Twisting Oliver: Checking in on predictionsby Jeremiah Oshan
May 10, 2010
Obviously, it's way too early to make any definitive statements about how well Oliver has done at predicting player performances, but a month into the season seems like enough time to get an idea.
Among the highlights have been pitchers such as Colby Lewis (currently the 24th-best pitcher using the Tom Tango system) and Ian Kennedy (who's 46th, at least prior to Sunday's game). Oliver's best calls on the offensive side were Alex Rios (currently 23rd using the same formula), Nelson Cruz (who's ranked No. 32 despite missing more than a dozen games with an injury) and Franklin Gutierrez (who's quietly having a pretty decent season and ranks No. 53).
Of course, it hasn't all been peaches and cream with Oliver projections. Among the more disappointing performers have been Ben Zobrist (coming in at No. 106 and still homerless), Curtis Granderson (who's batting just .225 with his new team), Jake Peavy (his last start was helpful, but he's still ranked No. 69) and Max Scherzer (a complete disaster his last three outings and is ranked No. 101 out of the 116 pitchers who currently qualify for the ERA title).
What I love about Oliver, though, is that it's constantly evolving. So a player's current performance factors into what it projects for the rest of the season. Basically, it inputs the player's latest stats and runs it through the same formula it used at the beginning of the season.
This can mean different things for different players. For someone like Rick Porcello, whose 7.50 ERA and 1.87 WHIP are weighted against just one full season worth of major league work and relatively little minor league data, it means that Oliver's projections aren't nearly as rosy as they were to start the season. For a player like Zobrist, and his more impressive past major league performances, Oliver projects a strong finish.
I've selected 10 players to highlight, both guys who have performed up to snuff and guys who have flailed. Since we're mostly concerned about moving forward, though, I'll focus on how Oliver projects their numbers for the rest of the season.
Starting strong, getting stronger
Nelson Cruz: Oliver projected that the Rangers outfielder would be among the top 40 offensive players. Despite an injury that has limited him to 74 plate appearances, his hot start still puts him in that kind of neighborhood. More importantly, Oliver sees an equally strong finish with projections of 34 more homers, 92 more RBIs and 17 more steals that would make him a top 10 offensive player the rest of the way. He's supposedly nearing his return, so this could be the last time you can grab him.
Colby Lewis: If you've been reading this column, you know that Oliver kind of has a thing for the Rangers starting pitcher. If you were smart enough to take that advice early, you've been reasonably rewarded. Lewis has already turned in one gem (nine IP, zero runs, 10 Ks, four baserunners) and struck out at least 10 on three separate occasions. As tempting as it may be to sell high, Oliver projects that to be a mistake. It actually projects even better numbers to close out the season, with a 3.00 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and a better than 5:1 K:BB ratio (all improvements over what he's doing now).
Slow starters, strong finishersBen Zobrist: One of the real breakout stars of last year has gotten off to a slow start. He's hitting just .265 (which is actually about where Oliver projected him), but he's still homerless, has just 13 RBIs and has already struck out 24 times. Still, Oliver foresees a brighter future. Oliver projects 23 homers, 79 RBIs, 84 runs and a .283 batting average the rest of the way. Using the Tango ranking system, that would put him among the top 25 offensive players.
Max Scherzer: I own him in two leagues, so I know how frustrating the Tigers starting pitcher has been this year. After a third straight disappointing start, I know how tempting it is to cut and run. Oliver is pleading for patience, though. It projects a respectable 3.87 ERA, a tempting 172 strikeouts and a reasonable 1.27 WHIP the rest of the way.
Jake Peavy: You can take whatever I said about Scherzer and let it go doubly for Peavy. At least with Scherzer, you probably didn't have to waste a particularly high pick (ADP of 158). With Peavy, though, it was probably several rounds earlier (ADP 104) and therefore that much more painful. Oliver foresees a strong finish here as well, although not quite as strong as Scherzer's (3.86 ERA, 146 Ks and 1.30 WHIP).
Adam Dunn: Always a polarizing player, the Nationals first baseman is showcasing those exact qualities early in the season. Although he's got six homers, he's barely hitting .230 and has already struck out 32 times. Oliver isn't exactly predicting great things the rest of the way, but it does seem to think he'll perform at a level we've come to expect: 33 more homers, 91 more RBIs and an OPS of .939.
Rajai Davis: Your view of the A's outfielder's start is probably colored by where you drafted him. If you were lucky enough to grab him late, you're probably fine overlooking that .236 batting average and nonexistant power. The only reason you should have drafted him anyway is steals and runs, and so far he's producing just fine in those areas with 12 steals and 16 runs. As long as you maintain the proper perspective, Oliver projects similar levels of satisfaction with 40 more steals and 63 more runs to go along with a .274 batting average.
Clay Buchholz: The Red Sox starter is another player on whom your opinion is probably based on expectation. If you've been drafting him year after year expecting him to flash the dominance he showed with that no-hitter he threw as a rookie, you're probably disappointed. If you grabbed him late, merely hoping to have a solid pitcher who plays in front of a very capable defense that will also help him pick up some wins, you're probably just fine with his 3.82 ERA, three wins and 25 strikeouts. If you maintain those expectations, Oliver thinks you'll continue to be satisfied. Oliver projects a 3.84 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, an 8-6 record and 112 Ks, which would make him a top-70 pitcher the rest of the way.
Alex Rios: A year after he was bad enough to be released by his team, Oliver saw some promise in the White Sox outfielder. Oliver considered him a top-70 offensive player. So far, he's exceeded that expectation comfortably with a ranking in the top 25. There's bound to be some regression, but Oliver still sees a a finish in top 75 offensive players and a perfectly respectable 13 homers, 22 steals and .273 batting average. Still, I'd say deal him if you have the chance.
Ian Kennedy: The Diamondbacks starter has been solid this season. You'd be excused for thinking that automatically means Oliver's projections would have him trending up. I don't pretend to fully understand Oliver's inner workings, I mainly just try to report on its findings. So, I'm not quite sure what to make of this Rest of Season projection: 4.21 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 7-6 record and 105 Ks. Those aren't horrible numbers, but they aren't really what I would have expected, either. Oh well, sometimes you just have to go with your gut.
Jeremiah Oshan is a Seattle-based writer and editor, who's always interested in refining his methods. He's been playing fantasy baseball long enough to remember using the USA Today newspaper as the go-to source for stats, and quite frankly can't see the fun in streaming.
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