2011 AL East Busts: part 2 of 2

Open Thread: March 5th Camp Notes
Link Dump: K-Long, Banuelos, NY-Penn League

New York Yankees: Robinson Cano

2010 wOBA of .389. 2011 projected wOBA of .360

Laziest superstar EVER. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Despite the absence of both Larry Bowa and Melky Cabrera, Robinson Cano had a career year in 2010. His game took a huge step forward in terms of power and on-base skills. His walk rate inched up close to 10%, and he increased his ISO to .214, the latter being good enough for second-best for all second baseman. As Mike noted in Robbie’s 2011 season preview, he was the team’s best player by all methods of evaluation.

In 2011 PECOTA sees Cano taking a step back from his lofty levels of production, projecting a batting line of .299/.347/.488, a .360 wOBA. This would be worse than Cano’s 2010 or 2009, and resembles closely his 2007 season when he put together a .358 wOBA on .306/.353/.488 hitting. The problem with this is that this seems to be largely out of line with what most people expect from Cano this season. It’s possible that this reflects a bit of optimism about Cano’s natural progression, but some of the arguments are quite persuasive. Mike for one noted Cano’s constancy in terms of production:

If you remove that ugly 2008 season, Cano’s last four years have been surprisingly consistent. He’s hit over .300 in each season with at least a .320 BABIP and a .180 ISO, and his strikeout rate has hovered between 10.9% and 13.8%. Robbie’s swung at between 51.6% and 54.1% of the pitches he’s seen during the time, and his line drive rates have been between 19.3% and 19.9% (2007 is the exception on the LD%, not 2008). His ratio of homeruns-to-fly balls has been between 11.5% and 14.4% as well. The three percentage point difference in those last few stats is relatively small and just part of the randomness of baseball. Overall, Robbie’s one consistently productive player.

On Friday, Mike Jaggers-Radolf at Yankee Analysts took a similar tack towards Cano’s conservative Marcel projection (.354 wOBA with a .300/.347/.476 line)

[The] numbers don’t point to any particular abberation that would wipe away the progress he’s made in 2009 and then again in 2010. His BABIP in those seasons, for example, was right in line with his career norms. While his OBP suggests improved discipline, his discipline numbers don’t demonstrate any heavy outliers. He didn’t, for example, double his career walk rate in 2010. Most of his numbers were more gradual improvements, the kind of improvements one would hope a smart ball player would make as his career advances. In light of all this, Marcel’s 2011 projection seems too conservative.

In a lot of ways, having this discussion about whether a .360 wOBA is too conservative for a second baseman is a testament to how talented Cano is and how lucky the Yankees are to employ his services. A .360 wOBA in 2010 would have ranked 5th best in 2010, 3rd in 2009 and 7th in 2008, and it also projects as the second-highest wOBA of any 2B in 2011, ahead of Pedroia, Uggla and Kinsler and behind only Chase Utley. This is a long way of saying that like Mike Jaggers-Radolf and Mike Axisa, I’m optimistic that Cano can outperform these relatively meager expectations and wouldn’t be surprised to see a more bullish projection next year once the systems have another full season of data. I’m not a gambling man, but I would love to plunk down twenty bucks on Cano beating a .360 wOBA.

Toronto Blue Jays: Jose Bautista

2010 wOBA of .422; projected 2011 wOBA of .365

One of the terms of Bautista's new contract is that he can wear his glove like that whenever he wants and no one can say boo about it. (AP Image)

It is entirely reasonable to wonder whether Jose Bautista’s 2010 season will be viewed with the same credulous sense of “he hit how many home runs?” as Brady Anderson’s 1996 season is viewed now. Prior to hitting 50 home runs for the Orioles, Anderson was a career .250/.349/.393 hitter with an OPS+ of only 101. In 1996 he hit .297/.396/.637, and never came close to touching that level of production the rest of his career. Bautista’s power profile was even worse than Anderson prior to last year. He was a career .238/.329/.400 hitter with an OPS+ of only 91. Last year, though, he clubbed 54 home runs en route to an insane line of .260/.378/.617.

Many have noted, though, that Bautista’s 2010 performance might not be such a fluke. Joe Pawlikowski was one of them over at Fangraphs, arguing that it’s at least possible that Bautista’s famed swing change could lead to sustained success. PECOTA seems to take the easy way out and simply splits the difference. A wOBA of .365 would be well north of anything Bautista had done prior to 2010, but it’s also a substantial drop from his .422 mark last year. In a way, PECOTA’s projection probably mirrors what most analysts would forecast if given the chance. No one would be eager to label the entire season a fluke and predict him to return to his .750 OPS days, just as no one actually predict him to slug over .600 again.

It’s appropriate to end with this analysis by BP’s Ben Lindbergh, an analysis that really encapsulates all the moving parts when dealing with projecting difficult cases. The emphasis is mine.

In some cases, players get lucky. In others, they simply cease to be unlucky, and in still others, their true talent level takes an unanticipated step forward. Once those seemingly anomalous seasons take place, PECOTA incorporates them into its projections for the following year and revises its estimates upward, but rarely anticipates a repeat performance, barring a favorable spot on the aging curve.

That doesn’t stop us from identifying players whom PECOTA might like more than the prevailing opinion, but where does it leave us with a few of this year’s trickiest test cases? Take Javier Vazquez (please). As someone whose ERA has routinely failed to match his peripherals (or more accurately, the peripherals we generally expect to predict ERA), Vazquez has come with plenty of baggage even at the best of times. Nonetheless, after Vazquez bought another ticket out of New York with an abysmal performance last season, PECOTA foresees a rebound to a sub-4.00 ERA and a healthy strikeout rate in Florida. Meanwhile, 2010 super-slugger Jose Bautista is projected to shed nearly half of his homers (which would still leave him with his second-best season to date).

In the case of each player, we can do more than simply throw up our hands and attribute last year’s surprising performance to divine dice rolls. Vazquez experienced a sizeable velocity drop (whose effects can be quantified); Bautista made well-publicized changes to his stance and swing. PECOTA doesn’t know those things, but you and I do, even though we might not know their precise significance. Given the increasing granularity of baseball data capture, perhaps the passage of time and future additions to PECOTA’s code will make it possible to adjust the forecasts not only according to what numbers were produced, but to a greater degree, how they were produced. For now, feel free to indulge your inner PECOTAs, but remember to forecast responsibly.

Tampa Bay Rays: John Jaso – 2010 wOBA of .341; projected 2011 wOBA of .319.

Jaso with GM Andrew Friedman, who is no doubt pointing out some new market inefficiency he discovered over breakfast. (AP Images)

John Jaso may have a very limited major league track record, but it’s still a bit odd to see such a projected drop-off from PECOTA. Jaso placed 5th in Rookie of the Year voting this offseason after logging over 400 plate appearances for the Rays as their catcher (so long, Dioner). His increase in playing time was partly the result of him doing one thing very, very well: take walks. In 2010 John Jaso was to taking walks as Kevin Youkilis was to being ugly, and he also shared Youkilis’ disciplined approach at the plate. His walk rate was the second-highest of all catchers with at least 250 plate appearances. The Process Report ’11 noted rather poetically that Jaso’s approach at the plate was based on a very selective eye:

Jaso’s offensive approach is simple too. Jaso will not swing if he determines a pitch is on its way outside of the strike zone. Labeling this an approach is probably being too casual, as Jaso’s pitch selection seems to teeter on the thinnest border between obsession and religion. At times, it seems Jaso follows the scripture of Youkilis, where swinging at a poor pitch is a sin – one punishable by eternal damnation and pitchfork poking.

In 2011 PECOTA projects Jaso’s OPS to drop nearly 50 points with an OBP of .347 and a slugging percentage of .355. This is largely predicated on a slight decrease in walk rate (13.1%) and a fairly low BABIP of .270. Jaso sported a robust OBP throughout his minor league career, so this would surely be a disappointing mark for him in 2011. The Rays have options, though. The Rays always have options. They can use Jaso against righties and have him avoid the tougher left-handed pitchers, and then deploy lefty-murdering Kelly Shoppach against the CC Sabathias and Jon Lesters of the league. They’re also working out Robinson Chirinos at catcher this spring, and his PECOTA projection is very impressive. If for some reason Jaso can’t live up to the standard he set for himself in 2011 the Rays ought to have good flexibility at catcher regardless.

Open Thread: March 5th Camp Notes
Link Dump: K-Long, Banuelos, NY-Penn League
  • http://twitter.com/firstheart42 Hannah Ehrlich

    There’s no way Jaso can take as many walks as Youkilis is ugly, especially now that he’s regrown the dead rat on his face.

    • http://www.theyankeeu.com/author/steve-s/ Nostra-Artist

      That’s actually the key to Jaso’s success in 2010. His hitting coach told him the opposing pitchers were “throwing cheese” which helped him focus by appealing to his inner rodent.

  • steve (different one)

    Jose Bautista, Jorge’s long lost brother?

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

    What’s the value of a good defensive second baseman with a .360 wOBA?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      Quite high. Not MVP caliber, but it’s up there.

    • http://www.retire21.org first name only male (formerly Mike R. – Retire 21)

      About 5 WAR.

  • http://www.theyankeeu.com/author/steve-s/ Nostra-Artist

    In keeping with the American Idol approach to commenting on the weekend writers, I give this article a thumbs up, allowing you to write another day.

    But one misspelled word or poorly written sentence and you’re dead to me. Dead.

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


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

      more of baseball, less of this.

      • http://www.theyankeeu.com/author/steve-s/ Nostra-Artist

        While were on the topic, I have an idea.

        How about Brock, Hannah and Stephen form an American Idol-esque panel, and critique comments of the self-appointed “experts” on what is and isn’t a worthwhile post. Check them for spelling, style, sentence construction, etc, etc. Give them a taste of their own medicine, and see how they like it.

        • Sayid J.

          well this is the response Jiffy gave yesterday in the Babe Ruth post…

          “1. I don’t think there is a person here who proofreads their comments.
          2. I can only laugh at what you just said. I guess I shouldn’t expect everyone to know what an ad hominem tu quoque is, but I just assumed that with the advent of Google it wouldn’t be that hard to figure out. My mistake.
          Have a good day Mister Reasonable D-bag.”

          • http://www.theyankeeu.com/author/steve-s/ Nostra-Artist

            See, now that’s what I’m talking about. I can see Stephen playing the Simon role, saying stuff like that.

        • Mike HC

          When you write a comment here, you better be prepared to have it analyzed and critiqued. Especially for newbies who don’t get the benefit of the doubt. If you are not careful, like making a generalization, just making a side comment, or making a statement that is in the minority, you can get piled on and absolutely ripped a new one.

          If you want to write for a blog, you better expect criticism in the comments section. I happen to enjoy the weekend writers and think that adding fresh material on the weekend improved the blog a lot. But if others disagree, I wouldn’t expect them to hold their tongues. And most of the complaining about the critical comments don’t even come from the weekend writers but from other readers defending them (and many times with the caveat that they too didn’t enjoy the article).

          The writers can defend themselves if they see fit. And the comments which defend the writers and tell other readers to back off are probably even more emasculating and a put down then the critiques themselves. If the writing is good, it will speak for itself. If the writing is not good, then the critiques are probably accurate and the people defending them just for the sake of it make the writer look even worse.

          In my opinion.

          • Sweet Dick Willie

            If the writing is not good, then the critiques are probably accurate

            Not necessarily. If the writing is not good, then the critiques are probably justified is probably a more accurate statement.

            But my problem is that most of the comments are very shallow, and make no attempt to actually critique the post.

            I’m sorry, but “Stick to the day job…your posts are boring and lack insight.” does not meet the definition of critique.

            • Mike HC

              It just seems like that comes with the territory to me. I don’t think it helps when people respond to a comment like that by saying something like, “I didn’t like the article either, but I’m not being mean about it.” If I was the writer of the article, I would feel worse about the comment from the guy who tells others to back off and that they also didn’t like the article. It seems a bit condescending to me and the goal is more to feel better about yourself (by defending the downtrodden) than actually helping the writer. Again, just my take.

          • http://twitter.com/JoeRo23 The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

            None of my business, but I mostly agree with this. Criticism shouldn’t be personal or cruel, but I think it has a place (and I think the comments section of a blog is a pretty reasonable place to lodge complaints about content).

            Not to mention… There’s not one comment in this thread complaining about this post, I don’t understand why every thread on the weekend has to turn into a conversation about negative comments whether people are complaining or not. Want to stop having conversations about complaining commenters? Stop bringing it up.

            • Mike HC

              Definitely agreed. I was going to bring this up to, but complaining about the complaining only seems to continue the argument. ha. Gotta love the world of blogging. First come the complaints, then come more complaints about the people complaining, then come the people who complain about the people complaining about the complaining etc … ha

            • Mike HC

              Btw, I kept my eyes open about the whole “projection vs. prediction” thing and definitely see the distinction you were making. I still think it is a bit disingenuous to not call them predictions, but I didn’t even see what you saying before, and I get it now. Not that this is the thread for it, nor do you want to even have the conversation.

              • http://twitter.com/JoeRo23 The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

                (Yeah we were arguing semantics, for the most part, which I think was why I tired of it. We weren’t disagreeing about anything substantive, really.)

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

      First I was like :-) then I was like :-/

      • http://www.theyankeeu.com/author/steve-s/ Nostra-Artist

        (makes motion with outstretched forefinger from one end of neck to other)

  • PaulF

    A lot of Cano’s increased walk rate was due to intentional walks that he earned by being really hot early in the season. That might not happen again so it will be interesting to see what Cano’s walk rate looks like this season.

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

      He only was issued 4 IBBs from April through June.

      He had 7 in July

  • virginia yankee

    we are assigning Bonds like capacity to a guy with one great year but assuming the swing change is mechanically pure and the focus is just stay away Holmesian — the book will be to pitch him low and away and stay there — he can hit for high average and do little damage — if he gets frustrated he will do less damage

  • Mike HC

    Enjoyed this little series. Hopefully it is wrong when it comes to Cano, but I guess you can’t complain too much even if he does hit that projection.

  • OldYanksFan

    Cano posted a .871 OPS in 2009, at 26.
    Cano posted a .914 OPS in 2010, at 27.
    Predicting a .835 OPS for 2011 seems weak to me.
    While 2010 might be an outlier, at his age, I think you are seeing maturity.

    I expect an .850+ OPS in 2011, probably around .870 again.