Today I’d like to begin what will end up being a new, bi-weekly feature at the General Store: Braves Projection Updates. Once every two weeks I’ll take a look at how the Braves performance up to that date, both at the team level and the player level, has affected what our expectations are going forward. In each update I’ll include all of the data along with some limited commentary on what I find notable. To get started, let’s talk a little about what projections are and why they’re useful.
Projection systems are data-driven tools that predict how baseball players and teams will perform in the future based on their past performance. While they’re obviously not perfect predictors (there is a lot of randomness in baseball) they are the absolute best of what is available to the public. I’m not going to go into the detail of defending this here, but projection systems are better at predicting performance than you are. No matter who you are. Period. End of story.
Currently, FanGraphs offers projections from both Steamer and ZiPS for both in-season and off-season projections. For the in-season projections, the systems start with their preseason projection and update them using the latest data from the current season. If a player is off to a hot start, the system will see this, filter out the information that’s relevant and that which is noise, and then modify its estimate accordingly. For this series we will be using the ZiPS projection system. Why, you might ask? Because, I would answer. Neither Steamer nor ZiPS are appreciably any better than the other, so I just decided to pick one. As stated above, I’ll use this info to take a look at how our expectations have changed for the team and the players based on what’s happened thus far in the season.
Is everybody up to speed and ready? Let’s get started.
First, let’s take a look at things from the team level. Before the season, the Braves were predicted to score around 3.66 runs per game and allow around 4.01. This put us at a projected 71 wins over the course of the season, good for a whopping 1.8% chance of making the playoffs. After our initial hot start, the team has started to simmer down a bit and perform about how we’d expect going forward. As such, our projections for this season haven’t really changed much. After going 9-9, scoring a little less than 4 runs per game and allowing a little less than 4, we’re now projected to win a whole 73 games, good for a 2.4% chance of making the playoffs. Yay for rebuilding years.
Now that we see how the team’s been doing as a whole, let’s break it down to the player level. First, a look at the preseason projections for everyone, followed by the updated projections as of April 26, 2015. I’ll primarily be focused on the players who have seen their total Wins Above Replacement (WAR) projection change the most. If you’re not familiar with WAR, it’s a measure of a player’s total value to a team in wins.
So that you don’t have to parse through all of those numbers on your own, here’s a final batters table that looks at the difference in the latest projections and the preseason ones. Improvements are highlighted in green, and declines are seen in red.
So maybe this Nick Markakis guy isn’t going to be so bad. He’s had an incredible start to the season, hitting .339 while walking more than he’s struck out. This increased walk rate has been the main contributor to his improvement, and he’s now expected to be a slightly above average player. Hopefully this is part of him now being healthy for the first time in a few years, and if so, he could end up being a key contributor for us over the next couple seasons.
The three Bash Brothers- Chris Johnson, AJ Pierzynski, and Jonny Gomes- have also seen noticeable improvements in their projections. Chris Johnson has posted the highest walk rate for any month in his career, and he’s also cut down on his strikeouts. I’m sure part of that is Fredi strategically using him against left-handed starters, as he’s consistently been one of the best guys on our team at hitting lefties. Pierzynski’s been an absolute monster so far. He’s tied with Markakis as being our most valuable player over our first 18 games, and he’s already hit 3 dingers this year, compared to last year when he only hit 5 over the course of the season. Gomes has also seen an uptick in his power production, and that’s been coupled with an increased walk rate.
Unlike last year, Freeman’s been struggling a bit out of the gate. His power is up, but so are his strikeouts. He’s also seen a drop in his walk rate and his line drive rate. Nothing about him as a hitter has changed, so I don’t think there’s any reason to think of this as anything other than a little cold spell, driven by some randomness and bad luck. The line drives should return, and I don’t at all expect him to continue to strike out in over a quarter of his at bats. Also, Mark Simon of ESPN just released the MLB’s leaders in hard-hit rate, and Freeman was at the top. There’s no reason yet to think he’s not still perfectly fine.
Seeing the projections for Jace Peterson, Phil Gosselin, and Christian Bethancourt drop a bit isn’t particularly news-worthy yet. These are all young guys without a lot of experience or data behind them, so they’re going to see their projections change more than anyone this season. The Jace projection is particularly concerning, but like I said, he’s young and it’s early. For now, let’s just continue to wait before drawing conclusions. Except that Phil Gosselin is the worst player on this team. We can draw that conclusion right now.
Let’s now move to the pitchers, again starting with their preseason and updated full-season projections, then following with the differences between the two with improvements in green and declines in red.
Things are not looking good for Teheran this season. His strikeouts are down and his walks and home runs allowed are up. His vertical release point has been down a little, and his horizontal release point has been much more erratic than it was last season. I’ve got a hunch that this has been the reason he’s struggled so much with his command, walking over 5 guys per 9 innings so far. He’s already given up 3 home runs on his fastball after giving up only 9 on it all last year. Hopefully he’s just working through some early minor issues and will return to form as the season progresses. His velocities all look fine, so I’m thinking this is something he could work through. Stults’s projection is also down, but nobody expected a whole lot there, so I wouldn’t say it’s much to pay attention to.
Grilli has been doing really well, but that’s over a 7 inning sample. It’s too early to make any bold proclamations there. I’ll be completely honest about Alex Wood: I really don’t know what the heck is going on with his projection. His projected ERA and FIP are both down, but his projected WAR is up. I’m just gonna assume there was some sort of error somewhere and not worry too much about it. The rest of the guys haven’t changed a whole lot, so nothing more to see here.
In summary, our offense is looking ever-so-slightly better than we originally expected thanks to strong performances from Markakis and the Bash Brothers. Our pitching is looking a little worse, mostly due to Teheran’s and Stults’s troubles. It’s too early to expect much different than we did at the beginning of the year, but we’ll check back in in a couple weeks.
UPDATE: I reached out to Dan Szymborski on Twitter about Alex Wood’s projection, and this was my question his response:
@srbrown70 It's tough as I don't do the WAR part myself, so it's a little hard for me to dissect it.
— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) April 27, 2015
@srbrown70 But it's really hard to tell exactly. I'm sure it'll round out as his playing time has more info.
— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) April 27, 2015