2013 Postseason Rankings-Middle Infield Edition
Hello everybody! Over the next few days I am going to be doing a series of articles previewing the playoffs. Since predicting 5 or 7 game series is a pointless endeavor, I am instead going to rank the remaining teams in particular areas. These are somewhat subjective, due to the fact that teams change over the course of a season, I can’t just go simply by WAR. I am well aware these articles are somewhat cliche, but they are fun and pretty much the only way to do a playoff preview that is worth a damn. A few notes before we begin; until we have a more clear picture as to what teams are going to be in the AL wildcard I will be including 11 teams instead of 10. The 11 teams are BOS, DET, OAK, CLE, TBR, TEX, ATL, STL, LAD, PIT, and CIN. Once one of the 11 is eliminated I will no longer include them. Also these rankings are just based on current starters, I will be doing a bench rankings later, but players don’t get rest days in the postseason. One final note, I am including catcher in the middle infield list. You may feel it should be it’s own separate category, but you aren’t writing this are you? Sorry, that was uncalled for, anywho off to the rankings.
11. Cincinnati Reds-2B Brandon Phillips; SS Zach Cozart; C Ryan Hanigan
The Reds trio are all quality defenders, each with positive UZR’s and Total Zone ratings. However it would take Ozzie Smith level glove work to make up for their anemic bats. Brandon Phillips has not been embarrassing at the plate, posting a 93 OPS+, which is slightly below the leagues average from second base. He is not putting up the season that he would have you believe though. Due to hitting behind amazing on-base guys Votto and Choo he has put up 102 RBI’s, but currently he has the 5th worst OPS ever by a player in a 100 RBI season. Cozart might be a Gold Glove winner in a universe where Andrelton Simmons doesn’t exist, but his 79 wRC+ has held him down to just an average overall player. Finally Ryan Hanigan, who has been a productive part time player in the past, has been an abomination in 2013. His .266 slugging percentage is the worst in all of baseball among players with at least 250 plate appearances. If not for him the Reds might rank in the middle of the pack, rather than last.
10. Oakland Athletics-2B Alberto Callaspo SS Jed Lowrie C Stephen Vogt
This was a coin flip for the 11th ranked slot. I thought that Jed Lowrie was having a better season until I looked more closely at the numbers. His poor work as an infielder has hurt his production. I guess playing an already subpar defensive second baseman at short is not the best decision in the world. He has been an elite hitter though, producing 18 batting runs, the most among AL shortstops. That has kept allowed him to remain as a still solid overall player. Stephen Vogt hasn’t been the starter at catcher for long, but he has been effective in the role. Since being recalled in late July he has hit .270/.315/.409 in a pitcher friendly ballpark. Callaspo is pretty bad though. He is the ultimate see-ball-hit-ball player, only swinging and missing 3.7% of the time. His value is completely dependent upon his BABIP. This year it is down to .266, but there is no reason to believe that it will remain that low.
9. Detroit Tigers-2B Omar Infante SS Johnny Peralta C Alex Avila
This ranking is not an insult. These are solid Major Leaguers, but when you are dealing with the best teams in baseball it is hard to make an impression. Omar Infante just continues to quietly be an average second baseman, putting up 2.5 rWAR this year. He has hit .318 while playing solid defense up the middle. Johnny Peralta was actually having a great season before his PED suspension. This is purely speculative, but I can’t imagine it easy to just pick up a bat after 2 months off and immediately hit the worlds best pitchers. I knocked him down in my mind for that, and honestly I wouldn’t be shocked if Jose Iglesias remains the starter. Finally I am personally an Avila fan, but I have to punish him for his disappointing season. He does seem to be finding his groove though, hitting .280/.359/.466 since the beginning of July. This ranking could come back to bite me in the butt, and it wouldn’t surprise me if anyone of these guys won the World Series MVP.
8. Los Angeles Dodgers-2b Mark Ellis SS Hanley Ramirez C A.J. Ellis
Hanley Ramirez is great. No player with at least 300 plate appearances has a higher wRC+ than his 192. It truly has been a comeback year for him. The Ellis’s though are not the type of players a team with a $200 million payroll should be playing on a daily basis. They are perfectly fine complimentary pieces, but neither is worthy of starting at this point for a playoff team. They have combined for less than 4 fWAR. They are basically the dictionary definition of mediocre, each posting OBP’s around .320 and slugging percentages around .350.
7. Pittsburgh Pirates-2B Neil Walker SS Jordy Mercer C Russel Martin
First of all, it still cracks me up that the Yankees took the money that they could have used on Martin, and instead traded for Vernon Wells. Delightful. As for the analysis, all I can say is these 3 have all been better than expected this season. I don’t think anybody realizes how solid Jordy Mercer has been. Since the All Star break Mercer has a .350 wOBA the 4th best among all shortstops with 150 plate appearances. He will not remind anyone of Mike Bordick in the field, but he is competent. Neil Walker, despite the fact that he doesn’t know how to spell his name, keeps on trucking as an above average second basemen. He has a career best 3.6 rWAR this year, and continues to prove his doubters wrong. Finally I don’t think it is a stretch to say that Russel Martin is the 2nd best defensive catcher in baseball, and when combined with his fine, although unspectacular bat, makes for one hell of a player.
6. Atlanta Braves-2B Dan Uggla SS Andrelton Simmons C Brian McCann
So this is essentially just Simmons being the greatest defender ever. That may seem like hyperbole, but it might not be. He currently has the highest single season defensive WAR ever. Now that may be because prior to advanced defensive data they tended to bring all outliers closer to the middle. Still either way he is a historically great defender. Add in Brian McCann’s very good bat from the catcher position and you have a very productive duo. Too bad the third guy in the Braves group has been a complete bust. Perhaps the improved vision from the Lasik surgery will make Uggla a somewhat viable hitter. However at this point he appears to have become a replacement level player.
5. Texas Rangers- 2B Ian Kinsler SS Elvis Andrus C A.J. Pierzynski
What to do with the Rangers, so much talent, such unimpressive production. The Kinsler-Andrus duo still combine to make one of the best double play combos in the league. Each had a positive UZR, and Andrus will probably take home the gold glove. However they have not hit the way the Texas front office expected. At this point Elvis was supposed to be an asset at the dish in addition to his work in the field. His power just has not developed at all though, and he has an isolated slugging percentage of just .061 this year. Kinsler, who for a few years looked like he was becoming a potential MVP candidate, has regressed offensively, and has had a UZR hoveing around 100 for 2 straight seasons. He still is very good player, just not the star that he was becoming around 2011. Finally A.J. Pierzynski is having a very odd season. He has the lowest walk rate in 2013 of any qualified player in the last 6 years, but he has slugged the ball enough to still be an okay player. I would guess that if he doesn’t change his approach next year it will be a disaster, but for now it’s working alright for him.
4. Tampa Bay Rays- 2B Ben Zobrist SS Yunel Escobar C Jose Molina
This might seem a little bit generous at first, but if the reports that Jose Molina is an astronomical pitch framer are true than this ranking becomes a lot more understandable. Ben Zobrist is obviously among the games best second baseman, and has been for many years. Since the All Star break he has been even better than usual. He has a strikeout to walk rate of 29:28 since then. This has helped him post a line of .289/.362/.415. Add in his regular outstanding glove, and you have one of the leagues most consistently great players. Yunel Escobar has had a very fine 2013 as well, and if the rumors are true he has even been a surprisingly positive influence in the clubhouse. That seemed unheard for a player who was already been jettisoned by 2 franchises for his poor behavior. As long as he keeps being a shortstop who can hit at an effective level then the Rays will let him get away with any shenanigans he wants to. Jose Molina is pretty bad by the measures we have now, but the word has long been that he was a better defender than meets the eye. The pitch framing data appears to be backing that up. It will probably be many years before we have a quality metric for catcher defense, so Molina will probably stay an under appreciated player throughout his career.
3. Boston Red Sox-2B Dustin Pedroia SS Stephen Drew C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Pedroia’s power has all but disappeared. He has a career low .116 ISO. Away from Fenway he is slugging .352. This should be leading to a down year for him, but it hasn’t at all. He still can get on base at a high level and plays great second base. He has been worth 5 fWAR & 6rWAR. The other 2 have been pleasant boosts to the Red Sox though. Stephen Drew has been useless against lefties, but a huge asset when a righty is on the mound. Against righthanded pitchers he has a .376 OBP and a .491 SLG%. When used correctly he is still a good big leaguer, something I did not think I would be saying prior to this year. Saltalamacchia is very similar, needing to be facing a right handed pitcher in order to be productive. He is hitting .292/.350/.522 versus them.
2.Cleveland Indians-2B Jason Kipnis SS Asdrubal Cabrera C Yan Gomes
Heads up everybody, the Indians are good. Like, legitimate contenders good. Jason Kipnis has developed into a star, it is just taking the media a while to notice it. He has been worth 5.2 rWAR, and a 129 OPS+. The key to his effectiveness is his ability to produce when ahead in the count. He has a .341 batting average while in favorable counts this year, and has hit .416 with no strikes. Asdrubal Cabrera hasn’t had the season that he had hoped for, but he has still been okay. Also his recent past indicates that there is a better player lying within him. It is not at all inconceivable that he bounces back to All Star quality in 2014. That brings us to Yan Gomes. For anybody not paying attention he is the Indians starting catcher these days. He has 19 starts behind the plate in September, making Carlos Santana more of a DH/backup catcher. Gomes has been incredible at the plate. He has the 3rd best OPS+ by a catcher with 300 plate appearances this year. He is getting better as he is getting regular playing time as well. Since the All Star break he’s hit .325/.396/.503.
1.St. Louis Cardinals- 2B Matt Carpenter SS Daniel Descalso C Yadier Molina
It makes it pretty easy to decide which team has the best middle infield when 1 of the teams has 2 players who could finish top 5 in MVP voting. Matt Carpenter is 1 hit away from being the the 37th player ever with 50 doubles, 200 hits, and 100 runs in a season. He is 3rd in the NL in RE24, and the 2 players ahead of him are both first baseman. It is not crazy to say that he has been the NL’s best player this season. From there you have a guy working his way into Hall of Fame consideration, Yadier Molina. He is the consensus best defensive catcher in the game, and has been worth over 12 total wins the last 2 seasons. The fact that Daniel Descalso is not a Major Leaguer doesn’t even matter for this list, because the other two are so far ahead of any other pair.
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