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PECOTA '08: The Hitters

As we continue to bide our time and wait for meaningful baseball, I thought I would bid a final adieu to the 2008 Cleveland Indians by checking in with how their individual performances lined up with their PECOTA projections. I've also included comments which are varied in content.

Basically all of the numbers were pulled from the 2008 and 2009 BP Annuals.

Before we start, a few definitions, as provided by the folks at BP:

PECOTA...projects future player performance based on existing trends in the historical record. PECOTA works by analyzing a number of quantifiable factors, including production metrics (batting average, isolated power), usage metrics (plate appearances, major league career length, minor league level), phenotypic attributes (handedness, height, and weight), and a player's defensive position. With this data, PECOTA identifies as many as a hundred of the hitters or pitchers who are most comparable to the player being projected. The career trends of those players are then used in producing that players forecast.

VORP, which stands for Value Over Replacement an estimate of total player value...and incorporates the position the player plays, how many games he played, and what "replacement level" is for his position.

Equivalent Average (EqA) is a rate statistic that combines all the components of offense, including baserunning, into a number on the same scale as batting average...Something in the area of .350 is a typical league-leading total...A .400 EqA is exceptionally rare...On the other hand, if your EqA is .220, you'd better be a great defensive player, or you'll be heading back to the minors.

PECOTA 496 9.8 .339 .437 .274
ACTUAL 601 27.7 .345 .463 .289/.264

Comment: That EqA is the CLE/LAD split. Blake overperfromed his projections in Cleveland and then predictably underperformed them when he arrived in LA, although he did keep his power (.465 SLG in CLE, .460 in LA). A year ago PECOTA thought Blake was Doug DeCinces and today PECOTA thinks Blake is...Doug DeCinces.

About all there is to divine from Blake's hot first half is what we already know:

1) Relatively average players have great first halves sometimes

2) Shapiro has a knack for trading guys at their absolute peak values. Blake's .289 EqA with Cleveland was the highest of his career ever, anywhere. In 2006 with Cleveland, Broussard's EqA of .296 was the second highest of his career ever, anywhere. Excepting 32 ABs in 1999, Eduardo Perez's EqA of .316 with the Tribe was the highest of his career ever, anywhere. Coco Crisp's EqA of .288 in 2005 was.... You know the rest.


PECOTA 625 11.5 .325 .384 .257
ACTUAL 418 6.2
.346 .366 .256

Comment: One of the interesting things about PECOTA is that it doesn't take into account what front office it's dealing with and, perhaps even more importantly, who else is waiting for a player's job. What PECOTA was telling us before 2008 was that Asdrubal was going to be pretty bad but young middle infielders who are able to play this way generally don't go anywhere. They get to keep playing this way in the majors. There's a couple of pieces of nuance missing in that equation (no fault of PECOTA-it doesn't specialize in nuance).

First, Jamey Carroll was sitting on the bench next to Eric Wedge. Carroll was a Wedge type of player having a pretty good season. If Asdrubal didn't produce (which he didn't) and Carroll approached replacement level (which he did), then Cleveland wouldn't keep trotting Cabrera out. Secondly, Cabrera is a weird player in that he was terribly rushed early in his career; you have to think that the FO was more willing to send him down because they weren't sure he really belonged in the first place.

Now, see, what I just did was over-nuanced the situation. In reality, this is about a sub .600 OPS in his first 200 ABs basically forcing Cleveland to send him down. PECOTA got the rates more or less right but missed how he was going to get there. He wasn't going to plug along, he was going to play extremely poorly and then play extremely well.

Sort of depressingly, Cabrera's comps have changed significantly. Last year they were a bunch of nobodies and Jhonny Peralta. Now, they're a bunch of nobodies and Ruben Gotay.

That said, I don't think PECOTA knows what it's doing with Cabrera (BP's glowing comment seems to indicate they agree). Since integration, there have only been 24 primary second basemen who've played as many games as Cabrera by the age of 22. It's a decent list and I think his inclusion on it says more about his future than PECOTA's attempts to force him into a lifetime utility man box.

For kicks, it's a decent list if we imagine Cabrera is a shortstop as well.

PECOTA 347 -1.9 .322 .377 .255
ACTUAL 370 32.9 .397 .549 .316

Comment: Choo obliterated his projection and the AL all at once. Shin-Soo had a breakout rate of only 16% and, well, he beat the odds. There's not a lot to add to Choo's season; it was improbably good. He hadn't OPSed over .900 since he was 18 years old and there's really not a lot of reason to think he's ever going to do it again. However, as Jay has pointed out before, he doesn't have to; if he can OPS+ over just 105, he'll join Juan Gonzalez, Marty Cordova, Coco Crisp, Matt Lawton, Jody Gerut, and Casey Blake as the only full time corners to do it since 2001. Oof. It's been a tough few years.

4.2 .342 .428 .276
0.3 .307 .405 .250

Comment: Last year, Dellucci's comps still included Ray Lankford. That pipe dream is long gone; I'm not sure if I really would've been any happier if DD had actually been productive for 181 plate appearances and then vanished into the ether. I guess it'd give me something to look forward to for 2009 but, frankly, I'm glad we've gone ahead and torn the band-aid off with those extra 190 PAs.

10.5 .329 .438 .273
ACTUAL 499 10.7 .332 .438 .269

Comment: I know it's hardly a new comment but at times PECOTA is truly remarkable-how much closer could they have gotten? I fully expect Ben to be in an advertisement: "Look at how we nailed this budding major league spare part!".

I have to think a guy like Francisco is right in the big bad computer's wheelhouse; there has to be a wealth of "meh" corner outfielders to debut late within the data set, right? Heck, the Indians literally gave two away last year: Brian Barton and Ryan Ludwick. For those into minutia (looking at you, Castrovince), Francisco had Mickey Brantley listed as his number one comp last year.

PECOTA 554 13.6 .343 .461 .283
ACTUAL 563 10.3 .346 .404 .268

Comment: Last year, Garko got Erik Karros and Paul Konerko as comps. This year, just Paul Konerko. Garko has been talked to death but I'll just add: if there was some kind of leverage component to VORP (and I realize there are things very much like this), Garko would have a negative amount of wins. Both he and Cabrera were absolutely untenable when the Indians needed them most and, in the big picture, that's got to count for something.

Through their play, I'll bet it's arguable that Cabrera and Garko basically unravelled the season. And, more than just missing the playoffs, these two players weakly drove the nail into the coffin for any chance of an exciting summer and, thusly, ticket sales and financial gain. Of course, they weakly drove the nail because they drove everything weakly.

PECOTA 636 34.6 .383 .490 .305
-6.6 .305 .323 .223

Comment: The name nobody wants has risen to the top of Hafner's comps: Jim Gentile, the erstwhile masher who was out of baseball after his age 32 season. Hafner is, coincidentally, 32. Last year there was hope on the list-Carlos Delgado, Fred McGriff; this year it's more of the same-Sid Bream, Tony Solaita.

In a not that interesting development, Hafner wholesale traded his comps with his 2008; all four are new and all four were out of baseball by 34. The hope for Hafner is the hope we cling to with a lot of players: PECOTA works from a historical perspective and history isn't keeping up with medicine. When your comps are sluggers from the 1970s who's bodies broke down, isn't there some chance that your fate can be changed by Lonnie Soloff? After all, if PECOTA had existed 20 years ago, every pitcher getting TJ would've had some awful looking comps. It wasn't always considered a "good" thing to miss 18 months of baseball.

23.8 .342 .432 .275
ACTUAL 664 37.5 .331 .473 .275

Comment: I wrote about Jhonny for the annual and I still feel basically the same way: he's an excellent shortstop but he gets there in such a strange way. Jhonny's power has been on a steady re-rise to 2005 levels ever since 2005 ended. His SLG has gone .385 to .430 to .473. Do you realize we once had a player go from a .520 SLG to a .385 SLG? How did we all survive that?

I get why PECOTA keeps trying to lock him into being a player in the .750 range every single year but, well, whatever. I don't think that's going to happen. If you hit 24 homeruns at age 23 and then 42 doubles at age 26, well, I think something's going on and it's going to result in a monster season at some point. Not a lot of shortstops have done the former and way less have done the latter.

PECOTA 281 4.6 .305 .414 .270
ACTUAL 403 28.3 .347 .517 .292

Comment: I mean, who knew? The two best power hitters on the Indians last year were arguably Kelly Shoppach and Shin-Soo Choo. At the same time, Shoppach had been just smashing AAA pitching over the last 123 games, to the tune of 30 homeruns.

If we want, we can pretend that Shoppach's non-use at age 26 and 27 made last year, his age 28 season, actually his magic age 27 season. And that would make this, his age 29 season, the beginning of the slow crest that is age 28, not the already on the downside momentum of an aging catcher that 29 is.

Shoppach's best years were wasted in two catcher rich systems as he had to bide a lot of time behind Vic Martinez and Jason Varitek. It's cost him a lot of money and homeruns.

PECOTA 671 38.0 .390 .462 .304
ACTUAL 745 60.7 .374 .502 .304

Comment: Grady has the 13th most plate appearances ever by a CF at the age of 25; the list in front of him is, umm, odd. Hey, Rick Manning!

Grady stil has a 53% improve rate which, for the uninitiated, indicates that PECOTA thinks he has a greater chance to improve than he does to, uhh, "de-prove." He's also got a 20% chance to breakout. I can't even imagine what that would look like. I don't know what to make of Grady from here on out except that I wouldn't be surprised if he never hit 40 homeruns in a season nor would I be surprised if he hit 50 homeruns multiple times.