The first round of projections have started to come out, with oldie but goodie Bill James leading the pack (Tom Tango's Marcels projections came out earlier this week as well). BP's PECOTA was the most reliable of all of these systems last season, but we usually have to wait till the new year for that. The James projections can be found with a whole bunch of other great analysis in the 2008 Bill James Handbook, or you can buy the full James projections in spreadsheet form here, or you can find the basic projections by player on Fangraphs.com.
I'll look at James's projections for our pitchers later in the week, but here's what Bill James expects from some notable 2009 Washington Nationals hitters (or at least the guys who would be on the roster if the season started today...).
Looking at the infield first, James hates hates hates Anderson Hernandez, predicting a pitiful .291 OBP and .322 SLG, which would trail Emilio Bonifacio on both counts. He's looking for a doubling of his strikeout rate, a halving of his walk rate, and then of course there's that 2008 .370 BABIP that surely won't continue. Looking back at AH's minor league stats, however, you can see where James is coming from.
So James is handing the starting second base job to Ronnie Belliard, which is another way of saying that all our investment in young middle-infielders yielded nothing much in particular at 2B. That said, James doesn’t expect Belliard to repeat his 2008 career year, but this line would still be an upgrade for contenders like the ChiSox and the Cardinals. One of the things I didn’t like about trading E-Bone that I didn’t mention before is that it probably means Belliard isn’t going anywhere.
No one should be surprised to see a significant regression for Guzman, and in fact this wouldn’t be as bad as I bet some projections will say. Still, if James is right, Guzman won't be worth $8 million a year. James is expecting a few more walks and strikeouts, which is a regression towards what Guzzy did in the past in both categories. He too suffers from the erosion of his unsustainably high .364 BABIP in 2008.
A slash line of .260 / .359 / .435 with 14 HR would be a nice walk-year bounce-back season for Kearns—enough that his far superior defense could make him a pretty comparable player to Josh Willingham. The big assumption James seems to be making is that Kearns's power will return as he comes back healthy. James projects a .175 ISO Power for Kearns, which is exactly his career average, up from an almost totally enervated .099 in '08.
Speaking of Willingham, I’m somewhat surprised to see James predicting a slight improvement for him. He’ll be 30 in 2009, and usually that means a slight decline, although it could be that his back injury held him back last year. And players like Willingham who do multiple things well—in his case OBP skills and power—tend to age better. Still, James is looking for him to improve on his career-bests for walk-rate and strikeout rate, which seems awfully optimistic.
Milledge’s numbers are interesting--in a good way. James sees a pretty significant increase in on-base skills, reaching .347 OBP driven by a career-best walk rate. That would be tremendous for a guy who has scratched and clawed to stay over .300 for most of his short career. I gotta say though that if Milledge can improve that much in that category, I would expect to see a bigger jump in his power numbers, because that’s going to mean he’s getting himself into more hitters’ counts and getting more pitches to hit. If Milledge’s OBP is pushing .350, I’d look for him to go over 20 dingers.
After lots of projection systems predicted a major breakout for Zimmerman last year, James is predicting just a nice, steady progression, but nothing that conjures up MVP thoughts (or all-star appearances for that matter). He projects Zimmy's ISO Power to rise to .194, which would be a career best, but not by much, though it would also be a huge improvement over his shoulder injury-zapped power of '08. Still, this would suggest that James doesn't really see another level there for Zim, since he'll be an old 25 next year (September birthday).
James figures Nick will still be a very good offensive player as much as he’s on the field. Most people think he’ll be 100% for spring training, but I’ve read more people worrying that the tendon sheath injury could actually sap his power, so it’ll be interesting to see what’s expected of him elsewhere.
His Dukes projection is strange. He seems to think Willingham will take more playing time from Dukes than Kearns. Or perhaps he’s thinking Dukes can’t stay healthy. Either way, 284 ABs with a .254 / .363 / .461 slash line and 13 homers would represent basically no progress at all from what he did in 2008 in any area, which I guess is possible, but he sure seemed to improve with playing time over the course of 2008.
Likewise, James thinks we’re going to have to wait a little longer to see Flores break out. I think this is too pessimistic, since what we saw last year was a very, very good two months before he seemed to run out of gas. If it’s fair to assume that he’ll hold up better as an every day player his second time around, I would think he’d do better. Or maybe James thinks it was less fatigue and more the league adjusting to him. In which case this might be optimistic, because Flores’s last 6-8 weeks were pretty ugly. Flores is another guy where James expects a pretty significant improvement in plate discipline with no corresponding increase in power numbers, which is odd.
So those are my thoughts, glancing over the numbers. We'll look at pitchers tomorrow.