Revisiting 2018 AL East Position Rankings: Infield - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Paul Folkemer

Revisiting 2018 AL East Position Rankings: Infield

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

Back in March, I previewed the Orioles’ 2018 season by comparing them to their AL East opponents all around the diamond, ranking each position one to five.

Now the chickens have come home to roost. It’s time to look back at my preseason rankings and see how well I fared. I got a few predictions right — but I also got plenty of things wrong (usually in cases where I was even slightly optimistic about the Orioles).

Let’s start by revisiting my infield rankings. In the next couple of days, I’ll get to the outfield, DH, pitchers and managers. My preseason infield rankings can be found here.

For each position, I’ve posted my original March rankings, then an explanation of how each actually played out, followed by my revised end-of-season rankings.

Catcher

Preseason rankings:

  1. Gary Sanchez, Yankees
  2. Wilson Ramos, Rays
  3. Russell Martin, Blue Jays
  4. Caleb Joseph/Chance Sisco, Orioles
  5. Christian Vazquez, Red Sox

If you’re looking for a good offensive catcher, boy, is the AL East the wrong place to find one. The Rays’ Ramos was the only backstop in the division who packed much punch (.297 average, .834 OPS, 14 homers and 53 RBIs), and he was traded away in July. The next best OPS of any semi-regular catcher, believe it or not, belonged to Yankees’ backup Austin Romine (.713). The combination of Romine and Sanchez (who hit 18 homers, albeit with a .186 average) makes New York the best of this unimpressive lot.

The Rays, who got an All-Star half-season from Ramos, saw their catching production drop dramatically after he was traded, though rookie Michael Perez held his own in a late-season audition. In Toronto, when the 35-year-old Martin slipped (.194 average), Luke Maile and rookie Danny Jansen took over the bulk of the catching duties. Blue Jays catchers, though, allowed 136 stolen bases, most in the majors.

Sisco, the Orioles’ touted prospect, fizzled in his 2018 audition (.181 average, .557 OPS and two demotions to the minors), and Joseph (.219, .575 and one demotion) was barely better. Only rookie Austin Wynns salvaged the Orioles behind the plate. That’s more than can be said for the Red Sox, who got horrible offense out of both Vazquez (.207 average, .540 OPS in in 80 games) and Sandy Leon (.177, .511 in 89 games).

End-of-season rankings:

  1. Sanchez/Romine, Yankees
  2. Ramos/Perez/Jesus Sucre, Rays
  3. Martin/Maile/Jansen, Blue Jays
  4. Joseph/Sisco/Wynns, Orioles
  5. Leon/Vazquez, Red Sox

First Base

Preseason rankings:

  1. Hanley Ramirez/Mitch Moreland, Red Sox
  2. Justin Smoak, Blue Jays
  3. Chris Davis, Orioles
  4. Greg Bird, Yankees
  5. C.J. Cron, Rays

When I ranked Davis in the middle of the pack in my preseason rankings, little did I know I was giving him way too much credit. Few could have imagined the historic depths to which the veteran would sink in 2018. Davis finished the year with the worst batting average in MLB history (.168) for a qualified player, and the damage might have been worse had he not been benched for the season’s final eight games. His collapse was a fitting symbol for the Orioles’ season as a whole.

The best first baseman in the division was Toronto’s steady veteran Smoak, who collected 25 homers and 77 RBIs. Meanwhile, my brilliant prediction that Ramirez and Moreland would “make for a decent platoon” hit a snag when the Red Sox released Ramirez in May, although Moreland did okay on his own.

The Yankees’ Bird failed to live up to the hype, batting .199 and battling injuries, and veteran Neil Walker was little better, but the late-season addition of slugging sensation Luke Voit (14 homers, 33 RBIs and a 1.095 OPS in 39 games) buoyed New York. The Rays split starts between Cron and Brad Miller before calling up rookie Jake Bauers in June. Bauers had some growing pains, batting .201 with a .700 OPS.

End-of-season rankings:

  1. Smoak, Blue Jays
  2. Moreland, Red Sox
  3. Bird/Walker/Voit, Yankees
  4. Bauers/Cron/Miller, Rays

(a wide, wide, wide gap)

  1. Davis, Orioles

Second Base

Preseason rankings:

  1. Jonathan Schoop, Orioles
  2. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
  3. Neil Walker, Yankees
  4. Devon Travis, Blue Jays
  5. Brad Miller/Joey Wendle, Rays

In New York, the second base job didn’t belong to Walker very long. Top prospect Gleyber Torres took over by the end of April and enjoyed a Rookie of the Year-caliber season, batting .271 with an .820 OPS, 24 homers and 77 RBIs. But don’t hand the award to Torres just yet. Quietly, another AL East rookie second baseman — the Rays’ Wendle — put up an outstanding season as well, batting .300 with a .789 OPS and quality defense. Wendle started at five different positions, but second base (74) was his most frequent one.

The man who was once the class of the division at second base, the 35-year-old Pedroia, suffered a knee injury that limited him to three games this season. In his absence, the Red Sox gave most of the second base starts to Eduardo Nunez, who scuffled, and late-season acquisition Ian Kinsler failed to help the situation. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays’ Travis, who had never played a full season because of perpetual injuries, actually stayed healthy all year until the final week. Unfortunately, he struggled both offensively and defensively and was even optioned to Triple-A for a month.

The Orioles finished in the middle of the pack at this position. Schoop got off to a horrible start but was red-hot by the time he was traded July 31, and the replacement the Orioles got in the deal — Jonathan Villar — provided a jolt in the season’s final two months.

End-of-season rankings:

  1. Torres, Yankees
  2. Wendle/Daniel Robertson, Rays
  3. Schoop/Villar, Orioles
  4. Travis, Blue Jays
  5. Nunez/Kinsler/Brock Holt, Red Sox

Shortstop

Preseason rankings:

  1. Manny Machado, Orioles
  2. Didi Gregorius, Yankees
  3. Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox
  4. Troy Tulowitzki, Blue Jays
  5. Adeiny Hechavarria, Rays

Shortstop was very much an offense-heavy position in the AL East, but the glovework was lacking. Per FanGraphs, the Red Sox (-26), Orioles (-24) and Blue Jays (-22) posted the three worst Defensive Runs Saved marks in the AL for shortstops. The best in the division was the Rays (1 DRS), but they didn’t get as much offensive production from the position as their AL East foes. Splitting the difference, the best overall shortstop was the Yankees’ Gregorius, who had 27 homers and 86 RBIs and was about average with the leather.

Boston’s Bogaerts got brutal marks for his defense (-19 DRS), but that can be forgiven when you contribute a 23-homer, 103-RBI, .883 OPS season. In Baltimore, Machado was on his way to an incredible offensive season — he already had 24 homers, 65 RBIs and a .963 OPS in the first half — before he was dealt at the All-Star break. Machado, though, took a while to find his footing defensively in his shift back to short. After the trade, the Orioles’ next shortstop, Tim Beckham, was noticeably lacking with the leather.

The Rays started the season with defensive wizard Hechavarria before turning to prospect Willy Adames, who fared well during an 85-game sample. In Toronto, Tulowitzki missed the entire season after having bone spur surgery on both heels. Replacement Aledmys Diaz hit for power but struggled in the field, and rookie Lourdes Gurriel Jr. did the same after his call-up.

End-of-season rankings:

  1. Gregorius, Yankees
  2. Bogaerts, Red Sox
  3. Machado/Beckham, Orioles
  4. Adames/Hechavarria, Rays
  5. Diaz/Gurriel, Blue Jays

Third Base

Preseason rankings:

  1. Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays
  2. Rafael Devers, Red Sox
  3. Tim Beckham, Orioles
  4. Brandon Drury, Yankees
  5. Matt Duffy, Rays

As with the shortstops, AL East third basemen rated terribly defensively, with all of them amassing negative DRS marks. Most weren’t anything special at the plate, either. The exception was Miguel Andujar, who could compete against his teammate Gleyber Torres for AL Rookie of the Year honors. Andujar batted .297 with an .855 OPS, 27 homers and 92 RBIs, albeit with a poor glove. Not bad for a guy I didn’t even expect to be the Yankees’ starting third baseman this year (my pick, Drury, made only eight starts there and ended the season as a Blue Jay).

I’ll tab Devers as the second-best third sacker in the division, almost by default, even though he had a disappointing sophomore season in which he batted .240 with a .731 OPS (and reached base at less than a .300 clip) while struggling in the field. Still, he hit 21 homers. By contrast, the Rays’ Duffy was more of an on-base guy — posting a strong .361 OBP — but went yard just four times in 560 plate appearances. In Baltimore, following the short-lived Tim Beckham experiment at third, Renato Nunez took over and hit surprisingly well, though his defense is a question mark.

Just one year ago at this time, the AL East boasted three stud third basemen in Donaldson, Manny Machado and Evan Longoria. Now, all three have left the division. The last to go was Donaldson, who was limited to just 36 games with the Blue Jays because of a calf injury, then was dumped off to Cleveland in August. Veteran Yangervis Solarte got most of the starts at the hot corner, but hit just .226 with a .655 OPS.

End-of-season rankings:

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  1. Andujar, Yankees
  2. Devers, Red Sox
  3. Duffy, Rays
  4. Nunez/Beckham, Orioles
  5. Solarte/Donaldson, Blue Jays

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Bancells Moustache

    October 15, 2018 at 1:34 pm

    Mr. Folkemer is a glutton for punishment.

  2. Jbigle1

    October 15, 2018 at 11:56 pm

    I’m hoping for a Jon schoop reunion. He doesn’t have a place in Milwaukee. I’m sure he’s looking for a one year make good deal and he’s not going to find a more comfortable spot than Baltimore. Highly unlikely but I’d like to see if maybe the new FO would see the value in trying that. We got a couple nice pieces at this years deadline. Why not roll the dice again? You can plug villar in at SS, I know the defense isn’t great there but we certainly aren’t contending or blocking any prospects that need a slot. If we non tender Beckham that frees up 5 mil. Schoop shouldn’t cost more than 10. You add a non tender in to Joseph and you’re 70% of the way there and you have a much higher probability that you found a trade chip.

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