I recently made a trade in a Scoresheet Baseball league, which was motivated in part to clear room for Dioner Navarro on my protection list (the primary motivation was to grossly overpay for Chris Carpenter).
Navarro has perhaps the single most enigmatic PECOTA projection of any position player this year. His batting lines are nearly impossible to read, as he’s already with his fourth organization (though he merely passed through the Diamondbacks without playing a game in their system), and hasn’t accumulated more than 255 at bats at any one destination since 2002. His comp list includes Butch Wynegar … and Gary Carter. Biff Pocoroba … and Ted Simmons. His similarity index of 24 is very low for what seems like a rather mundane player.
Somehow, PECOTA sees him emerging with a .269/.344/.410 batting line next season, which are not All-Star numbers by any means, but would be quite valuable for a 23-year-old catcher.
How’s it getting there? I’m not quite certain, but the most likely reason is a combination of an advanced batting eye and an early advancement to the majors. Being in the major leagues at an early age is quite a powerful predictor of future success. Thus, PECOTA is counting on him to figure something out, whether it’s using his good contact rate to produce a few more hits, or using his stocky frame to generate a little bit more power.
This begs the question of whether Navarro deserved to be in the major leagues. He got a cup of coffee with the Yankees because they were showing him off as trade bait. He got some playing time for the Dodgers because their incumbent was Jason Phillips (but was summarily dismissed once Russell Martin emerged ahead of schedule). He got some playing time with the Devil Rays because … they’re the Devil Rays. His overall major league performance (.264/.324/.364) is not terrible, but certainly suggests a player who could just as easily have been in the advanced minors. Does Navarro deserve extra credit for being given a job before he was ready?
Yes, PECOTA seems to say. In fact, perhaps that’s the whole point. Because of his aggressive promotion to the major leagues, Navarro has had to do his learning in the bigs, rather than having the luxury of working on his stroke at Triple-A. But the track record of such players indicates that they do wind up “getting it” more often than not, probably after a few bumps in the road. And while Navarro has passed over his share of potholes, that he’s kept his plate discipline intact rather than hacking at everything suggests that he has a pretty good head on his shoulders.
This is exactly the sort of thing that a good comparable-based projection system is supposed to be able to intuit. Dan Syzmborski’s ZiPS, which is a good regression-based projection system, has Navarro at a much less flattering .249/.323/.341. PECOTA will be counting on Navarro … and so will my Scoresheet team.