Trout, Harper lead 'All-2016 Team' based on highest projected WAR
By Paul Casella
Though it's nearly impossible to come to a unanimous decision when selecting the best individual player at any particular position, it's always a fun discussion nonetheless.
With that in mind, why not take a look at the top projected player at each position for 2016?
The following is a list of the MLB All-2016 Team, if you will, based strictly on Steamer projections from Fangraphs, a popular statistical projection system that uses track record and similar players to predict performance. The team consists of the players with the highest projected WAR at each position, as well as the top five marks among starting pitchers. Of course, projections are far from a perfect science -- and there's a reason they play the games each year -- but they can at least serve to ignite the seemingly endless positional debates ahead of next season.
Some of those same players are expected to retain their spots on the All-2016 club, while a handful of new faces are also projected to join the team. Without further ado, let's take a look at who Steamer projects to lead the way at each position in '16.
Catcher: Posey, Giants
Posey has been the top catcher in the game for the past half-decade and Steamer doesn't foresee that changing in 2016. The Giants backstop has logged a 29.6 WAR over the past six seasons -- easily the highest among catchers during that span, despite missing the majority of the '11 season after suffering a broken left leg. Only one other catcher, Yadier Molina (22.3), has a WAR of even 20 during that same timeframe. Steamer projects that Posey will add another 4.7 WAR to that total next season after hitting .306/.373/.473 with 16 home runs, all while continuing to play above-average defense.
First base: Goldschmidt, D-backs
Goldschmidt narrowly edged out Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo at one of the two positions to be decided by just one-tenth of a point. Votto wasn't too far behind, either, checking in with a 4.8 projected WAR compared to Goldschmidt's 5.2 WAR. Steamer has Goldschmidt down for 30 homers, 14 stolen bases and 101 walks, with that last stat helping push him ahead of Rizzo, who's projected to hit 32 homers and swipe 11 bags of his own.
Second base:Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
Full disclosure, this spot would have belonged to Anthony Rendon, but the Nationals plan to move him back to his natural position at third base next season. Thus, Pedroia slides into the top spot, with Steamer expecting a bounceback campaign from the 32-year-old second baseman following an injury-hampered 2015 campaign. Pedroia appeared in just 93 games last season, hitting .291/.356/.441 with 12 home runs and 19 doubles. Steamer expects him to hit another 12 homers in '16 to go along with 34 doubles, all while returning to playing Gold Glove-caliber defense.
Shortstop:Carlos Correa, Astros
Correa finished fifth in WAR among shortstops in 2015, despite not even making his Major League debut until June 8. The first-overall pick in '12 wasted no time establishing himself as one of the best shortstops in the baseball, racking up 22 homers, 22 doubles, 68 RBIs and 14 stolen bases in only 99 games. For the record, that's a 162-game pace of 36 home runs and doubles, 111 RBIs and 23 steals. It may not be long before the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year adds to his hardware collection with an MVP trophy.
Third base: Donaldson, Blue Jays
Steamer isn't quite projecting a repeat performance for the 2015 AL MVP, but Donaldson's 5.9 projected WAR still places him atop the list of third basemen. That, of course, is a step back from his blistering 8.7 WAR this past season, though it's high enough to hold off Orioles third baseman Manny Machado by the slimmest of margins. The second position to be decided by one-tenth of a win, the third-base crown goes to Donaldson, as his slight offensive edge is barely enough to trump Machado's slight defensive edge.
Left field:Starling Marte, Pirates
Marte flirted with his first 20-20 season in 2015, but ultimately fell one home run shy. Steamer foresees Marte again coming up just short, projecting him to hit 18 homers on the heels of his career-high 19-homer season this past year. Either way, Marte's combination of speed and power in left field -- not to mention his Gold Glove defense -- figure to help the outfielder keep improving as he enters his age-27 season.
Center field: Trout, Angels
Were you expecting anyone else? The best all-around player in the game is once again projected to lead the league in WAR this year -- and it's not particularly close. Trout is projected to log a 9.2 WAR in 2016, well ahead of the next highest mark for a position player at 6.8 (more on this one in a moment). After already winning one MVP Award and finishing as the runner-up in his other three full seasons, Trout is fully expected to be in the MVP discussion yet again this season. Steamer has him tentatively penciled in for 37 homers, 104 RBIs, 111 runs scored and 15 stolen bases, all while hitting .307/.410/.585.
Right field: Harper, Nationals
Harper is the man responsible for the second-best 6.8 WAR mentioned above. That said, Steamer doesn't exactly expect Harper to duplicate the astronomical .460 on-base percentage that he racked up en route to winning the NL MVP Award last season. Instead, the projections place him at a more reasonable .413 OBP, to go along with 35 homers and 100 walks -- down slightly from the 42 homers and 124 walks he accumulated in his MVP season.
Designated hitter:Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays
Young slugger Miguel Sano would have led the way among designated hitters, if not for the fact that he's projected to transition to a corner-outfield role for the Twins this season. Steamer expects Sano to put up nearly identical numbers to Encarnacion, projecting both players to finish with exactly 34 home runs, as well as somewhere between 85-87 runs scored, 96-99 RBIs and 71-72 walks. Encarnacion, however, strikes out at a much lower rate than Sano, something that Steamer doesn't expect to change in 2016.
Starting rotation: Kershaw (Dodgers), Sale (White Sox), Scherzer (Nationals), Corey Kluber (Indians) and Arrieta (Cubs)
Not bad, right? This group has combined to win five Cy Young Awards over the last three seasons -- and any of the five could be considered a favorite to win the honor in his respective league in the upcoming campaign. There are certainly other pitchers who deserve consideration -- and a couple who narrowly missed out on making the top five -- but it's hard to find much to complain about with this starting rotation.