In the weeks leading up to the 2013 season, I unveiled my predictions for The Nine best players at each position. Some of the lists look good, some look terrible at this point, but that’s all part of the fun. Over the next two weeks leading up to the All-Star Game I will be revisiting these lists to see how things are going so far, around the halfway mark.
Obviously, the early evaluations will feature fewer than half a season and the later lists will feature a bit more, but try to think of these as the state of the position at the halfway mark. I’ll be using Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to generate the rankings because it is the number that best captures the entire value of a player. It isn’t perfect, so don’t take the precise values too seriously, but it’s certainly the best way to make any type of holistic list. WAR values offense, defense, baserunning, and playing time, so it represents exactly what I was trying to capture when I made the rankings during Spring Training.
Here’s how this will work. Below, you’ll see all nine players I ranked in the preseason and any player who currently ranks in the top 9 at that position. The current ranking drives the order and the preseason ranking and their current WAR is noted. Hit, miss, and push distinctions are based on where their first half places them going forward. For example, I can miss on a player even if I expect them to play much better in the second half if their first half was so poor that it is impossible to make up the ground overall.
56. Mark Teixeira, Yankees (Preseason Rank: 6, 2013 WAR: -0.2)
Teixeira was more hurt than I knew when I wrote the original list. Nothing you can do about a guy who only plays 15 games during a season due to injury. MISS
49. Albert Pujols, Angels (Preseason Rank: 2, 2013 WAR: -0.1)
Albert Pujols stated slow last season and came on strong in the second half. I’m not sure if that’s going to happen again or if his foot and ankle injury will improve enough that he can contribute the way he should. Granted, I knew Pujols was on the wrong side of 30 when I wrote the list, so maybe I should have been more cautious about his decline, but it’s safe to say one shouldn’t assume an all-time great player will simply cease being valuable out of nowhere. He’s producing at league average with a 99 wRC+ from a position that demands offense and is below average on defense and on the bases. Pujols likely won’t be this bad all season, but there is no way he can recover enough to save the prediction. MISS
31. Adam LaRoche, Nationals (Preseason Rank: 4, 2013 WAR: 0.5)
He’s lost some power from his career year in 2012, but the OBP is nearly identical. LaRoche was my bold, wild card type pick, so I’m fine with being off the mark a bit. He’s defense rates below average this year despite being good each of the last three seasons. I assume that will turn around because 1B defensive skills shouldn’t deteriorate that quickly, so he’s probably more of a 2.5 WAR player than a 3.5 WAR player and that’s not a huge whiff. He’s probably a 10-13 1B for the whole season, so this is a miss, but not a huge one. MISS
30. Prince Fielder, Tigers (Preseason Rank: 3, 2013 WAR: 0.5)
Fielder, currently at 123 wRC+, is performing well on offensive relative to league average, but not compared to the bar he set for himself. At this pace, he’s like to finish near the 8-10 mark, but he could easily snap out of it and start hitting for more power at any moment. There’s nothing physically wrong with him and he’s had the occasional season in his career that was just pretty good instead of great at the plate, so he could easily slug .550 the rest of the way and no one would find it strange. He’s costly on defense, but that’s a constant. He’s a top 9 1B on offense right now, but not comfortably enough to make up for his defense. MISS
15. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs (Preseason Rank: 8, 2013 WAR: 1.3)
Despite some recent slumping Rizzo is only a bit off the pace he set in 2012 on which I based my evaluation. He’s 0.3 WAR back of 8th place, so I’m feeling pretty good right now. He’s playing strong defense and has a 110 wRC+. With a little better second half, he’s dead on. HIT
12. Freddie Freeman, Braves (Preseason Rank: 5, 2013 WAR: 1.4)
Freeman spent 15 days on the DL early in the season, but while he’s been on the field during the 70+ other games, he’s been right on pace for 5th. He’s the 6th best 1B by wRC+ and is hovering just below average on defense. Assuming he’s healthy and plays 140 games or so this season, he’s perfectly on track for the middle of the top 9. HIT
10. Allen Craig, Cardinals (Preseason Rank: 7, 2013 WAR: 1.5 WAR)
Craig is having essentially the exact season I’d have expected from him. In the initial ranking I said he was a phenomenal hitter (he’s 5th in wRC+) and nothing special with the glove (-2.2 UZR). His only issue would be health, which hasn’t bitten him yet and is just 0.1 WAR away from 7th on the list. If he doesn’t miss much time, this one looks great. HIT
9. Eric Hosmer, Royals (Preseason Rank: 9, 2013 WAR: 1.5)
Ha! Nailed it. He started a bit slow but things are picking up nicely and he has added value with the glove too. I’m a fan of his skills and think he can be a great player despite 2012’s disappointment. I’m not going to say much more and just bask in this precisely accurate ranking while it lasts. HIT
8. Brandon Belt, Giants (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR:1.6)
I like Belt, but the Giants have been screwing with his swing and playing time so much over the years it’s hard to feel good about any sort of prediction. He’s a patient hitter with a solid glove and I like him a lot as a player, I just didn’t think it was a good idea to rank him in the top 9 because I couldn’t predict the playing time. MISS
7. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 1.6)
Someone asked about him when I posted the original piece and I said he’d have been 10 or 11 for me, so finding him at 7, just ahead of that spot isn’t surprising. He’s hitting for a little more power than I thought, but other than that is right on track for the season I thought he’d have. HIT
6. Mark Trumbo, Angels (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 1.9)
Trumbo wasn’t ranked in the preseason because I expected him to get most of his reps at DH. Nothing you can really do about that one, but he’s a lowish OBP, high power guy who tends to run hot and cold. He’s actually be solid with the glove in Pujols’ stead, so I’m comfortable expecting him to finish near the back half of the list. PUSH
5. James Loney, Rays (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 2.3)
I saw this coming. Not this exactly, but I did. Go to #30 on this list of bold predictions and you’ll see. I didn’t think he’d be a top 9 guy, but I’m taking credit for this because so few people had good things to say abut Loney going into the year. He’s always been a guy who could play defense and hit for average, but he was caught in between while looking to add power in LA, so arriving in Tampa and being told not to worry about it seems to have helped. HIT.
4. Edwin Encarnacion, Jays (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 2.5)
I had Encarnacion figured in for a lot of games at DH, which has sort of happened. 45 games at 1B, 29 at DH, 10 at 3B so I didn’t expect him to add as much value because of the DH positional adjustment in WAR. I expected him to mash, but not to add this kind of overall value. I’m calling it a push because it was more of a playing time mistake than a production one. PUSH
3. Joey Votto, Reds (Preseason Rank: 1, 2013 WAR: 3.4)
Joey Votto is great and I said he would be great. His defensive rating is below average, which I don’t think will continue and that is the only think keeping him from another MVP type season. Votto is right on track for the 6.5-7.5 WAR season that I figured for him. HIT
2. Paul Goldschmidt, Dbacks (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 3.4)
Goldy was someone I agonized over and left him off with A-Gon right on the cusp. He’s been good enough to make that prediction a miss, but I do want to make clear I liked him a lot coming in, just not quite as much as I should have. He has amazingly gotten better from year to year across the board since coming to the big leagues and is very much in the MVP conversation with Votto and several other guys who will appear on other lists. I’m a Goldy fan and regret not putting him on the preseason list. MISS
1. Chris Davis, Orioles (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 4.6)
Yeah, didn’t see this coming. No one did. Not even Chris Davis’ mother expected him to elevated his game to near-Cabreraian levels. He’s mashing and is right in the thick of the AL MVP race. He’s not this good, but he’s also clearly good enough to hang on this list the rest of the way and I wouldn’t have put him in the top 12. Easily a miss and pretty darn impressive. I’m not buying him to finish #1, but he’s earned it for now. MISS
Check back for more The Nine updates featuring the other positions. How will these lists look come October? Sounds off in the comments section.