Every year, I like to do an MLB-wide player ranking by position. It’s a ranking of what I expect each player’s total contributions to his team to be in the coming season. It takes into account offense, defense, baserunning, the overall game. For the sabermetrically-inclined, I suppose you could say this is how I expect the players to rank in total WAR for 2015. The only reason they’re grouped by position is that they’re easier to compare that way. For instance, I couldn’t definitively say who was better between Giancarlo Stanton and Andrelton Simmons, because I wouldn’t know how to quantify the importance of position, and the defense-for-offense tradeoff. But I can compare Stanton to other outfielders, and Simmons to other shortstops.
Comments are welcome, of course – just keep in mind that there is a fair amount of speculation included in the following rankings. The best players of 2014 won’t be the same as the best players of 2015, because that isn’t how baseball works.
We’ll start with the top five catchers in 2015:
- Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers
- Salvador Perez, Royals
- Yadier Molina, Cardinals
- Devin Mesoraco, Reds
- Buster Posey, Giants
Now, I don’t know much about catching at the major league level. But I do value defensive skills here more than at any other position, because at catcher is where I believe it’s most critical. Game-calling and overall leadership also come into play here. Salvador Perez is not the best-hitting catcher in baseball, far from it. But he’s one of the best damn team leaders I’ve ever seen.
Honorable mention: Yan Gomes, Matt Wieters, Russell Martin
Top five first basemen in 2015:
- Jose Abreu, White Sox
- Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
- Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
- Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
- Joey Votto, Reds
I just hope that last year was an anomaly, that Joey Votto isn’t actually breaking down. Because he’s one of the best players in the game when he’s healthy. The top four should speak for themselves, but I expect both Abreu and Rizzo to continue to climb into the echelons of baseball’s elite players.
Honorable mention: Freddie Freeman, Eric Hosmer, Adrian Gonzalez
Top five second basemen in 2015:
- Robinson Cano, Mariners
- Jose Altuve, Astros
- Kolten Wong, Cardinals
- Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
- Brian Dozier, Twins
Jose Altuve could eclipse Cano this season if he repeats last year’s performance. And that’s a very lofty statement because Cano is baseball royalty. Kolten Wong is an emerging star of whose 12 home runs in 2014, 11 came after July 1st. Dozier gets the nod over the Tigers’ Ian Kinsler and others because I believe he could be an elite defender, something which up to now has only shown up in flashes.
Honorable Mention: Ian Kinsler, Daniel Murphy, Jason Kipnis
Top five shortstops in 2015:
- Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
- Andrelton Simmons, Braves
- Jhonny Peralta, Cardinals
- Starlin Castro, Cubs
- Alexei Ramirez, White Sox
Despite Tulo’s history of injuries, it isn’t even close. I’d take 100 games from him over 162 from any other shortstop in baseball. Castro was an easy pick, if you recall he’s still just 24 years old. Alexei gets the nod due to consistency and defense, over guys like the Nats’ Ian Desmond, who didn’t quite make the cut because his numbers have been on the decline since 2012.
Honorable Mention: Ian Desmond, Jose Reyes
Top five third basemen in 2015:
- Anthony Rendon, Nationals
- Adrian Beltre, Rangers
- Kyle Seager, Mariners
- Nolan Arenado, Rockies
- Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
Anthony Rendon figures to own the top spot on this list for many years to come. Even if he can’t replicate his offensive numbers from last year, he still has the defensive skill to be number one. You’ll notice an absence of Josh Donaldson – while one of the best players in MLB the past two seasons, I figure I’m with Billy Beane in thinking that he’s peaked.
Honorable Mention: Josh Donaldson, Brett Lawrie, Kris Bryant
Top five left fielders in 2015:
- Alex Gordon, Royals
- Jayson Werth, Nationals
- Michael Brantley, Indians
- Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox
- Starling Marte, Pirates
I’m not quite sold on Michael Brantley yet – if this were last year’s rankings, he’d be at the top of the list, but I want to see him repeat that performance and prove it wasn’t just an extended hot streak. Hanley Ramirez is another potentially controversial pick, since he hasn’t played an inning in left field yet, but I think he’ll surprise some people, and actually end up being an above average defender.
Honorable Mention: Christian Yelich, Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton
Top five center fielders in 2015:
- Mike Trout, Angels
- Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
- Carlos Gomez, Brewers
- Lorenzo Cain, Royals
- Adam Jones, Orioles
There shouldn’t be any surprises here — except how on earth a .300 hitter with elite speed and defense could end up ranking 4th! It turns out center field is a pretty stacked position in MLB, as you can clearly see.
Honorable Mention: Billy Hamilton, Juan Lagares, Marcell Ozuna
Top five right fielders in 2015:
- Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
- Jason Heyward, Cardinals
- Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
- Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
- Kole Calhoun, Angels
Yes, I’m a believer in Carlos Gonzalez. He’s one of the best all-around players in the game when he’s healthy, so I wish him and Rockies a good tentacle-free year. Kole Calhoun is the surprise here – he’s my breakout star for the coming season, I expect him to get his walk rate up while maintaining the power stroke he found last year that went somewhat under-the-radar. He should make the All-Star team in 2015.
Honorable Mention: Bryce Harper, Hunter Pence, Yasiel Puig
Top five starting pitchers in 2015:
- Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
- Chris Sale, White Sox
- Yu Darvish, Rangers
- Madison Bumgarner, Giants
- Felix Hernandez, Mariners
Felix Hernandez doesn’t quite rank as high as he would have with last year’s numbers, only because I don’t know when he’ll be hitting that decline all too common with pitchers around his age. Also, just do me a favor and take a minute to look up how good a season Chris Sale had last year – if he continues pitching the way he’s been, a Cy Young should happen for him sooner rather than later.
Honorable Mention: Corey Kluber, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann
Relief pitchers are always a crap shoot, but I’ll take a shot at it:
- Aroldis Chapman, Reds
- Greg Holland, Royals
- Craig Kimbrel, Braves
- Kenley Jansen, Dodgers
- Dellin Betances, Yankees
So there you have it. These rankings might provide a sort of preview to how I believe the divisions will shake out in baseball this year. Those posts are soon to come. In the meantime, enjoy these and keep in mind that nothing makes me happier than people who argue with me on twitter!