Hot Stove Notes: Jansen, Melancon, Cespedes, Bautista

Kenley. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty)
Kenley. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty)

Yesterday afternoon the GM Meetings wrapped up in Scottsdale and everyone headed home to really get down to offseason business. This week we learned the Yankees have already been in touch with Aroldis Chapman’s people, have some interest in Kendrys Morales, and have identified a possible trade partner for Brian McCann. Here are some more bits of news and notes from the GM Meetings.

Yankees willing to eat money to move McCann

According to Jeff Passan, the Yankees have expressed a willingness to eat up to half the $34M left on McCann’s contract to facilitate a trade. The catch: they want better young players in return. That’s usually how this works. I said yesterday I hope the Yankees are open to eating some money in exchange for a better return, and it appears they are willing to do just that. Hooray.

Yankees reached out to Jansen, Melancon

In addition to Chapman, the Yankees reached out to the representatives for both Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon this week, reports Brendan Kuty. The Yankees are said to be targeting a top free agent reliever this winter, and those two along with Chapman are by far the best available. Jansen received a qualifying offer and will cost a draft pick. Chapman and Melancon will not. They were ineligible for the qualifying offer after being traded at midseason.

There’s been some talk we could see the first $100M reliever this offseason — Jonathan Papelbon’s $50M deal with the Phillies is still the largest contract ever given to a reliever, so we’re talking about doubling that — but I don’t think that will happen. I don’t think teams are ready to commit that much to a 65-inning pitcher, even if they are 65 high-leverage innings. Andrew Miller‘s postseason usage is still fresh in everyone’s mind. Once we get further away from that and people remember relievers don’t get used like that all the time, contract expectations will change.

Yankees planning to talk to Hill

Amazingly, the best free agent starter on the market this year is journeyman southpaw Rich Hill, who reinvented himself two years ago by raising his arm angle and moving to the extreme third base side of the rubber. Brian Cashman told Kuty he intends to reach out to Hill, who pitched out of the bullpen for the Yankees in September 2014, at some point soon.

“I can’t remember if I have (reached out to him) or not. Let’s put it this way. I will be reaching out to Rich’s agent if I haven’t yet. I have a to-do list I’m working through,” said the GM. Hill will be 37 in March and he hasn’t thrown more than 120 innings since 2007, but the market is so light on starting pitching that he’s going to end up with a three-year contract. When healthy this year, Hill pitched like an ace (2.12 ERA and 2.39 FIP). The Yankees need pitching too, so checking in on the best available starter only makes sense.

Yankees have checked in on Cespedes, Bautista

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

The Yankees have reached out to free agent sluggers Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Bautista, reports Jon Heyman. Both guys would give the team some much-needed middle of the order thump, but Cashman downplayed their interest and chalked it up to due diligence. “I’m open to anything. But as of right now, we’re going to let the kids take a shot. Our current focus is to let the kids try to take the job,” he said.

Bautista and especially Cespedes are true impact bats who change the entire complexion of the lineup. The Yankees could use a hitter like that! Right now, given the team’s current situation, spending big on a corner outfield bat over 30 doesn’t seem like the best idea. If they were ready to win right now, then yes, sign one of those guys. But the Yankees aren’t. They’re right to prioritize the kids, especially with Aaron Judge arriving this past season and Clint Frazier not far behind.

Yankees in on Logan

Blast from the past: The Yankees are among the teams interested in lefty Boone Logan, according to Joel Sherman. Right now Tommy Layne is New York’s top lefty reliever, and he’s followed on the depth chart by guys like Richard Bleier and Chasen Shreve. Eh. I don’t blame the Yankees at all for looking at the bullpen lefty market. Here’s 2016 Logan vs. 2016 Layne:

IP ERA FIP AVG/OBP/SLG vs. LHB K% vs. LHB BB% vs. LHB GB% vs. LHB
Logan 46.1 3.69 3.23 .139/.222/.255 33.6% 7.6% 60.6%
Layne 44.2 3.63 3.93 .214/.310/.261 20.8% 9.9% 51.6%

The question really isn’t whether Logan is better than Layne. It’s whether Logan is better than Bleier and Shreve and James Pazos. Those guys. I don’t love the idea of carrying two lefty specialists in the bullpen, especially with a rotation that doesn’t pitch deep into games, but it is doable. My guess is Logan gets more money elsewhere and the Yankees are just kicking the tires out of due diligence.

Teams calling on Andujar

The Yankees are getting phone calls and receiving trade interest in third base prospect Miguel Andujar, reports Kuty. “I get a lot of compliments on him from other clubs, a lot of teams asking me about him. He’s going to be a big leaguer,” said Cashman. I’m guessing Andujar is not the team’s only prospect generating trade interest. The Yankees have many quality players in their system at the moment.

Andujar, 22 in March, is currently hitting .309/.400/.392 (122 wRC+) with more walks (nine) than strikeouts (seven) through 16 Arizona Fall League games. He broke out with a .270/.327/.407 (108 wRC+) batting line and 12 home runs in 137 games split between High-A and Double-A during the regular season. Andujar is the closest thing the Yankees have to a third baseman of the future, and while I certainly wouldn’t make him off-limits in trade talks, I am excited to see him take another step forward in 2017.

Jose Bautista’s free agency and the way the Yankees used to do business

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

Position players have not even reported to camp yet and already Spring Training has become monotonous. We’re just kinda going through the motions and waiting for Grapefruit League games to begin next week. As far as the Yankees are concerned, things have been quiet. No news is good news in mid-February.

Things are not so quiet elsewhere in the AL East. Impending free agent Jose Bautista told reporters yesterday he recently met with the Blue Jays and laid out exactly what it will take to sign him to an extension. He also said he’s not giving them any sort of hometown discount. From Shi Davidi:

“I’m not willing to negotiate even right now,” he said. “I don’t think there should be any negotiation. I think I’ve proved myself and the question has been asked, what will it take, and I’ve given them an answer. It is what it is. I’m not going to sit here and try to bargain for a couple dollars.”

“I didn’t want to waste any time,” he said. “If this is going to happen, I think it should be natural, organic, quick and easy, it shouldn’t be a pull and tug about a few dollars here or there. I didn’t want to waste any time, I didn’t want to waste their time or their effort, so they can start planning ahead, and if it’s not going to happen they have plenty of time to do so … There’s no negotiation, I told them what I wanted. They either meet it or it is what it is.”

I’m sure the Blue Jays appreciate Bautista being up front, but that’s bad news for them. Unless Toronto ups payroll considerably — they certainly have the ability to do so, Rogers Communication is frickin’ massive — the team might not be able to sign their franchise cornerstone after the season.

A few years ago — perhaps even as recently as two or three years ago — Bautista’s comments would have been music to our ears. Bautista is the perfect Yankees free agent target. He hits dingers, he gets on base, he’s been through the AL East grind, he’d help balance the lineup as a right-handed hitter, and he’s step right into right field to replace Carlos Beltran. He’s perfect. Aaron Judge? Who needs Aaron Judge when you can have Jose Bautista. Sign Bautista and trade Judge for an arm. It’s a win-win.

That’s the way the Yankees used to do business. Sign the big name free agent who fits the roster so wonderfully and to hell with the prospect (who, by the way, also fits the roster wonderfully). The Yankees signed Jason Giambi when they had an elite first base prospect knocking on the door in Nick Johnson. Why? Because Giambi was a boss and Johnson was an unknown, and the Yankees weren’t in the business of the unknown. They wanted stars.

Of course, the Bautista contract would be a land mine. He turns 36 years old in October and it’s probably doing to take something like three years and $25M per season to sign him. Maybe even a fourth guaranteed year if he winds up on the open market. All the goodwill he built in Toronto would be useless to the Yankees. The Blue Jays got his best years and New York would get the ugly decline. The contract would be almost all downside.

That old way of thinking — sign the big free agent and who cares about everything else — is no more, at least for the time being. Maybe the Yankees will go back to doing business that way down the line. Right now the Yankees are skewing young whenever possible and trying to create financial flexibility. Financial flexibility for what? Who knows. Maybe Bryce Harper, maybe Manny Machado and Matt Harvey, maybe Hal Steinbrenner‘s summer home. Either way, the Yankees are now avoiding the kind of big money deal it would take to acquire the last few seasons of Bautista’s career.

Remember when CC Sabathia was entering his walk year? We hung on every word about a possible extension. Yet when Bautista’s comments came out yesterday, it barely registered as a blip on the radar in Yankeeland. We’ve all grown accustomed to the way team does business now. On paper, Bautista fits the roster well, and yesterday’s news seems to make it more likely he will hit the open market next winter. Bautista’s free agency would of interest to the old Yankees. These new Yankees don’t build their roster that way and for good reason.

The AL MVP race

As it stands, there are likely five strong candidates for the American League MVP award. Three of them play on the Boston Red Sox: Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia. The fourth is Jose Bautista. The last one is New York’s own Curtis Granderson. With a little more than forty games to go it’s looking increasingly like it will be a close race. Indeed, despite the fact that Bautista has hit the cover off the ball this season, a confluence of factors may open the door open for other candidates and create a real voting free-for-all.

Bautista’s offensive production really stands head and shoulders above the rest of the class. He’s batting .307/.444/.627 with 33 home runs, 76 RBIs and 83 runs scored. The batting average is nice, sure, but it’s really his on-base percentage (bolstered by a nearly 20% walk rate) and slugging percentage that stand out. Bautista currently has a wOBA of .447, tops in the American League by over 35 points, and a wRC+ of 188. By UZR‘s reckoning he’s 1 run below average on defense, but despite that his overall fWAR is 6.8, only one tenth below his 2010 mark. This is a reflection of a better BABIP (.233 in 2010), more walks and better defense this year as opposed to last year.

Despite the fact that he’s the preeminent offensive producer in the American League, Bautista’s case for the MVP award may be handicapped by several factors. For one, his RBI total is low. This isn’t his fault, but it’s still a statistic many voters will consider. The second is that there’s been a bit of controversy surrounding him last year with steroids and this year with sign-stealing. A lot of that is tremendously unfair, particularly the steroids accusations (and the sign-stealing accusations, if you ask Drunk Jays Fans), so it’s hard to know the extent to which voters will penalize him. Thirdly, Bautista is going through a bit of a slump right now. Since the All-Star Break he’s hitting .205/.355/.342, meaning that his early season heroics may fade in the minds of some voters by the time voting comes around, provided he doesn’t go on another hot streak. Lastly, he plays on a non-contending team and some voters will bizarrely refuse to vote for players on non-contending teams. For this reason there may be a some daylight for some of the other candidates to make their way to the top of the ballot.

One of those players is Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury is hitting .313/.367/.504 with 19 home runs, 72 RBI and 84 runs scored. Ellsbury has swiped 31 bases, most amongst American League MVP candidates. He’s sporting a .386 wOBA and a wRC+ of 143. His BABIP is .339, which explains his high on base marks despite a relatively meager 7.2% walk rate. Ellsbury also looks great in the field, scoring 7.5 runs above average by UZR’s reckoning. Overall, Ellsbury has accrued 5.7 total fWAR, bolstered no doubt by a high defensive score and his skill on the base paths. Since he’s not likely to lead the league or his fellow MVP candidates in any other category but stolen bases, Ellsbury doesn’t seem like a likely candidate to knock off Bautista, especially considering the possibility that other Boston candidates will syphon off votes from his candidacy.

Another member of the Red Sox in contention is Adrian Gonzalez, currently batting .350/.411/.553 with 18 home runs, 92 RBI and 79 runs scored. Gonzalez has a wOBA of .411, second only to Jose Bautista amongst the five potential candidates, and his wRC+ is 160. Gonzalez is currently rocking a .390 BABIP, which explains the inflation throughout his batting line. In fact, he’s actually posting the lowest walk rate and ISO since 2006. This isn’t meant to diminish his production. Like the Cy Young, awards should be given out based on what’s actually happened, not what one would expect to happen if given another 162 games. However, there is plenty of time for Gonzalez to see some regression on balls in play, which would make his batting line look a little less impressive. UZR grades Gonzalez well, 7.1 runs above average,which is the highest mark of his career, and his total fWAR is 5.3. Gonzalez’s case for MVP likely rests on his prodigious offensive production, whereas players like Ellsbury, Pedroia and Granderson bring a very well-rounded profile to the table. This isn’t to say that Gonzalez doesn’t play good defense, just that he would seem to need to go toe to toe with Bautista on offense to have a chance at knocking him off. Gonzalez is in the midst of a power outage by his standards (.427 SLG since the All-Star Break), so he’ll have to get going quickly if he’s going to make a move on Bautista.

The strongest MVP candidate on the Red Sox has won the award before. Dustin Pedroia is currently in the midst of a career year, batting .311/.403/.478 with 15 home runs, 60 RBI and 76 runs scored. His wOBA (.390), wRC+ (145), stolen bases (23), on-base percentage and walk rate (13.6%) all represent career highs for the second baseman. He’s also grading out very well by UZR’s standards, 14.6 runs above average. Pedroia has always been regarded as a good fielder, so this isn’t a surprise. All told, Pedroia has accrued 6.8 fWAR. Last night he passed Jose Bautista and currently holds the lead in the American League. As such, he probably has the best chance of anyone in the American League to beat out Bautista for the award. He has a lot going for him: his offensive game is superb and well-rounded, he runs the bases well and he plays great defense. He’s also won the award before and is currently getting loads of media attention from national publications like Sports Illustrated. If voters are willing to buy into the all-around aspect of Pedroia’s game, and they’ve done so before, and are looking for someone other than Bautista to support, he may take home the award for the second time.

The final candidate for MVP is Curtis Granderson. After last night’s game, Granderson was hitting .273/.364/.577 with 32 home runs, 93 RBI and 105 runs scored. His wOBA is .405, his wRC+ is 157, and he’s swiped 22 bases. Not that it really matters, but his BABIP stands at .306 and his walk rate is 11.7%, the latter a touch above his career average of 9.8%. One of the weaknesses in Granderson’s candidacy is the way the fielding metrics grade his fielding. This year he has a poor -8.0 UZR, which explains why his fWAR is only 5.2. His career total UZR is 17.0, and for most seasons of his career he’s graded out average or above. In 2008 his marks were bad, and in 2009 he was essentially even. Not to be that guy, but a poor fielding score for Granderson doesn’t really pass the smell test. Granderson is fast, athletic, seems to get great reads on the ball and throws the ball well. Jay Jaffe at Pinstriped Bible had some choice analysis on this very subject:

Given the nature of defensive statistics, it’s tough to take any one of these too seriously, particularly given that they can be 10-15 runs apart in a given year; last year Granderson was at -1, +6.4, -12 according to the aforementioned trio, and +1.8 according to FRAA. The consensus of the numbers is more compelling, as it does raise some eyebrows about Granderson’s defense, particularly given that the Yankees have a choice of center fielders between him and Brett Gardner, whose numbers over the past two seasons have been off the charts: +16 FRAA, +42 TZ, +41 UZR, +32 DRS. There’s always an issue with defensive stats when it comes to adjacent fielders; if both of them can get to the ball but one routinely lets the other handle it, that will skew the stats, but so long as one of them does the job, everything is copacetic from a team defense standpoint. That may be what’s happening here, but in any event, it could be worth revisiting the choice of which of the two outfielders plays left field and which plays center field, if not now, then next spring. Until then, it’s worth keeping an eye on who gets those balls in the left-center gap.

The race for the top appears to be shaping up to be quite the dogfight. Jose Bautista has been the front-runner for the American League MVP all season is probably the premier offensive threat in all of baseball. Yet there are a lot of reasons voters could turn elsewhere. Some of those reasons are unfair, or they could just prefer the excellence of Pedroia’s all-around game. Pedroia does seem to be the primary threat to Bautista. Every part of his game is excellent, and he’s a well-known player on a contending team. Curtis Granderson could be the darkhorse in this race. It’s conceivable that he could finish with some very nice round numbers – 40 home runs, 30 stolen bases, 125 RBI and a wOBA north of .400 – and like Pedroia he is a well-liked player on a contending team. The MVP ballot is going to be very tricky for voters, and will be fascinating to watch. There are a lot of different scenarios that could play out. Bautista could finish strong and win the award easily. He could continue to sputter and Pedroia could continue to shoot his way up the fWAR leaderboard and gain more and more momentum. In another scenario, the superb seasons of Ellsbury and Gonzalez could actually syphon off votes from Pedroia, helping the candidacy of someone like Curtis Granderson. With six weeks or so to go on the season, it promises to be a very interesting race.

About that intentional walk (no, not that one)

Were the chances of this happening worth the IBB? (AP Photo/Paul J. Bereswill)

I try not to evaluate things in hindsight all that often here, just because it’s easy to sound smart when you already know what happened. That said, let’s have a little fun and play a game of “what if” with last night’s intentional walk. No, not the one to Juan Rivera (which made little to no sense), but the one to Jose Bautista earlier in the inning.

The game was tied at one when Corey Patterson led off the sixth inning with a double over the head of Chris Dickerson. Baseball Prospectus’ run expectancy matrix tells us that a team with a runner on second an no outs is expected to score 1.035 runs in the inning. Let’s say the Yankees pitched to Bautista and he did hit a homerun in that spot, making it a 3-1 game. He just added two runs to the ledger, but they were already expected to score 1.035 runs in the inning anyway. The net gain from the homer would have been 0.965 runs (2 – 1.035). The inning then “restarts” with the bases out and no one out, which has a run expectancy 0.4646. The total impact of the homer would have been 0.965 runs plus the 0.4646 runs, or 1.4296.

The Yankees didn’t pitch to Bautista though, they put him on first base intentionally. The run expectancy of first and second with no outs is 1.3986, so the impact of the free pass was just over a third of a run (0.3636 to be exact). That’s the situation they chose over pitching to Bautista, which in the worst case scenario (homer) would have resulted in an additional 1.4296 runs above expected. Of course Bautista wasn’t guaranteed to go deep (even if it felt like he was), the guy had “just” 19 long balls in 178 plate appearances coming into that at-bat, so the odds of him hitting one out were 10.6% based on how his season had played out to that point.

If we crudely multiply that 1.4296 worst case run expectancy by the chances of it happening, or 10.6%, we get a 0.1515 runs. That’s less than the 0.3636 runs the Yankees gave the Blue Jays by putting Bautista on, so yeah, the math says they should have pitched to him. Of course it didn’t play out according to the run expectancy, Toronto ended up pushing five runs across in the inning, making those totals of 0.1515 runs and 0.3636 runs seem silly. Remember run expectancy doesn’t tell us what will happen, just what is expected to happen based on historical data. In hindsight, pitching to Bautista and hoping he didn’t hit a homer was a better option than walking him, but that’s much easier to say now than it was last night.

Colon vs. Bautista: Strength vs. Strength

No one makes mountains out of molehills quite like baseball fans, so you can be sure that I’m going to write entirely too much about Bartolo Colon’s start against the Blue Jays. However, instead of writing one big post and stuffing it all in there, I’m going to break it up into a few smaller posts this morning just so there’s no information overload and the discussion can remain focused. Earlier we talked about Colon’s velocity, now we’re going to look at how he attacked Jose Bautista…

Bautista’s superman act has been going on for more than 200 games now. He hit ten homeruns in his final 26 games of 2009, 54 homers in 161 games last year, and he’s already knocked four balls out of the park in 15 games this season. That’s 68 homers over the last 20 months. The Yankees’ certainly haven’t solved him; Bautista is hitting .271/.463/.686 with nine homers in 20 games against New York during that time. Heck, he took A.J. Burnett deep in his first at-bat of the season series on Tuesday. Colon shut the Jays’ slugger down on Wednesday night by pitching to his strength, even though it just so happened to be Bautista’s strength as well.

The three Gameday screen grabs above show Bautista’s three at-bats against Colon from last night’s game. The first encounter is all the way on the left, the third all the way on the right. I recommend clicking the image to open a larger and far more easier to read view. As you can see, there’s twelve pitches total, and ten of them of them are fastballs up in the zone. Ten! We’ve seen enough of the guy over the last year and change to know that he usually parks those pitches over the fence. If you don’t believe me though, here is Bautista’s strike zone breakdown against fastballs from right-handed pitchers in 2010…

The guy crushes the high cheese. We’re talking ISO’s ranging between .450 and .720 on fastballs in the upper third of the zone and ISO’s well north of .360 on fastballs in the middle third. And yet, despite all that, here comes 37-year-old Bartolo Colon challenging the reigning homerun champ with low-to-mid-90’s gas up in the zone. After trying to steal strike one with a first pitch slider in the first at-bat, Colon threw four straight fastballs up in the zone before Bautista hacked one of them into the turf for a ground out. The second at-bat was the exact opposite, first came the four high fastballs before the swing-and-miss on the down-and-away slider for the strikeout. Bautista popped up a high fastball two pitches into his third at-bat for an air out that went backwards; Russell Martin caught it in foul territory.

Simple, right? All you have to do is pound Bautista with high fastballs and you’re golden. Well, no, of course it’s not that easy. Executing those high fastballs is much easier said than done, but Colon did it perfectly last night. The Yankees’ right-hander threw the ball with conviction when one mistake would have resulted in instant offense for Toronto, so give him props for that. You definitely can’t say that about about everyone on the staff when Bautista’s at the dish.

Bautista’s strike zone report via Joe Lefkowitz’s site.

2011 AL East Busts: part 2 of 2

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.