AL East Position Matchup: Center Field

Today, I will cover the AL East’s strongest position, Centerfield. To the surprise of many Sox fans, Jacoby Ellsbury absolutely broke out last year. The big story throughout the year will be how the Red Sox handle his expiring contract. They avoided arbitration with Jacoby this year by signing him to a one year $8.05 million contract (a big raise from his $2.4 million earned in 2011). I understand that the Red Sox didn’t want to reward him MVP money for the long term after his one year sample of his abilities, but I think they should make moves on a contract early in the season. The bad news for the Red Sox is that Jacoby’s agent is Scott Boras and he’ll be sure to try to squeeze every penny out of any organization for his clients.

For previous positional rankings click here: C1B2B3BSSLF

Here are the rankings for Centerfielder:

1. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
2. Curtis Granderson, Yankees
3. B.J. Upton, Rays
4. Adam Jones, Orioles
5. Colby Rasmus, Blue Jays

Throughout all 2011, Jacoby and Granderson were fighting to be the best centerfielder in their division, but also were fighting to be the league MVP at the same time. Long story short, Jacoby got snubbed for the MVP and placed second, while Granderson came in 4th place after his monster season for the Bronx Bombers. 2012 should be no different. As noted earlier, Ellsbury will be in a contract year and out to prove that last year was no fluke. Granderson wants to prove the same thing, considering he finally lived up to the hype that was pegged onto him after his breakout year in 2007 with the Tigers. Similar to the MVP race, Ellsbury inched ahead of Granderson in the rankings. Jacoby really looks like he figured out his power stroke last year and has speed for days. I think his steal numbers will bump back up to the 50’s, but not near the 70 he swiped in 2009. Jacoby’s speed on the basepaths and in the outfield coupled with his consistent batting average make him a good choice to repeat another big year. I’m predicting .305/18 HR/80 RBI’s out of Ells, with 53 SB’s and 115 runs in his contract year. Granderson on the other hand has pretty much established what he is capable of in his six full years in the majors. I see his 41 hrs as a bit of a hiccup last year. Last year, Granderson hit 16 home runs against lefty’s, while he had only hit 20 against them in his entire career. I still see him getting around 30 HR in Yankee stadium, which is built for swings like Grandersons. Despite this, Granderson has a lower average than Ells and doesn’t swipe as many bags. He gets slotted into the second spot due to this.

Next up is Rays outfielder BJ Upton. As his career really begins to shape, it is starting to look like his brother Justin got the better genes. He was an absolute monster for the D-Backs last year in the NL West. BJ has been exposed for his flaws at the plate throughout his career. He has been known for his streaky hitting and when he’s on a hot streak no pitcher wants to face him (like the 2008 playoffs). He’s a very similar player to Jacoby from a statistical standpoint, except for his much lower batting average (.243 BA last year).

Upton’s edge in the field gave him the third ranking over number four, Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles. Jones is a very dangerous hitter and getting better each year, but he has yet to master his control of the strike zone (.280 BA with a .319 OBP last year).

Rounding up the rankings in Colby Rasmus of the Blue Jays. Colby had an off year last year after a promising first two seasons in St. Louis. He had a horrible batting year last year, with drops in BA, OBP, HR’s, RBI’s and SB’s. If he can figure out how to correct his batting woes from last year, he can provide some power in the sneaky good Blue Jays offense.

For previous positional rankings click here: C1B2B3BSSLF

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AL East Position Matchup: Second Base

Another day and another position ranking, today I will look into second basemen. First, I analyzed catchers, with Baltimore’s Matt Weiters coming out on top. Next, I analyzed first base, with the Red Sox MVP candidate Adrian Gonzalez filling out the top slot. The AL East’s star position has to be second basemen. It contains 3 of the top second basemen, and two legitimate MVP candidates, who are becoming the face of their respective franchises.

The rankings are as follows:

1. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
2. Robinson Cano, Yankees
3. Ben Zobrist, Rays
4. Kelly Johnson, Blue Jays
5. Brian Roberts, Orioles

This has been by far the toughest decision to make in the position rankings. I know every Yankees fan will disagree, as any loyal fan would, but hear me out on this one. Dustin Pedroia and Robinson Cano have been very similar in terms of offensive impact in the past few years (barring Pedroia’s injury shortened season in 2010). While displaying virtually exact career AVG (Pedroia .305 vs Cano .308), Pedroia has consistently reached base at a higher rate (.373  Career OBP vs Cano’s .349). Cano may be able to put up more HR’s and RBI’s than Pedroia, but Pedey has consistently put up many more steals and runs. Cano’s extra RBI’s can mostly be contributed to his spot in the batting order. Last year, 94.9% of his at bats were taken from the 4 and 5 spots in the order, while 77.3% of Pedroia’s at bats were taken from the 2 spot in the order. Yes, Pedroia’s extra runs can be mostly contributed to his spot in the order, but his steals and baserunning are still much better than Cano’s. All offensive prowess aside, Pedroia definitely has an edge on the defensive side ( 2 Gold Gloves in four eligible seasons vs Cano’s single Gold Glove during his 7 seasons). Also, Pedroia has a better fielding percentage and zone rating. Perhaps the most telling fact is WAR (wins above replacement), in which Pedroia 8.0 2011 rating, clearly outshines Cano’s 5.6.

Despite this argument, it should be noted that if either team had the choice, they would not switch second baseman with the other team. Pedroia is a true Red Sox player, never afraid to get his jersey dirty, while Cano is a Bronx Bomber, provided unheard of power from second baseman position since the sloppy fielding former Yank Alfonso Soriano.

Next up is Ben Zobrist, who is a great player for the Rays, but overshadowed by Cano and Pedroia. Zobrist has the talent to fight for the top second basemen spot in any other division. He has the potential to contend with Cano and Pedroia, but his inconsistency gives him the third ranking. He displayed incredible numbers both last year and in 2009, but his steep dropoff in 2010 (.239 BA and a 63.0% HR decrease) leaves room for concern.

Filling out the fourth spot is Blue Jay second baseman Kelly Johnson. Kelly was acquired by the Jays from the Diamondbacks last year in a trade for Aaron Hill and John MacDonald. Johnson has been even more inconsistent than Zobrist, but should give the Jays a good option at second as long as his average stays up. I see him providing about a .275 average and 20-25 HR’s in his first full year at the Rogers Centre.

Lastly, the Orioles have the oft injured Brian Roberts slotted in as their starting second baseman. Although Roberts was once regarded as a top second baseman, those days are gone after only playing 98 games in the last two years combined. Whether he gets injured again and Robert Andino fills in for him remains the true question. Both will provide similar offensive output and show good speed on the basepaths. I don’t see the credentials to rate either one above any of the other second baseman in this stacked division though.

For Catcher rankings, click here.
For First Baseman rankings, click here.