Fun with Bill James’ projections: The Starters


You know, I never really got into fancy statistical analysis until recently. Don’t get me wrong, I understood the importance of OBP and detested RBI and pitcher’s wins as means of evaluating players, but stats like VORP, EqA, wOBP, WARP1, 2 and 3 never did much for me. But once I took the time I understand what goes into each stat and what exactly they represent, it became clear that fancy acronyms had a place in the game.

Projections however, well they’re still not exactly my cup of tea. Using numbers to examine what a player has done in the past is one thing, but using them to essentially predict the future is another. It’s an educated guess really, but an educated guess that can’t account for factors such as weather, injury, a sick child, etc. The crew at Baseball Prospectus does one hell of a job with their PECOTA projections, but in the end it’s all just a guess, a guess that shouldn’t be used for anything but fun.

While we wait for the Yanks to open their season with two new faces in their rotation, we can check out what sabermetric mastermind Bill James expects out of these players. Provided at the indispensable Fangraphs, James’ projections are a fun way for us fans to gaze into the future, to guess at what might become. The good stuff starts after the jump (don’t read anything into the order, it’s just alphabetical).

AJ Burnett, RHP
: 14-11, 3.62 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 32 GS, 224 IP, 199 H, 88 BB, 218 K, 21 HR
James sees Burnett blowing by the 200 IP plateau for the second straight year, throwing nearly three more innings in 2009 than 2008 despite pitching in two fewer games. There’s small declines in strikeout rate (8.76 Kper9, down 0.63), walk rate (3.54 BBper9, up 0.04) and HR rate (0.84 HRper9, up 0.07), but nothing significant. Unlike 2008, James sees Burnett outperforming his FIP (3.73), something pretty uncommon for a pitcher on a bad defensive team. If he ends up having a season like that, Burnett will have earned every cent of his $16.5M salary.

Phil Hughes, RHP
: 9-5, 3.35 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 22 GS, 125 IP, 110 H, 46 BB, 122 K, 9 HR
So … that’s interesting, huh? Hughes projects to have the third best ERA in the league while getting his most significant big league exposure. Projected totals of an 8.78 Kper9, 3.31 BBper9, 0.65 HRper9 and 3.29 FIP are in line with what Jake Peavy did for the Padres this year. It should be noted that the Marcel Projections aren’t nearly as optimistic, expecting a 4.45 ERA, 4.23 FIP, 6.96 Kper9, and 0.96 HRper9 out of Phil in nearly 40 fewer innings. We here at RAB expect great things out of Phil Hughes, but this great that fast? Not bloody likely. We’d love to see it though.

CC Sabathia, LHP
: 16-10, 3.48 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 34 GS, 240 IP, 226 H, 70 BB, 205 K, 21 HR
The big horse that is CC Sabathia keeps it going according to James, as he’ll log his third consecutive season of 240 IP or more (the last pitcher to do that was Randy Johnson, who did for five straight years from ’98-’02). Sabathia is projected to remain a well above average pitcher, though not quite as ungodly as he was in ’08, or as dynamite as he was when he won the Cy in ’07. Instead, CC’s expected to have a season similar to the one he had in 2005, the year before he cemented his status as the best lefthander in baseball not named Johan. The Yanks haven’t had a pitcher throw that many innings in a season since Andy Pettitte in 1997, and I imagine Sabathia would get Cy Young consideration with a season like that.

Chien-Ming Wang, RHP
: 13-9, 3.70 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 30 GS, 200 IP, 208 H, 58 BB, 92 K, 11 HR
After having his season cut short by the flukiest of on-the-field injures, Wang is expected to get right back on the horse and contribute another 200 innings of above average production. James sees Wang having a season extremely similar to the one had in 2007, which means the Wanger will return to being the rock of stability we’re used to him being. The most interesting number to watch with Wang is his GB/FB rate, which (believe it or not) has been declining for three straight years (3.09 in ’06, 2.51 in ’07, 2.41 in ’08) while his line drive percentage has gotten worse (16.9%, 18.3%, 22.1%).

* * *

So James sees the Yanks getting 96 starts out of their top three, a certain best-case scenario. Add in a campaign that would undeniably make Hughes the best fourth starter on the planet, and everything looks nice and rosey for the Bombers. If the Yanks bring back Andy Pettitte or replace him with Ben Sheets, they’re looking at another 29-30 starts of projected sub-3.70 FIP pitching. James’ projections for Al Aceves, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy aren’t available, so we’re out of luck there. However if just one of those guys is anywhere close to league average in 2009, then the Yanks should have their best rotation in a long, long time.

Remember, these are just projections and in no way represent what the three of us here at RAB expect out of those four pitchers this year. Those are some gaudy numbers, and to expect all four to perform like that is as unrealistic as it gets.

Next week: the starting nine.

Categories : Analysis
  • A.D.

    CC Sabathia, LHP
    Projection: 16-10, 3.48 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 34 GS, 240 IP, 226 H, 70 BB, 205 K, 21 HR


  • Jay CT

    Is there a place that one could find an explanation to all those statistical ratings? I feel stupid, but I really dont know what alot of them (like VORP or wOBP) mean. Any place that I can read what all the scoring means?

    • radnom

      That is as good a place as any to start.

      • Stephen

        well there you go, ignore my ignorance of how good this site really is.

    • Stephen

      Well, wikipedia has alot of them, and they wouldn’t all be in one place because a lot of them are proprietary. VORP, WARP, EQA, FRAA are Baseball Prosepectus. Fan Graphs has wOBA and WPA, and others, Hardball Times has its WinShares and others. There’s alot out there

  • Ivan

    I think AJ is more likey to happen than anybody else in concern with the projections.

    If Phil Hughes becomes the yanks best pitcher like those projections say, the Yankees are winning the WS, no if’s, or but’s about it period.

    • radnom

      Or it could mean that the team plane went down while Hughes was starting the season at AAA……

      • Mike A.

        That’s not even funny dude, Don’t joke like that.

    • CDICE

      Hughes will be the Yank’s best starter eventually. I just don’t think this year. Probably more about 2 years.

  • frits

    Jay – the Hardball Times has a good glossary –

    • Jay CT

      Thanks Frits. I appreciate it. If anyone else has and other links, I would really appreciate the help

  • frits

    Not sure if its complete though

    • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      Please use the “reply to this comment” link at the bottom-right corner of the comment boxes when you want to reply to comments in a particular thread. It makes it much easier for everyone to follow the conversations going on in the comments.

      • Mike A.

        Thanks. Beat me too it.

        • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

          Sorry – Your job and not mine. It’s just getting annoying, lots of people have been doing it lately.

  • Slugger27

    i cant imagine bill james would have his legacy questioned by intentionally being overly optimistic with every yankee starter, but these numbers are just strange

    its not even hughes’s hilarious projection, but 4 starters with an era of 3.70 or less??? i cant imagine he has joba above 3.70 if phil hughes is 3.35… so that means he thinks every starter in our staff is gonna have a lower ERA than matt garza???

    something seems fishy… we have an extremely high upside high potential staff, but sheesh

    • UWS

      Clearly, it’s a ploy by the Red Sox front office to lull the Yanks into a false sense of security while they swoop in and grab Tex.

      • Slugger27

        my “fishy” comment was mostly tongue in cheek

        • UWS

          So was mine.

  • Mike T.

    Hey Mike A.,

    Just curious. What did James project the past year for these players?
    Keep up the good work on RAB!

    • Mike A.

      I don’t know. Fangraphs doesn’t have them anymore, and I don’t have the handbook from last year. I can’t find them online anywhere else either.

  • Andy In Sunny Daytona

    Bill James’ Projection for Josh Beckett:

    24-2, 1.11 ERA, .75 WHIP, 35 GS, 245 IP, 163H, 20BB, 500K, 0 HR

    • Mike A.

      I love that he has a 500-235 K/an out recorded every other way ratio.

      • Andy In Sunny Daytona

        The only reason that he doesn’t have 33 wins, is that the Sox’ bullpen is scheduled to blow 9 games this year, all Beckett’s.

        • Mike Pop

          Unlucky season for him

    • Alan

      Only 24 wins? BUST!

  • steve (different one)

    Unlike 2008, James sees Burnett outperforming his FIP (3.73), something pretty uncommon for a pitcher on a bad defensive team.

    Mike, do we still think this is true?

    the Yankees were bad last year, but the two biggest offenders are gone.

    Cano had an off-year, but up to this point has been well above average. Jeter will probably give back some of the improvement from last year. maybe those two wash out.

    i don’t know, i don’t see this team as that bad on defense anymore.

    more like average, depending upon what happens in CF.

    • Slugger27

      good point… gardner u would think be would be a plus plus defender, nady league average in RF, damon slightly above avg in LF… arod slightly above avg at 3rd, jeter below avg at SS, cano slightly above avg at 2b… swisher not great but clearly an upgrade to giambi… posada is downgrading from molina, but overall the team doesnt look like a “bad defensive team” anymore… describing it as league average looks more appropriate

      • Hand of Abbot

        I had thought Jeter’s zone ratings were up this year. Was he below average last year? or are we going on old numbers for his def rep?

        • Slugger27

          even with improvement in 08, he was about league average… so im putting league average as his ceiling

      • A.D.

        Damon was +16 in LF last year Garnder was +40 in CF (small sample size, but say he can be plus 13 (Cameron) or even 9 (Ellsbury) in CF) and Nady .6

        Thats +29.6 (took BG as 13 or assume we trade for Cameron) Where last year taking Damon (same), Melk (0) & Abreu (-25.9) We’re at -9.9.. so the OF def has improved

      • Axl

        I thought Swisher had some sick stats as a 1B…

        He’s far superior to Giambi…not just an upgrade…

        Wasn’t it something like only 6 errors in over 1300 attempts or something?

        I might be mixing things up…

        • Yank Crank 20

          Well Swish only has 10 errors at 1b in 1645.7 innings in his carrer. That’s 1 error every 164-165 innings. I don’t know if that’s amazing but i’m betting it’s pretty decent.

    • Old Ranger

      How about this as a CF;

      With two outs and RISP…BA .400/ OBP .438/Slg .533/ OPS .971 good stats? These are the projections of our own CF…BG. Not bad for a guy that can’t hit. Wish it were fact and not projections, although his history shows him as being a very tough out in leverage situations. That with his “D”, I’ll take in CF anytime…with this line up one can have him in there, and not hurt the team. In fact it would more then likely improve the team.
      Just in case anyone is wondering, I just want one thing from this team…be the bast damn team in the world and I think, if one thinks outside the box it can happen. We need set-up guys for the RBI guys (known fact), 95 runs scored in a year just ain’t cutting it (Johnny). Of course a lot has to do with the guys behind him, and him getting on base in good opportune times. 27/09.

    • kunaldo

      Also, having a ~9 K/9 contributes to having an ERA lower than his FIP, being that he’s taking the defense out of the equation much more often than a league average pitcher…on the flip side, a guy like Wang is probably going to have an ERA higher than his FIP w/ our defense

  • radnom

    Before anyone puts too much stock in this, the projection system also predicts the following ERA’s:

    Barry Zito – 3.94
    Tim Wakefield – 3.91
    Jonathan Sanchez – 3.90
    Jorge Campillo – 3.86
    Pedro Martinez – 3.36;st.html

    There are way too many factors and statistic in baseball is still way to unsophisticated to apply it to large scale projections like this.
    Everyone went nuts because the PECOTA predictions had the Rays winning 90 games last year and somehow failed to notice it also predicted the Rays in third place in the AL East, and screwed up nearly everything else as well.

    • radnom

      Also, isn’t James’ system admittedly biased toward young players with little Major League stats to extrapolate from? Especially pitchers?

      I’m so excited to see what Hughes can do this season.

      • steve (different one)

        Also, isn’t James’ system admittedly biased toward young players with little Major League stats to extrapolate from? Especially pitchers?

        i had heard that this is the case.

        • Mike Pop

          he loves prospects that is for sure

    • Ivan

      I wouldn’t be surprise if Sanchez had an ERA like that in 09.

      • radnom

        That one isn’t so bad, it would be a best case senario for him though. He really struggled to end the year.

        Martinez and Zito are the ones that struck me though.

        • Mike Pop

          I could see Zito pulling it, Martinez not so much

  • Chris

    The most interesting number to watch with Wang is his GB/FB rate, which (believe it or not) has been declining for three straight years (3.09 in ‘06, 2.51 in ‘07, 2.41 in ‘08) while his line drive percentage has gotten worse (16.9%, 18.3%, 22.1%).

    I think Wang started throwing a lot more sliders (and I believe more 4-seam fastballs) in the last 2 years because teams were keying in on his sinker. In addition to these bad trends, his K rate went from 3.14 in ‘06 to 4.7 in ‘07 to 5.12 in ‘08, which indicates more swings and misses.

  • Eric

    I see what Bill James’ game is. He’s setting the expectations so high for Hughes that no matter how well he does, he is still a bust. Well played sir.

  • Shamus

    HEY RAB writers:

    Know this is a little off subject, but I just wanted to thank you for coming to our X-Mas party last night….

    What a great time, no ?!?!?!


    • Shamus

      All in fun, of course… All in fun. This is my one of my favorite websites, just so y’all know.

    • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      Shamus, I think I now have a man-crush on you. Let’s keep that between us, though, on the DL.

    • Joseph P.

      Heh. My dad loves you guys.

    • Mike A.

      Dude, so not cool. My eye shadow was all sorts of fucked up last night.

  • Bo

    Is this projection for the Hughes who throws high 90′s or the Hughes who throws 91 tops???

    • Joseph P.

      Bekuz noooone kan suxeed throwin 91!!!!!!111!1/?!??111ldd!111k1!


    • UWS


  • Ivan

    Hey guys when will you do your next podcast?

    • Mike A.

      We do them every Thursday. Last week was special because it was the Winter Meetings.

  • TheLastClown

    “It’s been a mystery to many why veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte hasn’t taken the Yankees’ $10-million offer. But here could be a clue as to why he hasn’t: Pettitte’s people apparently are telling folks he has a $36-million, three-year offer from another, unnamed team.”

    Truth or consequences?

    • Mike A.

      Bunch of crap. The unnamed team stuff is pretty dumb, like the mystery team in the Furcal sweepstakes. It’s just a way agents can drive up the price without damaging their reputation because no one knows where that offer came from.

      • radnom

        You would think they would have gone with something a little more, I dunno believable..but maybe thats just me….

    • Slugger27

      ill believe it when i see the press conference

    • Mike A.

      Maybe the offer came from the Tokyo Yakult Swallows?

      Hehe, swallow.

  • radnom

    Were there projections for Pettite in there?



    If that is true I will shit myself and eat on on webcam.

    • Mike Pop

      2nd time you took it a little too far on this post

      • radnom

        I like to live on the edge.

        • CLT_JR

          Man, I hope it is real, b/c I would love to see it.

  • dan

    Nobody’s mentioned it, so I guess I will. The Bill James projections are by far the worst ones out there. The only reason people acknowledge them is because Bill James puts them out there. Actually, his company does the pitchers–BJ doesn’t believe you can project pitchers. But he projects ridiculous numbers for offenses, like bad offensive teams scoring 900+ runs. He also doesn’t use regression for young players, or at least not enough. When Ryan Braun had that ridiculous half-season in 2007, James projected him to be even better in 2008. That just doesn’t happen, and breaks the rules of statistical projections. He projected Kevin Kouzmanoff’s rookie season to be .323 avg, 21 home runs, 120 rbi.

    While they may be fun to look at, there are at least 5 or 6 other projection systems that completely outlcass what Bill James does. And don’t use Marcel for anybody with under 3 full seasons in the majors. If you’re doing another one of these, I’d wait for CHONE projections to come out–those are as good as it gets (for free), and are only about 1% worse than what PECOTA puts out.

    • dan

      Any one of these free systems would be better:

      Oliver (not sure if it’s public yet)
      THT’s projections

  • Jeffrey

    I can’t help but feeling that all of these expensive players the Yankees are signing (Sabbathia, Burnett, maybe Manny or Texeira, etc) and have signed in the past (Arod, etc) will make a Word Series victory a little bittersweet. Of course I’d love for the Yankees to win the Series again, but at the same time I’d rather them do it on a level playing field. If the Yankees overtake the Rays in the AL East this year and then beat the Twins or A’s in the ALCS won’t it be a little less fun to celebrate? Granted, the Yankees are not the only team with a massive payroll (Red Sox, Mets and then the Angels and Dodgers to a lesser extent and some other teams too), but it still bothers me a bit to jump for joy when they win.

    • TheLastClown

      I’m sure you’ve seen the Yankee teams that tried to throw big free agent signings around, attempting to parley them into championships. It doesn’t always work out. These signings by no means guarantee them the win, so it’s not like you’re cheering for a fixed game.

      As has been mentioned before, a level playing field would not only limit the spending of big market clubs like NYY BOS LAA etc., but would also compel owners to actually spend luxury/revenue shared money on their baseball teams, rather than their mistresses or divorces or other what-have-you.

      The whole of MLB needs to be overhauled to get a “level playing field,” and I think the overall quality of the game would go down, while parity would come up. I don’t know what to cite to support it, but parity has indeed risen in these recent years, as the Rays showed. Teams, as cities, as people, are different. There is no need to make them all more similar on the field. The owners that want to put a championship team out there need to do so, by implementing sound overall drafting/development with sound marketing to grow & re-enliven the fan bases. People aren’t going to buy tickets to see teams who don’t show they want to win, and owners are not going to dump money into empty seats, but somethings got to give here.

      We’re definitely at the top of the heap as Yankee fans, but that’s no reason not to savor Yankee wins.

      If they do end up signing Manny or Tex *or Dunn*, only in Manny’s case would it be a total mercenary hiring. Tex or Dunn would fit into the Yankee mindset very well, and would figure to be here over the next couple of years. With some promising players coming up through the system, and Cash showing he knows how to draft and make trades, we are seeing the Yankees home-grow stars again. If it makes you feel better to pay money to watch a losing team until our home-crop ripens, you could go offer your fanship to the Mets for a while, if you can stand their hired gun bullpen…

      • Jeffrey


        That was a great post. I think the whole salary cap issue is really very interesting. I believe the NHL has or had a similar system but I can’t think of any other major sport that is remotely similar, at least in the US. What’s great about the NFL and the NBA is that teams have to do an incredible job of scouting and drafting in order to insure success every year. Teams like the Rams can go from Superbowl contenders to a complete joke relatively quickly. And a team like the Saints can become a contender (although not this year). In the NBA the Knicks became a disaster because of the salary cap (albeit all the drama and poor coaching didn’t help) whereas the Celtics played things very well in order to be able to acquire the superstars they got. Baseball loses that interesting aspect of other sports leagues because if a wealthy team makes bad decisions they always have the ability to dig themselves out of a hole (even if that doesn’t always work out, like the 2008 Yankees).

        I will always cheer for the Yankees no matter how many expensive free agents they sign, but I would feel much better if they won because of great management, scouting, coaching, etc than because they can outbid other teams for CC, Arod, Burnett, etc.

        Either way, let’s hope the Yankees turn it around this year. For now this is the system we have, so I’ll have to accept it.

    • Jamal G.

      Yeah, tell me how you feel after you personally see this team lose 60-70 games.

      • Lanny

        I cannot stand fans like this.

        The Yankees have been the big spenders for every single title they have!!!

        Go root for the Royals, Jeffrey.

  • http://jobatheheat jobatheheat

    MLBTR just reported Redsux offer to Tex,8years for 200

    • Mike Pop

      Find it hard to believe.. However is them landing Tex means us getting Manny or Dunn I might be okay with it

    • TheLastClown

      They reported a report of a report…when you make a copy of a copy, it’s never quite a sharp as the original.

      • dan

        Kind of like the last clown as opposed to the first.


        • TheLastClown

          I can only carry on the shadow of a tradition, that guy was a legend…

    • radnom

      “I regret linking to this. It was against my better judgment.

      Posted by: Tim Dierkes “

  • Patrick

    Does anyone believe this is actually true?

    • steve (different one)

      no, not really.

    • Frank B.

      I don’t believe it…

    • Old Ranger

      Not likely. 27/09.

  • ryan

    CMW will win at least 15 games next year he won 19 games back to back before winning 8 games in a half a years work before hitting the DL in 08. Wang is hands down the number 2 on the staff.

  • Peter Lacock

    Adam Dunn is good for a fantasy league team but he sucks on a real baseball team.

    • Joseph P.

      And yet you continually offer up no support to back your claim. Oh, except the fact that he strikes out, which we’ve shown time and again isn’t necessarily worse than making an out by other means. The dude makes fewer outs than 90 percent of the people in baseball. How does this make him suck?

    • K.B.D.

      How so?

  • Old Ranger

    Tex as a Yankee would be great. With the rotation we have now, do we really need him? We need better then avg. defence not more bats…remember; wants/needs. We now have a little better then avg. defence (just a touch), with the players we have already signed, now if all the other (underachiever) players step up plus the addition of our injured players. We can make it all the way.
    Cano+3, Matsui+5, Posada+3 runs then figure in the newer guys. We have BG at about +8, Swisher+/-?, Nady+/-?, the way I see it is a gain of about 10 to 15 games…to optimistic? May be, but who really knows.27/09.

  • Bruno

    No prediction for JOBA?!?

    • Bruno

      He’s not in the “Joba in the bullpen” crowd is he?

  • Lanny

    Hughes couldn’t hit those projections at Scranton.

  • LeftyLarry

    I don’t think you can pencil in Hughes for anything but I do think Wang and Burnett will win 17-18 games each.
    I hope Pettitte comes back.He’ll win 15 games as the #5, maybe more.
    I can’t project Joba staying healthy either.If he does great.

  • Frank

    AJ Burnett, RHP
    Projection: 14-11, 3.62 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 32 GS, 224 IP, 199 H, 88 BB, 218 K, 21 HR

    LOL! That’s when you stop reading.

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