As before, I'm using the projected numbers from Fangraphs at each position to determine the rankings.
1. Dodgers: 2.7 WAR (#9 overall)
Everyday starter: Howie Kendrick (2.4)
Backup: Justin Turner (0.2)
Not exactly a position of strength for the division, with the Dodgers representing the high-water mark for projected production. They acquired Kendrick from the Angels in a three-way trade, which also saw Dan Haren go to the Marlins. [Or retire. We don't know] Kendrick has been a solid performer, with a 116 OPS+ over the past four seasons, and cost LA quite a high price for one year of his service - Andrew Heaney, named the #25 prospect in all baseball by MLB just yesterday. While the Dodgers have wanted Kendrick for a while, and nearly traded for him at the deadline in 2013, it's questionable if he'll be much of an upgrade over Dee Gordon.
2. Padres: 2.0 WAR (#12)
Everyday starter: Jedd Gyorko (2.0)
Backup: Cory Spangenberg (0.0)
After bursting on the scene with 23 homers in 2013, the most by a Padre, Gyorko slumped badly last year, his OPS+ dropping from 113 to 79. Health may have been involved, as he suffered from plantar fasciitis in his foot - Mark Trumbo also contended with that, as well as his stress fracture, and we saw how his power evaporated in 2014. Gyorko's first half was particularly bad, with a .482 OPS, but he hit much better after coming off the DL, posting a .745 OPS in 55 games. Manager Bud Black said, "I think he started making some adjustments, some mechanical, some at-bat to at-bat in terms of pitch selection, Before, you saw him chasing pitches up in the strike zone and also sliders away. I think that a lot of that was him wanting to be aggressive and wanting to help the team."
3. Giants: 1.5 WAR (#22)
Everyday starter: Joe Panik (1.4)
Backup: Joaquin Arias (0.0)
[Insert "Panik" related pun here.] Part of the home-grown infield which helped the Giants win another even-year World Series title, in particular with a memorable double-play in Game 7, when the score was tied, Panik came out of nowhere to get Rookie of the Year mentions, despite not making his major-league debut until June 21. Hitting .305 will help do that. There were some rumblings he might end up moving to 3B to replace the obese raccoon, but the trade for Casey McGehee nipped that in the bud. May well end up overtaking Gyorko as the best young second-baseman in the division by the year's end.
4. Diamondbacks: 1.2 WAR (#23)
Everyday starter: Aaron Hill (0.9)
Backup: Cliff Pennington (0.2)
The legacy of KT lives on. There will likely be worse second-basemen in the majors this year than Hill. Heck, he's not even projected to be the worst in the division, as we'll see. But most of the ones below him are earning league minimum, and none of them are due to receive $12 million, as Hill is. Based on playing-time, the projection suggests we wouldn't be very much worse off playing Pennington - likely the best backup in the division - full-time, since he'd be worth 0.7 WAR, pro-rated to the same number of PAs. Maybe the best we can hope for is a rebound first half, and then ship Hill to a contender at the deadline? Otherwise, we may be stuck with him for 2016 as well.
5. Rockies: 0.8 WAR (#27)
Everyday starter: DJ LeMahieu (0.8)
Backup: Daniel Descalso (0.0)
Let's face it, your offense is problematic when 90% of your major-league career has been with Colorado, and you still have a lifetime OPS below .700. Take away the Coors advantage, and LeMahieu's career road line is .236/.271/.302, which works out at 117 OPS points below the same split for Pennington. He's clearly there for his defense, and won the Golden Glove at second last year, but that will only compensate so much. Colorado will be hoping he can hit better than the two home-runs in 77 home games LeMahieu managed for 2014. Juan Pierre is the only other player in Coors history to have had 280+ PAs there in a season, and two or fewer long balls.
Doesn't look quite as promising for the Diamondbacks here, as the first installment in this series, does it? But it's easy to forget that Hill is only one season removed from being pretty damn good for the D-backs - over 2012-13, he had an OPS+ of 130, and was worth a total of 6.2 bWAR, even though he missed almost half of the latter season. Aaron will turn 33 before Opening Day, which makes rebounding harder and less likely for him than, say, Gyorko, who is still on the right side of the aging curve to get some help. Also concerning, there's no obvious alternate ready should Hill struggle, with the departure of Didi Gregorius - unless you're on the Jake Lamb at second bandwagon?
However, it's also not a position where there appear to be an enormous disparity, with less than two wins separating the best and worst teams in the division. If the projections hold up, the Diamondbacks wouldn't lose that much ground on their rivals by being mediocre
The story so far
Below, you'll find a chart summarizing the findings, which we'll update as we continue this series. For each position, we have awarded the teams a rating of between one and five stars, depending on how strong they are projected to be at the position. Generally, a five-star rating requires them to be among the best in the majors; a four-star one is clearly one of strength; three stars would be about average; two stars is a position of concern; and one star is a gurgling vortex of suck.