There have been a lot of complaints about player performance thus far into 2014. Most of those complaints have been warranted and the Diamondbacks’ winning percentage reflects this. The season is more than just underway now, and to keep saying “it’s still early” is doing everyone a disservice. It’s not still early, we’re approaching some pretty serious cutoffs where the pretenders are separated from the contenders. I think we have a good idea of where this team falls within this context, but it’s left me to wonder: should we have seen a poor season coming?
In many ways, I think we should be less surprised than some have shown. We know that the team was full of average-ish players by design and although some supposed upgrades were made, they certainly weren’t large enough upgrades to change the expectations of the team. Adding Mark Trumbo, Addison Reed and Bronson Arroyo wasn’t going to likely put this team over the top even before Patrick Corbin went down. Please don’t take that last statement as revisionist thinking. Rather, consider what the projections for the team had said at the time: Arizona was destined for 76-80 wins. A 3 or 4-win pitcher was lost, and all other things being equal, that should have left the team somewhere in the neighborhood of 72-77 wins. After watching some baseball this year, I think we’d say that that feels about right.
A team is made up of players, though, and that summation of projected wins is an amalgamation of those players’ projected performances. At the time, several commenters groaned on this site that projections are essentially worthless and that we should wait for some baseball to be played before we draw any conclusions (never mind the fact that the projections aren’t conclusions themselves by their very nature, but that’s neither here nor there). Like pioneers without beards and armed with computers, we pushed on with the projections anyways. Now we do have some actual baseball to analyze and I think it’s a great time to check in on how the projections are looking.
In part one of this two part series, we’ll look at the 2014 stats and ZiPS projections for the core position players. Please note, these projections are updated to reflect the performances that have taken place so far. To see the original, unaltered projections that were released before the season, click here. Otherwise, let’s take a closer look at what was projected and what has happened so far in 2014.
Leading the team, as we all expected, is Paul Goldschmidt. He’s off to a great start in 2014 and has exceeded expectations in a number of areas. Of course, he’s yet to really slump and we’d have to admit that even as great as he is, Goldy has probably overachieved to a small degree. With that said, he’s got another great shot at putting up 5 or more wins. He’s striking out less than projected and has been generally more potent offensively, albeit only by a small margin.
Projection vs. Reality: Goldschmidt is close to his projection and has slightly exceeded it so far. Considering how good he truly is, there’s a chance he can continue to outpace his projection over the course of the season.
Hill has been hot lately and it’s come at a good time. Looking at his projection, his current performance is on pace with what was expected almost universally across the board. The WAR total is low, but that’s largely due to his slow start which appears to be a thing of the past.
Projection vs. Reality: overall, there’s nothing to complain about here as Hill has done what was expected of him so far through the first 25% of the season. He’s been cold, then hot and the truth, as we know, lies in the middle.
The resurgence of Miguel Montero has been a welcomed sight for the Diamondbacks. His struggles seem to have been a blip on the radar and we’re certainly all thankful for that. Like with Hill, the projection seems to have nailed Montero for the most part. His K% is well below normal but has started to climb and will likely continue to do so based on his career averages. Otherwise, thing are pretty well in-line although we should probably expect a slight drop in overall production.
Projection vs. Reality: Montero’s projection look surprisingly good considering how huge is 2012 was and how disappointing his 2013 was. All things considered, the forecast appears to have done a great job thus far.
Martin Prado is off to yet another pedestrian start. He’s without a home run and the power has been essentially non-existent so far. He’s striking out more than projected and his already paltry walk rate has dipped even lower. Luck doesn’t appear to be a factor as his BABIP is in line with the projection, but the loss of power and extra whiffs are taking their toll.
Projection vs. Reality: despite the dip in production as compared to the projection, Prado has started slow before and had productive summer months pick up the slack, so this story is likely unfinished.
After a solid yet unspectacular start, Chris Owings hit his first career homer in a comeback win over Milwaukee earlier in the week after winning NL Rookie of the Month honors. The power has shown up as of late and the increased BB% has been a pleasant surprise. Some regression should be expected, as his BABIP is abnormally high considering the number of ground balls he produces. Even with that said, he’s well on his way to being a 2.5 to3-win rookie at a marquee position. That’s something to be excited about.
Projection vs. Reality: it’s always tough to project a player with little to no MLB track record and Owings’ current status shows this. With that said, he’s started hot and there’s probably a drop on the horizon to some degree. With players this young, it’s really a toss up.
AJ has been up to his usual tricks in 2014 by playing solid defense and hitting enough to remain viable in center field. His power has been a bit of a surprise this year over his first 30 games with homers already. His strikeouts are up a little bit and it’s worth watching to see which way they trend from here. His performance has done little to change the narrative around his production, however, as he’s done pretty much what was expected.
Projection vs. Reality: after 30 games, Pollock isn’t far off of his projection. There are a few more strikeouts but he’s hit for more power and gotten on base at the projected rate. The forecast feels about right for him.
It’s a been a tough start for Gerardo Parra so far in terms of total value (WAR), but his offense is right on track with what was projected and what we’ve come to expect. The volatility of defensive metrics are driving down his WAR, but offensively he’s been an average-ish hitter. His walks and power are down slightly, but given his up-and-down nature, it’s perhaps early to know if those trends are here to stay or not.
Projection vs. Reality: overall, Parra has been a bit of a disappointment offensively, but not in a huge, unpredictable way. It’s more of a case of him fulfilling a profile that he’s created despite our repeated hopes for more. Let’s hope he hits another gear soon.
Mark Trumbo is obviously on the shelf at the moment with a stress fracture in his foot. He’ll likely miss at least another month, but if we look at his first 21 games, we see that he was pretty much as advertised: huge power, lots of strikeouts, a miniscule number of walks combined for a decent overall offensive production. His projection is a little wonky due to the injury, but we see that his BABIP is way down, thanks in part to all of the fly balls and home runs, and his OBP is worse than expected. Getting him back should help the team, although I wouldn’t expect it to turn around their season.
Projection vs. Reality: Trumbo was on pace to smash his home run projection as he was off to a powerful start, but his rate stats were pretty accurate from the get-go. If he can make more consistent contact upon his return, his overall value will increase to where the projections say it should be.
The sample for Cody Ross is admittedly small, but he’s been terrible upon his return. I don’t believe for a second that he’s this bad, but it’s not been pretty thus far. His stats are down across the board and it’s going to take a big turnaround to get him to be the 1-win player that was forecast before the season.
Projection vs. Reality: Ross’ projections didn’t see him being this bad and neither did anyone else. This is a pretty ugly situation whose only saving grace is that the sample is just 15 games.
Looking at the big picture, we can see that the ZiPS projections do a pretty good job overall of labeling hitters. In a small-ish sample there’s going to be some noise, but Hill, Montero, Parra, Pollock are pretty much on pace with what was predicted. Owings and Goldschmidt have exceeded expectations while Prado and Ross are significantly behind their forecasts. Trumbo is in a sort of grey area due to the injury.
The takeaway, however, is that most guys are right on pace with a couple above the line and a few below it. This is exactly what we should have expected and while the team as a whole is struggling, we can’t be too upset at the individual performances as they’ve mostly met or exceeded expectations. Of course, this is just the position player side of the equation and part two of this series might be more revealing. Stay tuned.
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FanGraphs Stats Glossary
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Previously on The Pool Shot, the guys explained some of their favorite advanced stats. Hitting, including wRC+, HHAV and batted ball; pitching (38:00), including FIP, xFIP and SIERA; and baserunning and defense, including UBR, UZR and DRS (58:00).