Projecting bounce backs for key players

Yanks tab Colon to start Grapefruit League opener
The RAB Radio Show: February 22, 2010

It might be tough to find fault in an offense that scored 41 more runs than its next closest competitor, but it’s not impossible. The 2010 Yankees offense was clearly tops in the league, but they weren’t, as they say, firing on all cylinders. In fact, three of the first four hitters in the lineup experienced their worst seasons in recent memory. If the 2011 team is again going to dominate opposing pitchers, it’ll need plenty of help from Derek Jeter in the leadoff spot, Mark Teixeira at No. 3, and Alex Rodriguez hitting cleanup.

The reports on the two from camp so far have been almost universally positive. Jeter showed up early — easy for him, since he resides in Tampa — and worked on his new, lower-energy swing. Both Teixeira and Rodriguez appeared in good shape when they showed up, particularly A-Rod. While those certainly present positive signs, they don’t mean much in terms of performance. As Dave Cameron recently noted, reports of peak physical condition do not necessarily coincide with increased performance.

One place we can look for educated guesses about a player’s upcoming season is a projection system. Before launching into the numbers, I’ll provide the same warning that comes hand-in-hand with projections: these are not predictions. Each system takes into account certain factors and uses them to compare players to themselves and to their peers, and spits out an educated guess as to what we can expect from that player. Each system uses a different set of inputs and processes the data differently, hence the variations in projections.

Here’s how five major projection engines — CAIRO, PECOTA, Bill James, Marcel, and ZiPS — view the 2011 seasons for these three players.




* Note: ZiPS does not forecast HBP, but I had to put in zero to make the formula work.

The mean projection on Jeter isn’t that bad, but it’s not exactly a guy you want in the leadoff spot all season. A .353 OBP isn’t bad, but if Brett Gardner is exceeding that, as he did by a solid margin in 2010, there will and should be calls for him to take over the spot. CAIRO’s variables like him a lot more, and if he got his OBP over .360 I think he could fit in the lead-off spot. Then again, is that big enough a gap to make a he should/he shouldn’t delineation?

On A-Rod, Marcel seems to be the believer in his true decline. It’s the only projection system that pegs him at under 30 home runs, and also clearly has him at the lowest OBP. Still, it’s good to see all the positive projections, even if they don’t amount to 2007, or even 2008, A-Rod.

Again with Teixeira Marcel sees more of a true decline than a one-year blip. PECOTA, which is often considered the most discerning projection engine, actually favors him for a bounce back. I think everyone in the room would take that line from him, especially if he did it in 682 PA. That means he’s on the field, healthy, and contributing.

One final note on these projection engines: they’re all relative. For instance, despite downcasting A-Rod a bit, ZiPS actually projects him to be the best hitter on the team and one of the best in the league. Bill James, on the other hand, always appears to have optimistic forecasts, but that seems to be true across the league. That’s my only hesitancy with averaging out these projections. They make different assumptions up front, and those assumptions can lead to different baselines.

Once March 31 hits, it won’t matter how good of shape these guys are in, and it won’t matter what the projection engines say. These are just pre-season indicators we use to fill time between the start of spring training and Opening Day. Still, it’s nice to see pretty overall positive forecasts on the team’s three most important hitters. If they improve over 2010, the Yanks will be in for another big season in 2011.

Yanks tab Colon to start Grapefruit League opener
The RAB Radio Show: February 22, 2010
  • The Real JobaWockeeZ

    I think the Jeter projections are a tad bit optimistic. A-Rod is just fine and I think Teix will destroy those projections.

    Let’s hope because they definitely need all three to step their game up to be competitive.

    Back to the 2000’s where all they did was mash.

    • mbonzo

      I think we’re underestimating Jeter. There are very few players that have had 50 point drops in batting average and failed to make a comeback, even at his age. He’s only one year removed from .334/.406/.871, so I wonder if .286/.353/.752 is too low.

  • RL

    Historically, are any of these projection engines better than the others?

  • gc

    What did these projections say for Jeter heading into last year? Just curious…

    • MikeD

      They projected a fairly substantially decline from his .330 BA season in 2009, although none expected him to decline to the level he did in 2010. Yet, I’m not suggesting they’re all that good. It should be noted that heading into 2009, they all projected a substantial decline, and they were all wrong. They’ve been wrong an Rivera every year for the past decade. Eventually they’ll be right, and they’ll probably try hyping that in the following year’s predictions as a way to show their accuracy, yet they won’t mention they were wrong every year prior. They were usually off on Pettitte, too. These are all older players, so they work off aggregate and historical numbers, which unfortunately don’t project well down to the indvidual, so they are always off when it comes to young, breakout players, and outlier, older players. Yet those are the exact type of players that define a season. So they have some value, but for the most part I find them to be filler material until the season starts.

  • YankeesJunkie

    I am sort of surprised that a projection think Tex would already be on the decline after a couple of bad months and he is just entering his 30s so it is not like he is that old either.

    • Ross in Jersey

      Players start declining in their 30s so its really not that surprising. Plus, just from looking at the charts, it should be clear that Marcel is the harshest projection engine. That doesn’t mean it should be given more attention than the others, just that it’s one of many possibles to be considered.

  • Mike

    I’d probably take the under on Teixeira after watching him closely all last season. He failed to use the majority of the field and was very pull happy, resulting in a lower average than usual. Look at his spray charts from 2009 & 2010 and you will see many more opposite field hits in 2009. There was an article that quoted Kevin Long as being very critical of his swing and having an uppercut. I don’t expect him to age well over the life of the contract.

    • Ross in Jersey

      This sounds like a lot of confirmation bias to me. First of all, I looked at the charts and I can’t tell much of a difference in the overall data. Tex is a dead pull hitter when he hits lefty and is a bit more balanced when he’s hitting from the right side.

      Second, I would like to see this article and quotes from Kevin Long. Tex has always had an uppercut swing, but it clearly works for him. And don’t forget, Tex was fighting through so many injuries during the year that by the end of the season his body couldn’t take it anymore. If you want to hold that against him fine, but the dude was banged up any way you look at it.

      • Mike
      • Mike

        BTW, I wasn’t holding injuries against him, they’re part of the game and bound to happen over 162 games. Still, I feel Teixeira gets a pass on criticism from many fans because the team won the WS the first year he was here. I want to see big things from Tex this season given the size of his contract. Hitting .200 in April isn’t going to cut it this year with the pitching staff constructed the way it is.

        • Ross in Jersey

          That article doesn’t specifically quote Long as saying anything. Yes, Tex’s swing is unorthodox, but Long has repeatedly said in the past that a player has to approach him before he’ll make major adjustments for them. Did Tex approach Long? Did they change anything? Didn’t seem like it.

          And I’m not sure what you’re expecting. Few megadeals ever work out well. It would be nice if got off to a better start, yes, but he did hit .292/.383/.565 his first year here, played excellent defense and won a world series. He followed that up with a worse year, but he fought through injury so we don’t know how much was injury or just genuine decline.

          And finally, are the Yankees doomed if Tex and the starting pitching struggles in April? Not by a longshot.

        • MikeD

          Go back and look at his 2009 season. That’s why he got a pass. He did big things.

          • Mike

            I’m very aware of the splits, April was the only month he had below a .900 OPS. The same can’t be said for last year. If he bounces back to ’09 numbers, I’ll quickly shut my yapper.

            • Mike

              Edit – meant to say .800 OPS.

  • Bryan L

    All of these projection systems say not one of these three guys will hit over .300? I doubt that’s happening.

    • Mike

      I’d go with the projections. Cano is the only guy I see comfortably hitting .300. Teixeira & Arod haven’t touched .300 since 2008, & Jeter is just coming off the worst statistical season of his career. I see him bouncing back, but not to pre 2010 numbers.

      • Bryan L

        I guess it’s just one of those gut feelings.

    • Tank the Frank

      A-Rod hasn’t hit .300 since ’08. Same with Teixeira, and that’s because he went on a crazy tear after he was traded to the Angels. He’s a career .285 hitter. Jeter is the only one who relies on hitting for average and given his age I don’t think it’s unreasonable to project that he won’t get to .300.

      I don’t care too much about batting average for anyone except Jeter. I want to see Teix bounce back in a big way. He’s right in his prime. I want to see a better BB% and ISO from A-Rod. Hopefully the hip is better enough to tighten his defense and make him a >5WAR player again.

  • jim p

    Has a systematic study of projections vs. actual performance ever been done for any of these systems? And for more than one season?

  • Monteroisdinero

    Gardy should leadoff. Cano should bat 3rd. Best chance to score in the first inning (especially with Tex in April). Nicer for our pitchers to have a run or two to work with early in the game.

  • Josh

    how come none of them project woba?

    • Jimmy McNulty

      A few of those components are hard to project.

    • Thomas

      They do just the values are not listed.

      Looking at fangraphs
      Jeter Marcel .334 James .344
      ARod Marcel .365 James .393
      Teixeira Marcel .374 James .393

  • Jimmy McNulty

    If Alex goes like .300/.390/.550, Jeter does like .300/.360/.435, and Teixeira goes like .290/.380/.540 then I have a feeling the team will be just fine.

    • Ross in Jersey

      Yeah, if our 3 and 4 hitters end up with OPSs well north of .900 I’d say that would be alright.

      • Jimmy McNulty

        Meh. I’m not as high on Gardner as others, I have a feeling Cano will have like a .310/.350/.510 type of season rather than a 2010 season. I like Swisher, but I have no clue what to expect from Posada, Granderson, and Martin. I like all three players, but I just don’t know. I think all of htese players are capable of putting up those lines, especially Teixeira, but I think the season really hinges on these three guys.

        • Ross in Jersey

          I don’t think Gardner is the .400 OBP guy he was for awhile, and he did look overmatched against better pitchers, but so do a lot of guys. I think he’ll be a serviceable player, and his defense makes him a 3-4 win guy.

          Posada and Martin are question marks for sure, but Granderson and Swisher are still in their prime and I don’t see why you can’t expect career-average-or-better seasons from them.

          But anyway, the offense is a team unit. I don’t think the team “hinges” on anyone since there’s so much talent. Suffice to say, there’s enough there to form a very potent offense even if some guys struggle.

    • RL

      Those are spme pretty optomistic numbers. I hope the team will be fine with lower lines than those from those 3. If not, we may be in for a long season. I can’t see them all meeting those lines (although I would love it!!).

  • king of fruitless hypotheticals

    Tex projected to get hit more than Jeter?


  • nsalem

    I think these projections will either be perfect or extremely close when it comes to triples. Just amazing how they can do that.