Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Ranking the positions: 3B loaded with talent

Starting, relief pitching also represented well in ratings
MLB.com @mike_petriello

We've spent the past few weeks counting down our Top 10 Right Now, laying out the 10 best players at each position heading into the 2018 season. You can see each of my personal rankings, as well as the official "Shredder" rankings, at the links below.

Catcher | First base | Second base | Third base | Shortstop | Left field | Center field | Right field | Starting pitcher | Relief pitcher

We've spent the past few weeks counting down our Top 10 Right Now, laying out the 10 best players at each position heading into the 2018 season. You can see each of my personal rankings, as well as the official "Shredder" rankings, at the links below.

Catcher | First base | Second base | Third base | Shortstop | Left field | Center field | Right field | Starting pitcher | Relief pitcher

Now we have to ask an even more difficult question: How do you rank the positions themselves? Which spot is the most talent-filled? What's second? Third? Last?

There's no perfect way to do this, of course. There are a number of flawed ways to do this, which we'll briefly explain before ultimately doing it in the only way possible: subjectively.

For example, we could simply look at the 2018 projected wins above replacement and see which position wins out. Aside from the two pitching areas, which are a different beast entirely, that gets us a list ranked like this: 3B, C, CF, SS, 1B, 2B, RF, LF. That's pretty good -- third base at the top and left field on the bottom makes a ton of sense -- but catcher being ranked so high doesn't feel right.

If we do it just by what happened on the field in 2017, then we get this: CF, 3B, 2B, SS, RF, 1B, C, LF. That's closer, but still flawed. Players like Zack Cozart, Andrew McCutchen and Dexter Fowler are shifting positions this season, and besides, we're not trying to look back at 2017. We're trying to look ahead.

Let's try one more idea: How many average players would be projected at each spot if every player was expected to get 600 plate appearances? While that won't happen in real life, obviously, it does help us get to talent and away from opportunity. Dodgers catchers Yasmani Grandal and Austin Barnes, for example, are both very good, but might split enough time that they didn't get included in the group of 2-WAR players.

If we do it that way, more players are accounted for, but the results are close to the previous list: 3B, CF, SS, 2B, C, 1B, RF, LF.

So let's do it the least bad way, so to speak, incorporating all of those methods along with simply how difficult it was to put my own rankings together. With that, here are your 2018 positional power rankings.

1. Third base (Top 10 list)

It has been nearly two years since we wrote that third base had entered a "new golden age," and not much has changed since. The past three seasons have been three of the five greatest seasons ever in terms of third base WAR, and while that's at least somewhat related to the fact that there are more teams now than in the past, it tells you a lot about the talent level there.

Put another way, Justin Turner just had a fantastic year, hitting .322/.415/.530, and we had to rank him seventh at third base. Valuable players such as Miguel Sano, Matt Chapman, Kyle Seager, Rafael Devers, Evan Longoria and Mike Moustakas didn't make the cut at all. There is so much talent at third.

2. Center field (Top 10)

It helps that Mike Trout is here -- he's the best the game has to offer -- but it's not just Trout. This is where the elite outfield defenders end up, such as Kevin Kiermaier, Ender Inciarte, Lorenzo Cain and Byron Buxton, but what makes them all so great is that they can hit, too. Sure, there are some glove-first types here like Billy Hamilton and Kevin Pillar, but for the most part, we're talking about a healthy number of all-around players here, such as George Springer and Charlie Blackmon, plus breakouts like Tommy Pham and Chris Taylor.

3. Relief pitcher (Top 10)

This generous ranking reflects the fact that relievers aren't just about closers any longer, if they ever really even were. There still are plenty of traditional ninth-inning guys, of course, and Kenley Jansen and Craig Kimbrel arguably had the most dominant closer seasons we've ever seen in 2017. But there's also Andrew Miller appearing whenever he's needed, and Chris Devenski and Chad Green going multiple innings. There are at least 10 great pitchers -- names like Ken Giles, David Robertson and Wade Davis -- who couldn't even get into the top 10. As we've seen this winter, the bullpen is one place where every team is trying to add talent.

4. Shortstop (Top 10)

Video: Petriello breaks down his list of Top 10 shortstops

Between Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager and Carlos Correa, shortstop has a talented and young (none older than 24) big three at the top, plus the all-time elite glove of Andrelton Simmons close behind. As it has been the past four years, this is a position going through a lot of turnover, as older players like Jimmy Rollins and Hanley Ramirez have retired or change positions in favor of a young crop including Trea Turner, Trevor Story and Addison Russell.

The days of glove-first types like Omar Vizquel and Ozzie Guillen are largely gone, because there are power hitters here as well. Shortstops slugged .407 in each of the past two seasons, tied for the highest marks ever for shortstops.

5. Starting pitcher (Top 10)

Video: Petriello breaks down his top 10 starting pitchers

Starting pitchers have become an increasingly difficult group to evaluate. Sure, there is a ton of talent at the position, led by elite aces Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Corey Kluber and others, but starters are also somewhat less important than they've ever been, as they continue to throw fewer and fewer innings. Within this group, the talent is great. Within the game, the role is changing.

6. First base (Top 10)

Video: Petriello names his top 10 first basemen right now

We're seeing a bit of a down cycle for first basemen, as the 2017 offensive production didn't rank in the Top 30 of all-time seasons. But there are four legitimate superstars at the top of this group in Joey Votto, Anthony Rizzo, Paul Goldschmidt and Freddie Freeman, plus rising superstar Cody Bellinger, future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera and about a dozen other great players. It's really the depth here that that stands out; in my Top 10 list, big names like Joe Mauer, Chris Davis, Wil Myers and Josh Bell didn't even make the top 20. There are so many interesting players here.

7. Catcher (Top 10)

Video: Petriello names his top 10 Catchers right now

The nature of the backstop position is changing, as teams no longer are willing to send the same catcher out there every day. Just three catchers amassed 500 or more plate appearances in 2017 (Gary Sanchez, J.T. Realmuto and Yadier Molina), which is unusually low; just a year earlier, eight catchers did. What that means is that teams such as the Dodgers and Braves are finding multiple good catchers to get through the season, though stars like Sanchez and Buster Posey remain.

8. Right field (Top 10)

Video: Petriello names Bryce Harper as his top right fielder

Despite the presence of a handful of superstars like Bryce Harper, Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez and Aaron Judge -- plus, perhaps, Giancarlo Stanton, though obviously he and Judge can't both play right -- there's a big drop-off after that. Players like Yasiel Puig, Josh Reddick and Steven Souza Jr. are all solid, sometimes above-average starters. The depth here just doesn't match with that at, say, third base.

9. Second base (Top 10)

Video: Petriello names his top 10 second basemen

This is a position in flux -- longtime stars like Jason Kipnis, Dustin Pedroia and Ben Zobrist no longer rank high -- and the depth here isn't strong. (Also not helping: 2017 contributors like Jose Ramirez and Dee Gordon are expected to spend 2018 at third base and center field, respectively.) The fact that Jose Altuve is here helps immensely, but by the bottom of the Top 10, we were hoping for a Javier Baez breakout and wishcasting a nice 20-year-old debut from Ozzie Albies.

10. Left field (Top 10)

Video: Mike Petriello names his top 10 left fielders

The main problem with left fielders is that there just aren't left fielders anymore. In 2017, there were 21 right fielders who amassed 400 or more plate appearances at the position, 18 center fielders and only 12 left fielders. It also didn't help that longtime stars such as Alex Gordon and Matt Kemp struggled, and Yoenis Cespedes battled injuries. (Plus, breakout star Tommy Pham will play center field in 2018.) The best outfield gloves and arms tend to end up in center or right, not left, and this has become a platoon position.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.