Rowley: Finding and fixing baseball’s worst positions

From SABR member Meg Rowley at Baseball Prospectus on February 18, 2016:

PECOTA isn’t sentient and it doesn’t have it out for your team, but goodness knows there are some players it doesn’t expect to have particularly good 2016 seasons. Much has already been made of some of the rosiest projections, or at least the most fun, but what about the real stinkers? What are the worst positions in baseball, those teams cursed with projected black holes? I looked at the worst spots by projected WARP, and tried to offer a few solutions, sometimes homegrown, sometimes in the free agent or trade market, sometimes an acceptance of fate.

American League:

Tigers’ catcher (-1.8 WARP): The combination of starters and backups in Detroit doesn’t just make it the worst projected position in the American League; James McCann and crew are projected as the worst position in baseball. McCann’s offense last year was okay; good but not great if we’re feeling charitable. But his defense, particularly his framing, was poor. By our framing metrics, he cost the Tigers 16.6 runs in 2015. His projected -1.4 WARP is actually an improvement on his -1.7 WARP 2015 campaign. Not exactly inspiring stuff.

Possible solutions: Youth getting better. The good news for Tigers fans is that the front office clearly recognized a potential problem at the position coming into 2016. The bad news is that after letting Alex Avila move over a state to the White Sox, the veteran backstop that Al Avila brought in as an insurance policy on another poor year from McCann was Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Saltalamacchia is projected to combine a weak offensive performance with especially poor defense. PECOTA doesn’t take his sparkling personality into account (no doubt a relief to the Tigers front office) but still sees him as -0.3-win player. The worse news? Help is not to be found readily on the farm, and the free agent market going into the season has been picked clean. They’ll have to hope that McCann shows himself worthy of a million bad “Yes he McCann puns,” picks up some framing techniques from Brad Ausmus, and hits more like he did in Toledo than he has in Comerica. The Tigers might look to make a trade later in the year if they’re contending, but they’ll likely have competition for scant catcher resources. More on that in a minute.

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Originally published: February 19, 2016. Last Updated: February 19, 2016.