Tuesday, March 13, 2012

AL Contenders - the Fangraphs comp: Part 1

Over the previous week, Fangraphs posted a site-wide project which ranked every major league team by position. The master link is here, which also includes links to the Top 15 prospects for each team. It is my purpose in this post to compare the rankings for all the teams I consider to be contenders. This is primarily related to the teams who have the ability to keep the Blue Jays out of the playoffs, though I will include also the Detroit Tigers as the nominal AL Central winner. If you believe someone else will win that division, bully for you - but I don't think one observer in 10,000 thinks the wild card will come out of that division so I won't bother to comment on it, or to comment on the Tigers other than to simply include them in the stat sets.

My interest here is not simply comparing their rankings, you can do that easily enough, but to look into them a bit more intensely. There are some places where I will quibble with, even modify, the figures they use and when that happens I will explain what my reasoning was. Also, my primary focus will be on the starters, unless there's a clear specific reason to do otherwise (again, this will be covered in the comments). the reason for this is because one of the things I consistently question is the playing time assumptions which emerge from the ZIPS projections which served as the basis for their rankings. For the sake of length, I'll take the batters in this post and save the pitchers for part 2.

To be clear, these are their projections filtered through my opinions - just repeating their info is hardly worth the effort.

The format here is as follows:
Team - Starting Player (in most cases) - projected WAR (theirs modified at times by me) - note

Catcher (includes reserves):

TR - Napoli/Torrealba - 5.0 - we'll see if Napoli will ACTUALLY catches more
DT - Avila/Laird - 4.5 - personally I expect a bigger decline, too many PA
LAA - Iantetta/Wilson - 4.0 - a lot of folks still think Ianetta will make a big jump
NYY - Martin/Cervelli - 3.0 - Martin has a bit more health issues than he used to.
BRS - Saltalamacchia/Shoppach - 3.0 - they include 0.5 from rookie Ryan Lanaway.
TBJ - Arencibia/Mathis - 2.5 - they include 0.5 from d'Arnaud.
TBR - Molina/?? - 1.0 - this could get ugly.

With respect to the Ianetta believers, Arencibia is the one guy here who has some room to spike. But probably not by more than 1 WAR or less. On the other hand, I don't think Avila is that good (and both he and Iantettta are rated too many PA for my tastes) so in my mind everyone here except Napoli is pretty much on the same 3-4 WAR level. If he (Napoli) doesn't play more at catcher than last year, then no one has much of an edge here, but the Rays are well behind the pack.

First Base:

LAA - Pujols - 5.5 - Duh. could be higher of course, ZIPS is always conservative.
BRS - Gonzalez - 5.1 - Another guy who was higher than this in '11
NYY - Teixeira - 3.9 - Pretty solid projection IMO
DT - Fielder - 3.5 - overall it goes up a tic for the days Cabrera relieves Fielder
TBR - Pena - 2.2 - shouldn't be better, could easily be worse
TBJ - Lind - 1.3 - best year was 3.7, as a DH, they presume a small addition from EE
TR - Moreland - 0.9 - position tics up a bit for contribution from Napoli/Young

Any way you slice it, there are at least two tiers here. In a perfect revival of his former self, Lind could move into the 4-4.5 range, but if he reaches 3 Jays fans would have to be relieved.

BRS - Pedroia - 7.0 - seems very high to me
TR - Kinsler - 6.5 - another rosy projection, IMO.
TBR - Zobrist - 6.0 - if he stays at 2B; might be a bit rosy too
NYY - Cano - 5.5 - he's a bit more consistent
LAA - Kendrick - 3.0 - makes more sense
TBJ - Johnson - 2.5 - ZIPS hit him harder
DT - Raburn - 1.5 - might change in odd ways if Inge wins the job

Here's the strange thing. let's take each of these guys (save Raburn), and get the WAR per 150 games for the last five years of their career, the last 3, and add a column for last season, and compare that to the projection above.

Pedroia - 5.4 - 6.3 - 8.0
Kinsler - 5.4 - 5.9 - 7.7
Zobrist - 5.3 - 6.3 - 6.6 (not all at 2B)
Cano - 4.0 - 5.1 - 5.6
Kendrick - 3.7 - 4.2 - 5.8
Johnson - 3.2 - 3.3 - 2.2 (not all at 2B)

Now I admit I'm not mathematician and the calculations behind ZIPS are beyond my understanding. But it seems to me that in at least the top two guys there have a too-optimistic projection. And Kendrick and Johnson's is too pessimistic by a bit. Still, you can't really dispute that the latter two are on a lower tier.

Shortstop:

TBJ - Escobar - 4.5 - pleasantly surprised
TR - Andrus - 4.0 - the value of Defense
LAA - Aybar - 3.5 - a bit higher than I'd have guessed
NYY - Jeter - 2.5 - how the mighty have fallen
DT - Peralta - 2.0 - don't expect a repeat
TBR - Rodriguez - 2.0 - seems quite high to me, but it's not.
BRS - Aviles - 1.5 - they expect 1 from Punto as well.

The Red Sox are especially hard to project because who knows how the playing time will work out. Nice to see the Jays on top here.

Third Base::

TBR - Longoria - 7.0 - reasonable
DT - Cabrera - 5.5 - so much offense, D can't pull it down
TR - Beltre - 5.5 - so much defense it elevates the overall total
TBJ - Lawrie - 5.0 - no idea why the team rank was so low
BRS - Youklis - 5.0 - I think this is high
NYY - Rodriguez - 4.0 - health could spike this up
LAA - Trumbo - 1.5 - defensive projection is optimistic, IMO

Toronto was behind Boston for no reason i can discern on the list, but of the two, Lawrie has a vastly better chance of spiking than Youk does so I flipped them Brett could legitimately top this list by year's end. VERY easily be at least #2

Right Field:

TBJ - Bautista - 6.5 - Legit
TR - Cruz - 3.5 - some contributions from Murphy
NYY - Swisher - 3.5 - pretty consistent value
TBR - Joyce - 2.5 - if he figures out lefties this could improve
LAA - Hunter - 2.5 - age? slipage?
BRS - Sweeney/Ross - 2.0 I don't like listing platoons but that's the plan here
DT - Boesch - 1.5 - how long will he hold the job?

Nothing really to remark upon here.

Center Field:

BRS - Ellsbury - 7.0 - 9.4 in '11, previous high 4.3
NYY - Granderson - 5.5 - Was 7.0 in '11 a new level?
LAA - Bourjos - 4.5 - the power of great defense
TBR - Upton - 4.0 - rankings give too much credit to reserves
TBJ - Rasmus - 3.0 - see comments below
DT - Jackson - 3.0 - again mostly defense here
TR - Gentry/Borbon - 2.5 - not a platoon but they split the AB

The elephant in the room, for me, is how they figured Rasmus. The actual Fangraph's list has him at 1.5, but look at this:

500 PA / .250 - .322 - .454 - .776 / 0 (that's defense) = 1.5 war
550 PA / .264 - .360 - .418 - .778 / -2 = 3.0
400 PA / .270 - .331 - .435 - .766 / 0 = 3.0
600 PA / .278 - .322 - .447 - .769 / 2 = 3.0

Someone explain it to me: how does the top line rate out to half the WAR of the others? He beats out one of them on defense (with comparable offense), the next one on playing time (with comparable rates) so neither of those make a good argument against the third. If defense played such a huge role, how come the second guy - with fewer PA - rates exactly the same as the 4th guy? If it's playing time, how come #3 and #4 are the same?

I'm forced to conclude some sort of calculation error regarding Rasmus and have arbitrarily fixed it, pending someone explaining the difference. And oh by the way, Rasmus had a 4.3 in 2010 so he could flirt with third or even second on that list.

Left Field:

NYY - Gardner - 5.0 - ordinary bat, great wheels and insane glove
TR - Hamilton - 3.5 - if he can stay out there
BRS - Crawford - 3.0 - might assume too many PA
TBR - Jennings - 2.5 - potential to rise
DT - Young - 1.5 - might be someone else
TBJ - (Thames) - 1.0 - I think it will be Snider
LAA - Wells - 0.5 - how long until Trout forces their hand?

A few things - one is I don't buy this level of defensive value in Gardner, I think it's a weakness of the math. Second, Hamilton can go up with health, Crawford can go down if the hand bothers him. Watch for Jennings to go up.

My strongest view though is of course on the Jays LF situation. I think it's going to be Snider and I think the team always planned for it to be if he showed them what they wanted in the spring. The have to say nice things about Thames to respect his season last year, but Snider should be a special guy (as should Rasmus). And Snider, in basically half a season of PA in 2010 was at 1.2 and his defense has improved. so if he even just gets back to that level he's up to around 2.5 - and I'm expecting 3 or better this season.

DH:

BRS - Ortiz - 2.0 - DH values are suppressed of course by lack of defense
TBJ - Encarnacion - 1.0 - steady production assumed
LAA - Morales - 0.5 - if healthy . . .
TBR - Scott - 0.5 - might bounce back
TR - Young - 0 - they assume some value from Napoli
DT - Young - 0 - oddly they give him the most PA here too
NYY - Ibanez - (0.5) - this can't last?


If Ortiz is only at 2.0 (he was at 4.2 last year) then there's not really a lot of swing here. Morales was at 3.4 at his peak but that included defense.



Totals for the batters:

BRS - 35.6 (39% Pedroia and Ellsbury)
NYY - 32.4
TR - 31.4
TBR - 27.7
TBJ - 27.3
LAA - 25.5
DT - 23

I think the Jays have more potential to move up than down - Snider, Lawrie, Lind and maybe Johnson have upward potential - even Bautista might not regress as much as they think. I think this total could break 30. On the other hand, the Red Sox are over-rated by these projections IMO. Ellsbury has had one year at the elite level, Pedroia isn't regressed as much as seems logical, Youk is more likely to go down than up, Crawford has the injury issue, and the SS and RF situation could get ugly. Crawford may need the help of graduates of sports medicine schools. The Rays and Yanks seem less volatile, though I can see TB picking up another WAR or two from Jennings.
In my opinion, all four teams (and Texas) fall within a range of 29-33 WAR. the Angels are running behind but they will do much better on the SP and make up ground.

The pitching comparison and final totals are up next.


1 comment:

Keith said...

I know interesting view. I agree that there is a ton of inconsistency in the math and just when will everyone stop expecting Jose to fall off. For the last 2 years ( 1 more than Ellsbury). He has been elite, even arguably the best player in baseball.
I don't know if the Lawrie math is off 5War in essentially his first year is ridiculously good. I do believe that Johnson is underrated especially suing half his games at the RC, with Bautista hitting behind him. I also think that if we are in this come the ASB and Lind is scuffling along as he has the past 2 years, AA will go out and get a bat. You obviously can't account for that. This is interesting as it reaffirms what most of us are thinking: we are not that far away! Should be a fun summer (and fall). Another great peice