Earlier this week, we watched as the Cubs catching tandem made up (primarily) of Willson Contreras and Miguel Montero ranked eighth best in all of baseball according to their FanGraphs WAR projections.
And although we felt that the system was both light on Contreras’ glove and Montero’s receiving/framing skills, that’s still a relatively impressive showing overall.
Well, FanGraphs has continued on with its series, having now covered all four infield positions. So we will do the same. From first to third, let’s see how the Cubs infield ranks among the rest of the league.
Upfront reminder: these aren’t individual power rankings, and there is no subjectivity or context included. Instead, the fine
nerds people over at FanGraphs have summed up each team’s statistical WAR projections for each position (regardless of how many players are expected to appear there, though playing time is doled out), and listed the teams in order from most to least. I suspect you’ll be plenty thrilled with the results.
- Chicago Cubs (4.9 WAR)
- Arizona Diamondbacks (4.3 WAR)
- Cincinnati Reds (4.2 WAR)
- Detroit Tigers (4.0 WAR)
- Atlanta Braves (3.8 WAR)
Given the immense amount of first base talent loaded in those top five teams (Anthony Rizzo, Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera, Freddie Freeman) you have to be absolutely over the moon that the Cubs took the top spot. From those five players alone, you probably have two active Hall of Famers and three guys that could theoretically get there. Anthony Rizzo is a special talent (arguably the best first baseman in baseball) and leads a group of replacements (Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Willson Contreras/Kyle Schwarber) that any team would love to have.
- Houston Astros (4.4 WAR)
- Seattle Mariners (3.7 WAR)
- Minnesota Twins (3.4 WAR)
- Boston Red Sox (3.3 WAR)
- Cleveland Indians (3.2 WAR)
- Detroit Tigers (3.0 WAR)
- Washington Nationals (2.9 WAR)
- Chicago Cubs (2.9 WAR)
So for second base, I needed to expand our list a bit beyond the top five, but not too far. And, you’ll have to excuse me, but there’s no way the Cubs second basemen combine for just 2.9 WAR this season. Now, to be fair, this isn’t precisely saying that Ben Zobrist (4.0 WAR in 2016) and Javy Baez (2.7 WAR in 2016) are going to combine for 2.9 WAR in total, because this is just calculating the WAR they’ll earn while playing at second. But still. All things equal and with health, those two will get 95%+ of the starts at second base and should far exceed 2.9 WAR from the position. Projections are inherently conservative, but I’ll take the over.
- Toronto Blue Jays (6.1 WAR)
- Baltimore Orioles (6.0 WAR)
- Chicago Cubs (5.7 WAR)
- Colorado Rockies (4.5 WAR)
- Texas Rangers (4.1 WAR)
While it may again look as though the Cubs – what with the reigning 2016 NL MVP and WAR leader – are getting the short end of the stick, there’s not too much to argue. After all, Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado are easily two of the best players in baseball. There’s no shame in finishing just behind them in the rankings whatsoever.
But with that said, the writer of this particular article, Nicolas Stellini, rightly points out that the Cubs move their players around a lot more than other teams. And while Kris Bryant won’t likely be playing as much left field this year as he did last, it’s still a possibility. These aren’t individual player projections after all, so there’s really nothing to see here. The Cubs probably have the best individual third baseman in baseball. If they don’t, it’s damn close.
- Houston Astros (5.4 WAR)
- Cleveland Indians (5.1 WAR)
- Los Angeles Dodgers (4.7 WAR)
- Washington Nationals (4.0 WAR)
- Chicago Cubs (3.8 WAR)
As I wrote at Baseball is Fun recently, the shortstop game in Major League Baseball right now is insane:
— Baseball is Fun (@flippingbats) March 15, 2017
That the Cubs shortstop position – led by Addison Russell – is able to land itself among the top five in the game is nothing short of astonishing. Nearly all of the four players leading the teams ahead of the Cubs are MVP candidates in their own right. Now, Addison Russell may be due for that power surge and offensive breakout we’ve been expecting or he may not. But either way, he figures to be one of the league’s best overall shortstops and that helps the Cubs stay near the top.
Overall, then, the Cubs infield projects to be downright terrifying:
- First Base: 1st (4.9 WAR)
- Second Base: 8th (2.9 WAR)
- Third Base: 3rd (5.7 WAR)
- Shortstop: 5th (3.8 WAR)
When you think about the whole of the infield, can you name a better group in baseball? There are teams to which I can immediately point with a really compelling two or three, but all four?