Cleveland Indians

Indians Lineup Versus Projections — The Over/Under Game

In order to stave off the lukewarm offseason that has become the status quo of Major League Baseball; many bright folks and institutions post projections for baseball players. These projections are not meant as a declaration of certainty; nor are they in any sense binding; rather projections are generally well constructed models aimed at utilizing data without eye test bias to forecast the most likely among a large dispersion of outcomes.

Generally, the projection provides a median projection which is why, to fans, projections often appear to be conservative. Indeed, we often consider a projection without also being informed of the 25th or 75th percentile projection.

My long view is that projections are an important starting point which to rely on and then personal modify based on what is pertinent information. Below are five projections from Fangraphs Steamer projection system and my pick of either over or under the projected wRC+. Weighted Runs Created Plus is used because I believe it is both the best run creation value metric and because it is easiest to understand. 100 is a league average wRC+; 115 is 15% above average; 85 is 15% below average.

Jake Bauers-589 PA-.754 OPS-18 HR-104 wRC+

Prognostication: Over

There are four key indicators of offense performers from a prospect perspective: age for level, isolated power, walk rate, and strikeout rate. Bauers reached AAA at age 21 and absolutely raked. Running an elite walk rate, above average strikeout rate and average ISO. Bauers first big league stint was similar at age 22; elite walk rate, mediocre strikeout rate, and above average ISO. At 23 years old in a favorable park for left-handed hitters with a strikeout rate gain coming and positive BABIP regression Bauers should run a wRC+ of 105+.

Jose Ramirez-661 PA-.887 OPS-28 HR-135 wRC+

Prognostication: Over

Projection systems unlike fans do not overreact to a bad month and a half. Indeed, a projected 6 WAR season is the sign of Jose Ramirez’ rise to superstardom. Alas, the over is still worth taking here because Ramirez is coming off back to back 146 wRC+ seasons and is in the midst of his peak.

Further, projection systems are prone to underweighting substantive approach changes. Jose Ramirez added power, spiked his walk rate and produced in large part due to a major approach change. The below gif demonstrates how Ramirez has narrowed his swing zone to leverage his power.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Jason Kipnis-462 PA-.724 OPS-12 HR-94 wRC+

Prognostication: Under

Site colleague Gage Will recently published an exemplary article on why Jason Kipnis has become, in some sense, undervalued. Kipnis was once an above average offensively player; he simply is not anymore. While his defense and base running may add value his plate based run creation is declining.

The Steamer projection shares my reticence in the sense that it only projects 462 PA. The concern being health. Kipnis simply has struggled to remain healthy but has consistently played through it with the result being sapped production. Kipnis has run wRC+ of 81 and 89 the two prior years; with more mileage and nagging physical degradation I simply do not expect Kipnis to clear a 90 wRC+.

Eric Haase-30 PA-.630 OPS-1 HR-65 wRC+

Prognostication: Over

The types of players I expect to outperform projection systems, as I outlined above, are those which made a major adjustment during there development where prior data on the player when weighted would deceive projection system. Eric Haase is a launch angle revolutionary who tapped into his raw power by altering his contact point.

Though Haase has swing and miss issues; he has plus power and will tap into it at the big league level. The author does not suggest Haase will be an above average offensive player. However, Haase should be able to clear a 65 wRC+ in his time in Cleveland this season.

Bradley Zimmer-144 PA-.678 OPS-4 HR-81 wRC+

Prognostication: Under

Zimmer is among the worst in baseball at avoiding the strikeout; and as earlier discussed at, Zimmer has a poor contact profile:

In the era of shifts, launch angle, and exit velocity there are a couple of short hand rules of directional distribution; especially for a left-handed hitter. First, pulled ground balls, especially at a high rate will sap batting average. Second, fly balls to the opposite filed decrease their value because it adversely impacts the flight and authority of the baseball generally. 

Unfortunately, Zimmer pulls ground balls decreasing his ability to beat out ground balls and Zimmer hits fly balls to the opposite value sapping their power value

Bradley Zimmer had a batting average on balls in play of .367 in 2018 and still ran a meager 63 wRC+. While Zimmer should make strides in terms of strikeout rate regression in BABIP should cover some of those gains. Finally, coming off of a torn labrum is not optimal for adding power.

Alas, in 6 months, I will return to these projections and mock my naivety.

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