BP’s PECOTA projections arrived two weeks ago today, offering answers to two of the most common questions asked each spring: Which players are expected to make major improvements, and which are big risks to head downhill?
We’ll tackle five hitters and five pitchers whom PECOTA projects to make major gains today, then do the same for some of the biggest projected decliners tomorrow. One note: It doesn’t take PECOTA to tell you that a player like Troy Tulowitzki—who missed most of last season after left groin surgery—could be in line for a big bounceback with better health, so this list is restricted to people who played full seasons in 2012.
Jeff Francoeur, Royals
2012 WARP (603 PA): -3.0
Projected 2013 WARP (462 PA): 0.4
Projected WARP improvement: 3.4
This is the definition of a dead-cat bounce. Francoeur had the major leagues’ lowest WARP last season, in part a product of his usual reluctance to take a walk coupled with an uncharacteristically low batting average, which combined to produce a career-low .287 on-base percentage. But his work with the glove deserved just as much blame: Francoeur’s -18.4 Fielding Runs Above Average was the worst in baseball. It wasn’t just FRAA that was down on Francoeur’s defense; other advanced defensive metrics rated his performance as almost equally poor.
Fielding stats aren’t very stable from season to season, and PECOTA expects Francoeur’s glove to be only a bit below average, which it has been for the bulk of his career. But even if he does return to replacement level, the Royals might still wish they’d kept Wil Myers: the Rays’ future right fielder is projected to be worth 1.9 WARP as a rookie in roughly the same playing time.
Albert Pujols, Angels
2012 WARP (670 PA): 3.7
Projected 2013 WARP (664 PA): 7.0
Projected WARP improvement: 3.3
It might seem like PECOTA is living in the past by projecting such a strong season from Pujols, but PECOTA’s keeper, Colin Wyers, has found that incorporating several seasons of past statistics makes the system more accurate. In fact, PECOTA’s long memory might be one of the best things about it, since it counteracts our natural tendency to write off rebounds and buy into breakouts too soon.
After a disappointing first season in Anaheim, Pujols has been overshadowed by Mike Trout’s rookie success and the Angels’ latest ultra-expensive offseason acquisition, Josh Hamilton. But overlooking Pujols would be premature: the three-time MVP was the best player in baseball as recently as 2010 (and even better before that), and the stats he accrued in his St. Louis seasons still tell us something about what he can do today. Pujols showed he had plenty left after a slow start to last season, and a harder park for hitters made his raw stats look worse than they were. A return to peak Pujols production is too much to ask, but PECOTA foresees a partial return to form in his second AL season.
Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
2012 WARP (623 PA): 1.7
2013 WARP (667 PA): 4.3
Projected WARP improvement: 2.6
Pedroia had a down year due to injury, but unlike Tulowitzki, he was able to play through most of his problems, sabotaging his stats in the process. Boston’s second baseman hurt his thumb early in May and played hurt through July 3rd, when he hit the DL. He batted.250/.319/.363 over that injury-affected span and a combined .313/.365/.501 before and after it, finishing strong down the stretch. PECOTA expects that late-season success to continue into 2013, producing another prime Pedroia season.
Jesus Montero, Mariners
2012 WARP (553 PA): -0.7
Projected 2013 WARP (472 PA): 2.0
Projected WARP improvement: 2.7
Montero’s rookie season was rough: he walked less often than he had at any minor-league level, and his power was stifled at Safeco. But PECOTA isn’t concerned about the 23-year-old former top prospect’s bat: his .277 TAv is the fifth-highest projected for any player expected to receive at least 450 plate appearances and make most of his starts at catcher. PECOTA foresees a similar improvement for another young Mariner, Justin Smoak, but the system doesn't expect him to sustain his hot September: his projected 2.8 WARP gain, the product of improved defense and over 20 added points of OBP, would barely get him above replacement level at first base.
Michael Young, Phillies
2012 WARP (651 PA): -1.5
Projected 2013 WARP (569 PA): 0.9
Projected WARP improvement: 2.4 WARP
The Phillies’ trade for Michael Young probably produced more internet snark than any offseason transaction except the team’s subsequent deals for Delmon Young and Yuniesky Betancourt (this winter wasn’t the best time to be a Phillies fan). But as bad as Young’s bat was last season, there is some reason to expect a rebound, if not (at age 36) to the level of the roughly league-average player he was from 2009-2011. Young has historically been a high-BABIP hitter, and his .299 mark in 2012 was easily his lowest since his rookie season. He believes he fixed a mechanical flaw in his swing last September, when he hit .313/.360/.478, but bad luck may have been behind some of his struggles.
Tim Lincecum, Giants
2012 WARP (186 IP): -0.3
Projected 2013 WARP (176.7 IP): 3.3
Projected WARP improvement: 3.6
Just as PECOTA sees the MVP past in Albert Pujols, the system looks at Lincecum and sees the starter who annually finished in the top 10 in NL Cy Young voting from 2008-2011, with wins in the first two of those seasons. The righty’s command and control wavered last year, leading to elevated walk and home run rates, but his strikeout rate stayed strong, and PECOTA expects him to regain his feel for the strike zone this season. However, projection systems do have certain blind spots, one of which is velocity loss. Lincecum’s average fastball velocity fell by close to 2 mph last season, offering additional cause for concern. Roy Halladay, who’s projected to improve by 2.9 WARP, and Dan Haren (projected gain of 2.2 WARP) have similar stories.
Ervin Santana, Royals
2012 WARP (178 IP): -2.1
Projected 2013 WARP (174 IP): 1.2
Projected WARP improvement: 3.3
Santana has long been a frustratingly streaky pitcher, but there was much more bad than good last season, when Santana led the majors with 39 home runs allowed and finished with the worst WARP among pitchers. Even when he’s pitching well, Santana perpetually seems to be one start away from complete collapse, but his inconsistency works the other way, too: when he’s struggling, he’s always a candidate to make an adjustment and reel off a string of strong starts. The righty nearly doubled his strikeout-to-walk ratio in the second half of 2012, though that didn’t help him curb his home run rate. Unfortunately, it would take an even bigger turnaround than PECOTA projects to make him worth the $12 million the Royals will have to shell out for his services.
Jon Lester, Red Sox
2012 WARP (205.3 IP): 1.1
Projected 2013 WARP (195.3 IP): 3.5
Projected WARP improvement: 2.4
Lester struck out roughly 10 batters per nine innings in more than 400 innings from 2009-2010, but a lat strain and extended mechanical struggles have caused his strikeout rate to suffer since. PECOTA projects a partial recovery in 2013, including a return to his 2011 K rate. Lester is healthy, by all accounts, and he still throws very hard for a lefty, so it’s plausible that he could round back into form, especially with former pitching coach John Farrell once more keeping a close eye on his delivery (not that PECOTA knows about that). In more good news for the Red Sox rotation, PECOTA projects Clay Buchholz to rebound from a replacement-level 2012 and be worth 2.0 WARP.
Yu Darvish, Rangers
2012 WARP (191.3 IP): 3.1
Projected 2013 WARP (195.3 IP): 5.2
Projected WARP improvement: 2.1
The Rangers ace had a successful debut season, but PECOTA thinks 2012 was just a tune-up for 2013, forecasting more of the dominant Darvish we saw last September and October. The big right-hander’s league-leading strikeout rate and 3.24 FIP suggest that he’ll come closer to replicating his sterling NPB stats in his second season in the States. Among all pitchers, only Justin Verlander is projected to have a higher WARP, and only Stephen Strasburg is projected to be better on an inning-per-inning basis.
Derek Holland, Rangers
2012 WARP (175.3 IP): 0.4
Projected 2013 WARP (176.4 IP): 2.0
Projected WARP improvement: 1.6
There’s probably no truth to the conventional wisdom that lefty pitchers develop later, but PECOTA expects this particular southpaw to have a solid age-26 season after a shaky 2012. However, the system does suggest that home runs will continue to haunt him: a projected total of 25 would be an improvement over the 32 he coughed up last season, but still too many for him to take the next step toward the top of the rotation. Still, the encouraging projections for Darvish, Holland, and Alexi Ogando (expected to produce 3.6 WARP in his return to the rotation) should reassure Rangers fans who haven’t quite gotten over missing out on Zack Greinke.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .