego third baseman Kris] Bryant on that team, then the numbers would be even wackier."

Peterson is hitting .392/.496/.876 on the year, but the Lobos play in one of the great hitter's ballparks in all of college baseball.

• While there's almost no chance of him catching Jon Denney, Reese McGuire (Kentwood HS, Covington, Wash.) has solidified himself as the second-best prep catcher in the class. The left-handed hitting backstop has put up a .562 on-base percentage to start the season, while continuing to show the best catch-and-throw skills of any prep catcher available this year. The power numbers haven't shown up yet, but scouts believe that as he fills out his frame the pop will come, and McGuire is absolutely a day-one candidate this year.

• Finally, it is worth nothing that Trey Ball from New Castle (Ind.) HS. -- who ranked No.11 on Keith Law's Future 50 -- will get his season underway today when New Castle takes on Hagerstown. Ball is the best two-way prospect in the class, and while most prefer him in the outfield, a team could fall in love with his size (6-foot-6, 190 pounds) and projection on the mound.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Mar 2811:14AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments0EmailPrintWith Kyle Lohse having signed with the Milwaukee Brewers, the game's top remaining free agent is reliever Jose Valverde, formerly of the Detroit Tigers. Unlike Lohse, Valverde will not require the signing club to surrender a draft pick, yet there has been very little interest of which to speak.

Valverde, says agent Scott Boras, has trimmed 18 pounds off his frame from a year ago, and there are clubs that appear to have a need for some veteran, late-inning help. The Brewers may be one of them, but price is likely the sticking point for any club, and the player and agent.

Valverde could wait to see if an injury changes his market, or he couuld drop his asking price and head to the highest bidder. Stay tuned.Tags:Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers, Milwaukee Brewers
Dodgers to keep SP depth?
March, 28, 2013
Mar 2810:33AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments0EmailPrintSomething's got to give in Los Angeles where the Los Angeles Dodgers have eight starting pitchers with just a few days left in spring training.

A small handful of clubs were on hand Monday to see left-hander Chris Capuano, who might be the most valuable of the Dodgers' excess, and the veteran spun seven shutout innings. Whether or not GM Ned Colletti goes the trade route remains to be seen, but just in case the Pirates, Indians, Rangers and Mariners had scouts in attendance, although it may very well have been routine, or they may have been there to see someone else.

Assuming at least seven of the eight are healthy come Opening Day it seems logical for Colletti to move at least one before camp breaks over the weekend. Capuano and veteran right-hander Aaron Harang appear the most likely to go. Harang, however, struggled in his latest outing.
Tags:Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, Pittsburgh Pirates
Soriano still trade bait?
March, 28, 2013
Mar 289:58AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments0EmailPrintWith the New York Yankees having landed Vernon Wells to help with their outfield problem, it may seem as if Alfonso Soriano has few, if any, suitors and that he may stay in Chicago for the duration. Like the Los Angeles Angels, however, the Cubs have reportedly told interested parties that they're willing to cover a large portion of Soriano's remaining contract in a trade, and despite no clear landing spot, it's likely he finishes 2013 somewhere else.

One thing that assist the odds is Soriano starting off the season strong and remaining consistent at the plate. Clubs suffer injuries and at times end up pulling the plug on other players and those team could come calling over the summer, perhaps before. One of those is the Detroit Tigers, who may see the need for a right-handed platoon partner for Andy Dirks.

The Cubs are likely to be ready to call upon more youth in June or July, too, making Soriano even more expendable. American League contenders with at-bats available at DH also could show interest in Soriano. It certainly appears to be a situation that will resolve itself sooner than later, and is a matter of when, rather than if.Tags:Detroit Tigers, Chicago Cubs, Alfonso Soriano
Opening Day starters: AL Central
March, 28, 2013
Mar 289:13AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments0EmailPrintMany MLB clubs appear to have made their decisions on their Opening Day starter. Starting with the American League Central, let's take a look who'll get the nod when 2013 breaks:

Detroit Tigers
Justin Verlander, RHP
A no-doubter, but Max Scherzer and even Doug Fister are good enough to be Opening Day starters for a couple of the Tigers' division rivals.

Kansas City Royals
James Shields, RHP
This is a no-brainer, and Shields could repeat the honor in 2014.

Cleveland Indians
Justin Masterson, RHP
Masterson gets the call over Ubaldo Jimenez.

Minnesota Twins
The Twins have named right-hander Vance Worley their Opening Day starter.

Chicago White Sox
Chris Sale, LHP
The club made it official two weeks ago.Tags:Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals
Viciedo's future
March, 28, 2013
Mar 288:32AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments0EmailPrintDayan Viciedo, who has dabbled at third base as well as the outfield, may eventually be moved to first base, Chicago White Sox GM Rick Hahn said Tuesday.
Paul Konerko mans the position now, of course, but he's in the final year of his contract and is 37 years old. He could decide to retire soon, or perhaps even sign with another team after the 2013 campaign. Viciedo appears to be a good fit at first base considering he's a fringy defender anywhere else.

Hahn also said that Viciedo isn't likely to see time at third base this season, which means he'll play a corner outfield spot and could spend time at DH, too.Tags:Chicago White Sox, Paul Konerko, Dayan Viciedo
Opening Day starters: AL West
March, 28, 2013
Mar 288:04AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments0EmailPrintWe've covered the Opening Day starting pitchers for the National League West and American League Central, so let's move on with the American League West.
Texas Rangers
Despite the presence of strikeout artists Yu Darvish, the Rangers have chosen Matt Harrison to start on Opening Day, reported Richard Durrett of It's Harrison's first Opening Day start. Right-hander Colby Lewis, who will start the season on the disabled list, was the choice a year ago.

Los Angeles Angels
Jered Weaver is set to make his fourth straight Opening Day start and fifth overall. Joe Saunders got the ball in Game 1 in 2009, as Weaver's debut was delayed until April 10 by minor arm stiffness.

Oakland Athletics
The A's will hand the ball to lefty Brett Anderson on Opening Night, marking the eighth different pitcher in eight years to start the first game of the season for the Athletics. The last to repeat was Barry Zito in 2006.

Seattle Mariners
Felix Hernandez will make his sixth Opening Day start and fifth in a row. The last time Hernandez did not start on Opening Day was in 2008 when lefty Erik Bedard received the honors. For the fourth straight season, Seattle, and King Felix, open against the A's. This year will mark the fifth time, out of six, that Hernandez has started his season versus Oakland.

Houston Astros
The Astros have chosen right-hander Bud Norris to start on Opening Day, provided GM Jeff Luhnow doesn't trade him in the next four days. Norris is the third different Opening Day starter for Houston since Roy Oswalt made eight straight such appearances.Tags:Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics, Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish, Houston Astros, Jered Weaver, Felix Hernandez, Bud Norris, Brett Anderson
Turner back soon?
March, 27, 2013
Mar 273:38PM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments0EmailPrintThe Miami Marlins optioned right-hander Jacob Turner to the minors this week, reports Juan C. Rodriguez, and set their rotation, writes Joe Capozzi.

Turner was acquired in the deal that sent Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez to Detroit last summer, but the former first-round pick has yet to establish himself in the big leagues. He's still just 21 years of age, however, and if he fine tunes in Triple-A New Orleans could be the first arm summoned in case of injury or struggles to one of the five headed for Miami this coming weekend.

The Marlins could shop right-hander Ricky Nolasco at some point, too, which could open a spot for Turner, if he's shown progress.
Tags:Miami Marlins, Ricky Nolasco, Jacob Turner
Time to pay Verlander?
March, 27, 2013
Mar 273:07PM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments0EmailPrintThe Detroit Tigers have paid Miguel Cabrera, signed Victor Martinez, Prince Fielder and Torii Hunter, and played musical chairs with their bullpen, quite effectively, too, over the past several years. Drew Sharp of The Detroit Free-Press writes that the club should not wait to get ace Justin Verlander signed beyond 2014.

With Felix Hernandez in the fold for $175.1 million over seven years, Verlander could easily request $200 million and not be laughed out of the negotiation process. He may be the game's best starting pitcher, after all.

Sharp's reasoning includes the Tigers avoiding going into Verlander's final season under contract next year and perhaps feeling cornered, and that if the right-hander hits the open market "they face the certainty of losing Verlander with little compensation."

That, however, is assuming Verlander loses his love for the Tigers and bolts for the Bronx, L.A. or maybe Boston or Texas for what isn't likely to be significantly more dollars than the Tigers can and seem willing to offer big-time superstar players.

Sharp recommends a five-year, $150 million offer, which would make Verlander the first $30 million pitcher in history.

Tags:Detroit Tigers, Justin Verlander
Phillies possible plans
March, 27, 2013
Mar 272:22PM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments0EmailPrintJust thinking out loud here -- err, digitally, anyway -- but with the National League East looking to be quite competitive at the top between the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, it's more than conceivable that the Philadelphia Phillies will struggle to remain in contention, especially considering the spring struggles of Roy Halladay and the remaining question marks in the outfield and with the health concerns of a number of key veterans.

Every time this conversation is broached and the trade route is discussed, left-hander Cliff Lee is the first name on the board. Chances are, numerous veterans could be the subject of trade rumors if the Phillies fall back, which may start a bit of a rebuilding effort.

Chase Utley is headed for free agency, as is Halladay sans a pricey team option, and while Ryan Howard's contract is likely one that can't be traded, Jimmy Rollins likely has value. Closer Jonathan Papelbon could also be shopped.

The Phillies, if they go such a route, could hold onto left-hander Cole Hamels, centerfielder Ben Revere and perhaps Domonic Brown if his spring carries over into the regular season. Catcher Carlos Ruiz, whose slated to hit free agency after the season with Utley, could also be a trade consideration if he isn't re-signed during the season.Tags:Philadelphia Phillies, Cliff Lee, Carlos Ruiz, Jonathan Papelbon, Chase Utley
ATL still looking for help?
March, 27, 2013
Mar 271:19PM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments1EmailPrintThe Atlanta Braves, tweeted ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney earlier this spring, would like to add a left-handed hitting bench bat. The free agent market bares veterans Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu, but the trade route could be the best resource in March.

One option could be Eric Thames of the Seattle Mariners. The M's have Franklin Gutierrez, Michael Morse and Michael Saunders as sure things with veteran Jason Bay and the out-of-options Casper Wells fighting for the final job. Raul Ibanez is also guaranteed a roster spot, leaving Thames headed for the minors.

One other player to keep an eye on is Julio Borbon in Texas. He, too, is out of options, as we discussed earlier Wednesday.Tags:Atlanta Braves, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers, Johnny Damon, Bobby Abreu, Julio Borbon, Brennan Boesch, Eric Thames, Wutinin Berry
Orioles' DH options
March, 27, 2013
Mar 2712:29PM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments0EmailPrintThe Baltimore Orioles could be without Wilson Betemit for a little while as the club learned of the severity of the veteran's knee injury.

As a result, GM Dan Duquette says Ryan Flaherty will pick up the slack as the designated hitter versus right-handed pitching. If Betemit is ultimately expected to miss significant time, the club could check the trade winds or perhaps the scrap heap for some help. This is where a veteran such as Johnny Damon or Bobby Abreu could become a possibility.

The health of the rest of the roster may dictate, too, specifically outfielders Nolan Reimold and Nick Markakis, and second baseman Brian Roberts. It does not appear Duquette is looking to go outside the organization at this time.
Tags:Baltimore Orioles, Johnny Damon, Bobby Abreu, Brian Roberts, Ryan Flaherty, Nick Markakis, Nolan Reimold, Wilson Betemit
Rangers' No. 5 starter
March, 27, 2013
Mar 2711:39AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments0EmailPrintRight-hander Nick Tepesch has won the No. 5 starter spot for the Texas Rangers, beating out Michael Kirkman and Justin Grimm. Kirkman, a left-hander, will start the year in the bullpen, instead.

Tepesch's hold on the No. 5 job may not last long, however, as the health of Martin Perez and eventually Colby Lewis will become factors. Lewis is expected back sometime around mid-season, barring any setbacks.

Derek Lowe earned a spot in the bullpen and could get starts later in the season, if necessary, so the Rangers have plenty of options if Tepesch struggles.Tags:Texas Rangers, Derek Lowe, Martin Perez, Nick Tepesch, Michael Kirkman
Borbon on the block
March, 27, 2013
Mar 2711:27AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments0EmailPrintThe Texas Rangers, reports T.R. Sullivan, are discussing a trade of outfielder Julio Borbon with a couple of clubs. This comes as the result of the Rangers deciding on Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin in center field, and Borbon being out of options.

Borbon isn't the lone outfielder in the American League West in this situation, as Seattle's Casper Wells, if he loses out to veteran Jason Bay, is also likely to be shopped, if he isn't being discussed in trades already.

Borbon is more of a pure centerfielder than Wells, but hasn't shown an ability to hit with consistency. Wells has shown power versus left-handed pitching and is a worthy platoon candidate. Clubs have until March 31 to set their rosters.Tags:Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Casper Wells, Julio Borbon
Santiago to bullpen?
March, 27, 2013
Mar 279:57AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments0EmailPrintWith Dylan Axelrod officially being named the Chicago White Sox No. 5 starter, left-hander Hector Santiago appears set for a role out of the bullpen.

The 25-year-old has made 40 of his 44 big-league appearances in a relief role, but started 27 games in the minor leagues and two in the majors a year ago.

The decision to go with Axelrod as the No. 5 starter, pushing Santiago to the bullpen, gives the Sox three left-handed relievers -- Matt Thornton and Donnie Veal being the other two.Tags:Chicago White Sox, Donnie Veal, Hector Santiago, Dylan Axelrod
M's rotation may be set
March, 27, 2013
Mar 279:10AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments0EmailPrintAfter allowing Jon Garland to opt out of his minor league contract late last week, the Seattle Mariners now have a decision to make on Jeremy Bonderman. The veteran was hit pretty hard Tuesday, showing an 89-91 mph fastball and below-average command, possibly punching his own ticket out of camp.

The M's could ask Bonderman to pitch at Triple-A Tacoma to continue to build arm strength and regain at least passable command and control -- perhaps the last to return after Tommy John surgery, which Bonderman had last April. Seattle's other options are right-hander Blake Beavan, Erasmo Ramirez and Brandon Maurer.

Maurer would be skipping Triple-A but has been strong all month, flashing a plus slider to go with 89-96 mph velocity with a two-seamer and four-seamer. Ramirez may have the toughest path after feeling a twinge in his triceps after a recent outing. He appears to be fine, but may not be ready once the club needs a fourth or fifth starter.

Maurer's workload may be a concern, and it's conceivable that the Mariners may prefer to avoid starting his free agent clock -- something a 2-3 week stint in the minors would delay -- but he's still in big league camp and is slated to start the club's final game before the regular season, which puts him on schedule to also make his major-league debut April 5 at Chicago.
post #10299 of 73600
Originally Posted by dland24 View Post

You must have missed 2012.

and 2011, 2010, 2009, etc.
post #10300 of 73600
Thread Starter 
2013 Positional Power Rankings: Introduction.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Last year, we decided to do season previews a little bit differently, and instead of running down each individual team, we previewed the league by position. We liked the format, so we’re doing it again this year. For those who didn’t see the series the first time around, let me borrow from last year’s introduction:

This is only looking at the upcoming season and doesn’t account for potential long term value – we’re just concerned with what each team may get from a given spot on the field this year…

The fun part of comparing teams at a given position is that we’re not limited to just looking at one player, but can compare the expected production of an everyday guy against a left/right platoon, or we can note what a team should expect from giving a stop-gap two months of playing time before they call up their top prospect in the early summer. Few teams get an entire season’s worth of playing time at a position from one guy, so by using depth charts to create an expected playing time matrix, we can give a more thorough evaluation of what kind of strength an organization has at a given spot.

We’re following the same structure as last year, but we’ve also made some improvements that should upgrade this year’s version. To create the data that drives the actual placement of each team within each position, we’re combining a few resources to give us a custom projection that I think could end up being quite an interesting forecast. For playing time, we author-sourced depth charts for every team, handing out playing time at each spot based on the best information available at this point in time. We then prorated the ZIPS and Steamer projections to those playing time levels and averaged– with a straight 50/50 split — those forecasts, then ran those inputs through our WAR calculation.

It might sound a little convoluted, but the hope is that we’re taking the things that projection systems do the best and complementing them with playing time projections informed by updated injury information and the kinds of things that humans can know by reading the paper and following a team’s moves with a close eye. Because it’s a hybrid of multiple inputs, and because these are positions specific, these projections aren’t going to match any of the ones you’ll find on a player’s page.

For guys who play multiple positions, you might think they look low, but keep in mind that his value is being split across multiple posts. This system doesn’t hate Ben Zobrist – it just isn’t going to reflect all of his value within any single post. The author of the second base post also doesn’t hate Ben Zobrist, by the way — the data was given to the writers, so don’t get mad at them if you don’t like the placement of your particular team on a given list. The rankings are essentially based on an algorithm, and thus don’t reflect any particular bias against your favorite team. Really. We don’t hate your team. I promise.

Certainly, there’s no way to know exactly how playing time is going to be distributed. We don’t know when the Rays are going to call up Wil Myers. We don’t know who is going to blow out their knees in April and miss most of the season. These are hopefully educated guesses that will probably end up being wrong, but might be less wrong than automated playing time projections. And, by combining two of the better projection systems out there for the rate stats with those playing time forecasts, the hope is that we can somewhat decently reflect what each team has in the organization at a given position. Even if the Opening Day starter is terrible, if they have a legitimate prospect on the door step, this system will reflect that there is some hope for the position at some point during the year.

For the most part, we’ll be publishing two parts of this series each day over the next week and a half, though the pitching staff posts are so ridiculously large that we might end up splitting those into thirds. When the series is over, we’ll also recap the totals and give you a look at the overall picture by team, and hopefully you’ll gain some insight into each team’s strengths and weaknesses along the way. We hope you enjoy this exercise. It’s a decent amount of work, but we find the results pretty interesting, and we hope you will as well.

2013 Positional Power Rankings: Catcher.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
With the intro out of the way, we have to start this series somewhere, and I can’t think of a compelling reason not to start with the catchers. So, we’re going to start with the catchers, and yes, since the rankings are based on imperfect projections and subjective depth chart determinations, there are quibbles to be had here if you’re the type who enjoys quibbling.

Especially because catchers occupy the position about which we probably know the least. Oh, we know a lot about how catchers run and hit, and we know something about how they throw, but we’re still in the beginning stages of understanding the importance of handling a pitching staff. There’s been some groundbreaking research in the study of pitch-framing, but those numbers aren’t included here. There’s a lot more than pitch-framing, too, which also isn’t included here. So while, below, you’ll find rankings based on what we can measure, I’ll take care to note when I think a ranking might be off for other reasons. With that all expressed, let’s start from the top.

#1 Giants

Buster Posey 448 .303 .380 .489 .371 22.4 -0.8 5.3 5.3
Hector Sanchez 173 .258 .297 .379 .293 -2.2 -0.2 0.0 0.7
Guillermo Quiroz 19 .234 .292 .348 .278 -0.5 0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 640 .288 .355 .454 .347 19.6 -1.0 5.3 6.0

In theory, depth could be a big help in allowing a team to achieve the #1 spot. I don’t really have anything against Hector Sanchez — he’s perfectly adequate — but this isn’t about Hector Sanchez. This is about Buster Posey, because it helps your ranking when you’re dealing with the last season’s league Most Valuable Player. No, Posey isn’t projected to do what he did in 2012. No, Posey shouldn’t be projected to do what he did in 2012, nor does it really matter for purposes of this ranking. He’s simply tremendous, and tremendous enough to lift the Giants to the top.

Of interest is that this isn’t even all of Posey’s projected WAR, since he should get some time at first base that isn’t accounted for here. He’s got a projected .380 OBP. He’s got a career .380 OBP. Seems sensible. Say hello to Guillermo Quiroz, potential emergency catcher who is still in baseball, and who is actually only 31 years old.

#2 Cardinals

Yadier Molina 512 .288 .351 .430 .338 11.1 -1.6 8.2 4.7
Tony Cruz 102 .241 .290 .358 .283 -2.4 -0.2 0.9 0.4
Rob Johnson 26 .215 .288 .322 .268 -0.9 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 640 .278 .338 .414 .326 7.8 -1.9 9.0 5.1

Chances are you don’t know anything about Tony Cruz, aside from his name, now, and the fact that he’s a Cardinals catcher, now. It doesn’t matter, because Cruz shouldn’t play that much, because Cruz is behind Yadier Molina, and Yadier Molina is amazing, as backstops go. It’s true that, when Molina was first getting going, he didn’t hit. But he started to hit in 2007, and he can also hold his own on the bases while being arguably the best defensive catcher in baseball. As is, he’s so good in the field that the Cardinals might be even with the Giants at the position in terms of true talent. And that’s using Molina’s rather bearish projection, which doesn’t believe in his last two seasons. At least, I suspect the difference between #1 and #2 is less than almost a full win.

#3 Phillies

Carlos Ruiz 448 .281 .364 .425 .339 8.7 -0.6 3.2 3.7
Erik Kratz 141 .247 .313 .428 .318 0.3 -0.2 0.3 0.8
Humberto Quintero 51 .234 .269 .324 .257 -2.4 -0.1 0.2 0.0
Total 640 .269 .345 .417 .328 6.6 -0.9 3.7 4.5

Here’s a tricky one — Ruiz, see, is facing a 25-game suspension to begin the year. Whenever a guy turns out to be a drug cheat, it’s hard to know what to do with his numbers. Thus, it’s hard to know how to project his numbers, assuming the drug use stops. Ruiz is coming off a career-high .215 ISO and a career-high .398 wOBA. But it stands to reason that Ruiz shouldn’t completely fall apart, and his projected .339 wOBA is right on his career mark. So I’m willing to accept it. Also helping matters is that Erik Kratz actually looks to be a reasonable backup. Kratz has power and hints of plus defensive ability, allowing him to survive a below-average contact rate. Once Ruiz is back, then the Phillies should have a pretty good catcher behind the plate every day. That’s one of the reasons they can’t be written off as a bounceback 2013 contender.

#4 Orioles

Matt Wieters 512 .257 .333 .435 .332 5.3 -1.2 7.8 4.1
Taylor Teagarden 115 .203 .281 .347 .275 -4.1 0.1 -0.2 0.2
Luis Exposito 13 .234 .291 .358 .285 -0.4 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 640 .247 .323 .418 .321 0.9 -1.2 7.6 4.3

At one point, Taylor Teagarden was a pretty good prospect. He hasn’t panned out, but for the 2013 Baltimore Orioles, it hardly matters, because Teagarden’s behind Matt Wieters, and Wieters was a super-prospect who’s an excellent regular who also hasn’t scraped his ceiling. I remember, in a chat I did some time back, a user asked if Wieters might be one of the league’s best catchers this coming year. Wieters was already one of the league’s best catchers in 2012, and I don’t see any reason to believe he’s going to decline. He’s 26, and between the last two seasons he barely changed. Maybe you want for Wieters to be more. His prospect hype, after all, was loud and inescapable. If he never becomes more, he’s already terrific. Most teams in baseball would not-literally kill to have Matt Wieters.

#5 Tigers

Alex Avila 512 .252 .356 .416 .337 8.0 -0.9 3.1 3.9
Brayan Pena 96 .255 .300 .368 .290 -2.1 -0.3 0.1 0.3
Bryan Holaday 32 .229 .283 .318 .265 -1.3 0.0 0.2 0.1
Total 640 .252 .344 .403 .326 4.6 -1.1 3.3 4.3

He doesn’t always look it, but Avila’s only newly 26 years old. Though the 2012 season took a bite out of Avila’s power, he played the season through knee discomfort that took a toll on his swing mechanics, and now Avila claims to be healed up and capable of things he couldn’t do, physically, a year ago. Every year, players come to camp saying their injury problems are behind them, but with Avila it makes sense, and two years ago he slugged .506. That’s why the projections foresee something of a bounceback, allowing the Tigers to show up high in the rankings despite very limited positional depth. If Avila’s problems aren’t behind him, then the Tigers will have a problem at catcher. But as long as Avila’s symptom-free, that’s just a negative hypothetical.

#6 Diamondbacks

Miguel Montero 512 .268 .357 .432 .341 7.2 -1.3 5.4 4.0
Rod Barajas 96 .230 .296 .395 .296 -2.1 -0.3 -0.6 0.2
Wil Nieves 32 .237 .284 .310 .256 -1.7 -0.1 -0.1 0.0
Total 640 .261 .344 .420 .330 3.4 -1.7 4.7 4.2

There’s not much not to like about Montero, who doesn’t get the attention of a Posey or a Molina. For a catcher, he can hit for above-average power. He hasn’t finished with a wOBA under .330 since 2007, his strikeout-to-walk ratios are acceptable, he throws out a lot of runners, and he frames. Montero is solid across the board, allowing him to be a star even though he doesn’t have an outstanding skill. It’s an open question as to who will actually be his backup, but it’s of little significance; neither option is great, and neither option would stand to play that often. Because, by the way, Montero is durable, too.

#7 Twins

Joe Mauer 384 .299 .390 .431 .355 12.7 -0.3 -0.9 3.3
Ryan Doumit 128 .260 .319 .414 .314 0.0 -0.3 0.0 0.7
Drew Butera 128 .217 .267 .308 .254 -6.2 0.0 0.8 0.1
Total 640 .274 .351 .402 .327 6.5 -0.6 -0.1 4.2

Well, Butera can’t hit, Doumit can’t field, and Mauer can’t catch every day. Doumit is easily one of the very worst defensive catchers in baseball, despite what these numbers say, and it’s his bat that keeps him in the lineup. But this remains predominantly Joe Mauer’s position, even though he won’t get all of his time behind the plate. The projection doesn’t see Mauer getting back to his dinger-happy 2009 days, and it shouldn’t — since then, Mauer’s gone deep just 22 times. But Mauer still hits for average and Mauer still walks, and most catchers just can’t hit the way that Joe Mauer can hit. Of all the Twins’ problems, the catching position isn’t much of one.

#8 Royals

Salvador Perez 480 .284 .320 .423 .320 1.7 -0.7 5.7 3.4
George Kottaras 128 .235 .339 .399 .323 0.8 -0.2 -0.8 0.7
Brett Hayes 32 .224 .273 .346 .267 -1.3 0.0 0.1 0.1
Total 640 .272 .321 .415 .318 1.2 -0.9 5.0 4.1

On the tenth day of May, Salvador Perez will turn 23 years old. He’s already batted almost 500 times in the bigs, with a .311 average and legitimate power. Last year he struck out just 27 times in more than 300 plate appearances. It would be easy to knock Perez for not walking, and he most certainly doesn’t walk, but he’s got phenomenal bat control and the Royals say good things about his ability to handle a pitching staff. His projection is modest, given what he’s done, and he has upside beyond this. And behind him, there’s George Kottaras, who isn’t Yadier Molina in the field but who does own a 97 career wRC+. Anyway, that long-term Perez contract looked a little weird at the time. It looks more sensational now. For the Royals.

#9 Braves

Brian McCann 448 .257 .340 .442 .334 7.1 -1.2 1.2 3.2
Gerald Laird 96 .245 .309 .337 .281 -2.5 0.1 0.3 0.3
Evan Gattis 64 .254 .309 .466 .333 1.0 -0.1 -0.3 0.4
Christian Bethancourt 32 .246 .276 .323 .259 -1.4 -0.1 0.2 0.0
Total 640 .255 .329 .423 .323 4.1 -1.2 1.4 4.0

Much like Carlos Ruiz, Brian McCann is going to miss the beginning of the regular season. But not because he’s facing a suspension — McCann, rather, is coming back from shoulder surgery. Which is bad, because it’s shoulder surgery, but which is good, because last year, with a hurt shoulder, McCann slugged .399. Healthy, McCann should get back to hitting like he used to, and between 2008-2011 McCann’s worst wRC+ was 119. The numbers also suggest McCann is a hell of a pitch-framer, so a healthy McCann is among the league’s elite. What the Braves don’t have now is David Ross, who has been an incredible backup. Laird is worse, and Evan Gattis is a wonderful mystery. But from the time McCann is able to make his return, the Braves should be sitting pretty at the catcher position. If McCann does get back to 100%, the Braves probably belong higher on this list.

#10 Indians

Carlos Santana 352 .249 .367 .437 .348 10.7 -0.8 -0.3 2.9
Lou Marson 256 .225 .319 .315 .287 -4.9 0.0 -0.1 0.9
Yan Gomes 32 .236 .288 .396 .296 -0.4 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Total 640 .239 .344 .385 .321 5.4 -0.8 -0.5 4.0

Carlos Santana can hit, so it’s acceptable that he isn’t much of a defensive catcher. Lou Marson can’t hit so good, so it’s less acceptable that he isn’t much of a defensive catcher. Marson does have Santana beat in blocking and arm, but as we’ve written about here before, neither scores well in the pitch-framing metrics, which seems to have done the Indians’ pitching staffs a real disservice. Because of Santana’s bat, no one would consider the Indians’ catching position a team weakness. Santana still does a lot of things well, and he’s only nearly 27. But I can’t help but wonder how the Indians might look with a backstop more defensively able.

#11 Brewers

Jonathan Lucroy 448 .271 .330 .418 .325 3.5 -0.1 1.4 3.0
Martin Maldonado 192 .238 .302 .367 .295 -3.2 -0.4 1.4 0.8
Total 640 .261 .322 .403 .316 0.3 -0.6 2.8 3.8

All right, so the projections don’t buy Jonathan Lucroy’s 2012 bat, and that’s fine. All right, so the projections don’t buy Martin Maldonado’s 2012 bat,and that’s fine, too. The projections are smarter than I am; the projections are free of bias. But despite those modest projections, the Brewers still project for nearly 4 WAR from their catchers, and these are two catchers who have scored well in the framing sheets. Lucroy in particular has been outstanding from Day One, and for that I think they deserve a boost. What you see is the Brewers slotting in at #11. Personally, I’d probably bump them into the top 10. But I’m a big fan of framing research, and maybe I’m the one who’s wrong.

#12 Reds

Ryan Hanigan 384 .268 .360 .354 .311 -2.1 -0.4 6.3 2.5
Devin Mesoraco 224 .244 .316 .416 .314 -0.7 -0.4 -0.2 1.1
Miguel Olivo 32 .237 .272 .428 .298 -0.5 -0.1 0.0 0.1
Total 640 .258 .340 .380 .311 -3.3 -0.9 6.2 3.8

Like McCann and Lucroy, the framing numbers love Ryan Hanigan. He blocks pitches, too, and he throws runners out. He makes contact 10 out of every 11 times that he swings, and he seldom goes fishing. Hanigan’s walked in 12% of his plate appearances. What Hanigan doesn’t have is power, which keeps him from being truly outstanding. Behind him we find the confusing Devin Mesoraco, who’s been putrid in his limited big-league career. His minor-league numbers are far more encouraging, and he’s only 24. That’s what the projection is seeing. If Mesoraco hits, the Reds should have a legitimate two-headed threat. If not, well, the starter’s pretty tremendous, so they’ve got that going for them. Hanigan is far from being a problem.

#13 Padres

Yasmani Grandal 320 .260 .357 .409 .335 7.9 -0.3 -0.4 2.5
Nick Hundley 192 .227 .295 .362 .284 -3.1 -0.4 1.9 0.9
John Baker 128 .235 .316 .311 .277 -2.7 -0.2 -1.4 0.3
Total 640 .245 .330 .375 .308 2.1 -0.9 0.1 3.7

Wow, Yasmani Grandal put up a 144 wRC+ while playing half the time in Petco! Wow, Yasmani Grandal got busted for PEDs! Grandal is facing a lengthy suspension, and as another consequence, we don’t know what to do with his numbers. What the suspension does is give Nick Hundley an opportunity, because while Hundley was dreadful in 2012, he played most of that time through a knee injury that eventually brought him down. There’s reason to believe Hundley could put himself back on the map, and two years ago he was an offensive threat. He’s not a great defender. If Hundley hits and Grandal doesn’t crater upon his return, this position could be an actual strength. But we can’t assume a Hundley bounceback, and Grandal will have to prove himself all over again. Maybe it isn’t fair, but neither is cheating.

#14 Dodgers

A.J. Ellis 448 .247 .357 .356 .316 2.8 -1.2 2.1 2.9
Tim Federowicz 160 .234 .302 .351 .287 -2.8 -0.1 1.0 0.7
Jesus Flores 32 .230 .274 .366 .276 -0.8 -0.1 -0.1 0.1
Total 640 .243 .339 .355 .307 -0.8 -1.4 2.9 3.6

A year ago, these rankings had the Dodgers last. Then A.J. Ellis went and got on base more than 37% of the time, and he slugged .414, instead of the projected .317. So that’s kind of how the Dodgers moved so far up in the list. Ellis, probably, won’t hit quite so well again, and Tim Federowicz can’t yet be counted on as a strong reserve. What the Dodgers don’t have is one of the league’s best catching situations. But what the Dodgers also don’t have is one of the league’s worst catching situations. Whoops.

#15 Athletics

John Jaso 448 .253 .356 .394 .331 7.2 -0.6 -3.6 2.8
Derek Norris 160 .209 .310 .362 .298 -1.7 -0.1 -0.4 0.7
Luke Montz 32 .205 .291 .361 .284 -0.7 0.0 0.1 0.1
Total 640 .240 .341 .384 .321 4.8 -0.7 -3.9 3.6

The Mariners traded John Jaso because they don’t think he’s a regular player, and because they don’t like his work behind the plate. The A’s are going to try him as a regular player, and while he isn’t a defensive wizard, he’s fresh off a near-.400 OBP. Jaso has one of baseball’s better plate approaches, and there’s also the chance he holds on to some of his 2012 power gains. If Jaso hits like that again, the A’s won’t care if he drops every fifth pitch. Well, no, that’s not true, they would care, but they’d console themselves by looking at his batting line. Norris is looking at a platoon job, and he ought to hit better than he just did. This has the makings of a very classically Oakland job share.

#16 Angels

Chris Iannetta 384 .226 .338 .388 .319 2.8 -0.9 1.0 2.4
Hank Conger 192 .252 .318 .385 .305 -0.6 0.0 -1.0 0.9
John Hester 64 .228 .292 .343 .277 -1.7 0.0 -0.4 0.1
Total 640 .234 .328 .383 .311 0.5 -0.9 -0.5 3.5

Chris Iannetta is a perfectly serviceable bat and a perfectly serviceable defender. If there’s something exciting about him, please inform me in the comments below this post. Hank Conger has a better minor-league track record than major-league track record, but then Conger has done a lot of his damage with triple-A Salt Lake, which should be taken with several grains of…yeah. If Conger were to develop, he’d be a perfectly serviceable bat and a perfectly serviceable defender. John Hester is a player in the Angels organization. The Angels’ roster has a lot of sex appeal. This isn’t where you’re going to find it. The hope is that these guys do enough to not be a problem.

#17 Nationals

Kurt Suzuki 371 .253 .304 .383 .298 -5.0 -0.4 2.3 1.7
Wilson Ramos 230 .258 .318 .411 .313 -0.4 -0.3 1.5 1.4
Jhonatan Solano 19 .243 .285 .360 .280 -0.5 0.0 0.1 0.1
Sandy Leon 19 .237 .299 .330 .278 -0.6 0.0 0.1 0.1
Total 640 .254 .308 .391 .302 -6.4 -0.8 4.0 3.2

The idea, I believe, is that Kurt Suzuki will open the season as the starter, but as Wilson Ramos works his way back from injury, he’ll play more and more often. So, come the end of the summer, the responsibilities could be flipped, which could be good news for Washington given Ramos’ certain upside. Ramos is the more exciting of the two catchers, and Suzuki’s strikeouts are going in the wrong direction. Suzuki is perfectly safe, and we can’t take Ramos’ return for granted, but the sooner Ramos can get back to full strength, the better the Nationals’ situation looks.

#18 Pirates

Russell Martin 416 .238 .330 .371 .309 -0.7 -0.1 1.1 2.3
Michael McKenry 192 .229 .305 .364 .293 -2.8 -0.3 -0.2 0.7
Tony Sanchez 32 .231 .307 .344 .289 -0.6 0.0 0.1 0.1
Total 640 .235 .321 .368 .303 -4.1 -0.3 1.0 3.2

For the Pirates, this is less about having Russell Martin, and more about having Russell Martin instead of Rod Barajas. Martin comes with very little performance upside, given his age and past workload, but he provides a stable presence and he’s considered to be a good handler of pitchers. He has the statistical track record of a good pitch-framer, which is something the Pirates have sorely lacked in recent seasons. McKenry’s still around as a half-decent backup, but with Martin, this position shouldn’t be an embarrassment. That’s a step up, even if the end result isn’t magnificent.

#19 Mariners

Jesus Montero 416 .265 .319 .425 .319 4.2 -0.8 -3.7 2.3
Kelly Shoppach 160 .199 .289 .353 .283 -3.0 -0.1 0.4 0.6
Ronny Paulino 32 .248 .296 .333 .273 -0.9 -0.1 -0.2 0.1
Mike Zunino 32 .242 .304 .371 .293 -0.3 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 640 .247 .309 .400 .306 0.0 -1.1 -3.4 3.1

Just when it seemed like the Mariners were prepared to shift Jesus Montero away from catcher, they went the opposite direction, installing him as the 2013 regular backstop. He’s really only keeping the position warm for Mike Zunino, but Zunino still needs at least a few more months of seasoning, since his professional experience is limited. Montero, in 2012, lost some of his shine, as he didn’t hit like the masher he was billed as when a prospect. There are legitimate concerns with his approach, and he’s unlikely to ever post a high OBP, even if he starts hitting for more power. In the immediate, Montero looks like a potentially average bat with more weaknesses than strengths in the field. Kelly Shoppach is a power-hitting backup with some modest defensive ability. There’s no denying Montero’s offensive ceiling, but odds are he’s not about to approach it.

#20 Mets

John Buck 384 .225 .306 .386 .301 -2.7 -0.3 -0.5 1.8
Anthony Recker 192 .233 .306 .391 .308 -0.4 0.1 -0.6 1.0
Travis D’Arnaud 64 .256 .305 .422 .312 0.1 0.0 -0.2 0.3
Total 640 .231 .306 .392 .304 -3.0 -0.3 -1.3 3.1

Maybe you think Travis d’Arnaud is going to play a lot more than this in the bigs in 2013. Maybe you’re right; there’s not much standing in his way. But if you swap his playing time with Anthony Recker’s, nothing changes in terms of projected WAR. Here, we have Recker getting three times the plate appearances and accumulating three times the WAR. The starter out of the gate will be John Buck, and John Buck is John Buck, exactly as you know him. He’ll post a low OBP and he’ll hit some dingers. Recker is just a guy, and d’Arnaud is clearly the future. The future should and will arrive this season, barring further injury, so while the Mets deserve this low ranking at least they can see the upside coming. That the Mets don’t look good at catcher in 2013 doesn’t mean the Mets won’t look good at catcher in 2014.

#21 Blue Jays

J.P. Arencibia 448 .230 .285 .443 .311 -1.9 -0.7 0.4 2.2
Henry Blanco 128 .238 .302 .373 .293 -2.4 -0.2 1.2 0.6
Josh Thole 64 .260 .331 .341 .293 -1.2 -0.1 -0.4 0.2
Total 640 .234 .293 .419 .306 -5.5 -0.9 1.2 3.0

J.P. Arencibia has plenty of power, and he still has youth on his side, but he owns the same career OBP as Miguel Olivo. He strikes out too often for someone who doesn’t walk, and there’s no reason to believe that’s about to change. He’s not exceptional elsewhere in his game, so basically, Arencibia is fine when he’s collecting extra-base hits, and when he isn’t, he’s an exploitable liability. Henry Blanco is 41 years old. While the Blue Jays would love it if Arencibia took a step forward, as with the Angels, the real hope is for the catchers to just not be a weakness.

#22 Rangers

A.J. Pierzynski 467 .274 .315 .428 .318 -2.8 -1.7 -0.2 2.1
Geovany Soto 173 .234 .320 .418 .319 -0.8 -0.2 0.2 0.9
Total 640 .264 .317 .426 .318 -3.6 -2.0 0.1 3.0

Last year, A.J. Pierzynski slugged .501, and he’s probably going to regress away from that. A few years ago, Geovany Soto slugged .497, and he’s probably going to regress toward that. Pierzynski isn’t the hitter he just was, but Soto probably isn’t the hitter he just was, allowing for some averaging out. Though it was too bad for Pierzynski to have to leave the hitter-friendly confines of Chicago, Texas ought to treat him well. Depending on how much Soto bounces back at the plate, the Rangers might never have to start a liability. But there is the chance that Soto’s just done being all right.

#23 Rockies

Wilin Rosario 384 .266 .310 .489 .339 1.5 -0.7 -0.8 2.1
Ramon Hernandez 224 .260 .314 .404 .309 -4.6 -0.9 -0.1 0.7
Jordan Pacheco 32 .283 .330 .399 .317 -0.4 0.0 -0.3 0.1
Total 640 .265 .312 .455 .327 -3.5 -1.6 -1.2 2.9

You don’t find many pitch-blockers worse than Wilin Rosario. You don’t find many walk rates worse than Wilin Rosario’s. If you wanted, you could make a strong statistical case against Rosario having much of a big-league career. But the guy just slugged 28 dingers in 117 games as a 23-year-old rookie, and of note is that he drew eight walks in the first half and 17 walks in the second half. Rosario was at his best down the stretch, and there’s the hope that he made some adjustments and refined his approach. He’s a volatile sort, of course, because of his swinging ways. Hernandez is an acceptable backup who isn’t otherwise remarkable. The error bars around the Rockies’ catcher position are considerable. But Rosario can’t be dismissed, and there’s a fair chance he comes out and slugs .500 again. Slug .500 and you make up for a lot of shortcomings.

#24 Red Sox

Jarrod Saltalamacchia 384 .230 .297 .427 .311 -3.4 -0.5 -1.5 1.6
David Ross 192 .244 .322 .401 .315 -1.1 -0.7 1.5 1.0
Ryan Lavarnway 64 .246 .316 .402 .311 -0.5 -0.1 -0.6 0.2
Total 640 .236 .306 .417 .312 -5.0 -1.2 -0.6 2.8

At this point, it seems like we have a pretty good understanding of what Jarrod Saltalamacchia is as a catcher. We also have a pretty good understanding of what David Ross is as a catcher, and Ross is perhaps the league’s best backup, with terrific power and exceptional framing skills. These are two catchers who are going to strike out, and that’s going to be the source of some consistent frustration. But they could combine for 30 home runs, and Ross could really help the pitching staff generate a few extra outs. Ryan Lavarnway could develop, but with the guys ahead of him on the depth chart, the Red Sox don’t need him to rush.

#25 White Sox

Tyler Flowers 448 .216 .317 .397 .313 -3.3 -0.6 0.0 2.1
Hector Gimenez 160 .237 .295 .388 .297 -3.2 -0.2 0.4 0.6
Josh Phegley 32 .246 .288 .363 .284 -1.0 0.0 0.1 0.1
Total 640 .223 .310 .393 .307 -7.4 -0.8 0.6 2.7

There’s not much to say about Hector Gimenez or Josh Phegley. Certainly not that you’d find worth reading. Tyler Flowers is the player of intrigue, being not old and possessing a .484 minor-league slugging percentage. Flowers swings hard and misses a lot, and that’s not a characteristic that’s going to be ironed out over time. That’s going to stick with Flowers for as long as he plays. But his power is real and it should look even better in Chicago half the time. In limited big-league trials Flowers has posted a .183 ISO. He doesn’t seem to be a defensive liability. If Flowers can keep his strikeouts even somewhat in control, he should give the White Sox some stability at the position. He won’t be great and his backups will be worse, but the White Sox could get enough production to be satisfied.

#26 Cubs

Welington Castillo 410 .242 .313 .408 .313 -1.8 -0.4 -0.5 2.0
Dioner Navarro 179 .247 .313 .368 .295 -3.4 -0.4 0.1 0.6
Steve Clevenger 51 .257 .314 .354 .294 -1.0 -0.1 -0.4 0.1
Total 640 .244 .313 .393 .307 -6.3 -0.9 -0.7 2.7

This is not a high-upside position. Steve Clevenger has very limited upside, Dioner Navarro has even more limited upside, and though Welington Castillo is still a kid at 25, he’s been only adequate in the minors, and his approach in the majors suggests he won’t maintain a high OBP. That he’s slugged .488 in triple-A is of some significance, given the relative difficulty of hitting for power in Iowa, but the projections agree that Castillo is something like a league-average bat with perhaps roughly league-average defense. That doesn’t make him a problem, but that doesn’t make the position a strength.

#27 Astros

Jason Castro 448 .243 .324 .364 .303 -3.6 -0.6 -1.1 1.9
Carlos Corporan 160 .235 .295 .368 .286 -3.5 -0.5 -0.6 0.4
Jason Jaramillo 32 .225 .292 .306 .266 -1.2 0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 640 .240 .315 .362 .297 -8.4 -1.1 -1.8 2.4

Jason Castro, just a few years ago, was the tenth overall pick, and fewer years ago, he was Baseball America’s #41 overall prospect. He does have offensive potential, and he says his knee problems are behind him, but he’s limited by mediocre power and mediocre defense, and the guys behind him aren’t anything. Carlos Corporan is a journeyman in training, and Jason Jaramillo already is a journeyman, at 30 years old. The Astros might be better than this if Castro hits like he did in 2012, and it’s within the realm of possibility that Castro could even exceed that. But based on the projections, the Astros are here near the bottom, and you should get used to seeing that. This series is just beginning.

#28 Rays

Jose Molina 256 .228 .290 .353 .285 -4.8 -0.7 1.4 1.0
Jose Lobaton 224 .223 .308 .326 .280 -5.0 -0.3 -0.4 0.6
Chris Gimenez 96 .238 .310 .342 .286 -1.7 -0.2 -0.3 0.3
Robinson Chirinos 64 .237 .308 .360 .295 -0.7 -0.1 0.2 0.3
Total 640 .229 .301 .343 .285 -12.2 -1.3 0.9 2.2

I know, I know. Among those of you who put stock in pitch-framing research, this ranking is criminal. That’s because Molina is probably the best framer in the league, and the Rays think he saves them tens of runs with his glovework. I agree that there’s something there, and I agree that the Rays don’t belong in 28th on this list, but for whatever it’s worth, Molina won’t catch that many innings, and he really isn’t a hitter. In early June, he’s going to turn 38. Jose Lobaton doesn’t make for an outstanding backup. Jose Molina is amazing at framing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the Rays have a good catching situation; it just means they have a better catching situation than the other numbers might suggest. I’ll note that, of the three catchers who mainly caught Rays pitchers in 2012, Molina had the highest OPS against.

#29 Yankees

Chris Stewart 320 .235 .302 .329 .279 -10.2 0.1 0.7 0.8
Francisco Cervelli 288 .236 .314 .332 .289 -6.8 0.0 -0.9 0.8
Austin Romine 32 .248 .302 .363 .290 -0.7 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Total 640 .236 .308 .332 .284 -17.7 0.1 -0.3 1.7

The team that couldn’t afford to re-sign the perfectly decent Russell Martin is left choosing between Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli. Austin Romine has already been sent to the minors. Stewart is 31 and he isn’t going to hit. Cervelli might hit a little, but he isn’t going to hit much. Stewart has going in his favor a positive defensive reputation, and the numbers like his framing. The smaller-sample numbers also like Cervelli’s framing, to a lesser extent, so this situation isn’t hopeless. First and foremost, the Yankees just want these guys to be good to the pitching staff. They should be able to manage that; they probably won’t be able to manage much else.

#30 Marlins

Rob Brantly 416 .259 .305 .373 .296 -6.5 -0.6 -0.7 1.5
Jeff Mathis 128 .211 .257 .322 .250 -6.7 -0.2 0.6 0.0
Kyle Skipworth 64 .210 .265 .331 .258 -2.9 -0.1 -0.3 0.0
Jacob Realmuto 32 .233 .282 .309 .259 -1.4 0.0 0.1 0.0
Total 640 .243 .290 .356 .281 -17.6 -0.9 -0.3 1.6

You’re forgiven if you confused Rob Brantly with Rob Bowen. Brantly went over from the Tigers in the Anibal Sanchez/Omar Infante trade, and he hit well in limited time. But those numbers are unsupported by Brantly’s minor-league track record, and of course, behind him, once he’s recovered from an injury, will be Jeff Mathis. Kyle Skipworth has been a prospect, but he’s been a prospect who doesn’t get on base. Brantly isn’t a hopeless case, and at 23 with an even swing, he could show up as a reasonably productive bat. He still qualifies as a prospect. But he’s a low-ceiling prospect, and the Marlins get no help at this position from their depth. Somebody has to finish last, and just because a situation isn’t hopeless doesn’t mean it isn’t the most hopeless.

2013 Positional Power Rankings: First Base.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Is it me, or are there fewer superstar first basemen than there used to be? I did these same rankings last year, and the answer seems to be yes. I’m not sure why that is, though. Part of it is that Detroit is playing one of them at third base now, but that was true last year as well. I would also guess it is simply the current place of positional demographics: A lot of first basemen who were at the top of the rankings a couple of years ago are still primary starters, but they are in their decline phases. Some of the same names are on the top of the rankings, but not all are on the level they used to be. There are some younger players on the list who might have some potential for big leaps, though, and this list could look very different next year. So which teams project to have the biggest advantage at first base right now?

#1 Reds

Joey Votto 630 .299 .422 .534 .404 43.8 -1.4 3.1 5.8
Todd Frazier 63 .247 .312 .442 .325 0.3 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Jack Hannahan 7 .232 .307 .350 .292 -0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .293 .411 .523 .396 44.0 -1.4 3.0 5.9

Wanna know the secret to being ranked first in the first base positional power rankings? Have the best first baseman in baseball. Keep this top secret formula to yourself.

Joey Votto put the Reds on top of these rankings, just like he did last season. The guy played only 111 games, but he still managed to put up six wins. Sure, his 2012 BABIP was high (.404), even by his normally insane standards (.359 career), but keep in mind that his .404 projected wOBA would be his lowest since 2008. When will he pop up again? Votto had knee surgery last year, so the playing time might seem a bit rosy — but other than 2012, 630 plate appearances would be his lowest since 2009. If Votto does go down, Frazier at first and Hannahan at third is far from ideal, but teams could do a lot worse.

#2 Angels

Albert Pujols 560 .293 .373 .539 .378 30.7 -0.5 2.7 4.4
Mark Trumbo 133 .261 .312 .476 .335 2.7 -0.2 -0.6 0.4
Howie Kendrick 7 .273 .318 .408 .314 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .286 .361 .525 .369 33.5 -0.7 2.1 4.8

The Angels managed to hold on to the second spot despite a disappointing 2012 performance from Albert Pujols. Pujols has apparently decided to age in the weirdest way possible: a declining walk rate. Given his contract, the future could get pretty ugly for the Angels, although they should be fine as long as Mike Trout keeps putting up 10 wins every year. Money aside, Pujols still projects to be a very good hitter, just not the utterly frightening one he was prior to 2011.

Despite a body that seems as if it might fly apart at any time, Pujols continues to be incredibly durable. The Angels will probably continue to give him breaks from the field and put him at designated hitter, but Mark Trumbo is fine as a fill-in at first on those days. Of course, if Pujols does go down and Trumbo becomes the first baseman, Kendrys Morales no longer is waiting in the wings. Then again, how many teams carry a backup DH? Angels fans are probably holding their collective breath with Pujols, but for now, he still projects as an excellent player.

#3 Dodgers

Adrian Gonzalez 630 .289 .366 .488 .360 26.2 -1.9 6.7 4.3
Jerry Hairston 35 .258 .329 .376 .311 0.1 -0.1 -0.1 0.0
Juan Uribe 35 .230 .292 .378 .292 -0.5 0.0 0.3 0.0
Total 700 .285 .360 .477 .354 25.8 -2.0 7.0 4.4

Gonzalez had a disappointing 2012 both before and after being traded from Boston to Los Angeles. He no longer projects as a near-.400 wOBA hitter. But one year is still only one year. The primary issues for Gonzalez in 2012 were his walk rate and his power. As for his walk rate, there is at least some evidence that veterans with good walk rates tend to rebound after a one year dip. His power drop is more troubling, but given his past performance, it should rebound. Along with a good on-base percentage, he should be fine, if not quite the force of the past. Gonzalez still projects to be good enough to put the Dodgers right up there with all the other non-Votto-involved teams.

Gonzalez is another first baseman who has been extremely durable. He’s played at least 159 games every season since 2007. Even last year, his defense and durability enabled him to be worth more than three wins despite his troubles at the plate. Gonzalez has never been on the disabled list, which is nice, because the Dodgers’ options after him are not appealing.

#4 Tigers

Prince Fielder 630 .288 .404 .512 .386 34.7 -2.7 -3.1 4.1
Victor Martinez 70 .289 .351 .442 .340 1.3 -0.2 0.0 0.2
Total 700 .288 .398 .504 .381 36.0 -2.8 -3.0 4.3

Prince Fielder went from being Detroit’s big off-season signing to a player who, at least from my perspective, did not get as much credit as he deserved for an excellent 2012 season. Part of the reason for that was likely all of the attention (understandably) paid to his teammate Miguel Cabrera. Although Fielder’s power and walks decreased after his move from Milwaukee to Detroit, he also managed (against the usual expectations for a player of his type) to cut his strikeouts. Overall, it was a performance more in line with his traditionally outstanding odd years (2007, 2009 and 2011) than his average-to-above-average even years (2008 and 2010).

Fielder projects to continue his excellent plate discipline in terms of both walks and strikeouts, while hitting about 30 home runs. That is more than enough to make his less-than-awesome fielding and base running acceptable. While we are relatively conservative with playing-time projections, we could have gone higher with Prince Fielder, who is tied with Ichiro for the most games played in the past three seasons. As far as I can tell, Fielder has never been on the disabled list. That is an underrated facet of his value.

Fielder will probably get a little time at DH this year, and the returning Victor Martinez can always fill in decently at first if Fielder needs some time off. Cabrera could get some time at first, too, although we have not listed him here. In other words, the Tigers are probably OK for depth at this spot.

#5 Cubs

Anthony Rizzo 630 .278 .349 .508 .365 23.4 -1.3 3.3 3.7
Brent Lillibridge 35 .220 .283 .336 .273 -1.3 0.1 -0.1 -0.1
Steve Clevenger 35 .257 .314 .354 .294 -0.7 -0.1 -0.2 0.0
Total 700 .274 .344 .491 .357 21.4 -1.3 2.9 3.6

Who had the Cubs fifth in the pool? Don’t lie. Anthony Rizzo is a young (23) hitter who had a nice debut for Chicago last year, but it is a bit shocking to see the nearly universal jump in power projected by all the systems. They must be really impressed by his Triple-A numbers, which look pretty stunning when it comes to his power. Minor league translations are a tricky matter, so there’s a great deal of uncertainty in play. Rizzo needs his power to to be for real if he’s going to be a star, because so far, his walk and strikeout rates are not exceptionally impressive. Still, even if Rizzo only repeats his rates from 2012, the Cubs will have an above-average performer at first base who has room to improve. Bryan LaHair left for Japan in the off-season, so there is no safety net if Rizzo has an Eric Hosmer-esque sophomore season.

#6 Giants

Brandon Belt 595 .268 .364 .441 .348 18.9 -0.4 0.2 2.9
Buster Posey 70 .302 .380 .489 .370 3.5 -0.1 0.8 0.5
Brett Pill 35 .263 .303 .420 .309 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .272 .363 .445 .349 22.4 -0.5 1.0 3.5

Brandon Belt finally got his chance (sort of) in 2012, and Aubrey Huff won’t be around in 2013 to steal playing time . Belt’s 2012 numbers were generally good, and he projects as an average or above-average player for 2013. There is some concern over his contact rate and unimpressive power so far in the majors — his .339 wOBA last year was propped up a fair bit by a .351 BABIP. Even after regression and other adjustments, though, the projection systems still see him hitting at least adequately for the position. There really isn’t anyone else in San Francisco who is likely to take playing time from him. Buster Posey might get some time at first base, but at the moment, he’s too valuable behind the plate to push his way to Belt’s turf too often.

#7 Blue Jays

Edwin Encarnacion 560 .269 .359 .498 .364 21.5 -0.4 -1.1 3.0
Adam Lind 140 .262 .321 .449 .329 1.5 -0.2 -0.1 0.3
Total 700 .268 .352 .488 .357 23.0 -0.6 -1.2 3.3

Not everything has gone as brilliantly for Toronto on their way back to the brink of contention. But it’s rather stunning that the team managed to find another player who suddenly found his power stroke at the end of what’s a typical prime. Edwin Encarnacion’s 2012 was not quite as out-of-nowhere as Jose Bautista’s 2010, nor was it as impressive, but it certainly solidified his status as a very good hitter. Regression is to be expected, but big jumps in power and walks tend to regress less than other peripherals.

Projection systems see Encarnacion as a very good, if not great, hitter in 2013. And that’s enough to make him an above-average player overall. When Encarnacion has a day off from playing first, Adam Lind will probably fill in. Lind isn’t much of a hitter at this point (and as a DH. well…), but as a backup first baseman, he actually rates pretty well. If his plate-appearances against southpaws are strictly limited, he could be pretty effective.

#8 Cardinals

Allen Craig 560 .289 .346 .494 .359 21.6 -0.5 -1.3 3.0
Matt Carpenter 98 .264 .354 .395 .328 1.4 -0.1 -0.2 0.3
Ty Wigginton 35 .236 .308 .373 .297 -0.4 -0.1 -0.3 0.0
Yadier Molina 7 .288 .351 .430 .338 0.2 0.0 0.1 0.0
Total 700 .283 .346 .474 .352 22.8 -0.7 -1.7 3.3

The Cardinals would probably rank a few spots higher if Allen Craig had a better health record. Even 560 plate appearances seems optimistic, but I will leave that in the hands of our Cardinals experts. When he has played, Craig has pretty much smacked the ball around. He doesn’t walk much, and his strikeout rate isn’t that good (nor is it that bad). He just hits the ball hard, for both power and average. Matt Carpenter is currently battling for the starting spot at second base, but if/when Craig does go down, Carpenter could fill in ably at first. The Cardinals’ depth continues to be a real advantage.

#9 Yankees

Mark Teixeira 525 .258 .355 .481 .358 16.7 -0.9 4.1 2.9
Juan Rivera 140 .254 .310 .403 .307 -1.3 -0.4 -0.4 0.0
Dan Johnson 35 .235 .336 .393 .315 -0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .256 .345 .460 .346 15.3 -1.4 3.7 3.0

I have a hard time picturing the Yankees going into the season with some amalgam of Juan Rivera and Dan Johnson at first base, but here we are. One might think Kevin Youkilis should be penciled in here, too, but his services are needed at third base for an indefinite period of time.

Despite the mess to start the season, the Yankees still sit in the top third of the first base rankings. It’s hard to estimate how much Mark Teixeira will miss and whether the injury will affect his performance when he returns. While he was expected to decline during his contract, it has been more dramatic than anyone might have expected. Come think of it, his BABIP has suffered because he has become too pull-happy. Whatever the reason, the BABIP has been low for three straight seasons, and the projection systems cannot simply regress it all away.

Teixeira is no longer projects as a superstar. He still projects as at a good hitter overall and above-average overall player, though, due to good plate discipline and power. He has a nice glove, although that is difficult to measure. Assuming he can come back in mid-May, this injury will not, in itself, kill the Yankees — even if they are stuck with Rivera and Johnson in the meantime.

#10 Braves

Freddie Freeman 630 .273 .353 .474 .354 20.0 -1.1 -1.9 2.8
Juan Francisco 70 .254 .294 .450 .316 0.1 -0.1 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .271 .347 .471 .350 20.1 -1.2 -1.9 2.9

Freddie Freeman is just 23, and is coming off of two good seasons. While he superficially had a worse season with the stick in 2012 than in 2011, his true talent may have actually improved. His 2011 performance rested a fair bit on a high BABIP (.339). In 2012, his BABIP regressed, but his walk rate, strikeout rate and isolated power all improved. Those skills all correlate better year-to-year than BABIP. Those improvements, combined with his age, are the reasons that pretty much every projection system seems him as being even better in 2013.

#11 Mets

Ike Davis 630 .250 .337 .464 .343 17.0 -1.1 1.0 2.8
Lucas Duda 70 .249 .334 .417 .326 0.9 -0.1 -1.2 0.1
Total 700 .250 .337 .459 .342 17.9 -1.2 -0.2 2.9

The Mets’ hopes at first base in 2013 rest on the shoulders of Ike Davis, despite some fan enthusiasm for Lucas Duda. Our Mets’ depth chart experts seem to have faith in Davis’ ability to get more than 600 plate appearances, so I’m not here to doubt them. Davis doesn’t have much competition for playing time. He had a relatively disappointing 2012 season compared to 2010 and 2011, and his problems with contact are a concern. He has a big platoon split, although that is hardly unusual for a player Davis. Still, the power is impressive, and he can take a walk. His BABIP should regress to something more respectable after the .246 he put up in 2012, assuming he can cut down a bit on the pop-ups. Davis is 26 this season, so it is not as if he offers tons of upside. But power is power, and Davis should be at least an average overall first baseman (with potential for more) for the Mets, who have bigger problems elsewhere.

#12 Diamondbacks

Paul Goldschmidt 595 .268 .352 .484 .357 16.1 0.3 -0.5 2.6
Eric Hinske 70 .235 .316 .417 .315 -0.4 -0.2 -0.1 0.0
Eric Chavez 35 .262 .328 .434 .326 0.1 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Total 700 .264 .347 .474 .351 15.7 0.1 -0.7 2.7

The Diamondbacks have a very good hitter as their starting first basemen. The backups are players who are not good enough to start, but are better than most teams’ backups. Eric Chavez and Eric Hinske may not be all that exciting, but at least they aren’t Brent Lillibridge. There is a fair amount of hype behind Goldschmidt, and understandably so. He has good power and he even threw in 18 steals last year.

Enthusiasm should probably be a bit tempered given Goldschmidt’s strikeout rate and his friendly home park. And while 25-years-old isn’t incredibly young, it’s on the good side of most aging curves. Goldschmidt may not be a future superstar, but he is a very good player — and Arizona is fortunate to have him.

#13 Indians

Nick Swisher 455 .255 .356 .442 .347 13.3 -1.0 0.9 2.1
Mark Reynolds 175 .219 .330 .435 .332 3.0 -0.3 -3.1 0.2
Carlos Santana 70 .249 .367 .442 .350 2.2 -0.2 -0.1 0.3
Total 700 .245 .350 .440 .344 18.6 -1.5 -2.3 2.7

Cleveland’s contract with Nick Swisher looked pretty good when he was slated to start in right field. At first base, he is not quite as exciting, but the team is still in the first half of the rankings. Additionally, as some friends reminded me, having Swisher at first enables them to use a defense-first outfield of Michael Brantley, Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs that would keep Mark Reynolds off the field. If one of the outfielders goes down or Stubbs does not hit, they can always move things around and put Swisher back out there. Assuming the outfield is really that great defensively, it makes sense.

If Swisher does have to go back to the outfield, Reynolds can at least swat some homers. It is too bad for Cleveland that Swisher playing first does not somehow move Ubaldo Jimenez out of the rotation.

#14 Twins

Justin Morneau 490 .265 .342 .447 .337 9.0 -1.1 0.6 1.7
Joe Mauer 140 .299 .390 .431 .355 4.6 -0.1 -0.3 0.7
Chris Parmelee 70 .255 .332 .407 .321 0.4 -0.1 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .271 .351 .440 .339 14.0 -1.3 0.3 2.5

I’m kind of surprised that the Twins would rank this high anywhere other than at catcher. And I guess even ranking this high is because a catcher is likely to get playing time at first base. Justin Morneau, the slated starter, actually got 570 plate appearances last season. A .337 wOBA barely cuts it as a starter at first base, but that would still be better than Morneau did in either 2011 or 2012 — when he logged only 150 combined games. Morneau is owed $14 million this season, so the Twins are hoping he gets out to a good enough start that he might be attractive as a trade piece. For that to happen without the Twins picking up a significant chunk of his remaining salary, he will not only have to stay healthy, but significantly outperform his projection.

[Note: when I originally wrote this post, I mistakenly had Morneau signed through next season, too. It is now fixed. Long story short: I thought that it was through 2013, but I wanted to make sure. When I looked, I misread the the information as having him signed through 2014. Brilliant, I know. I went on a trip pretty much right after this post went up, which is why it took a bit for me to come back and correct it. Hope that goof didn't ruin anyone's day or week.]

#15 Nationals

Adam LaRoche 630 .253 .334 .454 .337 11.1 -2.0 4.4 2.4
Tyler Moore 35 .238 .289 .443 .313 0.0 0.0 -0.1 0.0
Chad Tracy 35 .257 .320 .391 .303 -0.3 -0.1 -0.1 0.0
Total 700 .252 .331 .450 .334 10.7 -2.1 4.2 2.5

Adam LaRoche does not project to repeat his 2012 power surge, but his bat should be adequate. Combined with good defense, he should be about average. Assuming he can stay healthy, LaRoche should be able to carry his part of the load while the Nationals’ big guns elsewhere on the field — and in the rotation — do their thing.

#16 White Sox

Paul Konerko 595 .281 .362 .481 .359 17.9 -2.7 -3.4 2.2
Adam Dunn 70 .209 .337 .440 .337 0.8 -0.2 0.0 0.2
Tyler Flowers 35 .216 .317 .400 .315 -0.2 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .271 .357 .473 .355 18.5 -3.0 -3.4 2.4

Paul Konerko is finally starting to decline, but he’s still very good, at least with the bat. Even with his power dropping, his approach is still good enough that he manages to strike out at a remarkably low rate. Despite some injury issues last year, he managed nearly 600 plate appearances, so the playing time distribution is not all that crazy for him. Adam Dunn will probably have to see time at first at some point. After a nice start to 2012, Dunn tailed off, but can still deliver OK-ish production. I doubt Tyler Flowers will see much time at first base, but given Konerko’s age and Dunn’s “skills,” he is probably a fair approximation for whichever players the White Sox would have to put at first base in lieu of the other two.

#17 Royals

Eric Hosmer 630 .274 .342 .441 .337 10.6 0.8 -4.1 1.8
Billy Butler 70 .296 .369 .484 .363 2.7 -0.2 0.0 0.4
Total 700 .276 .345 .445 .339 13.3 0.6 -4.1 2.2

Remember last off-season when some anonymous, non-Royals team official said that the 10 years and $100 million dollars would be about right for a deal between Eric Hosmer and the Royals? That was awesome. I have to remember to get screenshots of these things. To put it mildly, Hosmer had a disappointing sophomore season. Although his plate discipline improved in some respects, his problems cannot just be put down to bad luck on balls in play. That might have played a part, but he seemed to want to pull everything — which resulted in a lot of seven-hoppers to second. His power also went into the tank.

While celebrations of Hosmer’s incipient greatness were a bit premature, he’s still just 23, and he had a very good 2011 season for a 21-year-old. He does not project as the “Next Joey Votto” just yet, but projection systems have him performing much closer to his 2011 season than his 2012. Scouts and defensive metrics disagree about his fielding, with the former seeing him as very good and the latter not so much. Hosmer does not project as a superstar right now, but he does project as about an average player, and given his age, the future is still bright. If he really bombs and needs to got down to Triple-A, Billy Butler’s bat can make up for his defensive issues, although that would leave the Royals’ DH spot empty. I guess they could play Wil Myers there. Sorry, too soon?

#18 Red Sox

Mike Napoli 525 .249 .348 .477 .353 13.2 -0.6 -1.4 2.0
Mike Carp 140 .243 .316 .402 .311 -1.2 -0.3 -0.7 0.0
Mauro Gomez 35 .263 .314 .426 .314 -0.2 0.0 -0.2 0.0
Total 700 .248 .340 .459 .343 11.7 -0.9 -2.3 2.0

While 525 plate appearances is far from a full season, for Mike Napoli that would be a higher number than in any other season of his career. But that figure isn’t totally far-fetched. After all, he won’t be catching any more, and the Red Sox don’t really have anyone else worth playing in his place. Napoli’s 2012 strikeout rate jumped to scary heights, but it was never that bad before, so projection systems do not think it is likely to repeat itself. Napoli’s .320 average in 2011 was pretty clearly a one-time thing, but he has enough power and takes enough walks to be an effective hitter. Napoli should be at least an average first baseman, but Red Sox fans are hoping Napoli’s hip holds up, because too much Mike Carp is not a good thing.

#19 Pirates

Garrett Jones 525 .258 .321 .458 .332 9.0 -1.0 -2.5 1.4
Gaby Sanchez 175 .257 .333 .410 .323 1.7 -0.1 0.6 0.5
Total 700 .258 .324 .446 .330 10.7 -1.1 -2.0 1.9

The first base situation does not look pretty, but without running through all of the math, this could actually work pretty well if the Pirates consistently platooned Jones and Sanchez at first. By himself, Jones has a somewhat adequate bat for first. In 2012 he overachieved as sort of a poor man’s Corey Hart: low walk rate, more strikeouts than you would like to see, but plenty of power. Sanchez hit well for the Marlins in 2010 and 2011, then came crashing back to earth in 2012. I doubt Sanchez is really a .272 wOBA hitter, although he probably doesn’t hit well enough to start at first base. Lefties have been Jones’ kryptonite, and if Sanchez were to get those plate appearances, the Pirates could earn themselves a few more runs — and maybe an additional win.

#20 Padres

Yonder Alonso 630 .262 .338 .399 .319 7.8 -0.9 -0.3 1.7
Jesus Guzman 35 .263 .328 .407 .319 0.4 0.0 0.0 0.1
Kyle Blanks 35 .234 .317 .414 .317 0.4 0.0 -0.2 0.1
Total 700 .261 .337 .400 .319 8.6 -0.9 -0.5 1.9

Yes, he plays his home games in San Diego, but Yonder Alonso seemingly modelling his game after Daric Barton is not what Padres fans were hoping for. Basically, walking and striking out at a slightly-better-than-average rate was the only part of Alonso’s offensive game that went well last year. He is going to be 26 in April, so it is not as if he has plenty of time left on a typical developmental curve. To top it off, he’s a lousy base runner. Even for his home park, those projected numbers are mediocre for a first baseman. The Padres need to give him the full season and try to live up to his projected potential pre-2012, though, because no one else offers that much hope, either.

#21 Brewers

Corey Hart 455 .262 .330 .474 .344 10.5 -0.3 -1.1 1.7
Taylor Green 140 .252 .317 .401 .311 -0.5 -0.1 0.1 0.2
Alex Gonzalez 105 .244 .286 .380 .286 -2.5 -0.2 0.0 -0.1
Total 700 .257 .321 .445 .329 7.6 -0.5 -1.0 1.8

Sign that the upcoming season may not go well: A season-ending Mat Gamel injury throws a wrench into the gears. OK, that is not quite right, it was Corey Hart getting hurt that set this into motion. Still, Mat “Am I Still A Prospect?” Gamel looks pretty good compared to the other options available to Milwaukee until Hart returns sometime in this spring (hopefully for the Brewers).

When I saw that Alex Gonzalez was projected to get playing time at first, I checked with our Brewers experts to make sure it was not a mistake. They assured me it was not, although the playing time situation is in flux. Yeah, the Brewers might end up envying the Yankees over the first six weeks of the season. I guess Taylor Green might hit better than Alex Gonzalez, but.…

While the situation is bad, as with the Yankees and Teixeira, losing Hart for six weeks-or-whatever is not devastating. That assumes, of course, that it does not drag out for much longer and Hart comes back ready to hit. Hart is not a great hitter, but he is pretty good. His walk rate fluctuates around average and his contact skills are getting worse, but he manages to put up decent numbers simply by hitting the ball hard and for power. For a right fielder, he is above-average. At first, he is closer to average. It may only cost them a win, but for the first part of the season, average will probably be a sweet dream for the Brewers.

#22 Athletics

Brandon Moss 525 .241 .312 .436 .322 4.5 -1.1 0.0 1.2
Daric Barton 140 .236 .358 .367 .325 1.6 -0.1 0.6 0.4
Total 665 .240 .322 .422 .323 6.1 -1.1 0.5 1.7

One might think that the A’s are going to do some more of the smart platooning that worked so well for them in 2012, but no, both Moss and Barton are left-handed hitters. The offensive projection for Moss may seem unfair, given that he hit .291/.358/.596 (.402 wOBA!) in 2012 — but that was over 296 plate appearances, versus a longer history of poor hitting. Even after last season, his career line is just .251/.317/.442 (.328 wOBA), and he is 29. The A’s are projecting something more from him than Steamer and ZiPS, one would think. Or maybe they just don’t have better options. Barton probably is not that better option. While Moss has poor plate discipline and good power, Barton has good plate discipline and very little power.

#23 Phillies

Ryan Howard 595 .246 .333 .468 .338 10.9 -2.2 -4.4 1.4
Darin Ruf 56 .258 .324 .426 .323 0.4 -0.1 -0.1 0.1
John Mayberry 49 .250 .309 .422 .316 0.0 0.0 -0.2 0.1
Total 700 .247 .331 .461 .335 11.3 -2.3 -4.6 1.6

For all the mockery of the Ryan Howard contract, I really didn’t think we’d already be at the point where the Phillies’ first basemen collectively are ranked below a potential Garrett Jones/Gaby Sanchez platoon. To be fair, if Howard hits as projected — and is average in the field and on the bases — he could be about an average player. But how is assuming Ryan Howard could be average in the field and on the bases be fair? The Phillies had such a fun infield a few years ago. Now it just makes me sad, and no amount of snark makes up for that. That won’t stop jerks like me from trying, though.

#24 Rangers

Mitch Moreland 490 .265 .330 .443 .329 1.6 -0.6 0.4 0.9
Mike Olt 140 .244 .327 .424 .325 0.0 0.0 0.6 0.3
Lance Berkman 70 .268 .378 .481 .367 2.3 -0.1 0.0 0.3
Total 700 .261 .334 .443 .332 3.9 -0.7 1.0 1.6

Mitch Moreland projects, at best, as an adequate stopgap first baseman, especially with a team with its eyes on the playoffs. It beats rushing Mike Olt or risking injury to Lance Berkman by playing him at first too much, though. The Rangers have to hope they have enough firepower in the rest of the lineup to make up for Moreland’s bat.

#25 Orioles

Chris Davis 595 .259 .317 .473 .336 8.2 -0.8 -2.1 1.5
Wilson Betemit 35 .248 .320 .423 .321 0.1 -0.1 -0.4 0.0
Russ Canzler 70 .238 .302 .407 .307 -0.7 -0.1 -0.1 0.0
Total 700 .256 .316 .464 .332 7.6 -1.0 -2.6 1.6

Chris Davis’ unexpectedly effective bat was one of the big reasons the Orioles made the playoffs last year. Most projection systems expect regression, but they vary on how much there will be. Davis did have a high BABIP at .335, but he also had exellent power (.231 ISO). The power seems to be mostly for real, and while the BABIP is not terribly high, it is high. Of more concern are his career 6.5% walk rate and 30% strikeout rate in the majors. Overall, the power seems to be enough to make him an adequate, lower-division stopgap starter as a first baseman. Davis will likely see some time elsewhere on the field and at DH, with Wilson Betemit filling in at times, and quad-A-classic Russ Canzler possibly also getting some plate appearances.

#26 Marlins

Logan Morrison 420 .257 .346 .440 .340 8.3 -0.5 -1.4 1.4
Casey Kotchman 210 .262 .327 .389 .311 -0.7 -0.5 0.1 0.2
Joe Mahoney 70 .253 .304 .377 .294 -1.2 0.0 -0.3 0.0
Total 700 .258 .336 .418 .327 6.4 -1.0 -1.5 1.5

In 2012, Logan Morrison played poorly and got hurt. Before that, he looked very promising. While some of the shine is off, he still has upside. He’s projected to hit decently even with a low BABIP — if not as low as last season — and there is reason to think his power is still there. Again, he needs to stay healthy. Of course, no one is exactly going to be crying for the poor ol’ Marlins if they end up with an unhealthy dose of Casey Kotchman.

#27 Rockies

Todd Helton 455 .267 .363 .419 .341 2.5 -1.8 1.7 1.0
Michael Cuddyer 175 .280 .342 .487 .354 2.8 0.0 -2.0 0.4
Tyler Colvin 70 .260 .304 .483 .334 0.0 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Total 700 .270 .352 .444 .343 5.2 -1.8 -0.4 1.5

The Rockies’ first base situation pretty much sums up the organization as a whole: big names that might give ough of an illusion of contender-hood to mask a messy reality. Todd Helton is a shadow of his former self, but his recent numbers and current projections show that if you have good plate discipline, you can hang around as an adequate hitter, even at first base, for a long time. Still, at this point, a .341 wOBA in Colorado does not cut it at first base. Helton missed a lot of time last year, and he hasn’t had at least 500 plate appearances in a season since 2009. That means Michael Cuddyer and others will probably see time at first base. Cuddyer’s bat is better than Helton’s, probably, but not really what you want for a first baseman (or even a corner outfielder) in Coors Field.

#28 Mariners

Justin Smoak 560 .231 .322 .383 .308 0.8 -1.4 0.1 0.9
Kendrys Morales 105 .263 .323 .455 .333 2.3 -0.4 0.0 0.4
Michael Morse 35 .263 .319 .441 .328 0.6 -0.1 -0.2 0.1
Total 700 .238 .322 .397 .313 3.7 -1.9 0.0 1.3

I would imagine that if, prior to the 2012 season, you had told Mariners fans that Justin Smoak would have a better wRC+ than Eric Hosmer during the upcoming season, they would have been thrilled. Yeah, about that…. Does anyone outside of the Seattle front office believe in Smoak? He doesn’t even have the numbers to project as an adequate half of a platoon. I guess the Mariners are not ready to give up on the prime piece from the team’s Cliff Lee trade.

If the Mariners were willing to cut bait on Smoak, they could improve their offense and defense by moving Morales (currently set to be the primary DH) to first and move Morse from left field to DH (leaving aside the issues of whether they should have made the trade for Morse). Of course, that would also potentially mean a two-headed Jason Bay/Raul Ibanez monster in left field.

#29 Astros

Brett Wallace 560 .250 .320 .407 .316 1.3 -0.8 -1.8 0.8
Carlos Pena 70 .212 .340 .419 .331 1.0 -0.2 0.0 0.2
Chris Carter 70 .242 .330 .463 .341 1.6 -0.1 -0.4 0.2
Total 700 .246 .323 .413 .320 3.9 -1.1 -2.1 1.2

It’s something of an achievement for the Astros to not be in dead last in these rankings. At the moment, it looks like Brett Wallace is going to get most of the playing time at first base. The Wallace jokes have pretty much all been made, but at this point, with the Astros playing for nothing (a.k.a., “pride”), it looks like he’s going to get a final chance to show whether he has anything to contribute. So far the answer has been pretty a pretty clear “no,” but the Astros don’t have better options.

Pena is slated to be the Astros’ primary DH, but he can play first if needed. Chris Carter, who came over in a trade with Oakland, has some offensive potential, and might end up being the long-term solution. For now, Carter is will play the outfield with a bunch of other players. If something goes drastically wrong with Wallace this year, it would not surprise me if Carter ended up getting most of the time at first base. Carter’s glove is best suited for DH, but his power is pretty exciting, regardless of his defensive limitations.

#30 Rays

James Loney 490 .262 .322 .384 .305 -1.5 -0.7 2.8 0.9
Sean Rodriguez 105 .232 .310 .380 .303 -0.5 0.0 0.5 0.2
Shelley Duncan 70 .226 .312 .400 .311 0.1 0.0 -0.4 0.1
Luke Scott 35 .239 .313 .436 .321 0.4 -0.1 -0.2 0.1
Total 700 .253 .319 .387 .306 -1.5 -0.7 2.8 1.2

This ranking calls into question two bits of what might (unfairly) be called current sabermetric dogma. No. 1: “It is easy to find a decent first baseman.” And No. 2: “The Rays’ front office can do no wrong.” I put the parenthetical “unfairly” in there because if any saberists actually hold either anything like these, they do so with numerous qualifications. For example, it is only easy to find a decent first baseman relative to other positions, or the Rays are just way smarter than just about every other front office. Even then, these positions seem a bit silly.

Nonetheless, for the sake of this blurb, let us imagine a stereotypical saberist who holds these as articles of faith. It seems like said saberist’s faith would be shaken by the depth chart above, doesn’t it? I mean, either it is really difficult to find a somewhat average first baseman or the Rays just — well, I don’t know. What is going on here? I guess one could imagine that if James Loney is the best-fielding first baseman in the majors, he could be decent in a platoon with Shelley Duncan or someone else. Even Luke Scott, whose brief encounters with the first base glove have not been stellar, would not be great. There are only so many epicycles our imaginary, stereotypically dogmatic and non-existent saberist could spin.

But, hey, at least they didn’t trade Cliff Lee for any of those guys.

Positional Power Rankings: Second Base.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The second base position across the major leagues is in a bit of disarray. Second basemen (.718 OPS) were outhit by catchers (.701 OPS) in 2012, the first time that had happened since 2006. Sure, there have been a bevy of young, talented catchers joining the league in the last few years, but no position is selected less for their offensive skills than the catcher — second basemen should outhit them every year.

So it seems fair to call it a down era for second basemen, at least at the plate. As such, there is a good amount of clustering in these rankings. 12 teams fall between 2.0 and 3.0 projected WAR per 700 plate appearances. If a team finds a breakout second baseman this year, it is an asset to be treasured. If a team already has a star at the position, it gives them a big advantage over the rest of the league.

To the rankings!

#1 Yankees

Robinson Cano 630 .297 .358 .506 .366 23.9 -0.5 1.8 5.1
Corban Joseph 35 .250 .321 .380 .304 -0.4 -0.1 -0.1 0.1
Total 665 .294 .356 .499 .362 23.4 -0.6 1.7 5.1

The ineffable Robinson Cano makes the Yankees a clear choice atop these rankings. Cano’s combination of contact and power skills is simply unmatched at the position. Observe:

Above, the 201 qualifying second base seasons from 2003 through 2012 are plotted, with strikeout rate on the horizontal axis and isolated power on the vertical axis. The giant navy blue stars are Robinson Cano’s seasons. The green dots are everybody else’s. Cano dominates the upper left corner, where the best contact hitters and power hitters lie.

On 41 occasions has a second baseman recorded an above-average strikeout rate and an above average ISO for the position. Seven of those 41 (17 percent) have come from Robinson Cano’s eight qualifying seasons as a major leaguer.

The power/contact combination is the most potent a hitter can offer. The power hitter with contact abilities gets more chances to use his home run power in practice. Cano puts the ball in play often, and he puts it in play with vigor. He may not be the best glove at second base — that allows players like Dustin Pedroia and Chase Utley to approach his level — but Cano’s bat is untouchable among second basemen at this point in his career.

#2 Red Sox

Dustin Pedroia 630 .290 .365 .457 .354 16.3 0.2 7.2 4.9
Pedro Ciriaco 70 .263 .284 .358 .277 -2.5 0.1 0.2 0.0
Total 700 .287 .357 .446 .347 13.7 0.3 7.3 4.9

Somehow, Pedroia is just 29 years old, and as such, his dropoff 2012 season shouldn’t be much of a concern. He still hit .290/.347/.449 (113 wRC+), still brought an above-average contact-power combination, and still played solid defense. But it was a definitive step down — Pedroia posted wRC+ marks of 132 and 128 in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

But that just means Pedroia was merely an All-Star quality player instead of an MVP quality player. Pedroia only walked 7.7 percent of the time in 2012, a four percent drop from 2011. His plate discipline statistics don’t show any glaring warning signs, though — he didn’t start swinging at extra pitches out of the strike zone and he didn’t start swinging more often.

With the disaster of 2012 behind Pedroia and the Red Sox, there’s little reason to doubt a bounceback year from Pedroia. He has been one of the league’s best second basemen since he broke through in 2007, and there’s little reason to expect that to change at age 29.

#3 Phillies

Chase Utley 420 .263 .363 .438 .347 10.7 1.3 3.9 3.3
Freddy Galvis 175 .253 .290 .370 .289 -3.7 -0.3 1.6 0.4
Kevin Frandsen 105 .276 .318 .377 .302 -1.1 -0.3 0.0 0.3
Total 700 .263 .338 .411 .326 5.9 0.8 5.4 4.0

Chase Utley is healthy in camp for the first time in three years. If he stays healthy, it’s huge for the Phillies. Utley projects just a hair behind Cano and Pedroia on a per-plate appearance basis, so even if he plays in just 60% of the Phillies games — roughly what he’s done the past two seasons, the Phillies still project as a top-3 team at the position.

Even in injury-limited seasons, Utley has shown the patience, contact and power skills necessary to keep up his performance. Neither his raw power nor speed are at their peak levels, but Utley has so far to fall stepping down a couple of rungs still leaves him near the elite.

Having two semi-competent backups helps. Galvis is a question mark coming off a PED suspension, but he isn’t expected to hit, merely to play solid defense. Frandsen, meanwhile, was shockingly good last season — a 127 wRC+ in 210 plate appearances — and if he maintains even a fraction of his improved production, he’ll bring value off the bench.

#4 Rangers

Ian Kinsler 595 .265 .348 .443 .344 8.8 1.6 2.1 3.6
Jurickson Profar 70 .255 .327 .399 .315 -0.6 0.0 0.2 0.2
Leury Garcia 35 .255 .296 .349 .281 -1.2 0.1 0.1 0.0
Total 700 .264 .344 .433 .338 7.0 1.8 2.4 3.9

Ian Kinsler’s days at second base could be numbered. Jurickson Profar’s play and pedigree are demanding playing time, and fast. Even in a down year last season, Kinsler hit .256/.326/.423 (99 wRC+), still league average and therefore well above the second base position average. He still sported decent patience (8.2 percent walk rate) and contact (12.3 percent strikeout rate) skills; the problem was a mere .270 BABIP. After a .243 BABIP in 2011 (offset by a .223 ISO), there may be some worry that Kinsler, now 31, is losing his singles stroke. A 14.2 percent infield fly rate (per fly ball) is a bit concerning.

However, Kinsler has always hit a few more infield flies than the league average. He still hit for good power in 2012 (.166 ISO, a touch under his .188 career mark, particularly when we account for the decrease in leaguewide offense since 2006). Kinsler posted wRC+ marks of 105, 114 and 122 in 2009, 2010 and 2011 respectively, and that’s enough of a track record to expect a bounceback in 2013.

#5 Rays

Ben Zobrist 350 .261 .363 .441 .348 11.2 0.0 1.6 2.7
Kelly Johnson 175 .226 .313 .376 .303 -0.8 -0.1 -0.5 0.5
Ryan Roberts 105 .232 .311 .365 .297 -0.9 -0.1 0.1 0.3
Sean Rodriguez 70 .232 .310 .380 .303 -0.3 0.0 0.4 0.3
Total 700 .245 .337 .407 .325 9.2 -0.2 1.6 3.8

In 2010, 28-year-old Kelly Johnson hit .284/.370/.496 with 26 home runs, good for a 129 wRC+ and 5.8 WAR. I was excited. He combined patience and power in a way we almost never see from middle infielders (at least, outside of Robinson Cano/Dustin Pedroia/Chase Utley types). His peak was still in front of him. It was easy to see a couple of All-Star appearances in his future.


Johnson lost the ability to make contact in 2011 and 2012 as strikeout rates exceeding 25 percent led to wRC+ marks of 92 and 86 respectively. He still has power — he’s hit 37 home runs over the past two years, seventh among second basemen — and he can still draw a walk. If he can improve his contact rate at all, the 31-year-old can make a pretty nifty left side of a platoon.

Johnson will likely share the platoon with Ryan Roberts. Roberts struggled mightily in 2012 but owns a .259/.341/.434 (105 wRC+) line against left-handed pitching and should hit for a bit more power this year.

The Johnson/Roberts pair will open the season at second base, most likely, with Ben Zobrist manning right field until Wil Myers is ready (read: his service time clock is held back enough) for the majors. Zobrist, of course, is a known commodity. He hits, he fields, and he runs. With the second base crop in a relatively weak state, half a season of Zobrist and half a season of the Johnson/Roberts platoon looks like one of the better second base units in the league.

#6 Pirates

Neil Walker 665 .272 .337 .432 .332 11.1 -0.5 -1.2 3.6
Josh Harrison 35 .262 .303 .380 .298 -0.4 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Total 700 .271 .335 .429 .330 10.8 -0.5 -1.3 3.6

One can be forgiven for finding Neil Walker a boring, if consistent presence. Pittsburgh will take it. Observe, seasons by a Pirates second baseman over the past 25 seasons (minimum 400 PA) by wRC+:

And by WAR:

Neil Walker just keeps chugging along. Just three years — and 8.1 WAR — into his career, it’s clear he’s the best second baseman to suit up in Pittsburgh since Johnny Ray held the keystone in the early 1980s.

#7 Reds

Brandon Phillips 630 .278 .329 .427 .327 4.5 0.3 4.1 3.4
Jason Donald 70 .240 .308 .368 .299 -1.0 0.0 -0.3 0.1
Total 700 .274 .327 .421 .324 3.5 0.3 3.8 3.5

“Every night it’s Brandon Phillips!”

Home announcer excitement aside, Brandon Phillips is clearly an excellent fielder — a +4 run projection likely shortchanges his abilities. However, his .327 projected wOBA is less impressive given the inflating effects of Great American Ball Park.

Still, even above average hitters at second base are hard to find these days. Despite a lack of patience at the plate — Phillips walked in just 4.5 percent of plate appearances last year — he remains productive by putting the ball in play. Phillips struck out in under 13 percent of plate appearances last year, making him one of just eight players to do so (and qualify for the batting title) in each of the past four seasons.

#8 Indians

Jason Kipnis 630 .259 .332 .404 .321 5.2 0.7 -0.5 3.0
Mike Aviles 70 .260 .296 .392 .299 -0.7 0.0 0.3 0.2
Total 700 .259 .328 .403 .319 4.6 0.8 -0.2 3.2

Kipnis’s season was a tale of two halves. He burst onto the scene in the first half as he hit .277/.345/.419 (113 wRC+) with 11 home runs and a tremendous 20 steals in 21 attempts. Neither the power nor the speed held up into the dog days. Kipnis mustered just a .233/.322/.328 (86 wRC+) line in the second half and was caught in six of his 17 stolen base attempts.

The question, then, is which Kipnis to believe in for 2013. Was Kipnis merely exhausted by the rigors of his first full major league season? Did pitchers adjust in the second half? Can he adjust back?

Regardless, Kipnis showed enough in his excellent first half and over his minor league tenure to put him in the league’s upper third of a weak second base class. He put up a 130 wRC+ at five different minor league levels and in a 36-game stint in the majors in 2011 before last season, and that’s a track record worth believing in.

#9 Padres

Jedd Gyorko 525 .262 .320 .417 .319 6.4 -0.4 -0.5 2.6
Logan Forsythe 175 .242 .330 .355 .304 0.0 0.1 -1.3 0.6
Total 700 .257 .323 .402 .315 6.4 -0.2 -1.8 3.2

Logan Forsythe was a sharp stopgap second baseman last year. As a 25-year-old, he hit .273/.343/.390, good for a sharp 110 wRC+ thanks to Petco Park. He doesn’t do anything exceptionally well, but he was effectively average (or slightly above) in the four key hitting rates (K%, BB%, ISO and BABIP).

But it looks more and more like the Padres’ second base job will go to converted third base prospect Jedd Gyorko. Forsythe, as such, will be relegated to a utility role — a role in which he should be very efffective.

Gyorko hit well in Double-A and absolutely mashed (.328/.380/.588, 24 2B, 24 HR) in 92 games at Triple-A Tucson. He’ll find a chance in San Diego at some point this season. He has good patience and has shown solid power for a middle infielder in the minors. Will it translate to Petco Park? Will his rather average contact rates hold up in the majors? Those are the questions he’ll have to answer, but he’s an exciting prospect, and as such the Padres are looking good according to the projections.

#10 Brewers

Rickie Weeks 560 .247 .342 .431 .337 10.0 0.4 -4.8 2.8
Taylor Green 105 .252 .317 .401 .311 -0.4 0.0 0.0 0.4
Alex Gonzalez 35 .238 .280 .380 .286 -0.8 -0.1 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .247 .335 .424 .331 8.8 0.3 -4.7 3.2

The devastating ankle injury Weeks suffered in 2011 seemed to linger. Between his return for the 2011 playoffs and the first half of 2012, Weeks hit a brutal .197/.314/.347 from Sept. 10, 2011 through the 2012 All-Star Break.

But after the break, Weeks was more or less the same hitter he was in 2010 and before the injury in 2011 (his only All-Star campaign to date). Weeks hit .261./.343/.457 (118 wRC+) in the second half, just a tick under his 127 and 125 wRC+ marks from 2010 and 2011 respectively.

Weeks has one of the best bats at the position, and although a good chunk of his value is offset by a poor glove, he still ranks as one of the better players when healthy. And perhaps even his brittleness is a bit overstated — he’s played in at least 118 games in five of the last six seasons.

#11 Diamondbacks

Aaron Hill 630 .269 .329 .443 .332 4.4 -0.3 1.9 3.1
John McDonald 49 .248 .294 .385 .293 -1.2 -0.1 0.2 0.1
Willie Bloomquist 21 .264 .304 .350 .286 -0.6 -0.1 -0.2 0.0
Total 700 .268 .326 .436 .328 2.6 -0.5 1.9 3.1

Aaron Hill was ruined for a couple years in Toronto after he hit 36 home runs in 2009 — he managed just a 77 wRC+ in both 2010 and 2011. But throughout that period, Hill continued to make contact — his career-worst strikeout rate is a still sharp 15.5 percent. As such, it was possible to envision a resurgence if only Hill could fix what had turned from a fly ball swing into a pop-up swing.

Hill couldn’t hit the high pitch for power in 2011 — he hit 100 fly balls off pitches in the upper third of the zone or higher and managed just two home runs, two doubles and three triples. In 2009, 2010 and 2012, Hill posted at least a 12.0 percent HR/FB on such pitches. If he can keep making powerful contact in the upper third of the strike zone, he should be able to maintain his resurgence.

#12 Angels

Howie Kendrick 637 .273 .318 .408 .314 2.4 0.3 2.6 3.0
Andrew Romine 42 .244 .302 .319 .276 -1.1 0.0 0.0 0.0
Bill Hall 21 .206 .269 .341 .265 -0.8 0.0 -0.2 0.0
Total 700 .269 .316 .401 .311 0.5 0.3 2.3 3.0

Kendrick produced an exciting 2011. As a 27-year-old, he hit a sharp .285/.338/.464 (123 wRC+), and the future looked bright with his first All-Star game appearance in tow.

Prior to 2011, Kendrick was a solid if unremarkable second baseman for Anaheim, hitting for a mostly-empty batting average but knocking enough singles to outpace the majority of the second base crop. When the bottom fell out of the power behind his 2011 season, he reverted to the slightly above-average player he’s been for the bulk of his career.

It wouldn’t be shocking if we saw Kendrick regain some of his lost power as a 29-year-old, but given his 8.9 percent HR/FB both over his career and in 2012 alone, it seems unlikely he’ll ever show the 20-homer ability he flashed in 2011.

#13 Mariners

Dustin Ackley 595 .246 .326 .374 .307 0.7 0.2 3.4 2.7
Robert Andino 70 .230 .295 .322 .275 -1.7 0.0 -0.2 0.1
Kyle Seager 35 .263 .323 .400 .315 0.3 0.0 0.0 0.2
Total 700 .246 .323 .370 .305 -0.8 0.2 3.1 3.0

Dustin Ackley‘s 2012 was a disaster. He hit .226/.294/.328 (75 wRC+) and in just one month (May) did he produce an above-average wRC+. He didn’t hit for power (12 HR in 668 PA; .102 ISO) and he didn’t hit for average (18.6 K%, .265 BABIP).

Adjusting for SafeCo Field helps, but projections for Ackley are still a bit disheartening compared to where we thought he’d be last season. There’s still room for hope, though. Ackley flashed the leather last season well enough to save him from complete uselessness. More importantly, he was sharp with the bat for 90 games in 2011 and has a solid minor league track record and pedigree to build on.

With the fences coming in at SafeCo Field this season and Ackley entering his age 25 season, excuses will be running out quickly. IF the potential the Mariners saw in Ackley shines through, however, the Mariners will be looking good in a bleak second base era.

#14 Nationals

Danny Espinosa 630 .237 .311 .400 .308 -3.1 0.0 4.7 2.6
Steve Lombardozzi 70 .265 .316 .367 .299 -0.9 -0.1 0.1 0.2
Total 700 .240 .311 .397 .308 -4.0 0.0 4.8 2.8

In truth, Danny Espinosa is a shortstop playing second base. At second base, he’s one of the best fielders around. His strong arm combined with vast range leads to multiple plays like the one above.

Espinosa has a major flaw: his inability to make contact. He swung and missed at 15.2 percent of the pitches he faced in 2012, a new career high, and he set a career high with a 28.7 percent strikeout rate as well. As such, he needed a .333 BABIP just to hit .247, and as such his offensive ceiling is limited despite average patience and good power.

But Espinosa has hit for enough power (.172 ISO) to be roughly average at the plate — 94 wRC+ last year, 98 career. And so between his semi-competent bat and shortstop-quality glove, the Nationals have themselves a solid, if occasionally frustrating, option at the keystone.

#15 Astros

Jose Altuve 630 .287 .333 .408 .323 4.8 0.8 -4.4 2.6
Tyler Greene 35 .236 .306 .394 .304 -0.2 0.1 -0.2 0.1
Jake Elmore 35 .256 .338 .331 .299 -0.4 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Total 700 .283 .332 .403 .321 4.2 0.9 -4.7 2.7

The Little Hit Tool That Could proved it last season. Altuve posted a sharp .290/.340/.399 (104 wRC+) with 33 SB (11 CS). He probably won’t ever become a star — at 5-foot-5 and a dense 170 pounds, it’s hard to imagine him putting up too many double-digit home run seasons. Still, he’ll make enough contact to bang out singles, get on base, and use his speed to wreak havoc on opposing batteries.

The bigger question might be his defense. Both DRS and UZR hated his range in 2012, and defense was one of the sticking points for scouts slow to jump on the bandwagon.

Still, the answer to the defense question is the difference between Altuve being an average second baseman and a fringe All-Star type. Not a bad place to start for Houston on the long climb back to respectability.

#16 Braves

Dan Uggla 595 .238 .338 .421 .331 8.1 -0.9 -4.9 2.5
Paul Janish 70 .231 .301 .320 .277 -2.1 0.0 0.4 0.1
Ramiro Pena 35 .238 .296 .310 .268 -1.3 0.0 0.1 0.0
Total 700 .237 .332 .405 .323 4.6 -0.9 -4.5 2.6

Dan Uggla has been good for a roughly half-season long slump each of the past two seasons. It’s all in the BABIP:

Last year, his power fell off a bit as well, as he hit under 20 home runs (under 27, for accuracy’s sake) for the first time in his career. Uggla’s patience and still-good power — particularly for a middle infielder — allowed him to remain a viable option, even if his strikeout (26.7 percent) and popup (16.9 percent of fly balls) heavy ways were infuriating.

Expect more of the same, except with a few more fly balls sneaking over the fence — Uggla is too strong to post an 11.4 percent HR/FB (his career low mark from 2012) again. Even with his myriad fielding issues (Remember the 2008 All-Star Game? It hasn’t gotten much better.), he should provide league-average or better production for Atlanta.

And he might be their worst position player, a scary thought for National League pitchers.

#17 Rockies

Josh Rutledge 490 .286 .325 .459 .337 1.2 0.6 0.0 2.1
Reid Brignac 70 .238 .297 .337 .277 -3.2 0.0 0.2 0.0
Eric Young 70 .267 .343 .380 .318 -0.9 0.4 0.2 0.2
DJ LeMahieu 70 .292 .330 .377 .307 -1.5 -0.1 0.2 0.1
Total 700 .280 .325 .432 .326 -4.4 1.0 0.6 2.4

A .337 wOBA may sound high for Rutledge, 24-year-old who skipped Triple-A and has just 73 major league games under his belt. It may seem especially high when he posted just a 3.1 percent walk rate last season, with much of his value coming from the most unstable parts of offense, power (.195 ISO) and BABIP (.315).

But consider Rutledge destroyed the High-A California league as a 22-year-old (.346/.412/.513, 139 wRC+) and the Double-A Texas League (.306/.338/.508, 132 wRC+) as a 23-year-old. And also consider Rutledge’s .332 wOBA in the majors in 2012 translates to just a 94 wRC+ thanks to Colorado’s thin air and massive outfield.

Perhaps it’s a touch optimistic to think Rutledge can be a near league average hitter this season, but there’s also plenty of room for optimism above league average. There’s a lot of volatility in this projection, but given the state of second basemen in the league right now, volatility with upside ranks decently well.

#18 Mets

Daniel Murphy 525 .285 .333 .405 .319 3.7 -0.4 -4.7 1.9
Justin Turner 140 .260 .323 .382 .310 0.1 -0.1 -0.9 0.4
Jordany Valdespin 35 .252 .290 .389 .295 -0.4 -0.1 -0.2 0.1
Total 700 .278 .329 .400 .316 3.3 -0.6 -5.8 2.4

Murphy owns a typical middle infielder skillset at the plate, based on lost of contact and little else. Murphy struck out in 13.4 percent of plate appearances last year, still a good total despite marking his worst mark since he became a major league regular in 2009.

Murphy hits enough line drives to be an effective bat up the middle. He doesn’t field well enough or hit for enough power to be anything more than average. He is the proverbial second-division starter. Similarly, Justin Turner is the proverbial second division backup. Jordany Valdespin merely hopes his genitals won’t be making any more news for the rest of the year.

#19 Giants

Marco Scutaro 560 .277 .333 .377 .311 0.9 -0.7 -0.7 2.1
Joaquin Arias 105 .259 .294 .360 .282 -2.2 0.1 -0.3 0.2
Tony Abreu 35 .255 .289 .373 .289 -0.6 -0.1 -0.1 0.1
Total 700 .273 .325 .374 .305 -1.9 -0.8 -1.0 2.3

If ranking the Giants — and therefore, Marco Scutaro — 19th seems harsh, consider teams 12 through 24 on this list all fall between 2.0 and 3.0 projected WAR. If Scutaro (or, it should follow, anybody else near him on this list) outperforms his projections by just a little bit, he could easily be in the top half of the position.

Scutaro’s schtick is well known at this point: when he swings, he makes contact. Only Juan Pierre has a lower strikeout rate (min. 1000 PA) than Scutaro’s 7.5 percent over the past two seasons. He doesn’t have much power — especially not built for cavernous AT&T Park — and he isn’t overly patient. But he’ll hit enough singles and make enough plays to give the Giants plenty of stability at second base.

#20 Tigers

Omar Infante 595 .280 .316 .397 .309 -3.9 -0.2 2.7 2.2
Ramon Santiago 105 .249 .316 .347 .292 -2.2 -0.2 0.0 0.2
Total 700 .275 .316 .390 .307 -6.1 -0.4 2.7 2.3

Omar Infante was the less-heralded part of the Tigers’ trade to bring in Anibal Sanchez, but one could argue he was more important to the squad. The Tigers had absolutely nothing going at second base last season — non-Infante Tigers second basemen combined for -2.3 WAR in 604 PA.

Infante was actually pretty terrible at the plate himself — he hit .257/.283/.385 (78 wRC+), but that was still easily better than Ramon Santiago (53 wRC+ in 259 PA) and Ryan Raburn (28 wRC+ in 222 PA), and Infante appears to be a superior fielder to both players as well.

Infante just couldn’t get singles to drop in as a Tiger — he recorded a .269 BABIP in his post-trade at-bats — but his overall season line — .274/.300/.419 — gives a good idea of his general quality. He makes a ton of contact, rarely walks, and will occasionally pop a home run. Infante is noothing special, but after enduring a practical black hole in the lineup at the position the Tigers will happily trot him out at second base every day this season.

#21 Cardinals

Daniel Descalso 420 .253 .324 .360 .298 -4.4 0.0 -1.6 1.0
Matt Carpenter 245 .264 .354 .397 .330 3.7 -0.2 -0.5 1.3
Ronny Cedeno 35 .241 .295 .355 .282 -0.8 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .256 .333 .372 .308 -1.6 -0.2 -2.1 2.3

Second base is one of the few question marks for the Cardinals. Long-term, it’s Kolten Wong‘s position. For now, it looks like a mix of Daniel Descalso and Matt Carpenter, depending on how Carpenter’s work at the position has gone over the offseason.

Descalso is the typical glove-first utility man. Over 302 career games, he owns an 80 wRC+, and his major asset is an ability to play third base and shortstop as well as second base. If he ends up playing the majority of the games at second base, he’ll be a hole in the Cardinals’ lineup, but one the rest of the big boppers can mask.

Carpenter, however, is intriguing. He has a good minor league track record and hit a sharp .294/.365/.463 (125 wRC+) in 114 games last season. But he has just 18 innings under his belt at second base between majors and minors (where he was almost exclusively a third baseman). If he can make the transition, his bat will play extremely well at second base. It’s just too early too say right now if his glove will allow the Cardinals to use him there full time, though.

#22 Cubs

Darwin Barney 630 .270 .313 .364 .296 -11.5 0.8 7.8 2.1
Brent Lillibridge 56 .220 .283 .336 .273 -2.1 0.1 -0.1 0.0
Luis Valbuena 14 .246 .322 .381 .308 -0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .265 .311 .362 .295 -13.6 0.9 7.7 2.2

“There are so many things that could have gone wrong on this play, and he makes it look routine!” Cubs color announcer Bob Brently hits the nail on the head here. This play is so illustrative of the value Barney brings in the field; it shows both his excellent range and strong arm.

Barney isn’t much of a hitter. Although he makes loads of contact — he struck out in 9.9 percent of plate appearances last season — Barney can’t do much with it. He lacks power and has a tendency towards ground balls. His best hope is probably an empty batting average in the .270s or .280s — see his .276/.313/.353 (80 wRC+) line from 2011.

Still, if Barney really is the elite defender he looked like last season — +13 UZR, an absurd +28 DRS, and loads of plays like the one above — he’s worth a starting job in the major leagues.

#23 Dodgers

Mark Ellis 455 .250 .310 .350 .292 -6.1 -0.3 4.2 1.5
Skip Schumaker 175 .263 .325 .338 .292 -2.3 -0.2 -1.3 0.3
Nick Punto 70 .230 .323 .316 .288 -1.2 0.1 0.4 0.2
Total 700 .251 .315 .344 .291 -9.6 -0.5 3.3 2.0

For as much money as the Dodgers have spent, and for as many moves as the Dodgers have made, they still have holes. Second base is one of them. Mark Ellis‘s bat lacks punch. At 36 years old, it’s difficult to expect much out of him. He draws walks, but can he do enough to force pitchers to nibble? He’s had a good glove his whole career, but can his defense stay sharp through his late 30s?

Steamer and ZiPS both expect a bit of a drop-off from last year, when Ellis hit a respectable .258/.333/.364 (98 wRC+). It’s difficult to ignore Ellis’s 2011, when he hit .248/.288/.346 (68 wRC+) despite spending half of the season in Colorado.

Neither Skip Schumacher nor Nick Punto are exciting options off the bench. The Dodgers will need their trade hauls from other positions to cover this hole.

#24 Athletics

Scott Sizemore 455 .239 .322 .370 .307 -1.7 -0.3 -2.2 1.3
Jemile Weeks 175 .253 .321 .351 .297 -2.0 0.0 -1.1 0.4
Jed Lowrie 70 .250 .330 .418 .325 0.8 -0.1 -0.2 0.3
Total 700 .243 .323 .370 .306 -2.9 -0.3 -3.5 2.0

The story for Oakland at second base is less about Scott Sizemore winning the job but more about the fall of Jemile Weeks. Weeks hit an atrocious .221/.305/.304 (73 wRC+) in 2012 and may open the season in the minors. It’s a stark drop for Weeks, who burst onto the scene in 2011 with a .303/.340/.421 line (110 wRC+) in 97 games as a 24-year-old.

Sizemore likely would have had a starting spot in Oakland last year — at third base — but he missed the entire season with an ACL tear. If he is back at 100 percent this year, he should bring a stable if unimpressive bat to the Athletics lineup. His patience (39.5 percent swing rate in 2011) leads to high walk and strikeout rates, with enough power to make him a roughly league-average bat.

Second base is Sizemore’s natural position, but he isn’t a highly regarded defender. Put it all together, and you get a slightly below average, if playable option.

#25 White Sox

Gordon Beckham 560 .251 .316 .395 .312 -4.5 -0.6 -0.1 1.6
Jeff Keppinger 35 .285 .338 .400 .322 0.0 -0.1 0.0 0.1
Angel Sanchez 70 .261 .324 .344 .295 -1.5 -0.1 -0.3 0.1
Carlos Sanchez 35 .259 .314 .343 .290 -0.9 -0.1 0.1 0.0
Total 700 .254 .318 .388 .310 -6.8 -0.8 -0.2 1.9

In 2009, just one year after the White Sox selected him with the eigth pick of the 2008 draft, Gordon Beckham came up and hit .270/.347/.460 (109 wRC+) with 14 home runs in just 103 games. In the three years since, the White Sox have been waiting for that Gordon Beckham to show up again.

In the three years since, Beckham has posted wRC+ marks of 86, 71 and 79. The power he flashed has never materialized; his .137 ISO in 2012 was his highest since his .190 rookie mark.

Beckham did take one definitive step forward in 2012, though, as he set a career best with an 8.3 percent swinging strike rate. He struck out in just 15.3 percnt of plate appearances, in line with his 2009 rate. A .254 BABIP prevented it from translating into better results, but this improved contact is the basis behind his projected .251 average (and the improved on-base and slugging the extra singles provide). It isn’t what was hoped for when Beckham first broke into the majors, but if Beckham can keep making contact, he’ll be semi-useful for the White Sox this year.

#26 Blue Jays

Maicer Izturis 350 .266 .330 .368 .307 -2.7 0.3 -1.0 1.0
Emilio Bonifacio 350 .256 .321 .336 .291 -7.1 2.1 -2.0 0.6
Total 700 .261 .325 .352 .299 -9.8 2.4 -3.1 1.6

It still isn’t clear who will get the bulk of the second base playing time in Toronto between Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio. Bonficacio is certainly the more exciting player — he has 70 stolen bases over the past two seasons despite playing just 216 games — but his only above-average hitting season needed a .372 BABIP. Izturis, meanwhile, is more of the boring utility infielder type. As with many of the players on this list, Izturis makes a ton of contact but doesn’t add much power or patience.

Neither is likely to hit much. Both are exceptionally versatile and add value to a bench. Both are switch-hitters. The decision, realistically, shouldn’t make much of a difference in the Blue Jays’ fate. If one of them jumps out to a hot start in April, he’ll probably win the job long-term.

#27 Royals

Chris Getz 315 .261 .317 .332 .288 -7.0 0.7 -0.5 0.5
Johnny Giavotella 315 .272 .327 .372 .306 -2.6 0.2 -1.5 0.8
Miguel Tejada 35 .255 .292 .336 .269 -1.3 -0.1 -0.1 0.0
Irving Falu 35 .266 .309 .351 .289 -0.8 -0.1 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .266 .319 .351 .295 -11.6 0.7 -2.0 1.4

The Royals hope this can be Johnny Giavotella‘s year. It was supposed be 2012, but Giavotella tanked during spring training and hit a putrid .238/.270/.304 (55 wRC+) when he got a chance at the majors later in the year. He was productive at Triple-A (.323/.404/.472, 130 wRC+) in 89 games, so he should have another shot at it this year.

If not, the Royals are stuck with Chris Getz. Although Getz has major league ability — he has great contact skills, as he struck out in just 8.1 percent of his 210 plate, and he can run — he’s limited to the point where he’s best suited as a utility player, not a starter. He simply doesn’t have any power — he hasn’t homered since 2009 as a member of the White Sox.

#28 Twins

Brian Dozier 420 .249 .299 .353 .286 -9.6 -0.2 -0.8 0.5
Jamey Carroll 245 .267 .341 .330 .301 -2.6 -0.3 0.5 0.7
Eduardo Escobar 35 .242 .285 .337 .273 -1.1 0.0 0.1 0.0
Total 700 .255 .313 .344 .290 -13.4 -0.5 -0.3 1.2

Brian Dozier struggled in his debut season last year, and the result appears to be a shift from shortstop to second base. If he’s going to stick at second base, he’ll need to improve drastically with the bat. He was below average in three of the four major hitting rates (BB%, ISO and BABIP) and scarcely above average in the fourth (K%). He’ll need to find his form from Double-A in 2011, his best professional stint — in 78 games (351 PA), he hit .318/.384/.502 (145 wRC+).

Jamey Carroll is expected to bounce between shortstop and second base this year. He doesn’t have the bat for second base — he hit just .268/.343/.317 last year, the sixth straight season his OBP has outpaced his SLG — but he makes contact and will play solid defense when given the chance.

#29 Orioles

Brian Roberts 280 .249 .316 .372 .302 -3.9 0.2 -2.5 0.4
Alexi Casilla 280 .249 .306 .339 .283 -8.0 0.9 -0.7 0.3
Ryan Flaherty 140 .235 .289 .369 .284 -3.9 -0.2 0.1 0.1
Total 700 .246 .307 .358 .291 -15.8 0.9 -3.0 0.8

There are two problems with the Orioles at second base: we don’t know if Brian Roberts will stay healthy, and we don’t know if he’s still any good. Roberts has taken just 513 plate appearances over the past three seasons and he has hit just .244/.308/.340 (78 OPS+).

The three years prior, Roberts hit .290/.370/.444 (114 OPS+), so it’s understandable for there to be some excitement in Baltimore surrounding his return to the opening day lineup. However, at age 35 and with a three-year history of injuries and ineffectiveness, it seems overly optimistic to expect much out of Roberts.

Twins castoff Alexi Casilla and second-year player Ryan Flaherty don’t add much off the bench. The pair combined for a .268 wOBA last year, although Casilla at least brings a quality glove to the equation.

#30 Marlins

Donovan Solano 525 .258 .304 .341 .283 -13.5 0.4 1.4 0.8
Nick Green 175 .238 .290 .357 .280 -5.0 -0.2 -1.1 0.0
Total 700 .253 .301 .345 .282 -18.4 0.2 0.3 0.8

You could do worse than Donovan Solano in 2012. He hit .295/.342/.375, stole seven bases without a failure, and played a competent second base. But looking at his peripheral numbers, it’s hard to see a repeat. He didn’t show patience (6.6 percent walk rate), exceptional contact skills (18.4 percent strikeout rate) nor power (.081 ISO). His year was propped up by a .357 BABIP, and that’s where our pessimistic projection is derived.

Solano will be backed up by Nick Green. The former Red Sox member is a career .236/.303/.347 hitter, and lest that make you feel optimistic, keep in mind most of those plate appearances came in the more offensively robust seasons of the mid-2000s.

2013 Positional Power Rankings: Third Base.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Third base is a little deeper than it used to be, and only a handful of teams have little to no hope of being productive at the position. The devil is in the details at the hot corner, as there has been very little turnover among the top 20 teams here. Teams that have quality reserves or prospects coming up the pipeline see a bump here, as we’re looking holistically at the position and not just at the nominal starter. This is an important consideration across the diamond, but particularly so at third given how physically demanding the position is. Only six third basemen suited up in 150 or more games last year. Compare that to 13 at second base and 11 at first base and shortstop, and it becomes clear that depth is important at third base. Unfortunately, most teams don’t have adequate depth, hence the bump for the teams that do.

Let’s get on to the rankings!

#1 Tigers

Miguel Cabrera 630 .317 .403 .568 .405 44.3 -1.2 -5.4 6.4
Ramon Santiago 35 .249 .316 .347 .292 -0.7 -0.1 0.0 0.1
Danny Worth 35 .233 .300 .349 .286 -0.9 0.0 0.1 0.1
Total 700 .309 .393 .546 .393 42.7 -1.2 -5.3 6.5

What, you were expecting someone else?

At 6.5 WAR, he’s more than a full win ahead of the primary player on the second-place team (Beltre), and nearly two wins ahead of everyone else in the game. He doesn’t even have the worst defensive projections this year (Michael Young and Trevor Plouffe, come on down!) He is projected to have a slight drop off from the past two years, but it’s unlikely that anyone in Detroit is going to complain.

When the team needs extra support defensively, they will turn to Santiago or Worth, but don’t expect too much of that — he was only removed from 11 games last season. He wasn’t taken out of a game that he started until the second half. Two of the games that he was removed from were the last two games of the season, and another was for the ninth inning of the first leg of a Sept. 23 doubleheader that Detroit was trailing 10-2. In other words, expect to see Cabrera on the field.

#2 Rays

Evan Longoria 546 .270 .366 .508 .370 27.2 0.0 5.3 5.5
Sean Rodriguez 98 .232 .310 .380 .303 -0.4 0.0 0.5 0.4
Chris Gimenez 42 .238 .310 .342 .286 -0.7 -0.1 -0.1 0.1
Ryan Roberts 14 .232 .311 .365 .297 -0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .262 .354 .477 .354 25.9 -0.1 5.7 6.0

This one suffers a little bit because Longoria’s playing time isn’t what you would expect from a star-level player. And that might not be fair, considering the fact that Longoria will only be 27 years of age this season. On the other hand, in the past two seasons Longoria suited up for less than 65% of Tampa Bay’s games. So while he may not be as brittle going forward, it’s OK to be a little conservative. When he’s not in the lineup, manager Joe Maddon is going to mix and match. Aside from Longoria, Maddon started seven other players at third last season, so while our depth chart has four names — more than every other team besides Anaheim — any non-Longoria playing time may end up even more chopped up than that. But predicting what Maddon will do is near impossible, so we’ll just stick with these four.

#3 Rangers

Adrian Beltre 609 .296 .340 .515 .362 17.8 -0.9 7.0 4.9
Mike Olt 91 .244 .327 .424 .325 0.0 0.0 0.4 0.4
Total 700 .289 .338 .504 .357 17.8 -0.9 7.3 5.2

Beltre is enjoying quite the career renaissance. Though he’s been a full-time player since 1999, three of his four best seasons have come in the last three years. From age 31-33, the only third basemen since 1947 who posted more WAR than Beltre were Mike Schmidt, Alex Rodriguez, Graig Nettles and Harmon Killebrew. When he inevitably misses a couple of weeks with a hamstring injury or what not, prospect Mike Olt is going to get a shot, and he projects to be one of the better backups in the game this year, which only bolsters Texas’ standing.

#4 Mets

David Wright 630 .278 .367 .457 .352 21.3 -0.7 1.0 4.7
Justin Turner 70 .260 .323 .382 .310 0.0 -0.1 -0.4 0.2
Total 700 .276 .362 .450 .348 21.3 -0.8 0.6 4.9

Neither Steamer nor ZiPS is real bullish on Wright duplicating his 2012 performance. While a .352 wOBA would be a career year for many players listed in this post, it would be the second-worst of Wright’s career. Some regression is certainly to be expected for Wright, who just had the second-best season of his career in terms of WAR. Still, even if he does come back to the pack a little bit, he still is well above average for the position. His backup, Turner, is good enough to not embarrass himself, as he can be counted on for league average offense and passable defense. You could do worse from your backup — especially when said backup is not going to log much third-base time in a perfect situation.

#5 Padres

Chase Headley 665 .267 .353 .424 .338 18.2 0.1 1.9 4.7
Logan Forsythe 35 .242 .330 .355 .304 0.0 0.0 -0.3 0.1
Total 700 .265 .352 .421 .336 18.2 0.1 1.6 4.8

The Padres moved the fences this year, but Steamer and ZiPS don’t know that, so this could end up being a conservative projection. Headley should of course be expected to slip back from his career year, but he is still going to be very good. Also of note here is that if they are judicious with how they use Forsythe, they should get much better production than the .304 wOBA listed here. Forsythe has shown in his short time in the majors to be a lefty killer. Headley hits lefties just fine too, but if he needs a day off here and there, it should come against lefties in order to maximize value for both players.

#6 Giants

Pablo Sandoval 560 .291 .352 .485 .353 20.0 -1.2 2.4 4.4
Joaquin Arias 105 .259 .294 .360 .282 -2.2 0.1 -0.3 0.2
Tony Abreu 35 .255 .289 .373 .289 -0.6 -0.1 -0.1 0.1
Total 700 .284 .340 .460 .339 17.2 -1.2 2.1 4.6

There is little concern about Sandoval producing in the batter’s box. Through age 25, only 15 third basemen since 1947 have a better wRC+ than Panda’s 126 mark. That’s a mark that places Sandoval ahead of where Scott Rolen, George Brett, Ron Santo and Paul Molitor were through that point in their careers, to name just a few. But will he stay on the field? He has failed to make it to 500 plate appearances in each of the past two seasons, and the Giants don’t really have any depth at the position — Arias and Abreu are borderline major leaguers. If Sandoval can stay on the field all year, San Francisco probably winds up in the top five here, but there’s no guarantee that he will — even our projection of his playing time could be seen as optimistic given the past two seasons.

#7 Nationals

Ryan Zimmerman 595 .281 .355 .474 .354 18.8 -0.2 0.1 4.3
Steve Lombardozzi 70 .266 .318 .371 .302 -0.7 -0.1 0.1 0.2
Anthony Rendon 35 .243 .318 .385 .309 -0.2 0.0 0.1 0.1
Total 700 .277 .349 .459 .347 17.9 -0.3 0.3 4.6

Now locked into his long-term contract, Zimmerman doesn’t need to sweat too much in what would have been his contract year this season. But while he can feel secure in his deal, he still has something to prove. Last season, his walk rate was its lowest in the past four campaigns, and his strikeout rate was a full-season career worst as well. His offense was still well above average for his position, but in the past two seasons, he’s been a lot more Dr. Donald Blake than he has Thor Odinson with the leather. It’s not just the advanced metrics either — his rating in the Fans’ Scouting Report has dropped in each of the past two seasons as well.

Backing him up is Lombardozzi, who is a decent hitter against right-handed pitching, but at least last year could not handle lefties at all — albeit in a small sample. Finally, we’re projecting that super prospect Rendon gets his first cup of coffee. That might be aggressive for Marc Hulet’s 39th-best prospect given that he only has 160 professional plate appearances, but he has already graduated to Double-A and has made a favorable impression early in camp. If he can stay healthy, we could see the beginnings of a position crunch in Washington. Good thing that third year on Adam LaRoche’s deal isn’t guaranteed.

#8 Blue Jays

Brett Lawrie 581 .275 .334 .455 .341 11.3 0.2 6.7 4.2
Maicer Izturis 84 .266 .330 .368 .307 -0.6 0.1 -0.3 0.2
Mark DeRosa 35 .235 .316 .305 .278 -1.1 0.0 -0.2 0.0
Total 700 .272 .332 .437 .333 9.6 0.2 6.2 4.4

Is this the year? Is the time right for Lawrie to breakout this year? Blue Jays fans certainly hope so, because no matter how many new faces this team has, they are still going to need Lawrie to produce like the All-Star everyone believes he will eventually be. Fortunately, in Izturis they have a little buffer should Lawrie fall into a funk. Hopefully new/old manager John Gibbons resists the veteranness charms of DeRosa, but then again, he will only fall for them if Lawrie stays hurt (he is hurt right now, but is expected to be ready for opening day) or falls off a cliff. If the latter, Toronto fans could be forgiven for throwing his clothes out the windows. But if he becomes the player everyone expects him to be — despite his disappointing 2012 campaign, Keith Law still ranked him as the 11th best player under the age of 25 this offseason — they will undoubtedly be hoping that they die together.

#9 Brewers

Aramis Ramirez 630 .277 .339 .486 .352 18.8 -2.0 -1.2 4.1
Taylor Green 70 .252 .317 .401 .311 -0.2 0.0 0.0 0.2
Total 700 .275 .337 .478 .348 18.5 -2.0 -1.1 4.3

People like to talk about how you can’t kill Paul Konerko or Mariano Rivera, but what about Ramirez? Following 82 and 124 game-seasons in his age-31 and 32 seasons, the undertaker was getting the nails ready for Ramirez’s coffin. But in the two seasons since, he’s only missed 26 total games, and only Cabrera, Beltre and Headley posted more WAR. Last season was, in fact, the best season of his long career. His 2012 season is probably not repeatable from both an offensive and defensive perspective — last season was the first season since 2007 in which he posted a positive DRS or UZR — but that Ramirez is still going to be hard to kill. As an added bonus, Green wouldn’t be a total disaster as a backup if some malady does befall Ramirez — ZiPS sees him being worth 1.5 WAR with a whole season’s worth of playing time. Obviously that doesn’t shine through here, as he is slated for just 35 plate appearances as a third baseman here, but he has a decent batting eye and decent pop for a backup.

#10 Diamondbacks

Martin Prado 595 .293 .347 .439 .339 7.7 -0.3 2.7 3.4
Eric Chavez 105 .262 .328 .434 .326 0.3 -0.1 -0.2 0.4
Total 700 .289 .344 .438 .337 8.0 -0.4 2.5 3.8

Given the fact that he helps the Dbacks place tenth here, Prado clearly isn’t chopped liver. But if Arizona misses the postseason, and this is all the team gets from Prado, the 37 people who root for the Dbacks are probably going to be pretty upset with the Justin Upton trade. Possibly cutting into Prado’s value is that the team also signed Chavez, and you don’t give Chavez $3 million guaranteed for 10-15 games. He’s going to play, and while he will probably see some time at first base and DH, his natural position is third base. All of this is probably going to conspire to keep prospect Matt Davidson on the farm all season, which is why we didn’t list him here.

#11 Cardinals

David Freese 560 .277 .350 .434 .341 13.4 -1.4 -0.2 3.4
Ty Wigginton 105 .236 .308 .373 .297 -1.2 -0.2 -0.8 0.2
Matt Carpenter 35 .264 .354 .395 .328 0.5 0.0 -0.1 0.2
Total 700 .270 .344 .423 .334 12.7 -1.6 -1.1 3.8

Last season, Freese rewarded the Cardinals with not only his healthiest season but also his best season, even from a rate perspective. His presence as a three-four win player makes third base that much deeper, as before last year Freese had never played 100 games in a major league season. Despite the breakthrough, there are reasons to think that the peak will be short-lived. For one thing, he’s going to be 30 this year. In addition, his swinging strike percentage jumped from 9.0% to 11.3% last year. He should still be a good player, but another All-Star campaign should not be expected.

Behind him it’s trick or treat, as Wigginton just won’t go away despite the fact that he’s been awful at everything for the last four years. Any game he plays is a negative, but he found his way to start 21 games for the Phillies last season at third, and something similar may happen again this season. Carpenter would be the treat side of this equation, but with him expected to get time at second base and probably in the corner outfield spots as well, his time at third may be limited.

#12 Yankees

Kevin Youkilis 560 .255 .361 .457 .354 15.9 -0.9 -3.0 3.4
Eduardo Nunez 105 .266 .309 .366 .294 -2.1 0.3 -0.8 0.1
Alex Rodriguez 35 .254 .338 .421 .331 0.3 0.0 0.0 0.2
Total 700 .257 .352 .440 .344 14.2 -0.6 -3.8 3.7

The reports circulated by Bobby Valentine regarding Youkilis’ demise were greatly exaggerated. With that said, Youkilis is no longer an everyday player. The last time he posted 600 plate appearances in a season was 2008, and he has missed at least a quarter of each of the past three seasons. For the Yankees, that is sort of the brittle replacing the brittle. In that sense, we are definitely taking the conservative approach to Rodriguez’s playing time. Quibble with that if you like, but at this point it seem highly unlikely that Rodriguez is going to be a major contributor to the 2013 Yankees. That leaves most of the burden on filling in around the edges to Nunez. Nunez has yet to play even average defense at third, and he hasn’t been average overall. So yeah, New York fans should cling to the hope that Youkilis can stay healthy.

#13 Royals

Mike Moustakas 630 .261 .315 .437 .323 3.6 -0.7 4.4 3.2
Elliot Johnson 35 .246 .303 .366 .294 -0.6 0.0 -0.2 0.1
Miguel Tejada 35 .255 .292 .336 .269 -1.3 -0.1 -0.1 0.0
Total 700 .260 .313 .429 .319 1.6 -0.8 4.2 3.2

Who’s that on the loose? It’s not a moose, it’s the Moose! OK, so Moustakas hasn’t come anywhere near the .347/.413/.687 line he posted in Double-A in 2010 offensively, but he was the best third-base defender last season. In fact, his 16.8 UZR was the 13th-best mark for a third baseman in the UZR era. The offense was a different story though. The only qualified third baseman who swung at a higher percentage pitches out of the strike zone last season was Beltre. But whereas Beltre hit 36 taters, the Moose only hit 20. Perhaps more concerning than that though is that Moustakas’ offensive performance declined sharply as the season progressed — from a 120 wRC+ in the first half to just 57 in the second. Scrolling through his Rotoworld page, one finds both knee and groin injuries in the second half, so perhaps that is partially to blame, but it is worth watching nonetheless. Behind him is a mystery. Tejada may make the team, and Johnson’s playing time at third would seem to be directly tied to that decision. Either way, nothing good is going to be happening there on days Moustakas isn’t in the lineup.

#14 Pirates

Pedro Alvarez 630 .240 .320 .452 .331 9.9 -0.5 -3.7 3.0
Brandon Inge 35 .222 .292 .359 .286 -0.7 -0.1 0.2 0.1
Josh Harrison 35 .262 .303 .380 .298 -0.4 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Total 700 .240 .318 .444 .327 8.9 -0.6 -3.5 3.2

Something funny happened when we were filling up our tattoo needle to imprint “BUST” in olde English across Alvarez’s forehead — he went out and hit 30 homers. That may not sound incredibly impressive, but keep in mind that only 26 of 143 qualified hitters reached that plateau last season. Yes, Alvarez still struck out a lot, but you can’t have everything, you know? It’s unlikely that Alvarez ever becomes the star you would hope that the second overall pick in the draft becomes, but last season put him on the trajectory to have a solid career. After all, he’ll still be just in his age-26 campaign in 2013. Behind Alvarez are two flavors of “no thank you” in Inge and Harrison, though they both at least carry good defensive reputations.

#15 Athletics

Josh Donaldson 385 .242 .308 .401 .309 -0.8 -0.1 1.9 1.6
Jed Lowrie 280 .250 .330 .418 .325 3.1 -0.3 -1.0 1.3
Eric Sogard 35 .261 .331 .378 .312 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .246 .318 .407 .315 2.3 -0.3 1.0 3.0

We have our first mystery position. Donaldson is theoretically the starter here, but teams don’t generally trade for a guy like Lowrie in February when they think that their infield situation is just fine and dandy like sour candy. So it stands to reason that Jed Lowwwrie is going to see plenty of action at third. Maybe it ends up in an equal job share, maybe Donaldson ends up playing more because Lowrie is needed elsewhere in the infield, we can’t really say for sure — the future has not been written. One thing that we can be confident in, however, is that no matter how the playing time shakes out between Donaldson, Lowrie, Sogard and company, is that it’s unlikely that the end combination results in a star performance.

#16 Red Sox

Will Middlebrooks 616 .263 .306 .452 .326 1.8 0.0 2.3 2.8
Pedro Ciriaco 70 .263 .284 .358 .277 -2.5 0.1 0.2 0.0
Brock Holt 14 .272 .329 .375 .311 -0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .263 .305 .441 .321 -0.9 0.1 2.5 2.9

Middlebrooks may have the highest error bars of any third baseman listed thus far. On the one hand, his 2012 campaign was felled by a broken wrist, and he already had a wrist scare once this spring. On the other hand, he was worth 2.1 WAR in just 75 games/286 PA last season, so should he be healthy all season, he could blow well past the projected 2.8 WAR here. Or that projection could of course prove to be deathly accurate. After all, Lawrie didn’t have a six-win 2012 after posting 2.7 WAR in his abbreviated — more abbreviated than Middlebrooks’ too — 2011 campaign. It’s just not that simple. But Middlebrooks may prove to be a dangerous player. As I mentioned in my FanGraphs+ profile for him (what, you haven’t purchase FG+ yet? You better get on that cousin), his low walk rate isn’t indicative of a lack of patience. The Sox have to hope that Middlebrooks does stay healthy, because if he doesn’t, no one is going to want firsts, let alone seconds, of the Ciriaco-Holt pu pu platter.

#17 Mariners

Kyle Seager 595 .264 .324 .400 .316 4.6 -0.6 -0.7 2.6
Robert Andino 105 .230 .295 .322 .275 -2.6 -0.1 -0.4 0.1
Total 700 .259 .320 .389 .309 1.9 -0.6 -1.0 2.7

Seager was one of the pleasant surprises not just for the Mariners but across the game last season. He was just one of four 20-10 players at the position (Hanley Ramirez, Headley and Wright being the others). But Steamer and ZiPS see his 2012 line as where he plateaus rather than where he grows from, at least at this juncture. The Fans are much more optimistic, and the nice guy in me wants to agree with them more than the cold, unfeeling computer programs, but the cold, unfeeling computer programs are probably correct. With his opportunity to murder the Red Sox reduced from 19 games to just seven, Andino loses most of what little value that he had.

#18 Reds

Todd Frazier 560 .247 .312 .442 .325 3.1 0.1 -0.6 2.4
Jack Hannahan 140 .232 .307 .350 .292 -2.9 -0.2 0.4 0.3
Total 700 .244 .311 .424 .318 0.2 -0.1 -0.2 2.7

Thanks to Scott Rolen’s presence and Reds manager Dusty Baker’s love for veterans, Frazier spent at least part of the past four seasons toiling in Triple-A. Assuming good health, he should break free of that pattern this year. Frazier should be a very solid option, but since he did play 128 games in the majors last year and is already in his age-27 season this year, it’s unlikely that he ever blossoms into a star. Also potentially dangerous for his playing time is Hannahan. Even though the right-handed hitting Frazier has a superior wRC+ to Hannahan versus right-handed pitching — 108 to 87 — Frazier does in fact hit right-handed, while Hannahan hits left-handed. Hannahan also generally flashes some mighty leather (though he didn’t last year), so expect Baker to tout platoon advantage and sneak Hannahan into the lineup against right-handed pitchers because a) the defensive thing and b) Hannahan is six years older than Frazier, which to Baker makes him way better.

#19 Indians

Lonnie Chisenhall 490 .256 .310 .415 .314 1.4 -0.4 0.3 2.0
Mike Aviles 140 .260 .296 .392 .299 -1.3 0.0 0.5 0.5
Ryan Raburn 70 .238 .294 .393 .298 -0.7 0.0 -0.3 0.2
Total 700 .255 .306 .408 .309 -0.7 -0.4 0.5 2.7

It seems like just yesterday Chisenhall was a top-25 prospect, but the bar has been lowered significantly after a 2012 season that saw him lose a spring training battle to Hannahan. The Chiz Kid didn’t see the majors until the end of May, and he performed admirably in his 151 PA, but he missed the bulk of the second half after fracturing his right ulna bone. If he wrestles 600 of the 700 PA away from Aviles and Raburn, he stands a chance at being a three-win player, but that pair figures to work their way into playing time somewhere, and Chisenhall is now low man on the totem pole in the Indians’ infield, so his playing time is going to be the one that takes a hit.

#20 Angels

Alberto Callaspo 560 .265 .336 .380 .314 1.9 -0.6 3.0 2.6
Andrew Romine 70 .244 .302 .319 .276 -1.9 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Bill Hall 56 .206 .269 .341 .265 -2.0 -0.1 -0.6 -0.1
Brendan Harris 14 .238 .298 .363 .292 -0.2 0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 700 .257 .327 .371 .306 -2.2 -0.7 2.3 2.6

Callaspo is sort of the poor-man’s version of Moustakas in that he plays excellent defense, but not excellent enough to make him an All-Star talent. Unlike Moustakas though, Callaspo will be 30 this year, so there really isn’t any hope that he suddenly finds his stroke offensively. Behind him, Romine is interesting in the sense that he is a product of a near-barren Angels’ farm system, but not really for any reasons beyond that. The only thing you should do if Hall or Harris see significant playing time is shudder.

#21 Dodgers

Luis Cruz 525 .259 .288 .384 .291 -7.1 -0.5 6.2 1.9
Hanley Ramirez 70 .268 .342 .443 .337 1.6 0.1 -0.8 0.4
Jerry Hairston 70 .258 .329 .376 .311 0.2 -0.2 -0.1 0.3
Nick Punto 35 .230 .323 .316 .288 -0.6 0.0 0.2 0.1
Total 700 .258 .300 .386 .298 -5.9 -0.6 5.6 2.6

If there was one guy whose 2012 performance absolutely screams mirage, it’s Cruz’s, as he failed to draw a walk in any of his final 119 PAs last season. Ignorance was bliss this offseason though, and the Dodgers made no effort to upgrade the position over the winter. With Ramirez playing shortstop the majority of the time, the left side of the Dodgers infield defense has an opportunity to be a complete sieve this season. Cruz is at best Los Angeles’ third-best option at the position. Ramirez should really be manning the hot corner, but with him committed at shortstop, the next-best internal option would be Hairston. Alas, neither he nor Punto figure to see much time unless/until Cruz falls on his face in the early going.

#22 Orioles

Manny Machado 595 .251 .311 .416 .315 -2.0 -0.4 3.1 2.4
Wilson Betemit 49 .248 .320 .423 .321 0.1 -0.1 -0.6 0.1
Ryan Flaherty 56 .232 .286 .380 .291 -1.2 -0.1 0.1 0.1
Total 700 .249 .309 .413 .313 -3.1 -0.6 2.6 2.6

In a perfect world, the Orioles would have traded J.J. Hardy to the Cardinals like I told them to do. Baltimore wasn’t listening though, and so not only will we have to watch Ronny Cedeno a lot this year, Machado will start his first full season in the majors at a position where he is not able to accrue as much value as he should. Machado’s bat profiles just fine at shortstop, but at third base — at least presently — it is below average. If Machado does find his way to shortstop every now and then, or just needs a day off, Baltimore skipper Buck Showalter will have the option to play an offense-only option in Wilson Betemit or a defense-only option in Ryan Flaherty.

#23 Braves

Juan Francisco 490 .254 .294 .450 .316 0.7 -0.5 -0.1 1.9
Chris Johnson 210 .259 .306 .415 .310 -0.8 -0.2 -2.7 0.4
Total 700 .256 .297 .440 .314 -0.1 -0.7 -2.9 2.3

Dave Cameron is not enamored by Juan Francisco. Carson Cistulli is. Need I say more? Probably not, but what the heck? Francisco and Johnson are going to have people begging for Chipper Jones to come out of retirement. Expect to read the sentence, “even Chipper at 50% effectiveness would be better than these guys!” quite a bit on the particular corners of the interwebs devoted to the Braves this season.

#24 Astros

Matt Dominguez 595 .253 .304 .395 .303 -4.9 -1.1 2.4 1.9
Brett Wallace 70 .250 .320 .407 .316 0.2 -0.1 -0.2 0.3
Jake Elmore 35 .256 .338 .331 .299 -0.4 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Total 700 .253 .307 .393 .304 -5.2 -1.3 2.1 2.3

Before the 2010 and 2011 seasons, Dominguez was a top-100 prospect pretty much across the board, but even after he graduated to Triple-A in ’11 the Marlins wouldn’t give him serious consideration on the big league roster. That was partially due to his paltry offense, and partially due to the fact that the Marlins were “going for it” last year. One wonders if things would have played out differently for Dominguez if he hadn’t been dealt three weeks before Miami gave up on the season and dealt Ramirez. Certainly the players who manned third after Ramirez was traded were not worth playing over Dominguez. With the Astros most definitely not going for it this season, Dominguez will get the chance to see if his bat can be major league quality, or if not if his defense is good enough to overcome his lackadaisical lumber.

#25 Phillies

Michael Young 560 .284 .329 .413 .320 2.1 -0.7 -5.8 1.7
Kevin Frandsen 105 .276 .318 .377 .302 -1.1 -0.3 0.0 0.3
Freddy Galvis 35 .253 .290 .370 .289 -0.7 -0.1 0.3 0.1
Total 700 .281 .325 .406 .316 0.3 -1.0 -5.5 2.0

Remember, when you read about the Phillies’ continued fall from relevancy this fall that they voluntarily traded for Young. The classiest player of all-time should actually some mild positive regression offensively, but that’s only because he was so awful last season. His backups, Frandsen and Galvis, don’t offer much in the way of offense either, unless you are buying Frandsen’s BABIP-fueled 2012 campaign (hint — you shouldn’t).

#26 White Sox

Jeff Keppinger 525 .285 .338 .400 .322 -0.1 -1.0 -0.1 1.9
Conor Gillaspie 105 .261 .324 .381 .308 -1.2 -0.1 0.0 0.3
Brent Morel 35 .242 .287 .351 .279 -1.2 0.0 0.1 0.0
Carlos Sanchez 35 .172 .214 .226 .197 -3.5 -0.1 0.0 -0.2
Total 700 .274 .327 .386 .311 -6.0 -1.2 0.0 1.9

If you’re a White Sox fan and you’re reading this and thinking, ‘Gee, I guess that Keppinger acquisition didn’t really improve our standing at third base all that much,’ keep in mind that last season Chicago was one of four teams that posted a negative WAR at third base. So, you know, it could be worse. Keppinger is no one’s idea of a star, and 2012 was almost assuredly the best season he will have in his baseball career, but fortunately Brent Morel set the bar really, really low last season. Speaking of Morel, he appears to be on the outs, as Gillaspie has seemingly leapfrogged him on the depth chart.

#27 Twins

Trevor Plouffe 630 .240 .303 .425 .315 0.5 -1.6 -6.3 1.7
Jamey Carroll 70 .267 .341 .328 .299 -0.8 -0.1 0.1 0.2
Total 700 .243 .307 .416 .314 -0.3 -1.7 -6.2 1.8

In 2012, Plouffe hit 24 taters, making him the first Twins’ third baseman to be able to make that claim since Corey Koskie in 2004. Unfortunately, that is really the extent of the positive news. Plouffe’s hands can be best described as rock-like, and he isn’t exactly swift on his feet either. And with an outsized 16.7% HR/FB that he will most likely not repeat this season, Plouffe may do as much to hurt the Twins’ already-slim chances as he does help them. Carroll will do yeoman’s work as always as his backup, but for the most part he is needed elsewhere on the diamond.

#28 Cubs

Luis Valbuena 280 .246 .322 .381 .308 -2.5 -0.5 -0.9 0.7
Ian Stewart 245 .223 .311 .401 .307 -2.3 -0.4 -0.2 0.6
Josh Vitters 175 .257 .304 .396 .301 -2.5 -0.5 -0.9 0.3
Total 700 .241 .314 .392 .306 -7.3 -1.5 -2.0 1.6

The entire 2013 season may turn into one long glance to the minors, where Christian Villanueva will try to become the next Cubs’ third baseman of the future. Certainly, the options at the major league level leave a lot to be desired. It doesn’t speak highly of Vitters that a team which is nominally rebuilding isn’t — publicly at least — committing to a full season of him at the hot corner.

#29 Rockies

Chris Nelson 280 .274 .322 .436 .325 -2.0 -0.2 -3.5 0.5
Jordan Pacheco 210 .283 .330 .399 .317 -2.8 -0.3 -1.5 0.3
Nolan Arenado 210 .277 .321 .436 .323 -1.8 -0.1 0.0 0.6
Total 700 .277 .324 .425 .322 -6.6 -0.6 -5.0 1.4

The Rockies are our second choose your own adventure club. I did the entire Rockies’ depth chart, and they just have far too many moving parts to speak confidently about how this season will play out. And that’s before taking into account the team’s dangerously unqualified first-year manager, about whom we have no objective data to help determine how playing time will shake out. For now, we have the 40/30/30 breakdown, which assumes that Arenado doesn’t see the majors until at least June, and then even when he does he doesn’t start every day.

I also will confess to being a big believer in Nelson, and that may color my breakdown here. Nelson doesn’t get high marks for defense, and his history of fragility is a mark against him. He also tallied a .374 BABIP last season, but I remain a believer. Feel free to remind me of this at the end of the season if his performance goes south. I am not a believer in Pacheco, however, and I am skeptical of Arenado, whose reputation soared after an unsustainable and league-aided 122 RBI performance in the California League. But whether or not he is the real deal, he’s likely to graduate to the majors this season.

#30 Marlins

Placido Polanco 420 .267 .320 .340 .291 -8.0 -0.5 3.8 1.1
Chone Figgins 175 .242 .320 .322 .288 -3.9 -0.1 -0.2 0.2
Greg Dobbs 105 .254 .296 .374 .288 -2.3 -0.2 -1.5 0.0
Total 700 .259 .317 .341 .290 -14.2 -0.7 2.1 1.4

Looking at these three retreads, it’s fair to wonder if the Marlins are even trying to compete anymore. But of course, we already know the answer to that.

post #10301 of 73600
Thread Starter 
2013 Positional Power Rankings: Shortstop.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
A note on what you’re going to see below. Below, in accordance with the series, you’ll see all the teams ranked 1 through 30, based on projected shortstop WAR. The team ranked #1 will be in a much better position than the team ranked #30. That’s how rankings work. However, how much separation is there? Between #1 and #30, a lot. Between #1 and #2, a lot. Between #2 and…well here’s a chart I made:

In terms of projected shortstop WAR in 2013, the gap between #1 and #2 is bigger than the gap between #2 and #15. This isn’t, of course, great science, even if it is science. This isn’t, of course, how things are actually going to work out. But this gives you a sense of the spread, and it gives you a sense you shouldn’t care about the ranking as much as you care about the WAR. This, as you might realize, is one of the issues with prospect lists — the slope is never perfectly linear. As long as you know that going in, you won’t misinterpret what you see. Let’s get on now with the actual list, so you can see who’s #1, and who isn’t.

#1 Rockies

Troy Tulowitzki 525 .297 .371 .538 .384 21.1 -0.3 4.0 5.0
Reid Brignac 140 .238 .297 .337 .277 -6.4 0.0 0.4 0.0
Josh Rutledge 35 .286 .325 .459 .337 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.2
Total 700 .285 .354 .493 .360 14.8 -0.2 4.3 5.2

This is, probably, not going to be a very special year for the Colorado Rockies. If this is to be a special year for the Colorado Rockies, however, it’ll have to do in large part with this position. Last year, due to injury, Tulowitzki got into just 47 games. This year, recovered in spring, he’s experienced no setbacks, and over the course of his career this is a guy who’s averaged nearly 5 WAR per 600 plate appearances. Since 2009, he’s averaged nearly 6 WAR per 600 plate appearances. Tulo is amazing, and he gives the Rockies something no other team has. There are questions about the depth behind him, but there are questions about the depth behind every starting shortstop, and if the Rockies are lucky, they won’t need to call on this depth that much.

#2 Blue Jays

Jose Reyes 490 .293 .350 .447 .341 9.6 1.6 -2.3 3.2
Maicer Izturis 175 .266 .330 .368 .307 -1.3 0.1 -0.5 0.6
Emilio Bonifacio 35 .256 .321 .336 .291 -0.7 0.2 -0.2 0.1
Total 700 .285 .344 .421 .330 7.5 1.9 -3.1 3.9

Jose Reyes just played in 160 games. Historically, he hasn’t been quite that durable, but Izturis is a hell of a substitute, and of course when Reyes is healthy and playing, there aren’t a lot of things he can’t do. He just tripled a dozen times while drawing more walks than he had strikeouts. The Blue Jays are being talked about as a potential American League East favorite, and the trade with the Marlins is a big reason why, because Reyes is a big-time player at a big-time position. Having R.A. Dickey doesn’t hurt, and having all the other talent doesn’t hurt either, but there aren’t many shortstops like Reyes, and the Blue Jays are banking on that.

#3 Nationals

Ian Desmond 595 .270 .317 .432 .323 4.0 0.8 0.3 3.3
Danny Espinosa 56 .237 .311 .400 .308 -0.3 0.0 0.4 0.3
Steve Lombardozzi 49 .265 .316 .367 .299 -0.6 0.0 0.1 0.2
Total 700 .267 .317 .425 .320 3.1 0.8 0.8 3.7

Desmond was just a 5.4-WAR player, in only 130 games. That is outstanding! He also doubled his power output and struck out nearly four times for every unintentional walk. So the forecasts are seeing a step back, even though they still think Desmond is a hell of a player. Of note is that his swing rate jumped from 45% to 54%. There was a change in approach, behind Desmond’s change in performance, and that might lead one to think it’s more sustainable. If it is, the Nationals will be even better. If Desmond regresses, the Nationals’ shortstop situation will be only quite good.

#4 Indians

Asdrubal Cabrera 595 .271 .336 .423 .330 9.1 0.0 -4.5 3.2
Mike Aviles 91 .260 .296 .392 .299 -0.9 0.0 0.3 0.4
Juan Diaz 14 .234 .276 .350 .275 -0.4 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .269 .330 .418 .324 7.8 0.0 -4.1 3.6

There’s not much question about Cabrera’s offensive level. However, shortstops don’t only play offense, and Cabrera’s defending is a little more of a mystery. According to UZR, for his career, he’s been about 34 runs below average. According to DRS, for his career, he’s been about one run above average. What you’re seeing here is a negative defensive projection, but depending on your belief, you might think he should be more negative or more positive. So this 4th ranking comes with error bars, but what’s most important is that, for the Indians, shortstop isn’t a problem. Cabrera swings a solid bat, and that establishes a high baseline.

#5 Cubs

Starlin Castro 595 .293 .337 .440 .333 6.8 -0.1 -0.9 3.4
Brent Lillibridge 56 .220 .283 .336 .273 -2.1 0.1 -0.1 0.0
Luis Valbuena 49 .246 .322 .381 .308 -0.4 -0.1 -0.2 0.2
Total 700 .284 .332 .428 .327 4.3 -0.1 -1.2 3.6

Castro seldom walks, he’s prone to lapses in the field, and he isn’t much of an effective stolen-base threat. It is beyond easy to focus on the things that Starlin Castro doesn’t do well. But he’s a contact hitter with increasing power who plays a fine shortstop and who’s days away from turning just 23 years old. Last season he played in every game, and the season before he very nearly did the same. Castro might be one of those guys who frustrates because he doesn’t perform at his perceived ceiling, but his actual performance level is great, even if he doesn’t improve. And there’s reason to believe he’s improving.

#6 Rangers

Elvis Andrus 651 .277 .349 .366 .318 -3.7 1.9 5.6 3.4
Leury Garcia 28 .255 .296 .349 .281 -1.0 0.1 0.1 0.0
Jurickson Profar 21 .255 .327 .399 .315 -0.2 0.0 0.1 0.1
Total 700 .276 .346 .367 .317 -4.9 2.0 5.7 3.5

The Rangers project very well at shortstop, and their top prospect — one of the very top prospects in baseball — is a shortstop, and the prospect isn’t far off. The Rangers, in this way, are fortunate ones. Andrus owns a career major-league OPS of .695. He owns a career minor-league OPS of .704. There exists some possibility that his offense has already more or less topped out. But he’s still just 24, so there could be more power, and even with things as is, Andrus isn’t a guy to complain about. Andrus, rather, is a competitive advantage, and a core part of a solid team.

#7 Rays

Yunel Escobar 595 .260 .329 .359 .304 -2.1 -0.5 2.6 2.8
Ben Zobrist 70 .261 .363 .441 .348 2.2 0.0 0.3 0.6
Sean Rodriguez 35 .232 .310 .380 .303 -0.2 0.0 0.2 0.2
Total 700 .259 .331 .368 .308 0.0 -0.5 3.1 3.5

We know that Escobar is durable, and we know that Escobar is well above average in the field. Those are the certainties, but Escobar’s offense has been all over the map and of course there’s the rest of the package to take into consideration. If you figure that, at the plate, Escobar splits the middle, he’ll be fine, and the Rays won’t have to worry about their shortstop performance. They’ll have to worry about their shortstop’s other things, but here we’re not projecting attitude. Here we care about numbers, and the Rays care about numbers, and the Rays acquired Escobar on purpose. There are far worse shortstops, probably.

#8 Dodgers

Hanley Ramirez 490 .269 .341 .444 .337 11.3 0.6 -5.4 2.9
Dee Gordon 105 .255 .300 .316 .271 -3.1 0.5 -1.0 0.1
Nick Punto 105 .230 .323 .316 .288 -1.7 0.1 0.6 0.4
Total 700 .261 .332 .406 .320 6.5 1.1 -5.7 3.4

At issue here is how much Hanley Ramirez actually plays at shortstop, given the Dodgers’ third-base situation. Behind Ramirez, Gordon is a player people have loved who doesn’t project well at all, because he hasn’t performed well at all. Punto is adequate defensively and versatile and can’t hit for any beans. Ramirez is clearly a bat-first player who isn’t going to slug in the .500s anymore, but as someone who can post a well above-average wRC+, he works as an offense-first shortstop. And there might be something to his playing better away from the Marlins, in a more competitive setting.

#9 Phillies

Jimmy Rollins 595 .255 .322 .412 .318 1.3 1.8 0.3 3.1
Freddy Galvis 70 .253 .290 .370 .289 -1.5 -0.1 0.6 0.2
Yuniesky Betancourt 35 .257 .286 .388 .287 -0.8 0.0 -0.4 0.0
Total 700 .255 .317 .406 .313 -1.0 1.6 0.5 3.4

What we have here is a contact-hitting starting shortstop with some power and terrific defense. Rollins was just a five-win player, and before that he was a four-win player. One concern is that his strikeout rate just jumped. A bigger concern is that he’s 34 years old, which is the oldest he’s ever been. You can’t predict when an aging middle infielder is going to start going downhill in a hurry. But most recently Rollins was great, and what matters the most is what happened most recently. Rollins could realistically be better than this, which would help propel the Phillies into legitimate contention.

#10 Orioles

J.J. Hardy 595 .255 .304 .422 .312 -3.2 -0.6 6.3 3.0
Alexi Casilla 84 .249 .306 .339 .283 -2.4 0.3 -0.2 0.1
Manny Machado 21 .252 .312 .415 .315 -0.1 0.0 0.1 0.1
Total 700 .254 .305 .412 .309 -5.7 -0.3 6.2 3.3

This is a somewhat lofty standing for a team whose starting shortstop just posted a .282 OBP. But the first time Hardy posted a wRC+ in the 70s, he came back with a wRC+ of 103. The next time Hardy posted a wRC+ in the 70s, he came back with a wRC+ of 94. His career level is 95, he’s not old, and his profile isn’t different. Hardy’s a good defensive shortstop with power, and that gives the Orioles an above-average position player at a critical position. Even without walks, even without a good BABIP, Hardy makes it work. And he just played in 158 games, easing some concerns about his durability.

#11 Athletics

Hiroyuk Nakajima 420 .272 .328 .377 .308 -1.2 -0.6 0.3 1.8
Jed Lowrie 245 .250 .330 .418 .325 2.7 -0.2 -0.8 1.3
Adam Rosales 35 .236 .298 .363 .288 -0.7 -0.1 -0.1 0.1
Total 700 .263 .327 .390 .313 0.9 -0.9 -0.6 3.2

On one hand, this is tricky — Nakajima is a fresh import, and we don’t know what he’s going to do as an everyday player. At present, his stock in spring training is sinking, but it’s just spring training, and Ichiro didn’t impress in his first spring training, either. So Nakajima might be perfectly fine. If he isn’t, that would be bad news, but the A’s have Lowrie as positional insurance. If Nakajima is a disaster, the A’s won’t play that much Nakajima at shortstop, helping to mitigate their downside. Not that Lowrie has historically been the most durable, reliable player, and after him things get messy, but this isn’t an awful setup. And Nakajima could hit, and/or field.

#12 Braves

Andrelton Simmons 595 .276 .324 .384 .308 -3.2 -0.8 5.5 2.9
Paul Janish 84 .231 .301 .320 .277 -2.6 0.0 0.4 0.2
Ramiro Pena 21 .238 .296 .310 .268 -0.8 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .270 .321 .375 .303 -6.5 -0.8 6.0 3.1

Here’s a case with a lot of upside, because just last season Simmons was worth 2.2 WAR in fewer than 200 plate appearances. He didn’t hit a lot in the minors, and the projections foresee an offensive decline from last year’s level, but offense also isn’t Simmons’ calling card. This defensive projection is likely modest, as Simmons might be the best defensive shortstop in baseball. Right now, he might be a defensive +15, raising him another win. And if he actually hits a little, suddenly he’s a borderline star player at a young age. This is one of the reasons why the Braves might be able to keep up with the Nationals.

#13 Angels

Erick Aybar 595 .276 .320 .395 .311 0.5 1.4 -0.6 2.9
Andrew Romine 91 .244 .302 .319 .276 -2.5 0.0 -0.1 0.2
Luis Rodriguez 14 .252 .328 .354 .300 -0.1 -0.1 -0.1 0.0
Total 700 .271 .318 .385 .306 -2.0 1.4 -0.8 3.1

Aybar’s not a mystery. He’s going to make contact with almost everything, he’s going to put balls in play on the ground, and he’s going to run. He’s going to field his position with competence, and he’s going to play most of the time, which is good, given the lack of ability behind him. That Aybar doesn’t walk is offset by the fact that Aybar doesn’t really strike out, and his modest power/speed combo makes him acceptably solid. Aybar is a very classically Angels player, and, classically, the Angels were good.

#14 Tigers

Jhonny Peralta 595 .259 .322 .406 .315 -1.1 -1.7 2.8 2.7
Ramon Santiago 105 .249 .316 .347 .292 -2.2 -0.2 0.0 0.2
Total 700 .257 .321 .397 .312 -3.3 -1.8 2.8 3.0

The Tigers spent some of the offseason searching for a shortstop upgrade, but ultimately they settled on keeping the guy they already had. The guy they already had is perfectly adequate, and though there are questions about his defense, he has reportedly worked himself into better shape at a reduced weight. There’s nothing outstanding about Jhonny Peralta, but there’s also nothing disastrous, so an upgrade wasn’t necessary for a team that plans to contend. Peralta ought to be a player who doesn’t hold the Tigers back.

#15 Reds

Zack Cozart 595 .251 .299 .396 .301 -7.9 0.6 4.4 2.4
Jason Donald 105 .240 .308 .368 .299 -1.6 0.0 -0.5 0.3
Total 700 .249 .300 .392 .301 -9.5 0.6 3.9 2.7

Cozart is projected to be just about identical to what he was last season, when he was worth 2.7 WAR in 600 plate appearances. There’s not a lot of discipline here — Cozart finished with 113 strikeouts and 31 walks — and that’s reflected in his low projected OBP, but Cozart does make above-average contact and he helps himself and the team in the field. We’re at the section of these rankings where the players are fine without being super helpful or super troublesome. That describes Cozart, and thus that describes the Reds’ shortstop situation. If Cozart gets injured, look out. If just about any starting shortstop in the league gets injured, look out.

#16 White Sox

Alexei Ramirez 595 .267 .309 .391 .304 -8.5 0.0 3.9 2.3
Angel Sanchez 105 .261 .324 .344 .295 -2.2 -0.1 -0.4 0.2
Total 700 .266 .312 .384 .303 -10.8 -0.1 3.5 2.5

There was a time that Ramirez was a legitimate star, even if nobody knew about it. Dave Cameron once wrote about how Ramirez might’ve been the best shortstop in the American League. But last year, though Ramirez was healthy, he lost almost all of his walks and he additionally lost a chunk of his power without making any gains. Now he’s more into his 30s and we may simply be observing the decline of a quality player. The projections see a bit of an offensive bounceback, which the White Sox would appreciate, but Ramirez probably isn’t the player he was. Eventually, they never are. Ramirez is simply fine enough.

#17 Padres

Everth Cabrera 525 .241 .315 .324 .285 -7.8 3.4 -1.4 1.8
Logan Forsythe 105 .242 .330 .355 .304 0.0 0.1 -0.8 0.4
Alexi Amarista 70 .252 .294 .369 .288 -0.9 -0.1 0.0 0.2
Total 700 .242 .315 .333 .288 -8.7 3.4 -2.3 2.4

Cabrera isn’t a great defender, he doesn’t make a ton of contact, and he doesn’t hit for power since he puts almost everything on the ground. He’s not all that young, and he’s saved by the fact that he can walk and that he gets a park adjustment from Petco. He’s also saved by the fact that he doesn’t have a quality backup, as Forsythe isn’t a shortstop for a good team. Cabrera has averaged 1.4 WAR per 600 plate appearances over his modest career, and I think that gets the right point across. If you don’t know a lot about Everth Cabrera, you probably won’t need to.

#18 Mets

Ruben Tejada 560 .267 .328 .340 .296 -6.1 -0.3 2.3 2.2
Omar Quintanilla 119 .241 .305 .353 .285 -2.4 -0.1 -0.3 0.2
Brandon Hicks 21 .207 .282 .356 .279 -0.5 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .261 .323 .343 .294 -9.1 -0.4 1.9 2.4

Young shortstop, contact, limited power, defensive adequacy. I’m getting tired of writing about this although in fairness I’ve been sitting in one spot in a hotel lobby for hours and I might be in need of a break. (Ed. note: upon updating this post, the ranking order shifted, so the caption order shifted, so that explains why this caption began as it did. I have chosen to include this note instead of just changing the caption into something else.) Last season Tejada doubled his career home-run total, by hitting one. He had some injury problems but it remains to be seen whether he’ll be fragile or not down the road. He is patient, so he has the ability to draw a walk, but pitchers don’t have many reasons to walk him. Tejada’s a startable player who’s also an upgrade-able player.

#19 Brewers

Jean Segura 595 .272 .321 .388 .307 -4.1 1.5 -2.3 2.2
Alex Gonzalez 70 .238 .280 .380 .286 -1.6 -0.1 0.0 0.1
Jeff Bianchi 35 .256 .304 .342 .282 -0.9 0.0 0.1 0.1
Total 700 .268 .316 .385 .303 -6.7 1.4 -2.3 2.4

Last year, Segura was legitimately above average in double-A at 22. But he was in double-A, and his major-league experience was far from particularly impressive. He put two-thirds of his balls in play on the ground, and he doesn’t have much power or extraordinary defensive ability. Segura is something of a low-ceiling shortstop, made more remarkable by his age and historical prospect hype. That he makes contact keeps him from being an offensive nightmare but this year, at shortstop, the Brewers are striving for adequacy.

#20 Pirates

Clint Barmes 560 .237 .292 .359 .283 -12.5 -0.7 6.0 1.8
Josh Harrison 105 .262 .303 .380 .298 -1.1 0.0 -0.2 0.3
Jordy Mercer 35 .241 .294 .373 .292 -0.5 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .241 .294 .363 .286 -14.2 -0.8 5.8 2.3

One year Clint Barmes posted a .342 wOBA. The next year he knocked 23 dingers. Barmes isn’t on the Rockies anymore, and now he’s 34 years old. His last three years look like Brendan Ryan’s last three years, and you’ll notice you haven’t yet seen Brendan Ryan and the Mariners on this list. Barmes is gifted in the field, and that’s the reason he stays in the lineup, but you wonder how much more he might’ve been able to accomplish had he not elected to play all the time with a partially broken bat. You can use another bat, Clint Barmes. Some bats aren’t broken and terrible. For the record, this is a substantial projected wOBA bounceback. Last year was really bad.

#21 Royals

Alcides Escobar 595 .271 .315 .370 .298 -8.4 2.0 -0.8 2.0
Elliot Johnson 91 .246 .303 .366 .294 -1.6 0.0 -0.5 0.2
Irving Falu 14 .266 .309 .351 .289 -0.3 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .268 .313 .369 .297 -10.3 2.0 -1.3 2.2

Young shortstop, contact, groundballs, defensive adequacy. We’ve already talked about this sort of player, and it’s a safe sort of player without wild, lofty upside. Escobar should be steady for the Royals, and he should stay on the field, but he’ll be as good as his batting average and his career mark is .266. Considered a part of the Royals’ young core, Escobar isn’t about to make or break what the Royals hope will be a competitive season. He’s a guy at a critical spot, but he’s not a critical player.

#22 Giants

Brandon Crawford 595 .238 .302 .353 .286 -10.7 -1.4 4.5 2.0
Joaquin Arias 70 .259 .294 .360 .282 -1.5 0.1 -0.2 0.2
Tony Abreu 35 .255 .289 .373 .289 -0.6 -0.1 -0.1 0.1
Total 700 .241 .300 .354 .286 -12.8 -1.4 4.3 2.2

Young shortstop, limited power, below-average contact offset by above-average defense. Crawford is a defensive specialist who isn’t a complete offensive black hole, thanks to his ability to draw the occasional walk and drill the occasional extra-base hit. Crawford did get better at the plate in the second half, jumping from a .271 wOBA to a .300 wOBA. That wasn’t a BABIP thing, so Crawford might have a little life. But his strengths and his weaknesses are very well known. This is not the guy who’s going to carry the Giants’ lineup, nor would anyone ever make that accusation.

#23 Yankees

Derek Jeter 490 .283 .342 .378 .316 -0.9 -0.5 -4.2 1.7
Eduardo Nunez 175 .266 .309 .366 .294 -3.5 0.5 -1.3 0.3
Jayson Nix 35 .226 .293 .387 .296 -0.6 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Total 700 .276 .331 .375 .310 -5.0 0.0 -5.7 2.1

It’s Derek Jeter! Now 38 years old and recovering from injury. He’s still projected to be a decent bat, but he’s projected to be a worse bat, and his defense isn’t improving. Note the playing time, as well — Jeter might see significant time at designated hitter, with Eduardo Nunez filling in. There’s life in Nunez’s bat but there isn’t a lot else to his overall skillset. Nix is a guy who might be on the team at some point. If Jeter comes back and looks something like his old self it’ll be laughable that they once ranked #23 on this list, but he is old and he was just hurt, and he’s Derek Jeter in the field. This probably isn’t a team strength.

#24 Red Sox

Stephen Drew 490 .249 .325 .391 .313 -3.7 -0.7 -0.8 1.7
Pedro Ciriaco 154 .263 .284 .358 .277 -5.6 0.2 0.4 0.2
Jose Iglesias 56 .253 .302 .315 .274 -2.2 0.1 0.6 0.1
Total 700 .252 .314 .377 .302 -11.4 -0.4 0.2 2.0

One time, Drew slugged .502. One other time, Drew was worth 5.1 WAR. One of those times was 2008, and the other of those times was 2010. The forecasts haven’t completely forgotten about Drew’s performance upside, but it’s been a while, and Drew also doesn’t have durability on his side. Behind Drew, Ciriaco doesn’t have much of anything on his side, and as much as the Red Sox love Iglesias’ defense, that’s how much nobody likes Iglesias’ bat. You could say this is a volatile position for Boston, but this spot in the rankings seems just about appropriate. Other teams have far better situations, even if Boston’s isn’t the worst.

#25 Diamondbacks

Cliff Pennington 560 .256 .319 .374 .304 -8.5 0.5 1.0 1.9
Willie Bloomquist 91 .264 .304 .350 .286 -2.7 -0.3 -0.8 0.0
Didi Gregorius 49 .264 .303 .384 .296 -1.1 -0.1 0.2 0.1
Total 700 .258 .316 .371 .301 -12.2 0.1 0.4 2.0

A big deal was made about the Diamondbacks trading for Gregorius, but right now he’s not going to be their starter. He’s also presumably not ready to be their starter, which makes it a good thing they have Pennington around. Pennington just slugged .311, which is awful, and he had Brendan Ryan’s wRC+, but that was basically all BABIP so Pennington should bounce back some. He stands to be an uninteresting part of a very interesting team, but at least he shouldn’t be a black hole. Willie Bloomquist is now 35 years old. He just got caught stealing ten times in 17 attempts. Now you know those things about Willie Bloomquist.

#26 Mariners

Brendan Ryan 560 .225 .295 .307 .268 -17.0 0.7 7.1 1.6
Robert Andino 119 .230 .295 .322 .275 -3.0 -0.1 -0.4 0.2
Carlos Triunfel 21 .246 .287 .336 .273 -0.6 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .226 .295 .310 .270 -20.5 0.6 6.6 1.8

As it was with Clint Barmes, so it is with Brendan Ryan. Ryan is a fantastic defensive shortstop, even at his age, but he offers nothing at the plate aside from his occasional ability to coax a walk. There will be stretches where he looks productive because he hits for a decent average, but his average will be empty, and unless tweaks to his swing make a real difference, he’s going to hit a maddening amount of pop-ups. The Mariners like Andino some and he’ll get time if and when Eric Wedge finds Ryan obnoxious, but if the Mariners could tolerate Ryan’s bat before because of his defense, then he’ll find time with something of a bounceback. Half of the time, Ryan is a real treat to watch. Half of the time, Ryan’s when you get up to use the restroom or make a phone call.

#27 Astros

Ronny Cedeno 385 .241 .295 .355 .282 -9.7 -0.1 -0.1 0.7
Marwin Gonzalez 245 .252 .299 .346 .282 -6.1 -0.5 -0.1 0.4
Jake Elmore 70 .256 .338 .331 .299 -0.8 0.0 -0.2 0.2
Total 700 .246 .301 .350 .284 -16.7 -0.6 -0.4 1.4

The original blurb here talked about a brewing competition between Marwin Gonzalez and Tyler Greene. Since then, the Astros have grabbed Cedeno, and it looks like Greene won’t make the roster. Cedeno was dropped by the Cardinals, who prefer Pete Kozma. So that says a lot about Ronny Cedeno. Gonzalez is pretty much exactly what you think he is, and he might end up getting a lot of time. Whatever happens, shortstop isn’t going to be a strength for the Astros, because the Astros aren’t going to have strengths. They’ll have relative strengths, to the rest of the positions on the Astros. So there’s that going for them.

#28 Marlins

Adeiny Hechavarria 560 .251 .292 .353 .281 -15.2 -0.6 0.7 1.0
Donovan Solano 70 .258 .304 .341 .283 -1.8 0.0 0.2 0.2
Nick Green 70 .238 .290 .357 .280 -2.0 -0.1 -0.4 0.1
Total 700 .251 .293 .352 .282 -18.9 -0.6 0.4 1.2

Hechavarria’s young and he’s been a decent prospect, but his triple-A numbers are inflated by the ballpark environment and his approach is going to limit his offensive upside. He posted a .637 OPS in double-A, and a .509 OPS in single-A, and he just put up a .645 OPS in a big-league cup of coffee. As always, there’s upside for Hechavarria to be a half-decent non-power hitter, but without incredible defense he looks like he could be fringey, so, basically, hey, the Marlins are near the bottom at another position. Stop the internet presses. Additionally, move minor-league teams away from Las Vegas.

#29 Cardinals

Pete Kozma 525 .227 .285 .322 .265 -19.3 -0.2 2.2 0.6
Daniel Descalso 175 .253 .324 .360 .298 -1.9 0.0 -0.7 0.5
Total 700 .233 .295 .331 .273 -21.1 -0.2 1.5 1.2

The Cardinals insist they’re happy with Kozma for the time being, what with Rafael Furcal now unavailable. Kozma is coming off an impressive cup of coffee. Something I didn’t know is that Kozma is a former first-round pick, having been selected 18th in 2007, but something I did know is that Kozma posted a .610 OPS in triple-A over nearly a thousand trips to the plate. He’s at .652 in his minor-league career, with decent power but not much else. He’s not a whiz, laterally or with the glove, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Cardinals shortly re-enter the shortstop trade market. They could potentially be stubborn, or Kozma could potentially impress, because what we’re thinking about are averages and half the time the average is beat. But Kozma’s short-term track record doesn’t match up with his long-term track record, and it’s the long-term track records that are most meaningful. The Cardinals intend to be good, and shortstop could easily be a real problem for them.

#30 Twins

Pedro Florimon 525 .234 .290 .333 .275 -16.4 -0.8 -0.5 0.6
Jamey Carroll 105 .267 .341 .330 .301 -1.1 -0.1 0.2 0.4
Eduardo Escobar 70 .242 .285 .337 .273 -2.3 -0.1 0.3 0.1
Total 700 .239 .297 .333 .279 -19.9 -1.0 0.0 1.0

Florimon was once a waiver grab, and he’s a 26-year-old with a .675 minor league OPS. He didn’t hit in the majors, but he did field a bit and the Twins don’t have superior options so here’s Florimon again, standing to get a ton of playing time. He’s coming off one home run and 58% groundballs, which tells you plenty. To his credit, he’s not a hacker, and he is good with the glove, but this is another low-OBP, low-slugging middle infielder who’s going to look okay during the stretches when he’s hitting .275. Try not to think about when he isn’t in one of those stretches.

2013 Positional Power Rankings: Center Field.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Center field is one of the most star-laden positions in baseball at the moment, but a whole lot of those stars are dealing with injuries or coming off down years or trying to change positions. It also hurts that arguably the best player in the game figures to spend most of his time in left field this summer, but so be it. There is still plenty of center field talent — third base was the only position with more 5+ WAR players in 2012 — with a few interesting youngsters due to get regular playing time this year.

The league average center fielder hit .264/.328/.414 (101 wRC+) last summer, so the offensive bar is low compared to the corner spots. Defense is a big separator between the good and great players, though I feel like no position is more prone to the surprise 4+ WAR season. We’ve seen quite a few players pop-up out of nowhere to post star-caliber seasons driven largely by their center field defensive ratings, which can be a sketchy proposition. The established center field stars are among the best players in the world and perennial MVP candidates, so it’s no surprise teams with those players dominate the top of our rankings.

#1 Pirates

Andrew McCutchen 665 .288 .377 .490 .370 31.7 0.2 -0.8 5.8
Starling Marte 35 .270 .319 .432 .322 0.3 0.0 0.3 0.2
Total 700 .287 .374 .487 .368 32.0 0.3 -0.5 6.0

Not many positions in this series will be easier to cover than Pittsburgh’s center field situation. The 26-year-old McCutchen is one of the ten best players in the world and since he’s in the non-DH league, he’ll play as many innings in the field as humanly possible. This one ain’t rocket science. Marte, 24, will slide into center field whenever McCutchen takes a day off — he’s played 577 of 595 possible games since being called up in early-June 2009 — but otherwise he’s slated to be the everyday left fielder.

#2 Dodgers

Matt Kemp 595 .288 .362 .520 .370 29.5 0.7 -6.1 4.8
Skip Schumaker 70 .263 .325 .338 .292 -0.9 -0.1 -0.5 0.1
Tony Gwynn 35 .243 .307 .323 .277 -0.9 0.1 0.3 0.1
Total 700 .283 .356 .491 .357 27.7 0.7 -6.4 5.0

Injuries sabotaged Kemp a year ago, including a left shoulder issue — his power shoulder as a right-handed batter — that required offseason surgery. The 28-year-old also dealt with hamstring problems in 2012, which took away from his stolen base total. If healthy, Kemp is baseball’s premier power-speed threat, someone who is legitimately capable of going 40-40 and carrying a lineup. I have some concerns about his power in the immediate aftermath of the surgery, but not enough to consider him a big risk.

Schumaker, 33, is likely to open the season on the Dodgers’ bench and give Kemp the occasional day off. Gwynn, 30, is the emergency guy in Triple-A who will resurface should the starter’s shoulder or hamstring continue to bark. Schumaker can hold his own against righties and has become a little underrated in recent years, but he and Gwynn are enormous steps down from Kemp. The difference between Los Angeles’ starting and backup center fielder is arguably the biggest of any team in the game.

#3 Angels

Peter Bourjos 490 .252 .311 .402 .310 0.0 1.2 7.6 2.8
Mike Trout 175 .290 .370 .503 .373 8.9 1.3 2.2 2.0
Vernon Wells 21 .248 .297 .439 .316 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.1
Kole Calhoun 14 .245 .311 .408 .315 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .261 .325 .428 .326 9.0 2.4 9.9 4.9

The Halos have arguably the best two-player center field tandem in baseball, so one of them will have to spend time in left. That would be Trout, leaving Bourjos and his brilliant defense at the more premium position. The 25-year-old has a slightly below-average offensive game built on speed, both stealing bases and stretching singles into doubles (and doubles into triples). I happen to think Bourjos has gotten overrated these last two years — this goes back to what I said earlier about surprise 4+ WAR seasons — but he’s certainly a big league player thanks to defense. If he’s going to play regularly, center field is the place to do it.

Trout, 21, will ply his trade in left and fill-in at center against tough righties on occasion. He’s a star even if his performance figures to take a slight step back following one of the best rookie seasons we’ll ever see. Wells is just kinda hanging around in his age-34 season and doesn’t figure to see much time in center without a series of injuries. Kalhoun, 25, is a personal fave who is more of a corner guy than someone capable of playing center everyday. Given the depth chart ahead of him, he’ll again be an up-and-down player in 2013.

#4 Red Sox

Jacoby Ellsbury 455 .284 .339 .437 .336 5.2 1.4 4.0 2.9
Shane Victorino 175 .270 .339 .422 .330 1.1 0.6 0.2 0.9
Jackie Bradley 70 .259 .343 .387 .320 -0.1 0.0 0.3 0.3
Total 700 .278 .339 .429 .333 6.2 2.0 4.6 4.0

The Red Sox have one of the most volatile center field situations in baseball because the 29-year-old Ellsbury has been both an MVP candidate and injury bust in the last few seasons. He’s missed significant time in two of the last three years but the one exception was outstanding, a 9.4 WAR effort in 2011. That said, he’s been something less than a three-win player in three of the last four years. Ellsbury’s good but injury prone, and we don’t know if the power spike — 16.7% HR/FB — from 2011 is actually real. He’ll try to prove it was this summer before heading to free agency.

Victorino, 32, will be the primary right fielder and backup center fielder as Bradley gets some time in Triple-A. The 22-year-old is the obvious successor to Ellsbury and is a safe bet to debut at some point this season, even if it’s just a September call-up. I do believe that if Ellsbury got hurt and missed a bunch of time again, Bradley would be the guy they stick in center everyday. Not Victorino. There’s a lot of volatility here, this unit could live up to its billing as one of the best in baseball or complete tank and be one of the ten worst.

#5 Tigers

Austin Jackson 630 .270 .346 .418 .333 7.9 -0.1 4.8 3.7
Quintin Berry 35 .234 .307 .312 .277 -1.1 0.3 0.1 0.1
Avisail Garcia 35 .252 .281 .373 .283 -1.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .267 .341 .410 .328 5.8 0.1 4.8 3.8

The Tigers tweaked Jackson’s swing mechanics prior to last season, and the result was a breakout 135 wRC+ and 16 homers in 617 plate appearances. Mechanical tweaks don’t translate well in projection systems, especially after just one year, so the 26-year-old gives Detroit perhaps the best chance of any team to outperform their ranking.

Berry, 28, is a spare part who rode an early-season hot streak to plenty of playing time last year, but he’s cut from the same cloth as Campana — speedy without the guarantee of doing anything else particularly well. The 21-year-old Garcia is more of a corner guy who would only wind up in center in an emergency of blowout. Jackson is the clear starter here.

#6 Cardinals

Jon Jay 574 .285 .346 .406 .329 8.2 0.1 2.3 3.3
Shane Robinson 70 .254 .317 .373 .301 -0.6 0.1 0.3 0.3
Adron Chambers 35 .261 .337 .361 .307 -0.1 0.0 0.0 0.1
Oscar Taveras 21 .279 .332 .446 .331 0.3 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Total 700 .280 .342 .402 .325 7.9 0.2 2.5 3.8

I was a big Colby Rasmus guy and I thought the Cardinals made a mistake by trading him for a few weeks of Edwin Jackson and miscellaneous relievers, but St. Louis clearly made the right decision by keeping the 28-year-old Jay. He’s turned into nearly the exact opposite of what I expected (doubles-heavy corner outfielder) and is now a legitimate leadoff type with strong center field defense. He’s quite the player. Jay didn’t show any ill-effects from the shoulder separation that cost him nearly 40 games last season, but there’s always a little concern that will linger going forward.

Robinson, 28, is the clear backup now that Schumaker is in Los Angeles while Chambers, 26, seems destined to spend another year in Triple-A. His left-handed bat could land him a bench job, however. Taveras, 20, is arguably the best prospect in baseball and likely to at least start the season in the minors. If Jay did suffer any kind of long-ish term injury, I do believe the Cardinals would plug Taveras into the lineup everyday rather than play Robinson or Chambers (or even Carlos Beltran for that matter) regularly.

#7 Rays

Desmond Jennings 595 .250 .326 .392 .315 3.2 3.5 2.3 3.2
Sam Fuld 70 .241 .318 .343 .293 -0.8 0.0 0.5 0.2
Ben Zobrist 35 .260 .363 .442 .349 1.1 0.0 0.2 0.3
Total 700 .249 .327 .389 .315 3.5 3.5 3.0 3.8

The Upton era is over in Tampa Bay, but the 26-year-old Jennings will slide right over and assume center field duties. He underwhelmed offensively (98 wRC+) last summer but remains useful because he steals bases (31-for-33, 93.9%), hits for a little bit of pop (.143 ISO), and plays the hell out of the outfield. Jennings is an injury risk though, so our playing time projection might be a tad optimistic. Super Sam Fuld, 31, is the obvious backup while Ben Zobrist, also 31, figures to see most of his action at second base and in right field. He’s always available in the pinch though.

#8 Diamondbacks

Adam Eaton 560 .290 .369 .413 .344 9.3 0.8 0.2 3.2
Gerardo Parra 105 .277 .339 .407 .320 -0.3 0.0 -0.1 0.4
Tony Campana 35 .262 .309 .322 .281 -1.2 0.2 0.2 0.1
Total 700 .286 .362 .407 .337 7.9 1.0 0.4 3.7

Arizona made some very … controversial? poorly received? all of the above? … moves this winter, including trading a bonafide center fielder in Chris Young. That opened the door for the 24-year-old Eaton, who put together an impressive big league debut in September (117 wRC+ and 0.8 WAR in 22 games) after a monster minor league season. The D’Backs handed him the reins to the starting job this winter and expect his combination of on-base skills, speed, and defense to prove more valuable than Young’s power, speed, and defense.

Eaton’s primary backup is the 25-year-old Parra, who has been very useful as a heavily-used reserve outfielder these last two years. He figures to see most of his action as a platoon partner for Cody Ross and a defensive replacement for Jason Kubel than as Eaton’s fill-in. Campana, 26, will start the year in Triple-A and is a pure speed guy. He won’t hit or even be an overwhelmingly great defender, so he’s the clear third-in-line.

#9 Yankees

Curtis Granderson 455 .241 .332 .472 .344 9.3 0.4 -5.5 2.2
Brett Gardner 210 .260 .356 .367 .322 0.6 1.3 3.9 1.4
Melky Mesa 35 .220 .276 .382 .286 -0.9 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .245 .336 .436 .335 9.0 1.7 -1.5 3.7

If the Yankees had their way, the 29-year-old Gardner would be manning center field full-time this season. He is one of the game’s best defenders while 31-year-old Granderson is below-average, so flipping the two makes sense. That was the plan until Granderson had his forearm broken by an errant pitch a few weeks ago, prompting the team to say they were scraping their defensive change. They want to focus on getting Granderson’s bat back in the lineup as soon as possible rather than giving him time to adjust to left field. The Yankees are sacrificing quite a bit of (theoretical) value by sticking with their current lineup.

Mesa, 26, could open the year with the team as Granderson’s injury replacement but is an up-and-down guy more than anything. Gardner’s the oh so logical sub.

#10 Padres

Cameron Maybin 525 .250 .319 .378 .305 0.5 2.2 4.8 2.8
Will Venable 105 .246 .320 .400 .311 0.6 0.3 0.1 0.5
Chris Denorfia 70 .267 .327 .404 .317 0.8 -0.1 -0.2 0.3
Total 700 .252 .320 .384 .307 1.9 2.5 4.7 3.7

Maybin’s follow-up to his breakout 2011 campaign was solid but disappointing, as his stolen base production basically got cut in half and his power slid slightly. Then again, a .331 BABIP with a 22.0% strikeout rate maybe wasn’t the most sustainable thing in the world. The 25-year-old can still play the hell out of center field, plus his age and contract — owned $24.4 million through 2017 — ensure he’ll have the job for the foreseeable future.

Venable, 30, and Denorfia, 32, are capable of playing center on a regular basis if need be, the former moreso than the latter. They’re great role players who will see most of their action as a right field platoon. Maybin’s the clear everyday guy here despite San Diego’s center field depth.

#11 Reds

Shin-Soo Choo 595 .273 .367 .449 .355 17.8 0.3 -9.4 3.2
Chris Heisey 70 .256 .313 .437 .324 0.4 0.1 0.0 0.3
Xavier Paul 35 .261 .317 .414 .317 0.0 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Total 700 .271 .359 .446 .350 18.1 0.4 -9.4 3.7

Cincinnati made arguably the boldest move of the offseason, acquiring a long-time right fielder in Choo and sticking him in center to fill a need. He can really hit (righties, anyway) and will be a great catalyst atop a powerhouse lineup, but transitioning to center could be very messy. Choo hasn’t rated as a strong defender in right in recent years and the shift to the up-the-middle spot could lead to a lot more base hits for the opposition. It’s a risky but incredibly gutsy move.

Heisey, 28, could see quite a bit more playing in center than we’re projecting if manager Dusty Baker platoons Choo — who really struggles against lefties — liberally this summer. It would improve the defense for sure, and likely the offense if the aforementioned platoon is deployed properly. The 28-year-old Paul is an extra part who will fill-in during injuries or serve as a warm body in September.

#12 Indians

Michael Bourn 630 .264 .335 .361 .307 -1.6 3.5 7.6 3.4
Drew Stubbs 70 .226 .302 .355 .290 -1.2 0.3 0.1 0.2
Total 700 .260 .332 .360 .306 -2.7 3.9 7.7 3.6

Michael Brantley’s stint as the everyday center fielder didn’t last much more than one season, as he’s now just the third best player at the position on Cleveland’s depth chart. He’ll man left field with Bourn in center and Stubbs in right under the team’s new “three center fielders” outfield with Nick Swisher sliding in at first base.

Bourn, 30, had to wait quite a while before landing his big contract, but he brings elite speed, base-running, and defense to the Indians’ lineup. Given his fat new $48 million contract, expect the former Brave to play as many innings as possible in center while the 28-year-old Stubbs utilizes his four-tool package in right field. He has every tool but the most important one, the ability to make contact. Stubbs is a more than capable center field replacement, meaning Brantley will need to get some breaks to return to his old position regularly.

#13 Braves

B.J. Upton 630 .248 .324 .443 .331 8.2 1.8 -0.5 3.4
Reed Johnson 35 .256 .304 .373 .295 -0.6 -0.1 -0.2 0.0
Jose Constanza 35 .270 .321 .344 .291 -0.7 0.1 0.2 0.1
Total 700 .250 .323 .434 .327 7.0 1.8 -0.4 3.6

The Braves spent an awful lot of money on the 28-year-old Upton and seem at least somewhat hopeful pairing him with his brother will bring out the best in the two players. The elder Upton has been both pretty good and disappointing in recent years, rattling off 3+ win seasons for the last half-decade. People just expected more and that’s led to him being underrated. Upton’s going to hit for power, steal a ton of bases, and play serviceable at worst defense. That’s a pretty darn good player, arguably better than what they got out of Michael Bourn last year given the general work-in-progress nature of defensive metrics.

Both Johnson, 36, and Costanza, 29, are platoon bats and more emergency center fielders than someone you’d feel comfortable running out there on an everyday basis. I do wonder if Atlanta would use Justin Upton in center should B.J. get hurt, but we have no reason to believe they would right now.

#14 Giants

Angel Pagan 630 .276 .332 .410 .320 5.5 1.8 0.3 3.2
Andres Torres 70 .238 .325 .373 .307 -0.1 0.1 0.4 0.3
Total 700 .272 .331 .406 .318 5.4 1.9 0.7 3.5

GM Brian Sabean has shown these last three years that he’s happy to bring back players who helped his team win the World Series, though some (Aubrey Huff and Freddy Sanchez) haven’t worked out as well as others (Javier Lopez). The 31-year-old Pagan has settled in as a slightly above-average offensive player (108 wRC+) who will steal lots of bases but has mixed defensive reviews. Seriously, his UZR has gone from fantastic (9.0 in 2010) to awful (-14.3 in 2011) to average (0.1 in 2012) the last three years. DRS went from great in 2010 to solidly below-average these last two seasons, so believe whichever you want.

Torres, 35, returns in a platoon role and figures to see most of his action in left field alongside Gregor Blanco. His defense is his strength though, so he’s a more than solid backup center fielder. Just don’t ever expect him to repeat his 2010 performance as well.

#15 Athletics

Coco Crisp 525 .263 .328 .399 .316 2.1 3.5 -0.7 2.6
Chris Young 175 .229 .322 .402 .317 0.8 0.2 1.8 1.0
Total 700 .255 .326 .400 .317 3.0 3.6 1.2 3.5

The Athletics are one of the few teams with two legitimate center fielders on their roster, but the club has already announced their plans to use the 29-year-old Young as a utility outfielder. After a brief experiment last year, Yoenis Cespedes isn’t on the center field radar.

Crisp, 33, will start in center even though he’s an inferior player, but there’s a good chance he’ll wind up as trade bait at some point. As a legitimate leadoff-type center fielder who is owned just $7 million this year with a $7.5 million club option for next year, he should have pretty good trade value. Young would then step right in and play everyday. Oakland has some nice flexibility at a key up-the-middle position.

#16 Orioles

Adam Jones 630 .279 .329 .473 .344 12.5 0.2 -4.7 3.3
Nate McLouth 63 .234 .324 .387 .312 -0.3 0.2 -0.3 0.2
Xavier Avery 7 .236 .304 .339 .285 -0.2 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .274 .328 .464 .340 11.9 0.3 -5.0 3.5

Only four players played in all 162 games last year, including the 27-year-old Jones. His upward power trend continued with a career-high .218 ISO, and he’s entering what should be the peak of his career. Considering how much Jones figures to play — nearly every inning of the season with the 31-year-old McLouth and 23-year-old Avery filling in on the rarest of occasions– and the chances of him outshooting his projection (pretty good, in my opinion), we might be underrating the Orioles a bit in center field.

#17 Rockies

Dexter Fowler 630 .273 .368 .450 .355 10.8 1.0 -6.2 3.0
Tyler Colvin 35 .260 .304 .483 .334 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.1
Eric Young 35 .267 .343 .380 .318 -0.4 0.2 0.1 0.1
Total 700 .272 .364 .448 .352 10.3 1.2 -6.1 3.3

Fowler, 26, had a breakout offensive season that was at least due in part to Coors Field — 142 wRC+ at home vs. 98 wRC+. Road stats don’t represent a player’s true talent level — almost all players hit better at home than on the road — but it’s a certainty that Fowler benefited from playing in Colorado. How much exactly? We don’t really know.

Behind Fowler are two 27-year-olds in Colvin and Young. Colvin will see plenty of time in the corner outfield spots and at first base, but Young’s spot is a little more up in the air. Fowler dealt with nagging wrist and ankle injuries last season after spending time on the DL in both 2010 and 2011, so more health issues would presumably put Young in the field on a more regular basis.

#18 Nationals

Denard Span 595 .270 .332 .368 .308 -3.0 0.9 6.9 2.8
Roger Bernadina 105 .250 .322 .385 .309 -0.5 0.3 0.1 0.4
Total 700 .267 .330 .371 .308 -3.5 1.2 6.9 3.2

There’s a pretty great case to be made that the Nationals acquiring Span was the single best move off the offseason. The 29-year-old rebounded a bit last summer following two injury-bothered seasons, but I don’t think he’ll ever get back to the 119 wRC+ form he showed from 2008-2009. Still, a bat-control hitter with speed is a pretty useful player, especially when he’s among the best defenders at a premium position. Add in a contract that will pay Span just $11.25 million over the next two years with a $9 million club option for a third year and you wonder how GM Mike Rizzo acquired him for one Single-A pitching prospect.

Bernadina, 28, finally started to put it all together last season, though I’m not sold on the idea of a .359 BABIP being his true talent level given a strikeout rate that resides north of 20%. Regardless, he’s a very useful left-handed hitter for the bench and a more than capable center field fill-in. Bryce Harper is always a possibility in center, but he’s pushed down the depth chart.

#19 Brewers

Carlos Gomez 665 .248 .303 .410 .308 -3.6 3.3 4.8 3.0
Logan Schafer 35 .262 .315 .390 .307 -0.2 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .249 .303 .409 .308 -3.8 3.3 4.9 3.2

The Brewers just signed the 27-year-old Gomez to what amounts to a four-year, $28.3 million extension about a week ago, which struck me as a pretty great deal given his age and upward-trending power numbers. His defense and stolen base ability alone make him a legitimate starting center fielder even though he strikes out a ton and rarely walks. Gomez has a starting job locked down for the first time since his age-22 season with the Twins, and he’s in a much better position to handle that role right now.

Schafer, 26, is finally in the position to get a legitimate crack at a big league bench job. He’s a left-handed hitter with a strong defensive reputation, so pretty much the typical NL reserve outfielder. Milwaukee is a little thin after Schafer, with Norichika Aoki the fallback.

#20 White Sox

Alejandro De Aza 665 .273 .337 .406 .324 1.2 0.3 1.8 2.9
DeWayne Wise 35 .242 .285 .403 .296 -0.7 0.1 0.1 0.1
Total 700 .272 .334 .406 .323 0.5 0.4 1.8 3.0

The ChiSox have a knack for turning nothing into something, but usually on the pitching side. De Aza, 28, went from Triple-A fodder and up-and-down guy to everyday center fielder last summer, stealing bases (26-for-38, 68.4%) and drawing walks (8.0 BB%) offensively and playing the position with aplomb on defense. The 34-year-old Wise is the obvious backup since the team seems committed to keeping Alex Rios in center, so De Aza is the clear starter unless he suddenly reverts back to his pre-2011 form. That would make things a little messy on the south side.

#21 Rangers

Leonys Martin 455 .274 .334 .432 .331 2.1 -1.1 0.2 1.9
Craig Gentry 210 .264 .326 .355 .301 -4.1 0.7 4.6 0.9
Julio Borbon 35 .272 .318 .370 .300 -0.7 0.1 0.1 0.1
Total 700 .271 .331 .406 .320 -2.8 -0.3 4.9 2.9

With Josh Hamilton in an Angels uniform, the center field position in Arlington is a little more open than it had been in the past. Martin, 24, had a strong (164 wRC+) but injury-shortened (thumb) season in Triple-A last year, but he’s poised to play the position regularly as the left-handed half of a platoon with the 29-year-old Gentry. Gentry proved his worth last summer by destroying southpaws (136 wRC+) and playing strong defense, making him the obvious candidate for the right-handed half. Borbon is out of options and I suppose he could wind up starting over Martin, but that would surprise me. The Rangers didn’t give Martin $15.5 million not to play center when the job opened up.

#22 Royals

Lorenzo Cain 560 .265 .321 .398 .314 -0.7 0.8 2.2 2.4
Jarrod Dyson 140 .253 .315 .333 .286 -3.4 1.4 0.6 0.4
Total 700 .263 .320 .385 .309 -4.0 2.2 2.8 2.8

I’m not going to say it’s now or never time for Cain, but he’ll turn 27 about two weeks after Opening Day and needs to establish himself this season if he wants to be a big leaguer long-term. Groin and hamstring issues sabotaged his 2012 season, but Cain has proven all he’s needed to prove in Triple-A these last three years. At the very least he’ll steal some bases and play strong defense. Dyson, 28, is a classic one-tool guy who will use his speed to steal bases and run down balls in the outfield. That’s it.

#23 Phillies

Ben Revere 630 .282 .326 .343 .296 -9.7 2.9 6.3 2.4
John Mayberry 70 .250 .309 .422 .316 0.0 0.0 -0.2 0.3
Total 700 .279 .324 .351 .298 -9.7 2.9 6.0 2.6

The Twins traded not one, but two legitimate starting center fielder this winter. Span went to the Nationals and the 24-year-old Revere went to the Phillies, bringing his speed and defense combination to a team that really doesn’t have much of that outside of Jimmy Rollins. Revere won’t hit for any power — zero homers in 1,064 big league plate appearances and just five in 1,755 minor league plate appearances — or draw walks, but he’s going to slap the ball around the infield like nobody’s business.

Mayberry, 29, is going to platoon in one of the corner outfield spots (maybe even first base? nah) and will fill-in at center when necessary. the job is Revere’s, no questions asked.

#24 Cubs

David DeJesus 525 .264 .345 .401 .327 3.6 -1.3 -1.2 2.1
Dave Sappelt 105 .269 .318 .388 .307 -1.0 -0.3 0.4 0.3
Brett Jackson 35 .231 .319 .402 .314 -0.1 0.0 0.0 0.1
Brent Lillibridge 35 .220 .283 .336 .273 -1.3 0.1 -0.1 0.0
Total 700 .261 .337 .396 .321 1.1 -1.5 -0.8 2.6

DeJesus, 33, is in the final year of his contract and is prime trade bait for the rebuilding Cubbies. It’s safe to say his hold on the center field job is temporary. Sappelt, 26, is the spare part who could sub into center in a pinch but is not a long-term answer. Lillibridge, 29, is the journeyman on a minor league contract who serves as depth and nothing more.

The real prize here is Jackson, the team’s 24-year-old top-ish prospect who looks an awful lot like a left-handed Stubbs clone. He’s got power, will draw a walk, and can play a mean center field, but his contact issues are extreme. The Cubs did overhaul his swing a bit over the winter, but that kind of stuff is in “best shape of his life” territory coming into Spring Training. We’ll need to see it in action during the regular season before we declare him cured of career-long strikeout issues (26.4 K% in over 1,800 minor league plate appearances). The job will be his to lose at some point in the next 12 months.

#25 Blue Jays

Colby Rasmus 420 .243 .317 .440 .325 2.9 0.2 -1.3 1.8
Emilio Bonifacio 70 .257 .322 .338 .292 -1.4 0.4 -0.4 0.1
Rajai Davis 70 .259 .308 .369 .295 -1.2 0.4 -0.2 0.2
Anthony Gose 140 .234 .307 .352 .292 -2.7 0.9 0.6 0.4
Total 700 .244 .314 .405 .312 -2.5 1.9 -1.3 2.5

Like I said before, I was a big Rasmus guy but he hasn’t been able to put it all together yet. The 26-year-old has very legitimate power, but he’s a big-time fly ball hitter who doesn’t drew enough walks to offset the damage they do to his batting average and by extension, on-base percentage. Rasmus has a lot of talent and could really breakout at any given moment, but I’m no longer on the bandwagon.

The Blue Jays have plenty of center field depth should they need to go in another direction for whatever reason. Gose, 22, has speed and some power to go along with good defense, but he’s likely ticketed for Triple-A to start the year. The 27-year-old Bonifacio figures to see most of his time at second base and as a supersub than anything while Davis, 32, could wind up getting a lot more playing time than projected as a platoon bat. Melky Cabrera is another center field alternative, but he’s way down on the depth chart now.

#26 Marlins

Justin Ruggiano 350 .259 .323 .418 .322 1.9 -0.3 1.5 1.7
Gorkys Hernandez 140 .237 .305 .339 .288 -3.1 0.0 0.5 0.3
Alfredo Silverio 105 .247 .284 .394 .291 -2.0 -0.3 -0.5 0.1
Christian Yelich 105 .247 .302 .376 .296 -1.6 0.1 -0.3 0.2
Total 700 .251 .311 .393 .307 -4.8 -0.5 1.1 2.3

Ruggiano, 30, went from journeyman to 146 wRC+ last season, meaning he’ll open this year with a full-time big league job for the first time in his career. Is he going to repeat a .401 BABIP with a 26.3% strikeout rate? Not a chance. But the power has always been legit, especially against southpaws. Ruggiano is miscast as an everyday player, but he would be useful in the right situation.

Hernandez and Silverio are both 25 and former top prospects who have lost some luster over the years, the latter due to injuries sustained during a car accident. Silverio is a Rule 5 Draft pick and could hang around on the roster for a while given the team’s situation. The 21-year-old Yelich is one of the best prospects in baseball, but he has zero plate appearances above High-A and is more of a second half candidate than anything. At the very least, expect the Marlins to delay his arbitration and free agency clocks.

#27 Astros

Justin Maxwell 490 .220 .307 .408 .311 -0.8 0.2 1.9 2.0
Brandon Barnes 175 .228 .282 .361 .279 -4.8 -0.2 0.2 0.2
Rick Ankiel 21 .224 .292 .387 .296 -0.3 0.0 -0.1 0.0
Trevor Crowe 14 .244 .307 .353 .293 -0.2 0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 700 .223 .300 .394 .302 -6.2 0.0 1.9 2.3

The Astros found a useful piece in the 29-year-old Maxwell, who hits lefties hard (144 wRC+) and plays a strong center field. He’s a role player on a contending team but a full-timer for Houston, who is in the middle of a massive rebuilding process. Barnes, 26, and Crowe, 29, are up-and-down types while the 33-year-old Ankiel could wind up making the team as a bench or platoon player. Maxwell serves a role but the rest of the guys are just placeholders until George Springer is ready.

#28 Mariners

Franklin Gutierrez 420 .243 .301 .359 .287 -6.3 0.2 2.5 1.3
Michael Saunders 210 .233 .307 .384 .302 -0.6 0.3 -0.8 0.7
Casper Wells 70 .223 .305 .395 .305 0.0 -0.1 0.4 0.3
Total 700 .238 .303 .370 .294 -6.9 0.4 2.1 2.2

It’s been two years since the 30-year-old Gutierrez stayed healthy for a full season, so meeting the projection would be his most playing time since 2010. The defensive projection isn’t as strong as his track record and reputation suggest, which is a problem since basically his entire game is built around his glove. Saunders is a fine backup plan given his breakout season a year ago (108 wRC+), though the 26-year-old is not much defensively in center. Seattle doesn’t seem to like the 28-year-old Wells all that much and he could change teams before the start of the season since he’s out of options.

#29 Mets

Kirk Nieuwenhuis 315 .237 .304 .383 .300 -2.6 -0.1 0.3 1.0
Collin Cowgill 280 .252 .316 .366 .299 -2.5 0.2 0.0 0.8
Jordany Valdespin 105 .253 .291 .386 .293 -1.4 -0.3 -0.5 0.2
Total 700 .245 .307 .377 .298 -6.5 -0.2 -0.2 2.0

The Mets have the worst outfield in baseball and maybe the worst of the last decade, so it’s no surprised they’re right near the bottom of our rankings. Nieuwenhuis, 25, is the best defender of the group but he struggles to make contact and can’t hit lefties. Cowgill, 26, could fit in as a right-handed platoon partner while the 25-year-old Valdespin is more of an infielder than an outfielder. He’s had some highlight reel moments and the team seems to like him, but it’s tough to see him spending any time regularly in center.

#30 Twins

Aaron Hicks 490 .234 .316 .356 .296 -7.3 -0.1 1.6 1.3
Darin Mastroianni 210 .244 .314 .326 .285 -5.0 1.1 0.6 0.5
Total 700 .237 .316 .347 .292 -12.3 0.9 2.2 1.8

I’m a Hicks fan despite his somewhat slow climb up the minor league ladder, though the Twins appear poised to jump the 23-year-old over Triple-A and use him as their everyday center fielder in the wake of the Span and Revere trades. Hicks is a tools machine and will do pretty much everything aside from hit for power, so he’s a younger version of Span with more long-term upside. His rookie year could be ugly though.

Mastroianni, 27, is a speedster who could wind up playing everyday in a corner spot depending on the health of Josh Willingham and production of Chris Parmalee. The injury prone Joe Benson is the only other legitimate center field option Minnesota has beyond Hicks and Mastroianni.

2013 Positional Power Rankings: Right Field.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Right field seems like a place you put slow-footed sluggers that can murder the ball at the plate, and yet I remember playing a lot of right field because it was thought that I would do the least amount of defensive damage at the position. The combination of big offense and bad defense at the position might be changing — look closely at this year’s crop and you could be underwhelmed by the bats, and you’ll also see some players that produce despite low-powered plate production. And yet, one of the most exciting young (and, yes, powerful) players in baseball is atop the chart at the position — at least the Marlins have one thing going for them.

Right field — maybe not as sexy as your father’s right field, but still fairly attractive.

#1 Marlins

Giancarlo Stanton 630 .280 .365 .591 .400 42.7 -1.3 6.2 6.5
Austin Kearns 70 .228 .331 .343 .302 -0.7 -0.1 -0.2 0.1
Total 700 .275 .362 .567 .390 42.0 -1.4 6.0 6.5

The batting average could be a little generous for a guy that struck out more than 28% of the time last year, but Stanton just turned 23. He’s still pre-peak when it comes to most plate discipline peripherals, and he could be expected to improve his strikeout rate. Elite power can also turn outs into hits, and he certainly has elite power. Since he entered the league, his .282 isolated slugging percentage is second only to Jose Bautista over the same time frame. Elite power, good patience, and decent fielding — that makes you the best at your position. Even if the skinflint team you’re on can’t afford to provide you with a decent backup.

#2 Braves

Jason Heyward 630 .266 .350 .475 .355 20.4 0.9 11.5 4.9
Reed Johnson 35 .256 .304 .373 .295 -0.6 -0.1 -0.2 0.0
Jose Constanza 35 .270 .321 .344 .291 -0.7 0.1 0.2 0.1
Total 700 .266 .346 .463 .349 19.2 0.9 11.6 5.0

Jason Heyward. He’s good! Really, really good. And… done. Obviously Heyward made some progress last season, and much of it was in the power department. A positive for Heyward is the fact that he hit fewer ground balls this season — fly balls are good for the power stroke. Maybe less positive is the fact that his ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio regressed closer to career norms as the season went on, but still, if you look at his season as a whole, he hit fewer ground balls and showed more power. Seems like he can do that again, especially once you consider his frame and swing. He probably won’t get platooned with Jose Constanza again, as crazy as that was, and while there would be a massive drop off in talent if he was hurt, a Constanza/Reed Johnson partnership could do a decent job of filling in for a while.

#3 Blue Jays

Jose Bautista 490 .266 .393 .545 .396 31.5 -0.1 -3.1 4.1
Rajai Davis 105 .259 .308 .369 .295 -1.8 0.6 -0.3 0.1
Moises Sierra 105 .248 .305 .385 .299 -1.4 -0.2 -0.2 0.1
Total 700 .262 .367 .491 .366 28.3 0.2 -3.6 4.3

Given his age (32) and injury history, it’s probably good for the Blue Jays that Jose Bautista’s backups are slightly better than Heyward’s. And you could say that Rajai Davis is a better corner outfield defender than he’s shown. With Anthony Gose still in the system, there are a few different configurations that could either serve to fill in for an injured Bautista or keep him healthy with periodic rests. And it’s worth trying to keep that bat in the lineup — even in a down year that was ended prematurely with a wrist injury, Bautista showed his customary power and patience to the tune of park-adjusted offense that was 40% better than the league average. He’s still got some great years in him.

#4 Angels

Josh Hamilton 595 .273 .340 .494 .351 19.6 0.7 1.8 3.7
Mark Trumbo 70 .261 .312 .476 .335 1.4 -0.1 -0.3 0.3
Kole Calhoun 35 .245 .311 .408 .315 0.1 0.0 0.1 0.1
Total 700 .270 .336 .488 .347 21.1 0.7 1.5 4.1

Josh Hamilton might not have the best approach at the plate. And one of his best skills — making contact on bad pitches outside the zone — ages more poorly than other skills. But he’s only 32 and he does offer value with his base running and defense that will help mitigate any negatives that come from a rising strikeout rate. A few nicks and cuts shouldn’t hurt the team too much, either. Mark Trumbo, with all his flaws, is pretty powerful for a backup. This group of outfielders is deep and has elite upside.

#5 Reds

Jay Bruce 630 .258 .341 .498 .354 18.3 -1.0 -0.4 3.3
Chris Heisey 35 .256 .313 .437 .324 0.2 0.0 0.0 0.1
Xavier Paul 35 .261 .317 .414 .317 0.0 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Total 700 .258 .339 .491 .351 18.4 -1.0 -0.4 3.4

Jay Bruce is 26. He’s only 26! His power is trending upwards, his patience has settled in at an above-average rate, and he’s not a terrible defender or baserunner, at least not at this point in his career. With a little bit of BABIP love and a slight defensive bounce-back, he could return to his three-plus win days. With a lot of BABIP love, he could have a career year. But of course, the prudent thing is to forecast him for negative defense, some hiccups on the basepaths, and enough patience and power to be comfortably above average. Behind him a platoon of Paul and Heisey could provide power, patience and defense, but just not all in one place at one time.

#6 Cardinals

Carlos Beltran 581 .268 .352 .463 .346 16.4 -0.8 -2.1 2.8
Matt Carpenter 35 .264 .354 .395 .328 0.5 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Oscar Taveras 70 .279 .332 .446 .331 1.1 0.0 -0.2 0.3
Allen Craig 14 .289 .346 .494 .359 0.5 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .269 .350 .459 .344 18.5 -0.9 -2.5 3.2

Because he is 36, age has to be the first thing that is discussed with Carlos Beltran. He has averaged over 600 plate appearances over his last two seasons, but that does feel like a coup after the two seasons he lost to knee injury. Now that he’s battling a toe thing in the spring, it’s a little easier to remember that at one point it was fair to wonder how much time he had left in a starting role. When he’s in there, he’ll still have power and patience and he won’t cost the team anywhere either. When he’s not, the team has good depth to make up for his absence. If it’s not Matt Carpenter — he might win the starting role at second base — it’s probably Matt Adams, who is projected for an above-average wOBA based mostly on his power. He would add to depth at the position by playing first base and pushes Allen Craig to the outfield, where he was a neutral defender with a great bat. Or the Cardinals call up Oscar Taveras, perhaps the best prospect in the minors. This is a deep team.

#7 Rays

Ben Zobrist 245 .260 .363 .442 .349 7.9 0.0 1.1 1.5
Wil Myers 350 .253 .322 .439 .328 5.7 -0.2 0.0 1.4
Sam Fuld 35 .241 .318 .343 .293 -0.4 0.0 0.3 0.1
Brandon Guyer 35 .257 .311 .407 .311 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 665 .255 .336 .433 .333 13.2 -0.2 1.4 3.1

It’s so… Ben Zobrist that Ben Zobrist is atop the depth chart in right field and is projected for the bulk of his plate appearances at other positions. Or maybe it’s Rays-ian. In any case, it’s not a surprise to see a deep chart at this position given the Rays platoon-heavy versatility-first philosophy. Zobrist is above-average in all facets of the game, but when super prospect Wil Myers is ready, he’ll probably move back to second base most days, unless he’s needed at shortstop. Myers should show power and patience in his debut, even if the contact rate is a question, but if he struggles, Brandon Guyer might even be able to give above-average production if he’s limited to facing lefties — provided his shoulder is fine after surgery last year. Hopefully the Rays won’t have to run their designated hitter out there in right field very often, or need defensive replacement Sam Fuld a ton.

#8 Dodgers

Andre Ethier 595 .270 .348 .437 .337 13.8 -1.1 -0.9 2.7
Jerry Hairston 70 .258 .329 .376 .311 0.2 -0.2 -0.1 0.1
Alex Castellanos 35 .243 .310 .393 .306 -0.1 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Total 700 .267 .344 .429 .333 13.9 -1.2 -1.1 2.9

Andre Ethier doesn’t think he’s a platoon player — just a few more hits versus southpaws every season and people would be off his back, he said recently — and his manager agrees, saying that Ethier will be out there as an everyday player. And that he’d sit him occasionally against a tough left-hander. It’s not just a few singles that separate Ethier from being a platoon-neutral player, however. He walks less, strikes out more, and loses a fair amount of his power against lefties (.215 ISO vs RHP, .115 ISO vs LHP), and with power that’s more ‘above-average’ than ‘no-doubt,’ that’s significant. But even if he’s a punch-and-judy guy against 1/3 of the league, Ethier has power and patience and the ability to make contact against the other 2/3 of the league. He’s not a statue out in right field, either. It might be nice if a team as deep as the Dodgers didn’t have to go to a backup middle infielder or an untested rookie when their outfielder was out of the lineup, though.

#9 Athletics

Josh Reddick 525 .242 .304 .437 .316 2.1 -0.2 6.3 2.1
Chris Young 175 .229 .322 .402 .317 0.8 0.2 1.8 0.7
Total 700 .239 .308 .429 .317 2.9 -0.1 8.1 2.8

The Oakland depth chart was a frequent topic of conversation at the FanGraphs retreat, at least in circles where this correspondent was included. The team is known for its love of the platoon and belief in roster depth, and they have multiple options at each position. While the infield might be kicking the ball around during spring training, the outfield has four excellent defenders with decent bats. All things equal, you’ll probably want to start Josh Reddick for his power most days, since Chris Young’s defense is less important in right field. But Reddick may find himself at designated hitter some days. Or it might Yoenis Cespedes or even Coco Crisp at DH as they nurse a nick or cut. There is no consensus on which outfielder is the best defensive center fielder — if you think it’s Chris Young you won’t be alone — so this depth chart may need some reworking depending on what the team thinks of Coco Crisp’s glove. In any case, Oakland has good-but-not great outfielders, and great depth, and that’s how they ended up above the fold.

#10 Nationals

Jayson Werth 630 .257 .353 .425 .337 11.5 0.6 -4.9 2.3
Bryce Harper 35 .269 .343 .470 .349 1.0 0.0 0.3 0.2
Roger Bernadina 35 .250 .322 .385 .309 -0.2 0.1 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .257 .351 .425 .336 12.3 0.7 -4.6 2.5

The mountain man turns 34 this year, and he’s returning from a year marred by injury. Even if the wrist injury affects his power, he’s shown enough patience and defense that he should be close to a league-average player. He’s a high-percentage base stealer even into his thirties, and his double-digit walk rates have followed him into even the worst of seasons. It’s probably folly to believe in his recent improvement in swinging strike and strikeout rates — given his age — but in a full year, it would be a good idea to forecast him for scratch or better defense, good work on the basebaths, and elite patience. The power is an open question mark. When he’s out, and Bryce Harper is needed in left, it’ll be the Shark (Roger Bernandina) taking his iffy plate discipline and good corner-outfield defense to the field.

#11 Orioles

Nick Markakis 630 .285 .356 .440 .344 12.5 -0.3 -4.7 2.3
Nate McLouth 70 .234 .324 .387 .312 -0.4 0.2 -0.3 0.1
Total 700 .280 .353 .435 .341 12.2 -0.1 -5.0 2.4

When you compare the production of the right fielders in Baltimore to their counterparts in Boston, it might be tempting to say that Boston’s are being under-rated. After all, Victorino has accrued six more career wins than Markakis, and in fewer plate appearances. But you have to remember that Victorino put up those wins as a center fielder, and his defensive value is lessened in right field. Once you put them on level playing fields, they’re much more comparable. Markakis doesn’t quite provide the same level of production when it comes to his athleticism — his fielding has eroded and he’s not quite the baserunner he used to be — but the Oriole can still make a lot of contact with above-average power and patience. And he’s not quite a negative in other facets of the game. Nate McLouth is a wild card at this point in the game, but as a two-week replacement, he should be able to field his position and run into a few powerful drives.

#12 Tigers

Torii Hunter 595 .279 .342 .433 .335 8.6 -0.6 0.6 2.3
Avisail Garcia 105 .252 .281 .373 .283 -2.9 -0.1 0.0 -0.1
Total 700 .275 .333 .423 .328 5.7 -0.7 0.7 2.3

Yes, Torii Hunter had a .389 batting average on balls in play last year and that’s not likely to continue. But! Hunter has been hitting more and more ground balls and fewer and fewer fly balls and infield fly balls as he’s aged. These changes in his game are more conducive to better BABIPs, especially when they are paired with improvements in his line drive rate as they have been. These might all be conscious alterations to his game — after all, he’s not as fast or as powerful as he used to be, so ground balls make more sense. Now a full-time corner outfielder, his glove is likely to be an asset, and even if his speed has waned, he shouldn’t be a negative on the basepaths. He’s just around league average when it comes to walk and strikeout rates, and if you add it all up, you get a slightly better than league average right fielder. Now the Tigers just have to hope that the veteran won’t go down to injury — he’s been very resilient over his career — or that backup Avisail Garcia shows some improvement in his plate discipline. Otherwise the team will feel a little light on days where their new number two hitter is out of the lineup.

#13 Brewers

Norichika Aoki 630 .288 .349 .396 .326 5.5 -0.4 0.1 2.0
Caleb Gindl 70 .255 .316 .423 .322 0.4 0.0 0.1 0.2
Total 700 .285 .346 .399 .326 5.9 -0.4 0.2 2.2

Even if the 31-year-old Norichika Aoki’s work was a surprise to some, it seems likely he can provide a reasonable facsimilie of his 2012 work. If you focus on his defense in the corners — Carlos Gomez was recently extended and looks like the everyday center fielder these days — he was an asset. The former center fielder should have been good with the glove in right field. He isn’t the most powerful bat — the league-average isolated slugging percentage might have been the most surprising aspect of his production last season. It might be best to forecast some regression there. The contact rate and the baserunning were both strengths of his game in Japan that seem likely to translate well (and did). So if you add a little value with the glove and take a little away with the bat, and leave the contact rate and speed, you still end up with the fact that Aoki is one of the league’s best bargains, and an average major leaguer. Outfield prospect Kris Davis may slug his way on to the roster this spring, but it’s more likely the team will use the stout non-prospect Caleb Gindl to fill in during those rare stints during which Aoki needs a breather. The little man has some pop.

#14 Giants

Hunter Pence 630 .266 .329 .426 .326 9.0 -0.3 -3.3 2.1
Gregor Blanco 35 .232 .325 .331 .294 -0.4 0.1 0.3 0.1
Andres Torres 35 .238 .325 .373 .307 -0.1 0.0 0.2 0.1
Total 700 .263 .329 .419 .324 8.5 -0.1 -2.8 2.2

This ranking might have angered some, so including the park factors and pushing it up to #14 from #20 will hopefully calm the reflux. Hunter Pence could certainly push the Giants up a few spots higher on sheer willpower and weirdness alone, but if you look closely at his peripherals, the news isn’t good. He just put up the worst strikeout rate of his career, built on the second-worst swinging strike rate of his career. Both numbers are in the midst of a three-year decline. He never had much patience, and now his power is trending downwards. His wheels are fading, and his defense — which was always iffy when it came to routes — is suffering. The last two years he’s been a negative in the field, and last season his bat was only two percent above league average. He’s never been a line drive hitter, or never once hit them at a rate that was league-average or better, and that usually manifests itself in a bad batting average that has been propped up to respectable by a streaky month or two. Last year that streak never came, and with the rest of his decline in mind, it makes sense to wonder if Pence is a great asset in right field any more. If he isn’t, Blanco should give enough patience and defense to hold the entire unit steady, but he doesn’t have the upside you might want coming up behind the Human Praying Mantis.

#15 Padres

Will Venable 420 .246 .320 .400 .311 2.4 1.3 0.6 1.4
Chris Denorfia 245 .267 .327 .404 .317 2.7 -0.2 -0.8 0.8
Mark Kotsay 35 .255 .318 .356 .295 -0.3 -0.1 -0.2 0.0
Total 700 .254 .322 .399 .312 4.9 1.0 -0.4 2.2

Will Venable is 30 years old. Is that surprising? He’s spent many years on sleeper lists, but it looks like he won’t ever wake up to his full potential at this point. The tools that made him so alluring are a little duller these days, and though he has gradually whittled away at his strikeout rate, he never ironed out the platoon problems, and so his upside has been limited. Some of his nascent patience never really came to fruition either, and by now his defense is starting to fade. He’ll still be at least two thirds of an above-average player, most likely, and now that the fences in right field will be a little closer, the lefty might even have a career year. The breakable Denorfia offers some security blanket, at least against lefties, but Mark Kotsay wishes he was thirty.

#16 Rangers

Nelson Cruz 595 .265 .327 .482 .345 9.5 -0.8 -2.2 2.1
Julio Borbon 70 .272 .318 .370 .300 -1.4 0.1 0.1 0.0
Leonys Martin 35 .274 .334 .432 .331 0.2 -0.1 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .266 .326 .469 .340 8.3 -0.8 -2.1 2.2

The first comment on this piece when it originally pubbed was a reaction to this ranking and the Rockies’ ranking. Well, kudos. The Rangers dropped to #16 from #8 once the park was factored in. Nelson Cruz is no longer as athletic as he used to be, as judged by his value added by fielding and baserunning metrics. He still steals some bases, but as you can see from his Bill James four-component speed score, his wheels are no longer the asset they used to be. He never took a lot of walks really, and he strikes out a little much. But he’s got enough power to be above average when you take the whole package into account, and he’s got decent backups on a team with good depth. That’s actually fairly important — last season was the first in the 33-year-old’s seven-year career in which he crossed the 600-plate-appearance threshhold. It might be surprising to see him come in below the likes of Michael Cuddyer and the right fielders in Colorado, but his relative frailty has to factor in on some level. His best backup, Leonys Martin, will probably see the bulk of his time in center field, leaving the flawed Julio Borbon as the backup plan.

#17 Pirates

Travis Snider 455 .264 .328 .434 .329 6.5 -0.4 -0.8 1.6
Garrett Jones 105 .258 .321 .458 .332 1.8 -0.2 -0.5 0.4
Josh Harrison 105 .262 .303 .380 .298 -1.1 0.0 -0.2 0.1
Jose Tabata 35 .268 .337 .381 .317 0.2 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .263 .324 .427 .324 7.4 -0.7 -1.5 2.2

After a challenge trade saw Snider land in Pittsburgh, he began the tough, post-hype task of attempting to secure a major league starting role. He did manage to improve his plate discipline in 2012, but the power he showed in 2011 has not returned to the big leagues with him since. He still looks like a monster with many-tooled upside, as his highlight-real catches and tape-measure power suggest. And at 25, he could put in a peak year performance this year. But he still strikes out too much, and even the projections as they currently stand might seem optimistic once the season is over. Garrett Jones is a bit old, and also a lefty, so it’s not a natural platoon, but they may pick the veteran over the rook from time to time. There’s only so many whiffs a manager can take before he changes the lineup, if only to make a temporary point. Jose Tabata also looks resurgent in camp and could push the young southpaw.

#18 Red Sox

Shane Victorino 525 .270 .339 .422 .330 3.3 1.9 0.5 1.8
Daniel Nava 175 .249 .340 .384 .319 -0.5 -0.2 -0.2 0.3
Total 700 .265 .339 .413 .327 2.8 1.7 0.4 2.2

The Red Sox drop from #10 to #18 after the park factors were put back in. Shane Victorino is 33 years old, too, and has less power than Cruz, but he has the benefit of falling from a more well-rounded peak. He’s still good on the basepaths, and he can still play center. Do you believe his platoon splits are a problem? Maybe not. Even if he’s not a natural platoon partner, Jonny Gomes can mash taters off lefties in his sleep. The Boston outfield will probably be a work in progress all year, though. If the team isn’t competitive in the middle of the summer, they’ll likely jettison their current center fielder for longer-term assets, and either move Victorino to center field or audition prospect Jackie Bradley, Jr in center. Ryan Kalish just had another shoulder surgery and his career could be in trouble, or he could come back healthy and provide at least platoon-worthy production at one of the corners. In any case, with all of these possible moving parts, it’s nice to have an outfielder that can hit in a couple spots in the lineup and play all three outfield positions, even if he’s not quite the high-flyer he used to be.

#19 Rockies

Michael Cuddyer 490 .280 .342 .487 .354 7.7 0.0 -5.7 1.4
Tyler Colvin 175 .260 .304 .483 .334 0.0 0.1 -0.2 0.4
Eric Young 35 .267 .343 .380 .318 -0.4 0.2 0.1 0.1
Total 700 .274 .333 .481 .347 7.3 0.3 -5.8 1.8

Every other year or so, Cuddyer lays a stinker. He’s been injured (2012), and bad (2010) and both (2008). Sometimes his defense undoes much of the good his bat has in it, like it did in 2009 when he hit 32 home runs and still didn’t crack three wins of value. But now relegated mostly to outfield and first base, his defense has been more ‘meh’ than ‘yuck’ the last couple of years, and that allows his average patience and above-average power to push the full package past the average right fielders. Behind him, Tyler Colvin is all power (against-right handers) and not much else, but along with the speed-first Eric Young, he provides the team with a decent backup plan. Colvin may even end up playing most of the year if the team finally trades their veteran, in which case you’d downgrade the positional ranking slightly, but not by much. It’s still not this position that’s going to cause the Rockies heartburn this season, even if the extreme park factors in Colorado dropped this ranking from #7 to #19.

#20 Phillies

Delmon Young 385 .278 .314 .442 .323 2.4 -0.6 -2.4 0.8
Domonic Brown 140 .266 .338 .447 .336 2.4 -0.2 -0.7 0.5
Laynce Nix 105 .241 .304 .421 .311 -0.4 -0.2 0.4 0.2
John Mayberry 70 .250 .309 .422 .316 0.0 0.0 -0.2 0.1
Total 700 .267 .317 .438 .323 4.5 -1.0 -2.9 1.7

At 27, Delmon Young is ostensibly headed into his prime years, but you’d be forgiven for not noticing. His power — his greatest asset — already looks like it’s in a decline from a peak that came three years ago, and he’s a minus in every other facet of the game. His defense has never been a positive in a full season, and his baserunning has been a negative more often than it’s been a positive. Young’s walk rate since 2010 is only better than three qualified batters over that time frame, and none of those three players have regular jobs any more. One is Yuniesky Betancourt. His character doesn’t seem like it makes up for any of his on-field failings, either. At least the Phillies have other options. Domonic Brown is projected for another 400+ plate appearances in left field, but with the varied cast of characters behind the two players, it makes sense that there will be some mixing and matching in Philadelphia. Hopefully for their fans, that mixing and matching will gradually phase out the rotund one.

#21 White Sox

Alex Rios 665 .271 .313 .437 .321 -0.7 0.9 -0.1 1.6
Jordan Danks 35 .235 .314 .374 .304 -0.5 0.0 0.2 0.1
Total 700 .270 .313 .434 .320 -1.2 0.9 0.1 1.6

Alex Rios has had a roller coaster of a career. Both the hero and the goat and sometimes for the same team, he’s now coming off a strong showing in the World Baseball Classic if that means anything to you. It’s hard to put stock in these things, even if he put up a career-best 125 wRC+ last year, because all you have to do is remember back to 2011, when his offense was a career-worst 41% worse than league average. And it’s not easy to see why Rios goes in and out of the tank — some years he has good power, some years he has little power. It might all be less worrisome if he had some patience to fall back on (he doesn’t), or if he was a positive in the field no matter what was going on at the plate (he isn’t). He should be good — in which case he could outproduce this ranking fairly easily — but if he isn’t, Jordan Danks and his strikeouts won’t be enough to make the Chicago faithful forget. There’s a lot of risk here.

#22 Twins

Chris Parmelee 525 .255 .332 .407 .321 3.0 -0.9 -0.2 1.4
Darin Mastroianni 140 .244 .314 .326 .285 -3.3 0.7 0.4 0.1
Ryan Doumit 35 .260 .319 .414 .314 0.0 -0.1 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .253 .328 .391 .314 -0.3 -0.2 0.2 1.6

Appropriately, the Twins will be handing their right field job to a player with less than 400 plate appearances in the big leagues. That isn’t to say that Parmelee doesn’t have some upside. He could walk at a double-digit rate, and he should have above-average power. But the strikeout rate is a question, and on defense he looks like the first baseman in right field that he is. If his minor league strikeout rates are to be believed, and not the contact rate he put up in 288 plate appearances last year, Parmelee the manatee could swim up the charts a few spots. But if the strikeout rate is closer to last year’s rate, and the power is only about league average, he won’t add value with his glove or his feet, and he could begin losing playing time to someone like Darin Mastroianni or Joe Benson, especially if center field goes to someone like Aaron Hicks. The personnel is here to improve upon this ranking, but it’s probably not going to do so this season.

#23 Astros

Fernando Martinez 420 .250 .307 .430 .318 1.7 -0.6 2.4 1.4
J.D. Martinez 175 .259 .321 .395 .313 -0.1 -0.3 -0.7 0.3
Jimmy Paredes 70 .253 .287 .372 .285 -1.6 0.0 -0.3 0.0
Brandon Barnes 35 .228 .282 .361 .279 -1.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .252 .307 .412 .312 -0.9 -0.9 1.4 1.6

Fernando Martinez is 24 years old, has been around for ever, and has never once managed to put up a combined 600 plate appearances in one season. If he was a better player, we might lament that poor run of health. But he strikes out too much, never added patience, and hasn’t capitalized on his former promise. While he keeps the seat warm for better prospects like George Springer, the other Martinez will show some power and be scratch on the basepaths and in the field. It’s not the kind of thing that will net him a long-term starting job in the bigs, and though J.D. Martinez will be needed in left field, there is a way to construct this roster that puts Fernando on the bench from the get-go without bringing prospects up too early. That still might not improve the Astros’ left field situation much, considering the flaws the other Martinez owns.

#24 Indians

Drew Stubbs 525 .226 .302 .355 .290 -8.6 2.5 0.5 0.7
Nick Swisher 175 .255 .356 .442 .347 5.1 -0.4 0.3 0.9
Total 700 .233 .315 .376 .304 -3.5 2.2 0.8 1.6

Moving Drew Stubbs to right field saps much of his value, as he’s a good defensive center fielder. But is he a Michael Bourn? Probably not. And so Stubbs moves to right field, where his strikeouts conspire with his defense to rob him of most of his value. A little bounce back in power and patience — he showed more of both in the past than he did this eason — would improve his ranking some, but probably not much. And asking him to up his power when he’s moving from Cincinnati to Cleveland might be a little much, too. Nick Swisher is a good player and we know all about him, but if you move him to the outfield full time, you’d need a replacement at first base, and none of the characters the Indians have tried there recently have proven they belong.

#25 Diamondbacks

Cody Ross 560 .259 .325 .440 .329 2.5 -0.5 -2.0 1.3
Gerardo Parra 105 .277 .339 .407 .320 -0.3 0.0 -0.1 0.2
A.J. Pollock 35 .269 .317 .386 .308 -0.4 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .262 .327 .432 .326 1.8 -0.5 -2.1 1.6

Cody Ross is nearly 50% better (with respect to the league) against lefties than he is against righties! That screams platoon player. There’s another way to put it, though. Against righties, Cody Ross is nearly average, as his weighted runs created are only eight percent worse than league average. He’s crazlebeans against lefties, where his offense is 41% better than the league, and his isolated slugging percentage (.290) would rank with the elite sluggers in the game. So you don’t have to strictly platoon him, particularly when the guy behind him doesn’t have much better than league average offensive upside anyway. So Ross should start most days, and Parra will be somewhat of a platoon partner and a little bit more of a defensive replacement and injury caddy. Adjusting for the park slid this group down from #17 to their current ranking.

#26 Cubs

Nate Schierholtz 455 .261 .324 .423 .320 0.5 -0.3 0.0 1.1
Scott Hairston 210 .253 .308 .456 .327 1.4 -0.3 -1.4 0.5
Brent Lillibridge 35 .220 .283 .336 .273 -1.3 0.1 -0.1 -0.1
Total 700 .257 .317 .428 .320 0.6 -0.5 -1.5 1.5

Despite the platoon splits that Nate Schierholtz has put up to date (minor), this looks like it will be almost a straight platoon. It’s not so much that Schierholtz is bad against lefties (10% worse than league average), it’s that Scott Hairston loves southpaws. He’s almost a Cody-Ross-lite, with an .224 ISO against lefties. The Chin adds value on defense and the basepaths, too, but just can’t hack it against righties enough (86 wRC+) to be a full-time answer at the position. There are plenty of outfielders coming up in the system, but none of the corner outfielders are ready just yet. That means Theo and company will cobble together a right fielder out of their scraps. It might not be as ugly as some expect, but you shouldn’t call it pretty.

#27 Mariners

Michael Saunders 490 .233 .307 .384 .302 -1.5 0.7 -1.8 0.9
Casper Wells 175 .223 .305 .395 .305 -0.1 -0.2 0.9 0.5
Raul Ibanez 35 .241 .304 .400 .301 -0.1 -0.1 -0.3 0.0
Total 700 .231 .306 .388 .303 -1.7 0.4 -1.2 1.4

If Saunders seems too decent to have here, at this point in the list, it’s partially because he’s been getting credit for some time in center field in the past. It’s also partially because of the projection systems — all of them see Saunders taking a step back from some of his career highs last season, particularly in the power department. But Saunders has shown more patience in the past, and could walk more in the future. He also should show positive defensive numbers in the corner outfield, as long as the center fielder stays healthy. And the 26-year-old doesn’t necessarily need to step back, power-wise, especially in a year where the fences are moving in. Saunders could easily move the Mariners up in the rankings, even with Raul Ibanez and Casper Wells dragging the team down. He was, after all, the MVP of pool D in the WBC.

#28 Mets

Mike Baxter 490 .249 .331 .381 .310 0.2 -0.6 -0.1 1.1
Andrew Brown 175 .231 .302 .390 .298 -1.7 -0.4 -0.6 0.1
Total 665 .244 .323 .383 .307 -1.5 -0.9 -0.7 1.2

This probably will get ugly. The idea is the same as it is in Chicago — pick up two platoon bats and make it work — but the players involved are that much less established. Mike Baxter is patient. He can take a walk. It’s unclear if he has other skills to bring to the table. Against righties at least, he has representative power, and his defense and baserunning look like they can be scratch. But he’s probably not a great everyday player. Andrew Brown was a waiver wire scrap heap pickup that was picked up for his platoon splits against lefties. Some of those splits came in really nice offensive parks. He hasn’t really shown anything in the bigs, even against lefties. This probably will get ugly.

#29 Yankees

Ichiro Suzuki 560 .286 .318 .386 .301 -7.7 1.6 1.5 0.8
Brennan Boesch 105 .257 .313 .413 .313 -0.5 0.0 -1.1 0.1
Juan Rivera 35 .254 .310 .403 .307 -0.3 -0.1 -0.1 0.0
Total 700 .280 .317 .391 .303 -8.5 1.5 0.3 1.0

It sounds like Ichiro will be needed in left field some in the early going, since the home ground in that part of the park is bigger and Brennan Boesch is not a good defender. But once Teixeira returns, it won’t be long until Curtis Granderson is back in the fold, and by then it should be Ichiro full time in right field. We know that Ichiro is old, but this ranking feels a little light. He’s still an asset defensively on the corners, he still adds value on the basepaths, and he can still make contact with the best of them. If his new home stadium and division help arrest the decline in his power stats — and his short time as a Yankee last season seemed to suggest it could — Ichiro could easily outpace this projection. Even at 39 years old. Behind him, Boesch could benefit from a short porch in right and a fresh start, and is a decent pickup that could help push this ranking north despite his plate discipline and defensive issues.

#30 Royals

Jeff Francoeur 630 .257 .310 .410 .307 -4.4 -1.3 -4.3 0.4
Lorenzo Cain 70 .265 .321 .398 .314 -0.1 0.1 0.3 0.2
David Lough 35 .262 .304 .402 .306 -0.3 0.1 0.1 0.1
Total 735 .258 .310 .408 .308 -4.8 -1.1 -4.0 0.7

Frenchy arrives, and he rakes. Perhaps the pitchers don’t know how he’ll swing at everything, or maybe he is just driven by the need to impress new coworkers. We can’t know these things. But at some point in every honeymoon, Frenchy reverts. He starts reaching, he stops walking, and he runs his team out of an inning or ten. His arm — always impressive — can’t make up for the circus routes he takes in the outfield. The smile becomes a grimace. It’s just a weird yo-yo. In his career, he’s had three seasons where he’s been healthily above average, four where he was basically a replacement player, and one (2012) where he was the worst everyday player in baseball. He obviously has decent upside, since he’s done it three times before, but at 29, The Artist Formerly Known As The Natural seems far removed from his upside-heavy days. It’ll be tough, at times, to forget the name Wil Myers in Kansas City, but this year, and this year alone, it’s no fait accompli that the Frenchman ends up at the bottom of this list at the end of the season. All he has to do is reverse most of the trends in his peripherals — ground-ball rate, reach rate, isolated slugging percentage, speed score, strikeout rate, and defensive metrics. Simple!

2013 Positional Power Rankings: Left Field.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The importance of the left field position has been on the rise in recent years. In 2012, left fielders accounted for more than 109 WAR, which is the highest total since 2004 when some guy named Barry Bonds produced almost 12 WAR. But the contributions last season were typically with the bat. The prototypical big bat/weak glove left fielder seems to hold true in 2012 as the -16.1 fielding rating for left fielders lags considerably behind center and right at 36.3 and 0.3, respectively (even in a year when Alfonso Soriano comes in at 11.8!). While left field doesn’t typically feature players quite as dynamic as those often found in center, as you’ll see below, there are definitely some of the league’s better hitters who occupy the “seven”.

To steal a line from the contemplative Bradley Woodrum, “(T)he danger of ordinal rankings is that we intrinsically assume the distance between each point is the same or close to the same,” which is an excellent point. Some rankings have a good deal of separation while others are tightly packed with very subtle (and perhaps tenuous) advantages. The power rankings aren’t long term, they are for 2013.

#1 Brewers

Ryan Braun 665 .301 .374 .539 .387 38.3 1.6 1.1 5.9
Logan Schafer 35 .262 .315 .390 .307 -0.2 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .299 .371 .531 .383 38.1 1.5 1.1 5.9

Since this is left field specific, Ryan Braun and the Brewers emerge as the #1, if only because we expect Mike Trout to see some time in center. But that’s not to suggest Braun doesn’t belong in the conversation among the game’s elite hitters. For six consecutive seasons, Braun has demonstrated the rare combination of commodities including exceptional power and speed with great plate discipline. He followed up his 7.6 WAR MVP 2011 season with 7.9 WAR 2012. Entering his age-29 season, the projection sees a slight step back in the power department, reflecting a slugging percentage and wOBA just shy of his career averages. Braun is unquestionably an elite talent and despite some of the tangential tomfoolery that has rubbed a little shine off his star, there’s no reason to expect he won’t continue to perform like one in 2013.

#2 Angels

Mike Trout 490 .290 .370 .503 .373 24.8 3.6 6.2 4.8
Mark Trumbo 105 .261 .312 .476 .335 2.1 -0.1 -0.5 0.4
Vernon Wells 70 .248 .297 .439 .316 0.4 -0.1 0.2 0.2
Kole Calhoun 35 .245 .311 .408 .315 0.1 0.0 0.1 0.1
Total 700 .279 .351 .487 .358 27.5 3.5 5.9 5.5

The statistical community consensus AL MVP and real-world runner up, Mike Trout is projected here to produce at an elite level, but not quite otherworldly as he was in 2012. Before you grab your pitchforks, be sure to understand that the 490 plate appearances assumes that Trout will be also featured in center field a good deal. Just 21-years-old, it would probably be foolish to project a repeat of one of the greatest offensive performances in recent history, but the projection above only sees moderate regression across the board.

Mark Trumbo put together a solid 2012 campaign but the projection above accurately represents some mash up of his first half and second half where he was an All-Star in the former and fell apart in the latter. For being rather heavy-footed, he was surprisingly not terrible in the outfield last season, and although his time will be mostly spent at DH, it’s likely he sees some time in left where he’ll provide a decent amount of value to the Angels. Vernon Wells might see a handful of innings in left field if only because it’s difficult to pay him $21 million dollars to look pretty.

#3 Cardinals

Matt Holliday 630 .286 .373 .484 .368 28.8 -0.7 -1.5 4.3
Matt Carpenter 35 .264 .354 .397 .330 0.5 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Allen Craig 35 .289 .347 .491 .358 1.3 0.0 -0.1 0.2
Total 700 .285 .371 .480 .366 30.7 -0.8 -1.7 4.6

One of the most consistently productive left fielders in baseball for the last six seasons, Matt Holliday just keeps plugging along, producing 36 WAR since 2007. He just turned 33 so what we know about aging curves suggests his best years are probably in the rear view mirror, and the projection reflects that, as the .368 wOBA would be the lowest since his debut in 2004. He no longer runs and his defense has been in pretty sharp decline over the past three seasons. Even so, Holliday will pack enough in his bat to give the Cardinals great production in left field, likely weighing in with another 25 home runs and 100 RBI.

Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig could fill in if disaster strikes and it actually might be Craig that would take over if they needed a longer term replacement with Matt Adams an option at first base. Carpenter can fill in at first and third and might even open the season as the starting second baseman.

#4 Braves

Justin Upton 630 .275 .361 .473 .357 21.7 0.2 1.9 4.0
Reed Johnson 35 .256 .304 .373 .295 -0.6 -0.1 -0.2 0.0
Jose Constanza 35 .270 .321 .344 .291 -0.7 0.1 0.2 0.1
Total 700 .274 .356 .461 .351 20.5 0.3 1.9 4.0

The better half of the Upton family attack in Atlanta, Justin Upton might not ever reproduce his fantastic 6.4 WAR season from 2011, but the projection likes him quite a bit better than his 2012 2.5 WAR season. He’s still young, so there’s warranted optimism that he can regain a power stroke that should produce a goodly number home runs to go with 20 steals while playing plus defense. A change of scenery and opportunity to play with his brother B.J. could certainly help in the mental category and he’s young enough to prove that he can still be a superstar.

There’s not much depth behind him in Reed Johnson and Jose Costanza. Although they could probably fill in aptly in a platoon role, there’s no doubt the Braves brass would want it to be brief.

#5 Rockies

Carlos Gonzalez 630 .301 .369 .536 .381 23.5 1.4 -2.5 3.8
Eric Young 70 .267 .343 .380 .318 -0.9 0.4 0.2 0.1
Total 700 .298 .367 .521 .374 22.6 1.8 -2.3 4.0

Carlos Gonzalez has seen his WAR go from 6.2 to 3.9 to 2.7 over the last three seasons and according to UZR, his defense has a lot to do with it. If he could convince the league to play the entirety of their schedule at home, he’d be up with the Braun’s and Trouts of the world as his home split was .368/.437/.609 versus .234/.301/.405 on the road. He started developing hamstring issues late in the season, eventually getting shut down on the September 23. He may have been playing hurt for weeks as his slash line from mid August to the end of the season was just .215/.284/.344.

He enters 2013 in his age-27 season, and the projection is rather bullish on his ability to get back to an elite level at 4.8 WAR, which would represent his second best season after his 2010 breakout. He’s probably a better defender than -2.5, but his range might also be wrapped up in his health, so his legs are going to have to literally and figuratively carry him if he’s going to flirt with 5 wins. Should the wheels fall off, super-utility guy Eric Young could fill in with decent defense and little bat, so if the Rockies plan to return to the #5 slot here next season, they’ll need a healthy CarGo to do it.

#6 Nationals

Bryce Harper 595 .268 .343 .471 .350 16.8 0.0 4.7 3.7
Tyler Moore 70 .237 .288 .447 .315 0.0 -0.1 -0.3 0.1
Steve Lombardozzi 35 .265 .316 .367 .299 -0.4 0.0 0.1 0.0
Total 700 .265 .336 .463 .344 16.4 -0.1 4.5 3.8

Harper is also projected for another handful of plate appearances in right field, so his total WAR production is expected to a skosh higher than 3.7. After producing 4.9 WAR as a 19-year-old, the projection sees roughly a repeat of 2012 with slight regression in his slugging and a step back in the overall value of his defense. It’s hard to keep a level head when thinking about Harper, whose season was among the very best for 19 year old rookies in history. Almost every projection system has Harper hitting 20 home runs and stealing more than 15 bases — a feat accomplished five times by 20 year olds in history, including the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Vada Pinson, Orlando Cepeda, and the kid up there at #2. While he might have monstrous seasons in his future, the projection tries to temper expectations, but I’d expect to see the Nationals jump up a couple notches next year in these rankings.

Tyler Moore is probably the first backup to Harper and he should provide a nice source of power to the Nationals, although he doesn’t project as a particularly strong defender.

#7 Royals

Alex Gordon 630 .273 .358 .440 .347 15.7 0.0 4.3 3.6
Lorenzo Cain 35 .265 .321 .398 .314 0.0 0.1 0.1 0.1
David Lough 35 .262 .304 .402 .306 -0.3 0.1 0.1 0.1
Total 700 .272 .354 .436 .343 15.4 0.1 4.5 3.8

Technically tied with the Nats, the Royals feature Alex Gordon in left, and the projection thinks his 2012 regression was for real. After a career year in 2011, Gordon saw his power and speed drop off significantly, although his fantastic defense kept him from falling too far. He’s a good defender, but probably still due for more defensive regression, and a .347 wOBA looks a lot more like the Alex Gordon of 2008 than the one we’ve seen over the last couple of seasons.

Lorenzo Cain could back up if need be, pushing Jarrod Dyson into center field, which is probably the short term solution should the need arise, with David Lough a possibility should he make the squad out of camp due to his torrid Spring.

#8 Twins

Josh Willingham 630 .249 .355 .470 .355 20.8 -0.7 -5.6 3.0
Darin Mastroianni 70 .244 .314 .326 .285 -1.7 0.4 0.2 0.0
Total 700 .249 .351 .455 .348 19.1 -0.3 -5.4 3.1

Bucking the trend of aging curves, Josh Willingham put up his most valuable season at the age of 33 with a .260/.366/.524 line, belting 35 home runs and driving in 110 runs, amassing 3.9 WAR. The projection is rather dubious about 2013, although a 3 win season from Josh Willingham isn’t necessarily something to scoff at. Ignoring the fact that Willingham may not finish the season as a Twin, he has nonetheless provided them very good value on the contract they gave him two seasons ago. If the Twins didn’t have such tremendous depth at DH (yeah, that’s sarcasm), he’d be best suited not trying to catch fly balls, but with the current roster construction, they don’t have much of a choice but trot him out on the field as long as he lasts.

If Darin Mastroianni doesn’t win the center field job outright, he’ll rove enough to see some time in left, and given Willingham’s history of health, he should fall into a number of at bats. Against the odds, 2012 was really the most healthy season from Willingham in the past five years. The list of his ailments prior to last year are a physical therapist dream: Shoulder, thigh, neck, ankle, foot, elbow, knee, groin. You name the body part and Willingham has probably complained about it. 630 plate appearances is probably optimistic.

#9 Padres

Carlos Quentin 525 .252 .348 .465 .351 20.0 -0.9 -5.5 2.7
Mark Kotsay 105 .255 .318 .356 .295 -0.8 -0.4 -0.6 0.1
Kyle Blanks 70 .234 .317 .414 .317 0.7 0.0 -0.3 0.2
Total 700 .251 .340 .443 .339 19.9 -1.2 -6.5 2.9

A nose in front of the Twinks, the Padres will squeeze as much value out of the injury prone Carlos Quentin in left field. 525 plate appearances might be optimistic though. He’s averaged just over 400 PA’s over the last four seasons and he’s already been complaining about his knee in Spring Training. If he did manage 500+ PA’s, he’s certainly a productive power hitter but his defense can be a circus at times, and -5.5 might also be a bit kind.

If Quentin misses time, a mix of Jesus Guzman, Mark Kotsay, and maybe Kyle Blanks could ostensibly fill in, with Kotsay potentially being the main beneficiary. None of the three add much value in short-term roles if only to be more palatable defensively to Quentin.

#10 Pirates

Starling Marte 560 .270 .319 .432 .322 4.9 0.1 4.8 2.4
Jose Tabata 140 .268 .337 .381 .317 0.6 -0.1 0.0 0.4
Total 700 .270 .322 .422 .321 5.5 0.0 4.9 2.7

Marte might be just 24 with not much in the way of major league experience, but he’s the presumptive starter in left field for the Pirates. If Marte isn’t a five tool talent, he’s at least 4.5 with plus speed and enough pop in his bat for double digit home runs. He’s a very good defender and he’s coming off a big Dominican Winter League performance, but given his youth and inexperience, it’s a little difficult to project him. The projection above actually sees improvement from Marte in batting average and on base percentage and thinks he can replicate his slugging percentage. If he manages to put together more than the 560 plate appearances reflected above, he could push 3 wins but there’s the real possibility that Jose Tabata spells him occasionally in a roving fourth outfielder role.

Between Marte and McCutchen, the Pirates have to be pretty pleased with two thirds of their outfield for the foreseeable future, and if Tabata can realize his potential and grab the starting role in right, the Bucs could be set for years in the outfield.

#11 Athletics

Yoenis Cespedes 455 .277 .344 .465 .348 13.4 -0.3 -5.1 1.9
Seth Smith 140 .245 .330 .419 .323 1.3 -0.1 -0.6 0.4
Chris Young 105 .229 .322 .402 .317 0.5 0.1 1.1 0.4
Total 700 .264 .338 .447 .338 15.2 -0.3 -4.6 2.7

The Athletics will look to squeeze 2.7 WAR out of left field with some combination of Cespedes, Smith, and Young. Cespedes wasn’t particularly helpful on defense with a UZR of -9.6, hurting his overall WAR despite a highly successful offensive season. In his rookie campaign, Cespedes hit .292/.356/.505 with 23 home runs and 16 stolen bases in 129 games. He’s a free swinger who makes mediocre contact on balls outside of the zone and the projection seems to think he’ll take a step back on BABIP with a concomitant dip in his batting average while maintaining a respectable on base percentage.

Smith will play somewhere when a right hander is on the hill, which is obviously frequent. Some of that time will no doubt be in left field and over 440 plate appearances in 2012, Smith managed 1.4 WAR. And since the Athletics once again stockpiled outfielders, it’s rather unknown when and where Chris Young might play, but if the A’s want to start protecting Cespedes to a greater degree and/or value defense in left, it’s possible Young could fall into a good deal of time in left field. The projection above isn’t terribly bullish, but even in a disappointing and injury prone season, Young produced 2.8 WAR over just 363 plate appearances.

#12 Rangers

David Murphy 630 .278 .349 .436 .339 6.8 -0.3 3.4 2.5
Leonys Martin 70 .274 .334 .432 .331 0.3 -0.2 0.0 0.2
Total 700 .278 .348 .436 .338 7.1 -0.5 3.4 2.7

The perennial fourth outfielder, David Murphy was finally handed a starting role and he turned in his finest season at .304/.380/.479 with 15 home runs and 10 stolen bases, amassing 4.0 WAR. The projection suggests a little regression and perhaps realism about what kind of a hitter David Murphy is at a true-talent level, which reflects about a rough combination of his 2011 and 2012 seasons. If Leonys Martin doesn’t win the center field job outright, there’s a possibility he roams around the outfield to spell the regulars and pick up a good number of games in left, but that is a battle which remains to sort itself out.

There’s also the possibility that the team wants to experiment with Mike Olt in left field when Texas faces left handers since Murphy has struggled versus lefties over his career (though he improved markedly in 75 at bats in 2012). He might not be flashy, but Murphy gives the Rangers a lot of value for the money, signed to a deal paying him about $5.7 million for 2013. If he can produce what the projection forecasts, he’ll be a bargain.

#13 Rays

Matt Joyce 525 .248 .345 .439 .337 11.9 -0.3 -0.6 2.4
Sam Fuld 105 .241 .318 .343 .293 -1.3 0.0 0.8 0.2
Kelly Johnson 70 .226 .313 .376 .303 -0.3 0.0 -0.2 0.1
Total 700 .245 .338 .418 .327 10.3 -0.3 0.0 2.7

The Rays check in with Matt Joyce, who stumbled in 2012 after his impressive 3.8 win season of 2011. The projection thinks he can do more though, with improvements across the board both offensively and defensively. It seems like Joyce has been around for a while but he enters 2013 at just 28, if he could manage to figure out how to be at least passable versus left handed pitching, he has the potential to put up good power numbers. Serial backup Sam Fuld will spell him occasionally and the role of Kelly Johnson is likely to be ever-evolving but for the sake of Rays fans, let’s hope they don’t wind up relying on him for a corner outfield assignment.

#14 Reds

Ryan Ludwick 630 .256 .328 .455 .337 9.6 -0.9 -2.7 2.1
Chris Heisey 70 .256 .313 .437 .324 0.4 0.1 0.0 0.2
Total 700 .256 .327 .454 .335 9.9 -0.8 -2.7 2.3

Ludwick returns to the Reds to reprise his role as lefty masher. He did hit .275/.346/.531 overall but where his wOBA versus right handed pitchers was .364, he managed .397 against southpaws. He might not get back to his 37 home run season in 2008, but last year, Ludwick hit 26 home runs while cutting his strikeouts marginally. His defense won’t win any hardware, though the projection suggests he’s capable of better than his -4.7 rating from 2012. Ludwick turns 35 in July, so it’s unknown if he’ll give the Reds market value on his two-year $15 million dollar contact. He was healthy for most of 2012 but he did spend at least one stint on the disabled list each of the previous three seasons. Given his age, the Reds might keep the training team on their toes.

Chris Heisey saw his ISO drop from .233 to .135 between 2011 and 2012 and the re-signing of Ludwick coupled with the Shin Soo-Choo pickup pushes him to backing up all three outfield slots. He’s a decent fielder with intriguing power, and gives the Reds a good bat off the bench and/or a late-inning defensive replacement for Ludwick.

#15 Yankees

Brett Gardner 385 .260 .356 .367 .322 1.2 2.5 7.3 2.1
Ben Francisco 105 .240 .311 .376 .302 -1.4 -0.1 -0.8 0.0
Juan Rivera 105 .254 .310 .403 .307 -0.9 -0.3 -0.3 0.1
Ichiro Suzuki 70 .286 .318 .386 .302 -0.9 0.2 0.2 0.1
Brennan Boesch 35 .257 .313 .413 .313 -0.2 0.0 -0.4 0.0
Total 700 .259 .336 .379 .315 -2.3 2.3 6.0 2.3

Brett Gardner will play center in Curtis Granderson’s stead until his return. When that time comes is entirely up to the healing speed of Granderson’s forearm, but when he’s back, Gardner will likely shift to left field. The projection puts Gardner at about 55% in left field, and providing very good value there, in large part due to excellent defense.

The remainder of left field is likely some amalgam of Ben Francisco, Juan Rivera, Ichiro, and newly acquired for the pile, Brennan Boesch. Rivera might be needed more at first base until that wreck is cleared so perhaps Ben Francisco and Ichiro/Boesch form some kind of platoon for the first couple of months. Or at least until they go out and get somebody new. Stay tuned.

#16 Phillies

Domonic Brown 420 .266 .338 .447 .336 7.2 -0.6 -2.0 1.5
Laynce Nix 105 .241 .304 .424 .313 -0.2 -0.2 0.4 0.3
Darin Ruf 105 .258 .324 .426 .323 0.7 -0.1 -0.1 0.3
John Mayberry 70 .250 .309 .422 .316 0.0 0.0 -0.2 0.1
Total 700 .259 .328 .438 .329 7.7 -0.9 -2.0 2.2

Domonic Brown is the presumptive starter headed into 2013 after years of top prospect status. Brown has little left to prove after hitting .296/.373/.461 over seven seasons in the minor leagues but yet so much to prove at the major league level. Still just 25-years-old, Brown has good power and speed and has demonstrated good command of the strike zone. He’s yet to perform well on the big stage with just a .236/.315/.388 line over 492 plate appearances, but he will apparently get every opportunity to demonstrate his potential. So far this spring, he’s given the Phillies a lot to get excited about, hitting four home runs while batting .375/.453/.625 over 56 plate appearances. If he can stay in the lineup regularly, his WAR projection ought to well exceed the above. Should he stumble, journeyman Laynce Nix and an unproven Darin Ruf wait in the wings.

There are a lot of moving parts in the Philly outfield, however. Ben Revere should start in center which leaves John Mayberry without much of a job if the team truly intends to give Delmon Young a starting gig in right. Any kind of an injury, poor start, or hot start could thrust Ruf, Nix, and/or Mayberry into more playing time, and it’s not out of the question that Brown doesn’t stick long in what might be a make-or-break kind of season for him with this team. Time will tell.

#17 Mariners

Michael Morse 525 .262 .319 .441 .328 9.1 -1.3 -3.2 1.7
Jason Bay 105 .224 .318 .373 .304 -0.1 0.1 -0.6 0.2
Raul Ibanez 35 .242 .306 .401 .302 -0.1 -0.1 -0.3 0.0
Casper Wells 35 .223 .304 .403 .309 0.1 0.0 0.2 0.1
Total 700 .254 .317 .427 .322 9.0 -1.3 -4.0 2.0

Since the 2000 season, 56 players have played left field for the Seattle Mariners and about 80% of them could play better defense than Michael Morse or Raul Ibanez. In the annual search for “the big bat,” the Mariners went all irrational and traded away cost controlled value for a year of beefcake Michael Morse. And Morse can certainly hit when he’s healthy with a career ISO near .200 and a 30+ HR season just two years past. Defensively, he’s better than Raul Ibanez but that’s like saying Macklemore is somewhat better lyrically than Trever Bauer. The projection isn’t optimistic that Morse will stay healthy all year, and sees a good degree of regression with the bat. A -3.2 fielding projection is probably a best-case scenario too, so he’ll have to hit the snot out of the ball to sniff 2 wins.

Ibanez will see some time versus right handed pitching and no doubt his veteran presence will calm the nerves of Eric Wedge. Casper Wells is probably unlikely to break camp due to a front office which has seemingly compartmentalized rationality somewhere deep in the basement of Safeco Field. I’d say something about Jason Bay, but then I’d need to go kick puppies.

#18 Cubs

Alfonso Soriano 595 .246 .303 .460 .325 3.0 -1.5 2.5 1.8
Dave Sappelt 56 .269 .318 .388 .307 -0.6 -0.1 0.2 0.1
Brett Jackson 42 .231 .319 .406 .316 -0.1 0.0 0.1 0.1
Scott Hairston 7 .253 .308 .456 .327 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .247 .305 .451 .323 2.4 -1.6 2.7 2.0

Annual trade rumors notwithstanding, Alfonso Soriano rather surprisingly turned in a 4 win season in 2012, hitting .262/.322/.499 with 32 home runs and 108 RBI while actually playing quite good defense. Now 37, the projection sees that bubble bursting in 2013 with regression across the board and having about half the value he provided a season prior. Soriano’s also likely to be shipped to another team if the price is right so it’s very possible we’ll see another player in left field for the Cubs by August.

Sappelt is the likely first option to Soriano and he’ll be an upgrade defensively, and over the course of a full season he could provide double digit home runs and stolen bases, but he’ll probably need to wait until 2014 to get the chance.

#19 Blue Jays

Melky Cabrera 490 .290 .342 .449 .339 8.8 -0.1 -1.9 1.9
Rajai Davis 140 .259 .308 .369 .295 -2.4 0.8 -0.4 0.1
Emilio Bonifacio 70 .256 .321 .336 .291 -1.4 0.4 -0.4 0.0
Total 700 .281 .333 .422 .325 5.0 1.1 -2.7 2.0

One of the more shrewd signings of the off season, the Blue Jays pick up Melky Cabrera on the cheap due to what I’d describe to my rugrats as “bad choices.” The projection is a little bearish on playing time for Cabrera, who has been a pretty healthy player over his career, having never spent time on the disabled list. There is a looming cloud relative to Cabrera’s prior transgressions, however, and it’s been floated that he could be disciplined retroactively because all of this Biogenesis shenanigans. So the inherent skepticism in the projection is perhaps warranted.

Eyes will almost certainly be on his power performance as a Blue Jay, with many wondering if his recent spike in ISO as a Royal and Giant sync up with some nefarious science in his body. But Cabrera is still just 28, and knowing what we know about hitter aging curves it wouldn’t be completely out of, ahem, left field, to think that his power ought to be on the upswing. It’s true that as a Brave, his power was nonexistent, but that completely ignores the decent pop he had as a Yankee just the year prior:

Time will tell. But for the time being, the Blue Jays have a left fielder in Cabrera that should give them good production for the next two seasons. Backing up will be Rajai Davis, who will presumably back up all outfield slots heading into 2013 unless Colby Rasmus falters, in which case it’s possible he falls into regular playing time in center. But as far as left field goes, the speedster probably won’t see much time unless the league finds more books to throw at Cabrera.

#20 Astros

Chris Carter 455 .242 .330 .463 .341 10.2 -0.6 -2.4 1.8
J.D. Martinez 105 .259 .321 .395 .313 0.0 -0.2 -0.4 0.2
Brandon Barnes 105 .228 .282 .361 .279 -2.9 -0.1 0.1 -0.1
Nate Freiman 35 .243 .300 .382 .295 -0.5 0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 700 .243 .320 .432 .325 6.8 -0.9 -2.9 2.0

Because of the evils of rounding, the Astros fall below the sinister Blue Jays, but manage to remain in the top 2/3 of the rankings. Chris Carter appears to have the angle on the starting left field job in Houston. The right-handed Carter doesn’t really discriminate relative to pitcher handedness in his ability to hit for power, and in fact he actually possesses a higher career ISO vs. RHP at .234 vs. .171 vs. LHP. So he should avoid a platoon situation. His move from the Coliseum to Minute Maid should only help his production as the Coliseum was 16% below league average in home runs for right handed bats where Minute Maid was 8% above. Carter is a classic three true outcomes kind of player and if given the projected 450+ plate appearances, there should be plenty of highlight reel material for Houston fans.

There’s still a very real possibility that the club selects J.D. Martinez over Carter, although that looks unlikely. They’re both right handed, so a traditional platoon wouldn’t be an option. But Martinez is a year younger and is probably a little better defensively. There are some scenarios that could play out where Carter finds himself at DH and/or at first base, clearing the way for Martinez to see more action. But for now, Carter looks like the guy.

#21 Diamondbacks

Jason Kubel 560 .257 .332 .473 .343 8.9 -1.2 -4.8 1.6
Gerardo Parra 126 .277 .339 .407 .320 -0.3 0.0 -0.1 0.3
Eric Hinske 14 .235 .316 .417 .315 -0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .260 .333 .460 .338 8.5 -1.3 -4.9 1.9

The Diamondbacks jettisoned Justin Upton and Chris Young which opened things up considerably in the outfield, solidifying Kubel’s starting role in left field despite a defensive ability that has been described as “between bad and horrific.” After slowly deteriorating in Minnesota, the move to Arizona revived his career, hitting 30 home runs and driving in 90. The projection above doesn’t see too much in the way of regression though based on an uncharacteristically high HR/FB rate, the Diamondbacks ought not expect another 30 bombs. Kubel turns 31 in May and while he doesn’t represent a long term solution in left for Arizona, he should provide decent value to the club for 2013.

Presuming Adam Eaton starts in center and Cody Ross is healthy enough to start the season in right, Gerardo Parra will likely fall into some playing time in left field and overall, provides a good depth option in case injuries hit in one of any of the three outfield slots.

#22 Dodgers

Carl Crawford 420 .268 .318 .426 .320 4.0 1.3 1.1 1.7
Skip Schumaker 175 .263 .325 .338 .292 -2.3 -0.2 -1.3 0.0
Alex Castellanos 35 .243 .310 .393 .306 -0.1 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Jerry Hairston 35 .258 .329 .376 .311 0.1 -0.1 -0.1 0.1
Total 665 .265 .320 .399 .311 1.7 1.0 -0.3 1.8

There’s a growing “I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it” contingent growing relative to Carl Crawford’s debut as a Dodger. A superstar with the Rays, Crawford has been derailed by substandard production and injuries since 2010. Part of the great salary dump of 2012, Crawford was the presumed left field starter until his elbow started to give him trouble in the Spring, and now it’s anyone’s guess if he’ll be ready for opening day. The projection isn’t particularly tickled with his offensive prospects for 2013, although a positive fielding rating would be his first in three years. It’s really anyone’s guess what kind or how much of Carl Crawford the Dodgers get in 2012, but 1.7 WAR would probably be considered a huge victory at this stage.

Skip Schumaker will back up all outfield slots and maybe even second base, but doesn’t do enough with his bat to warrant much enthusiasm. Jerry Harison might start in left field if Crawford isn’t ready to go, but also provides insurance at third base. Prototypical quad-A Alex Castellanos and youngster Yasiel Puig have a shot to make the team as a fourth outfielder, which has value when Carl Crawford is your presumptive starter. But all told, left field isn’t a strength for the Dodgers. But no worry, they might not need much from the position to do well in 2013.

#23 Giants

Gregor Blanco 455 .232 .325 .331 .294 -5.3 1.6 3.6 1.1
Andres Torres 175 .238 .325 .373 .307 -0.3 0.2 1.0 0.5
Brett Pill 70 .263 .303 .420 .309 0.0 0.0 0.1 0.2
Total 700 .237 .323 .351 .299 -5.6 1.7 4.7 1.8

Gregor Blanco can play some mean defense, and if he couldn’t, he’d be well under replacement level. In 2012, he hit .244/.333/.344 but his 10.1 fielding rating elevated his WAR to 2.4. As the left handed complement to the left field platoon, Blanco is likely to get the lion’s share of plate appearances in left field and even if the projection thinks his defense regresses a bit, he’s better than league average due to his defense. Torres is almost a mirror image bat from the right side, with perhaps a dose of extra power. His defense is known to be anywhere from good to great, and it’s likely that he’ll roam all over the outfield when the need presents itself. For the Giants, it’s an all defense, little offense proposition in left field, but they’ve got other guys that can carry that load.

#24 Indians

Michael Brantley 630 .273 .336 .382 .312 0.7 0.4 -0.6 1.5
Ezequiel Carrera 35 .263 .317 .355 .297 -0.4 0.1 0.2 0.1
Tim Fedroff 35 .259 .321 .349 .293 -0.5 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .272 .335 .379 .310 -0.2 0.4 -0.4 1.6

Michael Brantley has developed into a nice little left fielder with scant power, a touch of speed, but a good ability to get on base and play a passable defense. Brantley turns 26 in May, so perhaps we could see a little glimmer in power production, but the projection isn’t so optimistic. He won’t get your blood pressure up, but Brantley is a cheap, passable option for the Indians in left and he does enough well to warrant a starting position, even if it’s just to be a win and a half above replacement.

#25 White Sox

Dayan Viciedo 525 .267 .320 .448 .330 3.6 -0.7 -1.6 1.4
DeWayne Wise 105 .242 .285 .403 .296 -2.2 0.2 0.2 0.1
Jordan Danks 70 .235 .314 .374 .304 -1.0 0.0 0.4 0.1
Total 700 .260 .314 .434 .323 0.4 -0.5 -0.9 1.6

One of the more entertaining bats to watch in batting practice, Viciedo possesses unquestioned power. But his work against right handed pitchers suppresses his value considerably. Viciedo bludgeons lefties, with a .350/.391/.642 line against them in 2012 — but he managed just .225/.271/.380 against right handed pitchers, who he faced over 400 times last year. Still just 24, there’s certainly room for improvement for the stocky Cuban slugger and the projection above reflects that. He’s expected to improve across the board and if manages to keep himself on the field for the bulk of the season, he could provide the White Sox for 2+ WAR.

DeWayne Wise and Jordan Danks will back up all outfield positions, and since they’re both left handed, it’s possible they spell Viciedo when there’s a particularly unpleasant right hander on the hill, and there are many in the American League. If Viciedo continues to develop, the White Sox should find themselves several slots higher in 2014.

#26 Orioles

Nolan Reimold 350 .250 .330 .430 .329 2.8 0.0 -0.2 1.1
Nate McLouth 245 .235 .324 .383 .310 -1.8 0.6 -1.1 0.3
Russ Canzler 105 .238 .302 .407 .307 -1.0 -0.2 -0.2 0.1
Total 700 .243 .324 .410 .319 0.0 0.4 -1.5 1.6

This one is still unsettled. In terms of the future and true talent, the Orioles would probably prefer for Nolan Reimold to grab hold of the starting job in left field, but he’s been dinged up this Spring and when he’s played, he hasn’t impressed. But then again, neither has McLouth. The likely outcome is a Reimold/McClouth platoon which will probably work better than either of them holding the position outright. Canzler might see time at DH, first base, and/or left field. The maybe future of left field, Xavier Avery was recently sent to AAA. There’s just not a whole lot of hope for more upside than what’s projected here.

#27 Tigers

Andy Dirks 490 .274 .324 .421 .322 1.8 0.6 1.5 1.6
Avisail Garcia 140 .252 .281 .373 .283 -3.8 -0.1 0.0 -0.1
Quintin Berry 70 .234 .307 .312 .277 -2.3 0.5 0.2 0.0
Total 700 .265 .314 .401 .310 -4.3 1.0 1.7 1.5

With Brennan Boesch out of town, it looks like Andy Dirks will get more reps than previously thought. The projection sees Dirks coming back to earth after posting a .322/.370/.487 line in 2012. That might have a lot to do with the fact that the preponderance of his at bats were in a platoon role and he’s going to be leaned on to see more time against left handers in 2013 due to the heel injury to Avisail Garcia. Dirks just turned 27, so he should be in his prime years. If and when Garcia returns, a modified platoon could be employed by the Tigers but it will probably have a lot more to do with what Dirks has done to date.

The future is Nick Castellanos, who is hitting the tar out of the ball so far this Spring. While it might be more likely that the 21-year old starts at AAA, should Dirks fail to deliver and Castellanos continue to rake, it’s possible we could add another name to the list above.

#28 Red Sox

Jonny Gomes 280 .243 .339 .429 .333 2.5 -0.2 -2.1 0.7
Daniel Nava 175 .249 .340 .384 .319 -0.5 -0.2 -0.2 0.3
Jackie Bradley 140 .259 .343 .387 .320 -0.3 -0.1 0.7 0.4
Mike Carp 105 .243 .316 .402 .311 -0.9 -0.2 -0.5 0.1
Total 700 .248 .336 .405 .324 0.8 -0.7 -2.1 1.5

The Red Sox left field will likely feature a revolving door of players. Jonny Gomes will do his lefty-mashing thing when he’s not DH’ing, providing middling to occasionally embarrassing defense in the process. The remainder of the platoon equation has yet to play out and there are a variety of story lines to keep an eye on. Mike Carp would be a natural fit to play left when a right hander is on the hill, but they may well need him at first base for a period of time given the hip issues of Mike Napoli. Or, Gomes could move to DH, opening up LF for Daniel Nava and/or Jackie Bradley against right-handed pitching. Nobody here is going to provide fantastic defense unless they give Bradley the platoon nod, and one wonders how Gomes is going to look out there trying to navigate the monster, but they have no shortage of options.

#29 Mets

Lucas Duda 560 .249 .334 .417 .326 7.3 -0.9 -9.7 1.0
Jordany Valdespin 140 .252 .290 .389 .295 -1.7 -0.4 -0.7 0.0
Total 700 .250 .326 .411 .320 5.6 -1.3 -10.4 1.0

It’s something to say that a -9.7 fielding rating would represent great improvement, but that’s exactly what it would mean to Lucas Duda. Duda, 27, showed flashes of offensive prowess in 2012, only to settle with a .239/.329/.389 line overall to go with cringe-inducing defensive skills. The projection thinks he can improve slightly with the bat and significantly with the glove, and even so, he might be just slightly better than replacement level. There’s latent potential there, but we’ve yet to see much from Duda that can’t be classified as fits and spurts. Somewhere, Eno Sarris weeps.

#30 Marlins

Juan Pierre 525 .279 .332 .341 .299 -6.9 1.6 -1.1 0.6
Chris Coghlan 105 .256 .330 .373 .309 -0.5 -0.1 -0.6 0.1
Alfredo Silverio 35 .247 .284 .394 .291 -0.7 -0.1 -0.2 0.0
Chone Figgins 35 .242 .320 .322 .288 -0.8 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .272 .329 .348 .299 -8.9 1.4 -1.9 0.7

I kind of wonder if the Marlins might call Mark McLemore or B.J. Surhoff to see if they’re available. Juan Pierre as a starter says enough about the state of the Marlins, but that he’s backed up by the likes of Chris Coghlan and Chone Figgins says even more without any analysis at all. Neat.

It’s going to be a long season for Marlins fans. Nowhere to go but up here.

2013 Positional Power Rankings: Designated Hitter.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Originalish post: These rankings are fun. They do not affect the results on the field or the players ranked in them or the GMs glowering over the players. But we are inexorably drawn to these sorts of rankings. With egos invested into our teams, rankings give us pre-season bragging rights or grinding axes.

In all this fun, however, it is important to remember the function of our list. As we are wont to do at FanGraphs, we have attempted to make our lists in the most clinical, mathematical and unbiased ways as possible. Whereas many MLB power rankings are based on gut judgements or broad, basic analyses, we have computed a scientific power ranking system that requires human input only when it is an improvement over an algorithm.

This means, however, the space between each team is discrete. The distance between No. 1 and No. 2 is much greater than, as you will see, between No. 13 and No. 14:

Two are clustered near the top, others are rounding errors apart, and two teams appear clustered near the bottom. But an ordinal ranking does not represent that accurately.

And even despite our best utilization of projection systems and playing time predictions, the season is unpredictable. Not just hard to predict, but unpredictable. If it weren’t, who would watch it? But as of now, as of our best playing time estimations, as of the best projection systems, this is how the DH world settles. This is how the big and sluggerish stand.

Without further ado, I present the Slow and Sluggering Show:

#1 Red Sox

David Ortiz 455 .286 .382 .534 .386 23.2 -2.1 0.0 2.6
Jonny Gomes 105 .241 .339 .430 .334 1.0 -0.1 0.0 0.2
Mike Napoli 70 .249 .348 .477 .353 1.8 -0.1 0.0 0.2
Mike Carp 35 .243 .316 .402 .311 -0.3 -0.1 0.0 0.0
Daniel Nava 35 .249 .340 .384 .319 -0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .271 .367 .498 .367 25.6 -2.3 0.0 3.0

It is hard to expect 600 or more plate appearances from David Ortiz. He will be 37 in the 2013 season and had an injury-clipped 2012 campaign, but all the same, his bat could not appear any younger. In 2011 at age 35, he seemingly reinvented his approach, cutting his strikeout rate beneath a 14% K-rate for the first time in his career. And then in 2012, through 383 PA, he mustered another sub-14% K-rate and struck out less than he walked for only the third time in his career.

When talking DH, the conversation is Ortiz and the field. His proven, steady productivity puts the Red Sox on a special tier. And if he struggles again with health, his backup should be Mike Napoli, who swings a bat of no little renown either, and Jonny Gomes, who abuses lefties and isn’t the worst against righties.

All told, it makes the best DH combo in the league, but by a small margin.

#2 Royals

Billy Butler 602 .296 .369 .484 .363 23.0 -2.1 0.0 2.7
Salvador Perez 35 .284 .320 .423 .320 0.1 -0.1 0.0 0.0
Eric Hosmer 35 .274 .342 .441 .337 0.6 0.0 0.0 0.1
Jeff Francoeur 28 .257 .310 .410 .307 -0.2 -0.1 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .293 .363 .476 .358 23.5 -2.2 0.0 2.8

The Royals rank No. 2 here, and here we also conclude our first cluster. Both Kansas City and the Red Sox feature enviable DH situations. On the merit of Billy “Country Breakfast” Butler’s durability, the Big KC earns a better projection than the otherwise impressive Rangers DH situation. Butler has averaged more than 670 PA during the last four seasons (and 600 PA as a DH over the last two seasons). Entering his physical peak (age-27 season), he should continue the same.

Butler had a filthy .373 OBP and .510 SLG, good for 140 wRC+ in 2012, but the duo of Steamer and ZiPS sees him regressing to a .369 OBP and .484 SLG. Behind the Great Morning Meal, the Royals do not have obvious DH types. The dropoff here could be much greater than in Texas, but it is nonetheless dandy to have a catcher in Salvador Perez who enters the season with a career 119 wRC+ and who could benefit from a few DH days to keep his catcher parts fresh. When Perez takes a spin at DH on days Butler is at first or taking a breather, the change in offense production should be neatly, though not perfectly, contained. The projection systems also forecast a solid season for Eric Hosmer, which could mitigate potential production losses if Butler succumbs to the unforeseen.

#3 Rangers

Lance Berkman 525 .268 .378 .481 .367 17.4 -0.9 0.0 2.2
Mike Olt 70 .244 .327 .424 .325 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.1
A.J. Pierzynski 21 .274 .315 .429 .319 -0.1 -0.1 0.0 0.0
Geovany Soto 21 .234 .320 .418 .319 -0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0
Ian Kinsler 21 .265 .348 .443 .344 0.3 0.1 0.0 0.1
Adrian Beltre 21 .296 .340 .515 .362 0.6 0.0 0.0 0.1
Nelson Cruz 21 .265 .327 .483 .345 0.3 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .265 .366 .472 .358 18.5 -1.0 0.0 2.4

On pure hitting talent, I would take Lance Berkman over Billy Butler (career 146 wRC+ versus 121 wRC+). But Berkman is aged, post-injured, and on the aging slope’s slippery side. He also will be paying the DH penalty for the first time since his abbreviated Yankees tenure (where he posted a 91 wRC+ through 123 PA). He clobbered expectations in 2011 with the second-best offensive season of his career (163 wRC+), but projecting him for beyond 500 PA in 2013 requires uncommon faith in his 37-year-old frame.

A.J. Pierzynski, Geovany Soto, Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz can and will probably log some DH plate appearances for Texas, but the surest bet behind the freshly-rehabbed, not-young Berkman is fresh and young corner infielder Michael Olt, who should offer, if nothing else, some power. If Texas is feeling frisky, they might summon Jurickson Profar and play Musical DH in an eventual Berkman absence. Either way, the Rangers have a wealth of options that, despite even Berkman’s question-mark-shaped health, puts them in the no man’s land between the top tier and the rounding-error cluster.

#4 Angels

Mark Trumbo 350 .261 .312 .476 .335 7.1 -0.4 0.0 1.0
Albert Pujols 105 .293 .373 .539 .378 5.8 -0.1 0.0 0.7
Vernon Wells 105 .248 .297 .439 .316 0.6 -0.1 0.0 0.1
Hank Conger 70 .250 .313 .383 .302 -0.4 0.0 0.0 0.0
Josh Hamilton 35 .273 .340 .494 .351 1.2 0.0 0.0 0.2
Chris Iannetta 35 .226 .338 .388 .319 0.3 -0.1 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .262 .322 .467 .335 14.4 -0.6 0.0 2.1

“What’s wrong with the Angels?” you ask. I don’t know. I like the Angels. I like Mark Trumbo. In fact, I fully expect Trumbo to manage a wOBA above .345 in his age-27 season. I would not be surprised to see a .325 OBP or higher. I would rank the Angels higher.

But, here’s the deal: I am not an emotionless projection system, hardened into calculated wisdom. I’m a fickle, emotional human thing. I like Trumbo, you might too, but Steamer and ZiPS agree: He’s a touch better than Adam Lind.

And since he possess defensive flexibility (flexibility without acumen, albeit), he will likely spell Albert Pujols, Vernon Wells, and few others. Ceding DH plate appearances to Pujols? Sure. Cool. It only helps. Ceding PAs to Vernon Wells? Not so cool. The net result? Let’s just say: The opportunity cost of rostering Vernon Wells increases; it edges skyward like bubbling Kilauea, biding time, collecting paychecks, steadily not playing great baseball — I’m talking about Vernon Wells, but some of this might apply to Kilauea too. Never been.

#5 Tigers

Victor Martinez 525 .289 .351 .442 .340 9.6 -1.2 0.0 1.3
Andy Dirks 70 .274 .324 .421 .322 0.3 0.1 0.0 0.1
Prince Fielder 35 .288 .404 .512 .386 1.9 -0.1 0.0 0.2
Miguel Cabrera 35 .317 .403 .568 .405 2.5 -0.1 0.0 0.3
Torii Hunter 35 .279 .342 .433 .335 0.5 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .288 .353 .449 .344 14.8 -1.3 0.0 2.0

The Detroit Tigers have perhaps the most curious DH conundrum. Their ranking, like most any other rankings here, relates directly with the hitter on the top of the depth chart; but unlike the other DH groups, the less of Victor Martinez, the better this group does. Martinez, coming off an entirely lost 2012 campaign, will be 34 in 2013. His offensive projections are solid, if not great.

But his backups? Pitch Killers and Twirl Torturers. Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, the most likely to pick up the slack from an injured Martinez, only improve the projected offense for the Tigers DH position. Andy Dirks will probably get some playing time here too, which does not add much in the way thrilling offense, but a long-term injury to Martinez might result in more Fielder and Cabrera.

Without Martinez, the Tigers are a worse team. Nobody in Michigan wants a Martinez injury. But with less Martinez, the DH production improves as playing time cedes to a pair of other-worldly hitters. If Fielders gets 100 or 200 PA here, the Tigers DH slot pushes for No. 4 or No. 3 in this power ranking. Such is the nature of rankings, I guess.

#6 Blue Jays

Adam Lind 420 .262 .321 .449 .329 4.5 -0.7 0.0 0.8
Edwin Encarnacion 70 .269 .359 .498 .364 2.7 0.0 0.0 0.3
Melky Cabrera 70 .290 .342 .446 .337 1.2 0.0 0.0 0.2
Rajai Davis 70 .259 .308 .369 .295 -1.2 0.4 0.0 0.0
Jose Bautista 70 .266 .393 .545 .396 4.5 0.0 0.0 0.5
Total 700 .265 .333 .454 .337 11.6 -0.4 0.0 1.8

Adam Lind is not what we think when we think, “Sixth best DH in the league,” and there’s a reason for that: He’s not the 6th best DH in the league. But since he has no business hitting against lefties, and since Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion have a multi-million dollar, international, blue-power-suit-wearing business hitting lefties, and since the latter two cannot — by Canadian law — rest against left-handed starting pitchers (especially given the lefty-soaked rotations of the AL East), these gentlemen — Mr. Bautista and Mr. Encarnacion — will elevate the otherwise uninspiring, Lind-led Blue Jays DH position.

Add to this potent duo: Melky Cabrera, upon whom shine the projection systems (oblivious in their digital, cold magnanimity to the implications, the possibilities, the doubts of a failed PED test). Can Melky, entering only his age-28 season, sustain his new BABIP level, begun in 2011, begun before The Failed Tests?

Questions like these and names like “Lind,” help illustrate why, despite ranking just two spots beneath the Rangers, the Blue Jays at No. 6 are further down the list than ordinal ranking suggests.

#7 Mariners

Kendrys Morales 525 .263 .323 .455 .333 11.5 -2.1 0.0 1.4
Jesus Montero 140 .265 .318 .426 .319 1.4 -0.3 0.0 0.2
Raul Ibanez 35 .241 .304 .400 .301 -0.1 -0.1 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .262 .321 .446 .329 12.7 -2.4 0.0 1.7

Kendrys Morales has been a switch hitter in name only throughout his career. Against southpaws, he owns an 84 wRC+, but we would be remiss to note that’s just 392 PA — with a .266 BABIP, which may or may not mean anything. Moreover, his minor league splits never seemed particularly one-sided.

Either way, Morales, Jesus Montero and tumbleweed Raul Ibanez will split the DH role (as Morales will get some playing time at first). ZiPS (.308 wOBA) is the most pessimistic about Montero, but Steamer (.326 wOBA) and the others (all above .333 wOBA) predict a better sophomore campaign for the 23-year-old catcher.

The net result should be about the same as any other team from No. 6 all the way down to No. 12. This whole middle tier is a week of hot or cold BABIP apart. As far as upside goes, though, I would take the Mariners and Morales/Montero over at least the Yankees and Rays DH situations (well, nevermind).

#8 Rays

Luke Scott 420 .239 .313 .436 .321 4.2 -0.7 0.0 0.7
Evan Longoria 140 .270 .366 .508 .370 7.0 0.0 0.0 0.9
Shelley Duncan 105 .226 .312 .400 .311 0.2 0.0 0.0 0.1
Stephen Vogt 35 .243 .293 .378 .293 -0.4 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .243 .323 .442 .328 11.0 -0.8 0.0 1.7

Do not let the nearness to superiority of the Yankees fool you: The Rays DH situation is almost certainly worse than the Bombers’. Tampa Bay’s own Injury Gravity Machine never hit like New York’s, and he has already struggled with Spring Training injuries. The Rays, however, do have a better Injured Third Baseman situation. Evan Longoria is healthy and ready to start the season. He figures to get some DH playing time as the team limits Luke Scott‘s exposure against lefties and limits Longoria’s innings the field. The Rays have a plethora of infielders who can allow Longo to shift to DH with little lost defensively (and offensively, when Ryan Roberts or Sean Rodriguez replace Scott against lefties).

But if the Rays opt to just fully rest Longoria rather than DH him throughout the season (and who would fault them in preserving their Great Investment?), then Scott’s replacement becomes Shelley Duncan (whom the Rays have given a heavier bat; maybe that means something?) and/or Chris Gimenez (who has not been terrible against lefties in his career; maybe that means something?). The team also likes lefties Stephen Vogt and Leslie Anderson, the latter having impressed in Spring Training, but these are risky options with a capital, bold, 32-point font “R.”

#9 Astros

Carlos Pena 455 .212 .340 .419 .331 6.6 -1.1 0.0 1.0
Chris Carter 175 .242 .330 .463 .341 3.9 -0.2 0.0 0.5
Nate Freiman 70 .245 .301 .393 .301 -0.7 -0.1 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .223 .334 .427 .331 9.8 -1.4 0.0 1.5

Tropicana Field discourages left-handed HR power. Carlos Pena‘s new orange juice home, Minute Maid Park, encourages home runs for lefties. Pena, however, has never been primarily a DH and the transition might, should hurt his numbers. If the Astros swap him and Brett Wallace to keep each a little more fresh, maybe the DH penalty dulls a bit, but DH production likely slips as Wallace’s offense is not quite Pena’s. At least not yet.

Pena enters the 2013 season hoping to rebound from a career-worst, sub-Mendoza, sub-100-wRC+, sub-acceptable offensive season. Steamer and ZiPS expect a rebound from Pena, but at age-35, the slugging first baseman may receive his final regular plate appearances as a member of the Astros — however long that tenure will last.

Chris Carter in left field will likely supply the NotGraphs crew with new, voluptuous GIF opportunities. It makes sense he will thereby get playing time at DH, especially seeing as how Pena never hit lefties well. Nate Freiman, also a righty, is a Rule 5 draft pick who could conceivably turn a few heads with his low-strikeout, high-power approach, but rookies who never reached Triple-A are a tough sell for ZiPS and Steamer.

Considering the Astros front office had to build a DH group from scratch, the team has done quite well for themselves.

#10 Athletics

Seth Smith 350 .245 .330 .419 .323 3.2 -0.3 0.0 0.6
Josh Reddick 140 .242 .304 .437 .316 0.6 -0.1 0.0 0.2
Yoenis Cespedes 140 .278 .345 .466 .349 4.2 -0.1 0.0 0.6
Jed Lowrie 70 .250 .330 .418 .325 0.8 -0.1 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .252 .328 .432 .327 8.7 -0.5 0.0 1.5

Seth Smith will platoon at DH and should fare well, better, perhaps, than the projection systems anticipate. And count me among those (Bill James, Oliver, and fan projections included) who anticipate Josh Reddick‘s OBP, BABIP, and, therefore, wOBA to improve in 2013 (though perhaps not to the degree of those more optimistic projection systems).

Yoenis Cespedes, 27, and Reddick, 26, are both young and entering their second full seasons as starters. Smith, 30, is more weathered, but altogether this DH/OF trio is young, exciting, and better positioned than, though mathematically inferior to, more than one of the teams ranked above of them.

#11 Indians

Mark Reynolds 490 .219 .330 .435 .332 8.4 -0.8 0.0 1.2
Jason Giambi 175 .214 .328 .365 .307 -0.5 -0.6 0.0 0.0
Carlos Santana 35 .249 .367 .442 .350 1.1 -0.1 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .219 .331 .418 .327 9.0 -1.5 0.0 1.4

Mark Reynolds dropped under 30 home runs in 2012, the first his totals dipped that far since 2008, and his offense as a whole slouched from his previous season’s production. Renyolds posted his first sub-30% strikeout rate, but it came with only a .335 wOBA. Our hybrid projections have him doing little different in 2013.

The Indians also signed roaming late-career ghost-of-a-bat Jason Giambi. I would like to imagine Giambi’s bat would offer more than just a .307 wOBA, but considering he has only one season above 100 wRC+ over the last four years, I must accept this is quite possibly the final stop for the nostalgic slugger.

#12 White Sox

Adam Dunn 595 .209 .337 .440 .337 7.2 -1.8 0.0 1.1
Dayan Viciedo 70 .266 .319 .446 .329 0.4 -0.1 0.0 0.1
Paul Konerko 35 .281 .362 .481 .359 1.1 -0.2 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .219 .337 .443 .337 8.6 -2.0 0.0 1.3

Again, in the White Sox, we have a DH position that I — in my fiery, beating heart — prefer in real life, but in the Projection Systems Life, we must confront Dunn’s increasing strikeout rate, decreasing OBP — his startling 2011 season, his underwhelming 2012 bounce-back (an un-Dunnian 114 wRC+) — the ticking clock of Dunn’s career, the tick tock.

Dunn is 33 with a skillset that ages poorly, and his most likely backup — defensive liability Dayan Viciedo — has yet to prove himself against righties. This is not a bad DH situation for the White Sox, but it is not above the DH crowd.

#13 Yankees

Travis Hafner 385 .254 .349 .445 .343 7.4 -1.0 0.0 1.0
Brennan Boesch 210 .257 .313 .413 .313 -0.9 0.0 0.0 0.1
Juan Rivera 70 .254 .310 .403 .307 -0.6 -0.2 0.0 0.0
Alex Rodriguez 35 .254 .338 .421 .331 0.3 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .255 .334 .429 .330 6.2 -1.2 0.0 1.1

The Yankees are entering an unlit future, this 2013 season. Every player on the roster is injured, like, twice, and the only healthy person — he’s not healthy — is Travis Hafner — he’s probably been injured by time of publication. The Pronk Fella has not crossed above the 500 PA mark since 2007 — George W. Bush was president; Michael Jackson was alive; it was different era, that 661 PA year.

Despite the steady unhealthiness, Pronkfner can hit. And in New York, he will probably receive a courtesy home run per game (his home, left-handed HR park factor improves 16 points, or about a 32% increase in raw home run likelihood, by joining the Yankees). Behind him, the Yankees will likely roll the dice with recently-acquired Brennan Boesch*. There are worse gambles, but gamble it is nonetheless. And in case of emergency, the Yankees can pour a little Quad-A into the DH cistern. Juan Rivera or Dan Johnson can enter the equation, hit a fastball 10,000 miles, and then record 20 consecutive outs against breaking pitches. Everyone has a talent.

* Since the original publication, the Yankees have revealed intentions to play La Shortstop here, that Derek Jeter guy, but since his projections (.316 wOBA) differ little from Boesch’s (.313 wOBA), forgive me for leaving this lone historical artifact here.

Meanwhile, Alex Rodriguez, if he ever plays for the Yankees again, will probably smack of a few homers, but only as many as a possible late-season cameo will allow.

#14 Twins

Ryan Doumit 455 .260 .319 .414 .314 0.0 -1.0 0.0 0.3
Justin Morneau 175 .265 .342 .447 .337 3.2 -0.4 0.0 0.4
Chris Parmelee 70 .255 .332 .407 .321 0.4 -0.1 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .260 .326 .421 .321 3.6 -1.5 0.0 0.8

Ryan Doumit has a career .336 wOBA and 106 wRC+. In 2012, catchers — Doumit is sort of a catcher — averaged .312 wOBA and 95 wRC+. Over the last decade, catchers have around a 90 wRC+. For a catcher (or, a “catcher”), Ryan Doumit hits well.

Designated hitters had a .339 wOBA and 114 wRC+ in 2012. They tend to average a bit over 110 wRC+. If Doumit hits to his career numbers, hey!, that’s not bad DH production. In fact, sure, it’s fine, whatever. If he slumps into his less-glowing ZiPS and Steamer projection numbers? Well, as the No. 14 ranking suggests, that’s the good enough for this bottom tier.

If Justin Morneau can have another healthy season, albeit split between first and here at DH, the Twins will profit from it. But given Morneau’s .330 wOBA in 2012, maybe the best of Morneau has already been concussed away, which is a bummer for the Twins and for baseball.

#15 Orioles

Wilson Betemit 525 .248 .320 .423 .321 0.8 -1.1 0.0 0.4
Nolan Reimold 140 .250 .330 .430 .329 1.1 0.0 0.0 0.2
Chris Davis 35 .259 .317 .473 .336 0.5 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .249 .322 .427 .323 2.4 -1.2 0.0 0.7

In 2006, Wilson Betemit had 412 PA and hit .336 wOBA and 100 wRC+ with the Braves and Dodgers. That was the most faith any team — or, in this case, two teams — put in Wilson Betemit. The next-most playing time he ever received was with the 2012 Orioles. He got 376 PA and posted a .324 wOBA and 101 wRC+.

Our best guess has Buck Showalter playing Betemit enough to cross the 500 PA milestone for the first time, albeit against righties only. Could this more-steady playing time help him find a rhythm above his career .336 wOBA and 105 wRC+? Maybe, but few projection systems like age-31 Betemit, and they like injury-torn Nolan Reimold — the logical choice for Betemit’s platoon partner — only slightly more.

NOTE: Some have protested the Betemit playing time, and rightfully so. But since our projections have Chris Davis getting ~600 PA at first base, it leaves little flexibility to put him here at DH. This is our best, cumulative guess: Betemit in a platoon, getting regular platoon playing time. As happens, we may be wrong.

ALSO NOTE: Fielding numbers did not factor into the designated hitter WAR calculations. They are shown for reference only.

ALSO ALSO NOTE: Somehow, inexorably, certain readers have used this DH post as a launching point for complaints about the designated hitter rule, as though the uninspiring WAR totals made for a compelling case in favor of watching Matt Garza strike out on three pitches. But the DH position has a vastly different baseline than your typical hitter. Also, because their fielding ability has no contribution outlet, they are limited only to their batting and base-running contributions.

In 2012, DHs added 220.4 hitting runs and -53.8 base-running runs. Pitchers added -792.1 batting and -34.3 base-running runs. WHAT NOW, BRO!?

post #10302 of 73600
Thread Starter 
2013 Positional Power Rankings: Starting Pitchers (#16-#30).
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Last week, we tackled the positional players, grading out each team’s options at each spot that is occupied by a fielder. You can see all those posts here, and yes, they’ve now been updated to reflect the correct park adjusted numbers. So, today, we move on to the pitching side of things. Because we’re dealing with 7-10 starters and an equal number of relievers for each club, we’re breaking these posts into two parts, less they become our own version of War and Peace.

We’ll start off with the starting staffs that occupy the 16th-30th spots on the list, but also keep in mind that the ordinal rank is often not that important, as there’s no real difference between the #13 and #17 teams in terms of projected outcome. The actual performance is the interesting thing here. And, since we’re starting in the lower half of the list, there are some pretty ugly projections to follow.

Also, note that the innings projections are not equal for every team. Due to durability and bullpen deployment, not every team gets the same amount of innings from their starters over the course of the season. We have equalized the innings at the team level, so teams that are projected for fewer innings from their starters will get a larger number from their relievers, but the IP totals for each team’s rotation and bullpen won’t match up like the PA totals did for each hitter. We’ve made sure they fall within a reasonable range, however, and think the overall distribution of playing time makes sense for each club.

All that said, on to the write-ups.

#16 Giants

Matt Cain 218.0 7.7 2.4 0.9 .291 74.9 % 3.32 3.52 3.5
Madison Bumgarner 206.0 8.3 2.2 0.8 .304 74.0 % 3.27 3.16 4.3
Tim Lincecum 162.0 9.0 3.7 0.8 .308 73.4 % 3.65 3.49 2.6
Barry Zito 157.0 5.9 3.6 1.1 .295 70.3 % 4.51 4.54 0.6
Ryan Vogelsong 152.0 7.2 3.3 0.9 .300 72.0 % 3.86 3.88 1.8
Chris Heston 30.0 6.0 3.2 0.8 .308 68.9 % 4.36 4.09 0.3
Boof Bonser 24.0 5.7 3.9 0.9 .309 69.3 % 4.67 4.46 0.1
Eric Surkamp 10.0 7.4 3.8 0.8 .312 71.5 % 4.09 3.91 0.1
Total 959.0 7.6 3.0 0.9 .300 72.8 % 3.72 3.70 13.2

It’s easy to look at the first few names on this list and think that the Giants are being underrated here, but while ZIPS and Steamer see a nice rebound season for Tim Lincecum, neither see him getting back to his Cy Young peak, and neither are all that fond of the decision to give Barry Zito a rotation spot without having any serious alternatives should that go badly. The Giants have perhaps the least amount of depth beyond their starting five of any team in baseball, so they’re going to be relying heavily on the guys currently penciled in to the rotation.

The good news is that the front of their rotation is very strong. Since our WAR is based on FIP, you can bump Matt Cain up a little bit since his ERA is annually lower than his FIP. With a pair of +4-ish win pitchers heading up the staff and an above average hurler in Lincecum, the Giants should have an advantage on the mound more often than not. The big question for San Francisco will be whether or not they’ll have to give a bunch of replacement level innings to the back end because of their lack of depth. It isn’t a problem in October, but if they want to get to October, they might want to look at finding another decent starting pitcher to help get them through the regular season.

#17 Braves

Tim Hudson 205.0 5.6 2.7 0.7 .297 70.9 % 3.75 3.82 2.9
Kris Medlen 202.0 7.3 2.2 0.8 .301 73.0 % 3.41 3.35 4.1
Mike Minor 173.0 8.0 3.0 1.1 .298 73.7 % 3.93 4.00 2.1
Paul Maholm 145.0 6.2 2.7 0.8 .301 70.3 % 4.01 3.93 1.9
Julio Teheran 122.0 6.6 3.5 1.1 .301 71.1 % 4.36 4.42 0.9
Brandon Beachy 50.0 8.8 3.1 1.0 .298 76.2 % 3.50 3.64 0.8
J.R. Graham 46.0 6.3 3.2 1.0 .303 69.7 % 4.39 4.27 0.4
Total 943.0 6.8 2.8 0.9 .300 72.0 % 3.84 3.86 13.1

Kris Medlen – not a fluke. Okay, well, he won’t be the second coming of Greg Maddux again, but the projections like him a lot, and suggest that he’ll be one of the best starting pitchers in the National League this year. He might not look like a traditional ace, but the BB/K/HR profile is very similar to Matt Cain. Medlen won’t start for the Braves on Opening Day, but by this measure, he looks like Atlanta’s best starter.

After him, it’s mostly decent rather than spectacular. Hudson, Minor, and Maholm should give the team a fairly stable rotation, but they don’t provide a ton of upside. That comes in the #5 spot, where Julio Teheran has had a ridiculous spring training, and is certainly capable of putting up better numbers than he has here. Spring training results don’t mean anything, really, but the variance on Teheran’s projection is quite large, and it wouldn’t be that surprising if he ended up throwing 150 good innings this year. If Teheran beats this projection handily, the Braves might give the Nationals a real run for their money in the NL East. If he doesn’t, they’ll be waiting anxiously for Brandon Beachy’s second half return.

#18 Angels

Jered Weaver 211.0 7.5 2.3 1.1 .285 75.6 % 3.42 3.70 3.5
C.J. Wilson 182.0 7.8 3.6 0.7 .298 73.0 % 3.65 3.68 3.0
Jason Vargas 208.0 5.7 2.4 1.3 .291 70.8 % 4.35 4.44 1.6
Joe Blanton 167.0 6.7 1.9 1.1 .304 70.3 % 4.08 3.87 2.4
Tommy Hanson 151.0 7.8 3.1 1.1 .300 74.1 % 3.94 4.10 1.8
Jerome Williams 24.0 6.2 2.4 1.0 .305 70.1 % 4.14 4.00 0.3
Garrett Richards 16.0 6.0 4.0 1.0 .310 68.9 % 4.83 4.61 0.1
Total 960.0 7.0 2.7 1.1 .295 72.6 % 3.90 3.97 12.7

Like with Cain, Weaver’s WAR should be adjusted upwards a bit to account for his FIP-beating ways. Even the .285 BABIP projection here might not be low enough, based on Dan Rosenheck’s recent research. If the Angels are going to win this year, though, they’re going to need Weaver to be at his best, because the guys behind him are less than impressive.

Wilson’s still a strong starter, though coming off arm surgery, he’s also a bit of a wild card. Then there’s the back-end. Jason Vargas should be able to take advantage of the Trout/Bourjos/Hamilton outfield and a park that deflates home runs, but he’s still an average pitcher at best. Joe Blanton is the anti-Weaver, so if you’re bumping Weaver up for regularly beating FIP, you also have to downgrade Blanton slightly. The projections don’t hate Hanson, but he’s also a big question mark from a health perspective, and the options to replace him if things go south are not great. The Angels have the best group of position players in the game by this project, but that’s good, because this pitching staff doesn’t look like the kind of group that is going to lead anyone to the postseason.

#19 Rockies

Jhoulys Chacin 146.0 7.0 3.9 1.0 .312 70.2 % 4.55 4.31 2.2
Jorge de la Rosa 140.0 7.1 3.9 1.1 .311 69.7 % 4.68 4.43 2.0
Jeff Francis 133.0 5.4 2.2 1.1 .319 67.0 % 4.87 4.34 2.0
Juan Nicasio 137.0 7.8 2.8 1.0 .321 70.5 % 4.26 3.79 2.8
Jon Garland 97.0 5.6 3.5 0.9 .297 69.5 % 4.45 4.40 1.4
Drew Pomeranz 56.0 7.6 4.1 1.0 .318 70.0 % 4.74 4.34 0.8
Tyler Chatwood 46.0 5.7 4.6 1.0 .316 68.1 % 5.27 4.88 0.4
Christian Friedrich 41.0 6.9 3.3 1.2 .322 67.9 % 5.03 4.47 0.6
Total 795.0 6.7 3.4 1.1 .314 69.3 % 4.64 4.30 12.2

Probably the most surprising placement of any team on the list. Because of the run environment, injury issues, and the Rockies experiments with getting rid of starters as we know them, Colorado doesn’t have very many big name pitchers in their rotation, but Zips and Steamer also look at this as a pretty deep group of solid average pitchers, though average pitchers who are unlikely to post ERAs that match their FIPs.

A big part of that is simply Coors Field, which annually is home to a .330 BABIP or so. While people talk about the home run effect, the extra hits really add up as well, and so judging Colorado’s pitchers from a park neutral standpoint can be a tricky task. But, we should acknowledge that guys like Chacin, Nicasio, Pomeranz, and Friedrich were all pretty interesting prospects and would likely be thought of very differently if they played in another home park. Add in some decent history from de la Rosa and the projections optimism about Garland and Francis, and this group isn’t completely hapless. There’s not an innings eater to be found, but if they mix and match again, they have enough interesting arms to put a rotation together that might not be so bad.

#20 Pirates

A.J. Burnett 181.0 7.4 3.3 0.8 .309 71.4 % 3.88 3.75 2.5
Wandy Rodriguez 197.0 6.6 2.8 0.8 .299 71.3 % 3.83 3.72 2.8
James McDonald 130.0 7.7 3.7 1.0 .299 72.5 % 4.08 4.10 1.3
Francisco Liriano 129.0 8.8 4.0 0.7 .306 71.9 % 3.73 3.51 2.2
Jeff Karstens 122.0 6.0 1.9 1.1 .300 70.8 % 4.04 3.95 1.4
Gerrit Cole 49.0 8.0 3.8 0.8 .310 72.5 % 4.04 3.86 0.6
Jeanmar Gomez 46.0 5.2 3.2 0.9 .307 67.7 % 4.72 4.39 0.3
Kyle McPherson 43.0 6.8 2.4 1.0 .305 70.7 % 4.08 3.98 0.5
Phillip Irwin 46.0 5.9 2.2 0.9 .305 68.7 % 4.22 3.97 0.5
Total 943.0 7.1 3.1 0.9 .303 71.2 % 3.97 3.84 12.0

The Pirates get one of the lower innings projections of any team, mainly because they’ve assembled a rotation of guys with extensive injury histories. Burnett and Rodriguez give the team a couple of mostly reliable starters, but they aren’t anyone’s idea of front-of-the-rotation arms either, and then it becomes a big jumble of guess work. Can Liriano stay healthy enough to pitch regularly? Zips and Steamer both see him pitching pretty well when he’s on the mound, but who knows how long that will last.

The good news for Pittsburgh is that help is on the way, and the kids on the farm might actually be upgrades over some of the back-end guys currently in place. Gerrit Cole might be the Pirates third best starter right now, and Cistulli-favorite Phil Irwin gets a pretty nice projection as well. Toss in Kyle McPherson and the eventual arrival of Jameson Taillon — though that might have to wait for 2014 — and there’s some interesting pitching in Pittsburgh’s future. It’s just not quite here yet.

#21 Mariners

Felix Hernandez 229.0 8.5 2.4 0.7 .306 73.7 % 3.16 3.01 5.5
Hisashi Iwakuma 160.0 6.8 2.6 0.9 .304 71.3 % 3.93 3.82 2.2
Joe Saunders 186.0 5.4 2.7 1.1 .298 70.4 % 4.33 4.32 1.4
Erasmo Ramirez 107.0 6.0 2.5 1.0 .299 69.6 % 4.21 4.14 1.0
Blake Beavan 106.0 4.2 1.9 1.2 .297 67.4 % 4.69 4.60 0.5
Brandon Maurer 109.0 6.4 4.2 0.9 .301 69.2 % 4.61 4.49 0.6
Jeremy Bonderman 46.0 6.2 3.1 1.1 .300 69.9 % 4.59 4.45 0.3
Danny Hultzen 26.0 8.7 6.0 0.8 .305 71.0 % 4.57 4.45 0.2
Total 970.0 6.5 2.8 0.9 .301 70.7 % 4.07 3.97 11.7

The King is great, but his council are the kinds of assistants that get rulers deposed. Felix accounts for 47% of the entire rotation’s projected WAR, which is both a tribute to how amazing he is and a cautionary tale about everyone who follows him. Iwakuma is a decent enough pitcher who shouldn’t be anyone’s #2, and then it gets questionable in a hurry. I’d bet on Erasmo Ramirez beating this projection if the Mariners actually committed to giving him a rotation spot, but he very well could end up in Triple-A watching Blake Beavan pitch every fifth day.

With Brandon Maurer, there’s some interesting long term upside, but he’s also never pitched above Double-A, and the secondary stuff probably isn’t good enough yet for him to be a real asset in the rotation. Joe Saunders is what he is, and the fences coming in at Safeco won’t do him any favors, especially considering his problems with right-handed hitters. While the Mariners “Big Three” pitching prospects have received a lot of hype, none of them look anywhere near big league ready. Take away Felix and this rotation would be among the worst in the league. As it is, he pushes them up to 20th through his greatness alone.

#22 Royals

James Shields 221.0 7.8 2.4 1.0 .311 72.1 % 3.82 3.60 4.4
Jeremy Guthrie 180.0 5.3 2.6 1.2 .301 70.1 % 4.54 4.59 1.5
Ervin Santana 182.0 6.6 3.1 1.3 .302 70.0 % 4.65 4.60 1.5
Wade Davis 162.0 6.9 3.4 1.1 .301 71.9 % 4.37 4.42 1.7
Bruce Chen 81.0 6.2 2.7 1.3 .303 70.0 % 4.71 4.62 0.7
Luis Mendoza 40.0 5.0 3.3 0.9 .308 68.9 % 4.66 4.54 0.4
Will Smith 48.0 5.4 3.2 1.1 .304 68.8 % 4.77 4.55 0.4
Danny Duffy 18.0 8.2 4.1 1.1 .307 72.1 % 4.33 4.26 0.2
Felipe Paulino 19.0 8.2 3.6 1.0 .316 71.8 % 4.21 3.95 0.3
Total 951.0 6.6 2.9 1.1 .304 70.8 % 4.39 4.32 11.0

The great rotation overhaul of 2013 looks like a dud. The projections still love James Shields, though without the Rays shifting defense around to deflate his BABIP, the results aren’t expected to be quite as good as they have in the past. But, man, the non-Shields starters…

There isn’t an above average pitcher to be found anywhere after Shields, with a collection of innings eaters piling on top of each other to combine for something less than mediocrity. The Royals have bet the farm on an improved rotation carrying their young position players into contention, but based on these projections, it just isn’t going to work out as KC had hoped. There’s probably more hope for Davis than this suggests, given the complexities involved with reliever-to-starter conversion projects, but there just isn’t much upside in guys like Guthrie, Santana, and Chen, and most of the Royals young arms have either fizzled or just aren’t ready for prime time. If these projections hold, it’s only a matter of time until we begin hearing rumblings of teams calling the Royals to check on Shields availability.

#23 Mets

Jon Niese 201.0 7.5 2.5 0.9 .310 71.6 % 3.81 3.54 3.2
Matt Harvey 168.0 8.9 3.9 0.9 .305 73.4 % 3.85 3.82 2.1
Shaun Marcum 134.0 7.5 2.6 1.0 .296 73.5 % 3.68 3.73 1.8
Dillon Gee 137.0 7.3 3.1 1.0 .307 70.3 % 4.23 4.07 1.3
Jeremy Hefner 81.0 5.9 2.7 1.0 .308 70.1 % 4.42 4.24 0.6
Johan Santana 97.0 7.5 2.8 1.1 .301 72.9 % 4.01 3.96 1.1
Collin McHugh 40.0 7.1 3.7 1.0 .310 70.4 % 4.51 4.38 0.2
Zack Wheeler 48.0 8.5 4.5 0.8 .305 71.9 % 4.08 3.97 0.5
Total 906.0 7.6 3.1 1.0 .305 71.9 % 3.98 3.87 11.0

In a year, the Mets should be quite a bit higher than this. Jon Niese remains a good breakout candidate, and Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler both project as average starters right now, with serious potential for more than that down the line. The core of a good rotation is in place. Now, the Mets just have to be patient enough to wait for those guys to develop into a really good front three.

With Marcum, Santana, and Gee, they have some interesting and potentially decent supporting pieces in place while the team makes that transition, but health concerns hang over all three and limit the amount of innings we can project for any of them. That leaves a chunk of innings going to placeholders like Hefner and McHugh, which drags down the Mets overall total. If Santana can get healthy and Marcum can stay healthy, though, the Mets could have a pretty interesting group of five for the second half of the season, especially if Wheeler gets to the show before the All-Star break. There’s reasons for hope here. That hope just needs a little more seasoning, though.

#24 Orioles

Jason Hammel 174.0 7.5 3.1 0.9 .304 71.6 % 3.97 3.82 3.2
Wei-Yin Chen 163.0 6.2 2.4 1.2 .291 72.1 % 4.16 4.35 2.0
Chris Tillman 158.0 6.9 3.3 1.2 .295 71.4 % 4.46 4.52 1.6
Miguel Gonzalez 146.0 6.8 3.5 1.2 .301 71.3 % 4.49 4.57 1.4
Jake Arrieta 122.0 7.3 4.0 1.1 .305 69.4 % 4.71 4.49 1.3
Zach Britton 44.0 6.3 3.9 0.9 .310 69.0 % 4.68 4.35 0.5
Jair Jurrjens 47.0 4.6 3.0 1.6 .304 67.2 % 5.57 5.35 0.1
Dylan Bundy 40.0 7.5 3.7 1.0 .307 71.5 % 4.30 4.23 0.5
Total 894.0 6.8 3.3 1.1 .300 70.9 % 4.41 4.38 10.7

One quick note here – Kevin Gasuman isn’t included because we don’t have ZIPS/Steamer projections for him, but given that he was a polished college arm who marauded his way through the minors after signing, I wouldn’t be surprised if he spent a decent chunk of the season in Baltimore and pitched pretty well to boot. So, feel free to bump this projection up a bit in order to include him in the overall plan.

Somewhat like the Pirates and Mets, the seeds of a good rotation are here, but the young guys are more potential than performance at this point, and the lack of a real ace up front holds the overall projection down. There aren’t any huge glaring weaknesses here, but five average (or in Hammel’s case, slightly above average) starters doesn’t make a great rotation, and that’s essentially what the Orioles have here. With Bundy, Gausman, and maybe a couple of holdovers from the current group, there’s some interesting long term potential for the Orioles, but 2013 looks like a bit of a step backwards from last year’s surprisingly strong run.

#25 Brewers

Yovani Gallardo 199.0 9.0 3.2 0.9 .310 73.6 % 3.71 3.50 3.7
Marco Estrada 187.0 8.4 2.6 1.1 .306 72.9 % 3.89 3.73 2.9
Mike Fiers 136.0 8.2 3.1 1.1 .298 74.0 % 3.91 4.02 1.7
Chris Narveson 122.0 7.1 3.4 1.1 .311 69.9 % 4.62 4.27 1.1
Wily Peralta 129.0 7.8 5.0 0.8 .309 70.6 % 4.51 4.31 1.1
Mark Rogers 81.0 7.0 6.0 0.8 .302 71.0 % 4.69 4.74 0.3
Johnny Hellweg 40.0 6.4 7.7 1.2 .313 68.8 % 6.18 6.11 -0.4
Total 894.0 8.0 3.8 1.0 .307 71.9 % 4.22 4.08 10.4

Remember when I said the Giants maybe had the least pitching depth beyond their starters in baseball? If it’s not them, it’s Milwaukee. Rogers looked like he had harnessed his impressive stuff last summer, but a miserable spring (7 IP, 12 BB, 3 K) has him ticketed for the bullpen simply because he’s out of options, and there’s just not much in the way of interesting options after that. There’s a reason the team keeps getting tied to Kyle Lohse – he would be a pretty big upgrade over the internal candidates for the Brewers rotation.

That isn’t to say that the front four don’t have any potential. Gallardo’s a good pitcher, while Estrada and Fiers are going to look good on the nights they don’t give up any home runs. HR rate has a lot of fluctuation, and there will be stretches where these guys keep the ball in the park and look like world beaters. We saw stretches like that from both last year. The problem is that they probably can’t sustain those stretches, so there’s also going to be nights where they’re throwing Home Run Derby. If they had another quality starter, having two interesting upside guys with big variance at the back of the rotation would be more palatable. As it is, the Brewers look like they’re at least one good pitcher short of being a contender this year.

#26 Twins

Scott Diamond 191.0 4.9 2.5 0.8 .313 68.0 % 4.46 4.05 2.7
Kevin Correia 146.0 4.9 2.8 1.3 .305 67.1 % 5.05 4.75 0.9
Vance Worley 157.0 6.8 3.1 1.0 .313 70.3 % 4.37 4.09 2.1
Mike Pelfrey 143.0 5.0 2.9 1.0 .309 68.2 % 4.76 4.45 1.3
Liam Hendriks 91.0 5.5 2.8 1.1 .307 68.2 % 4.76 4.47 0.8
Cole DeVries 83.0 5.4 2.4 1.4 .309 67.8 % 5.04 4.74 0.5
Kyle Gibson 90.0 6.6 3.3 1.1 .310 70.0 % 4.65 4.44 0.8
Total 901.0 5.5 2.8 1.1 .310 68.5 % 4.69 4.38 9.2

When your #1 starter has a projected strikeout rate of 4.9 K/9, you’re probably in for a long year. I don’t even know what to say about this group, honestly. Kevin Correia isn’t the worst pitcher in baseball, but he’s just here to eat innings and try not to embarrass the state of Minnesota too badly in the process. Mike Pelfrey is a relcamation project who cost millions, while everyone else got reclamation projects for free. Those guys might be good for keeping the innings count down on Kyle Gibson and Liam Hendriks, but they’re not moving the organization forward in any kind of meaningful way.

I get that the Twins wanted to rebuild. I liked the decision to swap Ben Revere for Vance Worley and Trevor May. I just don’t know why rebuilding includes so many guys with no real future in Minnesota, nor any real hope to turn into interesting trade chips at the deadline. This looks like deck chair rearranging more than building for the future.

#27 Indians

Justin Masterson 181.0 6.7 3.3 0.7 .312 69.3 % 4.17 3.83 2.7
Ubaldo Jimenez 193.0 7.8 4.1 0.9 .307 70.8 % 4.39 4.17 2.2
Brett Myers 152.0 5.9 2.5 1.1 .305 69.7 % 4.34 4.14 1.8
Zach McAllister 136.0 6.5 2.9 1.1 .316 69.2 % 4.70 4.31 1.3
Scott Kazmir 91.0 5.9 4.6 1.3 .300 68.4 % 5.36 5.38 -0.2
Carlos Carrasco 87.0 6.4 3.4 1.1 .306 68.8 % 4.78 4.53 0.6
Trevor Bauer 44.0 9.2 4.9 1.0 .310 72.8 % 4.27 4.19 0.5
Corey Kluber 16.0 7.2 4.0 1.0 .320 69.4 % 4.69 4.36 0.1
Daisuke Matsuzaka 16.0 7.2 3.9 1.3 .306 69.9 % 4.86 4.79 0.1
Total 916.0 6.8 3.5 1.0 .309 69.7 % 4.53 4.29 9.1

Thing you don’t really want to write about a contender: “Their season probably hangs on whether or not Scott Kazmir can resurrect his career.”

But that’s basically where the Indians are. Kazmir has shown decent velocity in spring training, so he’s won the fifth starter job and will try and make these projections look silly. He hasn’t been good for a while, but if his stuff is actually back to where it was in his Tampa Bay days, it’s not impossible to think that he could be a useful starter for Cleveland. Which is good, because they need their #5 starter to pitch well in order to compensate for the fact that their first few starters don’t stack up well against other contenders.

Masterson, Jimenez, and Myers would be a terrific #3-#5, offering both upside and some durability, but as a #1-#3 on a team trying to win, they don’t inspire much confidence. The Indians hitters should be good enough to keep them hanging around the Wild Card race most of the summer, but if they’re serious about making a run at this thing, they need to upgrade at least one rotation spot. Maybe Trevor Bauer can be that mid-season boost. If not, they’ll probably have to look outside the organization.

#28 Padres

Edinson Volquez 137.0 8.4 4.7 0.7 .304 71.8 % 4.03 3.92 1.2
Clayton Richard 156.0 5.2 2.5 0.9 .299 69.8 % 4.16 4.09 1.1
Jason Marquis 143.0 5.9 3.0 0.9 .307 69.1 % 4.40 4.21 0.8
Cory Luebke 146.0 8.3 2.9 0.8 .295 73.9 % 3.37 3.42 2.3
Andrew Cashner 124.0 9.0 3.6 0.8 .303 72.9 % 3.54 3.40 2.0
Tyson Ross 81.0 6.7 4.0 0.8 .307 71.6 % 4.14 4.11 0.5
Eric Stults 43.0 5.8 3.3 0.9 .300 70.5 % 4.31 4.32 0.2
Anthony Bass 40.0 7.2 3.4 0.8 .300 71.8 % 3.89 3.79 0.4
Robbie Erlin 40.0 8.3 2.6 1.0 .304 72.5 % 3.69 3.61 0.5
Total 911.0 7.2 3.3 0.8 .302 71.4 % 3.94 3.86 9.0

Luebke, Cashner, Erlin, and Bass wouldn’t be a terrible front four if you could pencil them in for 200 innings apiece. Unfortunately, it’s not even clear that the Padres will get 200 innings combined from that group, so the rest of the rotation is fill-ins and placeholders, and not a great collection of placeholders at that. Their raw numbers will look okay thanks to Petco Park, but once you account for the run environment, it becomes pretty clear that the Padres have real pitching problems.

Losing Casey Kelly to Tommy John surgery didn’t help matters any either. While the Padres are theoretically both trying to win now and building for the future, they seem stuck in between two directions, and don’t have a rotation that points towards either plan working out that well. A strong healthy season from Cashner would be a positive step, but they’re going to need more than that to fix this rotation long term.

#29 Marlins

Ricky Nolasco 200.0 6.2 2.1 1.0 .313 69.6 % 4.17 3.79 3.0
Henderson Alvarez 160.0 4.9 2.5 0.8 .306 68.9 % 4.28 4.09 1.8
Wade LeBlanc 146.0 6.5 2.8 1.1 .310 70.6 % 4.43 4.19 1.5
Nathan Eovaldi 130.0 6.6 4.1 0.9 .306 69.8 % 4.57 4.38 1.0
Jacob Turner 135.0 6.0 3.7 1.0 .305 68.7 % 4.68 4.45 1.0
Kevin Slowey 46.0 5.8 2.1 1.3 .305 68.8 % 4.72 4.51 0.3
Alex Sanabia 40.0 5.6 2.8 1.3 .304 69.2 % 4.81 4.71 0.2
Brad Hand 45.0 6.8 5.7 1.2 .299 70.2 % 5.24 5.27 -0.1
Total 902.0 6.0 3.0 1.0 .308 69.5 % 4.48 4.25 8.7

“Hey, that Ricky Nolasco projection looks pretty good.”
“Look at his expected BABIP and strand rate again.”
“Oh. Same old Ricky.”

On the one hand, I’ll give the Marlins credit. If you’re not going to win, it’s probably better to not win with guys like Turner, Eovaldi, and Alvarez. Collect enough interesting arms with flaws and one or two might figure things out, giving you a base to build off for 2014. On the other hand, this rotation is dreadful, and Nolasco probably won’t last the year in Miami. Jose Fernandez can not get to Miami soon enough.

#30 Astros

Bud Norris 192.0 8.4 3.6 1.2 .307 72.1 % 4.35 4.22 1.7
Lucas Harrell 135.0 5.9 3.9 0.8 .310 68.1 % 4.63 4.21 1.2
Philip Humber 129.0 6.4 2.8 1.3 .309 68.9 % 4.80 4.50 0.8
Erik Bedard 85.0 7.9 3.8 1.1 .314 70.3 % 4.64 4.28 0.7
Brad Peacock 87.0 7.3 4.6 1.2 .318 69.5 % 5.20 4.90 0.1
Alex White 83.0 6.1 4.0 1.1 .307 69.2 % 4.89 4.71 0.3
Jordan Lyles 43.0 6.1 2.7 1.1 .311 67.8 % 4.64 4.23 0.4
John Ely 40.0 7.1 3.1 1.1 .312 70.5 % 4.44 4.16 0.4
Jarred Cosart 40.0 6.4 5.0 1.2 .312 69.4 % 5.20 5.17 -0.1
Dallas Keuchel 42.0 4.5 3.0 1.1 .313 65.9 % 5.28 4.73 0.1
Total 877.0 6.9 3.7 1.1 .310 69.5 % 4.73 4.44 5.8

This might not be the worst rotation anyone has ever put together on purpose, but it’s in the conversation. This is the kind of group you expect to finish the season when your original starters got into a huge fight at a bar and all landed on the disabled list. The Astros are taking “throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks” to a whole other level. And they’re probably going to trade Bud Norris at some point this year, so it’s only going to get worse.

The Astros plan makes sense if they can keep from alienating the entire city of Houston in the process. This is the kind of rotation that might make an entire city turn away from baseball for a while, though. This is why the Astros are going to be terrible. They’re going to give up a lot of runs this year. Long term, it may be worth it. Short term? It’s going to be ugly.

2013 Positional Power Rankings: Starting Pitchers (#1-#15).
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
On to the list.

#1 Tigers

Justin Verlander 229.0 8.8 2.4 0.9 .298 75.1 % 3.24 3.19 5.8
Max Scherzer 176.0 9.3 2.8 1.0 .313 74.0 % 3.67 3.47 3.8
Doug Fister 186.0 6.3 1.9 0.8 .307 70.1 % 3.86 3.61 3.7
Anibal Sanchez 180.0 7.0 2.5 1.0 .309 70.9 % 4.10 3.87 3.1
Rick Porcello 132.0 5.4 2.3 0.8 .317 67.9 % 4.39 3.92 2.2
Drew Smyly 49.0 8.2 3.2 1.0 .306 73.0 % 3.93 3.81 0.9
Casey Crosby 40.0 6.4 5.9 1.1 .310 68.7 % 5.58 5.38 0.0
Total 990.0 7.5 2.6 0.9 .308 71.7 % 3.87 3.66 19.6

When you start with the best pitcher in baseball, you have a pretty nice advantage over everyone else, but this Tigers rotation would be in the top 10 even if you took Verlander out of the picture. This is a strong group across the board, with both excellence and depth, to the point where they might end up trading a relatively cheap, young, average starting pitcher just because they don’t have room for everyone. It might not be quite as good as the rotation the Phillies put together a few years ago, but it’s close.

I’d also suggest that the data above makes a pretty decent case for why the Tigers should just hang on to Rick Porcello. The big drop-off between Smyly and Crosby could become a legitimate problem if they move Porcello and then someone goes down. The Tigers have six capable starters, but most big league teams ending up needing six capable starters to get through a season. If they got to a point where they had to depend on Crosby as their first fill-in and then various minor leaguers behind him, things could go downhill in a hurry. It might not be fair to Drew Smyly to start him back in Triple-A, but unless the Tigers get a really great offer for Porcello, they’re probably best served just maintaining their depth. No one ever missed the playoffs because they had too many good pitchers, but a decent amount have missed because their emergency fill-ins were pretty terrible.

#2 Nationals

Stephen Strasburg 191.0 10.7 2.5 0.7 .309 77.9 % 2.69 2.61 5.7
Gio Gonzalez 202.0 9.1 3.5 0.7 .300 74.9 % 3.22 3.24 4.3
Jordan Zimmermann 175.0 7.1 2.1 0.9 .300 73.3 % 3.54 3.60 3.0
Dan Haren 165.0 7.3 1.7 1.0 .303 72.5 % 3.66 3.53 2.9
Ross Detwiler 129.0 6.0 3.1 0.8 .303 70.4 % 4.13 4.02 1.5
Chris Young 26.0 6.2 3.1 1.4 .295 71.6 % 4.65 4.81 0.1
Ross Ohlendorf 16.0 6.3 3.4 1.2 .300 70.5 % 4.66 4.72 0.1
Yunesky Maya 17.0 4.6 2.8 1.3 .305 67.4 % 5.13 4.98 0.0
Total 920.0 8.1 2.6 0.9 .303 73.7 % 3.48 3.44 17.6

The Nationals are basically the Tigers without the safety net. Their front five are also excellent, led by perhaps the game’s best starter on a per-inning basis, but they don’t have Detroit’s depth behind him. In fact, if any Nationals starter went down in week one, it’s not abundantly clear what the plan would be. Chris Young is in camp with the team, but might be able to secure a Major League job with another club, in which case Washington has agreed to let him go. The #6 starter candidates after Young are uninspiring, and really, Young isn’t that exciting himself.

But, that’s a lot of attention on the imperfection of a still-great rotation. Strasburg, Gio, Zimmerman, and Haren provide an elite front four, and if Strasburg blows through the 200 inning marker, he could very well take the title of the game’s preeminent ace away from Verlander. This rotation was built for October, and if the Nationals get into the playoffs with the big four all healthy and unrestricted, then they’re going to be very difficult to beat.

#3 Rangers

Yu Darvish 215.0 10.0 3.6 0.8 .307 74.6 % 3.35 3.23 5.9
Matt Harrison 184.0 5.8 2.8 1.0 .298 70.9 % 4.14 4.08 3.2
Derek Holland 171.0 7.4 3.0 1.2 .300 71.7 % 4.23 4.17 2.8
Alexi Ogando 105.0 7.8 2.8 1.1 .292 74.1 % 3.75 3.92 2.0
Nick Tepesch 81.0 5.7 3.5 1.1 .305 69.2 % 4.78 4.70 0.9
Colby Lewis 103.0 7.6 2.2 1.3 .296 73.3 % 3.99 4.09 1.8
Martin Perez 32.0 5.2 4.3 1.1 .311 68.5 % 5.20 5.04 0.2
Robbie Ross 16.0 6.7 3.2 0.7 .299 73.0 % 3.64 3.79 0.3
Justin Grimm 8.0 5.6 3.4 1.3 .311 68.6 % 5.09 4.90 0.1
Total 917.0 7.5 3.1 1.0 .301 72.2 % 4.00 3.97 17.2

All winter, we kept wondering why the Rangers wouldn’t just pony up the 24th pick and sign Kyle Lohse. They’re at the right spot on the win curve, that pick isn’t super valuable, and the back end of their rotation is in shambles. Right?

Err, maybe not. I’ll admit to not knowing much about Nick Tepesch before spring training began, but the Steamer/ZIPS combo projection is pretty optimistic about his chances to fill the #5 spot until Colby Lewis returns, and it doesn’t hate the young kids behind him either. When the Rangers looked at their rotation and decided that Lohse wasn’t necessary, they may very well have been correct.

That paragraph also buries the lede a bit, since we skipped right over a glowing projection for Yu Darvish. His +5.9 WAR projection is the highest of any pitcher in baseball — ahead of Verlander, ahead of Strasburg, ahead of Felix. The command issues aren’t expected to completely go away, but the combination of strikeouts and HR prevention make him an ace’s ace, and his forecast is the reason the Rangers do so well here, even with a mix-and-match approach to the #5 spot. The projection for Ogando is also very rosy, and questions about his spring velocity might cause you to dampen that slightly, but there’s no amount of adjustments that can get us away from the conclusion that the Rangers rotation is the strength of their team, not the weakness.

#4 Phillies

Cole Hamels 202.0 8.7 2.2 0.9 .303 74.8 % 3.32 3.28 4.3
Cliff Lee 231.0 8.7 1.4 0.9 .308 75.2 % 3.11 2.94 5.9
Roy Halladay 167.0 7.6 1.7 0.8 .308 72.2 % 3.43 3.15 3.8
Kyle Kendrick 122.0 5.8 2.7 1.1 .298 70.0 % 4.34 4.33 1.0
John Lannan 135.0 5.2 3.6 0.8 .309 69.5 % 4.55 4.39 1.1
Aaron Cook 42.0 3.9 3.0 0.9 .307 67.5 % 4.84 4.52 0.3
Tyler Cloyd 24.0 6.2 2.6 1.2 .304 70.6 % 4.45 4.42 0.2
Total 924.0 7.3 2.2 0.9 .306 72.3 % 3.70 3.56 16.6

It’s still tough to do much better than Hamels-Lee-Halladay at the front of the rotation, even though Doc hasn’t looked like himself in spring training. We’ve reduced his innings count to account for some of the health uncertainties around him, but the forecasts still think he’s going to be a frontline starter when he takes the mound. If they’re right and he stays healthy, the Phillies are contenders.

If he’s not healthy, though, the down-spiral begins. Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan aren’t horrendous, but if the team has to start giving innings to Aaron Cook and Tyler Cloyd at the expense of Roy Halladay, that’s going to cause a real problem. The drop-off between the front three and everyone else is expansive, and given Halladay’s health, the Phillies probably should have been more aggressive in upgrading their rotation depth.

#5 Yankees

CC Sabathia 213.0 8.2 2.3 0.8 .310 72.7 % 3.53 3.31 5.2
Hiroki Kuroda 187.0 6.6 2.2 1.1 .304 70.9 % 4.10 3.96 3.1
Andy Pettitte 169.0 7.4 2.7 0.9 .307 71.3 % 3.95 3.70 3.3
Ivan Nova 151.0 6.9 3.1 1.1 .311 69.6 % 4.47 4.17 2.1
Phil Hughes 107.0 7.4 2.6 1.4 .301 71.9 % 4.42 4.38 1.3
David Phelps 40.0 7.4 3.1 1.1 .310 71.6 % 4.30 4.15 0.6
Chien-Ming Wang 46.0 4.8 2.7 1.1 .312 68.4 % 4.82 4.59 0.4
Michael Pineda 19.0 8.2 3.1 1.1 .304 72.9 % 4.11 4.01 0.3
Total 932.0 7.2 2.6 1.0 .307 71.2 % 4.08 3.89 16.3

Predictors of Yankee doom and gloom – this is why they’re still contenders. Yes, the offense has all kinds of problems, and they’re not going to score nearly as many runs as they regularly do, but this is still an elite pitching staff. Sabathia, Kuroda, and Pettitte might not be young, but they’re still excellent, and assuming that any team with that front three is going to struggle is a reach at best. Toss in decent performances from Nova, Hughes, and Phelps, and maybe the eventual return of Michael Pineda, and the Yankees rotation is strong at the top, deep at the back, and offers the chance to turn a pitcher into a hitter if need be.

For the future, maybe there’s real concern, especially if Pettitte joins Rivera in retiring (again) after season’s end. These guys are getting older, and age will eventually catch up to them, but there’s no reason to expect 2013 to be the year where they prove too old to keep opponents from scoring.

#6 Dodgers

Clayton Kershaw 211.0 9.5 2.7 0.7 .295 77.0 % 2.85 2.94 4.9
Zack Greinke 186.0 8.7 2.3 0.7 .304 74.4 % 3.11 2.97 4.3
Josh Beckett 178.0 7.9 2.8 1.0 .297 73.3 % 3.72 3.76 2.3
Hyun-Jin Ryu 146.0 8.2 3.1 1.2 .297 73.8 % 3.87 4.02 1.4
Chad Billingsley 135.0 7.5 3.2 0.7 .306 71.4 % 3.75 3.58 2.0
Chris Capuano 40.0 7.3 2.6 1.1 .300 72.4 % 3.95 3.92 0.4
Ted Lilly 47.0 7.0 2.7 1.3 .287 73.1 % 4.10 4.39 0.2
Aaron Harang 44.0 6.4 3.5 1.0 .300 71.3 % 4.32 4.33 0.3
Total 987.0 8.3 2.8 0.9 .299 73.9 % 3.50 3.51 15.9

This depth chart was impossible, because there are just so many unknowns. Is Greinke’s elbow soreness nothing, in which case his projected innings total too low? Is Billingsley’s elbow actually going to hold up without surgery? Are the expensive veterans going to sit around and wait for their turn while pitching in relief? I don’t have the answers, and I’m not sure the Dodgers do either. This could go so many ways.

On the one hand, the Dodgers have enviable depth. On the other hand, they’re more likely to need it than just about anyone else. And they can’t option their depth to Triple-A, so maybe they don’t have as much depth as it looks. I’m just going to stop writing now, once I point out that Kershaw and Greinke is a pretty amazing 1-2 punch, because after that, I have no idea who is going to do what.

#7 Diamondbacks

Ian Kennedy 205.0 7.8 2.5 1.1 .302 74.1 % 3.76 3.88 3.4
Trevor Cahill 206.0 6.9 3.2 0.8 .303 71.4 % 3.84 3.79 3.6
Wade Miley 179.0 6.6 2.7 0.9 .307 70.6 % 4.05 3.81 3.1
Brandon McCarthy 137.0 6.6 1.9 0.9 .308 70.8 % 3.86 3.62 2.7
Patrick Corbin 65.0 7.3 2.8 1.0 .311 71.0 % 4.06 3.86 1.1
Tyler Skaggs 69.0 7.6 3.6 1.2 .309 71.6 % 4.49 4.41 0.7
Daniel Hudson 50.0 7.2 2.4 1.1 .309 71.5 % 4.05 3.81 0.9
Randall Delgado 33.0 7.5 4.1 1.0 .311 70.2 % 4.57 4.32 0.4
Total 944.0 7.1 2.8 0.9 .306 71.6 % 3.97 3.86 15.8

For the last few months, I’ve been somewhat defending the D’Backs off-season, in that while I don’t love all the moves individually, I still think the roster as constructed looks like a pretty good team. And it has nothing to do with how many good clubhouse white guys they acquired this winter. It has everything to do with this pitching staff, which might not have a true ace at the top end but also doesn’t have any obvious weaknesses, and might be the deepest staff in baseball once you factor in their ability to keep all of these guys in the organization past Opening Day.

With Kennedy, Cahill, Miley, and McCarthy, they have four above average starters, and enough weapons behind them to mix and match the #5 spot and fill in for McCarthy when he takes his annual trip to the DL. If Daniel Hudson returns to anything close to his pre-surgery form when he eventually returns, they’re going to have some tough decisions on who gets the ball every five days. This kind of rotation might not be optimal for October baseball, but for getting to the playoffs, having eight useful starters in the organization is a pretty good plan.

#8 White Sox

Chris Sale 207.0 9.0 2.9 0.9 .302 74.2 % 3.47 3.43 4.9
Jake Peavy 186.0 7.6 2.2 1.2 .300 72.4 % 3.96 3.90 3.4
Gavin Floyd 160.0 7.2 2.8 1.0 .306 70.6 % 4.15 4.00 2.8
Jose Quintana 131.0 5.8 3.3 1.0 .304 70.3 % 4.51 4.38 1.7
Dylan Axelrod 97.0 6.4 3.4 1.1 .309 70.5 % 4.56 4.48 1.2
John Danks 92.0 6.5 3.0 1.1 .303 69.8 % 4.47 4.24 1.3
Hector Santiago 40.0 9.4 5.0 1.2 .299 75.4 % 4.22 4.59 0.4
Simon Castro 18.0 5.1 3.3 1.4 .305 67.5 % 5.36 5.17 0.1
Total 931.0 7.4 3.0 1.1 .303 71.7 % 4.11 4.03 15.8

If Chris Sale lives up to this projection, the White Sox could be sneaky playoff contenders again, even with all the question marks behind him. While Don Cooper and the training staff have a long history of keeping pitchers healthy, there are a number of question marks in the rotation, with John Danks’ ability to contribute chief among those.

Luckily for the White Sox, these forecasts don’t think that there’s really much of a drop-off in going from Danks to Dylan Axelrod, giving them very similar forecasts across the board. Unfortunately, with Danks on the shelf to start the season, the White Sox are a bit thin behind Axelrod, and another injury could create some real problems. Thus, Cooper and Herm Schneider will need to keep working their voodoo to keep the current five healthy as long as possible, at least until Danks is able to contribute again. Sale gives them a real weapon up front, but if they’re going to keep pace with the rest of the AL contenders, they need their rotation to be strong all the way through.

#9 Cubs

Jeff Samardzija 182.0 8.9 3.4 0.9 .304 73.2 % 3.75 3.64 3.3
Edwin Jackson 182.0 7.6 2.9 0.9 .307 72.1 % 3.84 3.65 3.2
Matt Garza 151.0 8.2 2.8 1.0 .302 73.6 % 3.66 3.62 2.7
Scott Feldman 122.0 6.6 2.6 0.9 .309 70.0 % 4.08 3.79 2.0
Scott Baker 87.0 7.9 2.4 1.1 .306 73.6 % 3.81 3.77 1.4
Travis Wood 81.0 7.1 3.1 1.3 .301 72.1 % 4.37 4.46 0.7
Carlos Villanueva 73.0 8.1 3.3 1.1 .298 74.0 % 3.88 3.99 1.0
Casey Coleman 16.0 6.5 3.8 1.1 .304 70.7 % 4.60 4.54 0.1
Total 893.0 7.9 3.0 1.0 .304 72.5 % 3.89 3.79 14.5

And here we get our first big surprise. Yes, the Chicago Cubs, top ten rotation in baseball. At least, according to this system. Samardzija/Jackson/Garza give the team three guys who can miss bats at the front of the rotation, at least when Garza eventually gets healthy anyway, and the front office did a nice job assembling a collection of underrated guys to fill out the last few spots in the rotation over the winter. If they kept all these guys together for the whole season, the Cubs might be surprisingly decent, at least on the mound.

But, that’s where one flaw of this system likely comes out. We’re just projecting out depth charts based on current rosters, not accounting for likely transactions throughout the season. And, let’s be honest, no one expects Matt Garza to finish the year with the Cubs. And if Scott Baker or Scott Feldman are pitching well in July, you’d have to imagine that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer would be taking calls on those two as well. This Cubs team is still building for the future, and with three starters on the last year of their deals, this rotation probably doesn’t stick together all season. So, expect the Cubs actual performance to be worse than this, especially in the second half of the season.

But, it’s still worth noting that the group they’ve currently assembled is actually pretty interesting.

#10 Athletics

Jarrod Parker 197.0 7.0 3.3 0.7 .305 70.9 % 3.95 3.75 3.3
Tommy Milone 178.0 6.7 1.8 1.0 .311 71.1 % 3.90 3.62 3.2
A.J. Griffin 183.0 6.5 2.5 1.1 .296 70.9 % 4.12 4.14 2.2
Brett Anderson 143.0 6.4 2.4 0.7 .307 69.9 % 3.83 3.65 2.5
Bartolo Colon 149.0 5.6 1.8 1.0 .300 70.5 % 4.02 3.89 2.2
Dan Straily 42.0 7.9 3.8 1.1 .299 73.7 % 4.11 4.36 0.4
Andrew Werner 46.0 6.2 3.1 1.1 .318 66.9 % 4.99 4.42 0.4
Total 939.0 6.5 2.5 0.9 .304 70.6 % 4.02 3.87 14.2

I’m a known Brett Anderson fanboy, so I’ll take the over on this forecast, which could propel the A’s forward a couple of spots. Also, I’ll note that the BABIP forecast for Tommy Milone is a little strange, given that he’s a fly ball guy in a pitcher’s park with a good outfield defense, and he got a decent amount of infield flies last year. But, at the same time, he was all of those things last year and posted a .310 BABIP, so maybe the forecasts are right.

In some ways, the A’s and Cubs have similar staffs, in that they don’t have a knockout ace up front but they have some interesting guys at the back. These types of staffs are usually underrated, but given what Oakland did last year, they might not be as underrated anymore. If they’re going to keep up with the Rangers and Angels in the AL West, they probably need Anderson and/or Parker to step up and turn into a frontline guy. It’s definitely possible with either one.

#11 Red Sox

Jon Lester 183.0 8.0 3.3 0.8 .309 71.7 % 3.86 3.65 3.9
Ryan Dempster 177.0 7.3 3.2 1.1 .308 71.3 % 4.25 4.06 2.9
Clay Buchholz 150.0 6.3 3.3 0.9 .299 70.4 % 4.20 4.16 2.3
John Lackey 146.0 5.7 3.1 1.1 .311 68.0 % 4.83 4.53 1.7
Felix Doubront 122.0 8.3 3.9 1.0 .313 71.6 % 4.22 3.96 2.1
Franklin Morales 40.0 8.7 4.3 1.1 .301 74.3 % 4.04 4.26 0.6
Allen Webster 40.0 6.7 4.5 0.8 .309 69.6 % 4.60 4.46 0.5
Total 857.0 7.2 3.4 1.0 .308 70.7 % 4.26 4.08 14.0

Surprise #2, and maybe an even bigger surprise than the Cubs. Yes, the Red Sox, who finished 27th in starter’s ERA and 26th in starters FIP last year, are knocking on the door of the top 10. Why?

Well, for one, the system expects Jon Lester to be much better in 2013 than he was in 2012, but it’s not just Lester — these forecasts look at last year’s Red Sox home run problem and assume that it isn’t going to continue this year. 14.4% of the Sox outfield flies allowed by starting pitchers went for homers last year, putting them in the same category as Toronto (14.8%) and Colorado (15.3%). As you know, HR/FB rate isn’t particularly predictive, even for a team in Fenway Park — here are their HR/FB rates from 2008-2011: 9.2%, 10.3%, 8.0%, 10.0%. There’s some seriously positive regression coming to Boston’s pitching staff in 2013, at least in terms of home runs allowed.

Steamer and ZIPS look at this rotation and see one with a bunch of decent arms. The addition of Ryan Dempster is a big plus, and even the hated John Lackey is expected to be a roughly average starting pitcher when he’s on the mound, plus a collection of interesting young arms sharing the extra starts as well. It’s easy to overreact one bad year, and the Red Sox staff was bad last year, but the markers suggest that they’re in for a big improvement this season.

#12 Cardinals

Adam Wainwright 212.0 8.0 2.4 0.7 .311 72.8 % 3.37 3.14 4.6
Jake Westbrook 179.0 5.4 3.0 0.7 .308 69.4 % 4.24 3.98 2.0
Jaime Garcia 156.0 7.2 2.5 0.7 .315 71.4 % 3.67 3.32 3.0
Lance Lynn 130.0 8.3 3.4 0.8 .312 71.7 % 3.90 3.63 2.0
Shelby Miller 123.0 8.6 4.3 0.8 .312 72.3 % 3.97 3.84 1.6
Joe Kelly 40.0 6.1 3.5 0.7 .308 70.6 % 4.10 3.98 0.5
Kevin Siegrist 40.0 6.1 4.9 1.0 .303 68.5 % 5.13 5.02 0.0
Total 881.0 7.3 3.1 0.7 .311 71.3 % 3.88 3.64 13.6

Occasionally, people ask me when Adam Wainwright is going to get back to being an ace. My answer: he already has. He posted a 7.32 ERA last April, which spoiled his overall season line, but his peripherals were excellent from the start, and he was one of the NL’s best pitchers by any metric you want to use after May 1st. Health might always be a lingering question with Wainwright, but when he’s on the mound, he’s a top tier starting pitcher.

After Wainwright, it gets a little shaky. Westbrook is an okay innings eater, but the Cardinals could really use a full season of good health from Jamie Garcia or a big step forward from Shelby Miller to strengthen the middle of the rotation. I like Lance Lynn, but he probably shouldn’t be the #2 starter in October if the Cardinals can get back to the playoffs.

#13 Reds

Johnny Cueto 205.0 6.9 2.5 0.9 .300 73.0 % 3.64 3.72 3.4
Mat Latos 204.0 8.4 2.7 1.0 .298 74.1 % 3.63 3.59 3.7
Homer Bailey 199.0 7.2 2.4 1.0 .305 71.6 % 3.98 3.86 3.0
Bronson Arroyo 204.0 5.4 2.0 1.4 .294 70.2 % 4.56 4.64 1.3
Mike Leake 122.0 6.2 2.2 1.1 .304 70.4 % 4.20 4.06 1.5
Tony Cingrani 24.0 9.3 3.9 1.1 .303 74.2 % 3.94 3.93 0.3
Daniel Corcino 16.0 7.3 4.4 1.2 .301 71.6 % 4.67 4.80 0.1
Total 973.0 7.0 2.5 1.1 .300 72.0 % 3.99 3.98 13.3

Bronson Arroyo made a huge difference for the Reds last year, bouncing back to post a very solid season for Cincinnati, but these forecasts aren’t expecting a repeat, and his drop-off is the main reason why the Reds staff isn’t expected to be in the top tier again. Yes, Aroldis Chapman would have made them better, but he would bumped Mike Leake from the rotation, not Arroyo, so the difference isn’t as stark as you might think. And, of course, not having Chapman in the bullpen would have made that unit worse, so the net effect of shifting Chapman back to closer is actually not so large.

The real question might be how long Arroyo’s leash is, if these forecasts prove accurate, because the system loves Tony Cingrani, and if he can do anything close to those numbers, he’d be a significant improvement on Arroyo if given the chance. With Cueto, Latos, and Bailey at the front, the Reds have a strong front three, but improving their #4 spot should be a priority.

#14 Blue Jays

R.A. Dickey 190.0 6.9 2.4 1.0 .304 71.7 % 3.98 3.92 3.1
Josh Johnson 152.0 7.5 2.9 0.9 .306 72.0 % 3.87 3.69 2.9
Mark Buehrle 208.0 4.9 2.0 1.2 .303 69.1 % 4.53 4.37 2.3
Brandon Morrow 141.0 8.9 3.4 1.0 .309 72.8 % 3.92 3.79 2.5
Ricky Romero 137.0 6.8 4.0 0.9 .304 70.0 % 4.46 4.29 1.6
J.A. Happ 81.0 7.7 3.9 1.2 .307 70.9 % 4.72 4.51 0.8
Chad Jenkins 42.0 4.4 2.9 1.4 .317 66.1 % 5.64 5.19 0.1
Total 951.0 6.8 2.9 1.1 .306 70.7 % 4.28 4.12 13.3

Let’s point out the obvious right away – you should take the under on R.A. Dickey’s BABIP projection, and I’d expect him to easily beat that ERA forecast, even with the shift to the AL East. So, if you want to adjust the Blue Jays up a bit for the low-end forecast on Dickey here, I won’t object. I’d even join you in doing so.

However, we should acknowledge that the Jays rotation still has some real questions. Josh Johnson’s health, Brandon Morrow’s total revamp of his pitching style, and Ricky Romero’s performance are all unsettled issues, giving the Blue Jays staff a pretty big variance in outcomes for the upcoming season, even beyond the “can Dickey do it again?” issue. With J.A. Happ, they have a pretty interesting #6 starter, but he’s apparently not that interested in being a #6 starter, so they’ll have to sort that out as well. After him, it’s downhill in a hurry. So, yes, there’s clear upside with the reigning NL Cy Young winner and a couple of power arms, plus Mark Buehrle to eat innings, but there are scenarios where this all goes south in a hurry.

#15 Rays

David Price 219.0 8.8 2.8 0.8 .299 75.1 % 3.18 3.22 4.8
Jeremy Hellickson 181.0 6.5 3.2 1.1 .290 72.7 % 4.11 4.37 1.4
Matt Moore 182.0 9.2 3.9 1.0 .299 75.1 % 3.68 3.81 2.7
Alex Cobb 171.0 6.8 3.2 0.8 .306 71.1 % 3.94 3.87 2.4
Jeff Niemann 88.0 6.8 2.8 1.0 .301 71.5 % 4.13 4.08 1.0
Roberto Hernandez 72.0 5.4 2.6 1.0 .296 70.1 % 4.25 4.35 0.6
Chris Archer 40.0 7.6 5.2 0.9 .299 71.2 % 4.58 4.61 0.2
Jake Odorizzi 19.0 6.6 3.8 1.2 .296 70.9 % 4.65 4.65 0.1
Total 972.0 7.6 3.3 0.9 .298 72.9 % 3.83 3.91 13.2

When going through the data, I was shocked to see the Rays this low. I had mentally penciled them in for top 10, maybe even top 5, depending on many innings the young kids ended up getting. But, here they sit, #15 overall, lumped in with the Reds, Blue Jays, Giants, and Braves. What’s the deal?

Well, for one thing, these forecasts aren’t big fans of the kids, so giving extra innings to Archer and Odorizzi instead of Roberto Hernandez and Jeff Niemann wouldn’t actually help anything. Secondly, those guys are replacing James Shields, who was excellent last year, so perhaps I should have priced in a bigger discount for that loss. And finally, a lot of what we see as the Rays run prevention value is getting accounted for in non-pitching areas.

Their defense, for instance, is forecast to be among the league’s best once again, and their park favors pitchers to a pretty strong degree, so the park adjustments are also taking some of the credit for the team’s ability to keep opponents from scoring. The first part is why you’ll note that the Rays have a forecast ERA below their forecast FIP, while the second part explains some of why the WAR numbers might look a bit low despite solid raw stats for most of these guys.

And, again, keep in mind that ordinal rank isn’t actually a big deal in may of these cases. The gap between the Rays at #15 and the Cubs at #9 is +1.3 WAR, which is not quite a rounding error over 1,000 innings but isn’t far off from it. With gaps this small, don’t read too much into the actual placement on the list, and with the Rays specifically, remember that a decent portion of their run prevention is defense, not pitching.

Positional Power Rankings: Relief Pitchers (#16-30).
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been going position by position around the sport. We finish up the series with bullpens today, but it’s worth noting that these projections follow a slightly different structure than the rest.

For one, projecting specific innings totals for relievers is a taller task than projecting playing time for position players or even innings totals for starters. There are numerous outside factors impacting bullpen usage, including things that we can’t really predict like the distribution of runs scored and allowed by each team. One team might play in a bunch of blowouts and rarely need their closer, while another could end up in a continuous stream of one run games and ask their best few arms to carry a lion’s share of the workload. Beyond that, the health of a team’s rotation is going to be a factor, as some relievers are also reserve starters who might be pressed into duty mid-season. And the depth charts are continually evolving, as injuries and acquisitions move guys into differing roles that come with different usage patterns.

So, for the relievers, we’ve simply assigned IP totals to each slot on a depth chart. Closers and primary setup men get 65 innings each, with the 3rd/4th relievers getting 55 innings each, and then the rest have their innings allocated in descending order according to their placement on the depth chart. And, in order to make each team’s total number of innings pitched (both starters and relievers) equal out to 1,458, we’ve added in a set for each team that makes up the missing innings in the projections. The performance projection is the same for each team, and is set to be around -0.1 WAR per 100 innings, on the assumption that the 10th or 11th reliever a team uses throughout the season is probably a little bit below replacement level. The statline in the table is just there as a placeholder – those numbers aren’t actually affecting the calculation beyond just setting innings equal and being included in the WAR sum.

Also, since we don’t have separate ZIPS/Steamer projections for guys as starters and relievers, guys who were projected as starters but are going to pitch in relief will likely be under-forecast. Aroldis Chapman, for instance, is getting his starter projections prorated to reliever innings totals, and he’ll almost certainly pitch better in relief than he was projected to do as a starter. There aren’t a lot of those types, but for guys like that, adjust their numbers upwards accordingly.

Oh, and we’ve mentioned this on the other lists, but it is worth emphasizing here – the gap between many teams is so slim that you shouldn’t read too much into a team’s placement in the ordinal rank. The gap between #12 and #22 is +0.7 WAR. That’s no difference at all, really. There are good bullpens, okay bullpens, and a couple of bad bullpens, but don’t get too caught up in whether one team is a few spots ahead of another team. With margins this small, the specific placement on the list is mostly irrelevant.

On to the list.

#16 Dodgers

Brandon League 65.0 7.4 3.2 0.6 .300 72.9 % 3.42 3.37 0.7
Kenley Jansen 65.0 13.4 3.8 0.8 .301 84.8 % 2.23 2.58 1.6
Ronald Belisario 55.0 8.1 3.7 0.7 .299 73.9 % 3.35 3.55 0.4
J.P. Howell 55.0 8.1 4.0 0.9 .298 74.1 % 3.87 4.05 0.0
Matt Guerrier 45.0 7.0 3.3 0.9 .294 73.4 % 3.82 3.97 0.0
Chris Capuano 40.0 7.3 2.6 1.1 .299 71.7 % 4.01 3.92 0.0
Scott Elbert 35.0 9.2 4.1 0.9 .296 76.3 % 3.49 3.73 0.0
Josh Wall 30.0 7.4 4.2 1.0 .297 72.7 % 4.24 4.40 -0.1
Javy Guerra 25.0 7.5 4.3 0.8 .299 73.4 % 3.89 4.06 0.0
Shawn Tolleson 20.0 10.0 3.7 1.0 .299 75.9 % 3.44 3.56 0.0
Paco Rodriguez 15.0 9.6 4.2 0.6 .300 75.4 % 3.21 3.32 0.0
The Others 31.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 0.0
Total 481.0 8.5 3.7 0.8 .299 74.8 % 3.53 3.69 2.7

Will Kenley Jansen stay healthy? He is one of the best relievers in the game — in a league with Craig Kimbrel, even — when healthy, but a heart condition has kept him out of action for parts of the last two seasons. One has to imagine the Dodgers would not have invested so heavily in Brandon League if not for the concerns surrounding Jansen.

For now, though, Jansen is healthy, and the League-Jansen tandem — in whatever order — should be one of the most imposing combinations to face in the final two innings. Can the rest of the bullpen get leads to them? Ronald Belisario was sharp in 2012 but horrible in 2011. J.P. Howell was great in 2009 and 2010 but has struggled since. Matt Guerrier only pitched 14 innings last year and was mediocre the two seasons prior. Beyond that, depth is cobbled together from former starters and journeymen.

If one or two of the depth pitchers can step up and give Don Mattingly a reliable option, this bullpen can look very good. If not, and if Kenley Jansen or Brandon League gets hurt, the floor is precipitously low.

#17 Angels

Ryan Madson 65.0 8.5 2.8 0.8 .301 76.2 % 3.23 3.37 1.0
Sean Burnett 65.0 7.4 2.9 0.8 .301 73.1 % 3.48 3.61 0.7
Ernesto Frieri 55.0 11.3 4.3 1.0 .294 80.4 % 3.12 3.69 0.4
Scott Downs 55.0 6.6 3.1 0.7 .299 73.4 % 3.60 3.67 0.4
Kevin Jepsen 45.0 8.2 3.6 0.8 .307 73.4 % 3.71 3.66 0.2
Jerome Williams 40.0 6.2 2.4 1.0 .304 69.5 % 4.19 4.00 0.1
Garrett Richards 35.0 6.0 4.0 1.0 .310 68.9 % 4.83 4.61 0.0
David Carpenter 30.0 6.6 3.9 0.9 .301 72.2 % 4.20 4.26 0.0
Mitch Stetter 25.0 7.7 4.5 1.1 .304 72.3 % 4.55 4.65 0.0
Michael Kohn 20.0 8.2 4.9 1.3 .296 74.4 % 4.39 4.75 0.0
Chad Cordero 15.0 6.3 3.6 1.2 .306 72.9 % 4.50 4.66 0.0
Nick Maronde 10.0 6.8 3.2 0.9 .299 71.0 % 4.07 4.03 0.0
Fernando Cabrera 10.0 7.1 4.7 1.1 .306 70.5 % 4.83 4.80 0.0
The Others 38.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 0.0
Total 508.0 7.6 3.6 0.9 .302 73.4 % 3.87 3.99 2.6

Here we go again with Madson. Thought to be completely healthy over the winter, Madson is now expected to miss at least the first month of the season. He is throwing off a mound, but there is no definitive timetable for his return. And the Angels do need him to return as quickly as possible, for while they have capable pitchers in Burnett, Frieri and Downs, the herd thins quickly, and this trio isn’t exactly the most durable. Burnett has only tossed 60 innings once in the past five seasons; Downs twice. But that may be giving Downs a bit too much credit — in three of the past four seasons, he has failed to reach 55 innings pitched. Furthermore, both Burnett and Downs have fairly large platoon splits, and are not the pitchers you want on the mound in a high-leverage situation against a right-handed hitter.

Frieri is better suited for that work, but then, he’s no sure thing either. His walk rate was in the bottom 25 among qualified relievers last season, and while he strikes out plenty of hitters as well, he leaves himself less margin for error with all the free passes. Aside from them, there is the usual parade of failed starters and organizational soldiers, although Cordero’s comeback could prove mildly entertaining for a couple of weeks. Hurry back, Ryan.

#18 Nationals

Rafael Soriano 65.0 9.0 3.1 0.9 .297 77.0 % 3.28 3.50 0.8
Drew Storen 65.0 8.7 2.9 0.8 .298 75.8 % 3.16 3.30 1.0
Tyler Clippard 55.0 10.4 3.4 1.1 .292 80.7 % 3.05 3.51 0.5
Craig Stammen 55.0 8.4 3.3 0.8 .297 76.3 % 3.28 3.58 0.4
Henry Rodriguez 45.0 10.2 5.3 0.8 .290 76.4 % 3.46 3.86 0.1
Ryan Mattheus 40.0 6.7 3.4 1.0 .296 72.7 % 4.03 4.28 0.0
Zach Duke 35.0 4.9 2.5 1.0 .317 67.8 % 4.79 4.40 0.0
The Others 188.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 548.0 7.7 3.8 1.0 .300 74.1 % 3.83 4.10 2.6

This bullpen will be a good deal better in practice than this ranking gives them credit for, in large part because their starting pitching will make their lack of depth a non-factor. The back-end of Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen and Tyler Cippard is beyond reproach and that trio will handle the bulk of the important situations in Washington this year.

Soriano, the new addition, was largely excellent in replacing Mariano Rivera last year, and moving out of Yankee Stadium and into the National League and pitcher-friendly Nationals Park should help him. He allowed more home runs per nine innings as a Yankee than he did anywhere else. Outside of a rough 2011 (98 ERA-), Soriano hasn’t allowed an ERA- above 75 in a full season since 2002, his rookie year.

Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard both have proven they have closer stuff over the past few years as well. All three are top-tier relievers, and the Nationals will be handing leads — and therefore important situations — to them, not to the depth guys this system punishes them for lacking. Expect this bullpen to be better than 18th overall.

#19 Orioles

Jim Johnson 65.0 6.2 2.5 0.8 .301 71.9 % 3.70 3.69 0.9
Pedro Strop 65.0 8.5 4.7 0.7 .311 72.7 % 3.88 3.82 0.7
Darren O’Day 55.0 8.5 2.4 1.2 .297 77.1 % 3.50 3.81 0.5
Luis Ayala 55.0 6.2 2.5 1.0 .303 72.1 % 3.98 4.10 0.3
Troy Patton 45.0 7.7 2.6 1.0 .300 73.0 % 3.69 3.79 0.3
Brian Matusz 40.0 7.1 3.5 1.4 .309 71.1 % 4.74 4.66 0.0
Steve Johnson 35.0 7.1 4.4 1.3 .301 70.8 % 4.93 4.98 -0.1
Tommy Hunter 30.0 5.5 2.1 1.4 .303 69.1 % 4.74 4.62 0.0
Mike Belfiore 25.0 7.7 4.6 1.0 .303 72.8 % 4.37 4.44 0.0
Todd Redmond 20.0 6.4 3.2 1.6 .307 68.4 % 5.34 5.18 0.0
T.J. Mcfarland 15.0 4.5 3.7 1.1 .304 65.7 % 5.46 5.05 0.0
The Others 125.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 575.0 6.9 3.5 1.1 .304 72.0 % 4.23 4.34 2.6

Baltimore’s tremendous success last season can be credited in large part to their bullpen. The trio of Jim Johnson, Pedro Strop and Darren O’Day was tremendous all season and particularly in clutch situations. As explained here, I don’t think they will repeat, if only because such greatness is impossible for anybody to attain twice.

Can Jim Johnson succeed despite allowing constant contact? Danny Kolb is the only other pitcher to record 10 more saves than strikeouts in a season, as Johnson did last year. Can Pedro Strop succeed despite poor strikeout and walk numbers? Can Darren O’Day keep getting left-handers out? If even the answer to one or two of these questions is no, the Orioles bullpen is more of a league-average unit than the league-leading one it was last season.

Troy Patton has shown to be an elite control reliever over the past two seasons, but the rest of the bullpen is iffy. Ayala, Matusz, Johnson, and Hunter were all palatable last year but have limited track records of success. There’s enough to like to keep this unit around the league average, but the floor is low enough to limit the ranking to No. 19.

#20 Cubs

Carlos Marmol 65.0 11.9 5.9 0.7 .306 77.0 % 3.48 3.67 0.7
Kyuji Fujikawa 65.0 9.6 3.3 0.8 .310 76.1 % 3.34 3.34 1.0
Shawn Camp 55.0 6.0 2.8 0.8 .304 71.6 % 3.85 3.89 0.3
James Russell 55.0 7.3 3.1 1.0 .305 74.1 % 3.84 3.91 0.3
Hisanori Takahashi 45.0 8.1 3.3 1.0 .303 72.4 % 3.98 3.85 0.2
Cory Wade 40.0 6.7 2.7 1.2 .301 72.7 % 4.19 4.28 0.0
Michael Bowden 35.0 8.0 4.3 1.1 .296 74.5 % 4.11 4.32 0.0
Rafael Dolis 30.0 6.7 4.7 0.9 .302 70.9 % 4.55 4.51 0.0
Hector Rondon 25.0 7.4 3.4 1.4 .312 74.1 % 4.74 4.68 0.0
Casey Coleman 20.0 6.5 3.8 1.1 .304 70.7 % 4.60 4.54 0.0
Blake Parker 15.0 7.8 4.8 1.1 .305 71.5 % 4.60 4.57 0.0
Jaye Chapman 10.0 8.3 5.6 1.0 .304 73.1 % 4.47 4.61 0.0
The Others 115.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 575.0 7.7 4.0 1.0 .304 73.3 % 4.06 4.17 2.4

Carlos Marmol is far more infuriating and frustrating than bad. Even last year, when his walk rate ballooned to 7.32, he managed a 3.42 ERA and 3.98 FIP — not great by any means, but competent. His slider is still nearly impossible to make contact with, and his strikeouts will keep him viable as a reliever.

The question, then, is the quality of Japanese import Kyuji Fujikawa. His numbers in the Japanese league are ineffable. Not only did he strike out 10 more batters per nine innings than he walked, but he also allowed a paltry 5.4 hits per nine innings over his six seasons. His stuff can come down a long way in the majors and he can still be a capable reliever.

Depth is lacking, as the Cubs are loaded with mediocrity in the bullpen beyond Marmol and Fujikawa. There will be issues keeping leads in the sixth and seventh innings if the starters can’t go deep into games.

#21 Cardinals

Mitchell Boggs 65.0 7.6 3.1 0.7 .303 73.8 % 3.47 3.56 0.6
Trevor Rosenthal 65.0 8.5 3.8 0.8 .298 73.0 % 3.69 3.77 0.3
Jason Motte 55.0 10.0 2.7 0.9 .299 78.9 % 2.87 3.10 0.8
Marc Rzepczynski 55.0 7.9 3.6 0.8 .307 73.4 % 3.81 3.81 0.2
Fernando Salas 45.0 8.9 3.3 0.9 .301 74.9 % 3.39 3.53 0.2
Randy Choate 40.0 8.3 3.6 0.7 .304 74.3 % 3.50 3.69 0.1
Joe Kelly 35.0 6.1 3.4 0.7 .306 69.9 % 4.16 3.97 0.0
Edward Mujica 30.0 7.3 2.0 1.0 .298 74.2 % 3.44 3.52 0.1
Victor Marte 25.0 7.0 3.8 0.9 .308 71.4 % 4.32 4.24 0.0
Sam Freeman 20.0 7.1 4.7 0.9 .303 72.2 % 4.35 4.42 0.0
Jorge Rondon 15.0 6.6 6.2 0.9 .305 70.4 % 5.08 5.11 -0.1
The Others 137.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 587.0 7.6 3.7 0.9 .303 73.2 % 3.85 4.00 2.2

Jason Motte is doubtful to start the season with a mild elbow strain, hence his placement third in the table. When healthy, Motte is one of the best relievers in the game. His rise is doubly remarkable, partly because he’s only a few years removed from a switch from catching and because he really doesn’t have much of a repertoire outside of his fastball. It makes him a little bit susceptible to good left-handed hitting, but for the most part, his upper-90s fastball is powerful enough and has enough movement to lock hitters down.

But, on the whole, the bullpen was one of the Cardinals’ few weaknesses last year, and it appears that might carry through to 2013. Trevor Rosenthal is an incredibly exciting prospect (and a potential rookie of the year if Motte’s injury lingers and Rosenthal inherits the closer role). But Marc Rzepczynski and Fernando Salas were mediocre last year, and Randy Choate and Edward Mujica shouldn’t excite anybody.

If Motte comes back quickly, this unit looks a good deal better, and Rosenthal could blow this forecast out of the water. Don’t let the ordinal rank here fool you – this bullpen could be quite good. It’s just got some question marks at the moment.

#22 Mariners

Tom Wilhelmsen 65.0 9.5 3.6 0.8 .299 76.1 % 3.19 3.31 1.0
Carter Capps 65.0 10.3 3.8 1.0 .311 75.1 % 3.70 3.61 0.6
Charlie Furbush 55.0 9.6 3.3 0.9 .298 77.0 % 3.17 3.40 0.6
Kameron Loe 55.0 6.6 2.6 0.7 .305 71.2 % 3.64 3.54 0.4
Oliver Perez 45.0 8.0 5.1 1.0 .299 73.7 % 4.37 4.58 -0.2
Stephen Pryor 40.0 9.7 5.8 1.0 .296 74.9 % 4.20 4.42 -0.1
Lucas Luetge 35.0 7.5 4.2 0.8 .304 71.0 % 4.26 4.10 0.0
Josh Kinney 30.0 7.6 3.6 0.8 .298 72.3 % 3.86 3.94 0.0
The Others 108.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 498.0 8.2 4.0 0.9 .302 73.6 % 3.89 4.02 2.2

This is a bullpen worth watching, even if it might not be that great. Between closer Tom Wilhelmsen and the youth duo of Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor, this bullpen brings serious heat. All three can touch the upper 90s with the fastball. As such, it’s probably unsurprising that all three have some control issues, specifically Pryor. But that just means more exciting situations with runners on. Great for the viewer!

Wilhelmsen’s fastball is one of the best pitches in the game, so as long as he doesn’t come out of the gate with lower velocity, it wouldn’t surprise for him to have another excellent season. The question is whether or not the youngsters behind him can do enough to get outs. There’s a lot of upside, here, though. If guys like Charlie Furbush (2.72 ERA, 2.81 FIP) and Oliver Perez (2.12 ERA, 2.93 FIP) can keep thriving in their conversions from starter to reliever, the quality of Seattle’s bullpen could even match the spectacle.

#23 Marlins

Steve Cishek 65.0 8.8 3.9 0.6 .313 74.3 % 3.42 3.46 0.9
Ryan Webb 65.0 6.7 3.2 0.5 .316 70.9 % 3.73 3.46 0.8
Mike Dunn 55.0 9.6 5.0 0.9 .313 75.0 % 3.90 3.90 0.2
A.J. Ramos 55.0 9.3 4.3 0.9 .308 74.8 % 3.77 3.80 0.3
Sam Dyson 45.0 4.8 3.5 0.8 .309 67.6 % 4.58 4.34 -0.1
Jon Rauch 40.0 7.0 2.5 1.1 .298 73.3 % 3.89 3.98 0.1
Chris Hatcher 35.0 7.8 4.0 0.9 .308 73.3 % 4.04 4.11 0.0
Dan Jennings 30.0 6.7 4.6 0.8 .312 71.3 % 4.50 4.41 0.0
Scott Maine 25.0 8.3 4.6 0.9 .309 72.1 % 4.28 4.25 0.0
The Others 151.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 566.0 7.3 4.1 0.9 .308 72.4 % 4.08 4.15 2.0

The Marlins bullpen is loaded with serviceable pitchers, but lacks top-end talent. Steve Cishek was sharp last year and eventually earned the closer role, as he posted a 2.69 ERA and 3.22 FIP. His success will depend on how he handles left-handed batters. Southpaws hit .277/.391/.396 off him last year, but Cishek only served up one home run to a left-handed batter out of 133 faced. He was able to work around eight doubles and a triple. Cishek will likely see a bevy of pinch-hit lefties this season, and he’ll have to keep the ball in the yard. If he can, he’ll be fine — righties hit a putrid .180/.266/.282 off him and his sharp slider and arm angle should sustain the success.

Behind Cishek, they have a load of quality but not front-line relievers. Ryan Webb has been an elite ground ball reliever over the last few years. Mike Dunn brings a blazing left-handed fastball but without much control. A.J. Ramos is similar but from the right side. A collection of decent arms should keep the team from being awful late in games, but they’re not a shut down group either.

#24 Pirates

Jason Grilli 65.0 11.0 3.5 0.9 .309 78.6 % 3.00 3.15 1.1
Mark Melancon 65.0 8.1 2.9 0.7 .304 74.1 % 3.32 3.39 0.8
Tony Watson 55.0 8.8 3.9 0.9 .298 75.6 % 3.60 3.79 0.2
Jared Hughes 55.0 6.3 2.9 0.7 .297 71.8 % 3.70 3.85 0.1
Justin Wilson 45.0 7.6 5.3 0.9 .300 71.0 % 4.48 4.58 -0.2
Chris Leroux 40.0 6.9 3.0 0.8 .308 71.2 % 4.01 3.87 0.1
Kyle McPherson 35.0 6.8 2.4 1.0 .303 69.8 % 4.16 3.99 0.0
Bryan Morris 30.0 7.1 3.1 1.0 .309 71.2 % 4.11 4.03 0.0
The Others 135.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 525.0 7.5 3.7 0.9 .303 72.9 % 3.91 4.05 2.0

Jason Grilli has always had a major-league fastball, he just didn’t turn it into results until 2011. He added velocity, and more importantly, he throws strikes with it consistently now. He should thrive as Pittsburgh’s closer in 2013.

For a team unwilling to spend big bucks on Joel Hanrahan (and understandably so), plucking Mark Melancon out of Boston’s bullpen was a sharp move. He collapsed early in 2012 with the Red Sox, but he built himself up in the minors and looked like the Melancon the Red Sox wanted when they acquired him from Houston. After his return to the majors, Melancon struck out 40 against 10 walks with three home runs allowed in 43 innings and allowed just a .597 OPS against; he should be fine in the setup role.

Tony Watson gives Pittsburgh a hard-throwing lefty, but control problems limit him. Jared Hughes throws ground balls better than most relievers, but outside of those two, there isn’t much depth in the Pirates’ bullpen. They’ll need development out of somebody like Kyle McPherson to have much upside as a unit.

#25 Indians

Chris Perez 65.0 8.5 3.5 1.1 .298 74.8 % 3.71 3.98 0.3
Vinnie Pestano 65.0 10.0 3.4 0.9 .308 76.4 % 3.28 3.35 1.0
Frank Herrmann 55.0 6.6 3.1 1.2 .304 71.6 % 4.42 4.46 -0.1
Cody Allen 55.0 8.7 4.0 0.9 .310 73.7 % 3.96 3.90 0.2
Nick Hagadone 45.0 8.4 4.2 1.0 .305 72.6 % 4.23 4.17 0.0
Joe Smith 40.0 7.0 3.7 0.7 .304 71.3 % 3.86 3.80 0.2
Bryan Shaw 35.0 6.7 3.5 0.9 .308 71.9 % 4.11 4.13 0.0
Scott Barnes 30.0 8.1 4.3 1.0 .308 71.0 % 4.46 4.27 0.0
Matt Albers 25.0 7.6 3.8 0.9 .304 72.0 % 4.04 4.03 0.0
The Others 135.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 550.0 7.6 3.9 1.0 .305 72.8 % 4.08 4.20 1.6

Chris Perez took a pretty big step forward in 2012, as his strikeout rate and walk rates both improved dramatically from 2012. But he still posted just a 3.59 ERA (91 ERA-) and 3.34 FIP (83 FIP-), merely adequate numbers for a closer. Perez still gives up too many fly balls — he was over 40 percent for the fifth of his five major league seasons in 2012 — and he hasn’t shown, as many elite relievers do — the ability to keep fly balls in the ballpark.

Vinnie Pestano has seemed like the best pitcher in Cleveland’s bullpen for a few years now, and 2013 is no different. He offers an excellent combination of stuff and results, and if given a chance there’s reason to believe he could be an elite closer. Cleveland just doesn’t have much behind the Perez-Pestano duo. Veteran righty Joe Smith might be the third best reliever in the bullpen, and his career has been about as exciting as his name.

#26 Padres

Huston Street 65.0 9.7 2.6 0.9 .293 79.4 % 2.89 3.15 0.9
Luke Gregerson 65.0 8.4 2.9 0.8 .299 75.4 % 3.22 3.34 0.6
Brad Boxberger 55.0 10.7 4.8 0.8 .301 77.0 % 3.38 3.62 0.2
Dale Thayer 55.0 7.3 2.7 0.9 .300 73.7 % 3.64 3.67 0.1
Tom Layne 45.0 6.4 4.5 0.9 .303 71.8 % 4.49 4.63 -0.4
Tyson Ross 40.0 7.2 4.0 0.7 .309 71.7 % 3.99 3.89 0.0
Brad Brach 35.0 9.3 3.4 0.9 .303 76.4 % 3.40 3.51 0.0
Joe Thatcher 30.0 9.7 3.5 0.8 .303 75.3 % 3.24 3.31 0.1
The Others 167.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 557.0 7.8 3.8 0.9 .302 74.0 % 3.79 3.99 1.4

Park factors, park factors, park factors. San Diego’s bullpen looks pretty good if you just gaze at the raw numbers, with an especially solid high leverage group in Huston Street, Luke Gregerson and Brad Boxberger. However, it’s telling that even Dale Thayer — a minor-league journeyman — was able to have some success in San Diego’s closer role last year, and the park’s ability to hide pitcher’s weaknesses can’t be forgotten.

The back-end trio, particularly Street, still looks pretty solid on a neutral field. Street hasn’t posted an ERA- nor a FIP- above 90 in his entire eight-year career. But pitchers like Thayer, Tom Layne and Tyson Ross don’t project as much better than replacement without the help of San Diego’s spacious park (and, of course, we’ll have to see what happens with the fences moving in, but I’d be surprised to see a terribly significant difference).

Luckily for San Diego, they still get 81 games at PETCO Park. If they can just get some leads to the seventh inning there, they’ll be in good shape.

#27 Twins

Glen Perkins 65.0 9.0 2.8 0.9 .310 75.7 % 3.34 3.39 1.1
Jared Burton 65.0 7.7 3.3 1.0 .303 73.7 % 3.84 4.03 0.4
Anthony Swarzak 55.0 5.6 2.8 1.2 .309 68.6 % 4.76 4.61 -0.2
Brian Duensing 55.0 6.1 2.6 1.0 .310 69.5 % 4.40 4.02 0.2
Casey Fien 45.0 7.1 3.3 1.3 .305 71.5 % 4.58 4.61 -0.1
Alex Burnett 40.0 5.8 3.6 0.8 .310 70.4 % 4.48 4.30 0.0
Rich Harden 35.0 8.6 3.7 1.3 .309 71.3 % 4.56 4.40 0.0
Tim Wood 30.0 6.3 4.2 1.0 .305 70.6 % 4.62 4.56 0.0
Josh Roenicke 25.0 6.2 4.4 0.9 .302 70.8 % 4.54 4.58 0.0
Caleb Thielbar 20.0 6.7 4.0 1.2 .311 70.3 % 4.76 4.74 0.0
Tyler Robertson 15.0 7.3 4.4 1.0 .309 70.1 % 4.65 4.46 0.0
Ryan Pressly 10.0 4.7 4.7 1.3 .304 68.2 % 5.66 5.59 0.0
Pedro Hernandez 10.0 5.1 2.8 1.3 .311 66.2 % 5.27 4.84 0.0
The Others 97.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 567.0 6.8 3.5 1.1 .307 71.3 % 4.37 4.38 1.3

Closer should not be a problem for the Twins. Once the Twins dedicated Perkins to relieving full-time, he found a groove. The lefty owns a 2.52 ERA and 2.81 FIP in 132 innings over the past two seasons. At 94.4 MPH on average, his fastball is one of the most powerful from a left-hander in the league, and his sharp slider induces whiffs on nearly one of every three swings.

But the Twins lack depth. Nobody else in the entire bullpen is projected for a FIP below 4.00, and only Jared Burton lands an ERA below 4.00. There is a disturbing lack of power arms for Minnesota. Outside of Perkins, only Rich Harden is projected to strike out more than 8.0 batters per nine innings, and Harden is a complete question mark out of the bullpen. Expect loads of contact off this Twins’ bullpen, and loads of contact usually means loads of runs.

#28 Mets

Bobby Parnell 65.0 8.5 3.3 0.7 .311 74.0 % 3.30 3.26 0.9
Brandon Lyon 65.0 7.9 3.2 0.8 .305 74.5 % 3.65 3.64 0.4
Frank Francisco 55.0 9.5 3.5 1.0 .309 75.6 % 3.64 3.54 0.4
Josh Edgin 55.0 8.9 4.6 1.1 .305 74.7 % 4.13 4.33 -0.2
Jeremy Hefner 45.0 5.9 2.7 1.0 .308 68.5 % 4.42 4.13 0.0
Pedro Feliciano 40.0 7.2 3.6 1.0 .307 71.7 % 4.10 4.12 0.0
Jeurys Familia 35.0 8.3 5.1 0.9 .312 72.7 % 4.36 4.35 0.0
Greg Burke 30.0 6.6 3.8 0.9 .301 72.3 % 4.21 4.30 0.0
The Others 172.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 562.0 7.4 3.9 0.9 .306 72.8 % 4.08 4.19 1.3

After last season, the Mets should be happy just not to be ranked last. Bobby Parnell turned his stuff into results for the first time over a full season in 2012, and the 28-year-old looks primed to take over the closer’s role. He should handle it well — his mid-to-upper 90s fastball was an excellent pitch last year and worked well in tandem with a rediscovered curveball.

Brandon Lyon was an Ed Wade special overpay in Houston, which disguised the fact that he was actually pretty good in the two years he was healthy (2010 and 2012). Lyon has had an ERA- under 78 in three of the past four years, and he should serve as a capable setup man.

The depth, however, lacks. If Frank Francisco can stay healthy his strikeout abilities provide value, but the rest of the bullpen is largely replacement level — either guys who just aren’t ready yet or who have already proven they don’t have much to offer. As such it looks like another year for the Mets with a bullpen ERA over 4.00, a frankly unacceptable mark given the decline in offense over the last few years.

#29 Brewers

John Axford 65.0 10.9 4.2 0.9 .310 77.2 % 3.29 3.35 1.0
Jim Henderson 65.0 9.4 5.1 1.0 .310 73.6 % 4.27 4.26 -0.1
Brandon Kintzler 55.0 7.2 3.5 1.0 .315 70.7 % 4.48 4.23 0.0
Michael Gonzalez 55.0 9.7 4.0 1.1 .311 74.6 % 3.93 3.85 0.2
Tom Gorzelanny 45.0 8.6 3.9 1.1 .307 73.7 % 4.07 4.12 0.0
Burke Badenhop 40.0 6.5 2.9 0.8 .310 71.0 % 3.98 3.86 0.1
Michael Olmsted 35.0 9.9 3.6 0.9 .310 76.4 % 3.46 3.52 0.1
Mark Rogers 30.0 7.0 6.0 0.8 .300 70.4 % 4.75 4.74 -0.1
The Others 184.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 574.0 7.9 4.2 1.0 .308 73.0 % 4.16 4.25 1.1

To understand how truly bad this Brewers bullpen last year, just note that this +3.8 WAR projection would be just under a two win increase; Milwaukee’s bullpen posted a brutal -4.45 WPA on the season despite a solid +0.86 WPA in September. There is room for improvement even if the Brewers’ bullpen doesn’t become good.

The spotlight will be on John Axford after a rough season (4.67 ERA, 4.06 FIP). The stuff wasn’t a problem, as he threw as hard as ever and set a career high with a 12.1 K/9. He issued 5.1 BB/9, an uptick, but not alarmingly higher than his successful 2010 season (4.2 BB/9). The real problem was the home run. After giving up just five in his first 139.1 innings, hitters put 10 Axford pitches over the fence in 69.1 innings in 2012 (1.3 HR/9). A 19.2 HR/FB% seems unsustainably high, so we’ll have to see if Axford can make the necessary adjustment.

The depth is still somewhat lacking; the Brewers will rely on a similar pitcher to Axford in Jim Henderson, who shot through the minor leagues with a blazing fastball to reach Milwaukee at the end of the season. The club added a few veterans in Michael Gonzalez, Tom Gorzelanny and Burke Badenhop. Neither is impressive, but all are major league talents. Michael Olmsted will be the most interesting reliever to watch if he can earn a promotion to Milwaukee; the hulking 25-year-old has a tremendous minor league track record (1.96 ERA, 11.9 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 in 161 innings) but has battled injuries throughout his career.

#30 Astros

Jose Veras 65.0 9.2 4.7 1.0 .307 74.5 % 3.99 4.09 0.1
Wesley Wright 65.0 8.1 3.6 0.9 .307 72.6 % 3.94 3.96 0.2
Hector Ambriz 55.0 7.2 4.6 1.0 .320 69.4 % 4.94 4.57 -0.3
Xavier Cedeno 55.0 8.1 3.8 0.9 .318 71.6 % 4.23 3.93 0.1
Rhiner Cruz 45.0 7.5 5.5 1.3 .306 71.2 % 5.09 5.18 -0.4
Josh Fields 40.0 8.7 5.7 1.1 .317 71.4 % 4.91 4.81 -0.2
Jose Valdez 35.0 8.2 3.7 1.1 .317 69.8 % 4.37 4.09 0.0
Chia-Jen Lo 30.0 6.9 4.0 1.1 .308 68.9 % 4.83 4.60 -0.1
Sam Demel 25.0 7.7 3.8 1.1 .313 70.6 % 4.49 4.33 0.0
Kevin Chapman 20.0 8.4 4.8 0.9 .306 72.9 % 4.20 4.16 0.0
The Others 156.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 591.0 7.5 4.4 1.0 .310 71.6 % 4.47 4.48 -0.8

The Astros, unsurprisingly, understand there is no need to worry about building a bullpen before the roster’s foundation is in place. They plucked a cheap reliever with closer stuff but questionable control and command off the free agent market in Jose Veras, and the rest will be cobbled together from within the organization. Veras’s ceiling is truly elite given his upper-90s fastball and exceptionally sharp curveball, but his propensity for wildness leads to rough stretches. If the Astros can clean it up, he may be an asset, and if so, don’t expect him to stick around for the whole season.

Wesley Wright gives Houston a solid lefty who can get outs from both sides. Xavier Cedeno racked up strikeouts (10.45 per nine innings) in 2012 despite just an 89 MPH average fastball; he relies on curveball (41.6 percent of pitches) to get his outs, and he’ll be worth watching. The rest of the crew essentially defines replacement level, though, and so there will be some desolate stretches for this unit.

Positional Power Rankings: Relief Pitchers (#1-#15).
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
On to the list.

#1 Braves

Craig Kimbrel 65.0 14.9 3.6 0.6 .306 86.8 % 1.72 1.86 2.7
Jonny Venters 65.0 10.0 4.2 0.5 .310 76.1 % 2.97 3.09 1.2
Jordan Walden 55.0 10.4 4.0 0.7 .310 77.0 % 3.16 3.10 0.9
Eric O’Flaherty 55.0 7.9 3.1 0.6 .300 75.3 % 3.11 3.26 0.6
Cory Gearrin 45.0 8.5 4.1 0.6 .308 73.4 % 3.61 3.60 0.2
Luis Avilan 40.0 7.4 4.2 1.1 .302 71.5 % 4.51 4.53 -0.1
Cristhian Martinez 35.0 7.4 2.3 0.9 .305 73.8 % 3.51 3.49 0.1
The Others 165.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 525.0 8.7 4.0 0.8 .305 74.8 % 3.54 3.70 5.5

Should the reader find himself, at some point, considering the WAR leaderboard for pitchers over the least two seasons, he will notice that only one reliever appears among the league’s top-30 by that criteria — namely, Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel. In 139.2 innings over that two-year stretch, Kimbrel has posted a 6.8 WAR — a metric (i.e. WAR), by the way, which is generally at odds with how high-leverage relievers are compensated on the open market. No other pitcher among that same leaderboard’s top 30 has thrown fewer than 316.1 innings — which is to say, more than twice as many as Kimbrel. Nor do the projections sense that any of this is a fluke: both Steamer and ZiPS forecast Kimbrel to post a strikeout rate above 14 K/9. If the reader has any extra superlatives lying around, he might consider dedicating them to the hard-throwing Braves closer.

Beyond Kimbrel, the Braves have in Johnny Venters — well, maybe, considering he just left today’s Grapefruit League game with an elbow strain — and Jordan Walden two pitchers who would not be out of place in the closer’s role. Apart from Venters’ ground-ball rate, which is surely multiple standard deviations above league average, the pair are almost identical — both likely to strike out about 10.0 batters per nine innings, walk 4.0, and allow about 3.00 earned runs. Eric O’Flaherty is likely to reach the same end by slightly different means, striking out fewer batters, but also walking fewer, as well.

#2 Rockies

Rafael Betancourt 65.0 9.3 2.1 1.1 .313 76.7 % 3.38 3.32 1.5
Wilton Lopez 65.0 6.9 2.0 0.9 .317 72.2 % 3.71 3.50 1.2
Matt Belisle 55.0 7.5 2.2 0.8 .324 72.0 % 3.78 3.39 1.0
Rex Brothers 55.0 11.1 5.0 0.8 .322 75.2 % 3.68 3.48 0.8
Adam Ottavino 45.0 8.6 3.9 1.0 .320 72.4 % 4.17 3.93 0.3
Josh Outman 40.0 7.6 4.5 1.1 .315 70.4 % 4.71 4.57 0.1
Manuel Corpas 35.0 5.7 3.3 1.2 .310 69.1 % 4.88 4.73 0.0
Edgmer Escalona 30.0 8.0 3.9 1.4 .310 72.6 % 4.62 4.66 0.0
The Others 283.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.2
Total 673.0 7.3 3.7 1.0 .311 72.4 % 4.21 4.26 4.8

First, consider the projected innings total here for the Colorado bullpen. Next, consider the projected innings totals for basically every other bullpen. Higher, is what the Rockies’ is. Some of that might be the residual effects of last season’s four-man rotation experiment. It seems, at this point, as though that project has been abandoned. As a result, the Rockies relief corps is unlikely to outpace the rest of the league’s bullpens by 100 innings again, as they did in 2012. That said, Coors Field is still very much the most hitter-friendly park in the majors. Higher run environments generally lead to higher pitch counts. Higher pitcher counts lead to more pitching changes. More pitching changes obviously lead to greater innings totals for the bullpen. Et cetera and et cetera.

In terms of personnel, specifically, Rafael Betancourt returns to the closer role he assumed after the departure of Huston Street to San Diego. Betancourt’s strikeout rate has decreased each of the past two seasons — from 35.9% in 2010 to 30.8% in 2011 to 24.2% in 2012 — which merits some concern. Still, to date, the decline has only seen him move from elite to merely above-average. Notably, Betancourt’s park-adjusted xFIP was only the fifth-best among the club’s relievers last season. Of the four ahead of him — Matt Belisle (85 xFIP-), Adam Ottavino (87 xFIP-), Rex Brothers (88 xFIP-), and Matt Reynolds (93 xFIP-) — all pitched significant innings and all but Reynolds return for the 2013 season.

Of some note is Colorado’s acquisition of Wilton Lopez this offseason from Houston. After failing a physical that would have completed a trade to the Phillies, Lopez was then traded to the Rockies, who were comfortable with his health, apparently. Lopez has pitched well enough in spring training, and would be of some benefit to the club were he healthy.

#3 Yankees

Mariano Rivera 65.0 8.6 2.2 0.9 .308 74.7 % 3.15 3.27 1.4
David Robertson 65.0 11.3 3.7 0.8 .316 78.2 % 3.00 2.97 1.6
Boone Logan 55.0 9.9 3.8 1.0 .309 74.6 % 3.74 3.73 0.6
Clay Rapada 55.0 8.0 3.9 0.9 .307 73.2 % 4.01 3.95 0.4
Shawn Kelley 45.0 8.6 3.4 1.2 .305 76.1 % 3.94 4.08 0.2
Joba Chamberlain 40.0 9.0 3.0 1.1 .307 74.4 % 3.74 3.77 0.2
David Aardsma 35.0 8.2 4.1 1.1 .306 68.7 % 4.55 4.16 0.0
The Others 176.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 536.0 8.1 3.8 1.0 .307 73.5 % 3.92 4.04 4.3

Mariano Rivera pitched 8.1 totally Rivera-esque innings last year before tearing his ACL at the beginning of May and missing the remainder of the season. He’s had nearly a year to recover at this point, and has pitched, once again, a lot like Mariano Rivera in spring training. While individual projection systems like Steamer and ZiPS will be pessimistic about his workload in 2013, that has everything to do with the fact that there’s little precedent for dominant 43-year-old pitchers who’ve missed an entire season and yet are returning to play. Of course, there’s very little precedent for Mariano Rivera, in general.

Last year, even without Rivera, the Yankees bullpen placed among the top third of the league’s relief units by every relevant measure. Rafael Soriano, who departed during the offseason to Washington, was certainly an important part of the 2012 club. The return of Rivera, though — combined with more than just two months of Joba Chamberlain — is probably worth more than Soriano.

Nor is any of this to ignore the bullpen’s star from 2012: David Robertson. While Soriano was nominally the closer, Robertson was the more effective pitcher, posting higher strikeout and ground-ball rates than Soriano, plus a lower walk rate.

#4 Diamondbacks

J.J. Putz 65.0 10.0 2.4 0.8 .309 76.5 % 2.91 2.86 1.8
Heath Bell 65.0 8.1 3.5 0.8 .311 73.1 % 3.88 3.70 0.8
David Hernandez 55.0 11.1 3.6 0.9 .307 78.5 % 3.01 3.17 1.0
Brad Ziegler 55.0 6.4 3.2 0.5 .306 73.0 % 3.52 3.54 0.6
Tony Sipp 45.0 9.0 4.1 1.2 .295 75.1 % 3.96 4.18 0.1
Josh Collmenter 40.0 7.1 2.4 1.2 .301 72.9 % 4.01 4.05 0.1
Matt Reynolds 35.0 8.6 3.1 1.1 .307 74.8 % 3.73 3.73 0.1
Joe Paterson 30.0 6.9 4.0 1.0 .310 70.9 % 4.55 4.52 0.0
The Others 134.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 524.0 7.9 3.6 0.9 .305 73.7 % 3.83 3.94 4.3

To begin, a brief timeline of events.

2010: The Diamondbacks bullpen posts a league-worst park-adjusted ERA and FIP.

Late 2010: The Diamondbacks hire Kevin Towers — famous for creating top bullpens out of spare parts in San Diego — as their new GM.

2011-12: The Diamondbacks finish with one of the league’s best park-adjusted ERAs and FIPs.

The reader is invited to reach his own conclusions concerning the facts above, but there are at least two (i.e. conclusions) that make sense. One is this: the narrative being implied here — namely, that Kevin Towers singlehandedly resurrected the Arizona bullpen — is too neat. Another one is also this: that, regardless of concerns about the narrative, Towers has still certainly helped the Diamondbacks bullpen.

Between 2011 and -12, J.J. Putz and David Hernandez have accounted for ca. 7.0 WAR — or, about 1.75 WAR per player season. In 2010, no Diamondbacks reliever posted better than a 0.2 WAR (an honor for which D.J. Carrasco and Sam Demel were tied). Putz and Hernandez were acquired on consecutive days at the beginning of December in 2010, less than three months into Towers’ tenure with club. Between them, they’re owed only about $8 million in 2013 — rather good for the nearly four wins they’re projected to produce and exceptionally good in light of the fact that relievers typically receive about three times the average market value per win.

Somewhat out of character with Towers’ history of identifying cheap relief help is his offseason acquisition of Heath Bell from the Marlins, who’s owed $18 million between 2013 and -14. Bell hasn’t been a distinctly above-average pitcher since 2010, although his failings were likely overstated last year in the wake of his large contract. Even in the case of Bell, however, Towers has something resembling a deal, as Miami is paying for $8 million of the remaning contract. If Bell is worth a couple of wins over the next two season, he’ll have been a far better value than a typical high-leverage reliever on the open market.

#5 Royals

Greg Holland 65.0 11.0 4.0 0.7 .315 77.1 % 3.10 3.05 1.6
Kelvin Herrera 65.0 8.7 2.8 0.8 .310 74.6 % 3.36 3.28 1.2
Aaron Crow 55.0 9.0 3.6 0.8 .310 74.5 % 3.57 3.54 0.7
Tim Collins 55.0 11.1 4.9 0.9 .312 76.7 % 3.53 3.57 0.6
Luke Hochevar 45.0 6.6 2.9 1.0 .308 68.0 % 4.59 4.20 0.1
Louis Coleman 40.0 9.5 4.0 1.2 .294 77.1 % 3.78 4.13 0.1
Francisley Bueno 35.0 5.8 3.2 1.0 .300 70.3 % 4.39 4.33 0.0
Luis Mendoza 30.0 5.0 3.3 0.9 .306 68.2 % 4.73 4.54 0.0
Everett Teaford 25.0 6.3 3.2 1.2 .302 71.1 % 4.49 4.50 0.0
Juan Gutierrez 20.0 7.2 3.6 1.4 .308 71.2 % 4.80 4.73 0.0
The Others 82.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 517.0 8.1 3.7 1.0 .307 73.2 % 3.95 3.97 4.1

There are reasons to be skeptical about Kansas City’s chances in 2013, especially as pertains to the offense part of the team and the rotation part of the team. Above all suspicion, however, is the quality of the bullpen. After posting top-10 marks by park-adjusted ERA, FIP, and xFIP last year as a unit, the Royals ‘pen begins 2013 with much of the same personnel as in 2012.

Filling the closer role he assumed following the midseason departure of Jonathan Broxton to Cincinnati is right-hander Greg Holland. In 145.2 innings now over three seasons (all in relief), Holland has posted a 72 ERA-, 60 FIP-, and 4.3 WAR. While he throws his fastball at about 96 mph on average, it’s Holland’s slider that [...]. The offering has been worth about 2.5 runs for every 100 times he’s thrown it and has been exceeded in total value over the past two seasons only by Sergio Romo’s.

Behind Holland are three pitchers — Tim Collins, Aaron Crow, and Kelvin Herrera — who have all made a case for usage in high-leverage innings. Herrera, in particular, is impressive. At 97-98 mph, his fastball is explosive, and he throws a curve, too. Yet it’s his changeup that sets him apart, as this GIF exhibits rather gratuitously:

#6 Blue Jays

Sergio Santos 65.0 10.6 3.9 0.8 .319 74.8 % 3.35 3.21 1.4
Casey Janssen 65.0 8.9 2.5 0.9 .309 75.1 % 3.32 3.26 1.2
Darren Oliver 55.0 8.1 2.6 0.8 .306 74.6 % 3.35 3.41 0.8
Steve Delabar 55.0 11.1 4.1 1.3 .308 76.5 % 3.88 4.00 0.3
Esmil Rogers 45.0 8.7 3.4 0.9 .317 72.4 % 3.96 3.67 0.3
Brad Lincoln 40.0 7.3 2.4 1.3 .311 70.4 % 4.46 4.28 0.1
Brett Cecil 35.0 6.8 2.7 1.2 .305 70.9 % 4.41 4.28 0.0
Jeremy Jeffress 30.0 7.6 5.6 0.9 .309 71.1 % 4.65 4.70 0.0
J.A. Happ 25.0 7.7 3.9 1.2 .307 70.5 % 4.76 4.51 0.0
Aaron Loup 20.0 6.7 2.9 0.9 .312 69.4 % 4.25 3.89 0.0
Chad Jenkins 15.0 4.4 2.9 1.4 .316 65.4 % 5.70 5.18 0.0
The Others 52.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 0.0
Total 502.0 8.3 3.4 1.0 .310 72.8 % 3.99 3.94 4.0

Toronto’s trade of right-handed prospect Nestor Molina to the White Sox last offseason for Sergio Santos inspired conflicting sentiments. On the one hand, Molina had posted absrud minor-league strikeout-to-walk ratios. On the other, the scouting reports suggested his (i.e. Molina’s) stuff would be less effective against more talented opposition. On the third hand (for those who have three hands), it’s something like sabermetric orthodoxy never to trade a starter for a reliever, all (or most) other things being equal.

As it happened, the returns on the first year of the trade were equal — which is to say, close to zero for both clubs. As the reports suggested, Molina had less success with more advaned hitters. Meanwhile, after beginning the season as the Jays closer, Sergio Santos pitched all of 5.0 innings before missing the rest of the season to shoulder surgery.

Santos returns to the fold this year — although, it’s not as though Toronto entirely foundered in his absence. Casey Janssen (65.0 IP, 72 xFIP-, 1.7 WAR) and Darren Oliver (56.2 IP, 86 xFIP-, 1.1 WAR) both pitched well in high-leverage roles, and deadline acquisition Steve Delabar (29.1 IP, 70 xFIP-, 0.6 WAR) was rather effective, as well. The July departure of Francisco Cordero, as well — who began 2012 as the Jays closer — is a real, live instance of addition by subtraction.

#7 White Sox

Addison Reed 65.0 9.4 3.0 1.1 .306 76.1 % 3.66 3.72 1.0
Matt Thornton 65.0 8.8 3.1 0.8 .312 73.1 % 3.50 3.33 1.3
Jesse Crain 55.0 10.0 4.1 1.2 .296 77.2 % 3.65 3.89 0.5
Matt Lindstrom 55.0 7.5 3.0 0.8 .311 72.6 % 3.77 3.68 0.6
Nate Jones 45.0 8.3 4.1 0.9 .305 74.4 % 3.84 3.96 0.3
Donnie Veal 40.0 8.5 5.4 0.8 .304 73.8 % 4.01 4.22 0.1
Dylan Axelrod 35.0 6.4 3.4 1.1 .309 70.5 % 4.65 4.48 0.0
The Others 177.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 537.0 7.7 3.9 1.0 .305 73.3 % 4.03 4.17 3.7

The White Sox bullpen has conspired in recent seasons to produce no shortage of amusement. For years, it seemed obvious that uber-effective left-hander Matt Thornton ought to be given the closer role, but a combination of Bobby Jenks, Ozzie Guillen, and Thornton’s own ineffectiveness when given the opportunity have made that contingency less and less likely. This past season, with Robin Ventura in his first year as manager, it was a different scenario: despite the presence of the young and hard-throwing Addison Reed, Ventura named screwballer Hector Santiago as the team’s closer. By May, however, that had changed, and Reed went on to perform quite ably (55.0 IP, 99 xFIP-, 0.9 WAR).

Despite the handwringing sometimes associated with the club’s bullpen, the South Siders have produced some of the league’s highest-quality relief innings over the last five seasons, producing the seventh-lowest park-adjusted ERA over that time and second-highest overall WAR — while having success with projects like J.J. Putz (who had been injured irrecovably, it seemed) and Sergio Santos (who was converted from the infield).

With pitching coach Don Cooper around, and the club’s highly praised training staff, there’s little reason to think that 2013 will be much different. Most of last year’s personnel returns, with Addison Reed, Matt Thornton, and Jesse Crain (provided he gets over some recent issues with his hip) assuming the bulk of the high-leverage innings. The success of Nate Jones (71.2 IP, 96 xFIP-, 1.1 WAR) was another pleasant development for the 2012 White Sox, and the right-hander is also likely to see his share of appearances.

#8 Red Sox

Joel Hanrahan 65.0 9.7 4.0 1.0 .305 76.3 % 3.54 3.75 1.0
Andrew Bailey 65.0 8.3 3.1 1.1 .303 75.2 % 3.70 3.77 0.9
Koji Uehara 55.0 10.3 1.8 1.1 .297 81.6 % 2.72 2.98 1.2
Andrew Miller 55.0 10.3 6.1 0.9 .305 74.5 % 4.07 4.19 0.3
Junichi Tazawa 45.0 8.6 3.2 0.9 .310 73.9 % 3.66 3.60 0.4
Daniel Bard 40.0 7.9 5.2 0.9 .302 73.1 % 4.34 4.48 0.1
Alfredo Aceves 35.0 7.1 3.5 1.0 .301 71.4 % 4.21 4.32 0.0
The Others 251.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.2
Total 611.0 7.8 4.1 1.0 .303 73.7 % 4.03 4.26 3.7

Before the 2012 season, Boston made two trades for top-end relievers, sending Josh Reddick to Oakland for Andrew Bailey and Jed Lowrie to Houston for Mark Melancon. While Reddick and Lowrie combined for more than 7.0 WAR between them, Bailey and Melancon were less successful, throwing 60.1 innings combined and allowing 43 runs (or, 6.4 R/9).

Even so, the Sox bullpen wasn’t miserable; it was just a less likely cast of characters having success. Junichi Tazawa (44.0 IP, 62 xFIP-, 1.3 WAR), for example, and Scott Atchison (51.1 IP, 82 xFIP-, 1.0 WAR) were both quite effective, while Alfredo Aceves finished fourth in the majors with 84.0 relief innings — most of them decent.

Despite the tolerable performance of the 2012 crew, Boston took steps to improve the bullpen over the offseason, trading Melancon and three others to Pittsburgh for Joel Hanrahan and also signing free agent Koji Uehara for $4.25 million. That pair, along with Bailey, will form Boston’s high-leverage contingent, with Tazawa, Andrew Miller, and (a possibly resurgent) Daniel Bard in support.

The most appropriate thing to monitor for 2013 is probably the performance of the prospects sent from Boston to Pittsburgh. If 2012 is any indication (with Lowrie and Reddick), one ought to expect a breakout campaign from Jerry Sands.

#9 Reds

Aroldis Chapman 65.0 11.2 4.4 0.9 .289 74.7 % 3.44 3.37 1.0
Jonathan Broxton 65.0 8.6 3.4 0.9 .306 75.2 % 3.52 3.63 0.7
Sean Marshall 55.0 9.8 2.6 0.7 .310 77.9 % 2.77 2.80 1.1
Jose Arredondo 55.0 8.7 4.6 1.0 .300 74.2 % 4.06 4.13 0.1
Alfredo Simon 45.0 7.8 3.2 0.9 .308 73.4 % 3.80 3.79 0.2
Nick Masset 40.0 8.9 3.7 1.0 .308 75.7 % 3.70 3.78 0.2
Sam LeCure 35.0 8.9 3.2 1.0 .300 75.1 % 3.53 3.66 0.1
Logan Ondrusek 30.0 6.9 4.3 1.1 .297 72.4 % 4.38 4.64 -0.1
J.J. Hoover 25.0 9.9 3.8 1.1 .295 77.4 % 3.46 3.77 0.0
Manny Parra 20.0 8.5 4.6 0.8 .308 72.4 % 3.99 3.94 0.0
Pedro Villarreal 15.0 6.1 2.8 1.4 .302 69.7 % 4.77 4.74 0.0
The Others 45.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 0.0
Total 495.0 8.7 3.8 0.9 .302 74.4 % 3.72 3.82 3.4

Here’s a study that someone smarter than the present author might conduct someday: the effect of a player’s comfort level with regard to his role — the effect that said comfort level does or does not have on his performance in that role. Whatever the findings of that currently unwritten study — or studies, plural, more probably — it would certainly have to consider a case like Aroldis Chapman’s. The giant and powerful and giant Chapman certainly seems as though he’d have some success as a starter. It’s also the case, generally, that if a pitcher can succeed as a starter that it’s best to use him as a starter.

A starter is something that Chapman won’t be in 2013, however — nor, it’s beginning to look like, will he ever be one. Whether that’s ultimately coming at the expense of Cincinnati victories is a question to which we don’t know the answer, though. For if Chapman isn’t comfortable in a starting role, there’s absolutely no guarantee that he’d be effective in that role — despite rather clear indications that he has the stuff to succeed as a starter.

The rotation’s loss is decidedly the bullpen’s gain, though. Between Chapman (71.2 IP, 50 xFIP-, 3.3 WAR), Sean Marshall (61.0 IP, 65 xFIP-, 1.8 WAR), and the second-half version of Jonathan Broxton (22.1 IP, 78 xFIP-, 0.7 WAR with the Reds), Cincinnati features three elite relievers, and as mentioned in the intro, Chapman should do better than this projection as a full-time reliever. Beyond that triumvirate, both Tony Cingrani and young J.J. Hoover — acquired last season from Atlanta in exchange for Juan Francisco — have established themselves as promising high-leverage relievers of the near future.

#10 Rangers

Joe Nathan 65.0 9.5 2.6 1.1 .303 77.8 % 3.29 3.52 1.3
Jason Frasor 65.0 9.2 3.9 0.9 .308 74.3 % 3.75 3.78 1.0
Josh Lindblom 55.0 8.1 4.0 1.4 .295 75.4 % 4.30 4.67 0.1
Tanner Scheppers 55.0 7.7 3.3 1.0 .312 72.4 % 4.18 4.07 0.4
Michael Kirkman 45.0 8.0 5.2 1.0 .309 71.0 % 4.71 4.58 0.1
Derek Lowe 40.0 5.2 3.1 0.7 .317 67.8 % 4.55 4.03 0.2
Robbie Ross 35.0 6.7 3.2 0.7 .297 72.9 % 3.64 3.79 0.1
Joakim Soria 30.0 8.4 2.8 1.0 .306 74.1 % 3.73 3.66 0.2
Neftali Feliz 25.0 8.5 3.9 1.1 .292 75.5 % 3.78 4.07 0.1
The Others 136.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 551.0 7.6 3.8 1.0 .305 73.0 % 4.11 4.23 3.3

Like the character Psmith from some of P.G. Wodehouse’s best novels, the Texas Rangers are both smart and rich. That’s usually a pretty good combination so far as roster construction is concerned, and is certainly responsible for the club’s success in recent years. It also explains both how and why the Rangers were able to make a ca. $15 million bet on closer Joe Nathan during the 2011-12 offseason.

Following a 2010 season lost entirely to Tommy John surgery, Nathan returned to the Twins in 2011, but only faintly resembled the pitcher who posted a 42 ERA- in 418.2 innings between 2004 and -09 and finished second only to Mariano Rivera during the stretch in terms of WAR based only runs allowed (as opposed to FIP). The Rangers signed him to a two-year deal before 2012, and Nathan pitched like he had before his elbow trouble.

After featuring a bullpen with proven high-end relievers Mike Adams, Alexi Ogando, and Koji Uehara last season, the Rangers enter 2013 with more in the way of question marks. Adams signed this offseason with Philadelphia; Uehara, with Boston. Ogando, meanwhile, will fill rotation spots left vacant by the injured Neftali Feliz and Colby Lewis. As a result, Jason Frasor and Josh Lindblom will take care of the high-leverage innings not accounted for by Nathan.

Of some note is the Rangers’ signing of Soria. Not unlike Nathan, he has been one of the top relievers in baseball at points. Also not unlike Nathan, he underwent Tommy John surgery and then signed with Texas (in this case, for two years and $8 million) before returning to his previous form. Soria is scheduled to return in May or June, as of now.

#11 Phillies

Jonathan Papelbon 65.0 11.1 2.5 0.8 .311 79.8 % 2.77 2.76 1.7
Mike Adams 65.0 8.5 2.7 0.9 .302 76.2 % 3.24 3.37 0.9
Antonio Bastardo 55.0 11.8 4.1 1.0 .308 79.3 % 3.15 3.26 0.7
Chad Durbin 55.0 7.6 3.7 1.1 .304 72.9 % 4.19 4.23 0.0
Michael Stutes 45.0 8.5 4.6 1.1 .298 74.6 % 4.14 4.35 -0.1
B.J. Rosenberg 40.0 8.2 3.8 1.1 .317 71.1 % 4.46 4.22 0.0
Phillippe Aumont 35.0 9.5 5.8 0.8 .314 72.1 % 4.36 4.21 0.0
Jeremy Horst 30.0 7.8 3.8 0.9 .313 71.8 % 4.16 3.94 0.0
Justin De Fratus 25.0 8.5 3.3 0.9 .304 73.1 % 3.76 3.72 0.0
Jake Diekman 20.0 9.5 6.4 0.7 .313 72.0 % 4.40 4.30 0.0
Raul Valdes 15.0 8.7 2.3 1.2 .309 74.9 % 3.69 3.70 0.0
The Others 93.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 543.0 8.7 3.9 1.0 .307 74.2 % 3.85 3.92 3.3

During the 2011-12 offseason, Philadelphia signed free-agent closer Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year deal worth $50 million, with a $13 million vesting option for 2016 based on games finished. While there are certainly arguments for the contract representing a gross misappropriation of funds, it’s also the case that marginal wins — like the sort, that is, provided by a top relief ace — are worth more for teams in contention than those not in contention. That same kind of relief ace is also of some benefit to winning playoff series.

How one evaluates the Papelbon signing after its first year depends on a number of factors. Certainly one of those is how it wasn’t one or two wins that separated the 2012 Phillies from the playoffs, but rather seven wins. Still, Papelbon more or less repeated last year his lines from the previous six seasons with the Sox, striking out a third of opposing batters, limiting walks, and posting a park-adjusted xFIP about 30% better than league average.

Nor was the rest of the relief corps a liver of the chopped, or any other kind of, variety, finishing second among league’s 30 relief units in strikeout rate, with a 26.1% mark. Left-hander Antonio Bastardo, the only other reliever besides Papelbon to cross the 50-inning threshold, was instrumental to the club’s strikeout efforts, recording a 36.2% figure. Another likely contributor to that end in 2013 will be offseason signing Mike Adams, who enters the season having recovered, it seems, from offseason surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome.

#12 Athletics

Grant Balfour 65.0 8.8 3.4 0.9 .296 76.9 % 3.32 3.52 0.9
Ryan Cook 65.0 8.8 4.0 0.8 .298 74.9 % 3.47 3.64 0.7
Sean Doolittle 55.0 10.6 3.4 0.8 .303 77.1 % 2.97 3.06 1.0
Jerry Blevins 55.0 7.9 3.5 1.0 .296 74.3 % 3.79 4.00 0.2
Jordan Norberto 45.0 8.5 4.7 0.9 .297 73.2 % 3.91 4.08 0.1
Travis Blackley 40.0 6.4 3.3 0.9 .299 69.7 % 4.27 4.11 0.1
Pat Neshek 35.0 7.3 3.1 0.9 .307 73.4 % 3.85 3.95 0.0
Chris Resop 30.0 7.1 3.6 1.0 .306 72.5 % 4.09 4.13 0.0
Evan Scribner 25.0 7.4 3.3 1.0 .302 71.9 % 4.09 4.01 0.0
Pedro Figueroa 20.0 6.8 5.2 0.9 .299 72.0 % 4.51 4.64 0.0
Jesse Chavez 15.0 6.8 3.1 1.1 .307 69.2 % 4.56 4.32 0.0
The Others 79.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 529.0 7.9 3.8 0.9 .301 73.5 % 3.84 3.98 2.9

In Balfour, Cook and Doolittle, the A’s have a front three that measures up with any of the teams ahead of them on this list. The other names on the list, however, drop them down a few notches. Blevins isn’t awful, but even this modest projection of him may be generous — he has only compiled 0.7 WAR in the past four seasons, total. And as his K% and BB% testify, he is strictly a platoon pitcher — 26.4% K% and 5.9% BB% for his career against lefties, 17.6% and 11.2% against righties. Blackley had his uses last season, but if the rotation is steady, then his services as a long man may be relatively moot. And while it may be fun to wax nostalgic about 2007, when Neshek pitched 70.1 innings of 2.94 ERA, 3.64 FIP baseball, he’s not that guy any longer. In the past five seasons — only during four of which he’s been healthy enough to pitch — he hasn’t even reached that same 70.1 innings. He has amassed just 66.2 IP, and was generally been terrible while pitching them.

With a little luck though, the A’s won’t need to worry about the mop-up men too much. If things go to plan, the stable of young horses in the rotation will turn over games to Balfour, Cook and Doolittle in the eighth inning each night, sparing one of the three of having to pitch each night. Probably not realistic, but if Oakland is to surprise again, they will have to get close to achieving said plan.

#13 Giants

Sergio Romo 65.0 10.2 2.1 0.7 .299 79.2 % 2.47 2.63 1.7
Jeremy Affeldt 65.0 7.8 3.6 0.6 .305 74.3 % 3.38 3.44 0.6
Santiago Casilla 55.0 8.0 3.7 0.7 .297 75.2 % 3.43 3.61 0.3
George Kontos 55.0 7.5 3.2 0.9 .299 73.5 % 3.74 3.82 0.1
Javier Lopez 45.0 6.8 3.7 0.5 .305 72.1 % 3.54 3.49 0.2
Chad Gaudin 40.0 6.9 3.4 0.9 .306 70.5 % 4.21 4.09 0.0
Jose Mijares 35.0 8.5 3.7 0.8 .301 75.6 % 3.49 3.67 0.0
The Others 149.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 -0.1
Total 509.0 7.5 3.6 0.8 .302 73.5 % 3.72 3.89 2.9

This ranking is no indictment of Sergio Romo. The diminuitive right-hander has sufficiently proved his low-velocity but incredibly sharp repertoire can flourish in the ninth inning. Romo has been one of the game’s best relievers over the past two season, and there’s no reason to believe that will change. His absurd 16 percent swinging strike over the past two years is propped up by a slider that should be in the conversation for best pitch in the game. Romo will stick around.

There just isn’t much in terms of top-tier talent behind him. We saw Santiago Casilla struggle with control last season. Jeremy Affeldt was excellent last year (2.70 ERA, 2.73 FIP), but prior to 2012 he posted four consecutive seasons with a FIP above 3.50. The pitchers behind them are generally acceptable — none of the Kontos/Lopez/Gaudin/Mijares group has major flaws, but none are particularly strong either. Luckily for San Francisco, their starting rotation should be enough to keep most of the important innings to their top trio.

#14 Rays

Fernando Rodney 65.0 8.7 3.6 0.7 .298 76.1 % 3.16 3.38 1.0
Joel Peralta 65.0 9.3 2.7 1.2 .290 79.5 % 3.20 3.62 0.6
Jake McGee 55.0 10.3 2.9 0.9 .296 80.0 % 2.88 3.10 0.9
Kyle Farnsworth 55.0 8.2 2.9 0.9 .296 75.0 % 3.43 3.58 0.4
Roberto Hernandez 45.0 5.4 2.6 1.0 .296 69.7 % 4.25 4.30 0.0
Jamey Wright 40.0 6.5 3.7 0.6 .303 71.1 % 3.76 3.83 0.1
Cesar Ramos 35.0 6.5 3.9 1.1 .299 72.0 % 4.51 4.66 -0.1
Brandon Gomes 30.0 8.2 3.8 1.1 .300 75.6 % 3.85 4.18 0.0
Josh Lueke 25.0 6.9 3.4 0.9 .303 71.7 % 4.11 4.07 0.0
Dane de la Rosa 20.0 7.9 5.5 0.9 .300 72.3 % 4.44 4.60 0.0
Frank De Los Santos 15.0 4.6 3.6 1.1 .298 69.4 % 4.84 4.90 0.0
Juan Oviedo 10.0 8.1 3.1 1.0 .299 73.5 % 3.75 3.71 0.0
Alex Torres 10.0 8.4 6.6 0.9 .305 72.3 % 4.59 4.83 0.0
The Others 26.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 0.0
Total 496.0 7.8 3.4 0.9 .298 74.3 % 3.71 3.91 2.8

Tampa Bay has made a habit of finding pitchers down on their luck and turning them into heartwarming tales. Last year, Rays fans across Florida were shooting arrows in honor of Rodney. This year, perhaps it is Hernandez’s turn. He may end up in the rotation, but should he find his way to the ‘pen, he will have good company. Speaking of, Rodney isn’t likely to duplicate his otherworldly 2012 numbers, but he is also unlikely to fall back off the cliff that he had before the Rays rescued him.

Elsewhere, old guys Peralta and Farnsworth are hanging around, keeping McGee from getting too excited about his prospects as back-up closer, though as the rare lefty without much of a platoon split, it’s certainly a role that he could handle. Speaking of old guys, the Rays also scooped up Wright, who is fresh off one of the best seasons of his somehow-very-long career. Tampa will be his 10th team. Tampa even created a new market inefficiency this offseason this offseason, when they picked up not only Hernandez, but also Juan Oviedo — bringing two of the most recent players to change their names under one roof. Oviedo is still recovering from Tommy John surgery though, and is unlikely to contribute before September, if at all.

#15 Tigers

Bruce Rondon 65.0 9.4 6.1 1.0 .312 72.6 % 4.63 4.63 -0.1
Joaquin Benoit 65.0 9.9 2.8 1.1 .303 76.6 % 3.39 3.50 1.0
Octavio Dotel 55.0 9.1 2.7 1.0 .305 75.2 % 3.35 3.35 0.9
Phil Coke 55.0 7.6 3.3 0.9 .319 72.0 % 3.95 3.78 0.4
Al Alburquerque 45.0 10.6 4.7 0.8 .313 75.4 % 3.51 3.52 0.4
Brayan Villarreal 40.0 10.2 4.6 0.9 .300 77.0 % 3.47 3.71 0.2
Duane Below 35.0 5.4 3.2 1.3 .311 68.6 % 5.14 4.89 0.0
Luis Marte 30.0 7.5 4.3 1.1 .303 72.8 % 4.44 4.58 0.0
Kyle Lobstein 25.0 5.3 4.9 1.4 .309 66.8 % 5.95 5.66 -0.1
Darin Downs 20.0 7.2 3.5 0.8 .313 71.1 % 4.17 3.93 0.0
The Others 43.0 6.0 4.5 1.0 .304 71.8 % 4.50 4.88 0.0
Total 478.0 8.4 4.0 1.0 .308 73.0 % 4.10 4.11 2.7

We could sit here and debate the decision to make Rondon the Opening Day closer until the cows come home. But in reality, he’s probably going to have some help locking down games for Detroit this season. Whether it’s the dependable Benoit or Dotel, the lefty Coke or the enigmatic Alburquerque — who may be the best of the group but needs to prove he can stay healthy — Rondon isn’t going to be charging into battle by himself.

Even beyond those five guys, Detroit has depth, as Villarreal is also a flame-thrower who generated plenty of swings and misses last season. Rondon is dragging the team’s overall ranking down a bit here because he is listed in the catbird seat, but if he is as good as the Tigers think he is, and if Alburquerque and Villarreal can toss more than 85 innings between the two of them, Detroit will shift up a few notches. We’ll take the conservative approach for now though.

2013 Positional Power Rankings: Wrap-Up.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Now that we’ve completed our journey through the positional power rankings for the upcoming season, I wanted to give an overview of each team’s forecasts for each spot, and then their overall forecast. Keep in mind that simply summing the linear weights contribution of each individual player is a very crude way to project a team’s performance, since it leaves out things that a good projection system should forecast, such as strength of schedule and the non-linear interactions that effect run scoring. However, for being a crude back-of-the-envelope calculation, it also works pretty well, so as long as you take these in the spirit they’re intended and not as the gospel truth, this kind of exercise can give you a lot of information about where teams stand heading into the coming season.

So, here’s the total results for each team’s forecast WAR from the Positional Power Rankings, and the conversion from that into projected wins.

Tigers 4.7 4.3 2.3 2.9 6.5 1.4 3.8 2.2 2.0 19.6 2.7 52.4 94
Angels 3.7 4.8 3.0 3.1 2.6 5.4 5.0 4.1 1.9 12.7 2.6 48.9 90
Rangers 3.2 1.5 3.8 3.5 5.3 2.7 2.7 2.2 2.4 17.2 3.3 47.8 89
Nationals 3.5 2.2 2.8 3.7 4.6 3.8 3.2 2.6 17.8 2.6 46.8 88
Braves 4.3 2.9 2.6 3.1 2.3 4.1 3.6 5.0 13.1 5.5 46.4 88
Reds 4.1 5.9 3.5 2.7 2.7 2.3 3.6 3.4 13.2 3.4 45.0 86
Dodgers 3.8 4.4 2.0 3.4 2.6 1.7 5.0 2.8 15.9 2.7 44.3 85
Blue Jays 3.3 3.3 1.6 3.9 4.4 1.9 2.4 4.2 1.6 13.6 4.0 44.1 85
Rays 2.3 1.2 3.8 3.5 6.0 2.7 3.7 3.0 1.5 13.2 2.8 43.8 85
Yankees 1.7 3.0 5.1 2.0 3.7 2.2 3.7 0.9 0.7 16.3 4.3 43.6 85
Diamondbacks 4.5 2.7 3.1 2.0 3.7 1.9 3.6 1.6 16.0 4.3 43.3 84
Red Sox 3.1 2.3 4.9 1.9 2.8 1.4 4.1 2.2 2.9 14.0 3.7 43.3 84
Cardinals 5.5 3.2 2.2 1.2 3.7 4.5 3.8 3.2 13.6 2.2 43.2 84
Giants 6.5 3.5 2.3 2.2 4.6 1.8 3.5 2.2 13.3 2.9 42.8 84
Phillies 5.0 1.6 4.0 3.3 2.1 2.1 2.6 1.6 16.6 3.3 42.1 83
Athletics 3.8 1.6 1.9 2.9 2.9 2.7 3.5 2.8 1.2 14.2 2.9 40.4 82
Pirates 3.3 1.9 3.7 2.3 3.2 2.7 6.0 2.2 12.1 2.0 39.2 80
Rockies 3.1 1.4 2.3 5.2 1.3 3.9 3.2 1.8 12.0 4.8 39.1 80
Brewers 4.0 1.8 3.2 2.3 4.3 6.0 3.2 2.3 10.6 1.1 38.8 80
White Sox 2.9 2.4 1.9 2.4 2.2 1.6 3.0 1.6 1.2 15.8 3.7 38.7 80
Royals 4.3 2.2 1.3 2.2 3.3 3.7 2.8 0.6 2.8 11.2 4.1 38.5 80
Cubs 2.9 3.5 2.2 3.5 1.6 2.1 2.5 1.3 14.5 2.4 36.4 78
Padres 3.9 1.9 3.1 2.3 4.8 2.9 3.7 2.2 9.1 1.4 35.3 76
Indians 4.3 2.6 3.2 3.6 2.6 1.6 3.6 1.5 0.3 9.2 1.6 34.1 75
Orioles 4.7 1.5 0.9 3.3 2.5 1.6 3.5 2.4 (0.1) 10.8 2.6 33.4 75
Mariners 3.3 1.3 2.9 1.9 2.7 2.0 2.3 1.4 1.5 11.7 2.2 33.1 74
Mets 3.3 2.9 2.4 2.4 4.9 0.9 1.9 1.3 11.2 1.3 32.5 74
Twins 4.4 2.5 1.2 1.0 1.7 3.0 1.7 1.6 0.9 9.4 1.3 28.6 70
Marlins 1.6 1.5 0.8 1.2 1.3 0.7 2.2 6.5 8.9 2.0 26.7 68
Astros 2.4 1.2 2.7 1.7 2.2 2.2 2.3 1.5 1.4 6.0 (0.glasses.gif 22.8 64

(That table is sortable, by the way, so you can go position by position if you’d like to see the spreads at each spot on the field.)

By this measure, the Tigers are the best team in baseball, with a substantial gap over everyone else. While last year’s Detroit team was built around a few great players hoping to compensate for a lot of weaknesses in the supporting cast, this year’s version includes a lot of upgrades at those complementary spots, and that depth pushes Detroit to the top of the pack. I’ve been hailing the Nationals as the best team in baseball due to the fact that their roster really doesn’t have any glaring flaws, but Detroit is similarly sound across the board. Given the weakness of the rest of the AL Central, the Tigers are almost certainly the team with the best odds of playing in October, and as long as they can keep their big guns healthy, they have a very good shot at returning to the World Series.

From there, things go mostly as you might expect. The Angels and Rangers are similarly good teams and should fight for the AL West. The Braves look like the Nationals stiffest competition in the NL East, and the gap there might be smaller than I’ve thought previously. The AL East and NL West are a jumble of teams with similar abilities. The Astros are the worst team in baseball, with the Marlins and Twins not far behind.

But there are some surprises in the mix too. The Blue Jays don’t grade out as a top tier team, even after their aggressive off-season of upgrades. I think the forecast is underselling R.A. Dickey here, and they have a decent chance to beat the 85 win forecast, but they are betting big on some high variance players coming off career years. Their season might very well come down to whether Dickey and Melky Cabrera can retain a good chunk of their breakout 2013 performances. These forecasts are down on both, but there’s certainly upside with both players beyond what is projected here.

And yes, even with the park adjustments, this system is still pretty bullish on Colorado. The bullpen is very good, the rotation doesn’t project as a disaster, and better health from a couple of game’s best players should keep the offense afloat, even if it’s not good enough to keep them in contention. While the Rockies were genuinely awful last year, we may be overreacting to the most recent performance and not acknowledging that there is some real talent on that team. Probably not enough to contend, but enough to finish near .500 as long as Troy Tulowitzki stays on the field for most of the season.

On the not-as-positive side of things, these forecasts are wholly unimpressed by the Indians, and instead of seeing them as upstarts who could give the Tigers a run for their money, this system has Cleveland finishing fourth in the AL Central, closer to the Twins than to .500. Almost all of the negativity comes from the pitching projections, however, and those are the ones with the most variance, especially if Cleveland’s offense provides reasons for optimism and the front office makes some in-season adjustments to the pitching staff. I wouldn’t write off Cleveland just yet, but it’s probably worth toning down the enthusiasm their off-season created just a bit, as there are still some real issues with that roster.

Scheduling and in-season roster moves will widen the spread of actual wins versus what you see here, but I think these numbers also back up the idea that there is a lot of parity in Major League Baseball right now, and picking the winners at the start of the season isn’t nearly as easy as it used to be. Detroit looks like a safe bet at the top of their division, but nearly every other race could be construed as a real toss-up, at least according to these numbers. I’d make a few adjustments here or there in my own personal picks, but overall, I think this system worked out pretty well, and gives us a pretty good overview of the strengths and weaknesses of each team heading into the season.

Now, we’ll just have to see what big surprises lay in store once the games actually start to matter.
post #10303 of 73600
post #10304 of 73600
Originally Posted by ShannonsCrooks View Post

Originally Posted by dland24 View Post

You must have missed 2012.

and 2011, 2010, 2009, etc.

Ahh just getting back into baseball huh? Gotcha. Weeks had a horrendous start to the 2012 season and it landed him back in the minors. Also, his commitment to the game seems to be lacking, so there are work ethic/desire issues with him.
post #10305 of 73600

Im ready for the Phillies season to get underway ! I cant believe its really like here though 


Remind yourself. Nobody built like you, you design yourself !





Team T.A.N   







Remind yourself. Nobody built like you, you design yourself !





Team T.A.N   





post #10306 of 73600
Ready to see the braves rock halladay next week
post #10307 of 73600
Originally Posted by Mr Marcus View Post

Ready to see the braves rock halladay next week

very possible i am alittle shaky about him this season atleast He had a MUCH better outing today than his recent starts 


Remind yourself. Nobody built like you, you design yourself !





Team T.A.N   







Remind yourself. Nobody built like you, you design yourself !





Team T.A.N   





post #10308 of 73600
Johan Santana out for the year sick.gif
post #10309 of 73600
At least Citi Field is nice
post #10310 of 73600
Thread Starter 
And they have the ASG this year.

That really sucks for him and them, hate to hear it happen to him.
post #10311 of 73600
Kinda late, but WBC hat came in.

******g NE tho, 7 3/8 fits like a 7/8 and the crown is so high sick.gif
post #10312 of 73600
Johan was amazing to watch as a Twin. I doubt he'll ever be the same
post #10313 of 73600
Originally Posted by Nawzlew View Post

Kinda late, but WBC hat came in.

******g NE tho, 7 3/8 fits like a 7/8 and the crown is so high sick.gif

?? What country is that?
post #10314 of 73600
Taiwan, aka "Chinese Taipei".
post #10315 of 73600
not a baseball fan but i feel for santana
IG @D.fresh___
IG @D.fresh___
post #10316 of 73600
Thats why I buy hats in person can never trust the sizing
MLB Los Angeles Dodgers
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MLB Los Angeles Dodgers
NFL Denver Broncos
NBA Los Angeles Lakers
USC Trojans
post #10317 of 73600
Originally Posted by Lpheat22 View Post

Thats why I buy hats in person can never trust the sizing

Couldn't find it in stores frown.gif
post #10318 of 73600
Bought season tickets, my body is ready.
post #10319 of 73600
Originally Posted by dland24 View Post

Ahh just getting back into baseball huh? Gotcha. Weeks had a horrendous start to the 2012 season and it landed him back in the minors. Also, his commitment to the game seems to be lacking, so there are work ethic/desire issues with him.

Muchos gracias.

And yes, I am trying to get back into baseball this year. Been on the periphery and started watching the featured games on MLB Network last year.

Live in Boston and quite frankly am tired of the Red Sox, their owners, etc. Not to mention they are scrappy underdogs with a $175 million payroll................indifferent.gif..

I even did fantasy baseball this year to ignite my interest.
post #10320 of 73600
^ crooks, i actually think it'll be fun watching the sox this year. no real expectations so it'll be interesting to see how they do. plus, it's a year where we get to see some young future talent make the jump to the big leagues. i don't want to call it a bridge year, but it is what it is. large payroll or not, it's not the same self entitled team we've seen the last couple of years.
Boston Bruins | New England Patriots | Boston Red Sox | Georgetown Hoyas | Michigan Wolverines |
Arsenal FC | Huevos Rancheros Hockey | USMNT
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Arsenal FC | Huevos Rancheros Hockey | USMNT
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