Recently at FanGraphs, Eno Sarris wrote a piece on the teams with the biggest remaining needs. Of course, it was last Thursday, which was light-years ago* as there were a number of player moves since then. Nonetheless, I found the concept intriguing and decided to look into it further.
* I am well aware that a light-year is a measure of distance (approximately six trillion miles) and not of time. I reserve the right to incorrectly use modifying phrases.
One way to evaluate a team's lineup is the cumulative Wins Above Replacement for the primary players. It's not perfect, but helps illustrate where teams are with regard to the rest of the league and can reveals holes in a lineup as Eno stated. Certainly this doesn't remove the need to play the season, it's just a starting point for determining who the best teams might be. This Tableau data viz has two different ways to view how teams are constructed going into 2015. This is a screen grab from the first tab (Team) -- click this link to see the actual data viz itself, and do yourself a favor and view it on a larger screen:
This shows each team's cumulative FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) for their projected starting lineups. Lineups are from mlb.com depth charts (this is the Padres, for example -- that's going to be a fun outfield), so aim your comments, particularly with regard to pitching rotations, toward them. New acquisitions are in red, and scrolling over the individual data points shows additional information. Use the filter located under the title to show fewer players, such as team infields, outfields or pitching staffs.
The position players, designated hitter for AL teams, five starting pitchers and closer are all represented, a total of 14 or 15 players for each team. fWAR values are in the column even if the position isn't listed, so Diamondbacks fans, the cumulative fWAR of around 15 includes all the players -- should make for an exciting summer.
Going into 2015, on paper, the Cardinals, Dodgers and Nationals appear to be the best teams, followed closely by the Blue Jays and Indians, teams that have teased baseball fans the last couple of years. Toronto attempted to improve significantly with the addition of Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson, and they're in win now mode as their core, and particularly their starting pitching, aren't getting any younger.
Right behind them are a ray of hope to Chicago fans, the Cubs and White Sox. The Cubs made the splashy news with the signing of Jon Lester, but what the White Sox are doing deserves attention as well. I wrote about them last week, and absent completely unforeseen circumstances, the best baseball will be played in the Central Divisions of both leagues.
This chart will change frequently -- for example, the Athletics punted Nick Punto, and mlb.com now believes Marcus Semien will be the starting shortstop. Likewise, the Giants acquired Casey McGehee in a trade to fill the hold caused by Pablo Sandoval leaving. This chart shows those changes, but it wasn't the first one I used in this post -- players are shifting that quickly. However, the data viz has been updated to reflect these changes.
The second tab (Position) takes a different approach and shows more information -- use the slider to move between positions. This screen grab shows first basemen:
This gets right at what Eno was writing about and graphically shows where teams are. Teams like the Cubs, Braves, White Sox and Diamondbacks are set at first for the near future, barring injuries or unforeseen events, and others could be in trouble. The data viz shows more information when the bar is scrolled over.
There are some missing positions. For example, both the Dodgers and Braves are missing fifth starters, and the Brewers a closer. With Opening Day four months away this isn't a dire situation and shows that not all teams are settled. In addition, the mlb.com depth charts don't project minor leaguers making teams out of spring training, which I did in one case (Micah Johnson for the White Sox) and fought the urge to do so in another (Kris Bryant somewhere for the Cubs). This will certainly occur, especially as teams swap out veterans on the lower end of these charts (like Nick Punto was) for younger, less expensive talent with greater upside potential.
Ignore the third chart, it's a box plot that's inferior to the Position tab. I just couldn't bring myself to delete it.
Data that doesn't tell a story is just a useless jumble of digits, and these data vizzes illustrate where each team is going into 2015, and I'll try to keep it updated as more trades and notable free agents like Max Scherzer sign. In the meantime, have a very merry Christmas or happy holidays as it applies, and I'll be back on Friday to discuss the pitchers in more depth.
All data from FanGraphs
Scott Lindholm lives in Davenport, IA. Follow him on Twitter @ScottLindholm.