The CHONE Targets: Outfielders

During the Ball on a Budget fantasy draft, someone made a relatively surprising pick, taking Reds outfielder Wladimit Balentien in the top half of the draft, in spite of a -0.1 WAR in over 170 games at the Major League level. After pointing out that Sean Smith's CHONE projections are particularly bullish on Balentien for next season in spite of his previous MLB performance, some random guy named Sky Kalkman noted that it would be interesting to see what other players CHONE is especially optimistic about.

It sounded like a good idea, and so I flipped through the FanGraphs player pages (damn you Bill James for putting the spreadsheet of your projections behind the pay wall!) looking for hitters that CHONE expects big things from next season.

Among them are established regulars on the verge of a breakout, former prospects hoping to emerge as legitimate MLB contributors, and bench pieces who probably belong in an everyday lineup somewhere. Considering that CHONE often rates extremely well compared to other projection systems such as Marcel, ZiPS, Bill James, and PECOTA, it would seem to be a good idea to look at who the system likes the most.

All four of these players fell out of favor with their previous teams. Three of them were traded in the past year, while another one was flat out cut before latching on with a new team.

The Bill James projections and FanGraphs' Fan Projections are both considered to be extremely optimistic systems, while CHONE is often considered to be more pessimistic, regressing closer to the mean. In spite of this, CHONE has recognized certain players that it likes substantially more than the aforementioned projection systems, and today I'd like to take a look at who those players are.

Later this week or next, I will do another posts focusing on infielders that CHONE is bullish on, as well as one on minor league players that CHONE believes could thrive in the majors next season. But for now we're looking at outfielders who have already had shots with MLB teams, to varying degrees of success.

Wladimir Balentien, Cincinnati

We'll start off with the man who seeded this piece, good ol' Wladdy Balentien. Balentien, 25, was once considered a top prospect in the Seattle farm system a few years back. He struggled in his first two shots in Seattle though, posting a .209/.260/.359 line in 434 plate appearances, and was usurpted by Michael Saunders as Seattle's left fielder of the future. He latched on with the Reds in the middle of last season after being cut to make room for Saunders, and posted a .342 wOBA in 125 PA, showing a solid eye at the plate.

But what makes Balentien so interesting is his consistent success in the minors. He has a .871 OPS in his minor league career, including a .283/.359/.534 line in 819 PA over the past two seasons in Triple-A. CHONE seems to fully note this, projecting him to hit for plus power and a solid walk rate. He's also considered a solid defender in either outfield corner thanks to a good arm, making him a serious sleeper for 2010. James, on the other hand, projects less power and more trouble making contact.

It's worth noting that Balentien will have to battle Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs, Chris Dickerson, Laynce Nix, Jonny Gomes and Chris Heisey for playing time, but if he gets it, CHONE believes that Balentien can thrive in the Great American Ballpark.

Bill James projection: .244/.316/.431, .327 wOBA, 99 wRC+

CHONE projection: .266/.342/.487, .358 wOBA, 120 wRC+

Fan projection: .257/.326/.445, .334 wOBA, 104 wRC+

Melky Cabrera, Atlanta

On FanGraphs, the brilliant Dave Cameron considered Cabrera to be one of his "guys" for the 2010 season, essentially guys that he believes are going to surprise people with their performance next season. I'm guessing that Dave took a hard look at Melky's CHONE projections before giving him that label.

Cabrera has been around for what feels like forever, but he doesn't turn 26 until August, and he's posted two seasons with over 520 PA in which he's been a slightly above average hitter. His career wRC+ of 91 isn't exactly impressive, but CHONE believes that 2010 will finally be Melky's breakout year.

CHONE believes that Melky's uptick in power last season was no fluke, while projecting some regression in his low BABIP and improvement in his strikeout and walk rates. Put it all together, and CHONE projects Cabrera for a .296/.367/.441 line, good for a 120 wRC+, a solid 13.5 runs above average over 150 games.

If Cabrera can maintain his solid defense and come through with the improvement that CHONE projects, he could very well be a 3.0-3.5 WAR player next season. The fans, on the other hand, are very pessimistic on Cabrera (bitter Yankee fans..?), projecting a 95 wRC+, while Bill James has Cabrera with a 101 wRC+ for next season.

Bill James projection: .278/.341/.406, .330 wOBA, 101 wRC+

CHONE projection: .296/.367/.441, .358 wOBA, 120 wRC+

Fan projection: .275/.331/.398, .322 wOBA, 95 wRC+

Ben Francisco, Philadelphia

Francisco, 28, spent a significant amount of time during the past two years as an everyday outfielder in Cleveland, before moving to the bench upon being dealt to the Phillies along with Cliff Lee. Francisco has been solid in his time in the majors, posting a 107 wRC+ in just over 1000 plate appearances, and both the fans and Bill James expect him to maintain that performance.

But CHONE believes that Francisco is capable of more, projecting him to maintain his increase in power from last season while gaining some luck in the form of BABIP, good for a .272/.342/.465 line. That comes out to a 116 wRC+, over a half-win more valuable than the other projections. Francisco will be relegated to backing up Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez this season, but CHONE believes that he's markedly better than a bunch of guys that have everyday jobs in other places right now.

Bill James projection: .269/.339/.438, .337 wOBA, 106 wRC+

CHONE projection: .272/.342/.465, .352 wOBA, 116 wRC+

Fan projections: .267/.332/.433, .338 wOBA, 106 wRC+

Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee

When the Brewers dealt shortstop J.J. Hardy to Minnesota a few months ago to land their new center fielder, Gomez, many people wondered what Milwaukee was thinking, considering that CarGo has been a black hole offensively thus far in his major league career.

Some would think that Bill James and the fans are being generous by projecting Gomez for a 82 wRC+, considering that Gomez's career mark is 71 and he posted a 67 wRC+ in Minnesota last season. CHONE believes that Gomez is due for some improvement though.

Sean Smith's projections have Gomez at .267/.329/.390 for next season, showing increased power output and patience, while also getting a few more bloopers to fall in for hits. The system still projects Gomez to be a below average hitter, his wRC+ comes out to 96, about 2.7 runs below average over 600 plate appearances. But when factoring in Gomez's value on the bases and in center, that kind of improvement at the plate would make him one of the better young center fielders in the game.

If he follows through with CHONE's projection and maintains his defensive prowess, he could very well be a 2.5-3.0 WAR player in 150 games next season. For Brewer fans, that would be one pleasant surprise.

Bill James projection: .260/.310/.375, .302 wOBA, 82 wRC+

CHONE projection: .267/.329/.390, .323 wOBA, 96 wRC+

Fan projection: .260/.315/.357, .304 wOBA, 83 wRC+

Now, certainly CHONE has been wrong many times in the past, that's simply the nature of the game. But last season, CHONE did recognize players such as Nelson Cruz and Billy Butler as legitimate candidates to emerge as quality hitters, among their other successes and failures.

These aren't players that I'm necessarily targeting as major breakout candidates for next season. Rather, these are players that CHONE targets as breakout candidates on some level, based on their previous track records. These are guys that CHONE is particularly bullish on, when compared to the other projection systems readily avaiable on FanGraphs.

And considering CHONE's strong track record, I simply believe that these are some guys worth noting. Because if they break out next season, nobody can say that the world didn't see it coming, considering that Smith's system sure did.

All projection data courtesy of FanGraphs.com

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