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lotza prOPS

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if you're not familiar with the hardball times' prOPS system, it purports to control for luck. "When a cylindrical bat hits a round ball lots of funny things can happen to influence the outcome," writes jc bradbury, who developed the system. he continues:

Just because a hitter does some things that normally lead to good/bad outcomes doesn't mean those outcomes will always happen. Good process can result in bad outcomes, and bad process can result in good outcomes. If these outcomes don't cancel out, but pile up in one direction, outcome-based metrics can distort a player's true performance. PrOPS is a tool for extracting the noise from the statistics that we normally find to be quite reliable predictors of run production.

The method for generating PrOPS involves using batted-ball data, along with a few other important factors, to predict the offensive output of players using linear regression. The projections are thus based on the way players hit the ball and not actual outcomes.

got it? if random chance throws a player an extra 10 seeing-eye singles in a given year, prOPS won't be fooled -- it will expose the player's increased batting avg as a fraud. conversely, if a batter is striking the ball as well as ever but just not finding the holes, prOPS will expose that as well.

it's a new metric, hence we're all still learning how far we can trust it; keep that caveat in mind as you read. this morning bradbury posted predicted 2006 ops figures for every mlb hitter who had 130 plate appearances last year. his system uses prOPS as the central factor and also accounts for a few other important factors such as age and home ballpark. the latter is particularly important in the cardinals' case, because we don't know how busch iii will play. (it's suspected that the deep alleys will favor the pitchers . . . . ) bradbury based all his projections on the players' 2005 home ballparks, so you have to mentally adjust for a guy like brad wilkerson, who is moving from an extremely inhospitable hitting environment (rfk) to an extremely hospitable one (arlington stadium).

without further ado, then, here's what bradbury's crystal ball shows:

CARDINALS

alb't .996
edmonds .892
john rod .879
rolen .825
yadi .769
eckstein .742
luna .713
so .704

some items: apparently prOPS thinks rodriquez's performance last year was no fluke; i hope that's right. but perhaps we should be a mite nervous about the prospect of 500 at-bats for so taguchi. i'd happily take the figures posted for rolen and edmonds, especially if health permits them to be sustained over 140 games. as for albert, we're so used to him topping 1.000 in ops that anything below that looks weak. but his number is right up there with ortiz's and manny's and way ahead of a-rod's . . . . which suggests that perhaps all of these forecasts skew a bit toward the lower, more conservative end of the spectrum. there's a linear regression involved in the formula, so maybe the gravitiational pull of the center drags all the high numbers down a few ticks and boosts the low ones up. don't really know; just feeling things out.

NEW CARDINALS

miles .728
bigbie .718
dev cruz .693
g bennett .654

whatever. miles' figure represents what he might do in coors field; shave 30 to 50 points right off the top. if new busch plays as a pitcher's park, shave off a few more. . . . . if he were indeed to post a .728 ops and play league-average defense, at his salary he'd be one of the best bargains in the whole league. bigbie's projection is for camden yards, not coors field; it still sucks, in any ballpark.

EX CARDINALS

reggie .793
la walker .789
mabry .742
abe nunez .717
grud'k .711
ein diaz .693

doesn't that figure for sanders look a little low? i'd put my guess about 50 points higher. which doesn't mean he'd be worth the money he's asking . . . . . the figure for walker is definitely low, seems to me. he could still put up a .360 obp and slug .430 in his sleep; when awake he'd still be at more like .400 / .500. again, i'm not bemoaning his departure, merely eyeballing these figures to determine how much stock i want to put into them. . . . the figures lend support to the decisions not to re-sign grud'k or nunez, neither of whom is projected to outplay hec luna.

COULDA BEEN CARDINALS

giles .829
soriano .820
ma sweeney .803
luis castillo .787
loretta .755

don't forget, the figures are based on the player's 2005 ballpark -- hence brian giles' low number. since he did stick with the pads, we can test the prediction empirically; but if he'd signed with the cardinals, some of his vanished power might have returned. soriano is likely in for a rude awakening at rfk stadium -- the .820 prediction assumes 81 starts in the rangers' bandbox. look at castillo's projection -- and with gold-glove defense to boot. is that worth $5.1 million a year? well, considering that the cardinals are likely to pay the same amount to some outfielder with an ops in the same neighborhood, i'd say so.

finally the most interesting list: guys who are still available as free agents or may be available as trade acquisitions:

MAY YET BECOME CARDINALS

dunn .987 huff .769
griffey jr .912 jas michaels .766
wily mo .895 brad wilk'son .761
abreu .882 jac jones .761
kearnes .861 rich'd hidalgo .760
mench .847 rondell .746
jer burnitz .810 o palmeiro .741
nomar .797 ryan church .735
vern wells .793 graffanino .732
cr monroe .782 aurilia .731
mel mora .781 conine .728
dam easley .774 lawton .713
craig wilson .770 j encarnacion .701
da roberts .684

let's start with the four cincinnati outfielders. remember, they're indexed to g.a.ballpark, so their numbers would sag at least a tad almost anywhere else. but you can let some air out of any of those figures and still have a damn good outfielder. clearly this system foresees a leap forward in willy mo's development in 2006. with the reds having traded casey, it's no longer so obvious that the reds will be moving an outfielder; but per this system, anyway, they all look pretty juicy.

when they're choosing up sides, why is jeromy burnitz always the last kid to be picked? just too boring, i guess -- league-avg production at a league-avg salary. not much upside, not much downside . . . abreu's .882 doesn't impress me in that ballpark . . . .wilkerson could easily beat that projection by 100 points now that he's out of rfk. . . . . man, but this system hates juan encarnacion . . . . richard hidalgo? won't cost but a few pennies, only 31 years old next season, had a .957 ops as recently as two years ago. kinda where ray lankford was in spring 2004 -- but no, i still just can't see it. . . . . most of my scrap-heap favorites -- michaels, lawton, conine, dave roberts -- look awful here. they're all similar players, ie high-obp types with limited power -- could be there's a wrinkle in bradbury's projection system that undervalues such players. or maybe the system is right and they all just stink. anyway, at these ops figures none of these guys would be attractive no matter how cheap you could get them. . . . wonder if there's any chance damion easley still finds his way onto the bench. good power, good on-base ability, veteran presence, can play all three infield positions. waitasecond, scratch him off the list -- he signed with the dbacks, one year / $700K. and the cards are paying a combined $1.2m for deivi cruz and aaron miles????

i'm gonna barf.