Every team is worse at one position than it is at the other positions. At the end of the season, that position is a good one to upgrade. Most teams upgraded at that position this offseason. And so here is a review of where each team was worst in 2012, and what they’ve done to get better, using our invaluable year-to-date display and our invaluable visual depth charts.
Extent of despair: 0.6 WARP
Primary delinquent: Bobby Wilson (-0.3)
Projected for 2013: 2.6 WARP
For the third year in a row, the Angels attempted to solve their dysfunctions at catcher by sending a catcher to Canada. Wilson hit .202/.267/.292 in his final two years as an Angel; Jeff Mathis hit .184/.222/.268 in his. Dean Chance hit .082/.120/.087 as an Angel. Sorry to shift this conversation, but Dean Chance was notably bad at hitting, and being a pitcher is no excuse. He had 662 official at-bats as a big leaguer and struck out 420 times, with two extra-base hits (both doubles). In 496 career at-bats against right-handers, he hit .060/.105/.060. To make his career line match the OBP and SLG of Bobby Wilson’s worst season, Dean Chance would have to homer in 39 consecutive at-bats, and then walk in 90 consecutive at-bats.
And STILL Chance walked every 25 trips to the plate. We don’t make nearly enough of the fact that pitchers (on the mound) are just barely holding it together at all times.
Anyway, the Angels’ plan for catcher is to stick with what they’ve got, but hope that it stays healthy. Chris Iannetta was a positive contributor last year and signed an extension after the season. He’ll be backed up this year by Hank Conger, not Wilson. Conger has the pedigree, if not the recent history, to suggest this is an upgrade. Here’s Wilson’s B-Ref sponsorship banner, by the way:
Which, I admit, has me intrigued.
Extent of despair: -1.0 WARP
Main culprit: Jemile Weeks (-1.1)
Projected for 2013: 1.7
Remember Josh Barfield? Hit .280/.318/.423 as a 23-year-old rookie, stole 21 bags, got traded for Kevin Kouzmanoff and hit .243/.270/.324 in his second year? That guy’s still playing. He hasn’t appeared in the majors since 2009, but he spent almost all of 2012 in Double-A with the Orioles. He was 29. He played all three outfield positions and occasionally in the infield, hitting .267/.318/.351. "Every successful ballclub wants a Josh Barfield on the team, because he does a lot for your team when you're not even looking," said Gary Kendall, his Double-A manager, and maybe that’s true. Maybe Josh Barfield was responsible for the Orioles making the postseason despite a terrible run differential and not many good players or performances. He never actually joined the big-league team, but maybe when we weren’t even looking...
Weeks hit .221/.305/.304 after a .303/.340/.421 rookie year. The A’s put a lot of effort into upgrading around second base, which has the benefit of upgrading at second base: Between the additions of Hiroyuki Nakajima (primarily SS) and Jed Lowrie (plays any infield position) and the return to health of Scott Sizemore (2B or 3B), the A’s should basically have three “new” players to soak up starts at three positions. Resident A's expert Jason Wojciechowski estimates that Weeks will get 50 starts this year.
Extent of despair: -2.1
Felon of most renown: J.D. Martinez
Projected for 2013: -0.5
Flash* your clearance badge to Harmon and take the elevator down to the tunnel level. Don’t turn right, as you normally do, but turn left, and just before you get to the No Entry entry to the players' clubhouse, veer to the right. It looks like a closet off to the side, but if you open it you can take a staircase down into a basement room. It’s 20 feet by 20 feet and it’s filled, floor to ceiling along three walls, boxes stacked in the middle of the room, mountains of cardboard all threatening to topple on anyone who intrudes. You take your box cutter out and slice through the packing tape, then open a cardboard flap to find what you’ve discovered. The orange glow from the box makes you optimistic, and you reach in. You pull out:
A poster of J.D. Martinez, holding a gold bat over each shoulder. Seven teammates stand behind him, an army of gold-bat-wielding huns. There’s Jordan Schafer, and Brian Bogusevic, and Chris Johnson, and the rest of the Astros’ starting lineup. The text, in bright orange: J.D. POWER (And Associates).
The light from the doorway is replaced by a shadow and a rough voice. “We had planned to give them away in September,” a man says, “but then we had to send him down instead. We had to send them all down. And now, Mr. Miller, we have to send you down...”
And with two clicks, the door shuts, and the door locks.
Blue Jays: 2B
Extent of despair: -0.4 WARP
The Bastard to Blame: Omar Vizquel (-0.4)
Projected for 2013: 1.8
This is from Feb. 17, but of what year?
Omar Vizquel is signed through next season, but he wants to play beyond that. The shortstop, who turns [redacted] on April 24, expressed a desire Thursday to play "maybe three or four more" years.
Now you get to guess. Is that from:
Have a guess?
the correct answer
From the article: "I don't feel I'm a 38-year-old guy yet," said Vizquel, who hit .271 and won his 10th Gold Glove award last season. "I felt like I played 120 percent last year. My body never felt that I was tired or needed a day off. That kind of season tells you something right there, that you're not really slowing down too much. Most of it is mental. If you believe you're tired or getting old, your body's going to act like it."
There are a couple ways of looking at Vizquel since then. After that article came out, Vizquel played 678 games, turned 45, stole 62 bases, and reached base at a better clip than 89 other players (minimum 400 games played), including: Erick Aybar, Alexei Ramirez, J.J. Hardy. Yes, he produced -0.4 WARP at second base for the Blue Jays (in just 73 PA!!!) but he produced about 1.8 WARP overall in the seven years since his “three or four years” prediction. That’s not a lot of WARP, but it is a lot of WARP compared to the hundreds of players who produce negative WARPs each year. Put another way: By Baseball-Reference’s measure of WAR, Vizquel has been better than Yuniesky Betancourt in each of the past four years. And his positive WARPs might not even capture his positional flexibility and purported leadership. Vizquel is going to be coaching Angels minor-league infielders this year, which is probably for the best, but making it past 45 without embarrassing the game—not bad.
The Blue Jays picked up two better, younger versions of Old Vizquel (not to be confused with “better versions of young Vizquel”) in Emilio Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis. Both switch hit. Both play multiple infield positions. Neither has power yet both can draw walks. It’s a nifty restoration.
Extent of despair: -1.0 WARP
Son of a gun who done it: Shelley Duncan (-0.6)
Projected for 2013: 1.4
The Indians’ second-worst position was 1B, where the club did a lot to upgrade this offseason, including signing Mark Reynolds. Have you ever watched Mark Reynolds play? Have you ever wondered whether, in fact, he’s totally blind? Wait, we did this one already, huh?
What’s interesting about last year’s Indians isn’t just that they had their lowest WARP at left field and their second-lowest at 1B, but that they actually had their worst offensive performance at left field and their second-worst offensive performance at 1B. Those are the positions where it’s supposed to be hecka easy to find something that can hit. When Jeff Passan wrote about the Royals’ perspective on trading Wil Myers (plus others) for James Shields (plus others), he raised this point:
How unusual was the Cleveland experience? The closest any team came to getting their worst production from high-offense positions last last season was the Dodgers, who had their worst TAv at 1B and their third-worst, just barely behind SS, at LF. The Marlins had their second- and third-worst TAvs at 1B and LF, both better than at catcher. There are 30 teams, which means 60 individual positions were either their team’s worst or second-worst TAv. Of the 60, the frequency of each position goes like this:
SS: 16 instances in the bottom two
So it would be truly impressive if Cleveland could post its lowest TAvs at RF and DH. If, say, Mark Reynolds were injured and the Indians played Drew Stubbs in right and Chris McGuiness at DH, they might have an outside shot.
Extent of despair: -2.8 WARP
Most grievous antagonist: Justin Smoak (-2.6 WARP)
Projection for 2013: 1.2 WARP
The Mariners did go out and trade for a bunch of big bats (both sincere and ironic) capable of playing first base (or capable of playing left field and freeing up big bats to play first base), but it’s still sort of in that phase like in Ticket to Ride where you’re collecting whatever cards you can hoard and you’ll figure out your route later. Which is to say that they added Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse, and Raul Ibanez, but might still end up giving 600 plate appearances to Justin Smoak at first base. And if they don’t, this kid ain’t gonna be happy:
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