What’s the best position from a single franchise in major league history?
It would be hard to top left field for the Boston Red Sox. It has been manned by three Hall of Famers -- Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice -- for a combined 5,400 games, plus Manny Ramirez for seven more seasons. Between Rice and Ramirez there was Mike Greenwell, a solid player for several years. The position has been in a state of flux of late, but maybe Andrew Benintendi is the next great Red Sox left fielder.
In Part 1 of our position project, we looked at the weakest positions in the majors over the past 10 seasons.
Now we turn our attention to the strongest positions over the past decade, once again using wins above average from Baseball-Reference.com. As you might expect, these are positions that have been largely manned by a star player over that span.
10. Colorado Rockies SS: 21.8 WAA
There will always be a bit of a “what if he’d been able to stay healthy?” aspect to Tulowitzki’s career, but he still managed six seasons of 5-plus WAR with the Rockies. It’s rare to follow one longtime star with another, like the Red Sox did in left field, but Story’s rookie season provides hope that will happen.
9. Milwaukee Brewers LF: 23.8 WAA
Braun shifted to right field for two seasons to accommodate Davis, then moved back to left field in 2016. As a left fielder, he won an MVP award and finished second and third in two other seasons. With Braun leading the way, Brewers left fielders hit .285/.349/.504 while averaging 31 home runs and 99 RBIs.
8. Pittsburgh Pirates CF: 24.2 WAA
Starters: Chris Duffy (1), Nate McLouth (1), Andrew McCutchen (8)
McCutchen’s eight-year run in center field will end this year, with Starling Marte moving over from left field. Assuming Marte’s excellent defense in left translates to center, the Pirates should continue racking up positive WAA for years to come.
7. Tampa Bay Rays 3B: 24.7 WAA
Starters: Akinori Iwamura (1), Evan Longoria (9)
Longoria has not only been a consistently excellent player in his nine seasons -- averaging 5.2 WAR per season -- but, other than an injury-plagued 2012, he has been durable (he has missed just six games the past four seasons). He’s signed through at least 2022, and with a strong finish to his career he could build a Cooperstown resume.
6. Toronto Blue Jays 3B: 24.8 WAA
This one is fun because it hasn’t been just one player accumulating most of the value, although Donaldson’s monster two seasons in a Blue Jays uniform certainly have helped. This group has been solid defensively -- 92 defensive runs saved -- while hitting 247 home runs. Only the Rays and Cubs have more home runs at third in the past decade.
5. Cincinnati Reds 1B: 25.9 WAA
Starters: Scott Hatteberg (1), Joey Votto (9)
Thanks to Votto, Reds first basemen lead the majors with a .404 OBP over the past 10 years, and only Tigers first basemen (mostly Miguel Cabrera) have a higher OPS. The top five positions in OBP and OPS over the past 10 years:
Reds 1B: .404
Tigers 1B: .389
Red Sox DH: .376
Pirates CF: .370
Cardinals 1B: .370
Tigers 1B: .913
Reds 1B: .911
Red Sox DH: .904
Cardinals 1B: .875
Diamondbacks 1B: .856
4. Cardinals 1B: 27.3 WAA
From 2007 to 2011, Pujols averaged .324/.423/.602 with 39 home runs and 114 RBIs. He’s responsible for 30.4 WAA in those five seasons, which means the other three guys were collectively below average over the next five seasons. Moving Matt Carpenter over to first should help.
3. Philadelphia Phillies 2B: 27.3 WAA
This run encompasses part of Utley’s tremendous -- and underrated -- peak and some still-decent years during his decline phase. Hernandez’s solid OBP (.371 in 2016) means he rated as an above-average second baseman in 2016.
2. Boston Red Sox 2B: 30.5 WAA
Starters: Dustin Pedroia (10)
1. Los Angeles Angels CF: 35.3 WAA
Yes, this is how good Trout has been. He has been so dominant in his five seasons that Angels center field has been the best position in the majors by nearly five wins. Trout has accumulated 36.5 WAA in his five seasons (although he spent some of that time in left field) while Hunter did have a 5.2-WAR season in 2008 to help boost the overall rating. The Angels actually have a nice line of center fielders going back to the 1980s: Trout, Hunter, Darin Erstad, Garret Anderson, Jim Edmonds, Devon White, Gary Pettis and Fred Lynn.
Best of the rest: Just missing the cut for the top 10 were other positions that had one big star: Nationals third base (Ryan Zimmerman plus a couple of good years from Anthony Rendon); Mets third base (David Wright); Yankees second base (Robinson Cano for seven seasons); Rangers third base (Adrian Beltre for six seasons); and Tigers first base (Miguel Cabrera for seven seasons).
We mentioned Ortiz and Molina, but neither came close to cracking the top 10. Red Sox DHs were at 11.3 WAA; Ortiz had a couple of mediocre years back in 2008 to 2010, but it’s also difficult for a DH to rise way above average at the position on just hitting. Cardinals catchers were 7.0 WAA, but that total includes some weak-hitting backups through the years, and Molina’s overall WAR isn’t that impressive.
So which are the strongest positions for each team the past 10 years?
Orioles CF: 5.1 WAA
Red Sox 2B: 30.5 WAA
Yankees 2B: 19.6 WAA
Rays 3B: 24.7 WAA
Blue Jays 3B: 24.8 WAA
White Sox SS: 3.2 WAA
Indians SS: 10.3 WAA
Tigers 1B: 18.6 WAA
Royals CF: 11.8 WAA
Twins C: 5.3 WAA
Astros RF: 4.5 WAA
Angels CF: 35.3 WAA
A’s 3B: 6.2 WAA
Mariners 3B: 12.2 WAA
Rangers 3B: 19.4 WAA
Braves SS: 12.7 WAA
Marlins RF: 11.4 WAA
Mets 3B: 20.4 WAA
Phillies 2B: 27.3 WAA
Nationals 3B: 21.2 WAA
Cubs 1B: 14.1 WAA
Reds 1B: 25.9 WAA
Brewers LF: 23.4 WAA
Pirates CF: 24.2 WAA
Cardinals 1B: 27.3 WAA
Diamondbacks CF: 14.5 WAA
Rockies SS: 21.1 WAA
Dodgers SS: 10.4 WAA
Padres 1B: 8.3 WAA
Giants C: 10.0 WAA
Finally, the most- and least-stable franchises based on average number of starters at each position through the 10 years.
Interesting that all are NL franchises. Is that one reason the AL has been the stronger league? AL franchises are quicker to replace a player if he’s not good?
Congratulations, Mariners fans, your team finally finished first in something!