Contender black holes
Marlins and Rockies are among the playoff hopefuls with big questions to answer
Every year, several teams finish out of the playoffs by a handful of games, close enough to taste October but just as ineligible for postseason play as the lowliest of last-place finishers. Last season, the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves were both eliminated on the season's final day after watching what had seemed to be safe leads evaporate. Since a one-game swing for either team would have meant a much different outcome, it was tempting to look back and wonder where in the lineup they could have eked out an extra victory.
For both teams, right field proved to be a particular weak point. Braves right fielder Jason Heyward slumped to a .254 true average (TAv) in an injury-plagued sophomore season, and his replacements hit only .252/.294/.346 in his absence. In Boston, J.D. Drew added a 60-day DL stint for a left shoulder impingement to his lengthy injury history and hit just .222/.315/.302 when active. As a result, Braves right fielders accumulated 0.6 WARP, and Red Sox right fielders checked in at 1.3 WARP. It's reasonable to wonder whether both teams would have made the playoffs with even average (roughly 2.0 WARP) production in right.
Of course, while neither Heyward nor Drew was a stranger to the disabled list before last season, both had been capable contributors in 2010, so the Braves and Sox couldn't have foreseen getting so little production from the outfield corner. However, there are some problem positions that this season's contending teams can see coming. We can pinpoint these potential breaking points with the aid of PECOTA, Baseball Prospectus' proprietary projection system, and the playing time estimates available on our depth charts.
Below you will find a list the teams that we deem serious contenders that have at least one position projected to produce 1.0 WARP or less. Some teams, such as the Giants, have more than one projected "black hole," but we've listed just one for each team in order to focus on the real trouble spot. Teams are listed in alphabetical order.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Third base (0.7 WARP)
Last season, D-backs third baseman Ryan Roberts hit .313/.413/.594 in April but slumped to .239/.329/.402 during the season's final five months. PECOTA projects more of the same -- .246/.330/.393 -- from him in 2012. Remember, he is basically a minor league journeyman who, last year, at the age of 30, surpassed 500 plate appearances in a season for the first time in his career. Not much upside here.
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