February 26, 2013
PECOTA's Projected Fallers
Yesterday we looked at five position players and five pitchers whom BP’s projection system, PECOTA, believes are in for big improvements in 2013. Today we’ll tackle PECOTA’s picks to suffer some of the largest declines.
Mike Trout, Angels
2012 WARP (639 PA): 9.1
Projected 2013 WARP (693 PA): 5.3
Projected WARP decrease: -3.8
Trout is projected to see the largest WARP decrease of any player—and to tie for the fifth-highest WARP among non-pitchers. It’s a reminder of how far ahead of the pack he was in 2012 that PECOTA can project him to be much less valuable than last year, but still more valuable than almost everyone else. Although he fits the profile of a high-BABIP hitter, Trout was likely a little lucky on balls in play—his batting average on line drives was over 40 points above league average. Some regression in that area, coupled with the adjustments made by opponents who’ve spent the winter searching for ways to get him out, might make Trout merely one of the most valuable players in baseball instead of the most valuable by far.
Melky Cabrera, Blue Jays
2012 WARP (501 PA): 5.1
Projected 2013 WARP (551 PA): 1.4
Projected WARP decrease: -3.7
It doesn’t take any knowledge of Cabrera’s PED use to predict that he won’t sustain his success from last season: the stats alone say he’s in for a fall. Cabrera’s walk and strikeout rates in 2012 were virtually identical to his career rates, and his power output (as measured by ISO) was almost the same as it had been the season before. The difference was that Cabrera’s batted balls fell in for singles roughly one every four at-bats instead of one every five. If you believe Cabrera’s career year was produced in part by PEDs, you can adjust his projection accordingly, but his long-term track record and anomalous BABIP alone suggest that he’s unlikely to be much better than average.
Alex Rios, White Sox
2012 WARP (640 PA): 4.6
Projected 2013 WARP 594 (PA): 1.5
Projected WARP decrease: -3.1
It’s hard to know what to make of Rios; the mercurial outfielder has alternated between well above average and just above or below replacement level for the past five seasons. Last year was his best offensive season since 2007, as he compensated for a career-low walk rate—only five other qualified hitters walked less frequently—with increased power and better luck on balls in play. PECOTA projects him to split the difference between Good Rios and Bad Rios in his age-32 season, though the system might be underestimating him if his renaissance owed anything to the time he spent perfecting his stance before last season.
If there’s any player who rivals Rios in his swings between star- and scrub-level stats, it’s Aaron Hill, who signed a three-year extension with Arizona this offseason. PECOTA expects him to decline by 3.4 WARP, even more than Rios, but that still leaves him projected for an above-average .262 TAv and 2.5 WARP with 19 homers and 12 steals, which would make him a valuable commodity at second base for the Diamondbacks and fantasy owners alike. Plus, PECOTA doesn't know about the adjustments he made.
Adam LaRoche, Nationals
2012 WARP (647 PA): 3.6
Projected 2013 WARP (594 PA): 1.5
Projected WARP decrease: -2.1
LaRoche’s lifetime stats paint a perfect picture of a league-average first baseman. He’s been better than that in some seasons, including his stellar 2012, but career years at age 32 are rarely repeated. LaRoche’s clubhouse leadership might make him more valuable to the Nationals, but not to your fantasy team.
A.J. Pierzynski, Rangers
2012 WARP (520 PA): 2.5
Projected 2013 WARP (520 PA): 0.4
Projected WARP decrease: -2.1
No other player has slugged .500 and hit 25 homers for the first time as late in his career as Pierzynski did last season. We’d expect some regression from any player coming off a season so out of line with his previous performance, but it’s especially hard to foresee more of the same from a 36-year-old catcher. Pierzynski brings durability and defense to Texas, but he’s averaged just under 13 homers per season since he became a starter. PECOTA thinks he’ll manage only 11 this year, despite a more power-friendly park.
Two other top offensive catchers from 2012, Carlos Ruiz and Yadier Molina, are also among the top 10 projected decliners for 2013.
Wade Miley, Diamondbacks
2012 WARP (194.7 IP): 2.8
Projected 2013 WARP (174 IP): 0.5
Projected WARP decrease: -2.3
Miley has had only one full big-league season—albeit a very successful one—so PECOTA is still drawing heavily on his minor-league statistics to produce his projection. And nowhere in those stats is any indication that he can maintain a walk rate as low as his 1.7 batters per nine innings last season. (Before 2012, he’d handed out walks almost twice as often.) Maybe Miley really can continue to command the ball better in Arizona than he did against bush-league batters, but his opponents may make it harder for him to thread the needle in 2013. We saw something similar happen last season to Josh Collmenter, another Diamondback who relies on a deceptive delivery that didn’t fool major leaguers as often in his second full circuit around the league.
Kyle Lohse, Free agent
2012 WARP (211 IP): 2.2
Projected 2013 WARP (171.3 IP): 0.6
Projected WARP decrease: -1.6
This is why Lohse is still without a team. Yes, it has to do with the draft pick that a team would have to surrender to sign him, but the pick hasn’t stopped teams from signing the other free agents who received qualifying offers. In Lohse’s case, it’s the pick coupled with legitimate performance concerns. He’s regression waiting to happen, and no one wants it to happen to them.
Fernando Rodney, Rays
2012 WARP (74.7 IP): 1.8
Projected 2013 WARP (60.7 IP): 0.3
Projected WARP decrease: -1.5
Rodney made real improvements to his approach last season, altering his release point with a shift to the first-base side of the rubber and relying on his sinker and changeup much more heavily than he had in Anaheim. He’s probably not going to turn back into the four-plus ERA pitcher he was before last season, but not even Mariano Rivera has sustained a .220 BABIP and a nearly 90 percent strand rate over two straight seasons.
Gio Gonzalez, Nationals
2012 WARP (199.3 IP): 3.8
Projected 2013 WARP (180 IP): 2.4
Projected WARP decrease: -1.4
Gonzalez continued to make strides in 2012, but as much as his breakout was supported by positive indicators like a fifth straight season with a lower walk rate than the one before, it was also aided by balls in play bouncing his way. Gio’s HR/FB rate was the lowest of any qualified pitcher’s, and his BABIP was 12th-lowest. There’s no reason why he can’t continue to pitch at a high level, but if PECOTA’s projection proves accurate, he won’t be contending for another Cy Young Award this season.
A.J. Burnett, Pirates
2012 WARP (202.3 IP): 3.0
Projected 2013 WARP (201.7 IP): 1.7
Projected WARP decrease: -1.3
Burnett’s first Pittsburgh season was a success, as he posted his lowest walk rate since 2006 and his lowest home run rate since 2008. Maybe his improvement was tied to his move back to the NL and a better pitcher’s park, or maybe—if bitter Yankees fans are to be believed—Burnett is better suited for smaller, less pressure-packed markets. Regardless of the reason for the return to form, PECOTA says he won’t keep it up in his age-36 season, projecting him to backslide slightly in both categories.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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