The Most Improved Hitters Thus Far by the Projections by Carson Cistulli May 27, 2014 What follows represents an attempt by the author to utilize the projections available at the site to identify the five major-league hitters whose wOBA projections have most improved since the beginning of the season. For every batter, what I’ve done is first to calculate his preseason (PRE) wOBA projection, averaging together Steamer and ZiPS forecasts where both are available. What I’ve done next is to calculate every hitter’s rest-of-season (ROS) wOBA projection (again, using both Steamer and ZiPS when available). I’ve then found the difference in wOBA between the preseason and rest-of-season projection. When I attempted a similar exercise last month (with WAR, in that case), I used updated end-of-season projections instead of rest-of-season ones. The advantage of the latter (and why I’m using it here) is that it provides the closest available thing to an estimate of any given player’s current true-talent level — which, reason dictates, is what one requires to best identify those players who have most improved. Only those hitters have been considered who both (a) are currently on a major-league roster and (b) weren’t accidentally omitted by the author, who is a moron. Note that Projection denotes a composite Steamer and ZiPS projection. PRE denotes the player’s preseason projection; ROS, the rest-of-season projection. Plate-appearances estimates for both PRE and ROS projections are taken from relevant batter’s depth-chart projection. Data is current as of Monday. *** 5. Devin Mesoraco, C, Cincinnati (Profile) Projection (PRE): 413 PA, .247/.308/.413 (.274 BABIP), .313 wOBA, 96 wRC+ Projection (ROS): 240 PA, .260/.320/.438 (.288 BABIP), .330 wOBA, 107 wRC+ Notes In 160-plus career starts for the club, Mesoraco has served as Cincinnati’s cleanup hitter just three times. In five starts since last Monday, Mesoraco has also served as Cincinnati’s cleanup hitter three times. In part, the loss of Jay Bruce and then (upon Bruce’s return) Joey Votto has facilitated the move. In part, it’s Mesoraco’s own production which has suggested to manager Bryan Price that his catcher ought to occupy one of the most important spots (both symbolically and actually) in the Reds lineup. Notably, Mesoraco’s plate-discipline projections haven’t improved at all. Rather, it’s his early BABIP and power-on-contact figures which have led to his more encouraging forecasts. 4. Derek Norris, C, Oakland (Profile) Projection (PRE): 307 PA, .221/.319/.385 (.272 BABIP), .314 wOBA, 100 wRC+ Projection (ROS): 235 PA, .238/.338/.406 (.285 BABIP), .332 wOBA, 113 wRC+ Notes On multiple occasions in the minor leagues — like as a 19-year-old at Low-A in 2008, and then again as a 21-year-old at High-A in 2010 — Norris produced full-season walk rates roughly on par with his strikeout ones. After failing to approximate that same achievement over his first two seasons as a major-leaguer, Norris has recorded walk and strikeout rates of 14.6% and 12.4%, respectively, through his first 137 plate appearances of 2014. The reduction in strikeouts, in particular, has been significant — and has complemented his higher BABIP mark to create more damage on contact. If Norris has recorded fewer starts than one might expect given his performance (30 in Oakland’s 51 games), it’s because his catching counterpart, John Jaso, has also been quite productive, as well. 3. Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles NL (Profile) Projection (PRE): 666 PA, .286/.354/.489 (.327 BABIP), .364 wOBA, 137 wRC+ Projection (ROS): 456 PA, .299/.372/.516 (.341 BABIP), .385 wOBA, 150 wRC+ Notes On May 13th, FanGraphs author Jeff Sullivan celebrated in these pages the improved discipline of Dodgers wunderkind Yasiel Puig, noting that said wunderkind had demonstrated the single biggest drop in O-Swing% since last season. In a probably frightening development for every major-league pitcher, Puig has actually exhibited even more excellent plate discipline since then and, perhaps not uncoincidentally, even more excellent overall production. Regard: Period PA BB% K% O-S% wRC+ Then 154 11.0% 20.1% 26.7% 172 Since 55 14.5% 16.4% 20.9% 265 Were he a defensively fantastic shortstop, Yasiel Puig would be more valuable. He’s maximizing his contribution to baseball wins in nearly every other way, however. 2. Seth Smith, OF, San Diego (Profile) Projection (PRE): 326 PA, .246/.323/.407 (.296 BABIP), .318 wOBA, 105 wRC+ Projection (ROS): 224 PA, .258/.340/.435 (.305 BABIP), .339 wOBA, 119 wRC+ Notes Here are some true facts, if not necessarily analytical epiphanies, concerning Smith: Over his career, Smith has recorded just under 83% of plate appearances against right-handed pitchers; and By comparison, about 71% of all plate appearances league-wide are against right-handed pitchers; and In 2014, Smith has recorded an even higher percentage of his PAs (88.4%) against right-handers; but The numbers he’s currently producing are way better than he’s ever produced against right-handed pitchers alone; and also He’s actually recorded entirely reasonable numbers (99 wRC+) against left-handed pitchers, too, in a limited sample. 1. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado (Profile) Projection (PRE): 600 PA, .299/.372/.524 (.312 BABIP), .386 wOBA, 133 wRC+ Projection (ROS): 415 PA, .310/.392/.556 (.322 BABIP), .408 wOBA, 147 wRC+ Notes Projected batting lines are typically the product of past performance, age-related adjustment, and regression to the mean. Because of that last variable, it’s also the case that the batter who’s produced his league’s most excellent batting line is also one who’s outperforming his projections for that season. As such, it’s not surprising to find that Troy Tulowitzki, who has recorded all of baseball’s best park- and league-adjusted batting line, has also outperformed his own projected line for 2014 thus far. As a result, his rest-of-season plate-discipline projections have improved. And so have his rest-of-season BABIP projections. And so have his his isolated power ones, too.