The 2012 Bill James Projections: Yankee Offense and Pitching

RAB Live Chat
Open Thread: Aaron Small
(Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

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.


Derek Jeter

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.

Curtis Granderson

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.

Robinson Cano

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.

Alex Rodriguez

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.

Mark Teixeira

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.

Nick Swisher

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.

Jesus Montero

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.

Russell Martin

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.

Brett Gardner

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.

Starting Pitching

And here’s the pitching staff, subject to change.

CC Sabathia

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.

Ivan Nova

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.

Phil Hughes

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.

A.J. Burnett

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.

Freddy Garcia

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.

RAB Live Chat
Open Thread: Aaron Small
  • mustang

    I’m going to take Phil Hughes as my come back player next year I just got a feeling that the obituaries are a bit premature.

    • http://none Favrest

      Hughes is still very young for a starting pitcher. He can absolutely get it together.

    • Bobby A

      In light of last night’s deals, I wonder where Phil Hughes will be next season.

  • Bill

    Bill James was pretty accurate. Let’s keep in mind that these projections are based around having a 100% completely healthy year. Let’s see Bill James predict injuries.

  • Bavarian Yankee

    I’m not a big fan of any projections.

    That said I buy Ron Shandler’s “Baseball Forecaster” every year. They’ve got projections too but that’s not what the book is about. I like the way they look at “unfamiliar” numbers like PX, SX, BPV and other stuff and give you different opinions about players and their value, what they’ll be able to do in the future and if their numbers in the past were legit. Analyses like that are so much more valuable than any projections. It’s definitly worth to check it out, especially if you play fantasy baseball.

    • Plank

      What’s PX, SX, and BPV?

      • Bavarian Yankee

        power index (PX), speed index (SX), base performance value (BPV). They got some great stats in that book.

        • Light Sabre

          Generally I find RNT, TY, UX and FKP are more accurate for any projection system.

          • Light Sabre

            I guess I should be more clear; these are part of the SIMU forecasting methodology.

  • Chip

    Wow, Montero will be a top-20 player in baseball next season if he splits time between catcher and DH with that line. I like it.

    If Hughes puts up that line, you’re talking about having an ace and two rock solid number two’s who are all in their prime. Sounds like a great season to me!

    • Andy In Sunny Daytona

      You haven’t seen Boston’s projections yet. 1.000/1.000/4.000….and thats just Saltalamacchia!

      • MattG

        Peter Gammons has a system now?

        • Genghis

          Peter doesn’t even have a fully functional digestive system, let alone a projection system.

      • Plank

        Not enough walks.

    • Rainbow Connection

      You’re excited about Hughes potentially pitching 102 innings??

      • Chip

        102 high quality innings? Sign me up. Of course I don’t want him to go down with TJS or anything but if he has a few short DL stints I’m not going to complain if he shows the ability to get guys out again

  • LiterallyFigurative

    If Tex bounces back and Alex is healthy for 80% of the year, watch out.

    I think Grandy will regress a little in the power #’s department, but will still be dangerous.

    Cano seems to be under-projected, but no big deal.

    I just can’t wait for next season to get a full year of Jesus.

    What do yo guys think about this lineup:


    • Chip

      You’re moving Cano, Granderson, Rodriguez, Tex, Montero and Swisher too far down. I’d rather have Gardner batting ninth and give our best hitters more at-bats

      • LiterallyFigurative

        I hear you on that. I guess I have a Gardner man-crush. That and I just don’t want our best HR hitter hitting second. Cano is the 3 hitter regardless.

    • infernoscurse


    • Brian S.

      stfu abomb

    • RetroRob

      A line-up we won’t see, but I do like the idea noted with Swish leading off:


      • OldYanksFan


  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    I never thought i’d say this but I have more respect for Bill James than I ever did before. Those projections were as accurate as you can get. And if his projections for 2012 have equal precision then the Yankees figure to do very well. These projections are as good as predictions.

  • MattG

    I don’t know how I feel about having six guys all around a .370 wOBA, and no one guy challenging .400.

    There were just 32 players with a .370 wOBA this season, so having 6 of them on one team seems pretty awesome, but not as fun as having a 3/4 tandem that put up ~ .400.

    • RetroRob

      That’s the thing about projection systems. They project down. I think they’re worth reviewing in the aggregate to see the trend line on a team, but I find the individual projections to be pretty worthless. Most likely, out of that group of six, there will be someone challenging .400, but meanwhile there will be someone who has an off year for whatever reason.

  • Bronx Byte

    Bill james is not the be all – end all of numbers. He’s just a cut above Harold Camping.

    • Genghis

      Actually, I’m a mathematician by training, and I’ve always been extremely impressed with James. There are a lot of people who can mechanically manipulate mathematical formulas, but James is exceptionally good at posing a clear hypothesis and coming up with practical ways to test it.

  • Juke Early

    James made a career out of imaginary numbers. Good for him. But he works for the Red Sox, I have zero interest in anything he says.

  • OldYanksFan

    Cano is an awesome hitter, but his lack of patience and low BB numbers keep him from being a truly elite hitter. I’ll bet his ‘hachtastic’ approach costs him about 50 OPS pts a year.

  • Greg

    What these numbers don’t include is games played. And as the Yankees get older, it’s how many games they miss due to injury which is at least as important as their actual performance on the field.

  • Monteroisdinero

    Trying to predict Montero’s HR total with the 15 alone he will hit to RF at YS is……

    awesome fun.

    • Chip

      It’s going to suck when he gets fooled with an off speed pitch and accidentally pulls it for a home run to left

  • viridiana


    I love your posts.

  • Joe

    Yankees lineup isn’t anything to get overly excited about. Let put it this way if the Yankees were asked to lead the league in runs scored for a year, but were asked to do it being in the middle of the pack in homeruns they would lose the battle a least 80% of the time. There’s no real difference in skill set between the hitters except speed. I mean when people tell me that Granderson deserves the MVP it just makes me scratch my head. How are you an MVP if you’re hitting 240 with RISP for the season? Just because the Yankees lead the league in runs scored doesn’t mean we should all say to ourselves let’s ignore that most of our lineup is hitting mediocre with RISP. You can sit here and try to sell to me that luck is involved with hitting with RISP in a playoff game, but let me see the Yankees hit great as a team in the regular season with RISP. Because why should I believe that a team that fills more of its’ lineup with hitters that have a 25% chance of getting a hit with a RISP will beat a team that fills it’s lineup with more guys that have a 35% chance of getting a hit? It’s like what Bill Parcells would say. You are what your record says your are. Well the Yankees stats with RISP are what they say they are. They are mediocre with RISP. You can’t make Curtis Granderson a 300+ hitter with RISP in a playoff series which is what you need when his skills only allow him to hit 240 with RISP. Doesn’t work that way. The only way to hope to improve this lineup with RISP is to get more guys that can generate 200+ hits a year.

    • Larry Koestler

      “Let me see the Yankees hit great as a team in the regular season with RISP.”

      Not really sure where you’re going with any of this. The Yankees were actually the best-hitting team in the American League with runners in scoring position in 2011.

      • Joe

        Sure you can compare the numbers with RISP to the league average, but that doesn’t mean they were the best “hitting” team with RISP. It just meant they reached safely more than anyone else with RISP. And lets face it the main reason why the Yankees hitting with RISP was as high as 273 is because you had Robinson Cano at 318, A Rod at 302, and Gardner at 286 otherwise the rest of the lineup was at either 260 or lower with RISP. So the highest averages in the lineup averaged out those 6 lower averages (260 or lower) to make it seem like the Yankees were as good as the 273 team average with RISP said they were. I mean Jeter who hit 259 with RISP didn’t reach the team average of 273 with RISP. Sure Texas did that also with Mike Napoli 372, Young 377, Cruz 328, but the difference is that their top 3 hitters hit a lot better during the regular season with RISP then the Yankees top 3 hitters. So with that said I feel the Yankees lineup in my eyes can improve their chances with RISP if they acquire more 200+ hitters. OBP is great and all for getting on base, but the Yankees could use another hitter like Cano that spreads hits around to all fields consistently well.