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:
- White Sox
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.
SECOND BASE, DODGERS
- Alexander Guerrero, etc.
- 0.2 projected WAR
- -1.9 standard deviations from 2B average
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.
SECOND BASE, BLUE JAYS
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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