Projections are fun and (sometimes) valuable. Also, they are tough to make (accurately). We have Steamer for 2016 now up and running at Fangraphs and that means it is time to start analyzing their implications for the average Joe A.K.A. me and my future draft day.
My objective is to assess and rank the batters with the largest projected positive jumps from 2015 to 2016. My methodology, assumptions and caveats are the following:
Here it is a list of the 8 largest jumps:
While I would not necessarily be automatically bullish about a player on this list, I would definitely use this info as an indicator to find more information. (At the end, for Fantasy purposes, it all depends on league settings and ADP.) The beauty of this exercise is that potentially uncovers hidden value in the draft as ADP is usually skewed by last year's numbers.
For example, Michael Saunders projection is 9HR/37R/35RBI/5SB/.246AVG with 320+ PA, which is close to his 2013 numbers in Seattle. Those counting stats make sense to me, especially in Toronto, where Bautista and Pompey potentially offer opportunities due to injury or low performance; also he might be able to see more strikes than in other teams due to Toronto's lineup strength and Rogers Centre will also play to his strengths.
I am relatively bullish on Victor Martinez (projected 15/63/69/1/.289) and Anthony Rendon (16/77/62/6/.277). Both are coming from injury-plagued seasons while posting their career worst wRC+. Yes, V-Mart is 37 years old now and his performance might fall off a cliff anytime. Is he going to return to his 2014 form, when he posted 167 wRC+ with a .400+ OBP? No, he will not, but this guy had always beaten (easily) the 60RBI/60R mark. Last year his hard hit and pull rate were down ~10% from his career average but his line drive percentage (LD%) remained strong and his BABIP was the lowest of his career. With an ADP of ~209 in Yahoo, I'd gamble on V-Mart. Rendon, on the other hand, is just 25 years old. After a very strong 2014, when he posted 6.5 fWAR, he battled injuries in 2015 and managed to play only 80 games. Steamer numbers are ~25% lower than his 2014 peak across HR, RBI, R and SB. While the R and RBIs seem OK, the HR projection worries me. A quick scan on his soft hitting (14.7% in 2014 and 12.7% in 2015) and pull rate (39% in 2014 and 28.8% in 2015) may suggest little variance, however a deep dive shows his batted ball profile in fly balls changed more drastically. If we limit ourselves to fly balls alone, the hard hit rate and the pull rate went down from 45.1% to 38.2% and 20.8% to 16.1%., respectively. Not so good. Still, at the right price (currently his Yahoo ADP sits around the 86, close to Brian Dozier and Ian Kinsler), Rendon might be a steal but I would not count on 16 HR by September 2016, if that trend continues.
Pablo Sandoval, along with Hanley Ramirez, is largely accountable for Boston's recent failures. The unlikelihood of their recoveries was assessed already here and here so I will not spend much more time analysing this. Do what you have to do in your draft.
Projections love Nick Castellanos (projected 16/62/67/3/.269). In 2014, he showed hints of being ready to step up his level in 2015 (e.g. 28.5% LD%), but that did not happen. As a result, offensively, he has been a below average player. So, why are we talking about him? Because Steamer loves him; and he ranks on the 75th percentile in the 2016 Fantasy Index. Eno Sarris explained here why we should give him another chance, but I have to say I am bit skeptical on Steamer's numbers and I'll explain why. Let's take a look at those numbers first:
Is a 2% increase in extra base hits going to translate into 12% increase in R+RBIs? Even if Runs and RBIs are dependent on batting order and situational (and circumstantial) events, I am not buying into that jump. If you think that is OK, then go ahead and grab him. I am probably passing on Castellanos this year.
We also have Byron Buxton (projected 11/59/49/21/.258) on the list. With just 46 games in the majors, it looks as if we all know Buxton since forever. He's been compared to Andrew McCutchen and Mike Trout, which reflects not only how much pressure media puts on highly touted rookies but also how difficult it is to become a superstar. In a year when every top prospect (Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Noah Syndergaard, Miguel Sano, and Carlos Rodon to mention a few) made a huge impact on their teams, Buxton struggled mightily. Anyways, I am worried about what I saw from Buxton in 2015 because of his plate discipline profile - here we see the stat value and its percentile (Data for 2015, minimum of 130 PA):
So, essentially, not only pitchers threw a lot of first-pitch strikes but just a lot of strikes! Half of the time pitchers were in the zone (league average was 45.3%). So, he saw a lot of strikes, that is good, right? Well, he only swung at 46.1%, deep below the average. What happened when he tried to make contact? Well, he was not very successful at it. His contact rate was a ridiculously low 70.4%, good for an 8th percentile (league average was ~79%). You may remember that Mike Trout struggled during his first stint in the majors and then became...well, Mike 'King' Trout. I guess it is possible that may happen to Buxton too given the relatively small sample, but I see red flags. He is being drafted as the 53rd OF off the board, alongside Matt Holliday, Curtis Granderson and Alex Gordon - at that price, I am passing until further data tells another story.
Marcell Ozuna is projected 17/59/67/4/.267. Ozuna had a bad 2015, a good 2014 and an average 2013. His 2015-2016 gap is wide because it's hard for the projection system to know who Ozuna really is. I am still a believer in Ozuna for one reason: his hard hit rate. Below there is a plot of ISO vs hard-hit rate for the period 2013-2015 (minimum of 1350 PA). I have highlighted each one of Ozuna's seasons as well as a few other players for comparison. So, it looks like Ozuna always underperforms on this graph, which on the one hand it is discouraging, but on the other provides room for improvement - just like happened in 2014.
While Ozuna hits the ball hard, I am worried about his GB%, which has been at ~48% for 2 years in a row now. I think 17HR are achievable but he needs to put the ball in the air at a higher pace. I have plotted hard hit rate and FB% for the same 2013-2015 period along with the HR per 600PA. It makes sense that the harder a fly ball is hit, usually the further it travels, the higher the HR count. In general, that is how batted ball works, however there a few outliers e.g. Rendon, which could be the result of many things e.g. ball exit angle, park effects, etc. Then, Ozuna's career data point is next to Ryan Braun's. That is a finding in itself. I know I might be nit-picking but it seems that Ozuna does have 20-25 HR potential with a few tweaks.
We talked about his increasingly high and worrisome GB rate, but that only tells half of the story. The other half is due to his lack of patience in home plate. According to PITCHf/x, last year he swung at a career high 35.4% of pitches outside the zone, way above the league average of ~31%. Pitchers took advantage of his approach and threw him a career low 44% of pitches inside the strike zone. After a brief stint in the minors, The second half of 2015, though a short 42 game sample, was a step in the right direction as Ozuna cut his K% by ~9%. Ozuna needs to get these numbers to a league average, closer to his 2014 performance, in order to succeed. Again, I really like Ozuna at 231st player off the board in Yahoo on par with Rusney Castillo and Cameron Maybin, which I find hard to believe.
Yasiel Puig (projected 11/59/49/21/.258) is quite an interesting story. If you have highlights like this or that, a lot of people will talk about you. People quickly overpaid for him last year, forgetting that his numbers had regressed from 2013, in part due to his unsustainable BABIP of .383 and .356 in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Last year his BABIP went down to .296, much closer to league average (.299), and his AVG and SLG drastically dropped. On the one hand, yes, he is capable of providing plays like this, but on the other hand there are just too many warning flags e.g. his soft hit rate has almost doubled in 2 years (12.8% to 20.4%), he could not handle sliders well and they increased ~19% from 2014 to 2015, and he is pulling the ball less often, down to ~14% from 23% in 2013. Admittedly, Puig is still an enigma and I still have not decided on his ADP - He currently is being drafted ~64 of Yahoo, probably too close to the Heywards of the world.
By Oswaldo Gonzalez