Earlier this week in the Rumblings, a Jeffrey Flanagan wrote an article picking out five Royals who had a chance to rebound in 2016. Of course, Omar Infante was one of the players listed. The Royals' story of "Chapter of Omar: The Infantining" is a fairly simple one. He had four good years from 2010-2013, the last of which being a great year with a 118 wRC+ and 3.1 fWAR. He waffled around average and provided solid defense at second base. Good stuff and all.
Then the Royals signed him to a four-year deal before the 2014 season. Infante has been categorically awful since then. There are plenty of words to describe his performance, but I will not regale you with all of them. Just know that Infante has been a net negative since coming onto the Royals.
Part of that has been attributed to injuries. Infante got hit in the face with a ball thrown by someone paid to throw things. His elbow was made of Doritos (sans the advertising department). Since then, the narrative is that 1) Infante got surgery and should now have an actual elbow instead of Doritos, and 2) There might be enough distance between the face thing and now. The conditions are ripe for a rebound.
The projections disagree, though "rebound" can be defined as "being alive" when Infante hit as badly as he did last year. Only Neifi Perez, who was wearing a Royals jersey at the time, and Clint Barmes have had worse offensive seasons than Infante's 2015 since 2000. After a 44 wRC+ last year, Steamer projects Infante for a 71 wRC+ over 330 PA. ZiPS has Infante at a .275 wOBA (a 72 OPS+) and hitting .253 / .278 / .354. There's close agreement on the level of terrible.
I wouldn't call that a rebound. Let's flip the script on the projections, shall we? At a simple, very basic level, the Marcels, there is a 5/4/3 weighting, with the most weight given to the most recent season. The Marcels are meant to provide a projection baseline - if your projection system does not outperform The Marcels, then your projection system is bad. What if, for Omar Infante, the weighting were reversed?
In this case, Infante's 2013 season, in which he was really good, would be given the most weight. His terrible 2015 would be given the least weight. For reference, it looks like Infante's Marcel projection for 2016 (from Baseball Reference) is .251 / .285 / .361.
Using the step-by-step methods** here* but applying the reverse weighting, I come up with the following numbers:
*Thanks Henry! It's good to be the ME of a stats site
**It's unclear if the methodology applies to BA / OBP / SLG in the manner I've used it, but this is not meant to be super-rigorous
.260 / .304 / .382
That's definitely below average, but a player comp from 2015 might help put that into context: Jose Reyes. Reyes hit .274 / .310 / .378 for an 80 wRC+. wRC+ is park and league-adjusted, and Reyes played in hitter-friendly environs (Blue Jays, Rockies). A similar stat line in Kauffman is probably going to be at least (throwing a number out into the wind) 85 or so. In fact, Jarrod Dyson hit .250 / .311 / .380 for an 88 wRC+.
Given that information, I'm comfortable setting the baseline for an Infante rebound season at 85 wRC+, which is 15 percent below league average. Infante was a little better than that in 2011 as a member of the Marlins and put up 2.3 fWAR.
So a rebound season from Infante produces an average player. I'd take an average player for sure.
The complication here is Christian Colon. Colon is projected by Steamer and ZiPS to provide similar offense to Infante's "rebound" season but worse defense. If Infante's offense is closer to what Steamer and ZiPS project, it will definitely be a test of how much the Royals value defense given Infante's defensive reputation at second. However, if Infante's offense rebounds, he's clearly the better player. I hope Infante is practicing his rebounding skills with Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan.