Earlier this week, ACTA Sports sent me a preview of the hitter projections from 2010's Bill James Handbook. Obviously, it's still really early, but I found some of the projections interesting, so I thought I'd pass them along to you.
Let's start with your likely leadoff hitter for the 2010 Brewers:
It's probably worth noting that even Bill James, who tends to be relatively optimistic, doesn't project Weeks to play a full season in 2009 (he has him at 114 games). Even so, these numbers are probably a little optimistic. The .259 average is a slight drop from 2009, but the .357 OBP is actually 17 points higher. Weeks was off to a hot start slugging in 2009, posting a .517 slugging percentage, but this .449 projection would be easily the second highest of his career.
Other potential second basemen:
While James has Lopez playing a full season, he projects to be less productive, losing 55 OPS points to Weeks. This line for Counsell looks fair, although the Brewers are likely in trouble if they actually need him for 342 ABs.
Follow the jump for lots more projections!
Both because he could feasibly bat #2 and because he's possibly the most interesting projection:
If Escobar can put up this kind of season and still play the level of defense we've come to expect from him, I'll be overjoyed. James also projects him to steal 42 bases in 54 attempts, adding roughly 18 bases to his value. The walk total may look low, but it's actually a bit optimistic: Escobar only averaged 23.3 walks per season over six years in the minors. Escobar's primary source of value will almost certainly always be his glove, but if he can put up a .700 OPS in the majors then he'll be a significantly above average contributor at short.
The other option, of course, is J.J. Hardy:
This isn't as strong of a bounce back as I was expecting to see. Certainly, Hardy adds a little bit of power over Escobar, but his OBP is actually a little lower, and his base-stealing ability is completely negligible (James projects Hardy to go 1-for-1 stealing bases). These numbers are roughly the midpoint between Hardy's very good 2008 season and extremely disappointing 2009.
Moving on, I think it's pretty safe to assume Ryan Braun will be batting third and playing left field on Opening Day, unless Anthony Witrado is promoted to GM:
Those are MVP-quality numbers if ever I've seen them. Braun projects to be an elite player again next season, and if the award doesn't go to Albert Pujols (projected to go .333/.443/.642 with 44 home runs), Braun might have to be considered the frontrunner. These numbers would set new career highs in slugging, RBI, doubles and home runs, while tying a career low in strikeouts.
And, unless something changes before spring, Prince Fielder will likely be hitting behind Braun:
With these numbers, Fielder would still be one of the National League's premier hitters, but his production would actually decline a bit from 2009's numbers in all three slash stats, RBI, home runs and walks. Fielder won't turn 26 until May, so it seems strange to project him to decline, even slightly. With that said, he'll still be one of the NL's elite hitters.
The way things stack up at present, the leading candidate to bat fifth and play third base is likely Casey McGehee:
Like many of us, James expects McGehee to come back down to Earth a little, but these projections still have him as a solid-to-slightly above average third baseman. All three slash lines are significant steps down from the .301/.360/.499 numbers he put up in 2009.
The other option, of course, is some guy the Brewers have on the end of the bench:
These projections, especially the OBP, seem a little high, but Gamel projects to outperform McGehee in nearly every way en route to a .818 OPS. This is yet another piece of evidence to be used in the argument that the Brewers should sell high on McGehee to make room for Gamel in the lineup.
(I know at least a few of you would probably like to see a projection for Adam Heether here, but he doesn't appear in James' projections. Sorry.)
Until told otherwise, I'm going to continue to assume Mike Cameron will return to play center field and bat sixth:
These numbers aren't the best argument for opening the checkbook to keep him around. Clearly, James is expecting age to catch up with Cameron, who would lose 13 points in average, 14 in OBP, 24 in slugging, and strike out over 170 times for just the second time in his 16 year career. These numbers still aren't terrible, and combined with good defense Cameron is still likely an above average center fielder. But, with that said, paying anything like his $10 million 2009 salary for performance at this level is a questionable decision.
Dropping all the way to the seventh spot in the lineup in right field, here's Corey Hart:
This would actually be a pretty nice bounce-back season for Hart, with his highest batting average, slugging percentage and run total since 2007. Entering his age 28 season, it's possible Hart will never be the player we all thought he might be after hitting .295/.353/.539 three years ago, but these numbers would be acceptable for a corner outfielder.
While we're on the subject, here are the projections for some other outfielders on the Brewer roster:
I'm not sure either of these stat lines suggest either of these guys should play everyday, but they project to be solid fourth and fifth outfielders next season, and if it won't cost too much to do so, I'd be fine with bringing both back. Thankfully, there's no projection for Corey Patterson.
I'm preparing myself for disappointment by operating under the assumption that Jason Kendall will continue to catch and tie up the eighth spot in the batting order again next season.
I'm not sure what James is smoking here, because even this lackluster projection seems a little too high. In two seasons as a Brewer, Kendall has hit ..244/.329/.315, and I'm not sure he can even repeat that at age 36, much less improve upon all three numbers. Kendall is likely getting the benefit of the doubt based on an extensive major league career, but recent evidence would suggest he's sliding downhill, not mounting a comeback. I'm not sure where one finds the data to support even a small offensive resurgence from a weak-hitting 36 year old catcher.
Interestingly enough, James' projections don't have Mike Rivera, but they do have Angel Salome:
This is much higher than I would have projected Salome, who I think might be the third best of the three internal options to replace Kendall next season (Sadly, Jonathan Lucroy is also not projected). With that said, Salome is projected to out-OPS Kendall by 129 points. Remember what it was like when the Brewers had a catcher that wasn't an offensive black hole? Me either. I'd love to see what that's like.
So, what do you think of these projections?