2011 AL East Busts: part 1 of 2

A Personal Essay on the Babe and Being a Fan
Cashman speaks up about non-tendering Aceves

Let’s start this with a disclaimer. Last week I took PECOTA for a spin and picked out five AL East offensive threats projected to outperform their 2010 wOBAs in 2011. I’ve done the same thing this week, just with players projected to underperform their 2010 wOBAs. This doesn’t exactly make them busts, and so the title of this piece is slightly misleading. I simply can’t think of the antonym of sleeper. I suppose “2011 AL East Players Projected to Underperform their 2010 wOBAs” would be far more accurate, but that’s a tad wordy for my liking. Today we’re examining the Orioles and the Red Sox, and tomorrow will be the Yankees, Rays and Blue Jays.

Baltimore Orioles: Luke Scott

2010 wOBA of .387. 2011 projected wOBA of .359

Better mechanics than Brackman though amirite? (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

For many Luke Scott came out of nowhere in 2010 when he posted a batting line of .284/.368/.535 with a .387 wOBA in 517 plate appearances. The burly first baseman has always shown the ability to hit for power, both in the minors and the majors, but this was the first time he was able to put it all together for an entire season since he was traded from Houston to Baltimore after the 2007 season. While Scott did hit for a lot of power in 2010, he also showed improvement in his batting average and on-base percentage. Both increased exactly 28 points from 2010. However, this likely attributable to an increased in batted ball fortune, given that his BABIP went up 21 points. Indeed, his approach at the plate in 2010 appeared remarkably similar to what he did in 2009. His walk rate increased only a half a percent, and he dropped his strikeout rate only 1.3%.

Even though Baltimore’s lineup looks to be slightly better in 2011, even though one could make the case that they’re doing themselves no long-term favor by signing Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee when they can’t reasonably expect to contend this year, PECOTA sees a fair amount of regression in store for Luke Scott this year. It predicts a batting line of .262/.345/.474 with a .359 wOBA, a decrease of .028 in wOBA. It also sees his BABIP falling back down to .290, despite a career BABIP of .300 and a .304 mark in 2011. All told, PECOTA’s projection for 2011 sees Scott showing less power than he did in 2010 or 2009 and showing roughly similar abilities to hit for average and get on base.

Scott gave back some of his fWAR value at the plate last year by spending some time at 1B (all the warnings about fielding metrics and small samples apply), but this year he’ll spend time in left field as Lee takes over at 1B and Guerrero at DH. Scott generally grades out as a decent defender in left, so he still ought have moderately good overall value for the Orioles in 2011. PECOTA just doesn’t like his chances of having as much offensive thump as last year.

Boston Red Sox: Jed Lowrie

2010 wOBA of .393. 2011 projected wOBA of .331

That's a pretty good worm, Jed (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Last week I picked Jacoby Ellsbury as a sleeper, but noted that his inclusion on the list was more a function of an incredibly low 2010 baseline, one created largely by injuries rather than a dip in skill. As a result, while Ellsbury was projected to see a drastic improvement over his 2010 line in 2011 it didn’t mean that his projection was at all robust. Jed Lowrie is the exact flipside of the coin. In 2011 he’s projected to post a far lower wOBA than he did in 2010, but this tells you more about his insane 2010 performance than it does about his 2011 projection. He still represents a good middle infield option for the Red Sox.

A year removed from wrist injury, Lowrie had less than a half season of plate appearances (197) with Boston in 2010, but really went out of his way to make them count. After a relatively normal July Lowrie went on a tear for the rest of the season (ending in early October, of course), hitting .293/.385/.544 and leaving him with a gaudy .393 wOBA for the year. This mark was higher than any 2B in baseball, including Cano, and was second only to Troy Tulowitzki’s .408 mark for shortstops. There are no easy culprits to explain away this performance: his BABIP was entirely normal and his HR/FB ratio, while higher than his career average, was still only 11.6%.

One less obvious explanation for his power surge might be the quality of pitchers faced: his 9 home runs in 2010 came off Brad Mills, Tommy Hunter, Casey Janssen, Brian Matusz, Luke French (2), Andy Pettitte, Dustin Moseley and Joba Chamberlain (2). It’s not indicative of anything prima facie, good hitters beat up bad pitchers, but late season surges in performance can sometimes be explained by a deterioration of the quality of opposition due to injury attrition or the presence of September call-ups.

In 2011 PECOTA sees Lowrie hitting .245/.338/.401, good for a .739 OPS and a .331 wOBA. Marcel’s projection is similarly conservative (.336 wOBA), but this is the result of the fact that Marcel only uses the past three years of data and doesn’t include minor league performance. Obviously the systems are showing a fair bit of reticence to overvalue his 2010 performance, in light of the relatively pedestrian 382 plate appearances in 2008 and 2009. There is, however, considerable upside. While he is 26 years old already, Lowrie was still a first-round pick in 2004 and boasts an impressive minor league pedigree. When you combine that with past struggles and an injury history that would make Nick Johnson proud, it’s hard to know what to expect from Lowrie in 2011. This was exactly Patrick Sullivan’s point when he did a mini-preview of Lowrie back in January over at Red Sox Beacon:

Anyone who tells you they have a beat on Jed Lowrie and his prospects for 2011 is speculating. He has an encouraging Minor League track record, a choppy Major League one and he hasn’t been able to stay healthy long enough to get a sense for what type of player he ultimately will be. But I also think it’s worth trying to find significance in his 2010 standout season. I know all small sample warnings apply, but he did hit .287/.381/.526 in just under 200 plate appearances. Here’s the list of middle infielders who have managed a single-season 139 OPS+ or better in 175 PA’s or more since 2000: Alex Rodriguez, Jeff Kent, Nomar Garciaparra, Bret Boone, Roberto Alomar, Ben Zobrist, Hanley Ramirez, Edgardo Alfonzo, Chase Utley, Rich Aurilia, Robinson Cano and Carlos Guillen.

And that’s it. I know the Red Sox can’t depend too much on him until he shows an ability to stay on the field. But at the same time, they need to prioritize getting Lowrie the requisite playing time to figure out his value, either for them to retain or trade given the looming presence of Jose Iglesias. There’s a chance that Lowrie could put up some superstar seasons if given the opportunity.

I’m not as enthused as Sullivan is about this list. While there are certainly some serious heavy hitters, there are also some apparent flukes. Aurilia posted one season of 142 OPS+ in 2001 but was a 91 OPS+ hitter from then on and a 99 OPS+ hitter for his entire career. Edgardo Alfonzo and to an extent Carlos Guillen and Ben Zobrist, appear to be similar outliers, and if you drop the OPS+ requirement down from 139 to 135 you pick up a even wider swath of interlopers: Jhonny Peralta, Marcus Giles, Jose Hernandez and Mark Loretta. Again, none of these players ever produced an OPS+ of over 135 again in their career. This doesn’t really tell us a whole lot about Lowrie though, so ultimately Sullivan’s conclusion about Lowrie is spot-on: the best we can do is speculate about what Lowrie can do in 2011. He’s a talented player with a bad injury history and a murky positional place on the club. He could take over for Scutaro and perform solidly or spend most of the season on the disabled list, and neither result would be a great surprise.

A Personal Essay on the Babe and Being a Fan
Cashman speaks up about non-tendering Aceves
  • http://twitter.com/bryanl26 Bryan L

    I can’t see Lowrie being productive this year or anytime soon really, the guy’s been too injured.

    • Sabermetrically Challenged

      I can see him being shipped out eventually to call up Iglesias( I really have no idea why the padres didn’t ask for him too)

      • tugboat

        Who says the Padres did’t ask for Iglesias? I don’t think Theo would part with him though.

        • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

          I think Theo would’ve sooner parted with Iglesias than Kelly.

          • tugboat

            We don’t know that either. He was not at the helm when they traded Hanley.

  • http://www.twitter.com/deanezag Zack

    I was shocked the O’s didn’t move Scott this offseason, thought a team needing offense would have given them a nice piece or two.

  • O Coelho

    Here are my gut-feel AL East disappointments for 2011

    1. Curtis Granderson. He’ll still hit .230 with a .310 OBP. Bust city.
    2. Rafael Soriano. If there’s one thing Cashman does worse than all the many bad things he does is sign free agent relievers. Hammond, White, Hawkins, Farnsworth, etc.
    3. Jorge Posada. His last year in pinstripes will be one to forget with a sub .240 average and .420 slugging pct. Montero will be the fulltime DH by Aug 1 and Jorge will be a pinch hitter.

    1. Josh Beckett. He’s more reputation than stuff right now. The meltdown continues and Theo regrets last year’s long-term extension.
    2. J.D. Drew. Always disappointing, this is the year he spends 100+ games on the DL.
    3. John Papelbon. The increases in ERA, WHIP and blown saves drives Papelbon out of the closer spot by the game 100.

    1. Manny. The loss of power continues, the K’s mount and the career batting average takes a hit.
    2. Johnny Damon. Terms like “clubhouse leader” are used for a defensive liability who bats .250 and hits 12 HR’s.
    3. B.J. Upton. Continues to be more potential than reality. All those Tampa strippers may be a distraction.

    1. Kyle Drabeck. Look how long it took Phil Hughes to figure it out. Expect him to repeatedly get knocked around big in the 5th or 6th as batters see him the 2nd or 3rd time.

    1. Brian Roberts. Just too many accumulated injuries.

    • NJ_Andy

      A little unfair to blame Cashman for Soriano, no? On top of that, he’s an injury risk, but that’s about it. You can’t judge him by the Yankees record of signings, but by his own performance. Dude can throw.

      I can see where you’re coming from w/ Jorge, but def. don’t agree with Granderson’s demise. If anything, I could see Swisher slipping some from last year. Lowering the average while keeping the loss in walks.

    • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

      If there’s one thing Cashman does worse than all the many bad things he does

      Erm. ‘Kay.

    • http://www.twitter.com/deanezag Zack

      I can’t believe Cashman overruled ownership and signed Soriano, unbelievable. That dude has total power, I’ll never understand why Hank & Hal stay out of baseball activities.

      • http://www.twitter.com/yanksnats4ever Alex C.

        Some people don’t know squat. Cashman did not sign Soriano. It was Hal/Hank/Levine.

        • http://www.twitter.com/tomzig Tom Zig

          I believe your sarcasm meter is broken.

    • http://www.twitter.com/ngoral Jake LaMotta’s Left Hook

      I disagree with some of these.

      -Brian Roberts has had a career relatively injury free. His only ones of note were a dislocated elbow in 2005, and a herniated disc which caused a abdominal strain last year. While the latter sounds concerning, he came back and posted numbers in line with his career numbers (perhaps his RBI was a bit low, however, but he batted leadoff)

      -I wouldn’t include Drabek in this discussion, as it is about guys who’ve had great, possibly career year, who may not repeat that success in 2011. Drabek isn’t much like Hughes. Hughes was in the majors at 21 y/o and was relatively successful. His only fallback was being rushed a bit, and having a freak injury. Drabek has pitched all of 17 major league innings, so there shouldn’t be any expectations to begin with, but he is also 23 y/o and has spent considerably more time in the minors than Hughes has.

      -I think Upton’s season last year, was a sign of things turning around, but that is just my opinion. His power numbers increased a bit, as did his walk numbers (in 10 more games, but…). His only problem which is the same with his brother is the amount of Ks he puts up. The BJ of the last two years was lazy and unmotivated, but he has publicly stated that he wants to start living up to that potential he showed in 2007 and is working very hard to get back to that.

      I agree with Damon and Manny, but they are in the last stage of their careers pretty much. I also agreee with all Beckett, Drew, Papelbon and Posada, but not Granderson or Soriano.

    • http://danielslifka.wordpress.com Jerome S.

      Early “worst comment of the year” nomination, IMO.

  • Midland TX

    Here are my gut-feel

    This is where I stopped reading. Did you even notice any of the projections or supporting observations Stephen referenced?

  • Andrew 518

    Complicated mathmatical equations do not make projections any more valid or likely to predict the future. It’s still just a guess.

    • daniel aka bryce harper

      yes, they absolutely do. That’s the whole point, they give more insight based on fact than just gut feeling.

  • http://www.mystiqueandaura.com/ JMK

    Indeed, his approach at the plate in 2011 appeared remarkably similar to what he did in 2010.

    The future is wild!

    • http://twitter.com/stephen_mr Stephen Rhoads

      ah. fixed.