Harper’s Projection Problem

March 14, 2013

A couple of weeks ago, I dissected the PECOTA projections for the Nats, and mentioned why I thought some of them might be inaccurate. BryceswingThe first one I discussed as probably being a bit off was Bryce Harper’s to which I said

This would be an incredible stat line for any 20 year old… human. But since Harper is superhuman, I’m guessing there’s nothing in the code to deal with that, and his age is hurting his predicted performance

I didn’t go much beyond that, but Matthew Kory did. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here are a few highlights as to why he thinks Harper will do better than the 259/.324/.442 PECOTA says he will. When trying to come up with an actual comparable player to Harper, he notes the biggest issue with projection systems, which “projects player performance based on comparison with historical player-seasons.”:

This illustrates the problem with projecting a player with Harper’s specific skill set at so young an age. Where projection systems can usually be very precise, with Harper they can’t; the data just doesn’t exist. Therefore projection systems can’t be as certain, and the range of possible outcomes is much greater than it normally would be.

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The Nats and PECOTA Projections

February 20, 2013

Oh poor Nats… they are just not as good as we all thought. At least that might be your first reaction if you look at the playoff odds report at Baseball Prospectus. They are projected to finish 87-75 (after rounding) despite winning 98 next year. And while they are projected to win the NL East, they have the lowest playoff percentage chance of any projected division leader at 67.9%, and the lowest chance of winning the World Series of any of them as well, at 7.6%. What gives?

Ok, before you go storm the offices of Baseball Prospectus (for which, I assume, you’d need some help from ENCOM) let’s keep a few things in mind. First of all, the Nats are forecast to win the NL East, not come in second. The Braves are forecast to be the second place team at only 82-80, which would give the Nats a comfortable lead. And all of this is based on PECOTA, which has some quirks that are worth noting. That doesn’t mean PECOTA is worth ignoring, its just important to know what the issues might be.

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The Mick, a Winter Baseball Fix, and Bryce Harper

December 19, 2012

Every winter I try to read at least one baseball book, just to satisfy my baseball cravings. I recently finished The Last Boy, a biography of the great Mickey Mantle, and I highly recommend it. Any baseball fan would enjoy it. More than that, though, I think it should be required reading for any baseball player.

I was initially hesitant to read the book, which was given to me. I already knew what it was going to be, because I had read a few reviews. mickey-mantleAn exposé highlighting the lowlights of The Mick’s life, right? Well, yes that was in there, but that wasn’t the purpose nor was it the main arc of the book. It encompassed the great and the terrible, but it simultaneously humanized a legend and put me in awe of one of the most superhuman athletes ever.

As someone who follows the Nationals closely, it is hard to not think of Bryce Harper when The Mick is described. The speed that Mantle had his first season (which he never regained after famously blowing out his knee) is not quite Bryce, but the tales of his power send chills up your spine. When they talk about the mammoth home runs he hits starting at age 19, you cannot help but think of the young Nats outfielder.

The way his home runs are discussed in the book, the way his contemporaries describe it… it’s as if they’ve never seen baseballs travel that far and that fast. Putting it in scouting terms, The Mick had an 80 power, so does Harper and a handful of other players in MLB right now. But Harper’s the only one right now who was in the bigs at age 19 displaying it, just like Mantle. The way they describe his biggest home runs make you hope you can think of something poetic to say to your grandkids when you get to tell them stories of the inevitable time when Harper hit it over the RF scoreboard (or whatever feat of monstrous power he’ll do that will become legendary).

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Nats Get a CF and a Leadoff Hitter

November 29, 2012

Mike Rizzo struck late Thursday afternoon, pulling a big trade for a starting outfielder. No, it wasn’t Marlins-Toronto big, but it was big for this team, as they at the very least have solidified the outfield and their lineup could potentially be set for 2013. They received Twins center fielder Denard Span in exchange for their 22 year old fireballing prospect, Alex Meyer.

What They’re Getting

There is alot to like about Denard Span. He is a 28 year old center fielder, and over his last 3 seasons, he’s hit .271/.334/.376 – while it looks quite a bit lower, it’s actually pretty comparable to Michael Bourn when adjusting for league and park effects. It’s an OPS+ of 95, barely below Bourn’s OPS+ of 98 over the last three years. Of course, he’s only stolen 1/3 of the bases of Bourn, but Span is also a year younger than Bourn, and has shown more patience in the past. Between the switching leagues, moving to a better lineup and the youth, I have a feeling Span will hit better than that with the Nats (this is of course, just a feeling).

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Bryce Harper 2012 Highlights

November 13, 2012

In honor of winning the NL Rookie of the Year award, here are some highlight’s of Bryce Harper‘s first season. Enjoy, and remember, 19 year old baseball players usually have 5-10 years of improvement in front of them.

Debut Game

The Steal of Home vs. Hamels

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Nats May Sign a CF, Even if They Already Have One

November 7, 2012

The Nats probably have a center fielder for next season in Bryce Harper. But there is a decent chance that they will need another outfielder, and they may not go after Josh Hamilton. Where does that leave them? Well, there are certainly some other corner outfield options, but if the CF options are better players, better hitters, should they go that way? It wouldn’t be a terrible thing to move Harper to LF and have an even better fielder out in center, as it would make quite a defensive outfield. (The Yankees did this with Granderson and Gardner the last few years and consensus was their defense was excellent out there).

Well wouldn’t you know it, there are 2 players that fit the bill for this conversation. Of course I’m talking about Michael Bourn and BJ Upton. They both play CF, they both can hit pretty well, although they have two very different strengths with the bat. They are also ranked as the #2 and #4 top free agents in the Keith Law Top 50 free agent list.

Michael Bourn

Bourn is a very talented player, and probably profiles better if you were to talk about the Nats “needs”. First and foremost, he is a speedy left handed hitting leadoff hitter. Ok, the leadoff part isn’t actually one of his talents per se, but you figure that’s where he’d play. His OBP, though, isn’t spectacular for that position, as his career line is only .272/.339/.365, although his last 2 seasons have looked better. He also led the league in steals each season from 2009-2011, and although he also lead in caught stealing from 2011-2012, his success rate is very high. A good part of his value is tied to his defense, which is really great.

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It’s All About the Hamilton, Baby

November 5, 2012

If the title of this post doesn’t mean anything to you, stop everything that you are doing and watch one of the first (and for my money, probably the best) of the SNL Digital Shorts music videos right now. I’m serious, I’ll wait. (If you’ve already seen it, then enjoy your journey back to December 2005):

I will take your word that you’ve gone and done that. Hard to believe that’s almost 7 years old. On to the actual subject of the post – the best hitting free agent this offseason, Josh Hamilton. Keith Law called him the #3 available FA, behind a pitcher (Grienke) and B.J. Upton, a younger, faster, better defensive player who can still play a premium defensive position. It can certainly be argued that Hamilton deserves to be #2 or even first, because it’s hard to argue that there is a better offensive player available than Hamilton. So let’s start by taking a look at this offensive force, first the pros and then the cons:

I Told You that I’m Crazy Bout These Cupcakes Cousin

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Big Improvements in 2012 – Part 2

October 17, 2012

Yesterday, we took at look at some of the things that were the biggest steps forward in 2012 for the pitching staff. I’m trying to concentrate on things that were both new and sustainable. Sustainability is subjective, but we’ll look at the stats enough to make at least me feel comfortable that the stuff highlighted here isn’t temporary. We’re looking at the position players here, so why not start with the most controversial one:

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Bryce as Rookie of the Year

October 1, 2012

The end of the year is coming, and Bryce Harper is making a run for Rookie of the Year. It’s amazing because back on August 26 when he was at his OPS low hitting only .248/.319/.410, he was only in the discussion because of his name. But since then, he’s been on fire, hitting an astounding .342/.406/.700, although that’s only a few weeks of play. How does he stack up against the competition? It’s never easy to judge an award where pitchers and hitters can just as easily win, but let’s start with the hurlers.

Pitching Candidates

One of the frontrunners, perhaps the biggest frontrunner right now, is Wade Miley (3.2 WAR). And Miley’s had a great season – 3.32 ERA (126 ERA+), 134 K, 37 BB in  187 IP. His biggest asset, other than that ERA, is his Ws, which sit at 16. I’m not saying that is makes him the best candidate, I’m saying it helps him out in the voting quite a bit.

The problem is, if you take away the number of Ws, Mike Fiers (1.7 WAR) is having a somewhat similar season. Fiers, a rookie on Milwaukee, is sitting at a 3.74 ERA (111 ERA+), 135 K, 36 BB in 127 2/3 IP. As good of a season as Miley? No, no it isn’t. But it’s not very far off.

There is one more pitcher worth discussing, and that’s Lance Lynn (2.0 WAR). He may steal some votes with his 18 Ws, and his 180 K, 64 BB in 176 IP. But while his ERA of 3.78 doesn’t look too bad, when you adjust for park factors and such, his ERA+ of 102 is clearly inferior. He’ll get votes, but he doesn’t deserve the title. With Lynn being a notch below, and Miley/Fiers being similar enough to make me question voting for a pitcher at all, lets look at the hitters.

Hitting Candidates

Norichika Aoki (3.1) on Milwakee, a 30 year old transfer student from Japan, is hitting .288/.355/.437 with an OPS+ of 110. He’s established himself as a strong leadoff man in a team that was a playoff contender until the final weekend of the season. Aoki also has 28 SBs adding to his value.

Yonder Alonso (1.3 WAR) is probably the big prize to come to the Padres in the Mat Latos trade, a power hitting first baseman. Only he hasn’t shown any power, and that’s not just because he’s playing in San Diego. Hitting .275/.350/.393 shows he can and will hit, but until that power comes, he’s not much of a bat at the corner.

26 year old Cincannti corner man Todd Frazier (1.9 WAR) has had a very good season, and his .274/.333/.500 proves it. That slugging is a little more impressive than it should be due to his home ballpark, and that’s reflected in his 116 OPS+, which isn’t spectacular. He’s got 19 HRs, but he’s experiencing a September slump, and his playing time has been limited as well.

Zack Cozart (2.6 WAR) is another Reds player, and he’s been strong in his own right. But it’s mostly been with the glove. He’s hitting only .249/.291/.405, and while that home ballpark does inflate slugging some, he is showing legitimate power potential. But those numbers don’t win it this year.

Wilin Rosario (1.9 WAR) is a 23 year old catcher for the Rockies, and he is showing some true star potential. Hitting .274/.316/.535, he isn’t particularly selective but he’s certainly got pop. He also has 27 HRs, downright impressive for a rookie. But the low OBP and the famously HR friendly home park drags down his WAR and his OPS+, only a 109.

And finally, Bryce Harper (4.2 WAR) and his .269/.339/.476 with 17 SBs. He’s got 22 HRs, which isn’t quite as many as Rosario, but he doesn’t play in Colorado. Harper has spent most of his time recently in CF, which adds defensive value, and his arm is not to be trifled with. He is certainly the most well-rounded of the players on this list, and his OPS+ of 118 is the best among the group.

Verdict

Aoki’s OBP is so high, and Rosario’s is so low, that it seems to be a 4 horse race to me – Harper, Miley, Aoki and Frazier. I’m not comfortable with Miley, although his value is higher than Fiers, I don’t think I’d take him over any of the hitters. There is certainly a case to be made, but I’d rank him behind the other guys.

I’d personally rank Aoki over Frazier, mostly on the strength of his defense and his high SB #. Frazier has more power, but Aoki has delivered more value this season,  although it is rather close.

But I believe Harper will, in the end, get the nod. His overall numbers are superior, and his ability to play an effective CF to boot certainly helps. But as I mentioned above, he is more well rounded and that’s what should get him votes. He only sits behind Alonso (who won’t win) and Aoki in terms of OBP, but he also is only behind Frazier in SLG. On top of that, he’s #2 in SBs.

The mammoth shots and the hype won’t hurt his abilities to get votes, but it really is the numbers that make Bryce Harper the best candidate for NL Rookie of the Year.


Dr. StrangeUpton

September 20, 2012

…or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bombs.

As an aside from the playoff race and the fun that the Nationals are having looking forward to October, I’m always speculating about how they’ll structure next year’s lineup (the biggie: will LaRoche still be here?). If they’re happy with Harper in CF they could just keep LaRoche, but that might not be up to them. And if it’s not, they’ll might have to find a free agent. Except that the corner outfield and 1B free agent market is sparse. So maybe get a real CF, move Harper to a corner OF spot and Morse to 1B.

If they do go that way, there are 3 big name center fielders that are available. One is Shane Victorino, but I have my doubts that he’s the right answer. Another is Michael Bourn, and he’s a good player, but he might want a big long term deal, and maybe they don’t want to do that. Another guy who might be had a little cheaper, and maybe they could sign him shorter term is B.J. Upton (maybe they couldn’t, but at least he’s two years younger than Bourn).

And I like the idea of Upton, but is he the answer for this team? He’s a low AVG, relatively low OBP (bad year this year, but .337 career aint awful) and decent power guy. In other words, he reminds me of Ian Desmond. Desi’s had a much better than year than Upton, but the similarities are there in my mind. I just keep thinking they’re OBP low and power high and maybe they need more OBP and they’re great but streaky… well, I went ahead and worked myself into a frenzy, so I submitted this basic premise to Colin Wyers at Baseball Prospectus during his chat yeseterday:

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