September 28, 2005
Lies, Damned Lies
Beaten Down by PECOTA
Will Carroll, Paul Swydan and I were batting around various types of BP-branded All-Star teams on our internal listserv this week--look for more of these coming soon--and naturally the idea of an All-PECOTA team came up. The idea is to identify those players who have most exceeded their PECOTA projections ("Beat PECOTA"), as measured by actual VORP, less VORP as projected in the very last iteration of our preseason depth charts. In some cases, these will be players who had ridiculous fluke seasons, in others, guys who made some important changes in their game, and in others still, players whom PECOTA went short on and simply got burned. We'll also want to look, of course, at those players who most underperformed their PECOTAs--what I call the Beaten Down by PECOTA Team.
The PECOTA All-Star teams don't include any pitchers. Pitchers have unexpected seasons all the time--that's the nature of the beast--but usually the stories behind them aren't very interesting: "he was hit-lucky," "he blew out his labrum," "Leo Mazzone." I'd rather explore the hitters in more detail than put out a series of bullet points. I'm aware that the season is not quite over; VORP figures are taken through Sunday night's games.
It's been a rough year for catchers. One of the more telling statistics that I've seen this season is the one that was flashed on the U.S. Cellular scoreboard last Tuesday: "
A stroll through our league positional averages reports tells an interesting story. Twenty years ago or so, catchers out-hit shortstops by a fair margin; that's actually been true for most of baseball's history. Now the reverse is the case. Some of that is the presence of players like
With that tangent out of the way, we should give our due to Barrett and LaRue. To think that Cub and Redleg fans thought they had no reason to watch their teams play out the schedule! LaRue's story isn't particularly interesting--a veteran having a modest career year in a down season for the position. Barrett, on the other hand, is one of those players that might "break" PECOTA. As I mentioned in Barrett's player comment in this year's annual, while there's generally nothing important that happens when a player switches organizations, there may be some exceptions. Barrett escaped a toxic environment in Montreal and a manager who didn't believe in him for a notably more stable milieu in Chicago, and has responded by finally living up to his minor-league potential.
Closser was a worthwhile experiment in Colorado, but it's turned out terribly; a .220/.316/.375 batting line for a catcher with marginal defensive abilities would be problematic in Shea Stadium, let alone Coors Field. He's also one of those guys that had a ton of variation in his PECOTA forecast, as is typical for players that reach the majors a bit late--his 90th percentile EqA was .316, and his 10th percentile EqA, .211. As barren as the Rockies' organization is, they can probably afford to give him another 250 PA, but they'll need to have a better contingency plan than
PECOTA thought very favorably of Lee, giving him a 21.6% breakout rate, though of course his production this season has exceeded even its wildest expectations. The lesson here is that if you're looking for mid-career breakout candidates, the combination of good secondary attributes (speed, defense, body type) and a very clean bill of health is a powerful one. Lee fits this profile perfectly; so do
I won't say much about Jim Thome, other than that the Phillies are going to have one hell of an interesting situation on their hands next spring. Choi's numbers have not been terrible, and the foul there probably belongs with PECOTA, which anticipated a huge breakout. Subjectively speaking, given how Choi's numbers tanked after Dusty Baker gave up on him in Chicago, it's tempting to think about how he might respond from playing most every day, rather than being jerked in and out of the lineup and shuffled from one club to another. On the other hand, he'll be 27 next year, teams have a right to be demanding of their first basemen, and confidence is a skill.
A volatile year for second basemen; besides Roberts and Bellhorn,
Bellhorn has fallen into something of a Saberhagen Oscillation, and it says something that the two teams that are probably best equipped to appreciate his skills have punted him. One thing we should look at in the future is whether extreme "Three True Outcomes" players are more-slump prone. I will say this: guys who work extremely deep into the count don't leave themselves a whole lot of margin for error if there's just the slightest tick in their timing. This year, Bellhorn is hitting just .098 with two strikes on him, with strikeouts in 55% of those plate appearances.
PECOTA predicted something of a rebound for Ensberg, but he's still managed to blow away his projection. The sudden disappearance and reappearance of his isolated power while his other statistics remained just about the same, looks like it might be an unreported injury. Actually, the other statistic that has fit the pattern are Ensberg's fielding numbers: his FRAA was +9 in 2003, -13 in 2004, and now it's back to +9 in 2005. Third base is a throwing position; it'd be interesting to raid the Minute Maid Park training room and take a look at some shoulder X-rays.
Speaking of shoulder injuries, take a look at how much Scott Rolen struggled as he tried to play through his problems. Mike Lowell doesn't have any such excuses, and has played just about as poorly as you can without getting benched. Although I suggested back at the trade deadline that this might be the beginning of the end for Lowell, I'm not so sure upon closer examination. All the underlying metrics remain the same: his plate discipline, groundball/flyball numbers and speed metrics are about what they've always been. His defense continues to rate well, and he's hit plenty of doubles. It's just that 20 home runs seem to have evaporated; I expect that he'll get about two-thirds of those back next season.
PECOTA just completely whiffed on Young, giving him a 37% collapse rate, and remaining skeptical enough of his power that folks like
That Guzman managed to win his division in spite of a projected batting line of .263/.301/.367 is remarkable; he comes in just ahead of the man who replaced him in Minnesota,
My pet theory on Jason Bay, who is developing into one of those multitalented players that PECOTA should treat very favorably going forward, is that players from Canada develop slower than the norm.
Surfer boy Byrnes, on the other hand, who grew up in Redwood City and went to college at UCLA, became utterly lost once he found himself beached thousands of miles from the Pacific. He's hit .280 in the California Republic this season, and .204 everywhere else.
I'm not really buying the
Patterson started taking more pitches toward the end of last season, to the extent that I thought he was a real breakout candidate and told friends that I wouldn't trade him straight-up for Andruw Jones (+15.6), even before salary considerations. The Cubs are probably right that he doesn't have a future in Chicago, although that leaves open the question of just how responsible they are for his demise. I'm not talking about "teaching plate discipline," which is probably impossible once a player has hit age 25 or so. But to play Wednesday Morning Armchair Psychologist, it would seem that the Dusty Baker tough love approach is incongruous with a moody player like Patterson; Patterson certainly didn't respond well after his demotion to Iowa. Next year, we'll get
There's nothing all that interesting about Jenkins' season. Like J.D. Closser, Jenkins had a relatively volatile projection, with breakout and collapse rates both around 20%, the latter because an injury-prone corner outfielder having a down season as Jenkins did in 2004 can sometimes be a bad sign (think
Zen koan for the day: if a monk comes up to you and wagers you 100 lotus flowers that Sammy Sosa won't make the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, do you accept it? Sosa's comparables were about evenly divided between players like