Positional Forecasts: Catchers

Instead of the community projections run last year at this site, I've decided to pick a few players from each position and take a look at them on a weekly basis. First on the docket is catchers, as I'll move my way around the diamond position by position until I end with starting pitchers.

I am going to try to pick interesting cases: players who were injured, or had (seemingly) fluke productive or unproductive seasons. For outside forecasting, I'm including PECOTA, Marcels, ZiPS, Bill James, and CHONE forecasting systems, as well as a quick and dirty method of my own to attempt to project 2007 performance. Anyone reading this who has read me before would probably guess that my method uses batted-ball data, and you would be correct.

Jason Varitek - Boston Red Sox
Projection PA AVG OBP SLG
PECOTA 405 .274 .357 .453
Marcel 462 .267 .351 .454
ZiPS 466 .266 .357 .456
Bill James 524 .259 .343 .434
CHONE 444 .256 .344 .430
BTBS 460 .281 .368 .443

Jason Varitek was one of the better offensive options at catcher in the majors, while also holding a reputation as one of the better defensive catchers and game callers around. In 2006 he struggled with injury trouble and was well below his recent averages when he was healthy.

The good news for Varitek comes from his directional batted-ball data; Varitek did not start to hit the ball to the opposite field more often, which often happens with players whose bats are slowing down. He also did not have a spike in his walk rate--another sign of a slowing bat--which happens as hitters stop going after pitches their bat used to be able to catch up to, instead taking a few more pitches here and there until pitchers begin to challenge them again.

PECOTA, Marcel and ZiPS all have very similar forecasts for Varitek, and all are bounce-back campaigns after a disappointing 2006. The CHONE and Jamesian projection systems also expect Varitek to return to form for the most part. The Beyond the Box Score forecast is the most optimistic of all, as it tries to correct what went wrong with his 2006. Varitek's line drive rate fell multiple percentage points down to 16.8% (his average from 2002-2006 is 21.7%); after adjusting for that, Varitek was basically expected to repeat his 2005. Granted, as a 33-year old catcher, that most likely will not happen, but if Varitek does come back to form all the way, you'll know why.

Gerald Laird - Texas Rangers
Projection PA AVG OBP SLG
PECOTA 271 .265 .322 .437
Marcel 334 .276 .328 .428
ZiPS 278 .270 .320 .441
Bill James 284 .273 .326 .439
CHONE 278 .267 .327 .438
BTBS 289 .250 .309 .427

After what seemed like forever, Gerald Laird finally took the reigns of starting catcher for the Texas Rangers, thanks to Rod Barajas' free agency. His 2006 performance helped excite Rangers' fans, as they hoped for a quality offensive performance from their catcher with Laird behind the plate. Laird will most likely be close to the projections listed above; his batting average was at a bit of a fluke high last year thanks to a .357 batting average on balls in play. That's a helpful batting line from one of the worst offensive positions on the diamond, and Laird you can easily glean a solid defensive reputation from his defensive numbers.

The Rangers may have lost the single-year production of Gary Matthews Jr. and Mark DeRosa, but with Mark Teixeira primed for a comeback, Ian Kinsler for a full season, a healthy Brad Wilkerson as well as Laird in place of the aforemention Barajas they should not lose as much as one would initially think.

Josh Bard - San Diego Padres
Projection PA AVG OBP SLG
PECOTA 316 .270 .346 .410
Marcels 352 .293 .363 .463
ZiPS 258 .281 .356 .424
Bill James 276 .283 .348 .434
CHONE 211 .272 .344 .435
BTBS 283 .277 .345 .476

Josh Bard broke out offensively in 2006, hitting .338/.406/.537, even with his home games at PETCO Park. Bard was part of Kevin Towers' outright swindling of the Red Sox via trade, as the Padres also received relief pitcher and then prospect Cla Meredith in exchange for Doug Mirabelli. Overall, the deal could be looked at as Mirabelli and Mark Loretta for Bard and Meredith, but that still puts the Red Sox in the loss column, especially considering their bullpen problems.

Bard was a bit over his head, thanks to a .377 BABIP. None of the projections systems expect him to retain all of the improvement, although they do expect a better player than Bard was initially thought to be. As someone who watched as many Padres' games as Red Sox games in 2006, I can tell you that Bard looked very disciplined and smart, with the ball jumping off of his bat in a way that made you believe he had become an improved offensive player. Considering he was initially acquired by the Red Sox thanks to his defensive abilities, it's safe to say the Padres will be pleased in 2007 as well.

The BTBS line is a bit more optimistic; you could easily take a few points away from the slugging if you wanted to and I'd be happy with that. Going forward, I'm going to try and improve the quick method I'm using to be a bit more reflective of what you can expect from the players in 2007. Remember, this is not a projection so much as a correction for their 2006 seasons.

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