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Tuesday, December 22, 2009
A couple of days ago it was announced that the A's have come to an agreement with free agent outfielder Coco Crisp on a one-year contract worth around 4.5 million. The deal is pending an important physical considering Crisp is coming off surgeries to both of his shoulders that caused him to miss the last 100 games of 2009.
The A's are not the type of team that goes around handing out multi-million dollar contracts like free Chinese food samples at the mall and then decides to not play the guy, so most likely Crisp will see plenty of at-bats as the Athletics' new leadoff hitter in 2010. Assuming a year of good health from Crisp, let's see what we can predict his upcoming season will look like.
Crisp experienced his breakout season in 2004 as a 24-year-old on the Indians, and followed that campaign up with another gem in 2005 that led to him being the favorite of ESPN analysts everywhere. In those two seasons he displayed a rare three-tool combination of average, power, and speed ability that looked attractive to MLB teams and fantasy owners alike.
Crisp's prime career years, however, have not smelled as sweet. Ever since his participation in the suspicious Andy Marte trade that sent him to Boston, Crisp has played a full season only once, and has not hit above .285 nor reached double-digit home runs in a season. After an injury-ruined 2009, Crisp hit the free agency market this offseason and surprisingly netted this 4.5 million contract from, of all teams, the Athletics.
Crisp has the potential to be an impact player in 2010, with a .290 average, 10 home run, and 25 steal season not out of the question. RBIs will most likely come sparsely for Crisp, but batting leadoff for any team, even the A's, will net him decent runs totals in the 80s or perhaps 90s.
That, of course, is assuming good health and is a "best-scenario" prediction. A more reasonable projection would look something like a .270 average, six home runs, and a similar 20 steals. That line does have value in deeper mixed leagues and AL-only leagues, and if the Athletics live up to the credence of their name and send the fleet-footed Crisp stealing often, then he could even become worthy of ownership in shallower mixed leagues because of steals totals alone.
Fallout: A's outfielders
This signing does impact players beyond just Crisp, as the way playing time is distributed to the rest of the Oakland outfield is altered. The other two outfielders expected to keep their starting roles are fellow speedster Rajai Davis and possible breakout player Ryan Sweeney. This leaves the recently acquired Scott Hairston without a defined role in the A's offense and reaffirms the organization's abandonment of Travis Buck. Also, two players who might have reached the majors in 2010, Aaron Cunningham and the even more recently acquired Michael Taylor, now have their chances of seeing significant MLB playing time slashed dramatically.
Obviously it is still early in the offseason and what's been a busy offseason will continue to be, so future moves can completely change what the 2010 landscape will look like. As for the A's, either Hairston or perhaps Davis will be shipped out to alleviate the logjam in the outfield. And since we are talking about the A's, once the season starts injuries will probably resolve any playing time conflicts that arise between players.
To recap, this signing is good for Crisp since he signed with a team that is dedicated to giving him playing time, but also negative since the A's play in a poor hitters' park and also have one of the worst offenses in the majors. The upcoming season appears to be a chance for the 30-year-old to redeem himself for the letdowns of past years, and playing in the relaxed Oakland atmosphere may provide him with the right scenery to post decent fantasy numbers reminiscent of his 2005 season.
Sweeney and Davis are not affected by the signing; however, that slew of A's outfielders mentioned before—Hairston, Buck, Cunningham, and Taylor—all figure to lose playing time one way or another because of Crisp's arrival to the Bay Area.
Posted by Paul Singman at 5:25am
It's that time of year when projection systems are starting to be released. CHONE was released about a month ago, ZiPS is in the process of being released one team at a time, and Marcels will probably make an appearance sometime in the next few weeks. For hardcore fantasy baseball enthusiasts, it can be a lot of fun to go through the various systems and see how they are viewing players and how they stack up against each other. While I enjoy this time of year as much as anyone else, one of my biggest pet peeves is when people start talking about how optimistic the Bill James projection system is. Some examples of this sentiment:
Pending Pinstripes (Yankees blog):
I've always thought that the Bill James projections were wildly optimistic, but they're still interesting to look at.
The McCovey Chronicles (Giants blog) comments section:
Considering how crazy-optimistic Bill James projections usually are, that seems awfully pessimistic for Affeldt.
The Crawfish Boxes (Astros blog):
Surprisingly, James has an offensive prediction for Chris Johnson, and even more surprisingly, James is somewhat more optimistic about Johnson than most of us on this board (including me). Obviously, James' system believes that Johnson's minor league numbers indicate decent enough power to offset, at least in part, a paltry OBP. I have my doubts on that.
South Side Sox (White Sox blog):
James tends to have the most optimistic projections of any of the major forecasters, specifically for young players.
The James projections often seem optimistic...
I think you get the idea.
Inevitably, each year, the James system seems to be higher on the vast majority of players than are other systems such as CHONE, ZiPS, or Oliver. And inevitably, each year, baseball analysts see nothing wrong with making straight comparisons between systems. A couple weeks ago, I saw one article about Jake Fox that read:
For 2010, Bill James projects a whopping .284/.339/.546 line for Fox in limited playing time. That strikes me as wildly optimistic. CHONE’s forecast appears much more reasonable, with a projected .257/.316/.452 performance.
Other times, we'll see straight comparisons to previous years:
Bill James is super-optimistic - when I looked at the projections they came up with a few years ago, he had the majority of starters being better than average at every single position.
Still other times, sites will refer to the James projections while completely ignoring the context under which they were created:
James also projects Jose Reyes will return from injury to hit .285 with 57 stolen bases, 14 home runs, 67 RBI and 113 runs created.Or:
The projections here are extremely pleasing. I believe that they’re too optimistic, though, especially for the bullpen.
This isn't a shot at these articles or writers in the slightest, but I believe this line of reasoning—which is common across many sites and blogs—is a bit flawed, so today I'd like to help correct some of the common errors and misconceptions that many seem to have about projections.
Relativity and context
The most important concept I'd like to stress is that of relativity. The kinds of articles I just mentioned operate under the assumption that the James projection for a player should be looked at relative to another system's projection for him or relative to last year. This is incorrect, though. What we should be doing is examining the James projection for a player relative to all of the other players the James system projects.
As I've stressed many times before, context is of the utmost importance when it comes to almost anything fantasy baseball related. In this case, most people ignore the run environment that the James projection system assumes. To illustrate my point, I'll use a very extreme example. Let's say that we transport Albert Pujols and his 44 HR projection into a league where it is common for the worst players to hit 80 HRs per year and the best to top 200 HRs. While Pujols and his 44 HRs look terrific in our reality, in this new one it looks kind of pathetic. That's context.
"What does this have to do with the James projections, though," you ask? Well, while the James projections don't assume a run environment where people are routinely hitting 200 HRs, it usually does assume that hitters perform a little bit better, on the whole (when compared to previous seasons or other projection systems). So if everyone is being projected to hit a few extra HRs, it does not necessarily make Alex Rodriguez's 37 HR projection any more optimistic than CHONE's 34 HR projection.
After all, when we're drafting players in fantasy leagues, it doesn't matter if the first pick has 200 HRs and the second pick has 190 or if the first pick has 40 and the second has 38. We don't care about the actual numbers; we care about the relative rankings. It doesn't matter if James has Albert Pujols at 44 HRs and CHONE only has him at 39. If James is inflating numbers across the board, Pujols will still be considered the No. 1 pick and everyone else will fall in line behind him, regardless of the system used or whether or not its numbers are inflated relative to other systems—we just can't mix-and-match.
So how can we compare systems if we can't do it directly? Ideally, we'd find the league average for all systems for all of our relevant stats (or even more ideally, the average for all players that will be drafted in a particular fantasy league, though that obviously works better in theory than in practice) and create a set of conversion factors so direct comparisons can be made between systems.
I didn't buy the Bill James Handbook or the projections this year, so I don't know what its league average is (and thus am not 100% certain that the James system is actually inflating stats this year, but they have been inflated in the past and anecdotally seem to be this year). If anyone wants to share what the league average is for James (or other systems that require payment), I'd be happy to whip up some quick conversion factors and post them for everyone to make use of.
"But what about players whom the James system is extremely high on? Should they be disregarded?" Of course not. Like any other system, James will like certain players more than those other systems. They're just a little tougher to pick out without applying the conversion factors since we have to guess at how much we should discount their stats. One guy who might fit this criteria this year, though, is Mark Reynolds. James has him down for 40 HRs while CHONE is at just 30. Marcels will likely be closer to 30 as well when it comes out. That's a big difference, even considering inflation. We just need to remember that all systems will favor certain players and show a distribution of players they like (relative to other systems), dislike, and are neutral on.
One last point is that the fan projections FanGraphs is running will likely be sitting in the same boat with the James projections. I'd guess that fans will be more apt to project players they like, which means league average will probably be a bit higher for these projections as well. Just something to keep in mind.
Hopefully this has cleared up some confusion regarding projections, specifically regarding the Bill James system. If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me or post in the comments.
Posted by Derek Carty at 3:00am
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