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March 1, 2011

Changing Speeds

Setting the Line, Part 2

by Ken Funck

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Last week, I unveiled a contest wherein readers could try to predict the performance of interesting players during the 2011 season by choosing whether they would perform above or below a given performance benchmark—in Vegas parlance, picking an “Over/Under.” The first installment listed two Over/Under lines for players on each team in the American League, generally players I think will be either key performers or interesting to follow in the upcoming season. Below you can find the two Over/Under lines I’ve set for each National League team.

If you’d like to enter the contest, you can download an entry form here, fill it out, and mail it to me at kfunck@baseballprospectus.com by midnight on Saturday, March 5th. The magic of the internet will then whisk your entry to me at an undisclosed location where I am currently staying, which is absolutely nowhere near Madison, Wisconsin, in case anyone wearing a uniform happens to ask.

To fill out the entry form, please type your name in the first column of the spreadsheet, and place either an “O” for Over or a “U” for Under in the last column for each of the sixty over/under lines I’ve provided. The respondent who correctly predicts the most over/under results will win a copy of BP2012, with as many signatures from BP staff as I can muster next spring. Admittedly that’s a long time horizon for a contest and a prize, so if you enter and win I’m more than willing to negotiate some other commensurate prize with you that I can send to you more quickly, although the joy you’ll experience knowing you’re indisputably smarter than every other BP reader in the world should be reward enough. If you have any questions about how this all works, feel free to drop me a line.

Here are the lines I’ve set for the 16 Senior Circuit clubs. Enjoy, and good luck!

NL West

Diamondbacks

PECOTA Prediction: 75-87

Player

Category

Line

PECOTA/DC

Pick

Justin Upton

TAv

.290

.285

Under

Dan Hudson

FRA

4.5

4.13

Under

One-half of a well-known disappointing brother act, Justin Upton has yet to make good on the predictions of superstardom that greeted his big-league arrival. It’s not that last year’s .273/.356/.442 line and .285 TAv was bad, it was just far more mortal than most of us expected to see from him in his third full season in the bigs. This ought to be his breakout year, and I’ve set the line to be more optimistic than PECOTA, but less optimistic than me. I’m betting the over.

Conversely, Dan Hudson put together a surprisingly dominant half-season in the desert for a guy with a fifth-round pedigree. I like Hudson, but I’m expecting a bit of a sophomore slump before undertaking a long career as a solid second starter.

Dodgers

PECOTA Prediction: 87-75

Player

Category

Line

PECOTA/DC

Pick

Matt Kemp

TAv

.290

.280

Under

Juan Uribe

HR

15

21

Over

Speaking of disappointments, Kemp’s struggles last year at the plate, in the field and in the clubhouse are well documented. I’m just shutting my eyes and hoping that the departure of Joe Torre will wash away last year’s regrets, as Kemp is far too talented to continue this downward spiral. I set the line a little above his career TAv of .286, and I’d bet the over.

In years to come, when I think back on the 2010 season one of my favorite memories will likely be the occasions when the combination of Juan Uribe and Pablo Sandoval patrolled the left side of the Giants infield. Close your eyes and picture that again—it rivals the dancing hippos in Fantasia for pure visual joy. It’ll take more than goofy smiles, defensive adequacy and a crazy clubhouse persona to make Ooh-Ooh-Uribe overcome the copious outs he’s liable to make playing every day, however. If Uribe is going to be worth the $21 million the Dodgers owe him over the next three years, he’d best be hitting 20+ dingers per year. It says here he won’t.

Giants

PECOTA Prediction: 90-72

Player

Category

Line

PECOTA/DC

Pick

Pablo Sandoval

VORP

30

35

Over

Madison Bumgarner

VORP

30

21.9

Under

Another offseason conditioning campaign may or may not have Sandoval in shape for a better season at the plate, but both PECOTA and I are skeptical about his ability to fully regain his magical rookie form. I’m setting the line at about double last year’s VORP, and half his 2009 VORP.

I was surprised to see PECOTA’s rather tepid projection for Bumgarner. It’s usually a trap to put too much faith in the predictive power of how a player finishes his season, but the big lefty was as impressive as they come down the stretch last year. Expect big things—bigger, perhaps, than the slightly-less-tepid line I’ve set for him above.

Padres

PECOTA Prediction: 80-82

Player

Category

Line

PECOTA/DC

Pick

Cameron Maybin

WARP

2.5

2.1

Under

Mat Latos

K

200

180

Under

Admittedly, it can be agonizing to watch talented young center fielders hack their way to oblivion on a daily basis, hoping against hope they’ll stumble into some unexpected alchemy that transforms their tools into talent. But if you’re the Marlins, and you don’t really have any better (or cheaper) alternatives at hand, wouldn’t you rather like to have a flycatcher like Maybin covering the vast steppes between Patience and Power in the Florida outfield? I’m still expecting Maybin to have a career.

Barring injury, Mat Latos will strike out 200 batters this year. Next question.

Rockies

PECOTA Prediction: 84-78

Player

Category

Line

PECOTA/DC

Pick

Carlos Gonzalez

OBP

.340

.351

Over

Chris Iannetta

HR

20

17

Under

The question of CarGo’s ceiling rests on his ability to get on base despite a less-than-stellar walk rate. Fear of his power may earn him more “pitching around” free passes as his career progresses, assuming he’s willing to accept them, but as electrifying as his play was last year, I expect his OBP to drop into some pretty dangerous territory.

Have the Rockies brought in a veteran backstop to take playing time away from Iannetta since I started typing this? If not, I’m a little surprised, but perhaps it means the club is finally willing to let him launch enough home runs to help paper over his low batting average.

NL Central

Astros

PECOTA Prediction: 68-94

Player

Category

Line

PECOTA/DC

Pick

Michael Bourn

SB

50

48

Under

Brett Wallace

OBP

.333

.309

Under

For most teams, it was difficult to limit the number of players I wanted to mention in this column to two. Not so the Astros. However, Michael Bourn is fast, and it might be interesting to see whether he can get on base enough to steal 50 bases again—I’d bet the under. And Brett Wallace can’t be as bad as his projection, can he?

Brewers

PECOTA Prediction: 85-77

Player

Category

Line

PECOTA/DC

Pick

Rickie Weeks

WARP

3

2.4

Under

Zack Greinke / Yovani Gallardo

VORP (Zack - Yovani)

0

10.4

Over

Weeks has more than enough talent to blow away his WARP projection for 2011, so what you’re likely betting on here is whether the mercurial second sacker can stay healthy. The real story of this year’s season in Milwaukee will be told on the mound, however, with Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum teaming with underrated ace Yovanni Gallardo to finally give the Brewers a top of the rotation based more on faith than hope. No matter how well Greinke and Marcum pitch, I’m betting that Gallardo is better, and if you agree with me, bet the under.

Cardinals

PECOTA Prediction: 85-77

Player

Category

Line

PECOTA/DC

Pick

Albert Pujols

Contract Date

9/30/11

NA

NA

Colby Rasmus

TAv

.285

.269

Under

The Cardinals and Pujols, of course, were recently unable to reach a contract agreement before Phat Albert’s self-imposed spring training deadline. However, wiser heads than mine have noted the lack of meaning to be found in self-imposed negotiating deadlines, and local news has recently taught me that brinksmanship is more often than not a negotiating play. There’s no reason to believe Pujols can’t sign an extension during the season—if you think he will, bet the under.

Last season, Colby Rasmus posted the highest TAv among NL center fielders (.307) at the tender age of 23. He won’t repeat that, but PECOTA seems really pessimistic here. I’d bet the over.

Cubs

PECOTA Prediction: 80-82

Player

Category

Line

PECOTA/DC

Pick

Carlos Marmol

K

99

100

Over

Starlin Castro

BA

.300

.286

Under

Few players are more entertaining to watch than Carlos Marmol, whose historic ability to walk, plunk, and whiff makes both batters and fielders surprisingly irrelevant to the plot of Wrigley’s home half of the ninth. Last year, the Cubs’ closer struck out an ungodly 138 batters in 77 2/3 innings. At some point, hitters have to adjust, shorten up, and make a little more contact, don’t they?

The question with Castro, who burst upon the NL scene before he could order an Old Style, is whether he’s already as good as he’s going to be. He’s already hitting for average, and I expect he’ll continue to do so—hence setting the line right at the magical .300 mark, though I expect most people would bet the under. If he can draw a few more walks and grow into some power, he could become a monster.

Pirates

PECOTA Prediction: 71-91

Player

Category

Line

PECOTA/DC

Pick

Pedro Alvarez

TAv

.285

.277

Under

Pitchers

Double Digit VORP

0.5

1

Over

Let’s focus on the positive first. Pedro Alvarez showed us what all the fuss was about late in his rookie campaign, and PECOTA projects him for nearly 30 round-trippers this year. He’ll need to avoid striking out in a third of his plate appearances if he wants to beat his projection, however. I’m betting he will.

On the other hand, will anyone on the Pirates pitching staff earn double-digit VORP this year? Our Depth Charts currently show deadline pickup James McDonald crossing that rubicon, and if you believe he (or anyone else) can, bet the over.

Reds

PECOTA Prediction: 82-80

Player

Category

Line

PECOTA/DC

Pick

Aroldis Chapman

Avg. Fastball Velo

98

NA

NA

Drew Stubbs

HR

25

15

Under

I’ll forgive you if you think watching Arolids Chapman unleash a 105 mph fastball was more memorable than watching Uribe and Sandoval—I won’t agree, but I’ll forgive. Can he keep that up over the course of a full season, however, especially if he winds up in the rotation? Last year, Chapman’s heater clocked in at an average velocity of 99.6; I’m betting that drops below 98.0 this year, though he’ll make up for this loss of speed in other ways.

Joey Votto and Jay Bruce get all the press, and deservedly so, but Stubbs has developed into an impressive power source in his own right. PECOTA foresees a big dropoff in his home run rate, but playing half his games in GAB should keep him in full trot all season long.

NL East

Braves

PECOTA Prediction: 87-75

Player

Category

Line

PECOTA/DC

Pick

Jason Heyward

TAv

.300

.289

Under

Craig Kimbrel

K/9

10

12.9

Over

If there is one PECOTA projection in this article that I’d be most shocked to see come true, it would be Heyward’s TAv dropping from .315 to .289. He’ll be much, much better than that. As for all the talk of Marmol’s Whiff-O-Rama of a season, Kimbrel’s 17.9 strikeouts per nine blew him out of the water, albeit in a wafer-thin twenty inning sample. He can’t keep that up, and I’m bucking the odds and setting the line at a far more pedestrian ten punchouts per nine. This one might be a gimme.

Marlins

PECOTA Prediction: 84-78

Player

Category

Line

PECOTA/DC

Pick

Logan Morrison

HR

14

8

Under

Mike Stanton

OBP

.340

.326

Under

I’m expecting more power from Patience, and more patience from Power—the former due to Morrison growing into his swing, the latter due to pitchers working around Stanton’s game-changing longball addiction.

Mets

PECOTA Prediction: 80-82

Player

Category

Line

PECOTA/DC

Pick

Johan Santana

First IP

July 4, 2011

NA

NA

Jose Reyes

VORP

30

28.1

Under

The Mets are talking about having Santana ready by late June; he won’t be. I don’t say that out of any special knowledge about Santana’s rehabilitation, sports injuries in general, or the future than you have. I say that because these are the Mets.

In my very first BP Chat, I believe a reader asked me whether I thought Jose Reyes was better than Troy Tulowitzki. It’s not the only answer that I’ve given in a chat that looks ridiculous in hindsight; it’s just the one that I remember the most.

Nationals

PECOTA Prediction: 71-91

Player

Category

Line

PECOTA/DC

Pick

Jayson Werth

HR

25

26

Over

Ian Desmond / Danny Espinosa

HR + SB

60

58

Under

How much home run pop will Werth lose by changing his home park from cozy Philadelphia to spacious Anacostia? I’m guessing not as much as you might think.

If I were a Nationals fan, I’d try to overcome the manic/depressive polarities of dealing with the loss of Stephen Strasburg and anticipating the arrival of Bryce Harper by focusing on the joys to found in the young duo of Desmond and Espinosa. With so many middle infields littered with vortices of suck, especially from a roto point of view, Desmond and Espinosa are a breath of fresh air with their modest endowments of speed and power. Embrace the now, and enjoy.

Phillies

PECOTA Prediction: 91-71

Player

Category

Line

PECOTA/DC

Pick

Dominic Brown

HR + SB

30

28

Under

Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt

Combined Wins

60

54

Under

Speaking of players with speed/power combinations, Dominic Brown will be filling up fantasy categories for years to come, but is he ready to start? I’m betting he is.

With the Phillies’ H20 rotation morphing into H2LO, how many games will Charlie Manuel’s four aces win? Wins are obviously not the best way to measure value, but with the Philadelphia rotation being compared to such historic combinations as Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz/Avery and Palmer/McNally/Cuellar/Dobson, it’ll be fun to track them using such an old-school statistic. Quick: how many games did the Fab Four win last year? Would you believe 58, with Halladay the only one to win as many as 14 games?

Ken Funck is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ken's other articles. You can contact Ken by clicking here

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