Today marks the release of the 2019 PECOTA projections. Here are some that caught our eye …
I expect Vladito’s projection to be met with snickers and Matt Wieters jokes. PECOTA projects him as one of the 10 best hitters in baseball right out of the chute. It expects him to essentially match Ronald Acuna’s rookie campaign, to put up a season straight out of his father’s prime as a 20-year-old rookie. Make the jokes at your own peril.
Guerrero has 1,211 professional plate appearances and 1,209 of them were against pitchers older than him. (The other two were in a Gulf Coast League rehab appearance against Yankees prospect Juan Then.) Despite being incredibly young for every level—he’s still a teenager—he’s dominated the entire minor-league chain. He spent most of last season eating high-minors pitchers for dinner. I think the Double-A line got so silly that people just started to ignore the whole thing, but he hit .402 with walks and power for a half-season in Double-A, having just turned 19. He has more walks than strikeouts for his career.
The hitting tools match here, too: 8 hit, 7 power, top-tier pitch recognition and plate discipline. I once asked whether we could ever plausibly given a future 8 hit tool. If we have, it certainly hasn’t been in many years. But what we’ve got here is thunderous bat speed, elite bat control, an incredible ability to adjust, and a swing that if you squint, you’ll think was his Hall of Fame father. I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t win a batting title sooner or later. This is the 8 hit that was promised. —Jarrett Seidler
2. Khris Davis
You will have to set your watch to something else.
Do not bother searching for comfort in your antique broken clock. It will no longer be right twice a day.
Death and taxes will return as the lone, cold pillars of certainty.
Bears will excrete somewhere else besides the outdoors.
The world is a whole dang wild card.
Khris Davis will not finish with a .247 batting average for a fifth season in a row.
He will hit .246. —Roger Cormier
Here are all of the center fielders projected for more WARP than Oakland’s Ramon Laureano: Mike Trout, Lorenzo Cain, Charlie Blackmon, George Springer, Starling Marte, Ender Inciarte, and Kevin Kiermaier. In 513 plate appearances, PECOTA expects Laureano to deliver 2.6 WARP, more than (to name just a few) Aaron Hicks, Odubel Herrera, Jackie Bradley, and A.J. Pollock. Surprisingly, that isn’t inflated by a starling defensive projection. Indeed, if Laureano were projected to be half as good as Inciarte or Kiermaier in the field, he’d inch past them on this leaderboard.
Rather, PECOTA sees him blossoming as a hitter, with a 106 DRC+ and 19 home runs. That’s impressive confidence in a player who had a 93 DRC+ in his rookie campaign, with plenty of strikeouts, but it nods toward the fact that, at two levels in Houston’s system in 2016 and at Triple-A in 2018, Laureano laid waste to minor-league pitching. In the eyes of PECOTA, he has a chance to further tap into that and become a crucial part of Oakland’s lineup in his first full season. —Matthew Trueblood
4. Tim Anderson
PECOTA is forgiven for projecting a negative defensive contribution from White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson this season. When factoring in multiple years of defensive performance, his poor debut in 2016 (-4.7 FRAA) and extremely bad 2017 (-11.7) are enough to outweigh the growth he made a year ago, when he was worth +9.1 FRAA, fourth-best among shortstops.
The model understandably expects regression, but should it? Anderson’s struggles early in his career were considered more a product to his relative youth as a baseball player. He didn’t start playing baseball until his junior year of high school and wasn’t even really radar of major-league teams until his draft year of 2013. So even three years into his big-league career, he’s still considered relatively raw compared to most players his age.
As he attested to late in his 2018 breakout, Anderson’s defensive improvements were, more than anything, about reps and improved focus. He got better as the season went on, so there’s plenty of reason to believe his defensive improvement will last or even grow. And if it does, Anderson will be far more valuable than his current 1.0 WARP projection. Even if he puts up half of the FRAA he did last season, that ups his projection to 1.8 WARP. If he repeats the +9.1 FRAA, it more than doubles to 2.4.
That is all, of course, with the same offensive projections you see today. Couple all of that with solidly above-average baserunning and improving offense (he showed net gains in strikeouts, walks, and power, although his on-base percentage still was well below average) and there’s plenty of room for optimism that Anderson will far exceed his projection. —Collin Whitchurch
5. Jabari Blash
Last season, 355 hitters made at least 200 trips to the plate and 76 of them put up a DRC+ of 115 or better. Essentially, they belonged in the 80th percentile or better among big-league hitters. PECOTA projects 62 hitters to exceed both 200 plate appearances and a 115 DRC+ this season. Those 62 include bona fide superstars, rising youngsters, and established veterans. All of them are slated to get a good chunk of playing time in the majors. Well, all but one.
Jabari Blash, whom PECOTA projects to have exactly a 115 DRC+, is set to spend this season hitting in the middle of a lineup. The catch? The middle of the lineup is likely to include Zelous Wheeler and the newly-acquired Hideto Asamura. Yes, Blash is under contract with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan. It’s easy to see why the Angels cut ties with Blash, a 29-year-old career .186/.306/.307 hitter in 324 major-league plate appearances.
It also makes sense why PECOTA has got it bad for someone who’s hit .266/.384/.534 in more than 3,000 minor-league plate appearances, including leading the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in OPS by a wide margin last season. If he performs to the level PECOTA expects, Blash could find himself back in the states next season. Though, it’s a whole different league with a different game philosophy. We’ll keep an eye on him. —Kazuto Yamazaki
6. Colorado Rockies rotation
Last year, the top four starters in the Rockies’ rotation—German Marquez, Kyle Freeland, Jon Gray, and Tyler Anderson—put up 10.8 WARP, the first time since 2009-2010 (a.k.a. the Anni Mirabiles Ubaldi) that Colorado’s starting core had been anywhere near respectable. This season, PECOTA believes the Rockies are real, and if not spectacular, at least quite good. The aforementioned quartet is projected for a total of 7.8 WARP (with nearly another win coming from projected fifth starter Antonio Senzatela).
This isn’t world-beating stuff, and the raw stats will be smudged by Coors Field, but with all four of the main pieces still in their twenties, and an emerging ace in Marquez still only 24, Colorado may have finally put their dream of a sustainable rotation into action. (For comparison, the top four in the Dodgers’ rotation project for 8.2 WARP.)
Marquez’s breakout is given full-throated support in his projection as the sixth-best NL starter. PECOTA keeps the Gray votives alight with a 3.45/3.59 ERA/DRA, seeing all the control gains while turning a blind eye to his poor fastball location. We’re putting money down on last year’s 3.89 DRA from Freeland (rather than his sub-3.00 ERA), projecting a 4.08/4.26 ERA/DRA, but it’s no knock against him that he’s a durable, quality starter—just not one likely to be receiving more Cy Young votes. Anderson’s fate rests in his (in)ability to prevent the long ball—PECOTA likes him to come down from last year’s 30 home runs allowed to 20, a still-high number but a reasonable expectation.
The Rockies stuck with the Dodgers until—and one game beyond—the end of the 2018 season. We aren’t predicting a repeat of that particular photo finish, but if this rotation merits PECOTA’s optimism, they shouldn’t be far off. —Jon Hegglund
7. Eloy Jimenez
For a consensus uber prospect, Eloy Jimenez flies under the radar. There has been general agreement on who and what he is and what he will be in the majors in the prospect community for some time, with the disagreements consisting of quibbles about just how well and how long he will play in an outfield corner before moving to first base. Or, perhaps, whether he’ll hit closer to 30 home runs rather than 40 once he gets going. Pretty much everyone seems to agree on two things: 1) He’s really going to hit; and 2) he isn’t going to be as good as Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
PECOTA’s projection for Eloy is a microcosm of his place in the game. In less than a full season, PECOTA has Jimenez hitting .283/.322/.480 with a 115 DRC+, good for 1.7 WARP, tied with the likes of Michael Brantley, A.J. Pollock, and Justin Smoak. That’s a really exciting rookie year, and consistent with what our prospect team has been saying—Jimenez is a good bet to hit for average and for power immediately, even if he isn’t providing much on the defensive side … and he isn’t going to be as good as Vlad Jr.
Maybe Vladito, and the lack of debate around Jimenez, has perversely dulled the buzz around a superb prospect in his own right. Still, Jimenez does not need to be Guerrero to be really, really, really good. The point of Jimenez has always been that he’s a an impact bat. The good news is, the algorithm matches what the eye test has told our evaluators about his major-league readiness. Jimenez is 22 years old and has never seen major-league pitching. PECOTA thinks he’ll be as good a hitter as Gary Sanchez, Brandon Nimmo, and Yasiel Puig right now. —Nick Schaefer
8. Luke Voit
What does the prototypical Quad-A slugger look like? A stocky first baseman in his late twenties with plenty of minor-league success is a pretty good description. That’s also how one might have described Luke Voit before his stint with the Yankees last summer. In fact, our editor-in-chief Aaron Gleeman did just that back in 2017, naming Voit a Quadruple-A All-Star. Voit was a monster after the trade to New York, posting a 155 DRC+ in the final two months of the season. And now he owns one of PECOTA’s best offensive projections.
Voit is projected to hit .279/.350/.501 with 21 home runs in 469 plate appearances. That’s good for an impressive 128 DRC+, which makes him the Yankees’ third-best projected hitter, behind Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, and the 22nd-best hitter in the majors. What makes this projection even more remarkable is that Voit only has 285 major-league plate appearances to his name. Virtually all of his success was when he joined the Yankees last summer, but was that really enough to merit PECOTA’s optimism in 2019? Even considering his strong minor-league track record, this forecast jumps off the page for a guy who’s almost 28 with limited experience in the majors.
Then again, maybe Voit’s projection is exactly the type we should buy into. One thing in his favor is his quality of contact. This is something the Yankees’ scouting and analytics departments observed before the acquisition. General manager Brian Cashman confirmed this himself, indicating that Voit was someone the team coveted. The fact that PECOTA is in line with data the Yankees have behind the curtain validates Voit’s projection. He’s not just another Quad-A slugger. —Derek Albin
9. Javier Baez
It’s a bit cliché to throw around Rodney Dangerfield’s no respect bit, but Javier Baez might be justified in doing so. It seems like each year, projections have a vendetta against him, including as recently as 2017, where he was projected for a sub-.250 batting average. While we’re not quite right back where we started, there’s definitely a downward trend for El Mago in PECOTA’s eyes, featuring a .268 AVG and 109 DRC+, 22 and 11 points below his 2018 marks, respectively. That regression isn’t surprising or uncommon as a general thought following a career-best season. However, Baez made notable strides in increasing his rate of contact, while also making stronger contact.
Most notably, though, is his rising tendency to get the ball the other way. Baez improved his ability to cover the low-and-away portion of the strike zone and get the ball into play. It’s no longer a “gimme” in the whiff game for opposing pitchers, who often relied on that low-and-away pitch to get him swinging. Still prone to whiffs and strikeouts? Of course. But does his continued evolution at the plate indicate not necessarily a regression, but stability in regard to the numbers he posted last year? Could he regress? Of course. But it seems like every year the man shows us something new in his arsenal. Maybe this year it’ll be consistency. —Randy Holt
10. Kyle Tucker
At first glance, there’s nothing about Kyle Tucker’s PECOTA projection that jumps out at you. A 119 DRC+ for a rookie is good, but we knew he was good. Thirteen homers and nine stolen bases in under a half-season of playing time makes him a decent second-half target in fantasy leagues, maybe. It’s the playing time that’s the issue with him given Houston’s depth and that’s why he’s only projected for 304 plate appearances
So nothing remarkable about his PECOTA projection, fantasy or otherwise. Except when you run every PECOTA projection through my fantasy valuation model on a per-plate appearance basis, PECOTA has Tucker projected to be the 12th-best fantasy hitter per plate appearance in 2019. Better than Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Better than every Astros hitter other than Jose Altuve. A first-round fantasy player if he gets playing time. Twelfth. Tough for that not to catch your attention. —Rob Silver
11. Jorge Soler
PECOTA projects 514 plate appearances for Jorge Soler. The number in and of itself isn’t remarkable. Soler, after all, is one of the better bats at the dispoyal of Ned Yost. He’s expected to get regular playing time in a Royals offense that figures to be DRC+ challenged. But this is Jorge Soler. The Royals’ erstwhile right fielder/designated hitter has a difficult time staying on the field. In his major-league career going back to 2014, his high in plate appearances is 404. His second-highest is 264. Do they give out participation ribbons?
Should Soler find his way to good health and regular playing time, he looks to be among the most average of major-league hitters. PECOTA projects .230/.324/.409, a DRC+ of 101. That’s not the return the Royals figured on when they shipped their cyborg closer Wade Davis to the Friendly Confines ahead of the 2017 season. Still, this is the Royals, a team that collectively posted a 92 DRC+ last year. They’ll be happy with an honest to goodness major-league regular in the middle of their order. They’ll be thrilled if he can stay on the field and out of the trainer’s room. In two seasons as a Royal, Soler has accumulated 367 plate appearances. PECOTA is feeling 514? Let’s play ball. Just keeping your head above water is something. —Craig Brown
12. Hernan Perez
Last season, only 55 players stole at least 10 bases and hit at least 10 home runs, and PECOTA projects 76 players to reach this level of production in 2019. Brewers super-utility man Hernan Perez was not one of the 2018 power-speed demons, missing the home run cutoff by one. In what PECOTA foresees as quite an improved campaign, Perez is one of a dozen second basemen to reach that level of production (13 home runs, 19 stolen bases).
Perez’s projection is fascinating because a .260/.306/.409 line would mark his best performance in getting on base and a noted improvement in slugging. Moreover, Perez’s projection is crucial because the system is skeptical of fellow Milwaukee 40-man roster infielders Mauricio Dubon (65 DRC+), Cory Spangenberg, Tyler Saladino (81 DRC+), and Orlando Arcia (82 DRC+), plus top prospect Keston Hiura (83 DRC+). Perez is projected to be the best infielder on the NL Central contending Brewers on the strength of a power-speed campaign that would make him a contender for the most thrilling 1.0 WARP in baseball on a roster that just might need it. —Nicholas Zettel
13. Terrance Gore
Here’s how I know the machines will never take over: A computer, similar to what I’m writing this on and you might be reading this on, took a look at the totality of Terrance Gore’s minor-league career—all 650-plus games of it, yielding one homer and a .273 slugging percentage—and spat out a projection of four major-league home runs for 2019. That is not the work of a machine capable of enslaving the human race. Do better, future overlords.
The whole thing is nutty in the way that Gore’s career itself has been something future historians will look at to try to make sense of baseball in 2019. Gore might steal more bases than he has hits. PECOTA has him attempting to steal once every third time reaching base, which might be conservative. Only once—across 65 games for Triple-A Omaha in 2017—has Gore attempted to steal less often than once every three times he reached base. This is his skill; it’s all he does. He’s reached base four times across 63 games at the big-league level and yet has 31 steal attempts. If he gets on first, he’s going. If he’s subbed in to pinch-run, he’s going. Projecting 23 total steal attempts in 63 times on base? Double that number. —Colby Wilson
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