Lately I've been thinking a lot about what a baseball team can expect from its position players. Probably this is because the Twins lineup has been demolished by injuries, prompting them to start guys like Rene Tosoni*, Matt Tolbert, Rene Rivera (what's with all the Rene's?), and the dauntless Drew Butera, he of the fine defense and the mighty hurricane-force swingannamisses. Also, the experiment in which Alexei Casilla performs the duties of an everyday shortstop has failed, but that's much the same thing. Trevor Plouffe was called up from Triple A Rochester the other day. He had a couple great games, and then got hurt. Yup, well, we'll see.
*I was present at Target Field for five Rene Tosoni Major League Firsts: 1. First hit 2. First RBI 3. First error 4. First home run 5. First time to strike out in every at-bat. Whoa!
There's such a thing as a "replacement-level player," basically a fair descriptive term for guys like Tolbert and Butera. But I'm more interested in what is expected from a player who is better... a player who is better than bad. A player who is GOOD.
In order to win the World Series, you have to be good. In order to win the World Series, you have to first make the playoffs. Eight teams make the playoffs every year. Therefore, the eighth-best team in baseball is the team that demarcates the difference between good and whatever else exists. Therefore, the eighth-best player in the league at every position demarcates that difference for all baseball players.
So, without further ado, here are the eighth-best players, ranked by OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging), at every position, for the 2010 regular season. For every position, I required a minimum of 400 plate appearances to qualify.
Catcher: Ryan Doumit .738
First Baseman: Ryan Howard .859
Second Baseman: Jeff Keppinger .744
Third Baseman: Mark Reynolds .753
Shortstop: Marco Scutaro .721
Left Fielder: Delmon Young .826
Center Fielder: Drew Stubbs .773
Right Fielder: Jay Bruce .846
BONUS: Here's the fourth-best designated hitter! It's Victor Martinez, at .844.
Here are the rankings for the 2009 season.
Catcher: Kurt Suzuki .734
First Baseman: Adam Lind .932
Second Baseman: Gordon Beckham .808
Third Baseman: Casey Blake .832
Shortstop: Maicer Izturis .794
Left Fielder: Luke Scott .828
Center Fielder: Cody Ross .790
Right Fielder: (tie) Andre Ethier and Nick Swisher .869
DH: Victor Martinez .861
There you have it! Note the difference between 2009 and 2010; the 2010 season was anointed The Year Of The Pitcher. You can see the dropoff from 2009 to 2010 at many of the positions here, especially the infield spots.
So, where are we in 2011 right now? How good does a position player have to hit to be 2011-level good? Here ya go...
Catcher: Brian McCann .770
First Baseman: Gaby Sanchez .946
Second Baseman: Ian Kinsler .750
Third Baseman: David Wright .739
Shortstop: Jamey Carroll .766
Left Fielder: Jonny Gomes .748
Center Fielder: Peter Bourjos .794
Right Fielder: Carlos Quentin .917
DH: Billy Butler .825
Give yourself a pat on the back if your team's player at their position is doing better than any of these guys, because if they are... they are good. That is all.