It’s time for the annual rankings of the NL East, position by position! This is the very same method to determine playoff odds that some analytic website uses in an alternative universe. The rules: If a team has the #1 player at a position, they get 5 points for it. If they have the worst, they get 1 point. At some point I have to make judgments about who is there (for example, with the Nats 1B/OF), so I used the roster I expect to see for at least the early part of the season, on top of assessing their abilities.
Starting with the position players, aided and abetted by Britpop and post-Britpop (in links only slightly hidden in the paragraphs), because nothing says “baseball” like British rock:
CATCHER (The Libertines)
1. Braves – Brian McCann
2. Nationals – Wilson Ramos
3. Phillies – Carlos Ruiz
4. Mets – Josh Thole
5. Marlins – John Buck
McCann is just a great player and showed it again last year – his second year in a row with a 124 OPS+ makes him one of the best hitting catchers in baseball. Ramos surprised many last year not just with his ability to hit, but to take a walk once in a while as well, and displayed serious power potential and strong defense for a 23 year old. Ruiz, now 32, gets his offensive value from a great eye, and despite dwindling power numbers, he could bring more with the bat than Ramos. Thole also gets on base, but has little to no power. John Buck is Miami’s starter and he has some pop, although his AVG is so low that you wouldn’t know just by looking at his SLG. He has had the occasional strong season though, and another one of those could push him Up the Bracket on this list.
SCORE: ATL (5), DC (4), PHI (3), NYM (2), MIA (1)
FIRST BASE (Feeder)
1. Phillies – Ryan Howard
2. Mets – Ike Davis
3. Marlins – Gaby Sanchez
4. Braves – Freddie Freeman
5. Nationals – Adam LaRoche
Howard, has a joke of a contract, therefore he stinks, right? Well I’ve Come Back Around on him being a very good player, despite injury issues. He’s not what he was, and isn’t a top tier 1B, but he’s still the best at his position in this division. Ike Davis probably played a bit over his head last year, but regardless, he’s better than the rest of the competition. If Howard’s return stretches later than May, Davis will likely be the best of the bunch. Sanchez and Freeman are close – neither is a bad player, they just don’t really hit enough for the position. As for LaRoche, even if LaRoche could be guaranteed healthy, he wasn’t a great hitter in 2010, so there’s no reason to think he’d be anywhere but 5th place. (If Morse was going to be here all year, I’d probably rank him 2nd).
SCORE: PHI (8), ATL (7), NYM (6), DC (5), MIA (4)
SECOND BASE (Oasis)
1. Phillies – Chase Utley
2. Braves – Dan Uggla
3. Nationals – Danny Espinosa
4. Mets – Daniel Murphy
5. Marlins – Omar Infante
Utley is starting to show signs of age, and he might start the year on the DL, but he’s still the best 2B here. Uggla had a terrible season last year, and with a slight recovery will be the second best here, despite some poor fielding. Danny Espinosa had some pretty impressive numbers for a 24 year old last season, coupled with excellent fielding, and should continue to improve. Daniel Murphy is probably a better hitter than Espinosa, but I’m not sure he can field enough to play 2B all year, and I knocked him down a peg for that (PECOTA has him there only 60% of the time next year). Omar Infante had a bad 2011, and his career OBP isn’t that impressive to go with little power. One of the other guys would have to have a pretty bad season to fall below him, although Utley’s injuries could put the Phillies there, D’you Know What I Mean?
SCORE: PHI (13), ATL (11), NYM (8), DC (8), MIA (5)
1. Marlins – Jose Reyes
2. Phillies – Jimmy Rollins
3. Nationals – Ian Desmond
4. Mets – Ruben Tejada
5. Braves – Tyler Pastornicky
This one changed quite a bit from last season, and Jose Reyes jumped up the standings here. He was a top free agent this offseason, and deservedly so after hitting .337/.384/.493 last year with 39 SBs. Jimmy Rollins’ OBP continues to be an issue, but he can field, and he is still well above the rest of the competition. Despite his hitting woes in 2011, Ian Desmond has shown some pop in the past, and his defense and range were much improved last year. As hard as it is to believe, PECOTA agrees that Ian Desmond will be the third most valuable SS in the division… but really, Is It Any Wonder, when you look at the remaining two? Two 22 year olds will start, as the Mets plan on using youngster Ruben Tejada, who did get on base last year, but isn’t likely to do so well there again, and can barely hit the ball out of the infield. The Braves are using Tyler Pastornicky, who has done very well in the minors but hasn’t seen much time above AA yet.
SCORE: PHI (17), ATL (12), DC (11), NYM (10), MIA (10)
THIRD BASE (Ocean Colour Scene)
1. Nationals – Ryan Zimmerman
2. Mets – David Wright
3. Marlins – Hanley Ramirez
4. Braves- Chipper Jones
5. Phillies – Placido Polanco
Zimmerman is the better fielder than Wright, and he’s been the better hitter for the last three seasons (even away from the Mets huge ballpark). Wright’s still a very good hitter, though, and the smaller ballpark should help him out. With uncertainty about how well he will do moving to third base, and his horrendous season last year, Hanley is below those two. But Wright, Zim and Hanley could very easily end up in any order among the top three. Chipper still has the opportunity to be a premier hitter, but showing up out of shape, not being much of a defender for quite a while now, and his constant risk of injury puts him below the others. Placido Polanco hasn’t been all that good of a hitter for 3 seasons now, and if you’ve got a corner infielder who hit .277/.335/.339 last year, you know You’ve Got It Bad, worse than any other team.
SCORE: PHI (18), DC (16), NYM (14), ATL (14), MIA (13)
LEFT FIELD (Kula Shaker)
1. Nationals – Mike Morse
2. Marlins – Logan Morrison
3. Braves – Martin Prado
4. Mets – Jason Bay
5. Phillies – John Mayberry
Last year Mike Morse was just some guy who appeared to be a platoon hitter, but was coming off a strong second half in 2010. Then suddenly everyone was like, Hey Dude, that guy can mash the ball! 31 HRs last year despite a terrible April puts Morse into the lead slot here, even if he does regress a bit. Logan Morrison didn’t have a great season, but still finished with an OPS of .797, and he’s only turning 24 this year. Martin Prado had an awful second half, but he’s hit well enough in the past to make you think he’ll recover somewhat. Jason Bay, on the other hand, has been bad for two seasons now, and may never be the same. John Mayberry had a strong stint last year, but in his previous 4 years in the minors, he never showed an ability to get on base. He’s probably more of a solid bench guy / 4th outfielder, but someone like that surprising everyone isn’t out of the question (see Morse, Mike).
SCORE: DC (21), PHI (19), MIA (17), ATL (17), NYM (16)
CENTER FIELD (Pulp)
It’d be hard to surpass Victorino for his combination of OBP and power, and he is still fast enough to play a strong CF. Michael Bourne has had a pretty decent OBP over his last three seasons (.348), so he beats out Bonifacio who has a good OBP last year, but never prior. Neither provides any power but both are very fast, and Bourne is a good defensive center fielder. Both surpass whatever the Nats plan on doing with the great D and righty-only hitting from Ankiel, and the better offense but poor defense of Bernadina (and both are lefties, so they can’t even platoon). However, the possibility of Bryce Harper showing everyone, “Hey, even though I’m only 19, I’m A Man,” getting himself promoted up to the majors and being the CF by the end of the year lingers, so that group surpasses Andres Torres. Torres is a journeyman who had a great 2010, but hasn’t don’t anything else in his career, and at 33, probably won’t.
SCORE: PHI (24), DC (23), ATL (21), MIA (20), NYM (17)
RIGHT FIELD (Blur)
1. Marlins – Giancarlo Stanton
2. Phillies – Hunter Pence
3. Nationals – Jayson Werth
4. Braves – Jason Heyward
5. Mets – Lucas Duda
This was a little difficult to rank, and I’m sure people will have their gripes. Giancarlo Stanton is one of the few players other than Harper that I’ve seen described as having 80 power. He’s also the PECOTA WARP winner so I put him first. Hunter Pence had the highest OBP of any of these guys and almost as much power as Stanton, although I expect that’ll slip a bit this year. I think Heyward could end up being the best of the group eventually, but the 22 year old struggled mightily last season, so I ranked the Nats player most described by the media as a Charmless Man third, ahead of Heyward. Werth’s track record makes PECOTA think he’ll recover, and his second half of 2011 makes me think it as well. Heyward could surpass him and the others this year, but right now we can only guess. Lucas Duda is a fine player, it’s just a loaded field in terms of talent here.
SCORE: PHI (28), DC (26), MIA (25), ATL (23), NYM (18)
After going through the positions, some interesting things come out.
The Nats do so well because they have the best 3B and LF, plus the #2 catcher. Other than 1B, the rest of the positions they finish 3rd or 4th, but having 2 guys at the top and another in 2nd place really helps them get the seconf spot.
While the Phillies are still the leaders here, their lead continues shrinking compared to previous years. The Marlins were dead last in 2011, the acquisition of Reyes to join Hanley, plus good years from some of their other players definitely helped. The Braves aren’t far behind, and as usual, are going with some young guys who could impress. Unsurprisingly, the cash strapped Mets are looking up at everyone else this year.