The Bill James Handbook 2009 - Part Two
Last week, in Part One of The Bill James Handbook 2009, we reviewed four chapters: Team Efficiency Summary, Baserunners, 21st Century Bullpen, and Young Talent Inventory. We had previously covered the Fielding Bible Awards and Plus/Minus Leaders in a separate post.
In Part Two, we will examine Manufactured Runs, Manager's Record, Hitter and Pitcher Projections, and Career Targets (including Pitchers on Course for 300 Wins). Bill James wrote introductory comments or short essays for each of these sections.
Starting at the top, James tells us that the Minnesota Twins "manufactured 213 runs—the most of any major league team—while allowing only 139 manufactured runs, one of the lowest totals in the majors. The Twins outscored their opponents by only 28 runs on the season, but by 74 manufactured runs."
According to James, a manufactured run is: "Any run on which two or more of the bases come from something other than playing station-to-station baseball or a run that scores without a hit, or with only infield hits. If two or more of the four bases come from infield hits, moving up on a ground ball, moving up on a fly ball, stolen base, bunt, wild pitch, passed ball, anything like that . . . that's a manufactured run."
These are a few of the things we learn from studying these Manufactured Run charts:
James studies managers to identify tendencies or as he says: "We're trying to pollute the discussion of managers with actual facts." However, "the facts only become meaningful when there are standards, and the standards are slow to come into focus . . . We're trying to establish the standards. It's a slow process, but we think we're gaining a little traction."
In the hitter projections, James offers up that "we were inexplicably dense about Josh Hamilton and Carlos Quentin" although, in his defense, "both of these players were traded after we printed the projections." His biggest mistake was underestimating their playing time. "I don't know why in the world we project young studs to play 110 or 115 games," while citing Geovany Soto as another example. "We would have had a killer projection for Soto, except that we projected him to play in only 110 games."
Like everyone else, James also came up well short on projecting Ryan Ludwick's breakout year. "I don't suppose anyone saw that one coming . . . if anyone did see it coming, he doesn't work for us." As far as Andruw Jones goes, James says, "man, that has to be the worst projection we have ever published. From now on, we will refer to the inexplicable loss of all ability in mid-career as 'pulling an Andruw on us.' He was one of my favorite players, too."
One of the interesting things about doing projections is that we're actually more accurate in projecting young players than we are in projecting older players. One might think, intuitively, that it would be the opposite: that after players had been around a few years, we would have enough information to project them more accurately. But actually, while there is a problem with young players because it's hard to guess how much playing time they're going to get, there is a bigger problem with older players because they get hurt more and their production becomes unreliable.
James lists 25 rookies and first-year regulars (Rick Ankiel, Erick Aybar, Jeff Baker, Brian Buscher, Asdrubal Cabrera, Alberto Callaspo, Alexi Casilla, Jeff Clement, Elijah Dukes, Jacoby Ellsbury, Yunel Escobar, Jesus Flores, Chris Iannetta, Adam Jones, Fred Lewis, Evan Longoria, Lastings Milledge, Nyjer Morgan, David Murphy, Skip Schumaker, Soto, Ian Stewart, Kurt Suzuki, Justin Upton, and Joey Votto) that he didn't miss "too badly on." He was too optimistic on Jay Bruce (.308 AVG, .602 SLG with 36 HR projected vs. .254/.453/21 actual), Chase Headley (.310/.522/18 vs. .269/.420/9), and Daric Barton (.274/.423/10 vs. .226/.348/9).
Lastly, with respect to Brandon Wood falling short of the projected playing time: "We weren't really trying to say that Brandon Wood would play 122 games and bat almost 400 times, because we don't have any control of that, and we don't really have any way of knowing how much he will play. What we are really trying to say is that if he gets a chance to play, that's what we expect him to hit. If he doesn't get a chance to play, well . . . that's not my department."
We are not seers, psychics, prophets or geniuses; we just predict that players will mostly continue to do what they have done in the past. And we're pretty much right most of the time.
Regarding pitcher projections, James admits missing badly on Cliff Lee (didn't we all?), Gavin Floyd (17-8, 3.84 actual vs. 4-9, 5.87 projected), Joe Saunders (17-7, 3.41 vs. 8-9, 4.05), and Mike Mussina (20-9, 3.37 vs. 11-7, 3.74). He also missed in the other direction on Barry Zito (10-17, 5.15 vs. 12-12, 3.74) "but at least we didn't pay him $100 million." His best projections involved Scott Olsen (nailed the 8-11 won-loss mark) and the counting stats for Ben Sheets, Derek Lowe, Roy Oswalt, David Bush, Sean Green, Paul Byrd, Jose Valverde, and Tim Wakefield.
We had very good projections for Mike Hampton, Yusmeiro Petit, Tyler Yates, Renyel Pinto, Saul Rivera, Jack Taschner, LaTroy Hawkins, and others too humorous to mention. A blind pig will find an acorn if he hangs out under the oak tree. Our strategy is to hang out under the oak tree and see what falls on our heads.
In a section entitled "Career Targets," James gives Derek Jeter a 93% chance of getting 3,000 hits. He puts Alex Rodriguez's likelihood at 89%. Vladimir Guerrero (53%) is the only other player with a greater than 50% possibility. I was surprised to learn that Albert Pujols, with 1,531 hits at the conclusion of his age 28 season, has just a 38% shot. The 2003 NL batting champion has averaged 191 hits for his first eight seasons and had fewer than 185 only once. I realize that Pujols could get hurt, but he seems like a good bet to age well. As such, I would be inclined to wager 3:2 on him reaching 3,000.
With 295 wins, Randy Johnson has an 86% chance of notching 300 according to James' system, which focuses on a pitcher's age, what he calls "established win level" and momentum. James believes that the Big Unit is "poised to reach 300 in 2009." Prior to his retirement, Mussina was given a 47% shot at winning 300. The Yankees righthander "stunned the baseball world with his first 20-win season" at the age of 39 but has decided to hang 'em up 30 victories short of the magic mark. Jamie Moyer, "who is too old to be taken seriously as a 300-win candidate but doesn't seem to know it," has been given a 25% chance while Johan Santana (24%) and Brandon Webb (23%) are the only other pitchers with a better than one-in-five shot at 300.
We will cover the 2008 Leader Boards with a focus on some of the more esoteric categories tomorrow in the third of our three-part series on The Bill James Handbook.