Nationals Baseball: Now you're just projecting

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Now you're just projecting

Zuckerman recently had a couple columns where he looked at player projections and the comments showed that people still don't quite understand how these things work.

The whole point of these fancy (and less fancy in the case of Marcel) projections is that they do a better job OVERALL than just some schlub guessing at the MLB next year. That's pretty much a given at this point.  But we're talking projecting out hundreds of players and looking how far off you were on all combined. It does not mean they get every single person right or even close.  It can never be that.

In some very specific areas it'll fall short.  It can't predict break out seasons or surprise failures. It's not all that great projecting rookies.  And coming back from injury is also a difficult and obviously an injury mid-season can't be predicted. 

The latter two have a ton of variability. The first one literally comes out of nowhere. How can you project something that has no backing? "Oh I felt it coming" maybe, but like astrologers, you tend to remember the one feeling you got right and dismiss the 10 you didn't. Thing is, ask any of the people who do these projections and they'll admit this. They know the areas where they can't do a good job.  All they are saying is that they do a better job projecting across the league than a person's guess.

For fun I took a look at the projections from 2012 to see how they compared to the results and see if anything can be learned.

SS Ian Desmond  .292 / .335 / .511  .362 OBA
James - .268/.317/.394
ZiPS - .256 / .304 / .378
Marcel - .303 OBA

Comments - Break-out season.  NO ONE saw it coming. If you say you did you are either probably lying or you've been saying "Ian will break out this year" every year for the last three and finally got it right. 

2B Danny Espinosa  .247 / .315 / .402  .313
James - .248/.329/.445
ZiPS - .229 / .309 / .400
Marcel - .329

Comments - A mixed bag, Zips underestimated the average, James overestimated the power, but combine them all and they pretty much have it right. 

3B Ryan Zimmerman  .282 / .346 / .478  .352
James - .291/.363/.486
ZiPS - .283 / .354 / .476
Marcel -.357

Comments - Zimmerman is who he is and everyone knows it.  Interesting to note his OBP was lower in real life than across the board.

LF Michael Morse .291 / .321 / .470  .340
James -.291/.347/.505
ZiPS - .273 / .331 / .475
Marcel - .363

Comments - The only one who really underperformed compared to projections.  His power was well down but as we know it was injury based.

1B Adam LaRoche  .271 / .343 / .510  .361
James -.255/.333/.445
ZiPS - .238 / .317 / .405
Marcel -  .317

Comments - WAY overperformed but how can you be surprised. When LaRoche last played he was injured and TERRIBLE.  No one thought he'd come back with close to his best year ever. I mean he hadn't hit with this power since 2006. That doesn't usually happen.

RF Jayson Werth  .300 / .387 / .440  .362
James -.259/.360/.451
ZiPS - .245 / .342 / .418
Marcel - .341

Comments - again an injury situation and again you can't blame the predictions. a 33 year old coming off an injury riddled year where he hit terribly wouldn't normally bounce all the way back. Werth did. But in an interesting way. It was ALL average-based. Usually its power that stays as you age and that's what the projections reflect.

C Wilson Ramos  .265 / .354 / .398  .326
James -.267/.317/.431
ZiPS - .266 / .338 / .453
Marcel - .333

Comments - given injury and limited at bats it's hard to say these were off in any significant way. Looks like Ramos was getting on base more but hitting for less power than projected.

CF Roger Bernadina .291 / .372 / .405  .341
James -.261/.327/.399
ZiPS - .240 / .302 / .374
Marcel - .303 OBA

Comments - another breakout-esque year. 

Stephen Strasburg 159 IP, 3.16 ERA
James -76, 2.78
ZiPS -  76, 2.85
Marcel -79, 3.02

Comments - big flaw in projections is IP in Tommy John comebacks. There aren't many and the IP varies wildly so you kind of have to ignore that. Otherwise not terribly off in my opinion.

Gio Gonzalez  199, 2.89
James -209, 3.89
ZiPS - 195, 3.55
Marcel -180, 3.60

Comments -  break out year. If you weren't KC in my comments you didn't see accross the board improvement coming.

Jordan Zimmermann  195, 2.94
James -175, 3.46
ZiPS - 121, 3.65
Marcel -144, 3.56

Comments - here the one I think you want to fault projections the most. They default to regression (you'll do the same as you did before) over progression (you are learning and improving) The numbers ZNN put up in 2009 and 2010 were pretty bad.  High 4.00s ERA.  Now if it was just an average it would have been probably closer to 4.00 ERA in projections, but they do weight the most recent year heavier and factor in that at his age he could be peaking. Even then though you see it couldn't reach 2011.  I think most Nats fans, while maybe not putting ZNN under 3.00, would have pegged him for a repeat performance (around 3.20 -a and yes I know the faults with ERA just bear with it for this exercise).

Edwin Jackson  189, 4.03
James -206, 3.98
ZiPS - 200,  3.79
Marcel - 180, 3.95

Comments - pretty close I think. Zips maybe liked him too much.


So what did we learn?  The things where projections were way off were where we know they can fail, either surprise break-outs (Desmond, Bernie, Gonzo), injury comebacks (Werth, Laroche), or young players (ZNN).  I think we have to ignore the first two and hope the Nats get what they want, a breakout from Danny and Ramos all the way back from injury. (Of course they are projecting Ramos all the way back so the surprise there is likely an underperformance)  Are there any young players where the projections by design, might be selling short?

Yes.  Desmond and Bryce.  I'm kind of inclined to agree with the Desmond projections of a slight regression. Unlike ZNN he didn't have a couple partial seasons behind him.  Ian's played a lot. But if you want to give him numbers close to last year, I think you can justify it.  As for Bryce I'm pretty sure if you ask any of the projection people they would say Bryce will out do what they put out there (Then why put it out there? It's about sticking with a system. The minute you put feeling in there, no matter how strong, you start to add a lot of bias to the system. So you take your lumps on guys like Bryce that you are 95% sure are going to do better than what your system says).  Everyone else stick with what they project.

Pitching wise Detwiler is the place to go for another ZNN performance. But understand that's a lot less likely for Ross than it was for ZNN. Det's 2012 was not as good as ZNNs 2011, and his starter ERA was actually close to 3.60. If he's truly learning he may only repeat that or beat it by a little.  Going under 3.40 just doesn't seem likely to me. Ignore the IP with Strasburg and ZNN and put in what you think.  With ZNN, given a full 2 seasons now in the books, his projections should be more spot on (if they look high it's because he got lucky a bit last year - we can get into that if you want). Haren is a total wild card.

I'm not sure were the projections will be wildly underestimating the Nats this year other than Bryce.  They don't have guys coming back from terrible injury plagued seasons, there's only a handful of players that are young enough or haven't played enough to break out (Danny... Span, maybe) and you can't just say that'll happen. I guess they could be selling both Detwiler and Desmond a little short like they did ZNN in 2012, but there was better reasons for ZNN to repeat his performance than Detwiler or Desmond. Mostly I think these projections are going to work out to be pretty accurate.

But that's ok.  You still have a pitching staff where your Top 3 guys are at least in the Top 15 in the NL. You still have an offense with no holes 1-7. It's still a division winning team they are projecting.

30 comments:

cass said...

Solid. Not much to add, really.

A couple ideas for future posts:

Looking at the players the Nats are putting in the field, it seems like they'll have one of the best fielding teams in baseball. Could this be the best fielding team in the NL next year? Might this show up in the pitcher's ERA more than we expect? The only players who had negative defensive value last year were Zimm and Werth, and I don't think any of us really think they're below average defensive guys.

Based on the fielding and the pitching, is it fair to expect that the Nats will allow the fewest runs in baseball? Perhaps by a fair amount?

And, on a less statsy side, perhaps you could give us perspective on how to root for a team that is expected to make the playoffs. How do you stay interested in the regular season? How do you handle win after win as being expected rather than a surprise? I figure with your history as a Yankees fan, you might have some thoughts on this. It's completely new territory for most Nats fans to have a team that many project will be the best in baseball.

Anonymous said...

An unsustainable 18% HR/FB rate and a .332 BABIP say that Desmond's "breakout" was something of a statistical fluke. While his power gains appear to be real and sustainable, they most likely will regress somewhat next season. Don't believe 2012 was his new level of production, it will most likely be a career year.

This is will be a problem when he's doing what he should be and everyone is pointing at him saying he's underperforming. He'll still be valuable especially when you compare him to some of the craptastic sticks manning short around the league. I just don't see him as a superstar in the making and that's OK. He's perfectly serviceable as a starting SS on a playoff team

DezoPenguin said...

Yeah, with Desmond, after 2011's lousy performance, the major question was when we'd move Danny to short and start Lombo. I can't imagine anyone expected he'd be literally the best shortstop in the National League (Simmons having played only part of the year). While it would be great if that could continue, I'd be ecstatic if he could just keep hold of the defensive and power gains to remain an above-average player.

Froggy said...

Dang Harper, that was like reading a term paper!

Seriously, like Cass, not much to add other than as to Desmond. I don't think last year was a fluke, I think he figured out that he not only can field, he can hit line drives and for power, and that leads to confidence you can't project. I look to him to have a year very much like 2012.

As to defense and Werth, I love the guy, but wouldn't he be better suited for LF and to put Bryce in RF. With that arm and all...

...take on me...take me on...I'll be gone in a month or twooooo... :-(

Harper said...

cass : good ideas. I'd say on the first one though the Nats might project to be the best defensive team but that might not show up in reality if the hits don't fall where they need to.

Anon / Dezo - .332 is high but it's not in itself crazy or too far off what he's done before. I'd expect some dip but not a lot. The HR/FB rate could also be a change in approach.

OK that's the optimistic view, really I believe what you guys do, he'll drop production next year though not all the way back to pre 2012 levels. And I also think there will be some "what's wrong with Ian" guys out there. Worst case is he dips a lot, Danny breaks out and we're back to "trade ian, move Danny, so Rendon has room" Nats fans for whatever reason can't leave this young tandem alone.

Froggy - we'll see soon enough who's right on Ian. I agree on Werth and Bryce. I want Bryce in RF gunning down 1st to 3rd attempts.

Anonymous said...

Okay, here's the real breakout year coming. The Z-man plays 140 games, bats .295 with 35 HR and drives in 120. Gold Glove, Silver Slugger and finishes 3rd in MVP behind Matt Kemp and Ryan Braun. Save the post because this IS the year he's been waiting for.

Chaos

Clip&Store said...

Pretty much shows what i've been feeling all along: A great team built with no true super, superstars (yet/anymore) but everyone is at least slightly above average at their position.

About Desmond, I know he had an inflated babip, hr/fb rate, but i don't think his regression will be as bad as some think. He really did seem to make a lot more hard contact and a lot of his homers were shots. Thoughts?

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