What You Think of These Ten Surprising Hitters

Last week, I asked you about ten surprising hitters. These are their names!

It had been a while since I ran a polling project, so that was the exercise. Five of those players had greatly overachieved, relative to their projections, and five of those players had done the opposite. So what I was looking for was for the FanGraphs audience to collectively project their rest-of-season wRC+ marks. For each player, I provided their current wRC+, their projected rest-of-season wRC+ based on Steamer and ZiPS, and a poll with a bunch of options. In this post, I’ll analyze the results of the polls. Polling projects are nothing without the analysis.

The whole concept behind crowdsourcing projections is that, in theory, a group of informed observers is able to know more than a group of equations. That is, the regular projections know only what a given player has done in his career, but baseball fans know whether the player has made changes. Baseball fans might be better able to identify when a breakout is for real. The same goes for a slump. You might also argue the opposite — baseball fans might be too easily biased by recent results — but this is something that’s always fun to examine. Hence this examination.

I assigned a wRC+ mark to every vote in every poll, and then I simply divided by the total number of votes to get a rest-of-season crowd wRC+ projection. Thousands of you participated, for which I am grateful. I’m always grateful when you participate in these things, because if you didn’t, there would be egg on my face. Most of everything is included in the following plot. For each player, there’s the wRC+ as of June 18, there’s the projected rest-of-season wRC+, and there’s the crowd-projected rest-of-season wRC+.

For the five overachievers, the blue bar is highest, and the red bar is lowest. For four of the five underachievers, the blue bar is lowest, and the red bar is highest. The lone exception is Harper, whose crowd projection is slightly better than the normal projection. To put it another way, in general, the crowd has arrived at a compromise between the to-date wRC+ and the projected rest-of-season wRC+. Now, the projected rest-of-season wRC+ already takes the to-date wRC+ into account — our projections update throughout the year, based on results — but the crowd adds extra weight. I’m not saying that’s wrong or right; I’m just saying that’s what’s happened. In fact, the crowd projection can be estimated by blending the to-date wRC+ and the projected rest-of-season wRC+.

Here is a plot of the crowd figures versus the estimated — or expected — crowd figures:

The R2 is an incredible 0.98. In order to estimate what the crowd thinks, you need only the two data points. The crowd leans heaviest on the Steamer and ZiPS projected wRC+; the ratio is 2.68. That is, when projecting future performance here, the crowd weighed projected wRC+ 2.68 times more heavily than actual, current wRC+. Pretty appropriately, the crowd believes in regression to the mean. Pretty appropriately, the crowd puts a lot of faith in the regular projection equations. But the crowd also thinks the projections regress too much. In each case except for Harper’s.

Here’s a table with all the data, including the small samples of what each player has done since the polling project went up last Monday:

Ten Surprising Hitters
Player Current Projected Crowd Expected Difference Since 6/18 PA
Betts 196 136 151 152 -2 152 25
Nimmo 167 101 124 121 3 178 34
Muncy 165 98 115 118 -3 191 28
Rosario 152 108 119 122 -3 149 21
Davidson 131 85 104 100 3 46 25
Harper 120 139 141 135 6 121 30
Stanton 115 147 136 139 -3 278 32
Fowler 60 100 94 92 2 49 19
Bradley Jr. 59 91 89 86 3 66 18
Davis 23 89 70 75 -5 77 15
All but the final column show wRC+. Projected, Crowd, and Expected refer to rest-of-season wRC+. Difference = Crowd – Expected (rounded to nearest integer).

Muncy has homered in consecutive games! Stanton just went 5-for-5 with two doubles, a homer, and a walk. Those small samples don’t matter very much, but I couldn’t in good conscience not include them, since a week is a meaningful slice of the regular season. Davis recently re-entered the lineup for the first time in a week and a half. In his first game back, he went deep. (He has only one hit since.)

The crowd thinks all five overachievers are better than their projections, by a range of 11 to 23 points of wRC+. Rosario is on the low end, while Nimmo is on the high end — the crowd thinks Nimmo is a better hitter than Rosario, full stop. Meanwhile, the crowd thinks four of the five underachievers are worse than their projections, with Harper’s crowd forecast being, barely, the exception. Davis stands out here — his crowd projection is about 19 points worse than his regular projection, which reflects just how dreadful he’s been. The crowd seems to figure that Davis is beyond salvaging, that something has just gone terribly wrong. A wRC+ of 70 is borderline acceptable from a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder. From a first baseman, it’s completely unplayable.

As a reminder, we can’t simply say that the crowd knows best. It seems like the crowd should know best, but we all make mistakes, and we’re all subject to various biases. We all want to believe in almost every breakout, and we usually want to believe there’s something behind every slump. But some hot streaks and cold streaks are just a fact of life, things that happen by chance, things that might even alternate. The regular, mathematical projections can be awfully hard to convince, when it comes to a player who might’ve changed. Human observers can be convinced more easily. That is our strength, and that is our weakness. Thank you, and, until next time. Here’s to identifying the next Max Muncy, after we grow tired of analyzing the current one.

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.

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4 years ago

So are you agreeing with majority in regards to Muncy or are you in the minority Jeff? There is not much in his batted ball profile that points to any significant regression. I am overly optimistic that he will continue to mash.

4 years ago
Reply to  Jimmyjammin

There is some swing change stuff in evidence and, like Chris Taylor, significant overhauls are probably the thing that will most flummox projections.

Edit: Jeff, that’s more than even I expect, though a 19% BB rate really does protect the wRC+ from slumps.

4 years ago
Reply to  Jimmyjammin

It’s interesting that his Swing% has been steadily dropping the entire season. In the last 30 days he has the lowest Swing% of any player, and that trend goes for both Z-Swing% and O-Swing% as well. Is there a threshold past which lowering your Z-Swing% can be a bad thing? His K% has been dropping steadily along with Swing%, so it doesn’t look like he’s just watching more called 3rd strikes.

4 years ago
Reply to  Peter

Only a Hypothesis: Now that the league’s pitchers respect him, he is getting pitched around more. He knows it. Swings less often because there are more edge pitches – whether the fall in the zone or out of the zone. So his Z-Swing% is dropping because the pitches “in the zone” are in crappy parts of the zone (technical term). His O-Swing% is falling because… he is aware more balls are coming(?)