Finalized 2014 Pitcher Projections from BEANS

Here are the BEANS projections for pitchers for the 2014 season: 

Link to GoogleDoc

Most pitchers who stand to play in 2014 should be included, although some might have fallen through the cracks.

Spoiler: The best projected starter by ERA- is not Clayton Kershaw, and the best projected reliever is not Craig Kimbrel. 

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Joey Votto is an amazing human being

I don’t know if there’s anything more to say, other than that Joey Votto is awesome.

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2013 Wins Distribution

2013 Wins Distribution

Here is a distribution of wins in the 2013 season. Compared to the cumulative chart which includes all seasons from the most recent expansion, the 2013 season saw a more bimodal distribution. This could be for any number of reasons, including mere small sample variation. The narrative suggests, however, that protected first round picks for the bottom 10 teams, and playoff spots for the top 10, that there’s a significant incentive to be either very good or very bad, and not much incentive to be caught in between.

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First Basemen: Comparing MLB Network’s Top 10 Right Now to projections

MLB Network has been airing a segment recently with Brian Kenny and various guests breaking down the top 10 players at each position “right now”. The statistically-minded Kenny seemingly has a grasp of the nuances of sabermetrics, but how do the show’s first base rankings match up with those of various projection systems? First, here are lists for first basemen as presented on the show. The show itself had a list, and then Sean Casey and Bill James each had one:

Rank MLB Network Bill James Sean Casey
1 Miguel Cabrera Miguel Cabrera Miguel Cabrera
2 Joey Votto Paul Goldschmidt Joey Votto
3 Paul Goldschmidt Joey Votto Paul Goldschmidt
4 Adrian Gonzalez Chris Davis Freddie Freeman
5 Joe Mauer Joe Mauer Chris Davis
6 Mike Napoli Freddie Freeman Prince Fielder
7 Chris Davis Edwin Encarnacion Adrian Gonzalez
8 Freddie Freeman Adrian Gonzalez Joe Mauer
9 Prince Fielder Mike Napoli Albert Pujols
10 Edwin Encarnacion Eric Hosmer Edwin Encarnacion

Spoiler: Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, and Paul Goldschmidt are good at baseball. However, the rest gets a little trickier. Chris Davis’ monster counting stat season actually got him highest on illustrious sabermetrician Bill James’ list, and converted catchers Mike Napoli and Joe Mauer were sprinkled throughout. Prince Fielder was tabbed for a comeback while Albert Pujols went under the radar a bit more. Edwin Encarnacion’s resurgence in Toronto was given a nod, and Bill James ensured that Eric Hosmer’s name could come up on this blog.

Freddie Freeman, meanwhile, is an interesting case. He put up a 4.8-WAR season last year, fifth best among this crop, and he certainly merited his spot on the charts. Meanwhile, Brandon Belt was seventh (and Hosmer ninth!) and yet only got a shout-out in a graphic at the end of the show for the players who just missed, along with Pujols, Brandon Moss, and Nick Swisher. There’s a pretty good argument to be made that Belt needs to be regarded in the same breath as Freeman, but perhaps his low counting stats and pitcher-friendly home park are to his detriment in that regard.

Now, here are the lists for the projection systems:

Rank Steamer Oliver BEANS
1 Miguel Cabrera* Miguel Cabrera* Miguel Cabrera
2 Joey Votto Paul Goldschmidt Joey Votto
3 Paul Goldschmidt Chris Davis Paul Goldschmidt
4 Freddie Freeman Joey Votto Chris Davis
5 Albert Pujols Edwin Encarnacion Brandon Belt
6 Adrian Gonzalez Freddie Freeman Freddie Freeman
7 Edwin Encarnacion Brandon Belt Mike Napoli
8 Prince Fielder Joe Mauer Joe Mauer
9 Allen Craig Brandon Moss Anthony Rizzo
10 Chris Davis Adrian Gonzalez Allen Craig

*Miguel Cabrera was listed and treated like a third baseman, but a conversion of his stats still led to him leading the pack.

Again, Cabrera, Votto, and Goldschmidt lead the way. Anthony Rizzo and Allen Craig made cameos, but Rizzo’s relatively poor season last year and Craig’s possible shift to LF likely kept them off most lists, along with a sheer lack of name recognition.

Finally, here is the aggregation of all 6 lists:

Rank Aggregate
1 Miguel Cabrera
2 Joey Votto
3 Paul Goldschmidt
4 Chris Davis
5 Freddie Freeman
6 Adrian Gonzalez
7 Joe Mauer
8 Edwin Encarnacion
9 Mike Napoli
10 Brandon Belt/Prince Fielder
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The LOOGY market and scraping the bottom of the barrel with Jeff Francis

LOOGYs, or Lefty One-Out GuYs, are essentially the luxury item of bullpens. Every team wants to want one, but not every team necessarily needs one. In other words, every team wants to be in a situation where the marginal value of 40 well-pitched, high-leverage innings is worth the premium the market places on high-leverage relievers. Naturally, however, very few teams are actually at that point. The only teams who are in the market are those who: (1) exhibit need for a LOOGY; (2) do not currently have a LOOGY; (3) have the money; and, (4) are willing to pay the market price for someone who will only pitch a few innings late in games.

What if we take the final two points out of the equation, and assume the first? We do that by looking at the teams who either do not have money, or do not want to spend it on a specialist, and assume they still want a LOOGY. How could they do it?

Relievers, in general, are failed starters and position players. The good relievers are often converted early in their development, to acclimate to the different manner by which they must warm up, craft their repertoires, and approach batters. However, there is strength to converting a starter later in his life cycle, perhaps one who has struggled as a starter largely due to a lack of tertiary pitches, which are generally unnecessary for a short-haul reliever, or a lack of stamina, which is again not a prerequisite for being a good reliever. To circle back, who are the 2014 free agents who may fit the bill?

Let’s take a gander at the best remaining free agent pitchers against lefties from 2011-2013. Jeff Francis is a name which pops up immediately. He had 371 lefties faced in the last 3 years, and held them to a .254/.277/.373 line, good for a .283 wOBA. This was not aided by BABIP, as hitters had a .299 Batting Average on Balls in Play against him. In fact, his success was largely derived of not walking anyone (1.8 BB%) while also preventing the ball from leaving the infield (54.4 GB% and 5.1 IFFB%). Weighted by the number of batters faced he had in each year, and adjusted for the fact that he pitched in both leagues, the league average wOBA for Francis over that period was .316. So his .283 wOBA against lefties compares very favorably. 

Furthermore, he spent two years in Colorado, which inflates hitting rather considerably. Let’s apply a combined park factor to that wOBA, and get a wRC+. The combined park factor for two years of Colorado and 2011 in Kansas City is 109, so the expected league average wRC+ in that span for where Francis played is .343. Thus, the wRC+ of lefties against him was a staggering 57.

57.

In other words, Francis turned the amalgam of lefties he faced into Adeiny Hechavarria (-1.9 WAR, 60 wRC+) or Yuniesky Betancourt (-1.8 WAR, 56 wRC+). That’s crazy!

And Francis may not get a major league deal this offseason (because he has been absolutely terrible against righties in this same sample). He may be the perfect type of player to attempt to convert to a reliever, and stash in AAA short term to see if it works. 

 

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Making Sneaky Waiver Requests

Being in a major league front office is all about being sneaky. If you can maximize the chances of keeping all of the players you like in the organization, you would do it. So, what is one way that GMs try to game the system? Well, one thing is this, in Article XIX, Section F of the MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement:

[E]ach Friday, not later than 3 P.M. E.D.T., the Office of the Commissioner shall notify the Association, by facsimile transmission, of all waiver requests and their disposition.

So, the league office will send a fax (seriously? A fax?) to all of the teams informing them of the waiver requests from that week. To be sneaky, a team might place a waiver request for a player either right after receiving this fax, or on a Monday. Do note that there’s no functional difference between placing a claim on Friday after 3 or on a Monday morning, as no claims are processed after 2 pm on Friday through Monday, according to Major League Rule 10(c)(1)(A):

Notices received after 2:00p.m. on Friday shall be considered as received on Monday morning. Waiver requests shall not be accepted on Saturdays, Sundays or holidays as published by notice from the Commissioner’s Office. Such requests shall be deemed received the morning of the following business day.

47 hours later, the request would be cleared, and hopefully a few less-active teams would miss it, as it wouldn’t be listed as active on the weekly report, and a more passive team might just wait for that information in order to make a waiver claim. Saturdays and Sundays do count in Spring Training, so the terms of the sneakiness changes, but not the ability to be sneaky. In any case, there are various ways in which teams might game the system. This is one.

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Distribution of 1B Fielding

Distribution of 1B fielding

Here is a visual representation of the distribution of 1B fielding, as per the UZR/150s of qualified 1Bs in the UZR era (which is 2002 and thereafter). The mean is 0.8 runs, which is slightly above average because unqualified 1Bs tend to be worse. The standard deviation is 7.5 runs. The bin labels represent the right endpoint of the bin, so UZRs between 0.1 and 4, inclusive, are counted as part of the “4” bin, and so forth. Note that the left side of the distribution is essentially bounded at -16, with little exception, as teams are just utterly unwilling to play someone worse than that, defensively, for long enough that he might qualify for the batting title.

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Wins since ’98 Expansion

Wins since '98 Expansion

Here, we can see the distribution of win totals since the most recent expansion. Notice that the distribution of wins is essentially bimodal, because teams are incentivized to either perform extremely well and make the playoffs, or extremely poorly to secure a good draft pick. As such, teams have responded to the incentives and created a bit of a “black hole” in the diminished marginal utility patch that is the 75-85 win zone. Also note that each bin label corresponds to the right endpoint of the bin, so teams with 81-85 wins would be in the 85 win bin, and teams with 51-55 in the 55 win bin.

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A new era of outfield defense? Not so fast!

Earlier, members of the MCC community brought up an assertion; good defenders are nearly ubiquitous in the upper minors. This is a common belief, but is it true?

Let us assume its truth for the moment. It follows that if defense has been undervalued until recently, then these good defenders in the lower minors would find themselves more playing time as the league shifts toward valuing defensive runs the same way as offensive runs. Of course, there are two assumptions here, and neither of them are necessarily correct. Perhaps the league is not shifting, and perhaps there just are not as many good defenders in the upper minors as previously thought, and maybe both.

To clear things up, we move to the data! I looked at all the outfield defensive seasons from qualifiers in the UZR era, 733 in all, and found that there were 118 seasons in which an outfielder was worth more than 7.5 runs defensively, including the positional adjustment. I included the positional adjustment in order to fairly compare corner outfielders and center fielders; the assumption is that the 10 run defensive difference between the corner outfield spots and center is approximately equivalent to the “switching” ability of a seasoned player to play both positions. In other words, a +5 fielder in CF and a +15 fielder in a corner outfield spot would both be right at the cut.

If we are correct in assuming that defensive runs saved were a market inefficiency before recent technological advances, then ubiquity in minor league outfield defense would yield a more densely populated upper-echelon. Yet another assumption is that the rising tide may not raise all ships; offense is still valuable, so only a select few might be good enough defenders and hitters in order to get enough playing time and accrue enough defensive value to make the cut. Here is a table:

Year Count Avg Def/600
2013 9 15.8
2012 9 12.3
2011 6 13.7
2010 9 14.8
2009 12 15.7
2008 11 13.8
2007 6 18.8
2006 14 13.1
2005 12 13
2004 12 14.1
2003 11 13.4
2002 7 13.3

The “count” column is a running total of how many people made the +7.5 defense/600 PAs cut, and the “Avg” column just denotes what the average was of players who made the cut. Here is a chart depicting the same data:

It appears that there is little to no year to year movement in the distribution of upper echelon defenders. Of course, the sample size is rather small. Most years only had around 10 players make the cut, and most statisticians will tell you that is just not nearly enough to estimate a population parameter.

Meanwhile, the major assumptions that (1) not all ships are raised by the tide and (2) the tide is rising also serve to muddy the picture if they prove to be false.

So the result? Inconclusive. However, we do know that good defenders of this nature are extremely valuable. Only 16% of qualifying outfielders met the threshold, and that is already a highly-skilled sample to begin with.

In the end, it might be difficult to prove whether or not good defensive players are constantly available in the minors, but it is notable that there is about as much evidence for it as against it, which, on both hands, is just not a lot.

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Projecting 2013’s Top 10

The top 10 players in 2013 featured a great variety of players. There were the incredibly young, highly touted, rising stars (Mike Trout, Manny Machado), the breakouts (Josh Donaldson, Matt Carpenter, Carlos Gomez, Chris Davis, Paul Goldschmidt), and the consistent contenders (Andrew McCutchen, Miguel Cabrera, Evan Longoria). Naturally, those are all incredibly arbitrary groups, the fact remains that baseball’s most productive players are not cut from the same mold. As such, going forward, each player will have his own trajectory. Here are the BEANS projections for their 2014s:

Player wRC+ Fielding Positional BSR WAR
Mike Trout 166 10.4 -1.0 9.7 10.3
Andrew McCutchen 146 0.1 2.1 3.6 6.7
Evan Longoria 132 13.2 0.1 -2.1 6.4
Miguel Cabrera 169 -11.6 -2.3 -3.6 5.8
Carlos Gomez 109 18.3 1.9 6.5 5.6
Manny Machado 104 21.2 2.5 -0.1 5.4
Paul Goldschmidt 143 2.5 -12.5 1.5 5.3
Matt Carpenter 130 -3.1 0.2 2.4 5.1
Josh Donaldson 119 7.5 2.1 1.2 5.1
Chris Davis 139 -2.8 -12.2 0.7 4.0

All totals are made with the assumption that each player will get the same amount of Plate Appearances as last year. As you can see, BEANS sees all of these players as very good next year, but there are two standouts. First, Mike Trout leads the pack by a country mile, because he is spectacular. Second, Chris Davis is a full win out in last place, largely because his breakout was so unprecedented, and his previous years do not belie the same type of player as his 2013.

Alas, I cannot see the future, and these are only projections. In any case, the top 10 in 2014 may not be an exact repeat, but you will be seeing much of these names for years to come.

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