February 17, 2016
The Lineup Card
Our Favorite PECOTA Projections
1. Bryce Harper and A.J. Pollock
The two most obvious examples of players who established new levels of production with their 2015 performance are Bryce Harper and A.J. Pollock. Harper led MLB in WARP in 2015 at 11.2, besting his previous career high of 5.2 set in 2012, his rookie season. Until 2015, Harper’s WARP had been steadily declining due to a series of injuries, some nagging ones that limited his numbers and some serious enough to land him on the DL. Finally healthy in 2015, Harper put up a monster season.
For 2016, though, PECOTA pegs Harper at 5.1 WARP, less than half of his 2015 total. Even his 90th percentile projection for 2016 is 7.4 WARP, a significant drop from his actual value in 2015. The 5.1 WARP projected for Harper in 2016 place him 10th among hitters. The highest projection among hitters for 2016 belongs to Mike Trout, of course, at 7.3 WARP. Trout’s 10.0 WARP in 2015 was well behind Harper’s 11.2, but Trout’s consistently outstanding production and durability since 2012 make him a significantly better bet for 2016 according to PECOTA.
A.J. Pollock put up a 5.4 WARP season in 2015, good for 20th among all MLB hitters. His 2016 PECOTA projection is 2.3 WARP, which is 96th among hitters. Yes, his 2015 season was tremendous, but 2013 (1.3 WARP) and 2014 (2.2 WARP) happened, and those years matter, too.
For what it’s worth, despite the significant decreases in WARP projected for Harper and Pollock in 2016, PECOTA sets the odds that each player will improve at 57 percent for Harper and 50 percent for Pollock. PECOTA understands that while regression to the mean is a powerful force, it’s not the only thing in play here. —Scooter Hotz
2. Yasmani Grandal
His projected TAv of .279 is hardly exceptional. It puts him alongside Michael Brantley, Kyle Seager, and Christian Yelich, and well behind Matt Kemp, for whom he was traded a year ago. (Regrets? The Padres have a few.)
The separator for Grandal is his defense. Thanks to elite pitch-framing skills, he is projected to have the highest FRAA in all of baseball. Even if he doesn't hit .250 (PECOTA thinks he won't), his on-base, slugging, and glovework abilities will conspire to form a better player than many realize.
Of course, catching is hard. Grandal doesn't have the best track record in terms of health, and even if he misses no time, he'll likely be playing hurt at some point during the long season. That is the risk with him and all who don the so-called tools of ignorance.
Still, Grandal provides serious value both at and behind the plate. Even if he fails to become the MVP threat that PECOTA envisions, he at least gives the Dodgers a good, young, cost-controlled player to build around up the middle. More importantly, he helped them move Kemp's arthritic hips (which struggle to move on their own these days) and crippling contract, for which the team and its fans will long be grateful. —Geoff Young
3. Mike Trout
4. David Ortiz
Logically speaking, we know that this projection was based on advanced calculations, but it’s more fun to imagine a guy (or gal) sitting at a desk shrugging their shoulders and flipping a coin to make the call. That's much more romantic than an algorithm spitting out 0.54751 which was then rounded up to one. For what it’s worth, Ortiz seems less likely than not to swipe a bag during his final rodeo. He’s only attempted one steal in the last two years and was thrown out both casually, and by a virtually unfathomable margin, by Roberto Perez at third base. Then again, he set his career-high with four stolen bases as recently as 2013. The big man is full of surprises.
Whatever Ortiz does on the bases this year, PECOTA can have confidence in this projection; they’ll either be 100 percent correct or off by just one. —Nick Ashbourne
5. Rougned Odor
6. Corey Seager vs. Kyle Seager
Enthusiasts will finally begin to settle the question of which brother is better, not as a matter of theory but of practice. Corey’s upside is seen as substantially greater; now he’ll get down to the business of proving it. Will this be the last time Corey is projected as less valuable going into a new year? Will he live up to our lofty expectations? Will Justin suddenly realize he’s left-handed? Did you know there is a third Seager? If Corey fulfills his prospect hype, which lies somewhere between a taller Harry Potter and baseball’s Kwisatz Haderach, we’ll likely put this conversation in our rear view, content to appreciate Kyle’s steady goodness while we marvel at Corey’s heady highs. But for now, big brother holds the edge, if only narrowly. —Meg Rowley
7. Jean Segura
Few, if any, more so than Jean Segura, who tragically lost his son in mid-2014 and, though he hit better after returning from bereavement leave than he had before, struggled throughout 2015, posting a .217 tAV and 1.8 WARP. Considering that he’s leaving behind Milwaukee, where he’d struggled the past two years, and heading from the moribund Brewers to sunny Arizona and a Diamondbacks team on the way up, this would be a convenient narrative turning point for Segura, which is, of course, PECOTA doesn’t know.
Nevertheless, PECOTA’s on board with a Segura rebound—his 50th-percentile projection is a .242 tAV and 3.3 WARP, with his 10th-percentile projection (.215 tAV, 1.5 WARP) looking more like he did in 2015.
Certainly being able to play shortstop competently—which means he’ll be valuable even if he doesn’t hit even a little—serves as a hedge against a bad offensive season, but it’s interesting that the computer’s almost rooting for a heartwarming rebound season too. —Michael Baumann
8. James McCann
After putting up two successful minor-league seasons in 2013 and 2014, McCann ousted Alex Avila as the Tigers’ regular backstop, and BP’s WARP metrics were decidedly unimpressed, positing him as 1.7 wins below a replacement player. PECOTA imagines more of the same in 2016, giving him the lowest projected WARP (-1.4) of all players expected to receive substantive big-league playing time next season.
Despite a sterling defensive reputation while coming up through the minors and a good-but-not-elite command of the running game, Detroit’s no. 1 catcher was among the worst in baseball last year at pitch framing, costing his team nearly 17 runs worth of value. Given that this is his only substantive data point at the big-league level, PECOTA projects more of the same in 2016, enough for him to drag down his value by a number of runs that even Antonio Alfonseca can’t count on two hands.
If only McCann were a decent hitter, perhaps this framing ineptitude would sting a little less–but he isn’t. Despite good athleticism and a little power, he only walked 16 times in 425 plate appearances, which put him on base (.297 OBP) just slightly more often than any of the following Ramirezes in 2015: Aramis, Alexei, Hanley, or Jose. (All of them were terrible.) So, for those of you at home filling out a checklist, PECOTA sees that he’s a bad hitter (.239 TAv), bad defender (-16 FRAA), and it threw in bad baserunning (-3.4 BRR) just to round things out.
Of course, PECOTA is putting a load of weight on a 2015 season that wasn’t so hot–it stands to reason that McCann could potentially bump up his framing numbers to something a bit closer to his minor league numbers: below-average, but not cringe-inducing. Given how the Tigers have an aging roster in the midst of a competitive battle for the AL Central, I bet they’ll be hoping that McCann’s poor play won’t be a below-replacement anchor on their squad for a second consecutive season. With PECOTA giving McCann similar Breakout/Improve/Collapse/Attrition percentages to A.J. Pierzynski and comping him to guys like Tony Cruz and Jeff Mathis, I’d skimp on the hope and put that energy towards finding a mid-season replacement. —Bryan Grosnick
9. Jon Lester
Lester had a good season, even if it paled in comparison to Arrieta, posting a 3.34 ERA, 3.89 DRA, and 2.8 WARP in 205 innings. But PECOTA has an interesting projection about the pair of pitchers going into 2016, with Arrieta posting a 4.4 WARP (third highest among starting pitchers) and Lester coming in right behind him at 4.3 WARP (fifth highest). That would give the Cubs the best one-two punch in all of baseball right now. Even more shocking? The Cubs entire projected five-man rotation sit in the top-40 in WARP at their position. With the offensive talent the Cubs have, PECOTA’s projection on the Cubs starting rotation—specifically Lester and Arrieta being top-five starters—justifies the talk about the Cubs possibly being the best team in all of baseball. —Ryan Davis
10. Billy Hamilton
The key column to examine in this case is total baserunning opportunities (OPPS). Bourn, who appears on this exclusive list for his efforts in three separate campaigns, was all about quantity during his prime. He accrued 33.8 BRR in those three years, but it took a whopping 877 OPPS to get it done. A dynamic speedster, no doubt, but his baserunning prowess was a byproduct of being consistently good over a large sample. Last year, Hamilton did more (10.9 BRR) with fewer opportunities (157) than anyone in the past 10 years.
PECOTA isn’t optimistic about Hamilton at the plate, projecting a .229 TAv along with a paltry .285 OBP this season. With major-league front offices placing less emphasis on stolen bases and speed on the basepaths, Hamilton is an albatross in today’s game, and without question one of the most polarizing position players we’ve ever seen. However, on a per-chance basis, based on his current trajectory, there is no disputing Hamilton’s status as the most-skilled baserunner of his generation entering the physical prime of his career. If that’s not one of the most compelling storylines to watch in 2016, I’m not sure what is. —George Bissell
11. Xander Bogaerts' lofty player comps
Despite PECOTA’s underwhelming 2016 projection, Red Sox fans can take solace in two areas in which PECOTA clearly thinks quite fondly of Bogaerts; his breakout/improve percentages and his list of comparables. PECOTA gives Bogaerts a 10 percent chance to break out, or outperform his 2015 TAv by at least 20 percent, and a 55 percent improve score in a system in which 50 percent predicts a repeat of last season’s numbers. That might not look like much but both marks are pretty high compared to other players’ marks, and especially compared to other shortstops’ percentages.
Finally, we get to Xander’s comparables: Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez and Starlin Castro. Yes, two of the best shortstops of their generation and a soon-to-be 26-year-old who’s already posted three seasons providing 3.5 WARP or better. All in all, PECOTA doesn’t think Bogaerts will have a monster year in 2016, but it does think he’s capable of doing so and it clearly likes his long-term upside. It’s an encouraging projection for Bogaerts overall, even if those who just do a direct WARP comparison may come away with a bitter taste in their mouths.
12. Jenrry Mejia
What happened here? Did he think he could get away with it this time? Did he get a bad Whizzinator? Did his buddy inadvertently store his Boldenone next to Mejia's stash of Gatorade? Wouldn't that not be cool since Mejia was already on strike two? And more interesting (to me, anyway), is there anything in Mejia's personality that might've shed light on something like this popping up?
Either way, it's a lost season for Mejia and it's a bummer for the Mets. PECOTA had Mejia pegged as a pretty valuable reliever (with closer experience to boot)—he was one of only five players with a WHIP under 1.20, an ERA under 4, a walk ratio under 3.0 per 9 innings, and a K rate higher than 8.0 per nine.
That’s not a world-beater, but it’s definitely a nice piece to have on a contending team like the Mets. We know a lot about what Mejia's baseball talents are, but not enough about his personality. But you bet the Mets are going to be more careful with players after they flunk their very first test. For all the other players under the Mets umbrella, it's likely that strike one is going to be one strike too far. —Carlos Portocarrero