Friday, March 31, 2017

How Will These Yankees Overperform and Underperform Their Projections?

In this transition year from the Elderly Empire to the Baby Bombers, most of us are just hoping the Yankees are still playing meaningful games in the last week of the regular season. They're part of a group of about 18 teams with a shot at a wild-card slot if more things break right than wrong. That adds a little more meaning to this annual tradition of picking which players will overperform and underperform. Below are my predictions of the Yankees that will defy their Steamer projections, for better and worse.

Last April, I successfully forecasted that Didi Gregorius (2.3 Projected WAR, 2.7 Actual WAR) and Dellin Betances (1.4 Projected, 2.9 Actual) would overperform, and that Brian McCann (2.9 Projected, 1.3 Actual) would underperform. My only miss was picking CC Sabathia (1.6 Projected, 2.6 Actual) to underperform in a season in which he actually enjoyed a decent bounce-back. As fans, let's hope I'm right about the overperformers and wrong about the underperformers in 2017.

All projections based on the Steamer system, which is neatly displayed on Fangraphs. Yankees Steamer projections are found here. (Some proof that Steamer is fallible: The system projects the retired Mark Teixeira to log one at-bat this season.)

Players Who Will Overperform Their Projections

Player: Starlin Castro

Projected WAR: 1.2
Why Steamer is Pessimistic: Castro's performance has never caught up with the potential he hinted at early in his career with the Cubs. The computers can't see his lack of plate discipline and frustrating streakiness, but they can crunch the numbers. The result is an ugly on-base percentage projection of .306, which would actually represent a slight improvement over last year's figure. Even with solid power production, Castro's WAR wouldn't be able to overcome an OBP that low.

Why You Shouldn't Trust the Damn Projection: I still believe in Starlin! I'll admit that this is the most subjective of my projections. I'm the guy that once compared Castro to Alfonso Soriano, so you probably shouldn't trust me here. Still, at just 27 years old, Castro might have a glimmer of stardom left.


Player: Dellin Betances
Projected WAR: 1.7
Why Steamer is Pessimistic: In reacting to recent success, the computer is much more cautious than human beings. In addition, Steamer factors in an additional penalty for relievers since performance out of the bullpen tends to fluctuate from year to year. For a reliever, a projected WAR of 1.7 is actually very high. Steamer's crystal ball has Betances tied with Andrew Miller for the highest WAR, ahead of stalwarts like Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Zach Britton. However...

Why You Shouldn't Trust the Damn Projection: ...since heading out to the Yankees' bullpen in 2014, Betances has been consistently dominant. And since I'm a creature with eyes, I have seen the towering righty constantly make opposing hitters cower like Upham from Saving Private Ryan. For the third year in a row, I'll make him my best bet to overperform. I wish Vegas offered an over-under bet on this projection, which would probably be the second-best wager of this baseball season.

The only way I can see Betances coming up short is if he sustains a serious injury. Knock on some Ron Jeremy-sized wood that he doesn't.

Players Who Will Underperform Their Projections

Player: Gary Sanchez

Projected WAR: 3.6
Why Steamer is Optimistic: The computer liked the aging McCann last year; on the flip side, this year it might be overrating the young Sanchez. The catcher had one of the most blistering hot streaks we've ever seen during the second half of last year. The computer doesn't even take Sanchez's scorching spring into account, and it still arrived at this bullish projection.

Why You Shouldn't Trust the Damn Projection: I picked El Gary as the team's MVP last season, so I'm definitely not down on him. But this projection pegs him as the second-best catcher in the game, behind only future Hall of Famer Buster Posey. While Castro was my fun subjective projection, this tempered take is my biggest attempt to remain objective about my favorite team. I just think the toll of Sanchez's first full season might catch up to him by the end of it. Catching is really tough. Just look at what the huge workload does to Salvador Perez's splits. This prediction is just a tap of the brakes on the Sanchez Express. I still expect him to be very good, if not quite as amazing. Even so, I really hope I'm wrong.


Player: CC Sabathia

Projected WAR: 1.8
Why Steamer is Optimistic: Sabathia was so good for so many years, and the projection systems have a long memory. Steamer does factor in the time CC has missed due to injury over the past few seasons, but the system doesn't know about his precipitous drop in velocity or his, um, worrisome body type.

Why You Shouldn't Trust the Damn Projection: Just like with Betances, let's run this one back. CC was a valuable member of this franchise, and I'll always be grateful to him. But he hasn't been CC since he led the league in strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2012. The computers remember all the great years he had before that, and so do I. I also watched Sabathia's shaky second half last year, and I'm weighting it more than Steamer is.


Why These Predictions Don't Matter: Because it's time to throw objectivity out the window for seven months and cheer like a maniac for the Yankees. I'll revisit these projections in November. Until then, let's be optimistic about every guy wearing pinstripes. Happy Opening Day, everyone!

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Follow Francis Tolan on Twitter @frantweet12

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