Thursday, January 18, 2007

Every year, Baseball Prospectus comes out with their annual PECOTA projections, which estimate what every major league baseball player will do in the coming year. They're more than estimations, really; year after year, PECOTA is by far the best projection system out there. I thought I'd take a lot at a few of their Astros projections, and analyze what I think of them.

In alphabetical order, here are the Astros hitters with their position, age, BA / OBP / SLG lines and then their VORP (Value Over Replacement Player):

Brad Ausmus, C, 38: .227 / .296 / .294, -5.7

It'd be funny if it weren't so sad. We're paying something like $3 million for this? Oh, and just for giggles, PECOTA doesn't even give him a defensive advantage anymore, rating Ausmus's defense as a "0", which is exactly average.

Lance Berkman, 1B, 31: .308 / .421 / .573, 57.8

Sweet. Fat Elvis is still solid. That 57.8 VORP is one of the highest in the NL (well behind Albert Pujols's massive 81.4, though)

Craig Biggio, 2B, 41: .256 / .322 / .413, 6.8

That OPS projections of .735 actually isn't terrible, but PECOTA doesn't like Biggio's defense (it rates him as a -4) much. Hopefully Craig gets to 3,000 quickly so it doesn't get ugly if we start playing Mark Loretta often.

Chris Burke, CF, 27: .278 / .348 / .452, 19.6

Sweet! I'll take that line, which puts Burke at exactly an .800 OPS. PECOTA isn't really sure what to think of Burke at CF; neither am I. We'll just have to hope for the best.

Brooks Conrad, 2B, 27: .274 / .345 / .493, 29.2

The "Free Brooks Conrad" campaign continues, with nothing to show for it. Conrad is an excellent offensive prospect - he led his league in extra base hits last year, which isn't too shabby for a 2nd baseman. Chase Utley is one of his top comparables. And none of it matters, because he's behind Biggio, Loretta, AND Burke at 2nd. Hopefully that will be down to just Chris Burke by 2008. Sadly, it looks like Conrad will join a list of Astros hitting prospects that the Astros promoted too slowly and didn't reach the majors until their upper 20's (Ensberg, Lane, Burke). PECOTA even likes his defense, giving him a +3 rating at 2B. One more time: FREE BROOKS CONRAD!

Morgan Ensberg, 3B, 31: .263 / .374 / .484, 27.3

That .374 OBP sure would look nice at the top of the order, wouldn't it? PECOTA likes his defense (+2). I'm really glad we've held on to Ensberg - he's a big offensive and defensive upgrade over a Lamb / Loretta platoon, both of whom should get plenty of AB's anyway.

Adam Everett, SS, 30: .255 / .302 / .385, 6.6

Hard to believe Everett is 30 years old - he still looks about 17. He's still got that defense (+5), but I hope we don't view him as a long long-term solution at SS. I can only take so much of that offense. A Chris Burke / Brooks Conrad combination would be pretty sweet in 2009.

Mike Lamb, 1B/3B, 31: .275 / .338 / .461, 11.2

That's just fine for a backup corner infielder - emphasis on backup. Lamb just doesn't have the complete package to be a starting corner infielder in the majors. That's not meant to be a huge putdown - he's still valuable. PECOTA doesn't mind his defense as much as I do (0).

Jason Lane, RF, 30: .249 / .331 / .475, 8.9

Poor Lane. He ups his walk rate and power numbers last year, but because he hits around .200 for most of the year, people say he had a terrible year. Batting average is notoriously inconsistent. He's been jerked around a bunch by the Astros, including wasting in the majors for a couple of years when he should have been brought up much earlier (see Conrad, Brooks for more of this). He'd make a fine RF platoon with Luke Scott / 4th outfielder, but instead we signed washed-up Richard Hidalgo, who will probably get the job, while Lane gets screwed. I hope we at least get some value back if we trade him.

Carlos Lee, LF, 31: .296 / .359 / .530, 36.6

Pretty good, but not GREAT. People are talking about Lee bashing 40 HR with 130 RBI - even batting behind Berkman, I don't know about that. He's solid and doesn't miss much time, but an .889 OPS isn't extraordinary for a corner OF and his defense is pretty bad (PECOTA: -5). Not worth $100 million, but we do need offense.

Mark Loretta, 2B, 35: .276 / .341 / .388, 12.7

I guess his power outage last year is for real. Loretta's OPS is actually lower than Biggio's, although is superior OBP and defense should help him get some playing time. I'm pretty disappointed by this projection, to tell the truth (I was hoping for .280 / .360 / .400, maybe), but 35 year old 2nd basemen don't normally rebound (right, Ray Durham?....oops.)

Hunter Pence, RF, 24: .278 / .338 / .489, 21.1

That's a good projection for a 24-year old RF, but, kind of like Carlos Lee, not a great one. Pence isn't going to be a superstar, but he should be an above-average RF / CF for maybe 5 years. PECOTA likes his defense (+3), so maybe he can play CF next year. He needs to be starting in the majors full-time by 2008, if not before.

Humberto Quintero, C, 27: .263 / .304 / .397, 5.0

That's not a spectacular line, but it's still 100 points of OPS higher than Brad Ausmus, and Quintero can actually play defense, as opposed to just having a good defensive reputation (PECOTA - +7!!). He's got a great throwing arm, and although he doesn't walk much, doesn't a .400 SLG from a catcher sound nice? If he's not starting over Ausmus in the 2nd half of the season, I'll be shocked and disappointed. There'd be nothing wrong with Quintero as our starting catcher for a few years.

Luke Scott, RF, 29: .270 / .353 / .495, 22.1

Nice! PECOTA doesn't think Scott's 2006 was a total fluke, and if he puts up that line, he'll make a great addition to the Ensberg / Berkman / Lee offensive core. PECOTA doesn't really care for his defense (-1), so a defensive outfield of Lee / Burke / Scott will certainly be an adventure. Throw groundballs, pitchers.

Ok, that's all the major offensive players. Taking all of that into account, let's take a look at our projected 2007 lineup (or at least what I'd like it to be), with their OBP / SLG:

Chris Burke, CF: .348 / .452
Morgan Ensberg: .374 / .484
Lance Berkman: .421 / .573
Carlos Lee: .359 / .530
Luke Scott / Jason Lane: .353 / .495 (.331 / .475)
Craig Biggio/ Mark Loretta: .322 / .413 (.341 / .388)
Adam Everett: .302 / .385
Brad Ausmus / Humberto Quintero: .296 / .294 (.304 / .397)

Those #1 - #5 spots are actually pretty good, huh? Ending with Biggio / Everett / Ausmus hurts a lot, unfortunately. But what are you going to do? Hopefully play Loretta and Quintero often, since they're both good players and to keep Biggio / Ausmus fresh. Next time, I'll look at what PECOTA thinks of our pitchers. Sneak peek: they really don't like Woody Williams.

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