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2017 Positional Power Rankings: Bullpen (#16-30)

The positional power rankings continue. If you’ve come across the 16th- through 30th-ranked bullpens by accident or are otherwise unfamiliar with these power rankings, feel free to read Dave Cameron’s introduction. If you’re interested in any other positional rankings, use the links above this paragraph. For the start of the relief-pitcher portion, read on.

The graph below contains half the major-league teams. If you don’t see your favorite team below, congratulations: you cheer for a club that ranks in the top half of baseball when it comes to relievers. Those teams will be covered in short order, and if there’s a link at the beginning of this post to them, that means they’ve already been published.

While this post covers the bottom half of the rankings, the first few teams included here are extremely close to the teams just ahead of them, and there are a few bullpens whose projections potentially underrate them. Add in some reliever volatility and random fluctuation, and we could see a number of these clubs among the league’s top 10 at the end of the year.

A note: while you won’t find Andrew Miller’s club here, you’ll find his name invoked with some frequency. There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about deploying elite relievers in non-traditional but high-leverage situations. Cleveland’s use of Andrew Miller in last year’s postseason is about the purest expression of this concept in some time. While that sort of usage isn’t sustainable over the course of a full regular season, there are times when it represents the best option for a team.

To that end, I’ve provided a rating (out of 10) of every team’s capacity to use a reliever in these non-traditional situation. I refer to this as the Andrew Miller Situation Scale. The ratings are subjective and somewhat arbitrary, but tend to be higher for clubs whose best reliever isn’t also their closer. Secondary considerations include the club’s motivations for using the strategy (if it’s financially motivated, for example) as well as the actual quality of both the “elite” reliever and closer. Basically, the higher the number, the more the situation resembles an Andrew Miller situation.

Roberto Osuna   65.0 10.3 2.3 1.1 .297 77.8 % 3.13 3.34 1.5
Jason Grilli 65.0 10.9 3.8 1.3 .305 76.4 % 3.82 3.92 0.6
Joseph Biagini 55.0 8.0 2.8 1.0 .314 73.4 % 3.89 3.96 0.4
J.P. Howell 55.0 7.4 3.4 0.9 .316 74.0 % 3.90 4.04 0.2
Joe Smith 45.0 7.8 2.9 1.0 .306 73.9 % 3.77 4.07 0.2
Aaron Loup 40.0 8.6 3.1 1.0 .309 74.1 % 3.76 3.94 0.2
Ryan Tepera 35.0 8.7 3.5 1.1 .309 73.8 % 3.99 4.13 0.0
Danny Barnes 30.0 9.8 2.4 1.1 .311 74.3 % 3.63 3.55 0.2
Christopher Smith 25.0 8.3 4.2 1.3 .324 69.1 % 5.10 4.74 0.0
Bo Schultz 20.0 6.9 3.1 1.3 .305 70.5 % 4.57 4.54 0.0
Matt Dermody 15.0 6.5 2.5 1.2 .313 69.1 % 4.59 4.37 0.0
Mat Latos 10.0 6.6 3.0 1.3 .309 70.2 % 4.77 4.69 0.0
Glenn Sparkman   10.0 7.6 2.5 1.4 .312 71.1 % 4.47 4.43 0.0
The Others 15.0 8.3 4.2 1.3 .324 69.1 % 5.10 4.74 0.0
Total 485.0 8.7 3.1 1.1 .310 73.7 % 3.93 4.00 3.3

The list of relief pitchers with a better projection than Roberto Osuna isn’t long. None of the other pitchers I’m covering today are superior, in fact, and he ranks 10th overall. Osuna is just 22 years old and is entering his third MLB season. He struck out nearly 30% of batters and walked just 5% last season, and led American League relievers with a 21% infield-fly rate. The Blue Jays rank this low not because of Osuna, but because of the rest of the pen.

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2017 Positional Power Rankings: Starting Rotation (#1-15)

The positional power rankings continue with an entry that should be most strongly correlated to regular season, and postseason, success: the top-15 starting pitching depth charts. Paul Sporer began the starting pitching countdown with rotations No. 16-30 here, and we now advance from the Toyota Corolla to Cadillac class with this post.

The distribution of projected WAR is not much different than a year ago, with seven instead of six teams predicted to receive more than 16 WAR from their starting pitchers. The Dodgers, Mets, Nationals, Indians and Cubs again project to rank among the top six of starting-pitcher production, with the Dodgers and Mets flip-flopping positions.

While there’s been a lot of focus on the home-run spike that began in the second half of 2015 and carried over to last season (starters allowed a record 13.3% HR/FB rate last year) and while run-scoring has increased across the league and while we’ve focused this offseason on the new swing philosophies of some players who might further increase offense, there’s still plenty of quality starting pitch. Starting pitchers produced record strikeout rates and strikeout- and walk-rate differentials (K-BB%) last season, and our forecasts call for starting pitchers to produce record collective WAR totals in 2017. Much of that value resides in the following depth charts.

Clayton Kershaw 208.0 11.0 1.5 0.7 .302 79.6 % 2.33 2.34 7.4
Rich Hill 140.0 10.0 3.3 0.9 .298 76.6 % 3.21 3.48 2.8
Kenta Maeda 154.0 8.5 2.3 1.0 .303 73.8 % 3.57 3.64 2.8
Brandon McCarthy 121.0 7.2 2.3 1.1 .305 72.7 % 3.95 4.09 1.5
Alex Wood 94.0 8.0 2.7 1.0 .306 73.1 % 3.77 3.82 1.4
Julio Urias 102.0 9.1 3.1 0.9 .307 74.9 % 3.49 3.61 1.9
Scott Kazmir   73.0 8.4 2.8 1.1 .301 73.3 % 3.91 4.00 1.1
Hyun-Jin Ryu 47.0 7.2 2.1 1.0 .309 71.7 % 3.83 3.74 0.7
Brock Stewart   19.0 8.5 2.5 1.3 .305 72.3 % 4.07 4.06 0.3
Ross Stripling 9.0 7.3 2.7 1.1 .306 70.4 % 4.21 4.11 0.1
Total 967.0 9.0 2.4 1.0 .303 74.9 % 3.36 3.45 20.0

After ranking second a year ago in these preseason rankings, the Dodgers advance to the No. 1 spot. Not only do the Dodgers have the top starting pitcher in the game to lead their rotation, they have the deepest rotation in the majors. Arms like Hyun-Jin Ryu and Scott Kazmir might not be able to crack the Dodgers’ starting rotation — Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said on Sunday that Kazmir would not begin the season in the rotation — but they would start for just about any other club. The Dodgers are eight deep with quality options, eight pitchers that project to produce sub-4.00 ERAs. Finding places for them is a good problem to solve, and it’s in part why the Dodgers top FanGraphs’ projected wins forecast. Not only are they talented but they have margin for error.

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2017 Positional Power Rankings: Starting Rotation (#16-30)

We continue our positional power rankings today. Dave Cameron’s introduction plus all the batting-related installments of the series can be accessed using the navigation bar above. Now, it’s time for pitchers. Specifically, I’ll cover the 16th- to 30th-ranked rotations. (Travis Sawchik will have Nos. 1-15 later today.)

First, the obligatory graph:

What we have here is a little bit of the leftover wheat from the top group and then a whole lot of chaff. I’m not even sure what chaff is and yet I’m certain that it accurately describes Jered Weaver at this point. Fear not, Padres fans, he was simply suffering through some dead arm (for what, the last two-plus years?!) when he posted that 2.44 ERA in the Cactus League. Wait nevermind, that 2.44 was his WHIP.

There is some fun in knowing that one or two teams within this set of rotations will emerge as top-10 rotations, just as the Blue Jays and Phillies did a year ago. Now the Phillies are already in the top 15 and the Blue Jays vacillated between 14 and 16 as the updates rolled through while I wrote this. My predictions to rise up are the Diamondbacks and Braves.

Aaron Sanchez 205.0 7.9 3.2 0.9 .302 73.7 % 3.69 3.86 3.4
J.A. Happ 181.0 7.8 2.8 1.2 .303 72.5 % 4.11 4.15 2.6
Marcus Stroman 169.0 7.5 2.4 0.9 .313 71.3 % 3.85 3.64 3.2
Marco Estrada 167.0 7.0 2.9 1.4 .277 71.6 % 4.31 4.62 1.9
Francisco Liriano 149.0 9.6 4.1 1.2 .310 74.3 % 4.11 4.22 1.8
Casey Lawrence 37.0 5.1 2.4 1.5 .312 67.9 % 5.20 5.04 0.2
Mat Latos 38.0 6.6 3.0 1.3 .309 70.2 % 4.77 4.69 0.3
Mike Bolsinger 9.0 8.5 3.5 1.3 .317 71.7 % 4.51 4.36 0.1
Conner Greene 9.0 5.8 4.6 1.4 .311 67.6 % 5.77 5.63 0.0
Ryan Borucki 9.0 5.8 3.8 1.6 .310 68.3 % 5.59 5.54 0.0
Total 973.0 7.7 3.0 1.1 .302 72.3 % 4.11 4.18 13.4

December 17, 2012: Noah Syndergaard traded by the Toronto Blue Jays with Wuilmer Becerra (minors), John Buck and Travis d’Arnaud to the New York Mets for R.A. Dickey, Mike Nickeas and Josh Thole.

Sorry, Jays fans. That’s mean, but just imagine a Thor-Sanchez-Stroman top three in Toronto. Aaron Sanchez converted to the rotation full time, packed on some muscle, and simply led the AL in ERA over 192 innings. Originally facing an innings limit, the Jays relented and kept Sanchez in the rotation all year. He leans heavily on an elite power sinker that befuddles lefties and righties with aplomb.

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Sunday Notes: Dombrowski, Nola, Ngoepe, Kokubo, Knuckleball Release Points, more

When it comes to acquiring relievers, Dave Dombrowski hasn’t had much luck in recent seasons. He’s made a lot of great signings and trades over the years, but as of late it’s as though someone has been following him around with voodoo dolls and pins.

Prior to the 2014 season, as GM of the Tigers, Dombrowski signed closer Joe Nathan to a free agent contract. Nathan proceeded to log 35 saves, but he had a 4.81 ERA and a number of implosions. The following April, he had Tommy John surgery.

In July 2014, the Tigers traded for Joakim Soria, hoping he could bolster their underperforming bullpen. Instead, the former Kansas City closer had a 4.51 ERA over 13 appearances, then allowed five runs in one inning of work in the ALDS.

In December 2015, in his first big move after taking over as president of baseball operations in Boston, Dombrowski dealt for Craig Kimbrel. The all-star closer suffered six losses, had a career-high 3.40 ERA, and his 31 saves were his fewest in a full season. His walk rate was an ugly 5.1.

Later that December, Carson Smith was acquired via trade from Seattle. Instead of being the shut-down setup man Boston was counting on, Smith had Tommy John surgery after making just three appearances. Read the rest of this entry »

2017 Positional Power Rankings: Designated Hitter

For reasons no one can fathom, you’ve clicked on a post about all the designated hitters in baseball — one of the most absurd installments in our ongoing positional power rankings for 2017. Would you care to read an introduction to the entire series? Dave Cameron has authored one. Would you care to read about other positions? My colleague Sean Dolinar, whatever his many flaws, has created the navigation bar above.

As with the other posts in this series, the current one begins with an illustrative graph:

Here one finds the projected WAR totals for each of the American League’s 15 designated-hitter spots, calculated by combining the Steamer and ZiPS projections hosted at this site with playing-time estimates curated by FanGraphs authors.

Unlike some of the other graphs in this series, this one has been altered slightly to allow for a negative value on the Y axis — in order to accommodate the Chicago White Sox, that is. As the author has noted elsewhere, the White Sox actually rank 30th in the majors on the DH charts before the NL clubs are removed. This isn’t what’s known as an “ideal” state of affairs.

If one is searching for a unifying theme here, I advise you to stop immediately: the relentless human need for patterns and meaning distorts reality! That said, many of the players included here do possess one quality in common, which is that they’re older than the average ballplayer, many of them in their mid-30s.

Those cursory remarks having been made, I invite you to an even longer collection of cursory remarks.

Edwin Encarnacion 525 .259 .353 .500 .362 16.8 -0.7 0.0 2.1
Carlos Santana 105 .251 .368 .458 .357 2.9 -0.2 0.0 0.4
Michael Brantley 56 .292 .356 .442 .342 0.9 0.2 0.0 0.2
Brandon Guyer 14 .269 .349 .408 .333 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .261 .356 .487 .359 20.8 -0.7 0.0 2.7

The Toronto Blue Jays appeared at the top of these DH positional rankings in both 2015 and 2016. That’s relevant to the present incarnation of the Indians insofar as Edwin Encarnacion, who was previosly employed by Toronto as their DH, is now a member of the Clevelands, with whom he signed a three-year, $60 million deal this offseason.

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2017 Positional Power Rankings: Center Field

(Thanks to Eno Sarris and Nick Stellini for their help on this post.)

The corner outfielder posts yesterday were kind of depressing, but I have good news; I’ve found all the talented outfielders that were missing from the LF and RF posts. The best outfielders in the game mostly play center field now.

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2017 Positional Power Rankings: Right Field

This continues FanGraphs’ positional power rankings. Dave Cameron’s introduction is here. Other installments are available by clicking the links above. Projected numbers are a product of our depth-chart projections, produced by a combination of the Steamer and ZiPS forecasts and our own playing-time estimates.

We’re here to discuss every club’s right-field situation. We begin with a graph:

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If the Braves Fail, It Will Be for the Right Reasons

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Atlanta Braves president John Hart sports a tan this spring, which in itself isn’t particularly strange for someone in the baseball industry. In Hart’s case, the cause is the time he’s spent on the back fields, perhaps his favorite spot in the organization’s Disney-based complex. He rose to front-office prominence via an unorthodox path, having started on a managerial track in Baltimore until Hank Peters identified him as an executive candidate and brought him to Cleveland. He’s spent countless hours evaluating, coaching and encouraging on chain-link fields. It’s where the future is this time of year. But he also loves the back fields of the Braves’ complex this spring because of what he sees. It’s there where a small army of tall, lanky, projectable pitchers resides.

The Braves are the third franchise Hart is attempting to transform into a winner, and this rebuilding approach has been more pitching focused than his previous efforts in Cleveland and Texas. The Braves have four pitching prospects ranked in Baseball America’s top-100 rankings, five among Eric Longenhagen’s top 100, where two more just missed the cut in Sean Newcomb and Joey Wentz.

While the Braves have top-end positional prospects like Dansby Swanson (acquired via trade) and Ozzie Albies (signed by the previous regime), prospect talent acquired under Hart and general manager John Coppolella — particularly through the draft — has been pitching heavy.

I was curious to ask Hart about the subject after having interviewed him previously on the topic of the risk/reward dilemma presented by pitching prospects — particularly those drafted out of high school — back when Hart was an MLB Network analyst and I was a beat reporter covering the Pirates. At that time, I’d asked him about Pittsburgh’s Pitch-22 philosophy — i.e. the notion that most pitching prospects fail, but small- and mid-market teams must develop their own pitching.

The Pirates had made a historic commitment to pitching at the time. In three drafts from 2009 to -11, Pittsburgh expended 22 of their first 30 picks on pitchers. Seventeen were prep pitchers. The Pirates signed 18 of them to bonuses totaling $25.6 million.

Said Hart at the time:

“A truism is if you have 10, you can really count on two of them making it,” Hart said. “I came up in the (1980s) and never believed it. I said, ‘Come on, there can’t be that much attrition.’ Then bang: This guy gets hurt. This guy doesn’t develop a third pitch. … You can never have enough pitching.”

Hart’s estimate is pretty much in line with the success rate for pitchers rated as 100 prospects.

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2017 Positional Power Rankings: Left Field

If you’re a fan of the movie Remember The Titans, you probably remember the emotional turning point of T.C. Williams’ High training camp. It feels especially prescient when it comes to left efield this season:

The left side, or left field, is definitely a long ways away from being the strong side it used to be. And now that you’re properly fired up, let’s take a look at this year’s graph.

If you read Corinne Landrey’s piece in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2017, this might not surprise you. In it, Corinne notes that, as a position, left fielders recorded their lowest collective OPS+ since the designated hitter was introduced in 1973. Here’s one of the telling graphs from her piece.

Not pretty. And, as you can see, Barry Bonds propped up left field all by himself for quite some time. Left-field production has been trending downward for a while, and as you can see from our first graph, the projections don’t think this year will be any different. On the high end, it’s the only defensive position that doesn’t include a four-win team. (DH also doesn’t have one, but that’s pretty normal for DH). On the low end, no position has more teams pegged for fewer than 1.0 WAR — and no position has more teams pegged for negative WAR, either. Let’s turn to Cosmo Kramer to succinctly wrap up the 2017 left field outlook:

1. Mets
Yoenis Cespedes 525 .265 .320 .490 .340 9.6 0.4 5.1 2.7
Michael Conforto 105 .255 .327 .458 .335 1.5 0.0 0.5 0.4
Brandon Nimmo   35 .254 .328 .383 .311 -0.2 -0.1 -0.1 0.0
Juan Lagares 35 .254 .296 .367 .286 -0.9 0.0 0.5 0.0
Total 700 .262 .320 .474 .335 9.9 0.4 6.0 3.2

Last year at this time, Conforto was the one atop the Mets’ left-field depth chart. The young outfielder had a challenging season, though. Now, as far as left field is concerned, he’s in a reserve role, and will be one of the best backup outfielders in the game (if he doesn’t eventually claim the starting right-field job, that is). This isn’t the end of the world from a team perspective, as it puts Cespedes back in the place where he belongs. Cespedes simply doesn’t have the range for center field, and his arm doesn’t play up there like it does in left. The Mets might not have a true center fielder, but they do have a true left fielder. Cespedes is a weapon there.

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2017 Positional Power Rankings: Shortstop

The Positional Power Rankings series continues, because it would be weird if it didn’t. In here, we’re going to deal with shortstops on a team-by-team basis, wherein all the teams are ranked by projected WAR. The projected WARs, of course, will often end up different from the actual WARs, but these are basically our best estimates of positional true talent given what we know today, and the rankings are an excuse to write some commentary on everyone. I know it’s already linked up there, but here’s the series introduction, again, if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking at. It’s not that complicated! Except the projected-WAR part. That part is incredibly complicated. Here is a graph of everything:

There exists a belief that we’ve entered something of a golden age of shortstops. Relative to the league overall, shortstops just had their best offensive season on record. They also had their best collective WAR season in modern history. The belief begs for an explanation. One potential explanation would be that, no, there’s nothing here, and it’s all just random noise. That’s always one potential explanation for anything, and it’s never the fun one. Another potential explanation would be that, like so many things in baseball, it’s cyclical, and now we see shortstops on a temporary upswing.

My current preferred explanation is that teams now are more reluctant to move good players off shortstop. So many great players throughout baseball history used to be shortstops at some point. Players have been moved off because they got too big, or didn’t have enough mobility. Perhaps now teams don’t care so much about shortstop size. And it makes you wonder about the role of modern defensive shifting. It’s possible teams feel like new defensive alignments have reduced the need for extreme shortstop range. This is speculation on my part, but it’s where my mind is at the moment. Big players can stick, now more than ever. Let’s now talk about some big shortstops, and some littler shortstops. (There are still some little shortstops.) Off we go!

Carlos Correa 644 .279 .358 .479 .357 20.9 1.7 -1.2 5.1
Marwin Gonzalez 42 .257 .297 .400 .301 -0.6 -0.1 0.1 0.1
Alex Bregman 14 .267 .329 .447 .333 0.2 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .277 .354 .474 .353 20.5 1.6 -1.0 5.4

The place people care about most is first place, and here we have the Astros, which I’m sure will provoke something of a debate. I’ll note, though, that the only thing separating the Astros from the second-place team is the depth; the starters are projected to be virtually identical. I’ll say again, lots of teams have good shortstops. Lots of teams wouldn’t want to lose their own shortstops. The Astros are among those teams.

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The Present Imperfect

This is Kate Preusser’s third piece as part of her month-long residency. Read her previous posts here. Listen to her appearance on FanGraphs Audio here.

When Benji Gonzalez, a 27-year-old non-roster invitee for the Twins, poked a single into right field to break up a perfect game being thrown by the Rays’ pitching staff one week into spring training, I admit to sighing in relief. No need for asterisks, then. No need for the arguments about whether a perfect game thrown by multiple pitchers counts as much as one thrown by a single pitcher. No reminders that spring training doesn’t count and that this technically wouldn’t go down in the record books as a perfect game.

Of course, spring training doesn’t count, but the white whale of a perfect game, even in spring training, even thrown by multiple pitchers, is such a compelling figure in baseball that discussion of it would have been inevitable — and made more inevitable, perhaps, by the fact that baseball fans haven’t seen a perfect game, spring training or otherwise, in five years.

There has already been one recorded spring-training perfect game — a Red Sox win over the Blue Jays in the year 2000, featuring starting pitcher Pedro Martinez. Pedro would go on to have a complicated relationship with the perfect game and the no-hitter, coming close but never quite getting there. The role he played in the perfect spring-training game is rarely noted. Once more for the folks in the back: spring training doesn’t count. Even Rays pitcher Danny Farquhar thought they were playing shuffleboard:

“It was probably two outs into my first inning when I realized we had a perfect game,” Farquhar said. “I’m like, ‘Wow, we have a lot of points, and they have zero points. I’m going to try and not mess this up.'”

The eloquent Lord Farquhar receives partial credit for this response. The Rays — whose 17-run offensive onslaught managed to so confound all involved parties that even Farquhar himself didn’t realize it was a perfect game until he was two-thirds deep in his own inning — did indeed have a lot of points. The Twins, however, didn’t just have zero points, they had perfectly zero points, and the Rays staff was hurtling toward rarefied air in the baseball sphere, even if this achievement would have to ride in a little sidecar or sit at a table in the back near the kitchen.

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2017 Positional Power Rankings: Second Base

Welcome to Day Three of the 2017 Positional Power Rankings from FanGraphs. For some background on how these posts work, read the introductory post by Dave Cameron. Click on the links above to examine other positions.

The rankings below come from the FanGraphs Depth Chart projections. While the projections spit out specific numbers, these projections are estimates and teams that are within a few tenths of a win of each other have similar forecasts for the season. While I didn’t create the projections, the commentary is my own.

Last season was marked by a surge of offense throughout baseball, and this was very much the case for second basemen, who posted one of the greatest seasons of all time for the position. While it might be tempting to point to some sort of emerging group of players set to change the way we think about the position, the evidence doesn’t support that hypothesis. Of the top-eight players, only Jose Altuve will play this season under the age of 30, with many of the best already in their mid-30s. Jose Altuve is the exception, not the rule, as the young star has a sizable lead over his competitors at second.

This is the first time in half a decade that the team with Robinson Cano isn’t atop this list. Cano didn’t stumble far and other aging vets fall in line behind him. As far as the order in which clubs appear here, there could be a shakeup before the year is out. A couple teams near the top might be shopping their second basemen if they fall out of contention. If you’re looking for a team to rise, look to the south side of Chicago, where the best prospect in baseball could get his first real shot at a starting job later this season.

Jose Altuve 644 .316 .366 .469 .355 19.7 0.6 -2.9 4.3
Marwin Gonzalez 35 .257 .297 .400 .301 -0.5 -0.1 0.1 0.1
Tony Kemp 21 .256 .325 .344 .297 -0.4 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .311 .361 .462 .350 18.9 0.5 -2.8 4.4

For the last four years, the team that employed Robinson Cano occupied the top spot in these rankings. The reign that moved from New York to Seattle is no more. Jose Altuve, who is not tall, has the best projection for a second baseman by a quite a bit this year. In 2014 and 2015, Altuve had a 130 wRC+ based almost entirely on contact that stayed in the yard. His walk rate was under 5% and his .129 ISO — based on a large collection of doubles rather than homers. Last season, he kept roughly the same rate of doubles (42) and triples (5), but hit 24 homers and increased his walk rate by 70% without striking out more. The result was a 150 wRC+, good for eighth in all of baseball last season.

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2017 Positional Power Rankings: Third Base

We’re mixing up the schedule for the PPRs a bit this year, doing corner infielders today so that we can run middle infielders together tomorrow, so the third base rankings follow on Eno’s first base post from this morning. If you’re not sure what all this is, read the series introduction. On to the corners who can field.

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2017 Positional Power Rankings: First Base

This positional power ranking won’t be like the others. Take a look at the graph. In particular, note the right side of the graph.

You’ll notice that a number of the clubs with the poorest first-base situations simultaneously possess strong clubs overall. Seattle, Texas, Toronto, Washington: they’re all supposed to be competitive this year. They’ve punted the position, it seems. Maybe with the ubiquity of high-powered low-defense sluggers on the market, teams have decided just to take the cheapest one. What the reason, it makes for a weird fun-house version of the first-base depth charts we used to know and love.

1. Cubs
Anthony Rizzo 637 .280 .382 .526 .384 31.5 -0.8 5.9 4.7
Kris Bryant 28 .275 .370 .512 .375 1.2 0.1 0.2 0.2
Javier Baez 21 .256 .305 .433 .315 -0.2 0.0 0.1 0.0
Willson Contreras 14 .267 .336 .430 .331 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .278 .378 .521 .380 32.6 -0.7 6.2 4.9

I say all that and then the first spot up features a vintage first baseman. Anthony Rizzo can hit for power (15th-best isolated slugging percentage in the league) while striking out like it was the 90s (third-best strikeout rate in the top 15 for ISO). He even stole some bases one year. What more is there to say except that the book on Rizzo has been out for years — throw the plate-crowder inside, where he had the 12th-most pitches in baseball last year — and yet Rizzo keeps ticking like a metronome when it comes to power, patience, and contact.

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2017 Positional Power Rankings: Catcher

Welcome back to our annual positional power rankings, which Dave Cameron kicked off this morning with his introductory post. You’re probably familiar with these rankings and series of posts, but if you’re a first-timer, we endeavor to take you through the projected strength of each position in the majors by team — ranking each club from No. 1 to 30 — based upon FanGraphs WAR forecasts. We also provide commentary that hopefully provides some invaluable insights and light-hearted moments. We begin with the catching position.

As you can see in the chart above, the Giants, perhaps unsurprisingly, again pace the field in WAR thanks to Buster Posey. And that advantage is not insignificant in what is again projected to be the weakest position in the major leagues. Major-league catchers combined to slash .242/.310/.391 last season with a wRC+ of 87. So if your team has a Posey, if Gary Sanchez’s second half is indicative of who he might be for 2017, then those players stake their respective teams to significant relative advantages. Only five teams — the Giants, Rangers, Yankees, Dodgers and Astros — project to earn three wins or better from the position, though it is important to remember pitch framing isn’t factored into FanGraphs’ WAR formula.

There isn’t expected to be much change in relative power: the Giants, Nationals, Rangers, and Yankees comprised four of the top-six teams last year. Still, there are players like Travis d’Arnaud, Austin Hedges, and Mike Zunino who contain upside and could perhaps reach new levels of performance. As for an addition of new, young, star power, only two catchers — and Jorge Alfaro at No. 32 and Francisco Mejia at No. 37 — ranked in top 50 of Eric Longenhagen’s top 100 prospects. Mejia is not expected to contribute at the major-league level. So, let’s rank some catching depth charts, shall we?

Buster Posey 499 .297 .365 .459 .351 14.1 -1.4 5.6 4.5
Nick Hundley 109 .242 .292 .378 .288 -2.6 -0.3 -1.1 0.2
Trevor Brown 32 .236 .283 .330 .269 -1.3 0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 640 .284 .348 .438 .336 10.3 -1.7 4.4 4.7

There are some whispers that Buster Posey’s best days are behind him. Yes, his isolated slugging diminished for a second consecutive season. Yes, he posted his lowest wRC+ (116) in a full season. Yes, he’s logged a lot of innings behind the plate. Yes, he’s going to turn 30 years of age on March 27. But Posey’s average exit velocity was actually up last season (91.2 mph) from 2015 (89.6), his walk rate increased, and his elite bat-to-ball skills remained in place. He ranked as the game’s best framer, according to Baseball Prospectus, and he matched a career best by throwing out 37% of base-stealers. So, Posey should be just fine in 2017. Even if we’ve already witnessed peak Posey, he stands a good chance to again be the game’s most valuable catcher.

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Top 18 Prospects: Baltimore Orioles

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the Baltimore Orioles farm system. Scouting reports are compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as from my own observations. The KATOH statistical projections, probable-outcome graphs, and (further down) Mahalanobis comps have been provided by Chris Mitchell. For more information on the 20-80 scouting scale by which all of my prospect content is governed you can click here. For further explanation of the merits and drawbacks of Future Value, read this. -Eric Longenhagen

The KATOH projection system uses minor-league data and Baseball America prospect rankings to forecast future performance in the major leagues. For each player, KATOH produces a WAR forecast for his first six years in the major leagues. There are drawbacks to scouting the stat line, so take these projections with a grain of salt. Due to their purely objective nature, the projections here can be useful in identifying prospects who might be overlooked or overrated. Due to sample-size concerns, only players with at least 200 minor-league plate appearances or batters faced last season have received projections. -Chris Mitchell

Other Lists
AL Central (CHW, CLE, DET, KC, MIN)
NL Central (CHC, CIN, PIT, MIL, StL)
AL East (NYY, BAL)

Orioles Top Prospects
Rk Name Age Highest Level Position ETA FV
1 Chance Sisco 22 AAA C 2018 50
2 Cody Sedlock 21 A- RHP 2019 45
3 Ryan Mountcastle 20 A LF 2019 45
4 Keegan Akin 21 A- LHP 2020 45
5 Trey Mancini 24 MLB 1B 2017 45
6 Hunter Harvey 22 A RHP 2020 40
7 Gabriel Ynoa 23 MLB RHP 2017 40
8 Austin Hays 21 A- OF 2020 40
9 Jomar Reyes 20 A+ 3B 2020 40
10 Anthony Santander 22 A+ 1B/OF 2018 40
11 Ofelky Peralta 19 A RHP 2020 40
12 Matthias Dietz 21 A- RHP 2020 40
13 Chris Lee 24 AA LHP 2017 40
14 Jesus Liranzo 22 AA RHP 2017 40
15 Aneury Tavarez 24 AAA OF 2017 40
16 Garrett Cleavinger 22 A+ LHP 2018 40
17 Cedric Mullins 22 A OF 2020 40
18 Tanner Scott 22 AA LHP 2019 40

50 FV Prospects

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2013 from Santiago HS (CA)
Age 22 Height 6’2 Weight 193 Bat/Throw L/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
50/55 50/50 40/45 30/30 45/50 40/40

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Slashed .320/.406/.422 at Double-A in 2016.

Scouting Report
While this series has often extolled the virtues of loud tools, the best aspects of Sisco’s game are ensconced in quiet. This is most important defensively, where Sisco has improved to the point of viability. Balls in the dirt are sputtering off of Sisco’s catching gear with less force, and his receiving has become more still and refined. Scouts now consider Sisco, who didn’t start catching until his senior year of high school in 2013, a viable defensive backstop. Nobody is particularly excited about him back there, but he’s okay right now and should improve into his mid-20s as he continuously makes good use of his above-average athleticism and refines his skills. In fact, scouts consider Sisco athletic enough that, were something to occur that requires him to move out from behind the plate, he might be able to play somewhere other than first base/DH, which is often the value-crushing alternative for unsound defensive catchers.

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2017 Positional Power Rankings: Introduction

With two weeks left until Opening Day, it’s time for the annual FanGraphs season preview series, which we do a little differently around here. While plenty of other talented writers and publications put out previews by team or by division, we prefer to go position by position, which lets us cover pretty much every roster spot on every team in baseball. While traditional team previews focus mostly on the top end of a roster, the difference in making the postseason is often how well the end of the roster performs, and how much value teams get from their non-stars. By breaking down every position from 1 to 30, we can emphasize where every team looks strong — or a little less so — heading into the season.

The rankings themselves are based on the forecasted depth charts we host here on FanGraphs, which combine projections for rate stats from ZIPS and Steamer with manually curated playing-time forecasts. While forecasting systems have been shown to do better than most humans at forecasting production, humans win out when it comes to allocating playing time, so our depth charts try and leverage the best of both worlds. Of course, no projection system is perfect, and humans are prone to errors, so we don’t think these forecasts should be taken as gospel, but they do give you a good overview of what our site thinks about each team’s expected production at this point in the season.

Certainly, things will change between now and October. Players get hurt, prospects come up and make an unexpected splash, guys change their swings and become entirely different hitters overnight; the final season rankings by position won’t look exactly like these forecasts. That’s one of the things that is great about baseball.

But in general, there’s an upper limit to how many things can break right for a team in a given season. If your favorite team consistently ranks at or near the bottom of all these positional breakdowns, it’s probably fair to assume that they’re not going to win a lot of games this year.

One of the other benefits of doing our previews by position is that we can compare job-shares against full-time players, noting where a platoon might be more effective than a traditional everyday player even though both players in the platoon have obvious flaws. For corner outfield, first base, and designated hitter — where platoons are most common — the ability to look at the expected production from everyone who is allocated playing time at that spot helps give a better view of a team’s strength than simply looking at a team’s starters and bench separately.

That said, doing the posts by position also means that you might see some things that appear a little weird on the surface. For instance, the Cubs willingness to shift players around means that we’re projecting guys like Kris Bryant, Ben Zobrist, and Javier Baez to split their time between multiple positions, and thus, their overall value won’t show up entirely in any one of these posts. If you see a guy who plays several positions, and you think his forecast at one of those spots seems low, check the post for the other positions he plays; it’s probably being accounted for over there.

Additionally, because we only keep one overall value for projected fielding performance, players who play multiple positions will be displayed with the same FLD forecast at every position, even though a guy who splits time between shortstop and second base will probably run better defensive numbers at second base. The FLD projection includes the split in playing time, so the player’s overall forecasted value is correct, but just a heads up that you might see some odd FLD numbers for guys who bounce around.

Finally, let’s get the annual disclaimer out of the way: we don’t game these numbers at all to get any kind of desired result. The authors who are writing the content for each team’s summary don’t get to move teams around based on their own personal preference, and we’re not rigging the forecasts in the background to make sure that certain teams look better than the others. The results are simply the output of the ZIPS/Steamer forecasts and our playing time projections. If your team’s shortstops are ranked 14th and you think they should be ranked 8th, it’s not because we hate your team. This is just what the forecasts think in mid-March.

And really, for many of these positions, ordinal ranking is the wrong number to look at anyway. Often times, the differences between a dozen teams in the middle is a fraction of a forecasted WAR, and everyone within that tier should be considered on mostly even ground, even if one ranks 8th and the other 19th. We’ll include a graphical display of the overall team values at the top of each post, and it’s probably more helpful to look at which tier a team ranks in rather than the specific spot on the list. There are going to be lists where No. 2 and No. 3 aren’t anywhere near each other, while Nos. 3 and 12 are mostly interchangeable.

So, don’t freak out overall a particular ranking, especially if you could just change the number after decimal and a team would go up or down 10 spots. And really, it’s probably better to not freak out in general; your team is going to do whatever they’re going to do, regardless of our preseason projections, and all we’re attempting to provide is a realistic preseason baseline. But there’s enough variance in baseball that most teams, even the ones that don’t look great in March, could be playing meaningful baseball in September.

If you want to review last year’s forecasts while you’re waiting for the series to start — the catcher post will kick off the series in a few hours — then you can peruse each post from the helpful widget that Sean Dolinar created to link the posts together. That widget will make it easier for you to bounce from post to post as they go up. And if you’re just looking for something fun to look at, go check out the graph on last year’s center-fielder post, and then prepare yourself for an even more ridiculous center-field graph this year.

We’ll run through the position players this week and tackle pitchers next week, and wrap up the series with an overview of where everyone stands a few days before the 2017 season officially kicks off. We hope you enjoy these posts, since they are a mountain of work for our writers, and they help you get a better feel for where every team stands heading into the year.

Sunday Notes: Melvin’s Dialogue, Cecchini’s Failed Launch, Hickey, Hill, more

Bob Melvin is up to date on advanced stats and baseball’s technological advancements. As the manager of the Oakland A’s, he has to be. The game’s original Moneyball club is in much the same position they were when Kevin Youkilis was being dubbed “The Greek God of Walks” — monetarily challenged, they need to be as progressive as possible to compete.

When it comes to communicating ideas with his players, Melvin is careful not to introduce sensory overload. After all, not everyone on the roster is a Brandon McCarthy or a Jed Lowrie.

“It’s our job, as a staff, to be able to reach the players who want this type of information,” said Melvin. “Some can handle it, while for others it might be a distraction. Certain guys need information in layman’s terms. You have to take the principles and present them in a language they can grasp, because when you’re in a game, you can’t have too much clutter in the your brain.

“We’re a cutting edge organization that is always looking for advantages. With things like exit velocities and spin rates… we hire people to look at that. The people above me — David (Forst) and Billy (Beane) and these guys — do a good job of helping spoon-feed it down to the people we feel can handle it, and benefit by it.”

According to Melvin, more than aptitude is at play. Read the rest of this entry »

Imagining the New Matt Harvey

Remember Vintage Matt Harvey? He sat 96 and didn’t walk anyone and could go to any of three plus secondary pitches. Sigh. That Matt Harvey was sweet. And it was only 2015 when we last saw him. We all had hope that thoracic-outlet surgery would bring that Matt Harvey back, but we’re hearing some bad news on that front recently.

“Harvey’s velocity hovered in the 92-mph range — just as it has in all three of his spring starts — as he got roughed up in a 6-2 loss to the Marlins,” wrote Marc Carig on Wednesday before a grumpy Harvey did his best to assuage concerns with the press afterwards. Given his rough season last year, however — when he was down to 94 from 96 the years before — those fears are justified.

“It’s going to be there or it’s not, and I have to go out and pitch,” Harvey told Carig. “And I think after today I feel really confident going into my next outing and moving forward.” He’s right to assert that he has to pitch with whatever he has, and the underlying assumption, that others have been fine at similar velocities, is also correct. But will this righty, with this fastball, be just as well off as, say, two other righties who averaged 92 on their fastballs last year like a Tanner Roark or an Ian Kennedy? What will his work look like if he’s healthy all year?

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A Lot Will Depend on Sandy Leon

Sandy Leon was one of the more remarkable stories last season. As Jeff chronicled back in August, Leon took over for the Sox when they really needed a hero. He was that hero, at least for a brief time. He was nothing if not fresh — although that was mostly the result of not having played much at the major-league level previously. Now, he might be one of the most important members of the 2017 Red Sox team.

There are a couple of reasons Leon has become so important. The first and most important is that he has one of the highest (if not the highest) betas on his probable outcomes this season. Is Leon the guy who ran a 158 wRC+ from June to August, or the guy who ran a 44 wRC+ in September (and a 53 wRC+ over the first 107 plate appearances of his career, from 2012 to 2014)? The consensus seems to be something in between, but toward the lower end of that range. ZiPS has him pegged for a 78 wRC+; Steamer, a 74 wRC+ mark. Our depth charts split the difference at 76. The FANS projections are usually wildly optimistic, and that can be useful for players who have odd or small samples or some other manner of extenuating circumstance that might throw off those mean old algorithms. But even the FANS aren’t that optimistic: they have Leon down for just an 80 wRC+.

On the other hand, Leon told Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald recently that when he was signed as a professional, he was signed “because I could hit.” He said that defense was the thing on which he needed to work the most. It’s probably fair to say that, when he was signed, he needed to work on everything. Neither Baseball America nor John Sickels placed Leon among their top-10 Nationals prospect for 2008 — Sickels didn’t have him in his top 20. (Leon signed in 2007, but after both had compiled their Washington lists.) The same was true for the 2009 lists, and by that time, Derek Norris and Adrian Nieto were popping up on the Nats’ lists, so we can’t say that Leon was even the most highly rated catcher in the system.

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