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November 14, 2011 / Nat Anacostia

A look at 2012 player projections

It’s always fun to look at projections for how players will do next season. Any individual projection is, of course, very likely to be wrong, but a group of player projections will often get the story generally right. Fangraphs has posted the 2012 Bill James Handbook Projections.* I’m going to run through them for the Nats players, adding a little commentary where appropriate. I think they provide an interesting view of the potential strengths of our current roster, along with warnings about potential risks ahead.

For position players, I’ll give the following lines of actual or projected statistics:

Games/Plate appearances — Average / On-base percentage / Slugging — wOBA (weighted on-base average)

For pitchers, I’ll just report the actual and projected:

Innings Pitched — ERA / FIP (fielding-independent pitching)

* While I used to faithfully buy the Bill James Handbook every winter, I have to admit I quit buying them two or three seasons ago.  When my better half asked me to clean out the overcrowded bookshelf, I decided that books filled with statistics that I can mostly find online were among the easier choices to dispose of.

I’ll start with the players who are projected to decline relative to 2011, then move on to players who are projected to improve. In each case I’ll report the player’s 2011 actual line, the Bill James 2012 projection, and then add a brief comment.

Projected declines

Michael Morse

2011 Actual: 146/575 — .303/.360/.550 — .387

2012 Bill James: 140/553 — .291/.347/.505 — .369

Following a career year at age 29, a drop-off in performance shouldn’t be surprise anyone. My own guess is that he’ll lose a little more than projected in average, but do a little better in isolated power.

Wilson Ramos

2011 Actual: 113/435 — .267/.334/.445 — .332

2012 Bill James: 113/425 — .267/.317/.431 — .321

This season, Ramos exceeded his minor league projections, so I assume that’s the reason for projecting a slight sophomore slump.

John Lannan

2011 Actual: 184.2 — 3.70/4.28

2012 Bill James: 180 — 4.40/4.49

Ouch!  I’ll admit that I’m part of the camp that’s been skeptical about Lannan’s future as a pitcher, and this projection is certainly consistent with that view.  I’ll also point out that while Lannan was overall a league-average pitcher for this season, his performance was quite inconsistent.  From May 27 to August 17, he pitched 14 games, going 6–2 with an average game score of 55 and allowing 2.85 R/9. But during the periods before May 27 and after August 17, he performed pretty poorly, pitching 19 games with a 4–11 record and allowing 5.71 R/9.

Ross Detwiler

2011 Actual:  66 — 3.00/4.21

2012 Bill James:  109 — 4.46/3.87

Ouch again! I guess his relatively unimpressive AAA stats from last season affected this projection.

Jordan Zimmermann

2011 Actual:  161.1 — 3.18/3.16

2012 Bill James:  175 — 3.39/3.51

As I’ve pointed out a couple of times, JZimm has had some good luck this season with his home run rates and some regression is appropriate.

Projected improvements

Ryan Zimmerman

2011 Actual:  101/440 — .289/.355/.443 — .347

2012 Bill James:  139/596 — .291/.363/.486 — .366

This projection has his power returning, but not quite to the level it had reached in 2009/2010 (though that’s probably mainly a reflection of the league-wide drop in offense).

Jayson Werth

2011 Actual:  150/649 — .232/.330/.389 — .323

2012 Bill James:  146/579 — .259/.360/.451 — .354

Again, a nice bounce back, though not a return to the levels he reached in 2008/2010.  In addition to the league-wide decline in offense, he’s also dealing with a less hitter-friendly ball park and the effects of age.

Adam LaRoche

2011 Actual:  43/177 — .172/.288/.258 — .258

2012 Bill James:  87/293 — .255/.333/.445 — .341

The uncertainty in his return from injury seems to be exhibited more by reduced projected playing time than by a reduction in his rate statistics.

Danny Espinosa

2011 Actual:  158/658 — .236/.323/.414 — .325

2012 Bill James:  158/623 — .248/.329/.445 — .330

Since his 2011 statistics were generally consistent with his previous minor league stats, his 2012 projection shows a modest improvement.

Ian Desmond

2011 Actual:  154/639 — .253/.298/.358 — .290

2012 Bill James:  143/561 — .268/.317/.394 — .312

If he can hit this projection, that should be enough for him to retain his roster spot.

Roger Bernadina

2011 Actual:  91/337 — .243/.301/.362 — .303

2012 Bill James:  96/292 — .261/.327/.399 — .323

It would be an improvement, but not enough to justify a promotion to a regular.

Chien-Ming Wang

2011 Actual:  62.1 — 4.04/4.57

2012 Bill James:  119 — 3.78/3.80

Obviously, a risky projection.

Fangraphs didn’t show a projection for Stephen Strasburg (I’m not sure whether the Bill James Handbook did one), and I’ll skip the projections for relief pitchers, who are notoriously hard to project.  Overall, the message seems to be that while Nationals’ hitting is likely to improve, the starting pitching (other than Strasburg and possibly Wang) is likely to drop off.  So Mike Rizzo’s search for a starting pitcher seems justified.

I’ll end by presenting, without comment, the projections for a few players who have been mentioned as possible targets in free agency or trades:

Potential free agent or trade acquisitions

B.J. Upton – 2012 Bill James:  153/637 — .251/.344/.424 — .340

C.J. Wilson – 2012 Bill James:  215 — 3.31/3.41

Roy Oswalt – 2012 Bill James:  171 — 3.47/3.52

Mark Buehrle – 2012 Bill James:  208 — 3.98/4.08

Update:  November 15, 2011

It turns out I missed the most remarkable of the Nats’ Bill James Handbook projections (hat tip: Carson Cistulli of fangraphs.com).  When I saw that projections weren’t available for either Strasburg or Brad Peacock, I didn’t bother checking projections for other players who didn’t have much major league experience, so I missed this shocker:

Tom Milone

2011 Actual:  26 — 3.81/3.56

2012 Bill James:  52 — 3.29/2.70

The FIP is based on a projection of 8.3 K/9 and 1.2 BB/9.  Cistulli wrote, “Whatever methodology James’s projections use, it appears convinced that Milone is more than a soft-tossing left-hander.” I can sort of understand how James and his staff came up with those numbers based on his AAA stats, but after watching Milone pitch in September, I’d be shocked if he met these projections.

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