Prince Fielder trusted his agent and waited, and waited, and waited. It paid off as the Tigers signed him to the 4th largest deal in the history of baseball. Will he continue to have success in Detroit? At this time of year everyone talks about projections. I'll give my thoughts on why I think number projections are a shell game that no one really has the answer to. I'll also touch on two relatively minor signings – Bartolo Colon to the A's and Wilson Betemit to the Orioles – and tell you which one has the potential to be a more significant move for the 2012 season.
Fielder Fattens Wallet
No one in the world, no matter what their profession is, can lay claim to being better at their job than Scott Boras. While everyone was thinking Rangers or Nationals as the most likely landing spot for Prince Fielder, Boras pulled the Tigers out of his hat like a magician extricating a rabbit from a top hat. Smarting from the loss of Victor Martinez (ACL injury – likely done for the year), the Tigers signed Fielder to the fourth largest contract in the history of baseball (9-years, $214 million). That's right. A team no one in the world was even mentioning as a possible landing spot for Fielder spent more than $200 million to add the left-handed swinging power hitter to the mix. I told you that Boras was as good at his job as any person in the world.
What did the Tigers get in Fielder? They got the second best hitter on the market this offseason behind Albert Pujols. Since 2007, here is how Fielder ranks amongst all big league hitters.
Second in homers (200)
Fifth in RBI (565)
Seventh in OBP (.399)
Fourth in SLG (.553)
Fourth in OPS (.951)
Clearly Fielder is a destructive force at the dish. Moreover, since 2007 the worst numbers that Prince has put up were his .261-32-83 line from 2010. Those are still solid marks that could help a club, even if they will not be tolerated given his massive new deal. Breaking down the five year marks I listed above we're looking at an “average” Fielder season leading to 40 homers, 113 RBI and 97 runs scored, not to mention that .951 OPS. Fielder and Miguel Cabrera should be the best lefty-righty duo in baseball in 2012, and they have the chance to be the most productive twosome in the game regardless of the side of the dish that they swing from.
Fielder will hit home runs wherever he plays, he's not one of these guys that hits 342 foot dingers – he blasts them into the cheap seats. It does deserve mentioning though that the move from Milwaukee to Detroit isn't going to help him when it comes to hitting the ball into the seats.
The last six years Fielder has averaged 20 homers a year at home. Since 2000 when Comerica opened, they most homers ever hit by a left-handed batter is 14 by Carlos Pena in the the 2005 season.
Over the past three years Miller Park in Milwaukee, according to Park Indices, has been the second easiest park for left-handed batters to go deep in (16 percent easier than the average NL park). As for Comerica in Detroit, that park is just 10th in the AL (11 percent more difficult than the average AL park). Again, I don't see this issue as a major one, it's not like Fielder is going to struggle to hit 30 homers, but it's fair to wonder if his homer ceiling will be 40 and not 50 given his new home ball yard.
The problem with adding Fielder is that he can only play one position – first base. Though there is a sentiment out there that he has improved on defense, the truth of the matter is that he is about as poor a first baseman as there is in the game. The Tigers former full-time first baseman, Miguel Cabrera, will have to be shifted to make room for Fielder. Both will likely see a bit of time at DH, but as we have seen with many hitters in the past (Adam Dunn is a perfect example last season), simply putting a slugger at DH doesn't always work as some players struggle to stay 'in the game' when they are sitting in the dugout half the time. Both Fielder and Cabrera will also see some time at first base. However, the big news is that the Tigers seem at least semi-serious about asking Cabrera to play third base on a full-time basis in 2012. Cabrera, who came to the big leagues a a third sacker, last player the position full-time in 2007 when he committed a terrible 23 errors. The Tigers may have week corner infield defense with Fielder and Cabrera at first and third, but oh will their offense be spectacular.
Another ancillary issue here is that the injury to Martinez, and the fact that one of these big boppers will suit up as the DH on occasion, might mean that Alex Avila won't see as many days as the DH as the team hoped for. With deft managing this shouldn't be too much of an issue, but it is certainly something to think about if Cabrera doesn't prove himself capable of playing third base on a consistent basis.
I never project players. That statement isn't quite accurate. Of course I project players each spring, but what I don't do is to project numbers for players. You might be asking yourself – 'but Oracle, why wouldn't you share your knowledge with us?' Why don't I? There are many reasons. Here are but a few.
1- Projections are a total shot in the dark.
I think many of you would be surprised at just how much guesswork goes into projections. To be truthful, it's often a group of guys sitting around a table and just saying 'ah, give him 18 home runs.' It's nowhere near as scientific as some people think.
2- Projections aren't very accurate.
Ron Shandler over at BaseballHQ, has done some exhaustive studies looking at projections and their accuracy. Turns out that even the best projections are 70 percent right. Seventy percent. If you're in school and you are a 70 percent student they are warming up a seat for you on the short bus. Let's use a couple of real world examples to illustrate.
Torii Hunter projection: .270-20-75-75-10
There are multiple ways to look at this. If this projection is 70 percent right Hunter could hit .270-14-53-53-7. Would that be considered a “good” projection? Hell no it wouldn't. What if it was 70 percent accurate in the other direction? By that I mean, what if Hunter went .270-26-98-98-13. You'd obviously be happy as hell if those are the numbers you received from Hunter, but the projection would still be 30 percent off only it would be in a direction that favored you if you rostered Hunter. That's a pretty big margin is it not?
Let's take two even even simpler examples.
Let's say the projection calls for Mike Stanton to hit 35 homers.
A 70 percent range of accuracy means that Stanton could hit anywhere from 25 and 46 homers. Really? Think about that for a second. He could be an utter disappointment or he could lead the league in homers, there's really that much possible variation. Even if we assume he'll hit 40 homers, that's roughly one homer ever four games over roughly 16 at-bats. What if he hits a homer every 19 at-bats? That's still a strong number, but the extra three at-bats per homer, less than a games worth of at-bats mind you, would lead to 34 homers. When dealing with small numbers like home runs, predictive accuracy is elusive.
Let's say the projection is for Michael Young to hit .304.
If we project that Young will receive 625 at-bats that would equate to 190 hits leaidng to a .304 batting average. Given a season of 26 weeks, that's roughly 7.3 hits a week. What if over the course of the season he averages 7.0 hits a week? That would make our prediction of 7.3 hits only off by 0.3, a pretty spot on prediction wouldn't you say? Problem is, but the end of the season, that 0.3 hit loss per week, over the 26 week season, would equate to eight fewer hits. Again, that seems like we did a pretty good job, doesn't it? However, 182 hits in 625 at-bats would drop Young's average from .304 down to .291. That was losing just a single hit every three weeks. Statistically speaking a .291 average would be a “win” in terms of projection, but would people who drafted Young expecting him to hit .304 be happy if he hit .291? Probably not.
Moreover, a rolling 3-year average is about as likely to give you an accurate prediction as some well thought out computer model. That's kind of scary isn't it? We simply have no way of knowing about injuries, playing time consideration, coaches decisions, random variance, off the field issues (family problems etc.), ever be able to give any projection with certitude.
So this little digression should suffice as to why I don't give actual number projections for players. In the end what does it matter if I think Stanton will hit 32, 36 or 39 home runs in 2012? As long as you know that I think he will be a better power hitter than Adam Lind that should suffice, shouldn't it?
Wilson Betemit – DH for Orioles?
The Orioles plan to roll with Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis at the corner infield spots this season, and with Luke Scott taking his bat to Tampa, the Orioles needed to add another bat to lengthen their lineup. They've done that by signing Wilson Betemit to a 2-year deal worth $3.25 million to serve as their primary designated hitter. It's a low cost signing to be sure. The question though is it also a low upside signing?
Betemit has jumped around from team to team like he was searching for his lost parents. Still, he has been productive at multiple stops along the way including the last two seasons in which he has been an effective performer at the dish. Over the course of 599 at-bats the last two seasons, Betemit has hit .290 with 21 homers, 89 RBI, 76 runs scores and posted an OPS of .838. Those numbers are nearly identical to the line that Billy Butler posted last season for the Royals: .291-19-95-74 with a .822 OPS in 597 ABs. So why is it that Butler will cost upwards of $20 on draft day whereas Betemit will likely go in the single digits? Good question isn't it?
One negative with Betemit is that he has always been a big of a drag on an offense when facing left-handed pitching. Take a look at his career splits.
vs. lefties: .246/.299/.385 with a homer every 33.2 ABs
vs. righties: .277/.348/.469 with a homer every 26.2 ABs
Even if he is benched against some lefties, he'll still be on the field the majority of the time given that he has always had more success against righties.
I wouldn't draft Betemit ahead of Butler, and to be honest I wouldn't bet on him producing numbers that are similar. At the same time Betemit is one of those players you can add on draft day on the cheap that could offer a very nice return on your investment.
Bartolo Colon to the Athletics
Bartolo Colon signed a 1-year, $2 million deal with the A's a year after he earned $900,000 pitching in pinstripes. The operating assumption is that the A's will hope that Colon performs well in the first half of the season and then they will be able to parlay him into some chips at the trade deadline. Given the rather minimal investment financially in Colon that seems like a fair risk to take. At the same time there are some huge concerns with Colon (that's why he was available for the A's to sign on the cheap).
39 years old in May, Colon underwent that new medical procedure outside of the States to help his arm, and help it did. In the first half he posted a 3.20 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 7.9 K/9 rate in the first half. However, he was a different pitcher as the innings piled up going 2-6 with a 4.96 ERA, 1.47 WHIP and 6.9 K/9 mark over his last 14 starts. Given his age, his second half slide, and the fact that he has thrown 100-innings just one time since 2005 (he tossed 164.1 last year), I'd side with those teams that passed on Colon this offseason. Do yourself a favor and grab a spot on our yacht, you don't want to be on the Titanic when it hits that iceberg.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87. You can find more of his baseball writings at BaseballGuys.com and you can follow his minute by minute musings at the BaseballGuys' Twitter Page.
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