Each year, I like to do an MLB-wide player ranking by position. It’s a breakdown of what I expect to be each player’s total contribution to his team 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 2016. 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 Addison Russell, 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 Russell to other shortstops.
Comments are welcome, of course, but please keep in mind that there is a fair amount of speculation included in the following rankings. The best players of 2015 won’t be the same as the best players of 2016, because that isn’t how baseball works.
We’ll start with the top five catchers in 2016:
- Buster Posey, Giants
- Salvador Pérez, Royals
- Matt Wieters, Orioles
- Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers
- Francisco Cervelli, Pirates
Posey is the indisputable favorite here. His 6.1 bWAR last year was far and away the best of any full-time catcher in the majors. He put up his usual strong offensive numbers, while putting the world on notice to his improving defensive skills: he was recognized as a Gold Glove finalist for the first time in his career. But Wieters is the one to watch. After being limited to just 101 games over the past two seasons due to Tommy John surgery, he accepted the Orioles’ one-year qualifying offer in a bid to re-establish his value as an elite backstop. If he comes back strong with 20-homer power and his usual cannon of an arm, expect to hear his name a lot this year.
Honorable mention: Russell Martin, Travis d’Arnaud, Brian McCann
Top five first basemen in 2016:
- Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
- Joey Votto, Reds
- Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
- Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
- Chris Davis, Orioles
As ridiculous of a notion as it is that Paul Goldschmidt might still be underrated, that’s exactly the case. At least the league recognizes he’s the greatest hitter in the game right now: pitchers showed him respect last season to the tune of 29 intentional walks. Add his Gold Glove defense to that, and you can understand why he’ll be at the top of the MVP discussion for many years to come.
Honorable mention: Eric Hosmer, Freddie Freeman, Jose Abreu
Top five second basemen in 2016:
- José Altuve, Astros
- Jason Kipnis, Indians
- Dee Gordon, Marlins
- Robinson Canó, Mariners
- Kolten Wong, Cardinals
Jason Kipnis started to find his way in 2015, batting .318/.391/.481 from May 1st on. One hopes, as the Indians certainly do, that this is the true player that had been touted so highly since his days as a top prospect. But José Altuve still claims the top spot on this list, because he’s firmly established himself as one of the top hitters in the game. He’s virtually a lock for 200 hits, and he even started to find some power last season with 15 long balls. Expect this level of production to continue, as the 25-year old is just now entering his prime.
Honorable Mention: Joe Panik, Ben Zobrist, Logan Forsythe
Top five shortstops in 2016:
- Carlos Correa, Astros
- Francisco Lindor, Indians
- Addison Russell, Cubs
- Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox
- Brandon Crawford, Giants
An impressive field of youngsters highlights this list, most notably Carlos Correa, who hasn’t even played a full season in the big leagues, yet should still be considered one of the best players in the game right now. With 22 homers in his rookie campaign, his bat is exceptionally mature for a 21-year old. Fellow second-year player Addison Russell, whose defensive game is up there with the best in baseball, should also be fun to watch, as he’s set to assume the shortstop role for a full season with the Cubs.
Honorable Mention: Troy Tulowitzki, Ketel Marté, Andrelton Simmons
Top five third basemen in 2016:
- Manny Machado, Orioles
- Nolan Arenado, Rockies
- Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays
- Kris Bryant, Cubs
- Jung Ho Kang, Pirates
Manny Machado’s power production exploded in 2015, with 35 home runs, blowing past his previous career high mark of 14. He’s also the only player in baseball to have played all 162 games last season, putting to rest any concerns about him being injury-prone. At this rate, the 23-year old should continue to mash, as well as provide wizard-like glovework for years to come.
Honorable Mention: Matt Duffy, Evan Longoria, Adrian Beltré
Top five left fielders in 2016:
- Michael Brantley, Indians
- Miguel Sano, Twins
- Starling Marté, Pirates
- Justin Upton, Tigers
- David Peralta, Diamondbacks
Michael Brantley has somewhat quietly been one of the best-hitting outfielders in baseball the past two seasons, with a combined slash line of .319/.382/.494 over that time. As the Indians’ middle-of-the-order hitter, Brantley stands to see even more opportunities as his young teammates mature. Miguel Sano is a guy to watch, as his offensive production should be impressive—but I’d be concerned with how well his defense will hold up in left field.
Honorable Mention: Alex Gordon, Kyle Schwarber, Kevin Pillar
Top five center fielders in 2016:
- Mike Trout, Angels
- Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
- A.J. Pollock, Diamondbacks
- Jason Heyward, Cubs
- Lorenzo Cain, Royals
No surprise as to who’s number one on this list. The less familiar names include A.J. Pollock, who should be recognized as a perennial MVP candidate after last year’s breakout season. Look for him to build on that 20-homer, 7.4 bWAR campaign. Jason Heyward has been one of the best defensive outfielders for years, but will the move from right to center help—or hurt—his outlook? I’m expecting a few growing pains.
Honorable Mention: Kevin Kiermaier, Carlos Gómez, Byron Buxton
Top five right fielders in 2016:
- Bryce Harper, Nationals
- Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
- José Bautista, Blue Jays
- Kole Calhoun, Angels
- Carlos González, Rockies
I still don’t think we’ve seen peak Giancarlo Stanton. If he can play a full season and stay healthy, there’s no reason he couldn’t put up numbers similar to Bryce Harper’s last year. The two of them should really be viewed as equals, but Harper gets the #1 spot since he’s the reigning MVP. Also, I’m obligated to remind you that Carlos González is still only 30 years old and coming off a 40-homer season.
Honorable Mention: Curtis Granderson, J.D. Martinez, Yasiel Puig
Top five starting pitchers in 2016:
- Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
- Chris Archer, Rays
- Jake Arrieta, Cubs
- Chris Sale, White Sox
- Max Scherzer, Nationals
Clayton Kershaw is simply superhuman. With a career-high 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings last year, he’s more unhittable than ever before. Arrieta is the reigning Cy Young winner, but he’ll need to establish himself even more if he has thoughts of dethroning the king. Chris Archer’s strikeout rate has improved each of the last three seasons, and he’s just entering his prime years. Also, look for a bounce-back year from Chris Sale. His 3.41 ERA and .324 BABIP last year were hugely out of character, so expect him to settle back down near his career norms.
Honorable Mention: Zack Greinke, Dallas Keuchel, David Price, José Fernandez, Matt Harvey, Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, Madison Bumgarner, Masahiro Tanaka
Relief pitchers are always a crap shoot, but I’ll take a shot at it:
- Aroldis Chapman, Yankees
- Jeurys Familia, Mets
- Wade Davis, Royals
- Ken Giles, Astros
- Zach Britton, Orioles
Not much of an explanation needed here. If you can throw 103, you can have the top spot on this list. I’m excited to see the evolution of Ken Giles, but there may be a learning curve as he gets used to his new home ballpark in Houston. Zach Britton is, for the second year running, the best closer no one’s talking about.