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Positional Forecasts: First Base

This is the second part of a multi-piece series on positional projections. If you missed the first post on catchers, you can find it at this link here.

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.

With an assist from Eric Simon of Mets Geek and Amazin' Avenue, I've got myself a nifty spreadsheet that corrects players' batting lines for the difference between their Batting Average on Balls in Play and their expected Batting Average on Balls in Play. The need for a spreadsheet comes in with the adjustment made to this; when you add in the difference to the batting lines, every extra or missing hit is counted as a single. Eric tweaked it so that the extra SLG points are distributed according to their hit-type rates, meaning a few extra points for extra-base hits. For many players there will not be any difference, but it will help to correct slugging percentage for a few players on either end of the extremes.

This time around, we have three first basemen to look at, Mark Teixeira, Mike Jacobs, and Prince Fielder.

Mark Teixeira - Texas Rangers
Projection PA AVG OBP SLG
PECOTA 684 .290 .374 .537
Marcel 636 .294 .377 .546
ZiPS 702 .287 .373 .541
Bill James 705 .287 .376 .553
CHONE 680 .283 .375 .540
BTBS 681 .289 .383 .524

Teixeira's projections are all basically the same, but they are all below what he was producing in 2004-2005. This has a lot to do with the fact that no projection system is able to account for what exactly happened with Teix in 2006. I asked Adam Morris of Adam Morris if there were any outside issues with Teix that I wouldn't know of, since I'm not a Rangers fan, and he gave me some interesting information. Teix is a historically slow starter, and like many major leaguers, uses spring training to refine his swing and get back into...well, the swing of things. In Teixeira's case, he has two swings to refine due to his switch hitting. Rather than get back into his normal routine in spring training, Teixeira joined Team USA for the World Baseball Classic, where he basically sat on the bench in favor of Derrek Lee.

From about July onward, Teixeira was a force akin to his 2004-2005 numbers, hitting .292/.387/.594 after a disappointing first half line of .272/.355/.438 to end up at .282/.371/.514, below his career averages but still impressive. Looking at his monthly splits for 2004-2005, one can see that Teixeira has this "heating up" period happen yearly; since he started from a less ready point in 2006, the end product just was not as high as usual:

  • Teix Month by Month 2004-2005
  • APR: .265/.349/.500
  • MAY: .274/.352/.521
  • JUN: .289/.364/.578
  • JUL: .263/.351/.574
  • AUG: .326/.398/.569
  • SEP: .297/.406/.603

You can expect Teixeira to meet the most optimistic of those projections, but the chances are just as good that he will outperform them all as well; this is his age-27 season after all.

Mike Jacobs - Florida Marlins
Projection PA AVG OBP SLG
PECOTA 526 .271 .340 .493
Marcel 471 .274 .338 .494
ZiPS 493 .254 .314 .469
Bill James 556 .287 .345 .525
CHONE 529 .272 .331 .481
BTBS 515 .277 .346 .494

Jacobs is a confusing hitter to analyze, because he started out the year poorly, heated up over the summer, and cooled down as the year tailed off. Not just that, but he's an awful hitter at home in Florida (.247/.299/.498) and performs poorly against left-handed pitchers (.194/.242/.312 from 2005-2006). He's solid against right-handers and hits well outside of Miami though--.281/.345/.514 and .276/.348/.451, respectively.

Jacobs' BABIP was .299, but his expected BABIP was .022 points higher than that; that's where his much improved .277/.346/.494 BTBS line comes from, as opposed to his actual of .262/.325/.473. PECOTA and Marcel both expect Jacobs to perform at that level in 2007, and Bill James' projection gives him even more credit, most likely weighing his short but successful 2005 (.310/.375/.710) a bit too heavily. Jacobs is just a bit above average offensively as a first basemen, but southpaws will give him trouble if he doesn't have a capable platoon partner.

Prince Fielder - Milwaukee Brewers
Projection PA AVG OBP SLG
PECOTA 575 .292 .373 .531
Marcel 530 .285 .357 .493
ZiPS 610 .280 .358 .513
Bill James 586 .280 .360 .517
CHONE 602 .277 .364 .500
BTBS 581 .271 .352 .484
PECOTA is the most optimistic, which is somewhat unusual. Every other forecast expects a slight improvement, or basically treading water rather than really improving. As you can see by the BTBS correction for 2006, his BABIP and eBABIP were basically spot on--Fielder's actual line was .271/.347/.483. This will only be his age-23 season, so it's not a surprise that Fielder isn't expected to destroy the National League's pitching just yet, but the consistency of the projections is something to like. Even in PECOTAs range of outcomes, Fielder is consistent. His 25th percentile forecast is .272/.348/.482, which is basically a 2006 redux, while his 75th percentile is .305/.388/.562. The only thing that worries me about Fielder's PECOTA, which again, is the most optimistic of the projections, is that his card's Beta, which measures the level of risk involved in a forecast, is fairly high risk at 1.29 (the lower, the better).

Fielder will, most likely, become a force at the plate, but these forecasts don't seem to think that time is now. Luckily for Brewer fans, he's under team control for the next few years as he approaches his peak, a peak that PECOTA seems optimistic about as well.