Thursday, November 20, 2008

'Tis the Season for Projections...

Every off-season, us baseball junkies wait with bated breath for the pre-season stat projections to come out. It all started with Bill James way back I think sometime before the invention of paper or pine tar, but in the last ten years or so with the explosion of stat-headism on the Internet a whole cottage industry of these projection systems have emerged. And every off-season the most baseball-obsessed among us pore over them like some magic oracle that might give us a view into the future (and hope for the hopeless).

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

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...).

Anderson Hernandez 2008 81 0 0.333 0.407 0.383
Anderson Hernandez James 149 1 0.248 0.291 0.322
Austin Kearns 2008 313 7 0.217 0.311 0.316
Austin Kearns James 384 14 0.260 0.359 0.435
Cristian Guzman 2008 579 9 0.316 0.345 0.440
Cristian Guzman James 496 7 0.292 0.329 0.407
Elijah Dukes 2008 276 13 0.264 0.386 0.478
Elijah Dukes James 284 13 0.254 0.363 0.461
Jesus Flores 2008 301 8 0.256 0.296 0.402
Jesus Flores James 436 12 0.250 0.304 0.397
Josh Willingham 2008 351 15 0.254 0.364 0.470
Josh Willingham James 507 23 0.270 0.371 0.479
Lastings Milledge 2008 523 14 0.268 0.330 0.402
Lastings Milledge James 494 15 0.281 0.347 0.439
Nick Johnson 2008 109 5 0.220 0.415 0.431
Nick Johnson James 198 8 0.268 0.413 0.465
Ron Belliard 2008 296 11 0.287 0.372 0.473
Ron Belliard James 433 11 0.268 0.330 0.416
Ryan Zimmerman 2008 428 14 0.283 0.333 0.442
Ryan Zimmerman James 576 22 0.290 0.351 0.484
Emilio Bonifacio 2008 169 0 0.243 0.296 0.337
Emilio Bonifacio James 453 1 0.272 0.318 0.347
Mark Teixeira 2008 574 33 0.308 0.410 0.552
Mark Teixeira James 589 36 0.299 0.397 0.559

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.


Rob B said...

I think it's way too early to try and predict anything with our outfield. I don't see Kearns 'breaking-out' as there's really no evidence to suggest he will. Dukes' sample sizes are too small to predict anything. JWill is still not sure which position he will play, and there are health issues there.
I think the closest to a sure thing is that Milledge will play everyday in CF, but even that's not 100%.... this team is a mess.

Will said...

I tend to agree with James' assessment of Willingham, but probably not for the same reasons. Willingham has historically been worse playing in Dolphin Stadium than elsewhere on the road.
Consider these stats:
Home: .250/.348/.430
Away: .280/.373/.510
(That .883 away-OPS looks really nice.)
Though the sample size is too small to make any judgements, in 20AB, Willingham tore it up at Nats Park: .300/.440/.650
Unfortunately for Willingham, he won't be facing Nats pitching anymore, but I still think he'll see significant improvement not having to play 81 games a year at Dolphins Stadium.

I'm pretty sure James put out this projections before (or very shortly after) the Willingham trade, so I don't suppose he factored this in. However, I have to agree with his projection of Willingham improving.

Steve Shoup said...

Great post Steven, it will be interesting to see when all the projections come out. I do agree with you I was worried that the Nats would keep Belliard b/c they traded Bonifacio but hopefully they will see Desmond/Gonzalez as decent enough backups and still move Belliard. I was a bit surprised by the Dukes projection thats the only one I really disagreed with. I think a Willingham, Milledge, Dukes outfield can be pretty good. I'm not as sold on Flores as you are but I think he is a little above League average offensively.

Will: I think you are right whether they came out right before or after the trade I doubt James took into account Willingham being outside of Dolphins stadium. I too am hoping that he can benefit from a full year in a neutral park instead of a pitchers park.

JayB said...

That is a pretty depressing look at 2009. We need more offense or 100 loses if in our future again.