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 few weeks 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.
35. Derek Jeter, Yankees (Preseason Rank: 8, 2013 WAR: 0.0)
When I wrote the list, the word on Jeter was that he’s going to be ready early in the season and that obviously didn’t reflect reality. I absorb some of the blame for not being more cautious on Jeter, but I also can’t do much more than trust a basic medical timetable. He’s played 0 games at SS this year and only one game at DH. MISS
22. Alcides Escobar, Royals (Preseason Rank: 9, 2013 WAR: 0.7)
Escobar was trending up offensively over the last few seasons but has been absolutely awful at the plate this season, posting a 59 wRC+ (what’s wRC+?). Escobar has done a nice job adding value on the bases and on defense so this pick wasn’t a massive whiff, but the previous gains at the plate have gone missing. MISS
21. Elvis Andrus, Rangers (Preseason Rank: 2, 2013 WAR: 0.7)
The Andrus story matches the Escobar one. He’s been a very solid offensive player over his first few seasons but has looked terrible to date in 2013 at the dish. He’s still adding tons of value on the field and on the bases, but at the dish he’s at 58 wRC+. Coming off a big contract it makes you sweat if you’re a Rangers fan because Andrus doesn’t need to be great to earn the deal, but he can’t be this bad.
18. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies (Preseason Rank: 6, 2013 WAR: 0.9)
Rollins is only a little off the pace I pegged him for at #6, but he’s not putting up the offensive numbers he needs to this season. Right now he’s playing like an average shortstop instead of an above average one and it’s to blame for his stop on this list. He’s getting older, but I bet he’s got another nice run in there somewhere. MISS
17. Jose Reyes, Jays (Preseason Rank: 3, 2013 WAR: 1.0)
Reyes is having a top 3 season right now when he’s on the field, but of course, he’s missed time with an injury. I gambled on health with my ranking, but he’s be matching it if he didn’t get hurt so I don’t feel too bad about the performance half of my judgement. I’m holding off on judgement because he could easily run off an amazing second half and get close to the top of the list. PUSH
10. JJ Hardy, Orioles (Preseason Rank: 5, 2013 WAR: 1.7)
The Hardy ranking is a little off mostly because of the other guys on the list. He’s having the season I’d have pegged him for, low OBP, nice pop, solid defense. The reason he’s at 10 instead of 5 is because I whiffed on a lot of guys ahead of him. I’m calling this a push for now, but it’s probably going to end up as a miss. PUSH
9. Alexei Ramirez, White Sox (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 1.9)
Ramirez is getting much of his value from great defense and solid baserunning but he’s doing well enough at the dish (79 wRC+) to add some value at the plate given his position. He has no pop and no eye at the plate, but for now his BABIP is high enough that it is carrying him to a solid batting average. I don’t think this ranking sticks and he was just off my original list. HIT
8. Andrelton Simmons, Braves (Preseason Rank: 4, 2013 WAR: 1.9)
I thought Simmons would hit a bit better than this, but his amazing, all-world defensive is what carries him. He’s got a 14 UZR right now and is slugging pretty well for a SS despite his low OBP. He’s not going to be in the top 4, but he’s very good. MISS
7. Yunel Escobar, Rays (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 2.3)
Yeah, I never know what to make of this guy. I’m sure I didn’t give him enough credit, partially for his non-baseball issues, but anytime the Rays trade for you, you’re worth watching. Solid bat and good defense for Escobar this year. MISS
6. Jhonny Peralta, Tigers (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 2.7)
I figured Peralta for a bounce back season, but not to this degree. Peralta is the 5th best SS on our list at the plate and has put together a league average season in the field. Peralta is doing it with a high BABIP, but he’s kept it up for 90+ games, so it’s probably not going to come crashing down and totally erase his value. MISS
5. Everth Cabrera, Padres (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 2.9)
So he’s a great baserunner and always has been. But he’s added 45 points in OBP and 70 points in SLG over last season. I don’t know what you want from me. If you saw this coming, you’re a better predictor of SS that me. MISS
4. Hanley Ramirez, Dodgers (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 3.1)
I left Hanley just off the list because I was worried about his ability to stay healthy. Good call, Neil. He’s at 3 WAR in 42 games. Whatever, this is stupid. MISS
3. Jean Segura, Brewers (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 3.3)
Segura is having a great season. He’s hitting like a madman. I didn’t know enough about his skills as a prospect coming into the season to rank him, but at least for now, I’ve missed. I don’t think this level is sustainable, but he’s certainly good enough to have made the list. MISS
2. Ian Desmond, Nationals (Preseason Rank: 7, 2013 WAR: 3.4)
So I’ll be honest, I have no idea what to make of Ian Desmond. No non-Ben Zobrist SS put up a higher WAR (5.4) in 2012, but it seemingly came out of nowhere. He walked no more than previous years and struck out no less. His BABIP ticked up a bit and UZR liked him better, but he also managed to hit for a lot higher average and more power. That’s generally a good sign, but it’s also a bit strange. He didn’t improve his approach at the plate and his BABIP didn’t shoot up, but he got a lot better. I’m generally favorable toward Desmond, but I just don’t know if we’re going to look back at last year as a fluke or not. I’m not quite ready to buy into him just year, but check back later in the season because he could make me a believer in no time.
That’s what I said about him before the season. I’m just going to let that stand. PUSH
1. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies (Preseason Rank: 1, 2013 WAR: 3.6)
Tulo is the best SS in baseball despite missing 30 games. Great defender and he’s an elite hitter at any position. This is the best shortstop in baseball when he’s on the field, and apparently, sometimes when he isn’t. After a pretty bad ranking so far, I’m hanging my hat on not screwing this one up. HIT