Midterm Report

On Sunday the baseball season reached its midway point in terms of total games played, and this week at Baseball Prospectus and ESPN Insider, we’re using that as an opportunity to examine how our PECOTA forecasts have held up over the course of the first half. Yesterday, Christina Kahrl examined team-level performances. The top six:

Team     PECOTA   Act.   +/-
Rangers .432 .563 .131
Rockies .438 .519 .081
Marlins .438 .518 .080
Giants .469 .543 .074
Angels .500 .563 .063
Dodgers .574 .634 .060

Today I take a stab at the hitters:

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s been a rollercoaster season for Alex Rodriguez. Steroid revelations, hip surgery, a .219 batting average balls in play, an inflated walk rate, a recent eight-game, five-homer tear — he’s done plenty to confound expectations, both good and bad. Yet the ever-controversial 33-year-old slugger’s .313 Equivalent Average through the first 81 games is just two points off his PECOTA weighted mean projection of .311.

Rodriguez’s is hardly the only on-the-nose projection our projection system has had halfway into the season. Of the 227 players with at least 200 plate appearances through Sunday, the schedule’s official midpoint, 97 are within 15 points of their PECOTA weighted mean EqAs. The variations are normally distributed, with 154 players within 29 points — one standard deviation — of their projections, and 213 within two standard deviations. Here’s a non-random selection of players within 15 points either way:

Player Tm PA Act Proj Dif

Justin Upton ARI 325 .302 .287 .015
Matt Kemp LAN 336 .302 .290 .012
Robinson Cano NYA 347 .271 .264 .007
Jacoby Ellsbury BOS 338 .275 .270 .005
Jason Bay BOS 348 .299 .295 .004
David Wright NYN 353 .325 .323 .002
Hanley Ramirez FLO 336 .326 .324 .002
Alex Rodriguez NYA 221 .313 .311 .002
Mark Teixeira NYA 356 .309 .308 .001
Miguel Cabrera DET 330 .306 .308 -.002
Ken Griffey SEA 250 .265 .272 -.007
Emilio Bonifacio FLO 347 .223 .233 -.010
Dustin Pedroia BOS 365 .270 .284 -.014

This list is simply a baker’s dozen of players, mostly from the East coast, who have been surrounded by lofty — and in some cases unreasonable — expectations. We’ve got three of the game’s six highest-paid hitters (Rodriguez, Teixeira, and Cabrera), the reigning AL MVP (Pedroia), the whipping boy of Queens (Wright), a prodigal son returned (Griffey), a 21-year-old phenom (Upton), arguably the game’s best all-around player (Ramirez), a horrible idea for a leadoff man (Bonifacio), and a few others who frequent conversations in the Northeast corridor. Despite the varying shapes of performance hidden by EqA, they’re all about as productive as PECOTA — if not the chattering classes — expects.

Recall that EqA basically is an expression of runs created per plate appearance, adjusted for park and normalized so as to be expressed on a scale of batting average, with .260 defined as league average, .230 as replacement level and .300 a mark of excellence. None of the Yankees or Dodgers make the leaderboards at either extreme. The Brewers’ Prince Fielder (.305 projected, .355 actual) is eighth among the overachievers, and the Mets’ Gary Sheffield (.271 projected, .318 actual) is 12th, one of just three over-30 players (along with Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibañez) among that group. That’s after his 43-point shortfall ranked second-to-last in 2008, and after he was released earlier this spring by the Tigers.

As for the trailers, the Brew Crew’s Bill Hall (.270 projected, .204 actual) is third. Former Yankee Alfonso Soriano (.294 projected, .241 actual) is eighth, and Boston’s David Ortiz (.297 projected, .248 actual) is ninth even after a scorching June performance. The Dodgers’ Russell Martin and Rafael Furcal, both 40 points below projected, just missed joining that party.

Anyway, there was a lot of fascinating stuff to be found within the numbers, more than I could get to on a word count, and enough that I may spin that into another piece soon. Stay tuned.

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