Bill James 2010 Projections and the Pirates

The nice people at ACTA Sports have agreed to send me the projections section from the Bill James 2010 handbook and asked me to whatever I please about it. In return, they send me a free copy of the final book. I am mentioning this because the FTC has made it clear that if I don’t, men in black suits may show up at my apartment and fine me or strip search me or something ridiculous like that.

If you’ve been a WHYGAVS reader for any amount of time, you know that my favorite part of the off-season is assimilating the projections released by various people and trying to figure out just what they mean for the Pirates in the coming season. This year, I’m partcularly interested in four position players; Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones Andy LaRoche, Lastings Milledge. I’m interested in Zach Duke and Ross Ohlendorf as well, but projecting pitchers is a much more difficult art than projecting hitters and  As always, remember that projections shouldn’t be viewed as literal predictions of the future, but rather as guidelines of what’s reasonable to expect from a player based on their past and how similar players’ careers progress.

Andrew McCutchen exceeded all of the projections for him, showing power and plate patience that exceeded even his 90% percentile PECOTA projection (subscription required), which means that PECOTA specifically calculated that based on his minor league numbers, there was only about a 10% chance that he’d have the season that he did. Because he’s only 22, we can safely assume that at least some portion of Cutch’s huge rookie year was due to real improvement. But how much? More to the point, can he duplicate 2009, or is he due for a step backwards?

The James projection for McCutchen is .281/.353/.430 with 12 homers, 31 doubles, and 7 triples in 625 plate appearances. That more or less transposes his career minor league line (.286/.362/.423) onto his 2010 season. This projection raises what I think is the biggest question about McCutchen’s 2010 season; how much of his power surge in 2009 was real? In 108 games with the Pirates, he hit 13 homers, 26 doubles, and nine triples. In his entire minor league career, he only hit more than 13 homers over a full season in 2004, he only matched 26 doubles once (in 2008), and he never hit nine triples. This projection isn’t unreasonable and I don’t know if McCutchen will match his .471 slugging percentage next year, but I think that he’ll do better than .430. One problem with James’ projections that I notice every year is how heavily they weight minor leauge performance for young players, even in the face of ample big league evidence (more on this in a bit).

I don’t honestly have a lot to say about Garrett Jones’ .271/.330/.479 with 25 homers and 35 doubles other than to say that it feels about right. For as much as it might seem like I’m hard on the guy or negative about his future, there just aren’t many players that show up on the scene at the age of 28 and mash like he did for as long as he did out of almost nowhere. I’m interested in Jones and where his career goes from here because he’s unique. And I certainly hope he keeps proving me wrong.

The next two projections that I’m interested in are kind of intertwined. Lastings Milledge and Andy LaRoche are both part of Neal Huntington’s “acquire blue chip talent when the stock is low and hope it goes back up” initiative and their ability to cash in on that talent will have a big impact on whether we’re waiting for 2011 or 2015 as Pirate fans.

For LaRoche, I’m curious how his projections change from last year’s. Coming into 2009, he had awesome minor league numbers and almost unbelievably pathetic big league stats. James’ projection system pegged him for .252/.347/.401 with 18 homers and 23 doubles. LaRoche ended up hitting .258/.330/.402 with 12 homers, 29 doubles, and five triples. James’ projection was pretty close, except for a dip in OBP. So for 2010, the projection calls for more of the same: .254/.338/.402 with 15 homers, 28 doubles, and two triples. And that’s not a bad projection. What puzzles me is that both Steve Pearce (.261/.328/.450) and Brandon Moss (.269/.345/.430) are both projected for better lines (albeit in limited action) despite proving pretty clearly that they can’t hit at a big league level.

This is just rambling on my part, but the projection by James underscores the urgency of this stage of LaRoche’s career. He turned 26 in September, which means that while he’s not so old that we shouldn’t give up hope that he has a breakthrough at the plate, he’s also not so young that we should expect it. The same can almost be said for Lastings Milledge. He’ll be 25 next April and while I’m willing to buy that his injury and change of scenery affected his production last year, one more year without the ephemeral “breakthrough” means that expectations are diminishing for him, as well. Last year the James projections called for a .281/.347/.439 performance from Milledge with 15 homers, 27 doubles, and three triples. The 2010 projectioin sees .283/.340/.413 with 11 homers, 30 doubles, and three triples. Less power and less plate discipline; the two things Milledge really lacked with the Pirates despite hitting .311 in his last 44 games.

Of course, each of these four projections come with their own grains of salt. McCutchen blew every projection out of the water last year, Jones doesn’t have historical comps, and LaRoche and Milledge are both young enough with enough talent to right their ships. Looking at these projections and the age of some of these guys, specifically Milledge and LaRoche, kind of indicates to me that while 2010 may not be an important year for the Pirates in the standings, it’s going to be huge in the development of this team.

If you’re interested in the rest of the projections, plus John Dewan’s yearly plus/minus defensive ratings, and lotso of other baseball minutiae you can buy the Bill James Handbook 2010 here.

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.