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March 3, 2009

You Could Look It Up

Matt Wieters

by Steven Goldman

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Matt Wieters
2009 Weighted Mean PECOTA Forecast
 PA  R  2B 3B HR RBI BB  SO SB CS EqBRR  AVG/ OBP/ SLG MLVr  EqA VORP WARP
649 105 33  2 31 102 77 102  4  2  -1.0 .311/.395/.544 .281 .319 59.6  7.9

PECOTA is an essentially conservative program. Its player-performance projections are neither wildly optimistic nor pessimistic, but built purely from the data, and from its own understanding of the way that player careers progress based on literally thousands of antecedents. Thus, when it proposes that Orioles catching prospect Matt Wieters, a rookie-to-be who has never played above Double-A, could hit .311/.395/.544 in the majors this year, we took notice-this was the first time that PECOTA had looked at a prospect and predicted an MVP-caliber, Hall of Fame-level season right off the bat.

By way of comparison, consider the two players who were the 2008 Rookie of the Year Award-winners in their respective leagues, both of whom PECOTA quite liked from the get-go. Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria received a weighted mean projection of .266/.339/.459. This was no surprise; by acclamation, Longoria was one of the most talented young players in the game. However, PECOTA can only go by what it sees in the player's profile, both in terms of performance and vital statistics, so though it was quite high on Longoria compared to most other prospects, it did not overstate its estimation. In fact, PECOTA proved to be a little too reserved in this instance, as Longoria hit .272/.343/.531-the projection model nailed the batting average and on-base components of Longoria's rookie year, but missed low on his power.

Over in the senior circuit, Cubs catcher Geovany Soto was projected to hit .273/.352/.470, another enthusiastic projection, but still a bit short of historic as far as introductions go. As with Longoria, PECOTA anticipated a bit less power than Soto displayed in major league action, but was quite close on the other two legs of the production tripod, as Soto hit .285 while posting a .364 on-base percentage. Soto had had an explosive year in the minor leagues in 2007, one almost as impressive in its own way as Wieters' breakout campaign, but it was one that because of Soto's age, the context of the league and performance levels involved, and other factors did not receive the same rave review from the system.

These same factors are the key to Wieters' stunning PECOTA projection. PECOTA does not take a prospect's minor league stats as is, but translates them first, adjusting for the park and league context. It also considers the player's age, position, and body type before making its projection. The key for Wieters is just how well he makes out, despite the discounts on his performance wrought by these various translations. It is the rare young player who towers above his league to the degree that Wieters did last season, and then goes further by making the difficult jump to Double-A, not only maintaining production, but actually accelerating it. It is the rare 22-year-old who bats .345/.448/.576 in High-A ball, let alone .365/.460/.625 at Double-A. No matter how aggressively one reduces Wieters' numbers through translation, you simply can't make all of that go away.

Any young player looking to receive a Wieters-style PECOTA and become an instant fantasy (and real-world) darling, should follow a simple formula. First, dominate your league. Second, be the appropriate age for your league; PECOTA is properly skeptical of four-year college players who beat up on high school pitchers as 24-year-old players in short-season rookie ball. Third, do not rely too much on your ballpark to help you. Oh, and if it's not too much trouble, fourth, do your best to show no weaknesses in any phase of your game. Just like Wieters did last year.

This is largely what Soto and Longoria did, just not to the same degree. In 2007, Longoria had hit .299/.402/.570 in the minors, including .307/.403/.528 at Double-A. These numbers are stunning, but not quite of the same quality as Wieters'. Soto had hit .353/.424/.652 at Triple-A Iowa in 2007, but that was in his age-24 season, so he was a critical two years older than Wieters, and so had (and has) less room for growth than did his younger catching counterpart.

Of course, as we've often said in our annual book, PECOTA is not destiny. Much stands between a young player and the achievement of his projection, whether that projection is as boldly put as Wieters' is, or merely average. Injury is a particular risk for a young catcher, as an errant foul tip can mangle a finger, or a contact play at the plate can mangle an entire body. What makes Wieters' projection all the more impressive is that PECOTA is aware of the toll that catching can take on a backstop's offensive skills, and yet it still sees such impressive short-term results for the Orioles tyro.

Perhaps, then, it is wrong to say that PECOTA lacks optimism, that it doesn't rave. In its own way, Wieters' projection is its way of saying, "Hey, I think I spot a very rare talent here; you might want to pay attention." Then again, PECOTA is merely a computer program, and this interpretation is, appropriately, an act of translation.

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

Related Content:  PECOTA,  Matt Wieters

31 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

YaoPau

I'd be interested to know what PECOTA projected for Alex Gordon, Ryan Zimmerman, and (if you can go back that far) Travis Lee - three players who were similarly dominant in AA and then slowed afterwards.

Mar 03, 2009 10:37 AM
rating: 0
 
Leitch

I remember that PECOTA projected Gordon to be #2 in VORP among 3Bs in '07.

Mar 03, 2009 11:27 AM
rating: 0
 
wonkothesane1

Pecota burned many a fantasy player on Alex Gordon. Or at the very least, disappointed them because their late round sleep didn't pay off.

Mar 03, 2009 11:37 AM
rating: 0
 
YaoPau

The line that made me go "Huh?" was "It is the rare 22-year-old who bats .345/.448/.576 in High-A ball, let alone .365/.460/.625 at Double-A."

Maybe not everybody is hitting .360, but plenty of 22 year olds dominate AA. And since when is 22 young for an elite prospect in AA?

Players who dominated AA ball as 22 year olds...

Howie Kendrick- .369/.408/.631
Mark Reynolds- .318/.401/.633
Justin Huber- .343/.432/.570
Mark Teahen- .335/.420/.543
Jeremy Reed- .409/.472/.591

My guess is PECOTA really likes Wieters' walk and strikeout rates, but even so, to make a Hall of Fame level prediction after 437 at-bats is a little ridiculous, especially when similar players before him have failed.

Mar 03, 2009 13:36 PM
rating: 2
 
Bogomil

Justin Upton OPSed 800 ... in the majors ... as a 20 year old. That is elite, this Weiters guy is a chump.

Kidding.

Mar 03, 2009 13:54 PM
rating: 0
 
agentsteel53

A-Rod and Ted Williams both OPS+ed 160 at the age of 20. Compared to those two, Upton and Wieters are both chumps ;)

Mar 03, 2009 16:36 PM
rating: 0
 
Bob

According to the BP book (and I'm paraphrasing from memory here, so please correct me if my memory is failing me), no one in the past 40 years has had as good of a minor league season as Wieters had last year. No one in the past 40 years.

Mar 03, 2009 16:40 PM
rating: 0
 
agentsteel53

does that imply he should have been called up earlier?

Mar 03, 2009 21:55 PM
rating: -1
 
Ira

I wonder if Weiter's projections are skewed because of the existence of only one year of data. (Last year being his only year of proffesional ball) I noticed that Pecota has this tendency to regress players to the mean most of the time. For example, if a player hits say .350/.450/.650 between short season ball and A ball, then the next year does the same between High A ball and AA, he'll be expected to regress the next year, since the translations will show a marked improvement the second year over the first. Since Weiters has no experience before last year, there is nothing to regress to, hence the explosive projection.

That's not dismissing his obvious talent, but it concerns me when projecting from a single point. Its simply not enough data. If I were the GM of the Orioles, I wouldn't look at Pecota and say, "Ok Matt, we're going to bring you up to the majors, hand you the starting job, and bat you third based on this projection." Instead, I'd probably send him to AAA while keeping a close eye out to see if he continues to rake, and bring him up if he does. If he struggles, I might let him play the whole year in AAA and let him win a job next year on the club.

Mar 03, 2009 10:55 AM
rating: 8
 
T. Kiefer

PECOTA gave me a stealth pick with its Weiter's prognosis. Finding two decent catchers is really tough in my fantasy league, and with a bias against "losing" teams like the Orioles, he'll be a great surprise to people --"who...the Orioles"? Even if he does 75-80% of what PECOTA projects, he'll be a worthy later-round pick to bolster up BA or RBI's. Thanks PECOTA!

Mar 03, 2009 11:03 AM
rating: -3
 
Dennis
(749)

You need to find a more difficult fantasy league. Wieters as a surprise pick? Or better yet, "who...the Orioles"? My God...

Mar 04, 2009 09:22 AM
rating: 2
 
ostrowj1

How much have the minor league translations been tweaked between last year and this? Maybe in an effort to not be so conservative for rookies, changes have been adopted that may actually over-estimate rookie stats? Other than Pujols, what other rookie can even come close to a stat line Wieters projection? He might be the best catcher in the last 50 years, but even then I wouldn't bet on that kind of a production for at least a couple of years.

Mar 03, 2009 11:06 AM
rating: 0
 
Bob

I really appreciate this analysis, mostly because I'm both an Orioles fan and someone who just traded my kitchen sink for the right to draft Wieters in my 100%-keeper fantasy league. But I also appreciate that you spelled out how PECOTA works for a guy like Wieters. This is something that Nate Silver used to do comprehensively for all top prospects on an annual basis, but unfortunately, hasn't done much of lately.

As hopeful as I am about Wieters, though, I am a bit skeptical that PECOTA's projections can come true, especially this year. I'd like to see how someone responds to irablum's question regarding Wieters' possession of only one year of pro-statistics. Although they're harder to translate, Wieters' college statistics might be interesting to see as well, to examine whether the guy ever had a dip in his performance.

But anyway, thanks for the analysis.

Mar 03, 2009 11:08 AM
rating: 1
 
rwperu34

There is only one catcher in Wieters top 20 comparables and his attrition rate is a measly 3%. PECOTA is not factoring in the potential for injury-whether it be missed time or decreased production-nearly enough. Russ Martin is the #1 MLB catcher in terms of attrition at 11%. There is no way Wieters is more durable than that. His similarity index is 0.

Here is some supporting evidence that PECOTA is not regressing enough from "What the Stats Mean" on the minor league translation page;

"Regular Translation: This applies adjustments for league difficulty to the player statistics,
resulting in a changed line. Everybody, from every park, is translated to the same underlying
standard. Hitters go to a league that hits .270/.330/.420 with a .260 eqa, pitchers go to a league
that allows 9 hits, 1 home run, 3 walks, and 6 strikeouts per nine innings with a 4.50 ERA. For
majors, these should be a close - but not necessarily exact - match for the "adjusted for all-time"
numbers (the translation process can cause slight differences from the exact rating, typically no
more than two points of EqA, unless PA are really low.) Ideally, this is how the player would
perform if he were called up to the majors right now - allowing for the difference between the
real majors and the standard league. In practice, they fall short. Most of that is because the
player most likely to be promoted is the one who is playing farthest over his head, a form of
selection bias. Players in AA or lower are even more likely to fall short, because the translation
routine is calibrated for one-level jumps, and there does appear to be an additional drop in
performance for players who try to jump two (or more) levels at once."



While he's the best prospect in baseball, Wieters' PECOTA projection is nuts. PECOTA is basically saying Matt Wieters is Mike Piazza, not that when everything goes right he can become Mike Piazza.

Alex Gordon's PECOTA in 2007-.282/.364/.511 good for a .301 EQA.

Mar 03, 2009 12:00 PM
rating: 0
 
nationalcoholic

Forget those counting numbers for him... they're based on 649 PA. No way a catcher who breaks spring training in the minors gets to that amount of playing time.

Mar 03, 2009 12:17 PM
rating: 1
 
Bob

The thing is, at some point, someone will emerge as good as, if not better than, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, or, for that matter, Mike Piazza. There's no reason to believe that PECOTA won't predict this emergence. Maybe Wieters is that man. I can only hope...

Mar 03, 2009 12:31 PM
rating: 2
 
Cromulent

One thing that makes the projection difficult to swallow is the idea that a catcher, any catcher, would see 649 at bats in a season. Russell Martin had 553 AB last year to lead all catchers, and he started 8 games at 3B.

Nothing against Wieters, but even if he makes that triple slash line, he won't see those kind of counting numbers, at least not this year.

Mar 03, 2009 12:31 PM
rating: 1
 
SaberTJ

Although I agree that Wieters won't see that many PA's, He also won't have a futile pitcher hitting in the 9 hole ruining his chances.

Mar 03, 2009 12:58 PM
rating: 0
 
Paul Andrew Burnett

To be fair, the projection actually calls for him to have 649 plate appearance, not at bats, which is about what Martin had last year.

Mar 03, 2009 13:51 PM
rating: 5
 
Bogomil

To complete the "PECOTA was awesome with rookies last year" argument, you should look up its projections for Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, Lastings Milledge, Michael Bourn, Adam Jones, Justin Upton, Jacoby Ellsbury, etc. 2 ROYs is a small sample size.

For what its worth, ZiPs, CHone and Bill James had better projections for Soto and most of the ones I listed above. In my very limited experience, PECOTA is overly rosy compared to those projection systems on young players like Josh Phelps, Wilson Betemit, Chris Young, Milledge etc.

Lets start a comparative study with Weiters

PECOTA .311/.395/.544 (572 ABs)
Bill James 311/407/526 470 (470)
CHONE .274/352/439 (419)
Oliver 294/373/487 (453)
Baseball Forecaster 341/434/576 (200)

(Had to use Abs instead of PAs).

Mar 03, 2009 13:53 PM
rating: 4
 
Bogomil

I apologize, the comparisons on Soto were to the BP Fantasy projection, which is tweaked by BP staff and not entirely PECOTA based. The larger question remains, though: is PECOTA serially over-optimistic on kids with big years in the minors when compared to other projection systems.

Mar 03, 2009 14:16 PM
rating: 0
 
Clonod

Not only is 2 ROYs a small sample size, but it's a clear case of selection bias.

The best rookie in each league (determined after the fact) is almost certainly going to be a player who exceeded his forecast.

If we similarly judged PECOTA only by looking at MVPs we'd probably see a list of players who performed in their 90th percentile projection or even better.

Mar 03, 2009 15:18 PM
rating: 5
 
Richard Bergstrom

The thing that makes Weiters a "fantasy darling" is that he is a catcher. He could underwhelm and go .270/15 HR/70 RBI and still rank as a top 10 catcher. He could have just one hot month and still outproduce most catchers even if the league ends up catching up to him. If Weiters played any other position (besides maybe, second base), he'd be a much riskier pick.

I'd draft him wanting a minimum of .270/15/70 and hoping for for .280/20/80 while keeping J.R. Towles in mind. Problem is, the hype might be built up to the point that he is overdrafted when he should instead be the 5th or so catcher to come off the board. I'd probably grab him in the 6th round or so if he lasted that long, and if not, take a Victor Martinez-type as a consolation.

Mar 03, 2009 17:47 PM
rating: 0
 
HonusCobb

Just an interesting tidbit here. The Bill James Handbook has also projected Weiters to have quite a season (and I've been fairly impressed with the Handbook's projections as I've purchased the last 4 years versions).

the Handbook projects
.311 AVG
.407 OBP
.526 SLG

They project fewer plate appearances but still with 25 doubles, 25 home runs, and 100 runs created.

Pretty similar stuff. Should I draft this kid ahead of the likes of Mauer? Soto? McCann? Martin? I'm torn...

Mar 03, 2009 20:09 PM
rating: 0
 
nicholj

Below is a link to a review by Nate Silver of PECOTA's first projection for Tim Lincecum, who also had an historically epic first pro season. Given the spectacular forecasts of future performance by PECOTA of Lincecum in 2007 and now Wieters in 2009 and how good that Lincecum forecast proved to be, I thought you might find it worth the re-read.

http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=6125

Mar 03, 2009 21:13 PM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

PECOTA was projecting Linecum's first pro season which was good but not great. Last year, when he won the Cy Young, was actually his second pro season.

Mar 04, 2009 01:30 AM
rating: 0
 
NL2003

I think the key is the fact that Wieters hasn't played above AA (and only about half a season at AA). I think it's insane to think Weiters will hit his PECOTA weighted mean. Look at Jay Bruce and Alex Gordon, how did that go?

The competition is 15% tougher as you move up each league in the minors, and there is a big 25% in the competition difference from AAA to MLB. Assuming a young player improves 10% each year (by aging and facing tougher competition or learning the competition), we could possibly (or impossibly) expect Weiters' .365/.460/.625 to increase to .401/.506/.687 this year. But then factoring in his leap to MLB and the basically 40% tougher competition, he would clock in at .256/.322/.438. Maybe that's low, but I'd buy that more than .311/.395/.544.

If he kept improving at a 10% clip in MLB for two years, he would reach .310/.390/.530. That kind of looks like his PECOTA, now, doesn't it?

So, it looks like PECOTA is giving Wieters full credit for playing at his full potential at MLB this year, when it should be factoring in the tougher competition.


[Aside--It also looks like PECOTA only looks at his AA numbers. If you take his averages for last year, his projection should come out even lower. Let me put it this way...would you project a High-A player who hits .345/.448/.576 to hit .311/.395/.544 in MLB a year later?]

Mar 04, 2009 10:19 AM
rating: 1
 
havybeaks

Wieters has an unusually high BABIP of .383 compared to his LD% of 16-18% in 2007:

http://firstinning.com/players/Matt-Wieters-a/

Is that not a reason to temper PECOTA's excitement or does it consider such factors already?

Mar 04, 2009 10:32 AM
rating: 1
 
John Carter

Excellent question.

Mar 04, 2009 14:59 PM
rating: 0
 
sbnirish77

Based on this projection, I'd be willing to offer my entire Strat-O-Matic draft just to move up and take Wieters.

Now I just have to apply PECOTA to figure out who is going to finish last in my league and get the #1 draft pick!

Mar 04, 2009 14:54 PM
rating: 0
 
Brian Cartwright

I've looked at Clay's minor league translations, and the weighted mean PECOTA beats both the regular translation and the peak projection by a long shot, and Clay leverages age heavily in the peak projections, so I have to assume that PECOTA isn't based on any of Clay's projections.

Oliver used three years of college data as well as the one year of pro for Wieters. Each of the college years translated to a wOBA in the 340's, MLB average but good for a catcher. 2008's translation was a 411 MLE wOBA, but beware of outlier seasons, only about a 30% chance of repeating. You wouldn't know it was an outlier without the college stats - the same thing happened with Alex Gordon, where he had a fine year in AA, but in MLB looks much more like he was in college.

Mar 04, 2009 20:40 PM
rating: 1
 
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