One of the bright spots of the long baseball offseason is the release of the various major projection systems. Before diving into the latest batch, it behooves me to issue the following reminder issued by RLYW’s SG: “Projections are inherently limited, so remember to take these for what they are. They are rough estimates of a player’s current talent level. They are not predictions for what a player is going to do in 2012, and they are not playing time predictions either.”
Exactly. No one should look at a player’s projection and expect that that’s what they’ll do next season. They’re generally a reasonable barometer for what a given player might be expected to do, but they are not meant to be predictive. In an ideal world we’d get percentile projections from each system, but as far as I know only SG does that with CAIRO.
I took a look at Dan Szymborksi’s 2012 projections for the Yankees at TYA a few weeks ago, and today we’ll tackle the Bill James projections, which are generally scoffed at in sabermetric circles as they tend to be wildly optimistic. Why look at them then? For one, James himself disagrees that they are overly optimistic, and I also seem to recall some intelligent baseball mind somewhere noting that since he generally projects everyone high, if you look at players within the context of other James projections you’ll get a better idea of where his system thinks players stand. And two, it’s the offseason, the perfect time for speculation as to how next season’s team may perform.
After the last set of projections is issued, which is usually sometime in February, I’ll compile all of the systems and spit out one “overall” projected line for each player. This is admittedly a far-from-perfect method, as the systems vary in both the specific stats they project and how they calculate them to a certain extent — for example, SG doesn’t include baserunning in his wOBA calculation for CAIRO, which ends up resulting in wOBAs that tend to look a little scary across the board; The Hardball Times’ Oliver and Tom Tango’s Marcel projections don’t adjust for park; while Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA and ZiPS do adjust for park, but don’t carry wOBA. The funny thing is, in spite of all of these variations (or maybe because of), the resultant averages of these six projection systems actually wind up being fairly reasonable.
2011 Bill James projection: .295/.365/.410, .344 wOBA
2011 actual numbers: .297/.355/.388, .332 wOBA
2012 Bill James projection: .291/.360/.393, .333 wOBA
Bill James likes Derek Jeter. Despite a woeful 2010, he thought Derek could bounceback this past season — all things considered, James’ 2011 projection for Derek didn’t end up being that off. Once again James likes Derek in 2012. A year ago I would’ve said a .333 wOBA was undoable from Derek; now I’d actually be a bit surprised if he didn’t top it.
2011 Bill James projection: .264/.341/.471, .355 wOBA
2011 actual numbers: .262/.364/.552, .394 wOBA
2012 Bill James projection: .260/.348/.494, .364 wOBA
James had the most aggressive Granderson projection for 2011, and of course Curtis wound up outperforming everyone’s expectations. The 2012 projection recognizes Curtis’ impressive season, but doesn’t think he’ll come anywhere close to replicating it.
2011 Bill James projection: .308/.356/.502, .371 wOBA
2011 actual numbers: .302/.349/.533, .375 wOBA
2012 Bill James projection: .303/.350/.505, .366 wOBA
Somewhat surprisingly James’ 2012 projection for Cano is slightly lower than his 2011. Perhaps it’s due to Cano having a very good season in 2011, but one that didn’t quite match the level of excellence he established in 2010. While a .366 wOBA is nothing to turn one’s nose up at, it would also be pretty disappointing following three straight seasons of .370 or better for Robbie. Projection systems always seem to underestimate Cano, and he’s likely the best bet in the Yankee lineup to exceed his projection, especially now that he’ll be batting behind Granderson and in front of A-Rod.
2011 Bill James projection: .284/.381/.530, .393 wOBA
2011 actual numbers: .276/.362/.461, .361 wOBA
2012 Bill James projection: .277/.373/.497, .377 wOBA
Even though the majority of forecasts haven’t been released yet I’m willing to bet James is the most aggressive on Alex, probably by a lot. ZiPS has him at only .264/.350/.474. Alex had a disappointing, injury-plagued season in 2011, and the ZiPS projection essentially sees a repeat of that effort. I too see a bounceback year for A-Rod, and James’ .377 wOBA is pretty spot-on with my expectations.
2011 Bill James projection: .282/.383/.532, .393 wOBA
2011 actual numbers: .248/.341/.494, .361 wOBA
2012 Bill James projection: .271/.370/.522, .383 wOBA
Tex’s projections might be the biggest case of wishful thinking of all of James’ Yankee projections — it’s also the best projection for the Yankee starting nine — although it’s pretty disheartening to look at a .383 wOBA and think “Yeah, I can’t see Tex pulling that off.” In theory, he should be able to reach that plateau rather handily, but I have less confidence in Tex picking himself back up than Alex. Still, it’s worth noting that the James projections see Alex and Tex as the Yankees’ two best hitters, while ZiPS thinks it will be Cano and Granderson again. Let’s put it this way — if all four of them can turn in at least .370 wOBA seasons, the Yankee offense will be pretty dynamite once again.
2011 Bill James projection: .257/.359/.472, .362 wOBA
2011 actual numbers: .260/.374/.449, .358 wOBA
2012 Bill James projection: .255/.366/.461, .361 wOBA
James sees Swish essentially turning in a repeat of his 2011 season, with slightly less OBP and slightly more power. That would be fine, although it’d be great to see Swish also get back above that .370 wOBA plateau, which he’s done during two of his three seasons in pinstripes.
2011 Bill James projection: .285/.348/.519, .376 wOBA
2011 actual numbers: .328/.406/.590, .421 wOBA
2012 Bill James projection: .289/.351/.505, .371 wOBA
James’ very aggressive 2011 projection for Montero was one of the more widely
discussed derided of last year’s offseason, although now that we’ve seen what Jesus is capable of at the Major League level, it doesn’t look quite as farfetched as it previously did. James’ 2012 Montero projection is revised down slightly from last year’s, although a .371 wOBA projection for a player with 69 career MLB PAs is still pretty optimistic, no matter how good Montero may have looked in September. Still, I feel pretty confident saying that we’d all do backflips if Montero managed to meet this triple slash during his first full season in the big leagues, though I also wouldn’t be shocked if he beat it.
2011 Bill James projection: .266/.367/.379, .334 wOBA
2011 actual numbers: .237/.324/.408, .325 wOBA
2012 Bill James projection: .256/.355/.400, .355 wOBA
Martin is the first Yankee I can ever remember essentially not caring about his offensive performance considering how valuable he wound up being on defense. I suppose a decade of Jorge Posada catching will do that to a man. Still, it’d be nice to see him pick that .325 wOBA up some, and while I don’t think he’ll hit James’ .355 mark, Russell’s on-base prowess should enable him to at least get somewhere in the high-.330s.
2011 Bill James projection: .275/.377/.371, .349 wOBA
2011 actual numbers: .259/.345/.369, .330 wOBA
2012 Bill James projection: .273/.369/.372, .341 wOBA
Ah, Brett Gardner. Perhaps the streakiest player in the lineup, Gardner recently acknowledged his uneven 2011 campaign and will be working with Kevin Long in the coming weeks to correct what he deemed a timing issue. Let’s hope it takes — for as valuable as Gardner is on defense, finding the missing .038 of OBP points will be crucial to Brett becoming a key cog in the lineup and also a viable leadoff option for Joe Girardi against righties. James sees improvement across the board for Gardner, and a .341 wOBA seems like a plenty reasonable benchmark. Maybe Brett can work with Jacoby Ellsbury and also develop a completely out-of-nowhere power stroke, too. A Brett Gardner with a .500-plus SLG would be a top-ten WAR player in all of baseball.
If you plug the starting nine’s 2012 James projected numbers into Dave Pinto’s Lineup Analysis, we get a lineup that projects to score 5.7 runs per game. Yes, please. The 2011 team averaged 5.35 runs per game, while the ZiPS-projected lineup was at 5.3 runs per game. Obviously the R/PG figure on the 2011 season is comprised of more than just nine players, but this provides something of a general vicinity for what one could reasonably expect out of the 2012 Yankee offense, if everything goes right. The “best” iteration of the lineup scores 5.75 runs per game and features Nick Swisher at leadoff.
And here’s the pitching staff, subject to change.
2011 Bill James projection: 237.2 IP, 3.32 ERA, 3.34 FIP, 7.7 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9
2011 actual numbers: 237.1 IP, 3.00 ERA, 2.88 FIP, 8.7 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9
2012 Bill James projection: 235.0 IP, 3.33 ERA, 3.30 FIP, 7.9 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9
James’ 2012 projection for Sabathia is basically the exact same thing as his 2011 projection for Sabathia. That’s a good thing.
2011 Bill James projection: 80.0 IP, 4.61 ERA, 4.22 FIP, 6.4 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9
2011 actual numbers: 165.1 IP, 3.70 ERA, 4.01 FIP, 5.3 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9
2012 Bill James projection: 183.0 IP, 4.28 ERA, 4.11 FIP, 6.1 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9
Nova’s projections were all over the map last offseason, with some systems — Oliver and Marcel — thinking quite highly of him despite little to go on, and others really hated him. James was in the middle, though of course Nova wound up outperforming everyone’s expectations. James’ 2012 projection for Nova seems plenty reasonable for me, and he seems a decent bet to outperform it.
2011 Bill James projection: 177.0 IP, 3.56 ERA, 3.76 FIP, 8.4 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9
2011 actual numbers: 74.2 IP, 5.79 ERA, 4.58 FIP, 5.7 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9
2012 Bill James projection: 102.0 IP, 3.71 ERA, 3.82 FIP, 8.0 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9
James’ 2011 projection for Hughes seems rather optimistic in retrospect, although it’s important to note that four of the six systems had Hughes with a sub-4.00 ERA. I’m not sure if the innings projection means that James sees Hughes spending time as both a starter and reliever, or if he doesn’t expect him to stay healthy enough for a full season of starts, but either way those are some incredibly optimistic numbers coming off the season Hughes just had. If Hughes manages to exceed a 3.71 ERA as a starter, many of us are going to have to revise our Hughes obituaries.
2011 Bill James projection: 191.0 IP, 4.01 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 8.3 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9
2011 actual numbers: 190.1 IP, 5.15 ERA, 4.77 FIP, 8.2 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, 1.5 HR/9
2012 Bill James projection: 173.0 IP, 4.32 ERA, 4.36 FIP, 8.3 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9
I actually don’t think the idea of Burnett pitching to a 4.32 ERA is crazy, although that will likely be one of the more bullish Burnett projections you’ll see this offseason after two straight horrendous seasons. We keep saying this, but it seems like Burnett pretty much has to be better than he’s been.
2011 Bill James projection: 148.0 IP, 4.20 ERA, 4.52 FIP, 6.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 1.30 HR/9
2011 actual numbers: 146.2 IP, 3.62 ERA, 4.12 FIP, 5.9 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9
2012 Bill James projection: 144.0 IP, 4.25 ERA, 4.43 FIP, 5.9 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9
For the second straight system, Freddy’s solid showing in 2011 hasn’t influenced his 2012 projection at all ZiPS at all, as James’ forecast for 2012 is basically identical to his 2011 iteration. Though that in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing; if Freddy does come back it will hopefully be as the fifth starter instead of the third starter, and a 4.25 ERA would be more than acceptable in that role.