29 players I think the THT projections got wrong

Each of the past three years, we’ve released projections for thousands of players, and each year, I have received tons of e-mails relating to specific players readers think we have over- or underrated. Frankly, I’m with the readers—our system is very good, but it is not perfect. Sometimes, I think I know more than it does, and today, I’ve decided to test that thought.

What follows then is a list of 15 hitters and 14 pitchers who I think will either over- or underperform their projections, with my reasoning explained. I formed this list without looking at other projection systems, since the idea here is to figure out if human intuition can beat a computer-based system, rather than trying to find areas where some other projection system outperforms THT. At the end of the season, I will check in to see if my hunches were correct, or if the computer knows best.

To be clear, I only selected hitters projected to have at least 500 major league plate appearances and pitchers projected to have at least 100 major league innings pitched; I wanted to avoid, as best as possible, players who won’t play much in the major leagues in 2009.

Hitters

Justin Upton | Projected OPS, .771 | image

Players who debut in the major leagues at 19 generally go on to be, well, stars, so I have a hard time believing that Upton’s OPS will drop 45 from last year. Our projection system thinks he’s on an upward trajectory, predicting that his OPS will rise 88 points in the next three years, but to me, that doesn’t jibe with his numbers regressing so much this season. I think Upton will be even better this year than he was last and blow his projection out of the water.

Chipper Jones | Projected OPS, .972 | image

Number of player-seasons since 1901 in which a 37-year-old-plus hitter qualified for the batting title with an OPS of at least .972? 15. It seems unlikely to me that Chipper will become number 16.

David Ortiz | Projected OPS, .951 | image

We Red Sox fans are a pessimistic bunch. Ortiz posted an .876 OPS last season, and frankly, I’m surprised it was that high. He did not look very good after returning from his wrist injury, and at his size and age, I have a hard time believing that he will rebound to his previous heights.

Miguel Cabrera | Projected OPS, .962 | image

He posted an .886 OPS last year, and the culprits were American League pitchers, who were not afraid to pitch to him. Cabrera’s intentional walks fell from 23 in 2007 to six last year, and since I see no reason that they should go up, I don’t think he’ll be returning to his Florida level of production.

Alex Gordon | Projected OPS, .794 | image

He improved a lot last year, and I think that trajectory will continue. Gordon was too good a prospect for me to write him off as a middling hitter just yet.

Mike Napoli | Projected OPS, .875 | image

He was crazy good last year, but an .875 OPS from a catcher? Is Napoli really as good a hitter as Joe Mauer? I have my doubts.

Delmon Young | Projected OPS, .731 | image

Young was a top prospect until playing his first full season in the major leagues at 21. Guys like that generally succeed, so despite all his flaws, I have a hard time believing that Young will actually be worse than he was last year.

Carlos Delgado | Projected OPS, .853 | image

Delgado had a crazy second half last year, and he still barely cleared .853, posting an .871 OPS. In 2007, his OPS was .781. Frankly, I don’t see where this projection is coming from, and I certainly don’t believe it is right.

Robinson Cano | Projected OPS, .796 | image

Cano’s numbers plummeted last season, but he’s entering his prime at 26, and I expect him to bounce back. Derek Carty’s article on Cano is what convinced me that he’ll do so in a big way.

Jack Cust | Projected OPS, .893 | image

He posted an .851 OPS last year, and I can’t imagine a scenario in which he’s able to compensate for the giant holes in his swing enough to up that number 40 points.

Ryan Howard | Projected OPS, .973 | image

I think Howard’s season last year demonstrated the problem with betting on anyone maintaining a superstar level of performance while striking out 200 times. Howard is good, but I don’t know that he’s this good.

Ichiro Suzuki | Projected OPS, .738 | image

We’re essentially projecting Ichiro to repeat his 2008 numbers, which would be fine for most 34-year-olds, but somehow, I have a hard time believing he’ll slug .378 when his career slugging percentage is .430. I think Ichiro bounces back and beats his projection handily.

Evan Longoria | Projected OPS, .837 | image

If he can post an .874 OPS despite a serious injury, I don’t see why he won’t post a .900+ OPS when healthy. I expect big things from Longoria in 2009.

BJ Upton | Projected OPS, .775 | image

Upton oozes talent, and I think this will be the season in which he finally breaks out big time. If you watched Upton in the postseason, you know .775 is way too low.

Chris Davis | Projected OPS, .884 | image

While I like Davis in the long term, I expect him to have some growing pains adjusting to the major leagues, given how much he has struck out against inferior minor league pitchers. We project Josh Hamilton to have an .883 OPS, and there’s no way I see Davis being as good as that right off the bat.

Pitchers

Dan Haren | Projected ERA, 4.22 | image

Our projection system forecasts an aggressive decline for Haren, who posted a 3.33 ERA in 2008 and 3.07 in 2007. Frankly, I don’t know why. Yes, Haren pitches in a tough hitter’s park, but his peripherals were excellent last season, and I’d be very surprised if he posted an ERA above 4.00.

Derek Lowe | Projected ERA, 3.35 | image

Lowe is going to be 36, and he’s posted an ERA this low once in the past six years. I don’t see him doing it again.

Clay Buchholz | Projected ERA, 4.68 | image

Our system sees how much Buchholz struggled in the major leagues last year, and it questions if he has enough control to be more than an average major league starter. That’s fine, but I ascribe Buchholz’s troubles last year to his youth; things were not going well, he got frustrated, and so they got worse. That’s not going to happen again this season. I still think Buchholz is a huge talent, and huge talents deserve better projections than a 4.68 ERA.

Rich Harden | Projected ERA, 3.82 | image

I see where this projection comes from—Harden’s strikeout rate seems unsustainable for a starter and his HR/F has been very low the past couple of years—but I just don’t see Rich Harden following up last year’s performance with a very good, but not great 3.82 ERA.

Mark Buehrle | Projected ERA, 4.69 | image

It’s always difficult to project pitchers who consistently outperform their peripherals.

Edinson Volquez | Projected ERA, 4.16 | image

Our system is designed to be more sensitive to changes in performance for younger pitchers, but I still think it’s overweighting Volquez’s less-impressive record prior to 2008. If it only knew how nasty his stuff is, I think Volquez would be projected for a sub-4.00 ERA.

Fausto Carmona | Projected ERA, 4.06 | image

This is all a question of whether you think we saw the real Carmona in 2007 or in 2008. Guess which way I’m going. Carmona doesn’t strike out enough hitters and he walks too many to be a well above-average major league starter.

Jeremy Bonderman | Projected ERA, 4.14 | image

The reverse Mark Buehrle.

Zack Greinke | Projected ERA, 4.44 | image

Our system also doesn’t have a variable for “highly-touted prospect recovering from mental breakdown.” If it did, it might realize that the Zack Greinke we saw last season is much more likely to be the player we see going forward, rather than focusing on his up-and-down 2007 or mediocre 2006.

Francisco Liriano | Projected ERA, 4.11 | image

Liriano lost a lot off his fastball in returning from Tommy John surgery last year, but I believe he’ll come back much stronger in 2009 and perform accordingly. My research in The Hardball Times Annual 2007 showed that pitchers actually up their strikeout rates after coming back from Tommy John surgery, so I think Liriano’s due for a rebound.

CC Sabathia | Projected ERA, 3.23 | image

I’m just too nervous given how hard Sabathia worked down the stretch last year. Plus, the AL East is a tough division to post an ERA that low.

Justin Duchsherer | Projected ERA, 3.73 | image

He was incredible last year, but his peripherals were not that great—only Duchsherer’s walk rate was significantly better than average. I don’t think one year of above average peripherals makes for a 3.73 ERA.

Dana Eveland | Projected ERA, 3.93 | image

Yeah, I don’t really know where this projection is coming from, but I certainly don’t buy it.

Joe Blanton | Projected ERA, 4.26 | image

The numbers say it’s reasonable, but my gut says Blanton sucks.

So there you have it—the 29 THT projections I just don’t like. At the end of the season, we’ll check in and see if my hunches were correct or if my gut has nothing on this new-fangled sabermetrics stuff.

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