It's projections season. The year is about to get underway, and players will begin to accumulate new stats in which we'll be able to judge them by. For right now though, the projections are the best we have. The projections aren't perfect though, and part of the fun of the preseason is taking a stand on where you think players will end up. Looking through the projections, I have six Cardinals who I think the projectons are off on. Three position players I think the projections were light on, and three position players I think will not perform up to the expectations the projections have set.
As usual, the projections I use will be the half and half Zips and Steamer projections used over at Fangraphs. Zips and Steamer are the two best public projection systems, and the staff over at Fangraphs uses an average of the two for rate stats with writer-maintained playing time projections. You can find them here.
Matt Carpenter, 3.5 WAR (Over) and 125 wRC+ (Over)
Back in February I balked at Matt Carpenter's projection. 3.5 WAR would be Carpenter's worst as a full-time player, with 2014's 4 WAR performer being his weakest to date. That season he had a 117 wRC+, his worst season at the plate, and the only of his four years in the majors in which he's hit worse than the above projection.
Carpenter is a 132 wRC+ hitter for his career, and is coming off a 139 wRC+ performance in 2015. He's a 4.3 WAR/600 PA player for his career and had more than 700 PA in two of his three full season, and while he's entering his age 30 campaign he certainly didn't show any signs of aging last year, with a career best HR/FB rate and Hard Hit%. Who knows what version of Matt Carpenter we'll see this year, but either way I think he's going to be more valuable than the projections think.
Matt Adams, 1.3 WAR (Under)
Adams has quite a few things working against him. For one, he's on a team with another left-handed first baseman who very well may be better than him. While Brandon Moss is a better outfielder than first baseman, the outfield is at the moment fairly crowded. It'll be less crowded to the extent that Matt Holliday actually converts to playing first, but that exacerbates Adams' problem rather than alleviates it. There's also the fact that Adams gets hurt, kind of a lot.
Being that the Adams required a 427 PA playing time projection to reach 1.3 WAR, I think it'll be pretty likely that Adams falls short of such heights given the above concerns. The projections expect a 106 wRC+ performance at the plate, and considering he's coming off a 78 wRC+ last year which dragged his career wRC+ down to 112, that sounds about right. Unless there's a lot of injuries though, if Adams hits only as well as projected, I don't see him getting that many plate appearances.
Stephen Piscotty, 106 wRC+ (Over)
I already took Piscotty as my pick to breakout just last week, and VEB as a whole certainly agrees, so I won't elaborate too much on this one. Piscotty had an excellent average fly ball distance last year, enough to think his 11.7 HR/FB% should have been much higher. He's a pure hitter who hits to all fields and has an uncanny ability to square the ball up. He's also just as much a cerebral hitter (if not more so) than Matt Carpenter, so while most players are who they are by the time they reach the majors, my money is on Piscotty improving his approach in 2016 and beyond. Steamer is the more pessimistic projection, with a 103 wRC+, but I'll take the over on Zips' 109 wRC+ as well.
Yadier Molina, 96 wRC+ (Under)
We see how much the Cardinals' organization values Yadi, rushing him back to be able to start him even though for the first time in years he actually has a decent back-up in Brayan Pena. I disagree with this approach, but it shows how much the team values having him behind the plate, providing high level defense as well as a lot of difficult-to-measure value he provides as a pitch framer, game-caller, and pitcher therapist. I won't argue with Molina being elite at those things, but hopefully the Cardinals aren't expecting a hitting line similar to Steamer and Zips. Molina put up a 80 wRC+ last year recovering from thumb surgery, and this year he'll be recovering from another thumb surgery, two in fact. Perhaps 96 would be a fair, healthy bounce back projection for a guy who had a 132 wRC+ from 2011 to 2013, but health is not on Molina's side this year, doubly so being that they're rushing him back early.
Tommy Pham, 101 wRC+ (Over)
Pham hits to all fields, with above average walk rates and clearly possesses some power as well. He put up a 125 wRC+ last year, and while a boost to that was a .333 BABIP, the projections actually believe in the BABIP skills, projecting a .328 BABIP in 2016. The projections don't believe the power however, downgrading a .209 ISO in 2015 to .149. They also see his walk rate dropping from 11% to 8.1%, which is going from great to just above average. I don't think either number will regress that hard.
What will be more difficult for Pham, is getting the PA required to reach his projected WAR of 1.7 WAR. If he's as good as I think he'll need less than the projected 455 PA, but with his injury history, getting enough PA could be difficult. With Holliday possibly moving to first though, Pham is much more likely to get playing time, so if he can finally stay healthy he could blow passed the projected WAR as well.
Jhonny Peralta, 101 wRC+ (Under), 1.1 WAR (Under)
It's hard for me to do this, as I was big supporter of signing Peralta when the Cardinals did, and he led the team in fWAR in 2014. Even with a really bad second half of 2015, Peralta has solidified a position which had been a weakness since Renteria and Eckstein left.
But like Molina, Peralta will be recovering from thumb surgery when he returns, and that tends to sap a hitter's batted ball authority. Peralta is a streaky hitter, but on the heels of a 105 wRC+ in 2015 followed by the thumb injury, I think it's less than 50% chance that Jhonny is an above average hitter in 2016, and it will hold down his WAR as well.
Many of these will probably look silly at the end of the year, that's part of what makes it fun. There's a lot of variance involved in player performance, even if you have a pretty good idea of the player's talent level. That's the beauty of baseball stats, there's so much to project, but also such a wide variance in the results. Tune in Friday, when I will take five Over/Unders for the pitching staff.