once again, the playing-time factor confounds. i had thought a 500-ab projection for molina was pretty conservative; he amassed 385 last year despite a seven-week stint on the dl, and the injury that sidelined him had nothing to do with the wear and tear that comes with playing a demanding position; he got hit by a pitch. even as a #8 hitter, molina was on pace for about 520 at-bats at the time he got hurt. . . . . in any case, both PECOTA and ZIPS project molina to bat fewer times in '06 than '05, which doesn't make any sense to me. we'll have to do a little math to make their numbers comparable to our own projection. here are the three lines in the raw:
okay, so maybe we have a bit of a crush on our catcher. we put up 44 entries, and not a single one of us projected molina's batting average to drop in 2006; the 44 projected increases ranged from 5 to 38 points. likewise, none of us foresaw fewer homers for yadi, and only one of us projected fewer than 10 round-trippers; the other 43 had him at between 10 and 15. given that this model presumes an extra 115 at-bats for molina, perhaps an hr increase is only natural; it still surprised me that nobody was skeptical of molina's 2005 hr rate and put him down for 6 in 2006. since the VEB projectors universally forecast improvements in both avg and hr, it only makes sense that each of us, without exception, also predicted a higher on-base avg, slg pct, and rbi total for yadi.
ZIPS and PECOTA obviously see it differently, although the divergence of opinion isn't so terrible once we put all the batting lines on an equal basis. if we pro-rate all three projections to 450 at-bats, they look like this:
the major differences: the community foresees an extra 10 points or so of batting average and an extra 15 or so points of isolated power. so we're optimistic, but not stark-ravingly so. and this may be one of those cases where the scientific forecasting models missed something, viz. molina's in-season improvement. aside from being apparent to anybody who watched him play, that improvement shows up in one telling stat: molina's walk rate nearly doubled during the second half of 2005, from once ev'y 22 plate appearances to once ev'y 13. better discipline usually equals better production; many of us stated as much in the comments accompanying our projection.
even the weakest of these three projections represents an upgrade over last year; also over mike matheny's production for st louis. so we shouldn't be too disappointed if molina posts a .680 ops; if he does that, handles the staff, and cuts off the running game, he'll more than earn his keep.
before i leave the subject, i got an e-mail yesterday about molina from bryan smith of Baseball Analysts. he mentioned a year-old post in which, projecting molina's 2005 season, bryan had compared him to ex-dodger catcher (and current angels manager) mike scioscia:
That's extraordinarily close, especially when you factor in similar body types and low strikeout rates (in the minors for Molina). The only difference is the side of the plate they bat on, but I think the Cardinals will be pleased with the right-handed Mike Scoscia. And who knows, maybe get a successor for Tony La Russa in the process.
the comparison is far from perfect -- scioscia drew more walks and hit for less power than molina (he didn't equal yadi's 2005 hr total of 8 until the age of 30) -- but i can still definitely see it. scioscia's at least as good an analog for molina as tim mccarver and clearly a better one than ted simmons, both of whom we glanced at yesterday.
so what did scioscia do moving forward? he missed nearly all of his age-24 season with an injury (caused by that famous collision with jack clark? i think so) but from age 25 through 27 he was a very, very good player -- an above league-average run producer and gold-glove-caliber defender at one of the two most important positions on the field. i doubt molina will ever post a .400 obp, as scioscia did at age 26, but i think he'll become a better hitter overall.
btw, scioscia ranks 9th on molina's list of top 10 comps per PECOTA (just released yesterday). the rest of the list is pretty encouraging; #2 is ray fosse; #4 is royals 1b mike sweeney (who started his career as a catcher); the fine hitter ramon hernandez sits at #5, rich gedman (briefly a very good player) at #6, and the cubs' underrated michael barrett at #8.