Positions of Strength and Weakness

Tom Tippett
November 27, 2001

Having watched your favorite team play a bunch of games this past season, you probably have a good feel for the positions where they need help and the positions where they're set for the 2002 season.

But it's not as easy to keep up with all of the teams around the league, so we thought it would be helpful to rank the offensive contributions each team received from the players who manned each position this year.

American League rankings

Let's start with the American League. The numbers in the following table show how each team ranked in on-base percentage plus slugging percentage (OPS) at each position. If a player moved around, his stats are divided among those positions based on what he did when playing each of those positions. And it's important to point out that the stats upon which these rankings are based were not park adjusted.

Team    P    C   1B   2B   3B   SS   LF   CF   RF   DH   PH



ANA     3   11   14    6    1    7    5   13    8   14    7

BAL     9   13    6   12   12   10   10   12   14   12    2

BOS     4    2   11   11   13   11    2    3    6    2   14

CHA    11    7    8    3    7    4    3    8    2   11   13

CLE     8    8    2    2    8   14    8   10    1    3    5

DET    13    9   13   10    6    5    4   11   13    6    8

KCA     7   12    4   14   14   13   12    2    7   10   11

MIN     1    4    9    8    3    6    9    7    9    5    3

NYA    14    3   12    5    4    2   14    1   10   13    4

OAK    12    5    1    7    2    3   13    9    4    8   12

SEA    10    6    5    1    9    8   11    5    3    1    1

TBA     6   10   10    9   11   12    6   14   11    9   10

TEX     5    1    7    4    5    1    7    4   12    4    9

TOR     2   14    3   13   10    9    1    6    5    7    6

Before we move on, let's take a moment to go over how to read this table. Each column ranks the teams from top (1) to bottom (14) based on OPS by the players at that position. Reading across, you can get a snapshot of how a team ranked at each position.

For example, the NYA line tells us that the Yankees ranked 14th (dead last) in the league in offensive production by its pitchers (big deal) and left fielders (still think the Knoblauch move was a good one?). The AL champs were 13th in production from the DH position. And only 12th at first base despite a nice comeback season from Tino Martinez. (Unfortunately for Tino fans, there are a lot of good-hitting first basemen in the league, and Tino's bat couldn't match that of Giambi or Thome or Delgado or Sweeney. Or Olerud or Palmeiro or Mientkiewicz or Konerko. Or even Daubach, McGriff or the Segui/Conine tandem in Baltimore.) On the plus side, New York received top-five contributions from their center fielders, shortstops, catchers, third basemen, and second basemen. And their pinch hitters were strong.

This table makes it clear that even the best teams have weaknesses. Even the record-setting Mariners were in the bottom half of the league offensively at third, short and left. Granted, they weren't in the bottom half by much, but it's still fair to say that a third of their lineup was average at best. In baseball, you're in very good shape when your worst regulars are average major-league performers or close to it. (This, by the way, is one of the cases where park adjustments would have made a difference in the rankings, since Safeco Field lowered batting averages by 16 points and scoring by 11%.)

A few other things that jumped out at me:

- Seattle's success was due in part to their tremendous pinch hitting. Their substitute batsmen contributed a .286 average, a .371 on-base percentage, and 15 extra-base hits for an .871 OPS. Surprisingly, the Orioles led the league a pinch .297 batting average and .398 on-base percentage. They fell behind the M's in OPS only because they contributed only three extra-base hits off the bench. The Red Sox were woeful in this category -- a .147 average and a 5:1 strikeout to walk ratio. If memory serves, Boston didn't get its first pinch hit of the season until early June.

- Boston's infield was pathetic, with no position finishing in the top ten. That's tough to do in a 14-team league. If not for Mike Sweeney at first, Kansas City would have challenged the Red Sox for this dubious distinction.

- Anaheim was last at both 1B and DH. Mo Vaughn would have looked good in either role.

- if you're looking for balance, check out the Twins and the White Sox. Minnesota was in the top nine across the board, including pitcher and pinch hitter. Meanwhile, the White Sox received good contributions from every position except DH, and if Frank Thomas had been healthy (and happy) all year, they would have been in the top 8 at every position. And the Rangers were in good shape everywhere but RF, so it's no surprise that many writers have speculated about Texas making a run at re-signing Juan Gonzalez this winter.

- a couple of years ago, Omar Vizquel was an asset for Cleveland at the plate, but he "helped" the Indians sink to the basement in SS hitting this year

- Tampa Bay was in the bottom half at every position except left field, and they only have an aging Greg Vaughn to thank for that. Vaughn was the DH more often than he was in left, but he did his best work while playing in the outfield -- .900 OPS in 200 atbats as a LF, .674 in 283 atbats at DH.

National League rankings

Over in the National League, the picture looks like this:

Team    P    C   1B   2B   3B   SS   LF   CF   RF   DH   PH



ARI    11   11    5    8   12    9    2   10    8    2    1

ATL    14    6   15   12    1   13   16    8    9    8    5

CHN     4   14    8   11   10    6    9   14    1    5    3

CIN     9    8    7   14    6   11    8    3   13    3    7

COL     1    4    1    4    7    2   10    4    2   10   13

FLO    13    3    9   13    8    8    4    7   11    6   15

HOU    15   12    2    3   11    7    5    2    7    7    6

LAN     7    2   12   10   13   14    3   13    3    9   12

MIL    12    9    3    5   14    5   12    5   10   16   14

MON     5   13   10    2   16    4   15   16    6   14   16

NYN    16    1   13    9    9   12   13   11   16    1    8

PHI     3   15   11    7    4    3   11   15    4   13    4

PIT    10    7   16   16    3   16    6    9   15    4   11

SDN     6    5    4   15    2   15   14    6   14   15    9

SFN     2   10   14    1   15    1    1   12   12   11    2

SLN     8   16    6    6    5   10    7    1    5   12   10

Some observations:

- the world-champion Diamondbacks didn't exactly tear it up offensively. They didn't get much from their catchers, third basemen (Matt Williams' injury was a factor here), or center fielders. And this was in a good hitters park. Luis Gonzalez was the only starter who got his team into the top four at his position. Arizona's pinch hitters got a lot of ink this year because they belted 14 homers. They also led the league in OPS, but they didn't lead the majors in that category, as Seattle's was higher by 37 points (.871 to .834).

- Andruw Jones is regarded as a great young talent and was recently rewarded with a $75 million contract extension, but seven other teams got more offensive production from their center fielders this year. Jones is, of course, a superior defensive player, but he's yet to take his place in the top tier offensively.

- surprisingly, the Florida Marlins were among the most balanced teams. With Luis Castillo having an off year, they finished only 13th at second base, and they didn't get a whole lot out of right field. But Derrek Lee bounced back from a very slow start to help the Florida first-sackers finish ninth, and every other field position was in the top half of the league. One could easily imagine Lee and Castillo rebounding to create a team with a very solid offense from top to bottom in 2002.

- on the other end of the balance continuum is a team at the other end of the country, the Giants. Thanks to Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent, and Rich Aurilia, San Francisco led the league at three positions. But their stars didn't get anywhere near enough help, and the club finished in the bottom five at five other positions. And to think that some opposing managers were criticized for not pitching to Barry.

- Ken Griffey was playing on one leg for much of the season, and while it definitely hurt him defensively, he still led his team to a third-place finish in the offensive rankings at his position. When Griffey wasn't playing CF, Michael Tucker did a nice job (.869 OPS) and Ruben Rivera was okay. Adam Dunn arrived on the scene too late to salvage a decent ranking for the team at the corner outfield positions.

- you can't see this in the table, but the Astros had five positions -- first, second, and all three outfield spots -- where the team compiled an on-base percentage in the .380s and .390s. That's very impressive, even in Enron Field, because Enron boosts scoring by producing more triples and homers, but it doesn't affect batting averages very much.

- the Dodgers were 10th or worse at all four infield positions. With Eric Karros nursing a bad back and Adrian Beltre missing a lot of time due to abdominal surgery, it's no surprise that the corner positions suffered. But the shortstops were horrible (offensively) and Mark Grudzielanek was respectable at second but still in the bottom half.

- amid contraction rumors, fans in Pittsburgh and other places may be salivating over the possibility of getting Vladimir Guerrero via free agency or a dispersal draft of some sort. And I'd love to have him, too. But it's worth pointing out that five other NL teams (plus two in the AL) got more production from their right fielders than Montreal did this year.

- yes, the Mets outfield really was as bad as everyone thought it would be. More surprising is the fact that their infield didn't make up for it, with all four positions falling in the bottom half. I would have figured that at least one guy from the group of Robin Ventura, Edgardo Alfonzo, and Todd Ziele would have made it into the top eight, but it didn't happen.

- in what might be an omen for the future, the Mets got more out of the DH position than any other team in the majors. Because the Mets play in a non-DH league, their ranking at the position is based on a very limited number of atbats, so it's not all that meaningful. But most of those atbats went to a guy named Mike Piazza, and it's not hard to imagine Mr. Piazza catching for a few more years and then finishing out his career as a DH.

Major League rankings

I'll wrap up by ranking all thirty teams in one group:

Team    P    C   1B   2B   3B   SS   LF   CF   RF   DH   PH



ANA     4   24   25   17    3   11   14   24   21   28   12

BAL    24   29   11   26   27   19   25   22   30   22    4

BOS     8    4   17   22   28   22    9    5   19    3   30

CHA    26   16   13    7   19    6   12   16    7   21   27

CLE    22   17    3    2   20   26   19   20    4    4    8

DET    29   20   22   21   17    9   13   21   29   15   16

KCA    21   25    6   30   29   25   28    4   20   20   24

MIN     1    9   14   19    7   10   21   13   23   13    6

NYA    30    5   21   15   14    3   30    3   24   23    7

OAK    28   13    2   18    6    4   29   19   16   17   26

SEA    25   15   10    1   21   17   27   11   12    2    1

TBA    16   23   16   20   26   23   15   30   25   19   23

TEX    10    3   12   10   16    1   18    8   26    6   19

TOR     2   30    5   27   24   18    8   12   17   16   10

ARI    17   19    9   12   18   16    2   18   10    5    2

ATL    20   10   29   23    1   27   26   15   11   12   11

CHN     7   26   19   16   13   13   11   27    1    9    5

CIN    14   12   18   25    9   21   10    6   18    7   14

COL     3    7    1    6   10    5   16    7    2   18   22

FLO    19    6   20   24   11   15    4   14   14   10   28

HOU    23   21    4    5   15   14    5    2    9   11   13

LAN    12    2   26   14   22   28    3   26    3   14   21

MIL    18   14    7    8   23   12   20    9   13   30   25

MON     9   22   23    4   30    8   24   29    8   27   29

NYN    27    1   27   13   12   24   22   23   28    1   15

PHI     6   27   24   11    5    7   17   28    5   26    9

PIT    15   11   30   29    4   30    6   17   27    8   20

SDN    11    8    8   28    2   29   23   10   22   29   17

SFN     5   18   28    3   25    2    1   25   15   24    3

SLN    13   28   15    9    8   20    7    1    6   25   18

Obviously, the rankings at pitcher and designated hitter don't mean too much on a cross-league basis because of the differences in the number of plate appearances at these positions. I was tempted to leave those positions out of this table, but decided to keep them because they have at least some curiosity value.

Though it won't come as a surprise to anyone, I'll finish with a list of the guys who were most responsible for putting their teams at the top of the rankings at each position, leaving out the AL pitchers and the NL designated hitters:

Pos  Team   Player(s)



P    Col    Mike Hampton

C    NYN    Mike Piazza

1B   Col    Todd Helton

2B   Sea    Bret Boone

3B   Atl    Chipper Jones

SS   Tex    Alex Rodriguez

LF   SF     Barry Bonds

CF   SL     Jim Edmonds

RF   ChN    Sammy Sosa

DH   Sea    Edgar Martinez

PH   Sea    Mark McLemore, Ed Sprague, and several others