Each year, after Steamer is published over at FanGraphs, you’ll find an option on each player’s page that allows you to enter projections for that player. You can project any player you want! The aptly named, “Fans Projections” really showcase the spirit of a baseball fan; meaning that the numbers are usually laced in optimism. This starkly contrasts Steamer’s regression-laden computations, and that’s okay - this isn’t meant to be a knock on Steamer or the fans. Steamer is the head and fans are the heart; and sometimes the heart nudges the outcomes for a player’s projections into a more extreme percentile.
Despite having already been dealt a significant blow the first day of pitchers and catchers, I want to stick with the optimistic sentimentality that usually permeates this point in the season, when all team’s records are equal, by creating a roster of players that I think the fans have accurately projected.
For the record (or as fair warning), I do my own projections each year, and that’s what I’ll be citing in declaring my allegiance with the Fans. I follow the distribution of WAR decided upon by Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs, limiting WAR totals to 1,000 with a 60/40 allocation to hitters/pitchers. Thus far I’ve compiled 903 projections for 2017, and as you can probably guess, my projections usually fall between Steamer and the fans, though they lean more towards Steamer. For these eleven players, however, I’m with the fans.
All projections as of 02/17.
Catcher: Tyler Flowers
Why I’m with the Fans: It’s prudent to note up front that there are going to be disparities in playing time projections for most of the players on this list. Flowers’ projections do not present an exception.
The Braves’ depth chart at catcher looks like this:
Kurt Suzuki, for whatever, reason – name recognition? – threatens to take away playing time from Flowers. I was teammates with Kurt at Cal State Fullerton, and he really is a positive, hard-working guy – an absolute joy to have in the clubhouse - but Flowers should be the one getting the lion’s share of the playing time.
As far as the projections, I’m more sold on Flowers’ power.
There’s nothing to not like about his 10th ranked, 94.0 mph exit velocity last year. Furthermore, he hit the third hardest ball in all of 2016, at 118.5 mph. An investigation into several of his fly balls that didn’t clear a fence shows that he could’ve tallied a couple more home runs had he hit these balls in other parks:
|Exit Velocity||Launch Angle||Distance||Result||League HR% on similar batted balls|
It’s not all rosy, of course. Obviously his strikeout to walk profile of 3.14 K/BB is going to cap his triple-slash, but there’s no reason the Braves shouldn’t allow him to play all year.
Honorable mention: Cameron Rupp
First Baseman: C.J. Cron
Why I’m with the fans: Here’s a player I didn’t anticipate writing about at any point this offseason, so I’ll try to keep this brief. Concerning Cron’s playing time, Luis Valbuena will eat up some of the innings at first base, but I think it’s just as likely that Valbuena’s plate appearances are spread throughout the infield, spelling Danny Espinosa and his career 78 wRC+ against rightists at second, and replacing Yunel Escobar and his rapidly deteriorating glove work at third base.
Cron, meanwhile, has logged a 119 wRC+ against righties in his career and also improved his defense to the tune of 4.0 UZR in 818 2⁄3 innings last year. In other words, he is likely the Angels’ best option at first base - an uninspiring and unsurprising fact given what we know about the Angels’ roster.
Like Flowers, Cron does not have much patience, as evidenced by his career 4.6 walk rate. He does however make significantly more, albeit, not as elite, contact. Still, he does exhibit some pop, having managed 16 HR in each season that he’s compiled at least 400 PA.
I’ve decided that the nicest thing I could say about C.J. Cron, the baseball player, is that he has the capacity to perform at or near an average major league level.
Honorable mention: Justin Bour
Second Baseman: Devon Travis
Why I’m with the Fans: Travis is the third consecutive player on this roster with a poor walk rate. His 5.7-percent career walk rate and 19.4-percent strike out rate are probably both out of line with what we expected based on his minor league track record; but man, has he hit.
Over a season’s worth of games spanning the last two seasons, Travis has been worth 4.8 WAR, logging a .301/.342/.469 triple slash on the back of 46 doubles and 19 home runs, all adding up to a 119 wRC+. He does not hit the ball hard, however, and he has been aided by the BABIP fairies. In Tony Blengino’s stellar contact report series, he shows just how lucky Travis was to have posted above average offensive numbers.
I’ve highlighted Travis’ line, but you’ll find his between Jed Lowrie’s (77 wRC+) and Johnny Giavotella’s (80 wRC+). That’s not inspiring. It’s probably why Steamer and I both project an average-ish offensive performance from Toronto’s second sacker.
On the defensive side, he’s been above average per UZR, totaling 3.7 runs in 1369 2/3 innings. Steamer projects him to be a hair below average, -0.2 fielding runs, whereas the fans, 2.0, and myself, 2.6, see him as a plus with the glove.
Health, however, is a concern. He’s already missed time due to shoulder, finger, and knee woes, with the shoulder and knee both requiring surgeries. Perhaps the Fans and I are unjustifiably confident in regards to how often he’ll take the field - but when he does, he’ll provide solid value.
Honorable mention: Logan Forsythe
Third Baseman: Jake Lamb
Why I’m with the fans: Through July 17 last year, Lamb was utterly smoldering, slashing .302/.380/.635 (158 wRC+)! He then went hitless in five games and was given a rest for a bruise he suffered to his left hand.
From July 19 on, Lamb hobbled his way to a .176/.266/.338 (54 wRC+) line. His exit velocity during that span was 90.3 compared to 93.8 through the first 3 and a half months. Something tells me that left hand suffered more than a bruise.
None of Steamer, Fans, or me thinks he’ll be as horrendous at third base as he was last year, but really, the expected range of outcomes here is broad. After tallying a 12.9 UZR/150 in 2015, Lamb did a 180 and basically gave it all back, posting a -12.3 in 2016. Looking at his Inside Edge fielding stats does not exactly paint a pretty picture.
But back to his bat. Lamb is yet another name on a rapidly multiplying list of players who retooled their swings to create more loft. He is also the latest among a recent crop of D-Backs that have exceeded scouts’ expectations; following in the footsteps of my favorite player, Paul Goldschmidt, as well as Adam Eaton, A.J. Pollock, David Peralta, and Ender Inciarte. If Lamb can be an average defender, he’ll have a great 2017.
Honorable mention: Yangervis Solarte
Shortstop: Marcus Semien
Why I’m with the Fans: The variance in Semien’s projections stem from his defense. While Steamer doesn’t know how hard Semien worked with Ron Washington to improve his fielding, the Fans and I are swayed by that kind of work ethic and his 2016 defensive numbers. The Fans are predicting he improves again and I’m saying he gives a little bit back.
On the offensive side of things, there is a lot that he’s improved on since reaching the bigs. He’s decreased his IFFB rate each year; his line drive rate is due for some positive regression; and last year he really learned how to tap into his pull power.
|AVG distance||AVG FB distance||AVG pull FB distance||FB/LD exit velocity|
And while a couple extra stolen bases won’t affect Semien’s WAR total all that much, it’s also possible he runs more. He’s logged a solid 74.3 percent success rate thus far over 35 attempts, and it’s not impossible that Rajai Davis mentors him on the running game.
After all, on average, every team that Rajai Davis has joined dating back to 2008 has seen an uptick in their stolen base attempts from all non-Rajai players of 40 percent. Sort of a speed begets speed theory.
Honorable mention: Dansby Swanson
Left Field: Ryan Braun
Why I’m with the Fans: Braun’s 2016 line looks almost identical to his career triple slash.
He’s just an awesome hitter. In his worst season, a nagging thumb ligament injury hampered his production to a 113 wRC+; so the 117 wRC+ Steamer is projecting seems a little on the low side. Having said that, looking through his numbers will produce some cynical conclusions.
Though he does indeed wallop the ball in the air, he was clearly fortunate to produce a career best 28.8-percent HR/FB rate. Furthermore, while he still runs well, if his ground ball rate continues to sit in the 55-percent range like it did in 2016, that could chip away at his BABIP as he slows down more.
On defense last year he was back in left field after spending the majority of 2014-15 in right. It served him well as he was just 3.3 runs worse than an average left fielder, whereas he was over seven runs worse as a right fielder.
He’s not the defender he once was, and the cringe-worthy, “urinary pack detraction” really tarnished his image; so at 33 years old, he rightfully takes a back seat to other, legitimate star outfielders. But make no mistake; Ryan Braun is still going to be really good.
I’m also interested to see if the Brewers can move the left fielder for any sort of return this year.
Honorable mention: Adam Duvall
Center Fielder: Adam Eaton
Why I’m with the fans: In 2016, Adam Eaton’s defense was tops among all right fielders per FanGraphs’ UZR metric. The Nationals are betting this will translate to quality defense in center field, despite his career -8.7 UZR/150 there. The Fans certainly seem to think it will, pegging Eaton for 6.0 Fielding runs there. Steamer is not so hopeful, predicting a -4.6 mark. I split the difference, coming up with -0.3.
However, over the last three seasons, he’s been worth, on average, 4.3 WAR. Even in 2015, when he ranked 21 out of 23 in center field UZR, he posted a 3.7 WAR thanks to a 119 wRC+ and fantastic base running.
Steamer prophesies a slight downturn in Eaton’s offense across the board, dropping his wRC+ from 115 to 106. Eaton’s been a solid source of OBP, increasing his walk rate in three consecutive seasons, and has also shown an increased proclivity to wear a fastball between his numbers (once every 49.8 PA in 2015-16). Steamer knocks down his 2016 walk rate from 8.9 to 8.1 and thinks he’ll get hit once every 65.6 plate appearances.
Furthermore, Nationals Park isn’t as hitter-friendly as Guaranteed Rate Field, so Steamer forecasts a 20 point drop in ISO. Eaton’s logged a .144 ISO in each of the past two seasons, largely in part to being the league’s preeminent triples hitter.
The more I look at the projections, the more I side with Steamer, but Eaton has proven himself to be so above average at every facet of the game that it’d be tough to drag his total value down to 2.6 fWAR.
Right Fielder: J.D. Martinez
Why I’m with the fans: J.D. Martinez is the owner of the 13th best wRC+ among all qualified hitters over the last 3 years, with a 143 mark. He’s above Kris Bryant and below Giancarlo Stanton. Steamer pegs him for a 119 wRC+, which is still good! From 2014-16, that’s Chris Davis, Hanley Ramirez, Jonathan Lucroy, Corey Dickerson territory; but I’m taking the over.
Like Lamb, Martinez’s defense has hit some peaks and valleys in recent years, and while his elbow isn’t likely to hinder his offensive performance in 2017, it might affect his play in right field.
Martinez probably won’t become a plus base runner at 29, so at this point he can probably only be counted on for his bat; but what a potent bat it is.
Honorable mention: Stephen Piscotty
Designated Hitter: Nelson Cruz
Why I’m with the fans: I know Cruz is going to be 37 in July, but old guys have been playing pretty well recently. To wit: in 2016, no one hit the ball harder than Nelson Cruz. He was the only player in American professional baseball whose average exit velocity on all batted-ball types was more than two standard deviations above the mean.
|Batted Ball Type||Exit Velocity||Rank||Standard Deviation above mean|
|Fly balls & Line Drives||99.2||2||2.4|
Point being, the dude just obliterates baseballs.
Honorary mention: Edwin Encarnacion
Starting Pitcher (RHP): Marcus Stroman
Why I’m with the fans: Here’s Stroman’s 2016 broken up into two, 16 start seasons:
|First 16 starts||101 1/3||10||5.33||1.42||4.03||9.2||6.31||2.75|
|Second 16 starts||102 2/3||11||3.42||1.16||3.3||17.1||8.33||2.02|
This wasn’t luck related either; it was a conscious effort to throw a different pitch mix:
|First 16 starts||58.8||11.1||11.3||11.0||7.8|
|Second 16 starts||56.2||18.3||13.5||9.2||2.8|
You probably already guessed from that table that his most whiff-inducing pitch is his slider. He relied on it 64.9 percent more often in the second half and his strikeouts went up. Funny how that works.
What’s more, those second half results look a lot like the numbers from his stellar rookie season.
Stroman is 5’-8” and it’s possible Steamer worries about his durability, but Stroman claims that his knee is now back to feeling 100 percent - though I’m not sure if that means it wasn’t 100-percent during 2016 - and that he’s ready for another big workload.
Because he’s equipped with an arsenal of ground ball and whiff inducing pitches, I’m siding with the Fans. His new breaking ball-heavy approach also reminds one of the next pitcher.
Starting Pitcher (LHP): Rich Hill
Rich Hill’s story is both well-documented and truly amazing. His tribulations have not solely been baseball related, and his perseverance provides a remedy for perspective. In a way he really is the embodiment of the Fans’ spirit; There’s no way he could be where he is if he hadn’t possessed the perfect blend of optimism and delusion that can only be brought about from having nothing left to lose.
If that sounds like a reach, I hope this helps to bring it home for you; For as far back as I can remember, my dad generally spoke with confidence about the Cubs’ capacity for victory - sometimes, in a manner that reflected an alternate reality. Up until these past two seasons, however, that was an attitude that could only be spawned of that distinctive blend of optimism and delusion.
Now I don’t think he actually believed that the 2012 roster (61 wins) looked all that great - although when I asked him to comment on the roster in retrospect, he read through the names and exclaimed, “Ooh! Not bad! Is that 2008?” (98 wins) - but my point is that his comments, whether steeped in real optimism or feigned, didn’t hurt any one.
And that’s why I find the Fans projections so fun; they’re a little reckless because they can be. They border on laughably optimistic because they’re impassioned. And sometimes, I even agree with them.
|POS||PLAYER||Steamer WAR||Fans WAR||Me WAR|