The Worst Position on a Contending Team

The best position on a contending team is center field for the Angels. This is because that’s where Mike Trout is. There’s no single greater roster advantage in baseball right now than possessing Mike Trout. So, writing about the worst of something might seem needlessly negative, or bitterly critical, but there’s no sense in writing about the best of this, because everybody already knows. Already, we struggle with not writing every single FanGraphs article about Mike Trout. This is indirectly about Trout, in that it’s about positions that project to be the anti-Trout.

The long and short of it is that I wanted to know which position projects to be the worst out of teams looking to contend in the season ahead. It’s impossible to do perfectly, but there’s a lot at our disposal. We’ve got staff-generated team-by-team depth charts, and corresponding Steamer projections. We’ve got projections on a team level, allowing us to identify teams with legitimate hopes. If nothing else, this should get us in the ballpark, as we search for areas of considerable need. The worst position on a contender is a position that probably ought to be addressed, soon.

The first step is removing non-contenders. This is necessarily subjective, but the way I figure, if you project for a .500 record, the error bars are big enough that you’re able to be a dreamer. Replacement level is just under 48 wins, per team, so a .500 record would require just over 33 WAR. Setting a minimum threshold of 33.3 WAR eliminates the following teams, and all of their positions:

  • Marlins
  • Cubs
  • White Sox
  • Twins
  • Brewers
  • Astros
  • Mets
  • Reds
  • Phillies
  • Padres

Maybe it’s not fair to exclude the Reds, but here we are, and the Reds could use some help if they want to go to the playoffs. Some of these teams might aim to contend, but right now they don’t look like contenders. And all of these teams obviously have needs, but they’re less pressing than they are for teams with more ambitious missions. There are positional messes here, according to the projections, but how much does that matter, really, if the overall team doesn’t?

So then it became a matter of finding the worst positions on the remaining teams. There are a few ways one could do this, but I opted to settle for standard deviations away from the mean, by projected overall positional WAR. Just going by straight lowest WAR doesn’t change anything, turns out. The Yankees don’t project well at DH. The Tigers don’t project well in left field. The Angels don’t project well in the bullpen. But I wound up with basically a three-way tie for the worst position on a contender, and I’ll comment on them now, beginning with the projection I trust the least.


The Dodgers paid good money for the Cuban defector, and he’s supposed to carry the bulk of the playing time at second base, supported by Justin Sellers and Dee Gordon. It’s true that there’s risk, and it’s true that this position projects to be thin. No one’s quite sure what Guerrero’s going to do, and it’s well within the realm of likelihood that he doesn’t do anything noteworthy. But Steamer doesn’t even really bother to project Cuban imports, as Guerrero is projected for the same terrible line as Jose Abreu. ZiPS likes Guerrero quite a bit more, and so I’m not really comfortable asserting that the Dodgers look like a mess at second. They do by Steamer, and Steamer might luck itself into Alexander Guerrero accuracy, but there’s plenty of upside here and the investment alone suggests the Dodgers are pretty big fans. This section hardly really belongs.


  • Sergio Romo, etc.
  • -0.4 projected WAR
  • -1.9 standard deviations from RP average

The only bullpen in baseball projected to be below replacement level. The only other positions projected to be below replacement level are first base for the White Sox and Marlins, and we already touched on the Abreu projection in the section above. It’s weird, because last year, the Giants’ bullpen posted baseball’s tenth-best FIP. On the other hand, it posted baseball’s seventh-worst FIP-, so while Steamer projects a decline, it doesn’t project a massive one. Santiago Casilla‘s coming off some bad peripherals. Jeremy Affeldt‘s coming off some bad peripherals. Javier Lopez is a specialist. Romo’s quite good, but he’s trending poorly, and he doesn’t contribute a particularly heavy workload. I’d be surprised if the bullpen were actually this bad, since reinforcements can be called upon or acquired with relative ease, but don’t forget the gigantic AT&T run-suppressing park effect. This looks like a pretty shaky unit, behind a pretty shaky rotation.


From a few weeks ago:

TORONTO — With each passing day, it’s becoming more and more likely that the Blue Jays will head into Spring Training with rookie Ryan Goins as the expected starter at second base.

“We really like Goins, we like what he did in September,” Gibbons said last week. “He gave us a shot in the arm. I thought he handled the ball well enough to be top dog going in there.”

Goins batted .252 in limited time, with two walks, 28 strikeouts, and a couple of dingers. He posted a .679 OPS in Triple-A, 130 points below teammate Eugenio Velez. He did play good defense, and he’s always been considered a good defender, but he’s presumably not an all-world defender, making his offensive limitations difficult to tolerate. Izturis, meanwhile, went into last year looking like a steady, reliable veteran, then he had one of the very worst seasons in all of baseball. So where he used to be dependable, positive depth, now he might well be a problem, supporting another potential problem. There’s no such thing as one position that can cripple a team, especially when that one position is only about two projected wins below average, but there might be no bigger need than second-base help in Toronto. At least, in the short term, as far as contenders are concerned.

The talk right now is about the Jays looking to add a starting pitcher. It’s not a bad idea; the rotation could use the help, and there’s plenty of help available. And certainly, an upgrade is an upgrade, no matter where it is or what you’re upgrading. Toronto doesn’t need to focus on upgrading at second base, just. But Goins is the kind of guy you use to challenge another guy in spring training. He’s not the kind of guy who’s supposed to be the favorite, not at this point, and one has to figure Alex Anthopoulos knows that. In every chat, I get asked where Nick Franklin might be off to. There are plenty of teams that would like him, but he might fit the Blue Jays best of all. Because while you can squint and kind of see a decent player in Goins going forward, if you squint any harder you’ll pop out your contacts.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

73 Responses to “The Worst Position on a Contending Team”

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  1. Ivan Grushenko says:

    Interesting that the Jays are a “contender” and not the Reds. I didn’t expect that. Here are some more that could be really bad:

    Yankees 2B and 3B
    Orioles RP and DH

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    • TK says:

      I’d say the Jays are more of a contender than the Orioles at this point.

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    • JimNYC says:

      Agree with you on Yankees 2B and 3B, but I’m questioning why the Yankees’ DH slot projected so poorly. As I see it, the DH slot for the Yankees should see about 100 games from Alfonso Soriano and 50 games from Derek Jeter, plus filler. That’s not David Ortiz, but it’s also not terrible. So what gives?

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    • **•••{{SOX~4~LYFE}}•••** says:

      Yo Don’t forget SS @ Spankees bro

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  2. Sleight of Hand Pro says:

    kudos for use of the phrase “bitterly critical”

    even though ive read it numerous times and still not sure what you meant by it (wouldnt it only be bitter if it was a mariner?), based on your wordsmith track record ill give you the benefit of the doubt and assume its pure genius.

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  3. Beimel53 says:

    Suprised Pirates 1st base didnt make the cut.

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    • RetireNutting says:

      Gaby Sanchez + a somewhat platoon of Travis Snider/Andrew Lambo pastiche will net at least .7 WAR and more if Hurdle ever figures out that “splits” are more important than “veteran”. Could be as good as 2 wins.

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      • Hayves says:

        I would love to see them get Ike Davis, I think that would be an interesting platoon

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        • Herb says:

          Actually, based on 2013 performance, a platoon of Duda/Sanchez give the Pirates much better production than Davis/Sanchez. Using career stats, the two platoons work out pretty even. While I think Ike has a higher ceiling, the Bucs would be safer trading for Duda.

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        • Hayves says:

          I agree Herb, I just think Davis would be easier to take from the Mets for a bag of balls.

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        • Forrest Gumption says:

          The Mets have been asking for way too much for Ike Davis. They wanted Thornburg from the Brewers, which is not a move that team will make. They probably would want to dip in too deep into the Pirates thick farm system for Ike. Mets need to be looking a little lower, as Davis isn’t really anything special.

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        • Pirates Hurdles says:

          Yep, Mets asked for Nick Kingham (a backend top 100 prospect type) for Davis. Not gonna happen. If they come around and except the standard live arm RHP relief prospect then the deal would be quick.

          I think the Bucs will be fine with Lambo/Gaby for a few months, see what Andrew can do. I wouldn’t be shocked if he can approximate the decent version of Garrett Jones. It just doesn’t make sense to deal much for a 1 win 1B.

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  4. brett says:

    Thanks Jeff. Does this mean the Team WAR Totals page is up to date? Also, what system are those totals coming from, or how are they being updated?

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  5. Bip says:

    Had you included the Reds, I don’t think these results would be different. They project to be worth only 0.5 WAR in LF, but that’s still higher than any of the above. Their bullpen is Chapman and a whole not of nothing, but Chapman alone pushes it to 2 WAR.

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    • Dan says:

      Everyone forgetting the Reds bullpen? Had the lowest BAA and was in the top 5 for nearly every relief category. And that was without Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton for most of the year. Marshall has a 2.40 ERA in Cincinnati and Broxton has a 2.82 ERA for the Reds in 2012. Chapman is one of the best closers and Manny Parra held lefties to a .475 OPS. Hoover had a 23 appearance scoreless streak and finished with a 2.86 ERA. Sam LeCure had his best season yet with a 2.66 ERA in 63 games and Alfredo Simon continues to be a dominant long-releiver for the Reds. Cincinnati seems to always be left out in the best bullpen talks even though they easily have a top 5 bullpen in the league.

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  6. Brian says:

    Trying to imagine how bad these players must be if BJ Upton and Uggla didnt even make mention on the list. Anyone that thinks they will be >+1 WAR is dreaming.

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    • Alvaro Pizza says:

      I was going to comment something similar. Uggla and BJ Upton look done. Schafer is no replacement in CF and who knows how Tommy LaStella will do as a rookie.

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      • Anon21 says:

        Oliver and ZiPS like LaStella, so for Jeff’s purposes he would have been a poor choice. Upton… eh, I dunno. Hard to know what to make of a solidly above-average player suddenly collapsing into the worst in baseball. The projection systems all have him as below-average but not abysmal, which seems as reasonable to me as anything else.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      I doubt that either Upton or Uggla project to be below replacement level. In fact…

      Nope. Steamer says 1.1 WAR for Upton and 1.3 WAR for Uggla. These seem reasonable (assuming a full season of play) if maybe a touch optimistic.

      Despite a .179 average and ugly peripherals, Uggla was only 9% below league average as a hitter per wRC+, which is right around league average for a 2B. Upton’s .266 BABIP was probably a one year fluke. While his peripherals supported it, he’s never been that player in the past.

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      • Brian says:

        That was last year though Brad and Uggla’s wRC+ has been falling in each of his 3 seasons with the Braves. Steamer has both his offense and defense IMPROVING this season over last. That’s simply not going to happen.

        Uggla’s offense has seen a pretty consistent drop each year and I would guess that given a full season, he would see a wRC in the 80ish range this year.

        More likely what will happen though is that Uggla will lose his job in spring training will become the most expensive sub .200 BA PH bats in the league.

        And then I guess we see LaStella and he posts his 1.5-2WAR and we’re good there. So yes, probably right not to have the Braves 2B on there.

        For CF, its a crapshoot. I dont think there would be too many arguments against BJ Upton being the worst player in baseball last season, and a Fangraphs article I would like to see would be about good players that “get paid” and all of a sudden become awful. Because it sure seemed like that was what happened last season.

        And if BJ is bad again, Schaefer is the backup and he was cut by the Astros at the end of ’12. If that’s not the definition of the worst position in baseball on a contender, I dont know what is.

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    • MustBunique says:

      I also really expected a Will Middlebrooks mention, but was shocked to see that both steamer and oliver project for around 2 WAR.

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  7. Kid Rock says:

    You must have forgotten to list the Tigers in your list of non-contenders; otherwise, your first sentence is incorrect.

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  8. Andrew says:

    Thought for sure we’d have an Upton/Uggla sighting here

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  9. ReuschelCakes says:

    how many posts does it take to get to the center of a Miggy-Troutsie Roll Pop?

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  10. Jon C says:

    Thanks for the informative article. Luckily for the these teams, replacement level is, by definition, easy to attain, so each of these contenders can make themselves better fairly easily.

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  11. fjtorres says:

    Do the Jays have anything that might net them Asdrubal Cabrera the 2b, given there is little market for him as a ss?

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    • Mark says:

      I’d rather would see the Jays go after Stephen Drew if they’re going to convert a SS to 2B. I get that Drew has never played 2B and he’ll cost a fair amount of $$, but they won’t have to give up a first round draft pick for him. So they’ll be giving up far less talent to get Drew than they would for Cabrera. An upgrade from say Goins/Izturis to Drew would be huge, and potentially be more worthwhile than adding a SP.

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      • fjtorres says:

        Cabrera has played 2b. A lot, so he’s not a conversion.
        He is cheaper than Drew with less health concerns.
        He’ll cost prospects but if he doesn’t re-sign he’d bring an extra draft pick.
        If the Jays don’t contend this year they may have to go into rebuild mode, so a short-term win-now deal is a better fit than a longer commitment to an out-of-position veteran.

        More, if Drew is going to get less than 3 years, he might as well go to Boston or the Mets, who want him for SS.

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        • Mark says:

          He’s not cheaper than Drew in terms of prospects, which is the point. I’d rather acquire a player via cash than give up a prospect.

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  12. Allan H. Selig says:

    You might want to check that Yankees 3B projection again. I’m not so sure that Rodriguez fellow is getting anywhere near 461 PAs…

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  13. Corey says:

    what about 3rd OF-Mariners? And with that in mind, why don’t the Dodgers trade an Outfielder to Seattle for the positionless Nick Franklin? Seems like a great fit for both teams.

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    • Gus says:

      Also, Mariners as contenders feels so flush with optimism that it could almost be time for Spring Training.

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    • Balthazar says:

      Everybody in the blogiverse seems to want to move Nick Franklin—except that’s not the smart move. Nick Franklin is very good. He got tired at the end of a long season, had his numbers dragged down, and is now being offered for on a discount. Yes, his only real position on the Mariners’ 25-man is blocked. That’s also true of Dustin Ackley, who’s not much of an outfielder but quite a good second baseman. The real move is to trade _Ackely_ to a team needing a 2Bman, and keep Franklin for his numbers to solidify in the high minors and backing up others on the 25-man. If at some point Franklin is dealt, he can be moved at value.

      But yes, the Mariners have not one but two second baseman with no real place to play, now. Every GM in their right mind has to be hoping to vulture in and pick off Franklin on a discount. Jack Zd needs to hold the line and finally get them to deal for Dustin Ackley instead, who is the guy to send on his way. Ackley is a great fit for Toronto, and has hit well in Rogers’ also. Four years of Ackley for one year of Colby Rasmus is something I’d like to see. Or Ackley and Erasmo Ramierez for Rasmus plus enough to make it work. That deal actually works well for Toronto, it’s just not ‘sexy.’ Ackley to LA Dodgers also makes a ton of sense, but again doesn’t look like a big move, so it hasn’t happened.

      There has hardly been a better year to trade a second baseman. Toronto, Dodgers, Twins, Nationals, Royals, yes the Yankees, even St. Louis (though I don’t dislike Kolten Wong), and a few others need a non-zero option. And the Mariners have two second baseman stuck behind $240 million reasons they won’t get playing time. It is just, to me, that everyone rightly wants Franklin when, actually, someone needs to settle for Ackley. I liked a lot what Ackley did to improve his approach in the second half of 2013. I don’t think he’ll be a star, but he will be, and is, and above average regular, and a good defender at second. But yeah, he looks shopworn, and so no one is stepping up to buy the over. But I really hope the Ms don’t trade Franklin unless it’s in a package where there is a real and valuable centerpiece coming back, because Franklin is very good and the Mariners have kicked away far to many talented players over recent memory for trivial or negative return.

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  14. Dave D. says:

    Giants “shaky” bullpen behind “shaky” rotation???

    Cain, Bumgarner, Lincecum, Hudson, Vogelsong … Yeah shaky … So shaky I’m sure about 26 or so GMs would trade their starting 5 for this “shaky” group. What a loaf of crap! The only “shaky” thing is your analysis … Must be a dodger fan who’s jealous of our 2 very recent WS championships!

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    • ahamsterman says:

      not really, cain/vogelsong are flyball dependant, hudson is an old bean, and lincecum is overpaid/washed up. bumgarner is legit tho

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      • Trevrx says:

        Cain – flyball dependent….insightful analysis. You are right, he’s terrible.

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      • WTFCOOKIES says:

        “Cain/Vogelsong are flyball dependant” that’s fine they play in AT&T” “Hudson is an old bean” ok..that’s true..what’s your point? “Lincecum is overpaid/washed up” i’ll give you that.

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    • A's Fan says:

      26 GMs would swap for that rotation if they could? LOL… um, sure. Maybe if you were getting 2012 Cain, 2009 Lincecum or 2007 Hudson.

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    • Jason B says:

      “Loaf of crap?”

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    • Shankbone says:

      Well… Gammons blog has a guy Bill Chuck who crunched up some #s

      The Giants didn’t overuse any arms, they were among the league leaders of 14-16 relievers called up, and finished 8th in ERA despite the presence of Jose Mijares. I’d say the projections are penalizing Affeldt a fair amount for his bad stats due to injury in 2013. They were 5th at HR suppression. Speaking of that, the projections are for Javy Lopez to give up 4 Hrs… he’s given up 2 in 3 1/2 years as a Giant. OK then.

      Romo’s slider heavy schedule might be a concern, his small frame and his trick knee. Still, its a great slider. I’m ok with him being “shaky”. The Giants need a flamethrower though. Heath Hembree might be that ticket.

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    • BearHunter90 says:

      You have one real good pitcher Bumgarner. One good one in Cain. One formerly good one coming off of injury in Hudson and two ones that were pretty bad last year in lincecum and Vogelsong. Yeah the Dodgers and Diamondbacks wouldn’t trade rotations with you in your own divisions. Not to mention the Rays, Rangers, Red Sox, Tigers, Reds, Cardinals, Nationals, Braves, etc.

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      • WTFCOOKIES says:

        Cain has one off season and then he’s only good. If you look at his game log…his second half stats were closer to what he usually puts up…I’ll count his first half as an anomaly just because he’s been so consistent in the past and is still relatively young. Hudson is coming off an ankle injury so it’s not like it was pitching arm related. Lincecum was slightly worse than league average…flip-flopping good performances with dreadful ones. Vogelsong was truly terrible i’ll give you that.

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  15. O'Spud says:

    The Reds had a 22.2 WAR from pitchers alone last season. That plus Joey Votto and Jay Bruce puts them into the contenders mix (at least if you’re using a 33.3 WAR bar). Seriously, I’d like to see the cockeyed methodology you used to put the Reds into the non-contenders mix. I’ve got a funny feeling ZIPS will project the Reds comfortably above a 33.3 WAR.

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  16. JD says:

    Whether you think the Reds are contenders or not, it is a little ridiculous to write off 3 teams in the same division (actually 2 different divisions) as non-contenders. Especially when that same division produced 3 playoff teams and 1 other in the Brewers that was pretty good down the stretch. Of course, it is equally ridiculous to write off seven National League teams before Spring Training even begins. There are 5 playoff spots in the NL and you only expect 8 teams to compete for them. I can’t take the rest of your analysis seriously when such illogical errors occur with the most basic of data.

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    • TKDC says:

      I agree completely. A better methodology would be to just knock off the worst team in each division and then have 2 “wild cards” in each league. I’d put the Reds and Phillies as contenders and pick between the Orioles and Blue Jays (probably Blue Jays) as non-contenders.

      Another way to look at this might be to just look at Vegas futures odds.

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      • Machaut says:

        Lol. Vegas odds that are based on betting behavior, which is in turn based on completely unscientific perceptions. Seems legit.

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  17. FamousAmazingGuy says:

    I don’t need no squint to see Goins as a good ballplayer, my gut tells me he’s a good ballplayer.

    That’s the problem with you read’n types, always squinten.

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    • WTFCOOKIES says:

      people don’t understand that Bochy magic…the Giants just need to get into the playoffs and then their pitching becomes lethal.

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  18. Editor says:

    When talking about people, “et al.” is the preferred abbreviation over “etc.”

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  19. Haastile says:

    “It might be a little unfair to include the Reds as non-contenders.”

    I agree with this part of the article.

    1. Latos 2. Bailey 3. Cueto 4. Cingrani 5. Leake

    Choo was overrated and Hamilton is underrated because of their defense. Losing Choo takes a 90 win team to the “can’t even consider them to contend” list???

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  20. jim says:

    what a nitpicky bunch of commenters, yeesh

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  21. Nick says:

    That’s not Sergio Romo’s projected WAR, it isn’t negative…

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  22. Dave says:

    One of the basic premises shows the flaws of these projections. You have 10 teams projected to go under .500. Have you added up the “wins” and “losses” projected and come out with an average of 81 per team? Either each of the ten teams listed will be truly awful, or the average number of projected wins for MLB from these stats will be something like 85. Difficult trick!

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  23. Dave says:

    If there is one contender not mentioned above that needs help, KC’s starting rotation seems… a bit thin after Shields. Guthrie, Vargas, Wade Davis (5.35 ERA) and Danny Duffy? Garza, Santana or Jimenez would seem essential to add here.

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  24. John says:

    The Reds won’t contend? That’s moronic.

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    • the hottest stove says:

      I know “contenders” was based on the WAR totals alone, but I fully expect the Reds to hang in the race. The lineup doesn’t look great, but their pitching is STOUT.

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  25. Bruce says:

    For the Blue Jays item, I don’t get where you get the projection of a 0.3 WAR value for a Goins/Izturis platoon. It’s undeniable that Maicer had a terrible 2013, and he had a -1.5 WAR on the season according to

    But Ryan Goins was a very different story, albeit in a limited sample size (34 games) and mostly due to his defensive value (baseball reference has his offensive WAR=0 and defensive WAR=1.5, for a total WAR of 1. An offensive WAR of 0 seems reasonable – even good for Goins, but if you assume that as the starting 2B, the youngster would get virtually all the starts vs. RHP and a few of the starts vs. LHP who don’t have nasty breaking balls, then I don’t see how the platoon WAR could project so low.

    It wouldn’t be right to eliminate Goins’ hot offensive start from the sample size because by the same token, Maicer’s defense started off terribly as he adjusted to playing on the turf at the Rogers Centre and at multiple positions, but improved when he settled into playing mostly SS and 2B later in the year. Nevermind also that given Maicer’s career numbers, most projections would likely have to factor in a “regression to the mean” in 2014.

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  26. O'Spud says:

    Reds ZIPS projections are out today and, predictably, they easily clear the 33.3 WAR bar Sullivan set.

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