Ten things I learned from The Hardball Times Season Preview 2008

We just sent The Hardball Times Season Preview 2008 to the publisher, and I hope you’re as eager to see the book as I am. And if you aren’t yet, I’m ripping off Dave Studenmund, and giving you 10 examples of the thousands of things you’ll learn from the book.

Johan Santana should add room on his mantle for another Cy Young

Santana already has two, winning the award in 2004 and 2006, and our projections indicate that he will continue the trend of winning in even years in 2008. Though Santana had a bit of a down year last season, posting a 3.33 ERA and finishing only fifth in Cy Young voting, a move to the NL should help him bounce back.

Overall, we project that Santana will go 15-8 with a 2.83 ERA and 223 strikeouts in 204 innings for the Mets. No other National League starter projects for a sub-3.00 ERA, and since Santana likely will be seen as the player who put the Mets over the top, his path to the Cy Young award should be pretty clear.

The Yankees were right not to trade Phil Hughes

Despite our forecast for Santana’s dominance, that doesn’t mean that the Yankees will be despairing too much when he pitches across town every fifth day. That’s because they’ll get to have a poor man’s Santana in Hughes, and at a much poorer salary.

We project a 4.12 ERA for Hughes in the much tougher American League, and more importantly, our three-year forecast sees that number dropping to 3.84 by 2010. If we put Santana on the Yankees, his forecast for 2010 would be a 3.76 ERA—pretty much equivalent to Hughes! While Santana is the better pitcher now, he probably won’t be any more valuable over the life of his contract than Hughes, if Hughes can stay healthy (or if Santana cannot, I suppose).

Now that’s a big if, but the Yankees have 137 million reasons to feel pretty good about taking that chance.

Jay Bruce is going to be a force

One of the stats listed in the Season Preview for just about every player is how our projections expect him to improve or decline over the next three years. The prospect slated for the most improvement is Cincinnati outfielder Jay Bruce.
His .840 projected OPS in 2008 is not too shabby for a 21-year-old, especially one capable of manning center field, but that number jumps 85 points by 2010. How many center fielders have a projected OPS that high in 2008? Try zero—no one is even close.

Prince Fielder is a monster

As good as we think he’s going to be, Jay Bruce isn’t even close to being as good as Fielder. Let’s start with Fielder’s projected .301/.397/.587 line—one that places him in the top-30 in batting average, top-20 in on-base percentage, and top-10 in slugging. Overall, only David Ortiz, Ryan Howard, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols have a higher projected OPS.

Then let’s add in Fielder’s ridiculous projected improvement—we foresee a 1.060 OPS by 2010, a number we project for no one this season. But that’s not all.

In an essay in the back of the Season Preview, I develop a system for projecting a player’s career statistics and figuring his odds of getting to any given milestone based on that prediction. Well, despite having just two full seasons under his belt, Fielder projects to hit 530 career home runs and garners a 37 percent chance at breaking Barry Bonds’ career home run record. He actually bests Alex Rodriguez’s odds, despite having 438 fewer home runs under his belt. Now that’s impressive.

We haven’t seen the last 300-game winner

One of the career statistics I try to predict in that essay is wins for pitchers. After Tom Glavine won his 300th game last summer, I saw a spate of columns explaining that he was the last 300-game winner we were ever going to see. After running the numbers, I have a hard time believing that.

Overall, I will admit that it there isn’t one pitcher out there who looks poised to win 300. Mike Mussina has the best odds of any pitcher under 40 in 2007, but he still registers only a 29 percent shot. After that, only Andy Pettitte is even in double digits.

But there is strength in numbers. We have a bunch of young pitchers out there posting very impressive win totals, and at least a few of them will continue to do so over the next decade. Overall, my system thinks that five or six active pitchers will end up 300-game winners (and that’s not counting those already there), and tells us that the odds that no one does are just 1-in-220.

Barry Bonds won’t be the home run king for long

Bonds set the record last summer, stopping at 762, and it’s looking more and more likely that no one will sign him this offseason, meaning 762 will be the mark until someone breaks it. If my career projections have anything to say about it, Bonds will not hold the record nearly as long as Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron.

As I already mentioned, Fielder has about a 37 percent chance of breaking the record, and A-Rod does pretty well, too, at 23 percent. Beyond that, just as for the pitchers, there is strength in numbers. Miguel Cabrera, Ken Griffey Jr. and Albert Pujols, among others, have a non-trivial chance of topping Bonds; overall, there is a better than 80 percent shot that someone will.

The White Sox defense is going to make Chicago pitchers look bad

One thing we did for the Season Preview is project each player’s fielding ability, and build depth charts to evaluate a team’s defense based on those numbers. Most teams are fairly close to average, but the White Sox really stand out.

Much of the damage comes from Jermaine Dye, Nick Swisher and AJ Pierzynski, all of whom grade out as “F” fielders, but overall the White Sox defense will add as much as two-tenths of a run to its pitchers’ ERAs.

Albert Pujols is scary good

Normally, this wouldn’t count as something I learned, but after last year’s “down” season, there are some questions about how good Pujols will be. The answer: plenty good. We project a .322/.426/.587 line, good for second in the National League in OPS (assuming Bonds does not play next season). What’s more, Pujols grades out as an A+ fielder—just one of 14.

And if you want to talk about career projections, well, we have some really nice things to say for a player who has been in the major leagues for only seven seasons. We project 492 career home runs for Pujols and 2,339 hits—with a 47 percent shot at hitting 500 homers and a 16 percent chance of garnering 3,000 hits.

Eric Gagne will come back

Gagne saved 16 games in 17 chances with Texas last season, posting a 2.16 ERA along the way. He was then traded to the Red Sox, and instead of shoring up their bullpen, Gagne fell apart, posting a 6.75 ERA. The Brewers gave Gagne a $10 million contract in the offseason, hoping that they will get the Texas version. What do our projections say?

We think the Brewers will get what they paid for. We project that Gagne will post a 3.35 ERA, and help Milwaukee win the National League Central by one game.

Almost everyone has a chance

In one feature of the Season Preview, we simulated the 2008 season 100 times to try to predict how it will play out. Our projected standings not only give each team’s predicted win total, but also its probability of making the playoffs. With the caveat that we ran the numbers before the Santana trade, only four teams missed the playoffs in all 100 simulations.

That indicates a fantastic amount of parity in the MLB, and portends an exciting—and, despite our best efforts, sometimes unpredictable—season ahead.

References & Resources
If you want to find thousands of tidbits like these, in addition to great writing and commentary, please order The Hardball Times Season Preview 2008. We ask that you buy the book from our publisher instead of Amazon, as THT receives a much larger cut of the revenue that way, which helps cover our operating costs.

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