Welcome back to my end-of-season AL East position rankings, where I rate how each team in the division fared at each position in 2018, while also looking back at my preseason predictions as we all point and laugh at my stupidity.
- Brett Gardner, Yankees
- Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox
- Trey Mancini, Orioles
- Curtis Granderson/Steve Pearce, Blue Jays
- Mallex Smith/Denard Span, Rays
The 23-year-old Benintendi was far and away the best left fielder in the division. He provided power (16 homers), speed (21 steals in 24 attempts), on-base ability (.366 OBP) and a strong glove as part of Boston’s robust lineup. My second place ranking, though, might surprise you. It’s the Rays, who didn’t even have a regular left fielder all season, using nine different starters at the position. They got workmanlike performances from Span, Smith and others before a deadline acquisition of Tommy Pham paid huge dividends. Pham batted .343 with a 1.071 OPS and seven homers in 39 games with Tampa Bay.
The Blue Jays opened the year with Granderson before turning the position over to youngster Teoscar Hernandez. While Hernandez popped 22 homers, he struggled to get on base and received brutal marks in defensive metrics. I’ll slot him behind Gardner, who had the worst offensive season of his career (a .236 average and .690 OPS) but continued to provide speed and quality defense. Mancini, meanwhile, struggled in all aspects. He was a fish out of water in left field — so much so that he made just one start there after Aug. 19 — and was ice cold at the plate until August.
- Benintendi, Red Sox
- A bunch of people, Rays
- Gardner, Yankees
- Hernandez/Granderson, Blue Jays
- Mancini, Orioles
- Kevin Kiermaier, Rays
- Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox
- Adam Jones, Orioles
- Kevin Pillar, Blue Jays
- Aaron Hicks, Yankees
In my preseason post, I wrote that Hicks “will need to prove 2017 wasn’t a fluke in order to rise in the rankings.” Mission accomplished. Hicks surged to his second straight strong season for the Yankees, including 27 homers, 79 RBIs and an .833 OPS. He rockets all the way from No. 5 to No. 1 in my end-of-season rankings.
The next best-hitting AL East center fielder was the Orioles’ Jones, but for such an important defensive position, it’s hard to overlook his severe fielding deficiencies (Jones was saddled with -18 DRS, the worst mark of any AL center fielder). Cedric Mullins replaced Jones as the Orioles’ everyday center fielder in August, but Mullins had a rough introduction with the bat (.671 OPS) and looked shaky at times with the glove.
When I tabbed Kiermaier as my top center fielder before the season, I cautioned that the key to his success was staying healthy. Sadly, he didn’t, spending significant time on the DL for the third straight season, this time with a bone bruise and a thumb injury. When he did play, though, the two-time Gold Glover’s defense was extraordinary (14 DRS in 88 games), outweighing his paltry bat (.653 OPS). Mallex Smith shined defensively as Kiermaier’s fill-in, too. Boston’s Bradley and Toronto’s Pillar were basically clones of each other; the two put up eerily similar offensive stats and both were solid but unspectacular fielders.
- Hicks, Yankees
- Kiermaier/Smith, Rays
- Bradley, Red Sox
- Pillar, Blue Jays
- Jones/Mullins, Orioles
- Aaron Judge, Yankees
- Mookie Betts, Red Sox
- Randal Grichuk, Blue Jays
- Carlos Gomez, Rays
- Colby Rasmus, Orioles
In my preseason rankings, I called the top spot a toss-up between Judge and Betts, saying it was basically a tie. Well, Betts had something to say about that. His 2018 was a truly transcendent season. Betts led the majors in batting average (.346) and slugging (.640) and was second in on-base percentage (.438) and OPS (1.078), all while playing his usual Gold Glove defense and stealing 30 bases in 36 attempts. He led the majors in Wins Above Replacement according to both Baseball Reference (10.9) and FanGraphs (10.4). This may be the year Betts wins the AL MVP award that he came close to snagging two years ago.
While Betts clearly proved himself the better player, that’s not to take anything away from Judge, who had a strong but injury-shortened season, hitting 27 homers and posting a .919 OPS in 112 games. The Blue Jays’ Grichuk got off to a miserable start but was red-hot in the second half to salvage his season, finishing with 25 homers. In Tampa, the once-exciting Gomez was a failed experiment, batting .208, although Mallex Smith provided some spark when he started in right.
And the Orioles? Well, right field was a disaster. The club used 10 different starters at the position, with Adam Jones getting the most (31), even though he didn’t make his first start there until Aug. 10. Joey Rickard was right behind him with 30, and the third-most belonged to Anthony Santander (25), who wasn’t on the team past mid-May. (Rasmus, the presumptive right fielder at the beginning of the year, made only six starts there before leaving the team midseason.) Collectively, the group struggled both at the plate and in the field.
- Betts, Red Sox
- Judge, Yankees
- Grichuk, Blue Jays
- Gomez/Smith, Rays
- A cast of thousands, Orioles
- Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees
- J.D. Martinez, Red Sox
- Kendrys Morales, Blue Jays
- Mark Trumbo, Orioles
- Brad Miller/Denard Span, Rays
The Red Sox pulled off one of the biggest coups of the winter when they signed Martinez to a five-year deal in late February, after Grapefruit League games had already begun. Martinez delivered everything the Sox could have hoped for and more, batting .330 with a 1.031 OPS, crushing 43 homers and leading the majors with 130 RBIs. He’s one of the best pure hitters in the game.
The Yankees’ shiny new acquisition, Stanton, didn’t match the production of his 2017 MVP season for Miami. Still, it’s hard to complain about 38 homers and 100 RBIs, although that hasn’t stopped some Yankee fans from doing so.
Clearly I had no clue what the Rays’ plans for the DH spot were; Miller and Span combined for just eight starts there. Ultimately, the club split DH duties between C.J. Cron and Ji-Man Choi, with excellent results. Cron quietly hit 30 homers, while Choi racked up an .877 OPS in 49 games. The Blue Jays’ Morales would have had a nice season if he’d only faced right-handed pitchers (.274 average, .860 OPS), but he was eaten alive by southpaws (.199, .582) to water down his overall numbers. The poor Orioles, meanwhile, had no DH solution when Trumbo missed both the first and last months of the season with a knee injury.
- Martinez, Red Sox
- Stanton, Yankees
- Cron/Choi, Rays
- Morales, Blue Jays
- Trumbo and a host of others, Orioles
- Blue Jays
- Red Sox
The Rays used their bench to perfection, constantly shuffling players into and out of the lineup and moving them to different positions to get the matchups they wanted. Their depth was highlighted by Daniel Robertson, who started at five positions and posted a .797 OPS, and Mallex Smith, who started at least 20 games at all three outfield spots. The Blue Jays had a useful bench, too, which was a bit surprising for such a bad team. Catcher Luke Maile, infielder Richard Urena and outfielders Steve Pearce and Curtis Granderson contributed as non-regulars at various points of the season.
The Boston bench was thin behind super-utility guy Brock Holt, but the regular Red Sox lineup was good enough that it didn’t really matter who their backups were. The Yankees stashed veterans such as Neil Walker, Brandon Drury and Austin Romine on their bench, with mixed results. The Orioles had a bit of outfield depth in Joey Rickard and Craig Gentry, but never really found a capable utility infielder all year.
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- Blue Jays
- Red Sox