With just two weeks left until Opening Day, many publications are shuffling out of the here-dubbed prospect ranking season, and moving into more specific roster/team power-rankings season.
Among the most interesting series, comes the positional power rankings from FanGraphs, introduced by Dave Cameron here.
Instead of going team by team or division by division, FanGraphs’ pre-season preview projects performance by position, across every team in baseball, taking expected playing time into account.
Using the FanGraphs Depth Charts (a blend of the ZiPS and Steamer projections), the power rankings break down each position by playing time and calculated the overall production (using fWAR) from that spot on the diamond.
You can read the introduction here for further detail, as each position is coming out one at a time. So far, FanGraphs has gone through catcher, first base, and second base, and, as you might expect, the Cubs have fared quite well overall.
One of the scary things about the Cubs is that they’re set up to be perfectly fine at the catcher position, and the catcher position might also be where they’re worst … the Cubs are poised to do well to limit Montero’s exposure to southpaws. So he can stay both productive and rested.
If a combination of Miguel Montero, David Ross, Kyle Schwarber (and perhaps ultimately Willson Contreras) is the Cubs’ biggest positional weakness AND it’s still above average throughout the league, FanGraphs is right … that is scary in the best possible way.
And the thing is, Montero’s offensive production was already excellent before he was well-rested and limited against difficult lefties. To be certain, he wasn’t just an above average offensive catcher in 2015, he was an above average overall offensive performer (107 wRC+). And none of that is to mention his excellent game-calling, pitch-framing, receiving and leadership skills that don’t transfer well into projections.
Paul Goldschmidt may be the perfect first baseman, but Anthony Rizzo is just the left-handed version without as much speed. Rizzo’s mix of power and ability to control the strike zone is unprecedented in today’s MLB.
FanGraphs goes on to relate Rizzo’s abilities to that of Albert Pujols and even acknowledges the defensive prowess of Rizzo, claiming he may one day steal a Gold Glove from the man just ahead of him. I’ve long felt alone (together with other Cub fans, that is) in our praise of Rizzo’s excellent defensive work, so it’s nice to see that acknowledged. Anthony Rizzo is a truly special player, and deserves to be ranked among the best at his position throughout the entire league.
Most recently, FanGraphs addressed second base, where the Cubs are tied for second overall by WAR. Led by Ben Zobrist, the 2016 Cubs second basemen are expected to combine for 3.3 fWAR in 2016, which is tied with the Red Sox and Astros, and just barely behind the Mariners (3.4 WAR).
Ranked fourth, despite tying for projected WAR, the Cubs and Ben Zobrist have a good chance to exceed this figure throughout the regular season. Although Zobrist is getting old and missed time last season with a knee injury (affecting some of his defensive value), FanGraphs acknowledges his still intimidating offensive potential:
Zobrist now looks like a guy who will get most of his value from his offensive abilities, and even in his mid-30s, those remain formidable for a middle infielder. In fact, Zobrist has the highest projected wOBA of any player forecast to get at-bats at 2B this year
So, with three rankings down, the Cubs finished above average at catcher, in second place for first base, and tied for second place for second base.
I look forward to the continued release of future positional rankings and encourage you to check these ones out, as well. There is plenty more on each individual team – including the Cubs – as well as more to learn about depth. Position by position, I suspect this will be a successful year for the Chicago Cubs.