At this point in the season we're always wondering what to make out of year-to-date production by players. Stats take a long time to stabilize and what looks like a new player in April will sometimes stay that new player, and sometimes revert to that old player we once knew. Most often, the player is a combination of new and old.
So how should we weigh the first month? Let's look at how the projections have adjusted. I know, some people don't like projections, especially now that we have actual production to evaluate. But the public projections are the best method for evaluating hundreds of players at once. That's by evaluating the thousands of careers and tens of thousands of player seasons over the years to get an idea of how well, on average, players with similar stats have fared over the years.
We know that ~100 PA aren't very reliable by themselves, but we also know that those results are not meaningless either. More data is always better, and the projections give us a great indication of how to weigh these smaller pieces of data. When looking at how the outputs (the projections) have changed, we can look at the inputs (the player's stats) for what changed to get an idea of how the projections adjust based on the new stats accumulated this year by our Redbirds.
Over at Fangraphs, they average the projected rate stats of Steamer and Zips projections along with writer-maintained playing time projections. I took down what those projections were preseason, and compared them to how they expect each player to perform rest of season (ROS). We'll look at the position players first:
The number in parentheses is the amount of plate appearances each player has had so far in 2016. I'm writing this on Thursday, so these numbers are the stats up to and including Wednesday's game. This gives us a great visualization of how the projections' perception of the Cardinals have changed. Kolten Wong and Randal Grichuk's struggles have cost them a combined five points of projected wRC+, but four other Cardinals have gained at least five points a piece. Diaz, in his first 90 Major League PA, has gained an astounding 13 points. Hazelbaker's start to the season has opened quite a few eyes, but Molina's production at the plate, according to the projections, has raised expectations just as much.
I love that graph because of it's simplicity, but we need some more context. Here, we'll look at each player's projected wRC+ going into season, their wRC+ to date, and then their ROS projection:
Here we see what type of sky-high performance Eric Fryer and Greg Garcia had to have in order to move their projection in so few plate appearances. Matt Carpenter and Matt Holliday have each had worse results than expected, but still saw their projection increase. Let's break down Marp's numbers:
The biggest difference in Matt Carpenter's expected numbers and his 2016 numbers is easily the BABIP. BABIP is going to vary a ton over 124 PA, and the projections know that, thus his projected BABIP has fallen just 2 points despite it being 45 points lower than expected. On the other hand, each of the other three stats have been much more responsive, with Carpenter's BB% and ISO% gains outweighing the BABIP drop (and K% increase). A similar effect is afoot in Holliday's numbers, with the same .274 BABIP holding his numbers down.
Let's move on to the main event of these graphs though, with Aledmys Diaz:
Diaz has been much better than advertised in the four core stats, and it's drastically changed his profile going forward. The projections are likely much more responsive to Diaz's stats than most players because of his lack of a track record. Not only is this his first 90 PA in the majors, but he's also only had about a season and a half worth of plate appearances in the minors. All of these improvements in Diaz's outlook leads to him looking like a league average performer at the plate going forward. The longer he can keep the three non-BABIP aspects of his game up, the more we'll see his projection continue to rise.
Jeremy Hazelbaker doesn't get quite as big of a jump, and his comes almost exclusively from his unexpected power. He came into the year with a projected .132 ISO, and after posting a ridiculous .354 number so far this year is projected for a .147 ISO going forward. His .385 BABIP also raised his projected BABIP four points.
I took the under on the projections for Yadier Molina at the start the year, but I couldn't be more delighted with his production to start the season. His projected wRC+ has jumped from 96 to 101 on the strength of a 123 wRC+ to date for the season. Let's see how his stats breakdown:
Yadi's projected BABIP has risen 9 points from the beginning of April. From 2011 to 2014, Yadi accrued a .319 BABIP, before posting a .295 last year. Perhaps with Yadi's numbers falling in 2015, the projections saw it as decline. Then, following a strong April, the projections maybe began to see 2015's BABIP as just some variance. To be honest, I haven't even noticed the increase in Yadi's walk rate. Yadi has been one of the freer swingers in the game, with the 46th highest O-Swing% out of 233 qualified players from 2013 to 2015, at 35.3%. This year he's currently 74th out of 196 qualified players, at 28.1%. His Z-Swing% has dropped as well, from 76% last year to 68.8%, so this indicates a change towards a more patient approach rather than better strike zone judgement. Indeed, his Correct% (which I've written about a couple of times) has increased 1% from 2015 to 2016, but being correct one more time per hundred pitches may just be a mirage. Either way, that explains the increase in Yadi's walk and K numbers. I for one, find it a welcome change.
Moss' 3 point increase going forward can mostly be attributed to his power. After being projected for a .205 ISO going into the year, and a .288 number in the first month and change has increased that outlook to a .213. The projections are also probably seeing a 328.22 average fly ball distance (second in baseball to Trevor Story), a big increase over last year's 285.05 figure, which was 114th out of 284. Brandon Moss sure seems to be legitimately bouncing back.
The projections continue to be mostly skeptical of Stephen Piscotty, as he's only gained 2 points thus far on his meager projection for a 106 wRC+. Here's his MLB career numbers to date compared to the ROS projection:
The projections continue to not believe in the power or the strikeout rate. They continue to weigh his minor league numbers heavily, when he was walking and striking out less and supplied less power. I think Stephen's continuation of a high ISO this year should indicate that this isn't a fluke, especially combined with the fact that he has the third longest average fly ball distance according to Baseball Heat Maps. I took the over on Piscotty's projected wRC+ to start the year (106) as well as the higher of the two projections (Zips at 109), so I'll still be taking the over on Piscotty's current 108 figure, and I'll also take the over on Zips' projection, which is still the higher of the two and is at 113.
I wrote about how Kolten Wong would probably bounce back from his slump to start the year, and the projections seem to agree, as they've only knocked his projection down two points. Wong's ISO is to blame for his rough start, and despite only having one extra base hit on the year, Wong's projected ISO has only dropped four points, from .128 to .124. This also jibes with what I said in the off-season about Wong, which was that he was a low ceiling/high floor player, one not likely to break out, but also not likely to fall off.
Randal Grichuk is the only other regular position player who has lost ground in wRC+. Grichuk has actually boosted his projected BB rate from 5.3% to 5.9%, with the most marginal of increases in K%. His projected BABIP has tumbled however, from .302 to .294 due to his .203 BABIP to start the year. Grichuk has a .325 career BABIP in 565 PA in the majors, but in the high minors (AA and AAA) over 1014 PA only had a BABIP around .280. Those high minors numbers are concerning enough to drag his BABIP projection below average despite well above average results in nearly a full season of plate appearances.
Well, I was planning on doing the pitchers too today, but I'm already over 1500 words not including any of the charts, so I'll say that this is enough data to crunch in one post. If you guys like this stuff I can do a similar article for the pitchers on either Tuesday or next Saturday, probably Saturday as I have finals next week and this took a lot of time to put together.
The conclusion is clear on offense: They've bettered their future outlook in the first month of the season. Wong and Grichuk have both taken steps back, but literally everyone else has taken a step forward. Some of that is guys that don't project to get a bunch of playing time like Fryer, Garcia, and Hazelbaker, but regulars Molina, Moss, and Piscotty have improved their stocks and Diaz's ascension forces him into the discussion as a starter even when Peralta returns. April is April, but the numbers still mean something, and I think this exercise gives us a much better idea of how to quantify that meaning.