One hypothesis for baseball’s sluggish free-agent market goes that, in the post-Moneyball era, front offices have “narrowing views of player valuation.” In addition to their scouts, many — if not all — teams have their own projection systems, and projection systems tend to follow similar logic and view players in similar ways. For example, here’s what to expect from Red Sox sophomore Andrew Benintendi this year, according to three public projections:
ZiPS: 18 HR, .282/.354/.456, 84 R, 17 SB, 2.9 WAR
Steamer: 19 HR, .286/.360/.464, 88 R, 15 SB, 2.8 WAR
PECOTA: 18 HR, .272/.345/.446, 86 R, 16 SB, 2.5 WARP
Three systems and three methodologies, but ask them to predict 600 plate appearances, and they disagree on only a half-dozen of them. Most players’ projections aren’t quite this uniform, but rarely will you find yourself flabbergasted by a projection. Nor, probably, should you be, if you’ve been paying attention to the player’s performance.
But this makes those few instances of system disagreement especially interesting. There are, occasionally, players whose outlooks look significantly different depending on the URL at the top of your browser. In turn, those projections might dramatically affect an entire team’s outlook or convince you to push a player six rounds higher in a fantasy draft. These players are windows into the science of projections, and they’re helpful reminders of the utter bonkersness of baseball performance. Settle a few of these disagreements for us, will you?
ZiPS: 6.2 WAR, second-best position player in baseball
Steamer: 5.8 WAR, fifth-best position player in baseball
PECOTA: 4.5 WAR, 14th-best position player in baseball
ZiPS’ and Steamer’s disagreement is over defense and role: Stanton is worth less as a DH, where he’ll likely play some games. Both see Stanton as the second-best hitter in baseball, behind only Mike Trout. ZiPS sees him hitting 55 home runs with a 1.033 OPS; Steamer sees 53 homers and a 1.022 OPS. That’s the same basic hitter with small disagreements over how much he contributes with his glove.
But PECOTA is much more conservative on Stanton the hitter, projecting 41 homers (still the most of any projected hitter) and a .908 OPS. For this, it’s important to remember that in 2016, Stanton hit just .240/.326/.489, and to that point in his career, he had never hit 40 home runs, he had a sub-.900 career OPS, and he had dealt with significant injuries in four of the previous five seasons.
It’s also important to remember that baseball is a cruel game that occasionally flummoxes even the very best players. Aware of that potential for disaster, PECOTA often looks conservative: It’s folding in the very real possibility of collapse for each player. In fact, it often looks too conservative — every year, Mike Trout is projected to have a career-worst season, and every year he bests it — but collectively, the caution seems to pay off. Over the past three seasons, PECOTA’s top 20 projected hitters — 60 hitter seasons in all — have collectively done exactly what PECOTA projected for them, even though more have outhit their projections than come up short.
That gives us three visions of Stanton: The AL’s MVP, a candidate for MVP but a little bit down from 2017 and a valuable All-Star who nevertheless comes up well short of preseason hyperbole. Interestingly, the Fan Projections at FanGraphs — which are based on readers’ crowd-sourced estimates — lean toward the pessimistic view. That’s very rare; fans are almost always more optimistic than soulless projection systems.
For six years in a row, Bautista was an All-Star. Does that seem that long ago to you? Do his top-10 MVP finishes, does his bat flip in the ALCS, seem forever ago? If they do, you’re ZiPS. If they don’t, you’re PECOTA.
ZiPS: -0.1 WAR, .699 OPS, 582nd-best position player in baseball
PECOTA: 3.0 WAR, .812 OPS, 55th-best position player in baseball
(Steamer doesn’t have a WAR because it doesn’t estimate playing time for players who are still free agents. It splits the difference on his offense, though: a .761 OPS)
Remember when we said projection systems tend to follow similar logic? The basis for just about every projection system is what the player has done, how recently and at what age. Some systems go further back for information; some put greater or lesser emphasis on recency; some have different aging curves; some have different ways of neutralizing performances based on ballparks or quality of competition; some fold in other details, the sorts of details more traditionally associated with scouting; some draw more inference based on previous, similar players. But the basis is simple: What has he done, how recently and at what age?
Over the past three years, Bautista has been a very good hitter: He has hit more home runs than George Springer, has a higher OPS than Wil Myers, has outhit (by weighted on-base average) Marcell Ozuna and Justin Smoak. That’s all really good, and it’s relevant. Good players have bad years, often followed by more good years. But last year, Bautista was one of the worst hitters in the game, and he’s old, and those six consecutive All-Star appearances might not tell us much about what’s going on in his cells right now. As a result, one system sees a player who was extremely good not long ago. Another sees a player who was extremely bad very recently.
Turner, the Nationals’ 24-year-old shortstop, has never made an All-Star team, never received an MVP vote, never led his league in any stat, never even qualified for the batting title. (He was called up late in 2015 and 2016, and he broke his wrist in the summer of 2017.) But he’s already a star — or at least close to it. He has been a top-five pick in fantasy drafts this spring, with 20-HR power and 50-SB speed. ZiPS projects him to the 37th-best position player in baseball, with his top player comp being Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg. Steamer projects him to be the 22nd-most valuable, just behind Freddie Freeman and just ahead of Judge. Impressive.
But then PECOTA butts in. It projects Turner to be the third-most valuable player in baseball, at 6.1 WAR. Surprisingly, it doesn’t forecast much better offensive numbers:
ZiPS: 3.0 WAR, .774 OPS
Steamer: 4.1 WAR, .813 OPS
PECOTA: 6.1 WAR, .805 OPS
The bulk of the gap comes from smaller or harder-to-measure or easier-to-disagree-on things. PECOTA predicts that Turner will be, as a baserunner, eight runs better than the average runner. Steamer and ZiPS say only 3.5 runs and 5.3 runs, respectively. That accounts for about a quarter of the difference between Steamer and PECOTA.
PECOTA also projects Turner to be one of the very best defensive shortstops in baseball, at 11 runs above average. ZiPS and Steamer project him to be just one or two runs above average. Each projection uses different advanced metrics to get to a number, but Turner is especially hard to project as a shortstop because he has played second base, center field and only 103 games at shortstop in his brief major league career. PECOTA is likely drawing from his minor league performance at the position, which (it thinks) was quite impressive.
Honestly, the public might hardly notice the difference between these three projected outcomes. In all three cases, he’d help your fantasy team the same. But the Nationals would notice. Turner’s baserunning and defensive value could span the distance from top MVP candidate to being left off most ballots.
According to Baseball Prospectus’ advanced pitching metric, Deserved Run Average — which considers a dizzying array of factors in and out of a pitcher’s control — Verlander was the eighth-best pitcher in baseball last year. DRA didn’t just like him after the trade to Houston, when his ERA was 1.06 in five starts; it thinks he pitched just as well in Detroit, despite a more mediocre ERA. In 2016, DRA says, Verlander was the best pitcher in baseball.
Which makes this one surprising:
ZiPS: 4.0 WAR (16th among all pitchers), 3.43 ERA, 1.12 WHIP
Steamer: 3.8 WAR (19th among all pitchers), 3.86 ERA, 1.20 WHIP
PECOTA: 2.2 WAR (48th among all pitchers), 4.18 ERA, 1.29 WHIP
This probably comes down to how each system treats aging. Darius Austin, at Baseball Prospectus, wrote this month about the pessimistic case for Verlander:
“While we might look at Verlander and see a workhorse who has a significant track record of success — including back-to-back seasons over 200 innings with more than a strikeout per inning and a very recent spectacular playoff performance — PECOTA sees a 35-year-old with a walk rate over 3.0/9, a home run problem, and a fairly recent season in which he was no better than league average. Most sobering are Verlander’s top three same-age comps: Adam Wainwright, Jason Schmidt, and the late Roy Halladay, all reminders of how rapid the decline can be.”
Of course, nothing about Verlander looks to be in decline. After decreased velocity led to poor 2014 and 2015 seasons — which pollute his projections somewhat — he regained his physical dominance. His average fastball last year was harder than it had been since 2010 and 2.5 mph harder than in 2014. Plus, another of his top same-age comps is Roger Clemens.
The punchline is that Andrew Benintendi will probably do something entirely different from his projections this year. Projection systems might agree, or slightly disagree, on what a player’s most likely outcome is. But one assumption baked into all of them is that the range of outcomes is fantastic. Some part of ZiPS knows PECOTA might be right about Bautista; some part of PECOTA knows Steamer might be right about Stanton; and some part of Steamer knows the only thing we can really count on is looking back at what we thought we knew and laughing.
Tim Locastro breaks record for most stolen bases to start career without getting caught
PHOENIX — Arizona manager Torey Lovullo has often said that Tim Locastro is the fastest man in the majors. You don’t have to take his word for it: The video game MLB The Show agrees.
“He’s got a 99 rating,” Lovullo said, grinning.
Locastro’s theft of second in the sixth inning was the 28th straight stolen base to start his career without getting caught. That broke the mark set by Hall of Famer Tim Raines, who stole 27 in a row from 1979-81. Records have been kept since 1951. The Baseball Hall of Fame requested Locastro’s cleats, which he had specially painted for the occasion.
Locastro, 28, grew up in upstate New York, close to the Hall of Fame’s location in Cooperstown.
“Having my cleats there, it’s unfathomable,” Locastro said.
Locastro was perhaps destined to break the record. He was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013 and his first baserunning coach that year was none other than Raines.
He flashed more than speed on Saturday night, tallying four singles and two runs from the leadoff spot. Locastro’s playing time in center field has increased after Ketel Marte recently went on the injured list with a strained hamstring.
“He’s not just fast,” Lovullo said. “He’s a good baseball player who’s learned how to hit.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Boston Red Sox OF J.D. Martinez goes on COVID-19 injured list; Michael Chavis recalled
Martinez underwent coronavirus testing, and the team is awaiting the results.
Going on the COVID-19 IL does not require a positive test. If he tests negative twice, Martinez can return to the lineup for the series finale Sunday at Baltimore.
“We feel pretty confident that he’ll be able to be with us [Sunday], but obviously we have to wait,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said.
Martinez has been of the hottest hitters in MLB to start the season. He is batting .433 (13 for 30) with seven doubles, two home runs and 12 RBIs.
Martinez entered the day leading all major league players in extra-base hits with nine. He has also recorded at least one extra-base hit in all of his team’s first seven games of the year, making him one of five players in MLB history to accomplish that feat.
Cora fully understands the league’s precaution with Martinez.
“I’ll tell you my story in spring training,” Cora said. “We got this app that they asked you how you feel, right? I had allergies in spring training, and you got to be honest, you know, as far as like, ‘OK, so I felt this.’ And as soon as I sent it, I got a text, a phone call and a lot of people panic and in less than five minutes. So I had to go to JetBlue Park, do the rapid test, stay in my office until they gave me the green light and that was it.
“But it’s understandable, right? We know what we are fighting against. But we don’t know how it moves or when we can get it, where, but I understand the protocols. I’m OK with it. So if we don’t have J.D. for one day, so be it, you know? Somebody has to step up and do the job tonight.”
Teams can carry up to five players on a taxi squad on the road in case of a coronavirus outbreak.
The Red Sox recalled Michael Chavis from the alternate training site to fill the opening on the 26-man roster. Chavis hit .250 (15 for 60) with three doubles, six home runs, 11 RBIs and a .892 OPS over 25 preseason games this spring.
Jacob deGrom’s 14 K’s unable to overcome Trevor Rogers’ gem as Marlins blank Mets
NEW YORK — Jacob deGrom matched a career best with 14 strikeouts over eight innings, but as is often the case for the two-time Cy Young Award winner, he failed to get any run support as the Miami Marlins blanked the New York Mets 3-0 Saturday.
DeGrom (0-1) looked unhittable early — until Jazz Chisholm Jr. barreled a 100.4 mph, 0-2 fastball thrown above the strike zone in the second inning. The left-handed hitter’s drive reached the second deck in right field and was estimated at 402 feet.
It was the first 0-2 homer deGrom has allowed in the majors.
“[Chisholm] sold out for it,” deGrom said. “Probably should have done a better job recognizing he was going to try to get to that fastball.”
The homer was all Miami could muster against deGrom. The right-hander reached 14 strikeouts for the fourth time — including three times against the Marlins. He allowed a run, five hits, walked none and threw 76 of his 95 pitches for strikes.
Plagued throughout his career by insufficient run support, deGrom was tagged with another disappointing loss. He even accounted for one of New York’s three hits.
“Unfortunately, we’ve been through this before,” center fielder Brandon Nimmo said. “It’s never easy.”
Marlins left-hander Trevor Rogers didn’t make things easy for the Mets, fanning 10 in six to beat deGrom for the second time in nine major league starts. The 23-year-old got his first big-league win against deGrom in a 5-3 victory last Aug. 31.
“Best in baseball, Jacob deGrom is,” Rogers said. “You really have to bring your best and then some. To see me and our whole team go out and compete with the best, it just shows you how good we are.”
A 2017 first-round draft pick, Rogers cruised against New York as he scattered three hits and two walks, retiring 11 straight in one stretch.
Rogers mixed a fastball averaging 95 mph with a slider and changeup, inducing 19 swing-and-misses among his 82 pitches. He ended his outing with strikeouts of Michael Conforto and Pete Alonso, stranding two runners to preserve a 1-0 lead.
Dylan Floro followed with a perfect seventh; Richard Bleier was helped by shortstop Miguel Rojas‘ diving catch to rob pinch-hitter Kevin Pillar during a 1-2-3 eighth and Yimi Garcia completed the three-hitter for his first save, who was called on instead of struggling closer Anthony Bass.
New York closer Edwin Diaz, meanwhile, relieved deGrom and struggled. Starling Marte hit a leadoff double and scored the next at-bat on a single by Jesus Aguilar. Rojas added an RBI single before Diaz was pulled and booed off the mound.
Mets fans also jeered Conforto, who struck out three times to extend a slump to start what could be his final season in New York. The right fielder is set to become a free agent in the fall.
The 32-year-old deGrom looked better than ever in his eighth major league season. Not only is he averaging 99 mph with his fastball — up from 94 mph when he debuted in 2014 — he’s throwing it with more “rise,” too. The pitch is dropping one inch less on average than it did in 2020, making it look to batters like it’s moving up in the strike zone as it approaches.
DeGrom punched out at least 10 hitters for the 47th time, passing Dwight Gooden for second-most in Mets history, trailing only Tom Seaver’s 60.
New York starters have turned in four quality starts in the team’s first five games but sit at 2-3 on the season.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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