Baseball projection systems provide an objective way to get at what players and teams are likely to do in the upcoming season. They use elaborate methods that take in to account a variety of factors to determine likely outcomes. What goes in is what comes out, and the numbers that come out aren’t subject to anyone’s biases about certain players or certain skills.
A projection system I’ve discovered that does a great job of considering playing time along with other factors is Steamer. (You can find Steamer projections at FanGraphs and information on the system at steamerprojections.com.)
From steamerprojections.com: “We have ‘backtested’ a large number different possible forecasts systems, in order to determine the proper ratio of weights for data from recent seasons and the correct amount of regression for each component of performance.”
Let’s look at some of the highlights of what Steamer projects for the Braves.
(I’ll often refer to wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average). wOBA is a measure of overall offense which takes in to account the run value of each type of hit, of a walk, of a HBP and also factors in outs. Slugging percentage counts a double twice as much as a single whereas wOBA takes in to account the run value of a single and the run value of a double. So it’s viewed as a more precise measure of offensive contribution. It’s essentially OPS on steroids, no pun intended.)
Most Valuable Brave: Jason Heyward (5.5 WAR, .266/.354/.477, .358 wOBA, 13 SB, 7 CS). Steamer projects Heyward to continue his superb all-around play. It projects him to be the 9th-most valuable position player in baseball, sandwiched between Joey Votto and Troy Tulowitzki. Justin Upton isn’t too far behind, with a projected WAR of 5.1. Defense is the major separator as Justin Upton has the better offensive projections.
The Braves and Value: Jason Heyward and Justin Upton are expected, by Steamer, to provide the most value. B.J. Upton, Brian McCann, Andrelton Simmons, Dan Uggla, Freddie Freeman, Kris Medlen, Paul Maholm, Tim Hudson and Mike Minor all are in the next tier, between 2 and 3.1 WAR. The Braves have quite a bit of depth. You probably wouldn’t put money on any Brave winning the MVP, based on Steamer (although Heyward and Justin Upton aren’t too far from it), but there aren’t many weaknesses. As we would expect Heyward and Simmons project to provide most of the defensive value.
Best Hitter: Justin Upton (.374 wOBA, .287/.369/.506, 12 SB, 7 CS). Steamer expects Upton to bounce back strongly, maybe not in line with his best seasons with the Diamondbacks but pretty close. Steamer projects Upton’s wOBA as the 14th-best in the majors, just behind Andrew McCutchen and just ahead of David Ortiz.
The Offense: Justin Upton, Heyward and Freeman lead the way, all with projected wOBA’s above .353. McCann and Uggla are in the .330′s, with B.J. not too far behind at .325. Steamer thinks what we all do, that thirdbase, with Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson will be a weak spot. Francisco’ wOBA is projected to be .319 while Johnson is projected at .315. Still that production isn’t absolutely dreadful. Both are projected to be above replacement level. For the record, Steamer offers a projection for Chipper Jones: .274/.361/.427 with a .341 wOBA, 10th-best projected wOBA among the players they consider thirdbasemen.
Key Backups: Steamer confirms what we all have been hearing about Gattis, that his bat is good enough for the majors but not so good as to provide much value if he can’t cut it anywhere defensively. Steamer has Gattis at .262/.315/.451 with a .329 wOBA. So essentially he’s expected to provide around the same offensive production as B.J. Upton. If he can be a serviceable catcher, he will be a very valuable asset to this team. At worst, he looks like a solid bench bat that can be a body in leftfield, catcher and possibly firstbase. Ernesto Mejia is similar to Gattis, a .322 projected wOBA, but Mejia has even fewer defensive options, as he’s clearly a firstbaseman. Gerald Laird is expected to provide 0.3 WAR, as is Tyler Pastornicky, probably because he’s capable of playing shortstop, which keeps him above replacement-level. Reed Johnson is projected at 0.2 WAR, about what we would expect from probably a once-a-week outfielder.
Most Valuable Braves Pitcher: Kris Medlen (3 WAR, 3.78 ERA, 121 SO, 44 BB, 14 HR, 159 IP). Medlen doesn’t project to be a consensus true ace but there just aren’t that many of them. Medlen is expected to provide solid contributions in the rotation. With Beachy out, Medlen should do plenty to pick up the slack.
The Rotation: Maholm and Hudson project to each post 2.4 WAR while Minor is right behind at 2 WAR. Steamer isn’t all that optimistic about Teheran, projecting him at a 4.49 ERA and 0.3 WAR. However he’ll be at the backend of the rotation as the number five starter. Beachy is due back at some point around mid-season. Plus, the Braves has some players down on the farm, if they get desperate for another starter. At worst, they could probably make another move for a Maholm type rather easily.
Most Valuable Reliever: Craig Kimbrel (1.4 WAR, 1.89 ERA, 83 SO, 22 BB, 4 HR, 54 IP, 35 SV). Kimbrel is projected to have the lowest ERA in the majors and the highest K/9 rate (13.89). On a per-inning basis, he’s probably the best pitcher in the game. Steamer projects Kimbrel to have the same WAR as Tommy Hanson, a starter they project to throw 142 innings to Kimbrel’s 54.
The Bullpen: Steamer projects a 2.81 ERA from Jonny Venters, a 3.33 ERA from Jordan Walden and a 3.27 ERA from Eric O’Flaherty. All three project to have K/9 rates above 9.5. We hear about the Braves’ hitters strikeouts being a problem but the ability of the bullpen to miss bats could be a bigger factor, both throughout the regular season and in the playoffs. Steamer likes Cristian Martinez to do a nice job of eating innings, posting a 3.44 ERA in 52 innings pitched. The rest of the bullpen looks to be pretty typical of a major league ‘pen.