Team Projections and Last Season’s Statistics

The other day, I wrote the Chicago White Sox still don’t seem very good. Naturally, that drew something of a negative response, and that’s fine — people ought to be excited, and it was kind of a buzzkill headline. The White Sox have been active, and general manager Rick Hahn has succeeded in turning nothing into something, at least as far as 2015 is concerned. We all recognize there’s a reason they play the games. Who knows what might happen? Who knows what else Hahn might eventually do? Yet, within the comments, something caught my eye. Some people think Steamer projects too much regression with the White Sox. Which got some gears whirring: How do our current projections compare to roster projections using only last year’s stats?

Obviously, if you’re trying to predict Year X + 1, you need to look at information from more than just Year X. Different people will recommend looking at different windows, but as a rule of thumb, you want to consider at least three or four years, if the data’s there. Plus, there are still other things to take into account. But while Year X isn’t the only thing that’s important, Year X is also the freshest data set in memory. So when a projection differs from what literally just finished happening, people might be prone to thinking that something’s amiss.

The way I figure, we have projected information, and we also have perceived projected information. The former, right now, comes from Steamer. The latter, meanwhile, is influenced very heavily by what happened in 2014. So I wanted to try to find the biggest differences. There’s no right way to do this, but I decided to use our author-maintained, team-by-team depth charts. Those depth charts provide something like expected playing time. Then I opted to simply plug in 2014 WAR figures for each player, adjusting for plate appearances or innings. I set, as 2014 minimums, 100 plate appearances or 25 innings. I used 0.0 WAR for everyone else. For most of those guys, expectations will be low, since they didn’t do anything in the majors last summer. It doesn’t work for everyone Matt Harvey, for example — but it works in most cases.

Before getting to the table, let me note this was written Tuesday night, and the Jimmy Rollins and Matt Kemp trades still aren’t official. Also, there’s talk of a Wil Myers thing? In case that’s happened by morning, it wasn’t not happening as I was writing this. So. The table. There’s Steamer projected WAR, and the league rank. Then there’s “projected” WAR — using projected playing time and last year’s statistics — and the league rank. Finally, there’s the second WAR, subtracted from the first WAR. Here, we might see differences between objective projections and expectations influenced by recency bias.

The sums don’t match up perfectly — there’s more total WAR using last year’s numbers. It doesn’t matter.

Team Steamer WAR MLB Rank Using 2014 WAR MLB Rank WAR Difference
Red Sox 42.9 1 34.2 16 8.7
Rangers 31.8 19 25.3 25 6.5
Yankees 36.2 11 32.4 21 3.8
Braves 25.0 27 22.2 30 2.8
Giants 32.4 18 30.0 23 2.4
Reds 26.8 25 24.8 27 2.0
Rays 36.6 10 34.7 14 1.9
Athletics 35.5 13 33.9 18 1.6
Mariners 38.3 5 38.3 9 0.0
Cubs 33.6 16 33.7 20 -0.1
Diamondbacks 24.4 28 25.3 26 -0.9
Royals 36.0 12 37.0 11 -1.0
Indians 36.6 8 38.1 10 -1.5
White Sox 28.8 22 30.7 22 -1.9
Pirates 36.6 9 39.0 8 -2.4
Astros 25.4 26 27.8 24 -2.4
Rockies 32.7 17 35.2 13 -2.5
Padres 21.3 29 24.6 28 -3.3
Angels 35.4 14 39.6 7 -4.2
Twins 29.3 21 34.0 17 -4.7
Phillies 19.3 30 24.2 29 -4.9
Brewers 29.6 20 34.6 15 -5.0
Cardinals 39.8 3 45.1 5 -5.3
Tigers 38.1 7 43.6 6 -5.5
Nationals 41.1 2 47.3 2 -6.2
Mets 27.3 24 33.8 19 -6.5
Marlins 28.4 23 36.7 12 -8.3
Blue Jays 38.3 4 47.3 3 -9.0
Orioles 34.0 15 45.4 4 -11.4
Dodgers 38.1 6 51.6 1 -13.5

Interestingly, though this was partially inspired by the White Sox, they’re right in the middle. Granted, some of the disagreement concerns Adam Eaton, and whether his DRS or UZR defense is more correct. That’s getting too specific. It seems like, even using last year’s information, as available at FanGraphs, the White Sox don’t project as a particularly strong team. Stronger, absolutely. But the odds are still against them. Every team needs some breaks, and the White Sox need some more breaks.

The biggest negative difference, and the biggest difference overall, belongs to the Los Angeles Dodgers. A small chunk of this is just Justin Turner. Turner’s coming off way too good a year. You’ve also got Steamer projecting regression from Clayton Kershaw and, to a lesser extent, Hyun-Jin Ryu. It’d be interesting to look at this again once the Rollins and Kemp trades are factored in, since we kind of know those are happening and it’s a bit annoying they’ve been delayed. But while the perception might be that the Dodgers are incredibly strong, Steamer thinks they’re just good. The best in the division, but perhaps not the best in baseball.

Then you have to speak to the American League East. This is where I think the real meat of the table is. In my Tuesday chats, I’ve fielded questions about whether the Toronto Blue Jays are division favorites. I’ve also been asked why I like the Boston Red Sox more than the Baltimore Orioles, considering everything that just happened. Based on last year’s numbers, the current Red Sox look like a middle-of-the-pack sort of ballclub. The Jays and Orioles, meanwhile, would be a pair of top-five teams. Yet Steamer switches everything. Instead of the Red Sox being more than 10 WAR behind those two rivals, they end up several WAR ahead. And this, again, doesn’t include a non-replacement-level projection for Rusney Castillo.

The Jays look good in both columns. Yet there’s regression factored in. With the Orioles, Steamer doesn’t buy Adam Jones‘ defense. It’s not buying nearly so much of Steve Pearce, and then it’s really not fond of the starting rotation. With the Red Sox, Steamer likes Xander Bogaerts. That’s hardly unreasonable. It thinks Shane Victorino will be healthy and average. It thinks Justin Masterson will bounce back and Joe Kelly will be better and Clay Buchholz will be effective and that Wade Miley and Rick Porcello were sound additions. Steamer doesn’t think the Red Sox have holes anymore. They might have holes with their depth, but we can’t project major injuries.

Really, you could think of it like this: The Red Sox added Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval to a lineup that should have an improved Victorino and Bogaerts. Castillo last year only had a cup of coffee, and the same goes for Mookie Betts. On the pitching side, the Red Sox made a handful of unsexy but reasonable additions. As much as last season left an impression, the team’s already made a lot of progress moving away from that, and they haven’t even acquired an ace. The way I see it, the Red Sox and Blue Jays are kind of co-favorites, and right now I give the Red Sox the slight edge. I don’t think that’s crazy.

Elsewhere, Steamer likes the Rangers more than 2014 liked the Texas Rangers, which isn’t a shock. Steamer still doesn’t like the Rangers, but Prince Fielder sucked this year. Shin-Soo Choo sucked. Michael Choice had the lowest WAR in baseball. The Rangers should surprise to some extent, especially if they add an impact starter. And Steamer is lower on the Miami Marlins. Blame some projected regression in the pitching staff, and significant regression from Casey McGehee and Dee Gordon. The depth charts don’t yet include Michael Morse, but I can assure you adding Morse will do little to change the math.

Overall, it’s just something to think about in between thinking about more important things. The most interesting part has to be the AL East. Based on current rosters and on what happened a season ago, one might look for the Orioles and Blue Jays to be neck and neck in the battle for first place. Ask Steamer, though, and the Red Sox are the unexpected favorites, by a modest margin. So how heavily do you choose to weigh what happened a season ago? It’s a simple question that informs the way you understand the baseball landscape.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

78 Comments
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santorumforpresident
7 years ago

You mean to tell me projections think the Orioles are a last place team? Shocking!

Spencer00
7 years ago

Don’t you think that’s a bit disingenuous. Steamer sees them as a roughly average team in a good division. Someone has to finish last, and there’s a fairly good chance that any one of those five teams end up doing it.

CrazyPants
7 years ago
Reply to  Spencer00

Steamer should be renamed Steaming Pile.

First fix is that Steamer needs to lose the blue and red Sox goggles. Seriously, is everything going to end up a best case scenario for RSN? come on. Masterson is going to be great. Kelly great. Miley great. Buchholz a CY contender. Castillo is going to battle Betts and Vazquez for ROY. Xander is going to be an all-star… and on and on…

Eminor3rd
7 years ago
Reply to  CrazyPants

It’s almost like you people think this is the Coaches/AP Poll in college football. Do you have ANY idea how this works? There’s no possible way for team bias to be a part of this.

CrazyPants
7 years ago
Reply to  CrazyPants

Not claiming that it’s systematic, but that there appear to be bugs in it nonetheless.

me
7 years ago
Reply to  CrazyPants

Did you even actually look at the projections? Masterson, Kelly, Buchholz, and Miley are all projected for about 2 WAR. Castillo is projected to be replacement level because Steamer doesn’t have enough history on him yet. Betts and Bogaerts are projected for a little over 2 WAR each. What about this is weird to you?

arc
7 years ago
Reply to  CrazyPants

Yes, you definitely claimed it was systemic. You claimed steamer is wearing Red Sox goggles.

CrazyPants
7 years ago
Reply to  CrazyPants

well, sorry if I don’t share your optimism that the Sox are 16 games better than the 2014 version with the pitching staff they’re assembling. Not to mention that I think Steamer is overrating all of Ortiz, Nava, Napoli and Holt. And we haven’t even mentioned that the pen looks very thin at the moment.

I’m not questioning the method or objectivity, only the big picture of the results against my projection of what these teams are set up to accomplish. To me, the Jays look like a 95 win team with the rest of the division battling it out for 2nd 10 games or more behind.

arc
7 years ago
Reply to  CrazyPants

You have your own projections? Cool. Share them with us. Show your work.

Joshua_C
7 years ago
Reply to  CrazyPants

I DON’T AGREE WITH THIS THEREFORE IT MUST BE WRONG

CrazyPants
7 years ago
Reply to  CrazyPants

are you saying that people cannot disagree with the projections? or “have to show their work” every time they dare to give an opinion??

CrazyPants
7 years ago
Reply to  CrazyPants

sounds pretty open-minded.

me
7 years ago
Reply to  CrazyPants

If you’re going to call something a “Steaming Pile” you should have a good reason for it. Otherwise don’t be surprised when people don’t take you seriously.

CrazyPants
7 years ago
Reply to  CrazyPants

It’s called a play-on-words. The inter webs are flush with them. No need to get yourself in a lather over that.

Joshua_C
7 years ago
Reply to  CrazyPants

I’m saying if you disagree with something, you should offer a cogent opinion as to why it’s incorrect. Which you haven’t done.

CrazyPants
7 years ago
Reply to  CrazyPants

Sure I have. You just don’t like it.

Joshua_C
7 years ago
Reply to  CrazyPants

Actually, let’s look at your contentions about specific players. The ones for which you’ve alleged Steamer is overly optimistic include Ortiz, Nava, Napoli, and Holt.

Something would appear to be systematically wrong with Steamer, but you haven’t identified any actual flaws in how you think it’s projecting these players–they just seem wrong to you. Because, you know, the human gut is much more accurate than finely tuned predictive analytics.

But let’s look at the individual players:

Ortiz: Steamer projects 2.3 WAR, which would be his lowest total since 2009. It projects regression from him in his walk rate, k rate, and ISO, which will be balanced out by improvement in his horrific 2014 BABIP. What exactly seems inaccurate to you?
Nava: Steamer projects 0.9 WAR, which would be Nava’s lowest total since 2010. He’s been worth 1.8 WAR and 2.6 WAR in the last two seasons, but Steamer sees him as a true-talent below-average defender whose BABIP is unsustainable.
Napoli: Steamer projects 2.6 WAR, with Napoli being virtually the same player as 2014 and significantly worse than in 2013.
Holt: Steamer projects 0.5 WAR, down from 2.3 WAR in 2014. It projects below-average defense and a 95 wRC+, right in line with his career 91 wRC+.

Oh, and Castillo isn’t going to be battling for ROY according to Steamer, because Steamer is projecting him as replacement level right now.

It’s almost as if you didn’t even look at the actual projections and made up your mind without doing any analysis at all.

CrazyPants
7 years ago
Reply to  CrazyPants

Yep, I was mistakenly looking at the 2014 war of those 4 so I retract that particular comment.

santorumforpresident
7 years ago
Reply to  Spencer00

I’m not going off the deep end like Crazy Pants, but yeah it’s hard to take these projections, particularly when it comes to the AL East, without a massive grain of salt considering how wrong they’ve been the last three years. The Orioles have been consistently outperforming both as a team and as individual players. The Red Sox projections have sucked as well. This is an unusual division.

No, I’m not an Orioles fan. Just a fan of the site that thinks we should probably stop pretending like we can project this division.

mattdecap
7 years ago

Of course any projection system we use to predict something with as many variables as baseball is going to be incorrect a lot. Just because we can point to some anecdotal evidence from the past three or four years doesn’t mean that we should dismiss the projection system. Statistical variance allows for a true talent 80 win team to win 90 games as much as it allows them to win 70 games, just as 5 coin flips could yield 5 heads or 5 tails. That doesn’t impact the value of trying to ascertain the true odds, because they can inform decisions in the future.

Kevin
7 years ago

i dont think you can mention the Orioles overperforming in 2014 without mentioning the underperformance of the Red Sox and Rays. These two things are probably related.