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For the next few weeks, the RotoGraphs staff will devote an entire week to each defensive position, including spotlights on particular players as well as trends throughout the 2015 season. This week, we’re highlighting outfielders.
I don’t claim to be a Tableau (or data visualization) whiz by any means, but I thought it would be cool to visually represent the outfield landscape in 2015 — with some analysis sprinkled in.
Steamer and ZiPS represent premier player projection systems; FanGraphs’ Depth Charts combines the two, and the writing staff allocate playing time accordingly. The playing time part is less important relative to the combined projections, as aggregated projections tend to perform better than standalones.
I compared projected wOBA (weighted on-base average) from the preseason to actual wOBA (1) by team and (2) by player within team. Unlike WAR, wOBA is a rate metric, so it does not need to be scaled according to playing time.
First: the difference between a team’s wOBA generated by outfielders and their projected wOBA. Blue represents the highest expected wOBA; yellow represents lowest expected wOBA. The size of the bar above (below) the line represents actual wOBA above (below) expectations.
The measurements aren’t perfect — in an attempt to simplify matters, I included only players who recorded at least 50 plate appearances officially designated as an outfielder. Moreover, many outfielders played various infield positions, too. Accordingly, I isolated their production at second base and excluded everything else. As a group, outfielders outperformed their projected wOBA by four points (.326 actual to .322 expected). I’m on the National League outfield beat and I gotta tell you: I was excited for the Pirates’ outfield. Between Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, I expected a solid batting average with the possibility for something like 50 home runs and stolen bases apiece. To me, this outfield was fantasy baseball’s most exciting and most promising. But I wrongly overlooked a team most people thought would be irrelevant in 2015. The Diamondbacks’ outfield, between A.J. Pollock, David Peralta and Ender Inciarte (with sporadic contributions from a Yasmany Tomas that was totally different from what anyone expected), paid massive dividends on their draft-day investments. And it’s all legit: Pollock demonstrated the same brilliance in a half-season sample in 2014, and Diamondbacks fans were quick to notify me I underrated Inciarte and Peralta in my preseason outfielder rankings. Humanoid Bryce Harper carried the Nationals’ outfield to excellence, and Nelson Cruz mashed once again and silenced the doubters and haters. The Mets made a splash, too, not only with the midseason acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes but also the revival of Curtis Granderson, who accumulated as much WAR last season as he did the three preceding seasons. Second: the difference between each player’s actual wOBA and his projected wOBA, categorized by team, represented by the distance of each dot from zero. Colors are scaled by actual wOBA, and dot magnitude represents sample size.
Perhaps the most interesting way to begin with this graph, which has far more dots than in graphs’ past, is along the x-axis to catch all the hitters who performed almost perfectly to expectations. Jose Bautista, in all his bat-flipping dominance, almost nailed his projected wOBA. So did Ryan Braun and Jason Heyward. And the aforementioned Pittsburgh trio all deviated from their projected wOBAs by five points or fewer. Mike Trout. Adam Jones. Carlos Gonzalez. Dexter Fowler?!
And, of course, some players disappointed. Probably the most notable flop is Leonys Martin, who not only lost his job but also got demoted to the minors. Melky Cabrera and Avisail Garcia floundered. Angel Pagan whiffed. Jacoby Ellsbury failed to deliver (he’s, like, old now, guys). Hanley Ramirez embarrassed himself in left field, but that’s more a defensive critique than anything. (But he did embarrass himself at the plate a bit, too.)
Joc Pederson owners probably forgot about the first-half Jekyll in light of his second-half Hyde — a swoon, to state it politely. But let’s keep things in perspective: the kid’s still young. Moreover: Steamer and ZiPS, which calculate projections based on years’ worth of major and minor league data, together think Pederson outperformed his expectations. There’s room for growth here. We saw what he’s capable of at both ends of the spectrum.
As with previous posts, there are plenty of rookie outfielders who weren’t expected to see any playing time.
- Stephen Piscotty, STL — .365 wOBA. Might I point out that Piscotty’s wOBA matches Carlos Correa’s? Piscotty BABIP’d his way to a high average, but his hit tool does project to be above average, and the power will follow. He’ll probably be a low-end shallow-league starter next year.
- Michael Conforto, NYM — .358 wOBA. Who would you rather have: Piscotty or Conforto? Thanks for asking! I think it depends on your needs. Piscotty is probably the less volatile prospect, with a higher floor but lower ceiling because of more safety because of contact skills. But Conforto’s power potential overshadows Piscotty’s. Up to you.
- Kyle Schwarber, CHC — .350 wOBA. Already talked about him in the catcher edition, but it looks like he could end up spending a lot of time in the outfield. It’s a shame, because his catcher eligibility does wonders for his value. Still, he proved he can rake, so if you need him to clean the fallen leaves from your yard, give him a call.
- Ezequiel Carrera, TOR — .301 wOBA. He’s not a rookie, but I think he’s worth mentioning because he stole bases like crazy the past few years in the minors. Unfortunately, he’s entering his age-29 season and basically looks like a Quad-A guy. But an extended stint could yield dividends on the basepaths; however, the wheels could just as easily fall of a nearly 30-year-old cart.
- Joey Gallo, TEX — .266 wOBA. It’s a small sample, so ignore it and remember everything you’ve heard: Gallo’s got light-tower power and equally massive questions about how his contact skills will hold up at the major-league level. Still, his Giancarlo Stantonian power could make up for a possibly Mendozian batting average.
Enjoy your long weekend!