Projections in baseball are a funny thing. For the most part, they’re a crapshoot. As hard as it is to hit a round ball with a round bat, it’s even harder for us to try to predict just how successful a given player will be at hitting a round ball with a round bat, not to mention how well that guy will play in the field and on the basepaths. Today’s analysts are spoiled by technology that attempts to measure quality of contact and plate discipline, facets of the game we used to judge by the “eye test”. Now computers can tell us how a player will most likely perform over 162 games, taking into account that player’s history, all of the data available to us, and trends like aging and progression curves.

I tend to dislike projections, probably because I’m a Cincinnati Reds fan. They’re generally released right when baseball season is starting to gain steam, and optimism is at its highest for the upcoming system. That optimism can be crushed in a hurry when ZiPS or Steamer tells you that your favorite team will only have three above-average hitters over the course of the next season. “Nah,” I’ll say, “These things are always conservative. Billy Hamilton is finally going to figure it out! Jose Peraza for All-Star! Scott Schebler is about to break out!”

The truth is, these projections really are just a crapshoot. They’re the result of a bunch of smart people who haven’t watched this team on a regular basis at all trying to figure out what they might do. They don’t know, for instance, that if Robert Stephenson, Amir Garrett and Cody Reed combine to pitch 400 innings, as ZiPS projects, that this city will likely be burnt to the ground by the time September rolls around.

Let’s take a look at Zack Cozart, for instance. The former Red was coming off of an abysmal second half in 2016, batting .223/.291/.312 in 41 games down the stretch in that season. That’s after a .267/.316/.482 slashline in 80 games in the first half. So, you can’t really blame ZiPS for their .248/.298/.396 projection for Cozart in 2017.

Of course, we all know what happens next. Fueled by the potential realization of finally owning a donkey of his own, Cozart went on to have the best offensive seasons from the shortstop position in recent Reds memory. Where did it come from? The computer projections were way off. And, to be fair, most of our own projections were pretty far off as well.

But Cozart came out of the gate swinging in Spring Training ‘17, completely on fire. Why? An improved plate approach, which involved more relaxation before the pitch, and placing his bat on his shoulders. That’s it! That simple change, and the mindset and confidence that came with it, turned one of the worst offensive players in baseball into a hot-ticket free agent.

And, again to be fair, most of us missed this. For every story like this, there’s an example of the projections getting it right. But this is the grain of salt we need to keep in mind when taking a look at the projections below. There’s a lot of variance to be had. These are humans, hitting a round ball with a round bat.

Let’s take a look first at the projections for the Reds offense in 2018:

ZiPS Projections:

Steamer Projections:

Here are a few takeaways from these projections:

Player Comps are Fun

One of my favorite features of the ZiPS projections are the player comps. While they should be taken with an even smaller grain of salt than the projections themselves, they’re fun to look at. And boy, do we have a couple of interesting player comps here. Starting at the top, the controversy here is that there’s an argument to be made that Joey Votto’s comparison to Todd Helton isn’t aggressive enough. That’s (should be) Hall of Famer Todd Helton.

Interestingly, Todd Helton isn’t even the best player on this comp list. All aboard the hype train, ladies and gentlemen: ZiPS has saddled top prospect Nick Senzel with a comparison to future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre. I’m not going to look too into this, since again, these are mostly just for fun, and Nick the Stick has yet to step in the box in a Major League game, but that’s some high praise. If he turns into anything similar to Beltre, we’re in for a few good years to say the least.

The System is Low on Joey Votto… Again

Every projection system south of Fangraph’s Fan Projections criminally undervalue Joey Votto every season. That’s saying something, considering both ZiPS and Steamer have Votto near the top of the Major Leagues in most value measuring numbers. Maybe it’s the conservative nature of projections as a whole, or maybe it’s the fact that JDV ages one year at a time just like the rest of us, but there’s no eye test in the world that would suggest this guy is slowing down. The computers agree, with much having been made of Votto’s ridiculous plate discipline statistics in 2017. Votto’s game is like a fine wine – it’s getting better with age. Although 4.2 WAR is nothing to sneeze at, I’d expect Votto to easily trump those numbers in ‘18.

The Reds Offense is Pretty Average

Only two shoo-in starters project to be bad offensively (Don’t bother scrolling back up, it’s the two guys you think they are), and only Votto projects to be well above average as a hitter in 2018. Everyone else is hovering right 100 in the wRC+ category, which is league average. That reflects what actually happened in 2017, when Schebler, Duvall, and Tucker Barnhart all were basically league average hitters. There’s some regression built in there for the expected-to-regress Scooter Gennett, but the head scratcher here is Eugenio Suarez. ZiPS is projecting Suarez to have a 108 wRC+, with Steamer slightly behind at 103. Neither number is bad, but it’d definitely be a step back from the third baseman’s 117 wRC+ mark in 2017.

Patience, Young Grasshoppers

Both projection systems believe the Reds will be adept at taking their walks in 2018, led by some of the younger names on the list. Jesse Winker, Phil Ervin and Alex Blandino are projected to have a higher BB% than the league average of 8%. When you add that to Votto, Suarez, Barnhart, and Devin Mesoraco likely adding their own above average walk rates to the lineup, and you can see that the Reds are making a concerted effort to get more patient at the plate. Interestingly, Senzel is not included in this group, despite never having anything outside of an above average BB% over an entire season in the minor leagues.

Defensively Split

The two projection systems just flat out don’t agree on the Reds defense for 2018. ZiPs is far more optimistic about the glovework, rating only Scott Schebler and Scooter Gennett as below average among the starting 9. Steamer, on the other hand, thinks Joey Votto, Adam Duvall, and Jesse Winker, as well as Schebler and Gennett, will be below average defensively. Defense still is pretty hard to round down to a single metric, so it’s understandable that there’s such a wide margin here. According to FanGraphs, the team finished 4th in Defensive Runs Above Average (Def) in the entire MLB last season, so I’ll lean toward the ZiPS projections until I see proof that the defense isn’t as good as it was in 2017.

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So, there we have it. I’ll be checking in again before Spring Training is officially underway to discuss the pitching projections. But, until then, let’s discuss the offense in the comments below. Is Jose Peraza projected too highly? Not high enough? Will Eugenio Suarez really regress? Does Nick Senzel being compared to a better player than Joey Votto’s comparison mean that Nick Senzel will be better than Joey Votto one day? You tell us!

Join the conversation! 16 Comments

  1. These are insanely specific and obviously very wrong. Nick Senzel will not get 503 plate appearances. Nor will he get 1. Yep, Steamer says ONE. But they’re also probably right in a relative way. Jose Peraza will probably be a below average hitter, and Billy Hamilton will probably be worse. Eugenio Suarez will probably be above average, and Joey Votto will probably (okay, definitely) be better. But the most important thing about these projections is… they don’t matter. Not even a little.

    I’m a structural engineer and no matter how precisely I calculate the load capacity of a beam (for example), it doesn’t change even the tiniest bit what the actual load capacity of that beam is. Me and my little pencil and calculator don’t change anything about that beam. So Jesse Winker will face a season of major league pitchers 400 or 500 or 600 times and he will do whatever he’s going to do, no matter what ZIPS or Steamer or anyone else thinks he might do.

    So big grains of salt here. I predict I will love watching and rooting for the Reds this year. Again. I will cheer and yell and agonize and cry and cheer some more. And I am 100% confident that projection will, again, be accurate. Scooter Gennett = Jeff Kent? That one I’m not so sure about. Pitchers and catchers soon. Can’t wait.

    • Along the same line but from a different perspective.

      Precision vs. accuracy.

      The nerd scientist in me asks: what’s the margin of error, what’s three sigma or 95% confidence on these measures? Generally, across population if not available for individual players (although that’s what someone -should- be looking at….).

      I assume that some general error bar analysis -must- be out there — FiveThirtyEight?

    • Yeah, how does Steamer project Senzel to have ONE plate appearance, with a .275 BA, and a .333 OBP?

      Can’t get the mathematical part of my brain to manage those numbers.

    • ZiPS doesn’t really project the number of plate appearances. It’s an odd quirk about the system. Dan explained it to me some time ago but for the life of me I don’t remember what he said. As for Steamer, I really have no idea at all.

  2. I find them interesting because for some players with a track record it’s amazing how accurate they are. Last year, Billy Hamilton amazingly would track back to his line.

    Its helpful when players are in slumps or on hot streaks. Billy Hamilton is going to hit about .250 and get on base about .300 and strike out about 20% and walk about 6-7%.

    Peraza on the other hand had a BB% that was almost impossible the first half of the year.. if it’s June 1st and Peraza is walking at an 8% clip and his obp is .330 then you know he is developing as a hitter.

  3. I get excited thinking about the possibilities of the upcoming season, then I view stuff like this and get bummed. I have to remind myself that they still have to play the game (thank God) and none of these projections really matter. Cozart grew suddenly as a hitter, so it can happen (right, Billy?).

  4. Here is the link to last year’s column on projections: https://redlegnation.com/2016/11/23/early-2017-reds-hitting-projections/

    Zips undershot by .100 on the OPS for Votto and Saurez, and of course Cozart blew away that projection. Not otherwise terrible, but it is still just a guess. A more educated guess than most guesses, I suppose.

    God, do I love spring training.

    • Interesting just going by what Nick put in that link underestimated OPS a lot
      Votto- by .130
      Cozart by .210
      Suarez by .100
      Tucker by .075
      Duvall by .040-
      Schlebler by .040-

      overestimated
      Billy- slightly
      Peraza – .080

      any one what is typical? I say within .050 seems pretty reasonable and this is all over the pace it seems. Possible they typically underestimate hitters in general?

  5. Pecota projections also are out yesterday. They have majorly underestimated Suarez offense, barnhart has quite a lower offensive projection than last year, they project Duvall to regress and near nothing from schebler. They also have an era of 4.48 for Castillo and 5.15 for desclafani and 5.28 for Bailey. With all of that information they project us to be 74-88; with total runs given up of 833. I think this will be quite a bit lower than that and therefore a likely record much closer to .500

    Likewise the Steamer projections (see above) project well under what I’d expect for

    Suarez .828 ops in 2017; Steamer .778
    Duvall .782 ops in 2017; Steamer .738
    Schebler .791 ops in 2017; Steamer .779
    Gennett .874 ops in 2017; Steamer .739
    Barnhart .750 ops in 2017; Steamer .714
    Winker .904 ops in 2017; Steamer .783
    Ervin .766 ops in 2017; Steamer .687

    Peraza, Hamilton and Mesoraco project to have slight gains in ops.

    Zips projections are a lot closer to last years offensive output for each player, however most of those are under the 2017 output.

    I think Suarez will maintain a +800 ops and maybe even take another small step forward in 18′ & 19′. I also see schebler pushing on above 800 ops, taking into account his lost month last year while playing with an injury, + age progression. I don’t see Gennett with such a dramatic drop off, unless he loses lots of playing due to a Herrera breakout. I think Winker will also be a consistent + 800 ops (or at least we better hope so or he’ll be a 1 war player).

    • Gennett career ops is .769 and in his age 28 season at GABP he’s going to decline significantly to a .739; That is not logical.

      One interesting stat is the ages of some of our players

      Gennett – 28
      Schebler – 27
      Suarez – 26
      Barnhart – 27
      Hamilton – 27
      Duvall – 29
      Ervin – 25

      Regression from past performance at this age is not likely. In fact improvement is most likely.

      Per an Alex Speier article in the Boston Globe in 2015: Since 1984, the greatest likelihood of finding a player worth 2.0 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) on offense, as defined by Baseball-Reference.com, peaks quite clearly between the ages of 26 and 28. Each of those three “seasons” accounts for roughly 10 percent of all the players who achieved 2.0 WAR of offense from 1984-2014. The ages 25-30 are bunched closely enough to that peak plateau to suggest a period in which players are most likely to perform at something close to the height of their abilities — the so-called prime years.

  6. So, potential donkeys for everyone on the 25 man roster, right? If Joey won’t pay for them maybe management will.
    I know, real life is a lot more complicated than that.
    As in, we have to figure out what motivates each one on the roster and offer that specific prize to those who make it to the all-star team.
    See, managing a pro baseball team doesn’t seem to be all that hard.
    Why won’t anyone pay me a few million to manage a ballclub somewhere?

  7. This has been a downer of an offseason with all the moves Stl/Milw have made while the Reds have done nothing. Spring is still approaching though and maybe the young pitching will bust out? Its not impossible.

    Back to the offense though? Job one for a manager is to KYP….know your personnel! That’s where Price fails though? A few simple recommendations. A strict platoon for Billy, Tucker, and Scooter. Lets see what Ervin can do when he plays vs every left-hander. Play WInker everyday! Trade Schebler or Duvall to make room for Jesse. Scheb is my preference. In watching Duvall…its not like good fastballs overpower him. I’d limit him to 400 atbats or so…if a righty has a decent slider then maybe run Scooter out there or Schebler if hes still on the bench? If Senzel hits like we expect in Lville then bring him up asap! They have enough guys in their prime to be better then last years 14th in runs scored but they have no margin for error. How many times did Price just run Billy, Tucker, Schebler, etc out there vs lefties last year? Too many!

  8. They think Joey Votto is going to hit a triple?!?

  9. For the past few years I’ve had the inkling that Votto is due for a crazy Brett/Torre/Cash -like anomaly year – hitting something wild like .380 with fewer walks due to more strikes. Needs high OBP batters on either side of him. Maybe not this year, but if Senzel and Winker play well and bracket him, the 2nd half could be interesting.

    • Once he has Winker and Senzel in front of him he is going to see a lot more strikes.

  10. Only thing I care about is the starting pitching. Get some and we’ll be fine, struggle and hitting won’t matter.

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