Monday, February 17, 2014

The over/under of PECOTA's top 15 players

I love projections. I fully understand that they are simply computer-generated predictors based on past performance and current playing factors. I also fully understand that they are somewhat helpful to fantasy baseball players. But projections are not perfect and never have been.
I do not have a favorite projection system. I may like ZiPs a little more because I follow the guy on Twitter and he is personable. But they all have their place and some are more conservative than others.
PECOTA is Baseball Prospectus' proprietary system and it tends to be conservative. I found their top fifteen position player projections very interesting. As such, I wanted to spend some time with these fifteen players and give you an over/under on whether PECOTA was too conservative or not. Too conservative is an over vote. Not conservative enough is an under vote. I will give you the player, the projected triple slash line, WAR(P) and then a justification of over or under. Here we go.
15 - Evan Longoria - .261/.350/.480  4.3 WARP: This is very conservative, so over. I don't have too much of a problem with the triple slash line as they are near to what Longoria did last year. But I consider Longoria's season a year ago to be disappointing on the offensive side. I think he will be better. And his fielding puts him over six WAR easily.
14 - Joe Mauer - .315/.402/.456  4.4 WARP: These numbers are all under his career averages and he beat each of them last year. Playing first base will free him up physically and as I wrote a few days ago, I think that will lead to bigger offensive numbers and make up for his loss of positional value by moving to the dead zone of first base. Over.
13 - Matt Kemp - .282/.344/.486  4.5 WARP: PECOTA must be still smoking whatever Kemp was having back in 2011. Of all the systems I have looked at, this is the most optimistic version of Matt Kemp of all of them. Unless proven otherwise, the 2011 Matt Kemp is gone for good in a haze of shoulder troubles. Under.
10 - Prince Fielder - .285/.393/.518  4.7 WARP: All the systems are conservative on Fielder, which is odd considering that he is moving from one of the toughest stadiums on hitters to one of the best. PECOTA is more optimistic than all the others for the big first baseman but still only projects him to hit 33 homers. Based on an albeit small sample size, I think he will hit 20 homers at home and 13 on the road should be a piece of cake. All Fielder has to do is get back to where he was in 2012 to beat this projection. Over.
10 - Andrew McCutchen - .278/.358/.465  4.7 WARP: This is probably the easiest one of the bunch. McCutchen has beaten these numbers in each of the last two seasons. Barring injury (knocking wood), he should breeze by these numbers. My only concern is if the Pirates fall back to a non-contention team. Over.
10 - Buster Posey - .294/.367/.466  4.7 WARP: Projecting a catcher is always problematic because so much depends on dings and dents accumulated over the season. All you have to do is look at the wild swing of Posey's fWAR numbers over the last four seasons to see what I mean: 3.9, 1.7, 7.7 and 4.8. PECOTA pegs Posey right around his numbers for last year, which I considered a bit of a down year for him. If he bounces back at all to somewhat near what he did in 2012, he will blow past these numbers. But again, for a catcher, this is a crap shoot at best. Over.
7 - Robinson Cano - .293/.343/.490  4.9 WARP: PECOTA is really expecting Safeco Field and the lack of protection in the lineup to mess with Cano. But let's look at it this way: In forty games played at that field, Cano has a .837 OPS, which is four points higher than this projection. All Cano has to do to blow away this projection is to do better on the road. Cano has batted over .300 in six of his last seven seasons including the last five in a row. His OBP has been 35 to 40 points higher than this for the last two seasons. And he has been over .500 slugging for five straight seasons. Yeah, Safeco will dampen him a bit, but come on. Over.
7 - Adrian Gonzalez - .286/.366/.485  4.9 WARP: Perhaps I have to admit my bias here. I really can't stand Adrian Gonzalez. There is no rhyme or reason for my antipathy, but there is. Even so, this is overly optimistic. Gonzalez's fWAR figures the last two seasons were 3.3 and 2.8. That is hardly close to 4.9. PECOTA has him hitting 28 homers. Not a chance. Under. But I am biased.
7 - Giancarlo Stanton - .267/.345/.546  4.9 WARP: Every projection system expects Stanton to have a monster season. The average projection for him is 5 WAR and 35 homers or more PECOTA has him at 40 homers. There are two things that concern me. First, pitchers have stopped pitching to him, second he strikes out too much and lastly, he cannot stay on the field for 150 games. I see only a chance for one of those three things to change. Under.
6 - Mike Trout - .288/.354/.467   5.2 WARP: Are you kidding me? Over. Easily. The Angels are going to have a better year and that can only help Trout. Over. Over. Over.
5 - Troy Tulowitzki - .298/.369/.524   5.4 WARP: One of these years, Tulowitzki is going to play 150 games or more. And if he does, these numbers will look puny. He is the best overall shortstop in the game, who unfortunately, cannot seem to get a full season in. I am going out on a limb here and saying that this is the year. Over.
3 - Miguel Cabrera - .313/.392/.560  5.7 WARP: Duh. Over. He will miss Prince Fielder, but the guy has murdered these numbers for years now.
3 - Ryan Braun - .302/.364/.544  5.7 WARP: Would you really say Ryan Braun in the same breath as Miguel Cabrera? No, but he has put up these kinds of numbers regularly. But how will he react after last year's fiasco? What will it be like with all that pressure to show he is that good without the drugs? I think this is 50/50. But I'm going under.
2 - Joey Votto - .299/.400/.531  5.9 WARP: The final OPS number is similar to what Votto put up last year. His on-base percentage was much higher, but his slugging was lower. I really don't understand the knock on him that Reds fans have of the guy. He is a great hitter. All that said, last year seemed like a down year for him when he did put the bat on the ball, though his BABIP was right in range with his career average. I don't know. The guy seems like a lock to get at least 5.9 WARP, but I am not real sold on the lineup around him. Under.
1 - Albert Pujols - .296/.382/.548  6.9 WARP: Surprise! I bet you wouldn't guess this in a million years. Not only does PECOTA project Pujols as the top WARP guy in baseball, but by a win! Wow. Pujols hasn't had a WAR this high since 2010. He is older. He is not the guy anymore. The guy now is Cabrera. Pujols isn't even the best player on his team. That would be Mike Trout. But...what if his struggles the last three years were because of his legs? What if that was fixed now and he has his base back under him. The guy was the superstar of superstars. He was better than Cabrera during his peak. What if, for one magical season, we see the Albert Pujols of old with a monster year? It could happen. Will it? I would not bet real money on it. But it is in the realm of possibility. Just ask the computer. Well...ask PECOTA's computer as no other projection system has him close to these numbers.

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