The Biggest Remaining Lineup Needs

The Winter Meetings revelry has passed. We’re still waiting on a few big trades to finally ‘consummate,’ but the list of free agents is less attractive by day. Before you turn down a chance at glory with the guys left waiting for a team, it’s probably a good idea to look at how badly you need them. This is not dating advice, but it sort of feels like it.

To that end, I’ve taking our depth charts and calculated a quick stat for ‘neediness.’ By averaging team WAR over 13 roster spots — the portion of the 25-man roster usually used for offense — and then looking at the difference between that average WAR and each position WAR, I’ve found a way to show where the biggest remaining lineup holes are.

A trade in limbo might help solve one of these top issues, but the Reds and Blue Jays are combing through the available talent and looking for bargains. Perhaps this can help. Or at least it will help focus your fantasies as you rosterbate your favorite team through the winter.

Team Position WAR Team Ave WAR Difference
Reds LF -0.7 1.35 -2.05
Blue Jays 2B 0.4 2.08 -1.68
Dodgers SS 0.2 1.84 -1.64
Phillies 1B -0.2 0.97 -1.17
Nationals 2B 1.0 2.06 -1.06
Marlins SS 0.3 1.29 -0.99
Cubs LF 0.6 1.58 -0.98
Rangers RF 0.7 1.66 -0.96
Giants 3B 0.8 1.73 -0.93
Braves 3B 0.5 1.32 -0.82

By average wins per roster spot, the Reds are 23rd, to they need to do some work overall, and their salary dump trades seemed to have been designed to free up room for a left field upgrade. 32-year-old Nori Aoki seems to make sense as long as the term is short. It’s too early to believe incumbent Brennan Boesch really has a reverse platoon split, but if you are looking to the future, it’s probably better to try and pick up a guy that could turn into a big-side platoon bat with a few years of team control. That describes Andy Dirks, who not too long ago was capable of a little bit of everything and around league-average work. That could almost be a three-win boost for the Reds. This is assuming the back is okay.

After what the Blue Jays have done this offseason, there’s no way they’re Ryan Goins into the season like this. Do they have real money? At least one projection has them about six million short of last year’s team salary and six million probably won’t get them Asdrubal Cabrera to play second base. Maybe they could convince him to sign something backloaded. Otherwise, they’re looking at Everth Cabrera — if he doesn’t mind leaving shortstop behind — or a reclamation project in Rickie Weeks. If these names don’t tickle them, perhaps they can pry Chase Utley or Ben Zobrist loose. They already have the third-best lineup by average WAR, but squeezing another win out of the roster could be the difference in the American League East this year. [Edit: The Esteemed Readers are absolutely right to point out Devon Travis. Let’s get him up on the depth chart. They may still want a caddy/backup plan, though.]

The Dodgers may have their shortstop in hand, so let’s not talk about Jimmy Rollins much except to say that adding his projected 1.8 wins at the Dodgers’ worst position would push their lineup up to about tenth in the bigs from 13th. The Phillies and first base… what are you going to do.

Everyone knows the Nationals are working on their second base situation, and you really could wash, rinse, repeat the Blue Jays’ entry from above, but they are in a better situation than Toronto. Even with Danny Espinosa possibly giving up on switch-hitting, his career 121 wRC+ against lefties and decent defense, they have a part-time solution. Maybe the lefty-batting Kelly Johnson would be enough for them.

The Marlins’ shortstop situation might just be one about perception, and of defense in particular. Adeiny Hechavarria confounds people with his bad defensive numbers and great defensive reputation. With a projected bat that’s 25% worse than league average (shortstops average 13% worse than league average), it’s all about that d. The Marlins are probably higher on his defense — they did start him all year despite the anemic ‘o’ — and so they are probably good with him.

Maybe the Cubs are contenders now. But with a team built for the future like this, it probably doesn’t make sense to jump in the Justin Upton party with two feet. And though they could find a platoon partner for Chris Coghlan, they also just traded away a pretty good one in Justin Ruggiano. Maybe the projection systems are missing something with Coghlan — he did have a couple wins last year, and he’s been above average before… in 2009. The bet here is that someone like Kris Bryant ends up in the outfield before too long, and they don’t worry too much about this one spot on their roster for now.

If the Rangers could squeeze two wins from right field instead of less than one, they’d move up to 14th with their lineup, from 18th. But are they really going to be in on Nori Aoki? They admit they are looking for a left fielder, but before we scratch them one out of the free agent market, it’s important to note that GM Jon Daniels has referenced the trade market publicly. Here’s a team that may want to see what’s under Justin Upton’s hood.

The Giants, fresh off their World Series victory, can’t seem to get a rose from anyone. The best free agent answer is a Juan Francisco / Chris Nelson platoon, and that doesn’t seem to excite anyone in San Francisco. Joaquin Arias was under replacement last year and has never managed a win or league-average offense. Matt Duffy is a shortstop with the glove and the bat. Adam Duvall did play 52 games at third last year in Triple-A, so it’s not crazy to put him there, but he was a 26-year-old with offense mostly inflated by the Pacific Coast League. Only Chris Johnson is below them on the depth chart, and they don’t seem to want him even if he’s available. Maybe Trevor Plouffe will be available some time next year if Miguel Sano looks healthy and ready. Maybe Pedro Alvarez could be pried loose. It doesn’t look like they have what it takes to get Evan Longoria from the suddenly-rebuilding Rays, but maybe they do. The Giants could take this chance to take a step back and invest in the future: maybe they’ll be a dark horse in on Yoan Moncada when he’s available. They have a sizeable chunk of change left in their pocket, after all.

The last spot in the top ten belongs to the Braves, and their third baseman, who they just signed to a three-year $23.5m contract that starts in 2015. And in San Diego, the rumor was that they were attaching that new signing to Justin Upton to try and get out from under that money. Maybe they want to see what Kyle Kubitza can do in the major leagues after he was 45% better than the league as a 24-year-old in Double-A. Steamer has Kubitza projected for an 84 wRC+ next year, Johnson for a 94, and Johnson isn’t known for his glove. I doubt Kelly Johnson or Juan Francisco are going to move the needle.

And here are the biggest needs by team. Since I divided by 13, the ones with positive results are probably lacking a little depth. And since this was divided by team numbers, it’s really only an internal look. In other words, the Royals and Indians could improve, but based on what their team looks like right now, those positions are their worst.

Team Pos WAR Ave Diff
Reds LF -0.7 1.35 -2.05
Blue Jays 2B 0.4 2.08 -1.68
Dodgers SS 0.2 1.84 -1.64
Phillies 1B -0.2 0.97 -1.17
Nationals 2B 1.0 2.06 -1.06
Marlins SS 0.3 1.29 -0.99
Cubs LF 0.6 1.58 -0.98
Rangers RF 0.7 1.66 -0.96
Giants 3B 0.8 1.73 -0.93
Braves 3B 0.5 1.32 -0.82
Orioles 2B 1.2 1.98 -0.78
Tigers 3B 1.2 1.98 -0.78
Diamondbacks C 0.5 1.27 -0.77
Red Sox CF 1.5 2.25 -0.75
White Sox 2B 0.5 1.25 -0.75
Rockies RF 1.0 1.73 -0.73
Astros 1B 0.7 1.32 -0.62
Padres SS 0.5 1.11 -0.61
Angels 2B 1.6 2.17 -0.57
Yankees SS 1.3 1.75 -0.45
Mets RF 1.1 1.50 -0.40
Mariners 1B 1.8 1.99 -0.19
Pirates RF 1.8 1.98 -0.18
Athletics LF 1.7 1.85 -0.15
Cardinals 1B 2.0 2.08 -0.08
Brewers 1B 1.5 1.55 -0.05
Rays 1B 2.1 1.99 0.11
Indians SS 1.9 1.78 0.12
Twins CF 1.6 1.48 0.12
Royals 2B 2.0 1.88 0.12

We hoped you liked reading The Biggest Remaining Lineup Needs by Eno Sarris!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

newest oldest most voted
Mike Green
Guest
Mike Green

The Blue Jays acquired Devon Travis in the off-season. Steamer projects him for 2+ WAR, but he does not show up on the team’s list of second basemen. He’ll probably be up with the big club by June at the latest. They can probably use another second baseman or middle IF backup and are apparently interested in Toritani.

Kyle
Guest
Kyle

Pretty much this. They’ll probably start with some combination of Izturis and Goins, and if Travis has a good start in Buffalo and that pair is struggling (as expected), Travis will get the call in May.

soupman
Member
soupman

Steamer doesn’t like Izturis because of 2013 ineffectiveness and 2014 injured-ness. He seems like a decent bounce-back(ish) candidate. With that said, the Jays already have the best team average WAR on the list without doing anything…I don’t get how this “need” is really their biggest concern. I’d say the lack of a real shutdown reliever (all due respect to Cecil) should probably be their main concern given that Sanchez is being tabbed for a rotation spot, it seems.

JamesF
Guest
JamesF

Meh, WAR is WAR… does it matter where it comes from? Personally, as a fan of the team, I’d rather they solve 2B first since reliever performance is so volatile year to year.

The bullpen is mostly complete anyways with LH in Cecil, Loup, Jenkins and RH in Delabar, Estrada, and an internal promotion (Tepera?)… that leaves basicaly one spot that they ought to look outside the org for and I imagine that’s the expected return for Navarro when they get around to trading him.

Jianadaren
Guest
Jianadaren

“With that said, the Jays already have the best team average WAR on the list without doing anything…I don’t get how this “need” is really their biggest concern.”

That’s an easy trap. The reason it’s their biggest concern is that offense is exponential. http://www.hardballtimes.com/the-exponential-nature-of-offense/

Because of that, offensive holes are really damaging. e.g. A 2 WAR offensive upgrade in a hole on a great offensive team might be worth as much as 4 WAR.

The bullpen is also important but bullpens are also notoriously unreliable between season. Not to mention they also have strong diminishing returns rather than exponential returns. It might be better to acquire a few moderately cheap arms with upside and hope that a couple of good-to-great back-end guys emerge, rather than investing big money in an “proven” arm and banking that he doesn’t regress.

soupman
Member
soupman

well – yes it does matter. eno is only looking at offense here.

a team that will score 700+ runs with ease (2015 Jays) should, imo, be focusing on what it can do to not lose games it has already put itself in a position to win.

two things it can do now: improve RP, work on decreasing throwing errors from SS/3B.

soupman
Member
soupman

Thanks, Jianadaren. That article looks revelatory; I’ll take a closer look later.

The vicissitudes of bullpen performance are certainly a reason to question RP deals longer than 1-year, but the Jays currently are hoping on guys like Delabar and Rasmussen in short relief, and relying on Loup and Cecil. The crop of names behind them are greek to me – which isn’t to say they’re bad or will be, but they also aren’t of the Wade Davis busted prospect ilk, or (I haven’t checked) Herrera 100mph heater variety either.

matt w
Guest
matt w

Jiandaren: I don’t see how that shows that holes in the lineup are especially damaging; it looks at overall offense but not at how evenly the production is distributed. So it does seem to suggest that, other things equal, the Jays would be better advised to go for a hitter rather than a pitcher, but not necessarily that filling in the hole at 2B would be more productive than, say, upgrading from Lawrie to Donaldson was.

Apologies if hitter vs. pitcher was all you were talking about; I most recently saw the argument that offense was exponential from Ken Arneson, who was talking explicitly about holes in the lineup. And as applied to the A’s last season, which was the example he used, it seemed wrong (the month the A’s scored more runs than their wRC+ would predict was a month when their lineup was full of holes with a few extremely good producers).