FanPost

Projecting the Royals' 2009 Offense with Bill James (Not Really, Though)

P1010081_medium Fangraphs recently added the 2009 Bill James Projections to their site. Cool stuff. I hope they also add the CHONE, Miner, Zips, and Marcels projections this year as they did last year. Royals Review and other SB Nation editors, received (at least some) of the projections earlier, and he already a wrote a bit about it. Now that the rest of the projections are publicly available, I thought it would be a good opportunity to translate them from the raw stats and old-fashioned metrics (BA, OBP, SLG, OPS) into newer metrics and stats like wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average, created by Tom Tango) and its derivative BRAA (batting runs above average) that give the proper relative weights to various events (particularly walks) that even some of the newer stats and metrics such as VORP get wrong. There's a bit of irony here, of course, because according to my (limited) understanding, many of these problems go back to Bill James' of Runs Created. Leaving aside the fact that James probably has little to nothing to do with these projections personally, then, there is an irony in using his projections to generate stats that (at least in part) were created to fix the problems of his Runs Created formula. So what do we have from The Man?

Let me say from the get-go that, in my utterly amateur opinion, the James projections aren't that good. I don't know why. They tend to be overly optimistic regarding power hitters. In post-season discussions about the relative success of different projection systems, I don't recall the Bill James projections ever coming into a serious conversation among the "winners" (generally ZiPS, CHONE, and PECOTA are at the top.). But this was the first full set of "free" projections that came out, and they aren't totally uninformed. Yeah, I could use a Marcels (I'm going to start doing them myself one of these days, and Colin Wyers has already done some for 2009 to tide you over until Tango does his "official" set), which do surprisingly well. However, they don't work as well for young players with less than three years of experience in the majors, and the Royals best players fit that description.

In short, I am not endorsing the James projections. I'm not saying they're worthless, either. I just wanted an excuse to work with converting stuff to wOBA and bRAA and to get an idea of what sort of offense Royals fans might expect, as these projections, while probably not the greatest, aren't completely unrealistic.

Below is a chart with some players that at this point seem likely to play a major role in the KC offense in 2009, or have some chance, or are just on there for entertainment purposes. You wouldn't believe how freaking long it took me to get the data out of the spreadsheet table to an acceptable form in an fanpost (can someone give me some advice on this?), especially relative to setting up all the formulas and stuff. I won't go into explaining the derivation of wOBA and why it's better, as you can find that stuff out by reading the links above and doing google searches and stuff. That and I'd screw it up anyway.You might also check out Stat Corner, who now keep track of wOBA (even for recent minor league season), have a park- and league-adjusted version of FIP called tRA, and have a helpful glossary.

I didn't put everything from the projection here, as it wouldn't fit, and is also pretty confusing. If you want to see the stuff in more detail in order to "check my work," take a look at the Google spreadsheet I made. Yeah, the formatting is terrible. You wouldn't believe how much time I wasted trying to make it decent.

 

Player

PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

wOBA

bRAA

RV/700

Improvement

Alex Gordon

606

0.269

0.358

0.467

0.825

0.362

12.9

14.9

6.1

Billy Butler

617

0.294

0.357

0.460

0.817

0.357

10.3

11.7

15.8

Ryan Shealy

442

0.278

0.344

0.485

0.829

0.358

7.8

12.4

2.0

Mike Jacobs

489

0.269

0.325

0.515

0.841

0.357

8.2

11.7

4.1

Kila Ka'aihue

364

0.260

0.382

0.484

0.865

0.379

13.0

25.0

12.5

Ross Gload

392

0.294

0.337

0.425

0.762

0.334

-1.5

-2.7

11.9

Mike Aviles

609

0.287

0.322

0.443

0.765

0.332

-3.2

-3.7

-13.4

A.Callaspo

355

0.280

0.335

0.375

0.710

0.317

-6.5

-12.7

-7.1

Mark Grudz

241

0.279

0.336

0.393

0.729

0.324

-3.0

-8.8

-4.8

Miguel Olivo

431

0.243

0.276

0.419

0.695

0.299

-14.6

-23.8

-8.8

John Buck

436

0.229

0.303

0.394

0.697

0.307

-11.7

-18.8

8.2

David DeJesus

586

0.282

0.362

0.421

0.783

0.347

4.6

5.5

-5.6

Mark Teahen

546

0.272

0.342

0.429

0.772

0.340

0.8

1.0

13.7

Jose Guillen

599

0.265

0.322

0.445

0.767

0.334

-2.1

-2.4

2.9

E. German

251

0.273

0.351

0.356

0.706

0.322

-3.4

-9.5

5.7

Tony Pena, Jr.

222

0.241

0.266

0.321

0.587

0.260

-15.1

-47.6

14.8

Mitch Maier

176

0.271

0.318

0.400

0.718

0.316

-3.3

-13.2

1.5

Joey Gathright

250

0.276

0.356

0.321

0.677

0.318

-4.3

-12.0

9.8

 

A brief explanation of what it on the chart and why it's there. You can skip this stuff if you already know this stuff or don't care and buzz down to "Comments."

  • Projected PA are there so that readers can see how the projected playing time effects the overall value of the player, and also to see where one may need to take the James projection with a grain of salt.
  • AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS are put there because we're familiar with them, but mostly because when put alongside wOBA, one can see how the older stats (yes, this includes OPS) can sometimes be deceptive with respect to a players true offensive value.
  • wOBA I've explained above and can be looked up elsewhere. It is set up to be on a OBP scale that people can relate to -- .340 is around average, and so on. I've incorporated steals and caught stealings into this (which Stat Corner does not do) in accordance with what Tango has written elsewhere. Ideally, if the player has "average" power, then wOBA will be about at his OBP. Anything above his OBP shows how much offensive value comes from his power. Although Tango doesn't say so, wOBA seems very  much like an adjusted-to-OBP scale version of what Branch Rickey, in his 1952 (!) Life Magazine article 'Goodbye to Some Old Baseball Ideas' called Batting Rating, which combined OBP and ISO because, as Rickey argues, they are better measures of offensive value than AVG and SLG. This is only one of many ideas in the article that many "good baseball people" have yet to catch up to Rickey on. I wonder if that guy ever did anything else in baseball? Maybe, but I bet it wasn't revolutionary...
  • bRAA is Batting Runs Above Average (projected). I'm trying to leave formulae out of this post, but I can give it to you in the comments if you're too lazy to look it up on Stat Corner. Basically, it's the players wOBA minus the league's wOBA times his plate appearances (more nerdily: [wOBA - lgwOBA/1.15]*PA). Ideally, like Stat Corner, I'd adjust for home park, but I don't know how to, and for most full-time Royals players this didn't make a huge difference this past season. Keep in mind this is with respect to average, not replacement level. Once you use replacement level as the baseline , then we have to adjust for the difference between leagues, which makes Jacobs' projection problematic (it was made when he was on the Marlins). Also, then I'd feel like I need to adjust for position, and then for defensive projection, and, well, I'm not sure these projections are good enough to make that worth doing. Moreover, positional adjustments and replacement level are things that people argue about all the time, and I don't want to get into that here. Maybe, if people like this enough, I'll get more detailed when CHONE, etc. come out. I used the league average from 2008 AL, which has problems, but wouldn't make more than a runs difference, most likely. 
  • RV/700 is bRAA prorated for 700 plate appearances (about a full season on a team with a good offense) so that one can compare different players' projected offense given equal playing time.
  • Improvement uses bRAA from this year over against bRAA from last year. It thus relies on projected playing time. This didn't turn out as well as I'd wanted for some players. I wanted to get an idea of how much the team might improve, but some guys have radically different playing time, or have (sort of) incommensurable 2008 and projected bRAAs because they've switched leagues (Jacobs) or were really hot for a month (Shealy). It's stil sort of interesting.

Comments:

Just a few comments, then, on the above projections and what they might mean. Again, I'm not endorsing Bill James' Projections.

  • Alex Gordon and Billy Butler's projections were already discussed by Royals Review. Let's start with Gordon. For various reasons, I actually think this projection is about right, maybe even a bit conservative. But we aren't here to discuss why I think Alex will have a better OBP and isolated power next season. People might be  "disappointed" by this projection, but that has to do with seeing 3B more in light of A-Rod, David Wright, etc. rather than its historically-based positional adjustment. In any case, he improves offensively by 5.6 runs (a bit more than half a win), which is pretty good. As I've said elsewhere, returning to 2007 form defensively would be an even bigger improvement. One thing this projection in terms of bRAA and RV/700 might show is that, at worst, Gordon will a league-average 1B. He was already a good hitter for a 3B this year. Unless you think, for example, that Evan Longoria's 2008 is the baseline.
  • First base/DH... ah... I just put Gload on there for fun. Certainly DMGM isn't stupid enough to think he has a role on the team at this point. The Shealy projection is really optimistic, I think, but juxtaposing his (and, for that matter, Gordon's) OPS/wOBA with the the OPS and wOBA of Mike Jacobs can tell us a lot. OPS makes Jacobs (whom James projects for a career year, of course) look like the superior hitter. But wOBA and RV/700 tells a different story. The point isn't that I buy this Shealy projection (although, given the change of leagues, parks, etc. I'm not sure it's more generous than Jacobs), but that his .817 OPS turns out, when put on a better metric, to be just as valuble as Jacobs .841. This assumes equal defensive value of course, and speaking of equal value, note that James more realistic Billy Butler projection has Butler, given equal playing time, having an offensively identically valuable year to Mike Jacobs. Much more to say here, but most of it has already been said.
  • For Kila... well... I dunno. I want to believe, but we'll see what the other systems say.
  • AVILANCHE: Some people might probably a bit upset that  my  wOBA conversion has Mike Aviles projected as a below average hitter. But remember, he doesn't walk that much, and the biggest advantage of wOBA is that is properly values walks. Also keep in mind that on this projection (which I actually think is a bit generous to Aviles) he's still an above-average hitter at SS. Aviles isn't so much a concern, wherever he ends up, because he's making the minimum for the next six years. Which is good, because he will probably start declining next year. The bigger concern is Alberto Callaspo. I think the projection might suffer from lack of data, and Callaspo's high-contact low-power game isn't something that the James projections like anyway. We don't know, I guess. Along with questions about his defense, he's a mystery for next year. Definitely worth giving him shot playing full-time rather than overspending on a washed-up veteran, though. Grudz looks like a part-timer (probably somewhere else.)
  • The Catchers. Here's another good example of wOBA forcing us to change our OPS-based opinions. Yup -- Miguel Olivo, even after something of a career offensive year bolstered by a lot of lefties, still projects as slightly worse offensively than John Buck. Keep in mind when looking at bRAA that both guys are catchers...
  • David DeJesus may look like he's getting the shaft here, but projections can't simply pretend 2007 didn't happen. He's also hurt by poor basestealing -- STOP SENDING HIM, TREY. Exactly how valuble he is overall depends on his defense. If he's still around an average defensive CF or even above average in LF, then he's an very good player that many fans don't appreciate.  People don't but this, but even as an average defender in LF this sort of offense is still around average... which leads to
  • Mark Teahen and Jose Guillen. These projections seem about right to me. If Teahen could still play third well, the Royals would have something. Fans will never buy it, but if he can still play  +8 run defense in the LF/RF, he's a league average player (and he might be able to improve on this projection). It's sort of like JoGui, a guy whose glove totally carries his bat.

The rest can be discussed in the comments. Like I said, these projections aren't considered, as far as I know, the most accurate, but they might make for fun discussion, as well as an incentive for me to get a decent relational database. I wouldn't mind maybe doing this when other projections come out, unless people hated this.

And if I can freaking figure out how to do a decent table.

Update, November 16, 2008 5:40 PM EST: Although the only noticable chance that will be evident here is that everyone looks a little bit better with regard to their bRAA and RV/700, I have made a change that will make a difference if I do similar posts along these lines for other projections systems and/or especially posts involving NL free agents. I am projecting the 2009 lgwOBA as .338 for everyone instead of taking last year's as good for both leagues. Basically, I noticed when running through some NL free agents, that their marginal batting above average was really good due to the low NL lgwOBA for 2008 I was using (.333). I then realized that this is probably because Stat Corner's lgwOBA for the NL probably includes pitchers. That's fine for in-season analysis, but for getting free agent value, not so much. Tango writes that lgwOBA these days will usually be between .335 and .340. So .338 fits right in the middle, and that's what I'm going to use from now on. Or until I change my mind again.

By the way, the ZiPs projections for Dunn look better than my initial weighted averages for him, so maybe 3/32 would be a decent price for him... not that he'll be available at that price, of course... but that's another post.

Thanks for pretending to care!

Updated November 20, 5.20 PM or so: Now includes CoCo Crisp on the spreadsheet, if not the chart above just yet. The James projections have him at -5.1 runs with 700 ABs with my baseline.

This FanPost was written by a member of the Royals Review community. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the editors and writers of this site.

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