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February 24, 2014

Pebble Hunting

The Position Players Who Changed PECOTA's Mind

by Sam Miller


At the back of the BP Annual, on page 562, among the PECOTA leaderboards, there’s one table for WARP Declines and another for WARP Improvements. The guys on these lists are a hodgepodge of stories, but mostly these players are on the list because PECOTA hasn’t changed its mind on them. Colby Rasmus had a good year last year? PECOTA acknowledges it, but it hasn’t changed its mind about Rasmus. Decline. Dan Uggla was terrible last year? PECOTA adjusts downward some but basically hasn’t changed its mind about Uggla. Improve. The WARP decline/improvements tables are essentially regression leaderboards. These are guys who did something unexpected but, in PECOTA’s estimation, didn’t really change.

But some players did change. Some players had good years that so shook PECOTA’s understanding of them that the system concedes, in fact, that they are different players than they used to be, or different players than we thought they were. We don’t have a table for those guys in the book, but we’ll have one here. These are the players whose PECOTA projections for 2014 are most different than their PECOTA projections for 2013 were.

Player 2013 WARP projection 2014 WARP projection Difference
Yasiel Puig -0.3 3.3 3.6
Jean Segura 0.8 4.2 3.4
Matt Carpenter 2.3 5.3 3.0
Josh Donaldson 1.1 3.5 2.4
Manny Machado 1.1 3.5 2.4
Anthony Rendon 0.4 2.7 2.3
Evan Gattis 0.4 2.5 2.1
Kolten Wong 0.2 2.2 2.0
Khris Davis 0.7 2.6 1.9
Shane Victorino 2.1 4.0 1.9

(Note: PECOTA gets some tweaks from year to year, so this isn't a perfect apples-to-apples comparison, but it's at least like comparing blue-gray crayons to gray-blue crayons.)

Puig was BP's 79th-best prospect in baseball before the 2013 season; immediately following him on that list were Jonathan Schoop, Chris Owings, and Michael Choice, all of whom were within a year of Puig, age-wise, and all of whom actually projected to be more valuable in 2013: 0.2, 0.0 and 0.4 WARP, respectively. Naturally, when all we have on a player are nine games in Rookie ball, 14 in High-A, and a mysterious scrapbook of numbers sent from Havana, his projections are going to be subject to whiplash. PECOTA’s estimation of Puig’s defense and baserunning actually declined, but his projected batting line goes from .224/.272/.329 to .289/.354/.488. From Alfredo Griffin’s career line to Reggie Jackson’s.

Segura is a bit more complex, since he had plenty of history for the system to work with already. But PECOTA’s reassessment mirrors the larger baseball world’s: Even a year ago, there were some (the Angels, for instance) who doubted that Segura would ever be an average defensive shortstop. PECOTA projected him to be a -1 defender in 2013, but after challenging Andrelton Simmons for the FRAAing title, Segura now projects to +12. Overall, Segura’s projection is probably PECOTA’s most aggressive, both on defense and offense, where a .263/.304/.387 projection turned into a .282/.323/.403. While we out here focus on his second-half slide, PECOTA recalls his healthier minor-league walk rate and bundles it with some of his power outburst of 2013.

Rendon and Wong are a bit surprising because neither seems like he had a great 2013 season, or at least a season that made you reconsider him. But Rendon outhit his major-league projection by 15 points of True Average, undid whatever had caused PECOTA to project a miserable .271 BABIP for him, and in a partial repeat of Double-A Harrisburg upped his OPS by almost 400 points, just about to Calvin Pickering levels.

Wong, meanwhile, mostly benefits from a tripling of projected playing time. On a rate basis, his gains are very modest.

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