2023 Positional Power Rankings: Summary
Over the past week and a half, we’ve published our annual season preview, ranking the league’s players by position and team based on a blend of our projections (a 50/50 split between ZiPS and Steamer) and our manually maintained playing time estimates courtesy of Jason Martinez. If you happen to have missed any of those installments, you can use the navigation widget above to catch up.
Today, I’m going to summarize the results. We’ll look at some tables and pick out a few interesting tidbits in a moment, but first, it’s important to remember that this exercise captures a snapshot of how we project teams to perform right now. Teams aren’t static. Since we began publishing our rankings, prospects Anthony Volpe, Jordan Walker, and Brice Turang all made their respective clubs’ Opening Day rosters, and Grayson Rodriguez and Brett Baty learned they will have to wait a little while longer. The Brewers designated Keston Hiura for assignment (he has since cleared waivers and been outrighted to the Brewers’ Triple-A team) and signed non-roster invitee Luke Voit to a one-year big league deal. Rhys Hoskins tore his ACL and will likely miss the season; Triston McKenzie injured his shoulder and could miss up to eight weeks.
This being baseball, players will tweak elbows and hamstrings, lose playing time to underperformance, and get traded. That’s why we maintain a Team WAR Totals page, which lists projected positional WAR by team and updates regularly throughout the season as we learn more about who is likely to take the field every day and what shape they’ll be in when they do. It’s important to note that the WAR numbers you see on that page may differ from those you’ve seen on the positional power rankings, mostly because those figures are aware of the injuries and transactions that have altered our playing time estimates since the rankings went live; the Z-Scores I’ll include later also use the WAR figures that power the Team WAR Totals page.
But before we get to the Z-Scores, let’s take note of some general trends and fun factoids. First, we’ll look at each team’s positional ranks as of Tuesday at 12:30 PM ET. There are 11 positions, with each team’s overall WAR rank in the last column. This table is sortable, so feel free to poke around:
2023 Projected Positional Ranks
A few things jump out here.
The Braves boast six top-five finishes among the 11 positions; division rivals New York and Philadelphia each have five. The Braves and Blue Jays each have eight top-10 finishes; the Astros, Padres, Rays and Yankees each have seven; the Dodgers and Mets six; and the Angels, Cardinals Phillies, Rangers, and White Sox five.
The Yankees and Angels are the only teams with multiple first-place finishes (the rotation and right field for the Yankees, center field and DH for the Angels). All three of Toronto’s outfield spots rank in the top 10 (running out three center fielders will do that). The Blue Jays’ infield is nearly as stout: along with the Braves and Rangers, they have top-10 finishes at four of the five infield spots. Five teams (the Braves, Dodgers, Padres, Phillies, and Rays) have both a rotation and a bullpen that project in the top 10.
It’s interesting to look at how the top 10 teams by total WAR have gone about constructing their rosters. The Braves have high highs and a few low lows. As noted above, they have six positions in the top five and eight in the top 10, but then three in the bottom 15, with shortstop (no. 26), DH (no. 20) and left field (no. 30) bringing up the rear. Indeed, they are the only team with both a first- and last-place finish, though the Angels, Phillies and Rangers have first- and 29th-place spots. Speaking of barely avoiding a last-place finish: Astros catchers rank 29th, though second-place finishes in left and right field and at DH and a third-place finish at third base make that easier to live with. True to form, the Rays do well by being at least respectable and not terrible anywhere. The Yankees are a souped-up version of that approach (two first-place finishes, two more in the top five, seven in the top 10, and no position ranked lower than 19th), as are the Mets (five top-five finishes, six in the top 10, and 19th as a ranking floor). Then there are the Blue Jays and Padres, who manage to be pretty excellent pretty much everywhere.
It isn’t all good news. This is an exercise in ranking, which means someone has to be last, and as often happens, a few unfortunate clubs are bringing up the rear at multiple positions. The Nationals, Reds, and Rockies each have 11 bottom-10 finishes (remember, we only rank 11 position groups) and two 30th-place finishes. The Tigers don’t show much better, with 10 bottom-10 finishes and only an 18th-place finish in center field saving them from going 11-for-11. Eight teams (the A’s, Cubs, Nationals, Pirates, Reds, Rockies, Royals, and Tigers) place in the bottom 10 for both their rotation and bullpen, and seven (the A’s Nationals, Pirates, Reds, Rockies, Royals and Tigers) have an average positional ranking of 20th or higher.
Ordinal rankings do have their limitations, as some positions cluster tightly together. At many positions, fractions of wins are all that separate teams from each other. Fourteen teams fall between 2 and 3 WAR in left field; the top six teams at shortstop all project for between 5.0 and 5.9 WAR. As I mentioned in my introduction, it is important to look at the magnitude of the differences between the rankings, as well as the rankings themselves. Thinking about whether a team falls above or below league average, and by how much, might be a more useful way of approaching things than obsessing over where your favorite team ranked. To that end, I calculated the Z-Scores of each team’s projected positional WAR (again, using the figures on Team WAR Totals page) to show you the number of standard deviations away from league average each team is at each spot:
2023 Projected Positional Z-Scores
This table is also sortable, which makes it easy to spot the outliers, good and bad. I won’t narrate the whole thing except to point out the top five positions by Z-Score:
- +3.22 – Padres left field
- +2.74 – Yankees right field
- +2.60 – Angels designated hitter
- +2.51 – Angels center field
- +2.40 – Dodgers first base
As well as the bottom five:
- -2.18 – Reds shortstop
- -1.92 – Rockies catcher
- -1.78 – Athletics bullpen
- -1.71 – Nationals second base
- -1.68 – Reds center field
This season will no doubt contain surprises. Some teams will disappoint, and others will exceed expectations. Last year, we went into the season thinking the White Sox would win the AL Central. They famously did not do that! We projected the Orioles to win 63 games; they bested that mark by 20 wins. Will they fare as well this year? Our playoff odds think they’ll win 76, but who knows? Maybe their emerging young core will have something to say about that (once they’re all in the majors, that is). Last year, the Diamondbacks had nine bottom-10 finishes; this year, that number has shrunk to four, and they boast standouts at catcher, first and second base, and in left field, with more prospects likely to debut and make their mark. Baseball obviously doesn’t want for powerhouse teams, but some of them look more vulnerable than they have in years past; this is the first time in almost a decade we’ve projected the Dodgers to win fewer than 90 games. A lot can change over the course of a season, with many teams a prospect breakout or a bad injury away from looking very different come October than they do now.
That always makes the positional power rankings something of a strange exercise, because for as precise as we try to make them, we’re always at least a little bit wrong. But I think that’s a feature rather than a bug. It would be awfully boring to know exactly who will win and how. And after a busy winter full of big free-agent deals and a spring dominated by talk of the pitch clock and bigger bases and thrilling WBC action, tomorrow is Opening Day. We get to spend the next seven months figuring out who is good and just how wrong we were here. The FanGraphs staff will be there for the whole thing, and I hope you’ll join us. I can’t wait.