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Behind the Numbers: Spring Predictions Gone Wrong

David Regan

David Regan

David Regan is a five-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, and was named the 2010 Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year.

Look at any site's projections and you're going to find some that were wildly off in either direction and several that were nearly spot-on. Our system here at RotoWire is far from perfect, as we look at things you all look at as well - recent performance, prior year second half, underlying ratios, offseason team news, etc. Take all that, apply human judgment, and you get projections that for the most part, we're proud of. Here, though, we'll take a look at 19 players who we were way off on, and one player (Dan Haren) who we have right so far, but who looks headed in the wrong direction. There is still time for these players to make us look smarter than the writeups below would have you think, but all in all, we missed the boat on these and others. I'll explain why I think that was and what to expect the rest of the way.

Aaron Hill (2B-ARI)
Projection: .286-18-68
YTD: .239-6-43

Hill takes the midseason award for most disappointing second baseman, as he no longer has last year's hand injury as an excuse for his declining performance. After 2012's 26 home runs, Hill's power has dropped dramatically the last couple seasons, and for this, the Diamondbacks owe Hill $12 million in 2016 before he drops off the books. With guys like Chris Owings, Nick Ahmet and Didi Gregorious, Arizona has youth and talent up the middle, so at some point the organization might need to look at benching the veteran Hill despite the bloated contract. In addition to the power outage, Hill's walk rate has plummeted this year to 4.3 percent from last year's 8.0 percent. This looks to be a lost year, so cut bait assuming you haven't already.

Billy Butler (1B-KC)
Projection: .297-20-93
YTD: .266-2-34

Butler has yet to log a game at a "position" other than DH so far this season, so headed into 2015 we have a guy who doesn't play the field and who has two home runs in 319 at-bats in July. Butler did hit .313 with nine doubles in June, but had just one homer last month. From 2011-2013, Butler homered once every 19.8 at-bats, but he's yet to go deep against them this year. So no power and a .266 average? Not exactly DH material. With rumors of friction between Butler and management, the only way this is likely to turn around is in another organization. A trade this month would be of little surprise, so if you're a Butler owner, that's your best-case scenario.

Chris Davis (1B-BAL)
Projection: .265-40-107
YTD: .201-14-44

Davis still has a shot at 30-100, which wouldn't be too far off our projections, but the average is obviously well below expectations. A year-over-year decline in Davis' BABIP from .343 to .256 is a big part of the .201 mark, as there is nothing alarming in Davis' batted ball data and his walk rate is actually up this year - 13.1 percent vs. last year's 10.7 percent. Davis has fanned in 31 percent of his plate appearances, so he's not going to be much more than a .250 hitter, so consider that my projection for his second half. Guess here is he finishes at .225-32-105.

Evan Longoria (3B-TB)
Projection: .282-35-99
YTD: .263-11-40

Longoria has homered five times over his last 30 days, so the power output appears to have picked up, but he's certainly not paid off for anyone who invested a top-25 draft pick. Longoria had put up at least a .229 ISO in each of the last three years, but that mark has dropped to just .135 this season. That's Billy Hamilton territory, as the Reds' speedster has a .130 mark himself. Longoria is a .273 career hitter, so the average isn't too far off. The only question relates to his power output. He's seen his strikeout rate actually improve to 18.8 percent this year, so we're not worried about the average dropping further, leaving his second-half power output the only question. I think he'll be lucky to finish with 25 homers, so figure something like .270-24-82, leaving Longoria a 2014 disappointment.



J.J. Hardy (SS-BAL)
Projection: .248-22-67
YTD: .288-3-26

Hardy's first 2014 home run didn't come until June 21, and he has three now, so perhaps he's back to his 20-homer swing. A .340 BABIP and career-low 3.9 BB% have Hardy at risk for a serious second-half batting average decline, but that may very well come with more power than he's shown in the first half. Hardy is batting .268 with three homers over the last 30 days, so that may be a good second-half approximation. Figure final numbers in this range: .275-11-55.

Josh Reddick (OF-OAK)
Projection: .247-26-81
YTD: .229-4-24

There looks to be a great chance that 2012's 32 home runs is going to be Reddick's career season. He dropped to 12 in 114 games last year, and now a knee injury has limited Reddick to just 179 at-bats this season. Even when in the lineup, however, Reddick has continued to show less of an ability to hit southpaws (.155/.234/.190), and his walk rate has regressed from 10.4 to 8.2 percent since last year. At 27, Reddick is supposed to be right in his prime, so once he's back in the lineup (likely about July 30), it's possible that the skills that led us to forecast the above line are still there. Assuming he's healthy, Reddick should be good for .245-12-37 or so in the second half.

Ryan Zimmerman (3B-WAS)
Projection: .278-23-79, 605 at-bats
YTD: .270-3-25, 159 at-bats

Zimmerman gets the injury-prone label, but even so, he averaged 146 games the last two seasons, so we were expecting a bit more in the health department here. Even so, Zimmerman has homered just once every 53 at-bats compared to last year's 22. At this point, concluding that a chronically sore shoulder appears to have finally sapped Zimmerman's power to the point where it's tough to count on more than 15 homers from him, and that's in a full season by the way. So what to expect in the second half? Not a clue. Zimmerman headed into last September with just 15 homers and similar shoulder concerns but proceeded to blast 11 long balls in the season's final month. Maybe a similar binge is in store this season, as his 9.5 BB% and 17.9 K% compare quite favorably to his career totals. Batting in the .270-.280 range the rest of the way appears to be his floor, and as for the home runs? Figure maybe 10 more the rest of the way.

Miguel Cabrera (3B-DET)
Projection: .341-42-132
YTD: .308-14-68

At 31, Cabrera still has plenty of good baseball left in him, but 2014 could very well represent Year 1 in a steady decline. Cabrera's last sub-30 homer season was 2006, and his .367 OBP would be his lowest mark in six years. A 9.0 BB% is well below his 11.1 percent career mark and even further off last year's 13.8 percent. One would have thought the move across the diamond would have lessened the physical burden on Cabrera and led to MORE offense, but perhaps in some way it's messed with his psyche. Of course, it's ridiculous to be talking about a guy with a .902 OPS this way, but Cabrera's numbers the last couple years have been ridiculous. This year they're just great. Cabrera already has 32 doubles compared to last season's 26, so some of those could turn into home runs in the heat of summer. He's probably good for .320-18-60 the rest of the way.

Dustin Pedroia (2B-BOS)
Projection: .300-13-70, 20 SB
YTD: .280-4-32, 2 SB

Pedroia's OPS had already dropped nearly 100 points the last two seasons off 2011's .861 mark, and there's been a further drop this year - to .732. He's still drawing a fair amount of walks (9.8 BB%), so most of the decline has been in the power department. Since posting a .205 ISO in 2010, it's been a steady decline since - all the way to .102 this season. We thought Pedroia's power would rebound a little given last year's 42 doubles, but that's not happening and to compound the problem, he's not running. At this point, Pedroia is barely a top-10 second baseman after being at or near the top of our rankings in past seasons. Pedroia had 10 hits in his first six games this month, so seeing him bat .300 the rest of the way would not be surprising. The power? Don't expect more than a handful of long balls the rest of the way - perhaps five or six.

Michael Bourn (OF-CLE)
Projection: .272-5-46, 32 SB
YTD: .267-3-21, 7 SB

The average and power numbers are in line with expectations, but after dropping from 61 to 42 to 23 stolen bases the last couple years, we had Bourn projected at 32 for this season. The reasoning was that Bourn missed 32 games and had a .316 OBP in 2013, so with improved health and a year adjusting to AL pitching, we thought the 31 year-old would turn things back around after posting a .340-plus OBP in each of the previous four seasons. We were wrong. Bourn has seen his plate discipline erode further (6.5 BB%) and now that he's 31, it appears we were overly optimistic on the stolen bases. Bourn's four-year $48 million contract runs through the 2016 season, and it's already gotten ugly. Hard to see much of a turnaround coming in the second half, especially now that he's our for three-to-four weeks with a hamstring injury.

Justin Verlander (SP-DET)
Projection: 3.03 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 2.8 BB/9
YTD: 4.71 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 6.9 K/9, 3.3 BB/9

Verlander pitched three straight quality starts (19 innings, 20:2 K:BB) before giving up five runs in six innings Tuesday. Verlander's velocity peaked in 2009 with a 95.6 mph average fastball, but he's lost 3 mph over the last five years. That goes a long way in explaining the declining strikeout rate, but his control also regressed last year, and we didn't build more regression into this year's forecast, but it happened nonetheless. Verlander has already had his career years, but at 31, he's far from "done." The recent strong results can continue as he evolves as a pitcher, and a second half with an ERA in the low 3.00s and a K/9 more in the 8.5 range is doable.

Danny Salazar (SP-CLE)
Projection: 3.41 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 8.8 K/9
YTD: 5.53 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 10.4 K/9

Salazar lasted eight starts before being optioned to Triple-A in mid-May with a 5.53 ERA. He may be closing in on a return, though, as in his last four starts covering 24.1 innings, Salazar has posted an impressive 34:8 K:BB. With the likes of Trevor Bauer and T.J. House far from entrenched at the back end of the rotation, Salazar could get a look shortly after the All-Star break. He spent some time on the minor league DL with a strained right triceps, so assuming he's 100 percent healthy now, that may be the primary factor in his poor numbers. This is a solid second half sleeper, but jump now before the competition does.

Justin Masterson (SP-CLE)
Projection: t3.90 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 7.9 K/9, 3.5 BB/9
YTD: 5.51 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 5.1 BB/9

Perhaps we now have a reason for Masterson's struggles (notice a theme yet with the pitchers?), as he was placed on the DL this week with knee inflammation. Masterson hasn't had much luck on balls in play, as his .353 BABIP is more than 40 points higher than his .311 career mark. He's also continuing to generate a ton of ground balls with a 3.0 GB/FB ratio, and Masterson's 4.15 FIP suggests he's in line for a turnaround. With a fastball averaging just 89 mph (about 3 mph off his recent totals), it seems to reason that not being able to fully push off a sore knee could be a mitigating factor. Watch the velocity when he returns, and cross your fingers surgery isn't required.

Mike Minor (SP-ATL)
Projection: 3.36 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 7.8 K/9, 2.2 BB/9
YTD: 4.54 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 2.7 BB/9

Two main problems here:

A 1.6 HR/9 - far too many home runs allowed.

Lefties - They are batting .343 against him.

I've watched a couple Minor starts and he was simply leaving too many pitches out over the plate (goes for RH hitters too) instead of busting lefties inside. This should be correctable. Minor's velocity is fine, but he has allowed at least one home run in each of his last six starts, and with his control eroding slightly, that's why you have the inflated ERA. Minor, though, is a smart guy along the lines of a Tom Glavine (no, he's not that good ... don't hurt me), so I'd expect that he'll figure things out after watching tape over the break.

Matt Cain (SP-SF)
Projection: 3.37 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 7.9 K/9p, 2.6 BB/9, 13 wins
YTD: 4.27 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 7.0 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, ONE WIN

Cain allowed just two runs over his last two starts entering Wednesday's start, though his 10:5 K:BB in those 13.1 innings is rather underwhelming. We can't completely blame him for the 1-7 record, as the Giants have struggled to score runs this year, but Cain has scuffled at times himself. A hamstring injury set him back a bit this year, but the rest over the break should do wonders, and considering he still has his normal velocity, I'd expect a nice second-half rebound - ERA in the mid-to-high 3.00s with a K/9 more in the 7.5-8.0 range.

Dan Haren (SP-LAD)
Projection: 4.06 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, p7.6 K/9, 1.7 BB/9
YTD: 4.06 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 6.4 K/9, 1.6 BB/9

I thought I'd throw one accurate prediction in here. Haren is why the Dodgers have been connected to David Price. He's sporting a 4.94 ERA in his last 12 starts, as the declining fastball is catching up to the veteran. If you watch nearly as much Dodger baseball as I do, you were concerned even when Haren had a 2.39 ERA after six starts, as the fastball seemed to have little life, and though he locates well for the most part, when you're throwing in the mid-80s, you will have stretches like this (right Joe Saunders?). Expect the ERA to continue to climb in the second half, and be like me - don't own Haren outside of NL-only formats.

Travis Wood (SP-CHC)
Projection: 3.62 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 3.0 BB/9
YTD: 4.62 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 3.9 BB/9

I typically shy away from soft-tossing lefties, and Wood is no exception. Wood's 3.11 ERA a year ago was clearly a mirage, as his FIP that season was 4.04 thanks to a so-so 6.5 K/9. We hedged and said Wood would be near the midpoint of last year's ERA and 2012's 4.27, but it appears his lack of "blow you away" stuff has caught up to him. He's still going to be an effective No. 5 starter for a few years, but 2013's ERA will likely be his high water mark.

Joe Nathan (RP-DET)
Projection: 2.21 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 40 saves
YTD: 5.97 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 17 saves

Wow, a 39 year-old closer falling off the cliff? Who would have thought? Seriously, though, this isn't exactly a huge surprise, as the ageless Mariano Rivera was one of a kind. Nathan is being destroyed by left-handed hitters to the tune of a .324 BA and his 3.7 BB/9 is by far the worst control he's shown in recent memory. His velocity is down, he's getting pitches up, and at some point, his job is going to be in jeopardy, if it's not already. It's likely that Joba Chamberlain would be next up should Nathan need to be replaced, which is possible.

Sergio Romo (RP-SF)
Projection: 2.21 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 35 saves
YTD: 5.35 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 22 saves

Romo's 7.5 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 are steps back from his last couple years, but those still aren't bad ratios. What is bad is a 1.9 HR/9, a number that's a direct result of Romo being incapable of locating his slider as he has in recent years. His velocity and control are still there however, so some time working on mechanics should do wonders. Santiago Casilla is the Giants' closer for now, but expect Romo to get his job back sometime in the next couple weeks at the outside.

Grant Balfour (RP-TB)
Projection: 2.25 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 34 saves
YTD: 5.08 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 11 saves

Balfour has allowed just one run in his last 7.1 innings, so perhaps he's on his way back to being a reliable closer. He's walked just three batters in his last 10 innings to lower a still-ugly BB/9 to 6.2, a mark that got him into trouble this year in the first place. Balfour did record a save on July 1 for his first save since June 11, but Jake McGee and even Juan Carlos Oviedo aren't to be ruled out next time the Rays have a save opportunity. Still, Balfour appears to have figured some things out, so I'd expect a second half more in line with a 3.00 ERA and 15 saves.