It’s that time again… time to rank the NL East, position by position. Over the last few years, tradition holds that a musical theme aids the entries. Whether it was 70s/80s Pre-Metal, or Britpop / Post-Britpop Blues Rock, the musical theme has been an integral part of the rankings that is probably used to handicap the season by the major gambling houses in Macau.
This season we depart from our typical rock-based theme and take ourselves way back. We go back to an era when fans didn’t know about steroids, when the league expanded teams, divisions and playoff spots. Back to when the Nats didn’t exist, and their predecessor team was was really good. It’s back to the early 90s for this year’s musical theme: Early 90s Hip Hop. By early 90s, I’m actually cutting it off at 1996 – so, maybe early-to-mid 90s is a more descriptive description, but, oh well. Every song on here is from the 90s and it’s over 20 years old, so if you remember it well…
The rules remain as always: If a team has the #1 player at a position, they get 5 points for it. If they have the worst, they get 1 point. At some point I have to make judgments about the depthchart, so I used the roster I expect to see for at least the early part of the season, on top of assessing their abilities. The majority of the ranking comes from a look at a few projections for WAR (starting with Baseball Prospectus), and then applying some adjustments in my head for playing time, position, and credulity.
And so, without further ado, here is the ranking:
CATCHER (Wu Tang Clan)
1. Mets – Travis D’Arnaud
2. Nationals – Wilson Ramos
3. Marlins – J.T. Realmuto
4. Braves – A.J. Pierzynski
5. Phillies – Cameron Rupp
D’Arnaud is the only all around good catcher in the division – he can hit better than the rest after his 2015 breakout, and he’s strong defensively. He’s the C.R.E.A.M. of the crop in the division and he easily tops the list. Ramos is also strong defensively, but his bat has slipped each season, although if his LASIK surgery is as beneficial as Cristian Guzman’s was 10 years ago, his hitting could see some real improvement. J.T. Realmuto is a major league starter and could surpass Ramos if things break right for him. Pieryznski had a great season at the plate last year, but while it’s not likely he’ll repeat, it also means there’s at least a decent chance he’ll be better than Rupp.
SCORE: NY (5), DC (4), MIA (3), ATL (2), PHI (1)
FIRST BASE (Outkast)
1. Braves – Freddie Freeman
2. Mets – Lucas Duda
3. Nationals – Ryan Zimmerman
4. Marlins – Justin Bour
5. Phillies – Ryan Howard
Atlanta looks pretty bad this year, but it shouldn’t be some ATLien concept to understand that Freeman is the best position player on the Braves and the best first baseman in the division by quite a bit. Duda and Zimmerman are really close – Duda’s last two seasons are basically Zim’s career numbers in OBP and SLG, albeit with a much lower AVG. If Ryan Zimmerman can stay healthy, I have little doubt he will out perform Duda. But I’m not sure he can stay healthy. Then you might get Murphy playing here, who is no slouch, but doesn’t hit quite like Duda. I was all set to put Ryan Howard in the 4th spot here, but I looked at his age, and his numbers from last year, and I can’t even do that.
SCORE: NY (9), DC (7), ATL (7), MIA (5), PHI (2)
SECOND BASE (Cypress Hill)
1. Marlins – Dee Gordon
2. Mets – Neil Walker
3. Nats – Daniel Murphy
4. Phillies – Cesar Hernandez
5. Braves – Jace Peterson
I maybe can’t believe I’m putting Gordon at the top of the list. But he was so good last season, and that includes defensively, that I think he really is going to have the best season, and that feeling makes me think I’ve gone Insane in the Brain. As for Walker and Murphy, Walker’s a better hitter, although maybe not by much. But he still belongs at second, while the position is a stretch for Murphy, so that gives him a clear edge. Cesar Hernandez and Jace Peterson are both young guys without much power, but at least Hernandez can hit at a decent clip, and seems to be able to steal bases. Peterson also has a few stolen bases, but got caught almost as much, and doesn’t have the gaudy .270 average that Hernandez may bring.
SCORE: NY (13), DC (10), MIA (10), ATL (8), PHI (4)
THIRD BASE (LL Cool J)
1. Nationals – Anthony Rendon
2. Mets – David Wright
3. Phillies – Maikel Franco
4. Marlins – Martin Prado
5. Braves – Adonis Garcia/Kelly Johnson
Don’t call it a comeback – the top two players didn’t combine for a full season’s worth of at bats last season, but they’re the best in the division. I’ve made the mistake of discounting Wright before (2013), but he’s been injured enough and lost enough power to make me believe a healthy Rendon is a better player. Wright’s power was better last season than Rendon’s, but there is reason enough to believe that, as both showed diminished pop recently, Wright’s could be due to chronic injury and age, while Rendon’s was temporary. Wright’s still great despite that, which is why he’s second on this list. Despite having one of those cool Soviet-looking first names, Franco’s actually from the Dominican, and, despite being on the Phillies, he looked really good last year at only 22.
SCORE: NY (17), DC (15), MIA (12), ATL (9), PHI (7)
SHORTSTOP (Tupac and Dr Dre)
Let it be said: the NL East does not house a collection of formidable All Star candidates at the shortstop position. If Danny Espinosa played the whole season at SS, I’m not sure he wouldn’t belong at the top of this list, even without the expected help of Turner. He hits better than Hechavarria – Hech’s OBP has been single digits higher over the last couple seasons, but the power gives Espi the edge, as evidenced by a 15 point difference in TAv last season. Hechevarria is the best fielder of the group, but thanks to a lack of young, true shortstops, Espi is likely the second best. Asdrubal Cabrera, who in 2015 hit better than we’d ever except out of Espinosa, didn’t in 2013 or 2014, and is probably the second worst fielder here. He’s also hurt right now and he’s questionable for the beginning of the season. Regardless, once you add in the California Love received from San Diego in the form of Trea Turner, and the Nats look to have the edge. Asdrubal isn’t a bad player, but he probably hit his ceiling last season and wasn’t a 2 WAR player – unlike Espinosa or Hech. Aybar is a SS, at least, but these days he makes Hech look like Cal Ripken, and… Feddy Galvis? Really? At shortstop? Ok.
Random tangentially-related bonus Photoshop of Trea Turner:
SCORE: DC (20), NY (20), MIA (16), ATL (11), PHI (8)
LEFT FIELD (KRS-One)
1. Marlins – Christian Yelich
2. Mets – Michael Conforto
3. Nats – Jayson Werth
4. Braves – Hector Olivera
5. Phillies – Aaron Altherr/Cody Ache
People act like they don’t know that LF has some real talent in this divison, but Christian Yelich and Michael Conforto are good young players. Yelich has shown it over a few seasons, Conforto will be 23 and looking at his 200th MLB PA at the start of the year, so he’s less certain. I’ll stand by my assertions that Werth will surprise everyone by being a good old player, and may have a better OBP than both of those guys, but they’ll outslug him, and he’s got the shadow of injury potential hanging over him. Meanwhile, if he gets hurt, Taylor’s gonna be a great fill-in. Olivera interesting, the 31 year old is entering his second season outside of Cuba. He might be able to hit, but he probably doesn’t have the kind of power that you’d like to see in a left fielder.
SCORE: NY (24), DC (23), MIA (21), ATL (13), PHI (9)
CENTER FIELD (Snoop Dogg)
Yoenis was incredible for a month or two last season with the Mets, and that’s what he can bring – extremely hot spells. After that, he was extremely cold, which you also get with him. He isn’t the best defender out there, either, but, you know what? He’s a damn good player. He’ll knock the cover off the ball and, two or three times a season, do something that looks physically impossible – he basically comes up with funky ass uh… hits, like every single day. Neither Revere nor Inciarte has much power – and they are both similar in their styles, but Revere hit a bit better last year. And if Taylor is used right, he could really help add something in the power department. Herrera had a really good 2015, although repeating that is probably a stretch. Ozuna’s not much of a hitter, and he’s really not a center fielder.
SCORE: NY (29), DC (27), MIA (22), ATL (16), PHI (11)
RIGHT FIELD (A Tribe Called Quest)
1. Nats – Bryce Harper
2. Marlins – Giancarlo Stanton
3. Mets – Curtis Granderson
4. Braves – Nick Markakis
5. Phillies – Tyler Goeddel
Bryce was the best player in baseball last season, and after his 2015 Award Tour, he gets the top spot over Stanton, unlike when we did this exercise last year. Stanton still has a chance to be an MVP, so he certainly rolls up in the #2 slot above the rest of the group. Granderson was better than Markakis last season, but Granderson is very up and down, season-to-season, so I could see that flip flopped. Markakis is still a decent player, whereas the Phillies are using another player you’ve probably never heard of before this.
SCORE: DC (32), NY (32), MIA (26), ATL (18), PHI (12)
And there you have it for the position players. The Nats and Mets of course end up above the fray, looking down, with the Marlins not too far behind.
And, though I didn’t try to do it this way, the Nats and Mets are dead even. I’m sure fans of both teams could find ways to make one score higher than the other, but I’m pretty surprised that the Mets – the team that couldn’t hit until August last year, fared so well. It probably doesn’t bode well for the Nats, who might have hoped that hitting was their strength.
Next up is the pitching… the Mets have that dominant pitching staff, but the Nats are still pretty good at that, too, and in this format you can’t get bonus points for being super dominant, so we’ll see how it ends up after looking at the whole rotation.