Saturday, March 10, 2007

Analyzing Bill James's Red Sox projections, Part 1

Last season, Bill James projected that Kevin Youkilis would bat .278 with 14 homers and 68 RBIs in 149 games in his first full season as a big leaguer.

James, being a calculator-toting nerdling who obviously wouldn't know a baseball if one beaned him in his headgear, was, of course, wrong. Youkilis batted .279 with 13 homers and 72 RBIs in 147 games. The Mind of Bill James, my $#@.

All right, so you've got us: we were just trying to sound like your standard bitter, closed-minded, old-school, stat-mocking, Goodwill-wardrobed baseball writer there. (Our model was Murray Chass, if you must know.) As you probably realize if you've visited this space previously, we unabashadly admire James not only for the pioneering ways he has enhanced baseball analysis, but because he is one hell of a fun writer to read. There aren't too many people who can mesh words and numbers into a compelling package. He can, and you bet I'm glad he's a Red Sox employee.

Of course, that doesn't mean we always agree with his conclusions. For instance, I'm not sure how he can project Trot Nixon to hit 223 career homers, when the calcifying 33-year-old outfielder has just 133 right now and has totaled just 27 over the past three seasons. By my calculations, it would take Trot 10 years to hit the 90 he needs to fulfill James's projection. At the rate he's going, I'm not sure Trot will have all of his limbs a decade from now.

Nevertheless, it all makes for fun debate. And with that in mind, we here at TATB cracked open the 2007 Bill James Handbook that always seems to be within an arm's length, and took a look at James's 2007 stat projections for each relevant member of the Red Sox. Check out the numbers he came up with (and our take on said numbers), and let us know how accurate you think he'll be:

THE LINEUP
Julio Lugo
James's projection: .277-11-55 in 564 at-bats; 25 steals
TATB's take: Alex Gonzalez hit .255 with 9 homers and 50 RBIs in nearly 200 fewer at-bats lats season, and the 2006 season highlight reel is proof that he is just about peerless defensively. In other words, Lugo is going to have to surpass James's projections and play better D than he is known for if Sox fans are going to stop reminding him about his predecessor.

Kevin Youkilis
.283-14-77 in 584 at-bats; 101 runs; .395 OBP
These numbers seem about right for Youkilis, although you'd hope he could avoid another late-season fade and perhaps increase his power in his second season as a regular. Is 20 homers too much to ask?

Papi
.285-47-138 in 601 at-bats
I'm somewhat surprised that he forecasts a 7-homer dropoff given that Papi has increased his home run total each season since 2000 (10-18-20-31-41-47-54). Then again, how much better can the big guy possibly get? Do I hear 60 taters?

Manny
.305-37-118 in 512 at-bats; 1.004 OPS
For all of the kvetching about his quirks, there is no more reliable player in baseball in terms of offensive production. So it is that James predicts another typical Manny season, one that would leave him with 507 homers. I don't know about you, but I'm planning on being in Cooperstown for his Hall of Fame speech a dozen years or so from now. It's worth noting that James pegs Manny to play 140 games, which means 22 days' worth of mind-numbing programming for the Big Show is already preset.

J.D. Drew
.283-24-82 in 499 at-bats
A lot of the stat gurus think Drew will be hindered by Fenway power-wise and is more likely to finish in the high teens in home runs. I'm fine with swapping a few homers for a few doubles. All that really matters is that Drew stays healthy and on the field, because he will produce if he plays.

Mike Lowell
.273-18-77 in 502 at-bats
Given that his bat was as slow as Heather Mills's 40-yard-dash time in the second half last season, I'd take these numbers without a moment's hesitation. At least we know his defense will be stellar.

Jason Varitek
.259-17-69 in 468 at-bats
Ditto what I said for Lowell. I don't doubt that Varitek has the will to bounce back. It's just that 35-year-old catchers coming off knee surgery rarely do.

Coco Crisp
.284-11-54 in 511 at-bats; 23 steals
With good health, ol' Covelli Loyce eclipses these numbers with ease and duplicates the .300-16-69 line he put up in his last season with the Tribe. Let's just hope that finger is finally healed, because at 27, there's still time for him to become a dynamic offensive player.

Dustin Pedroia
.284-10-72 in 619 at-bats; 47 doubles
And with these numbers comes a dilemma: Finding a place for an AL Rookie of the Year Trophy that's bigger than he is.

(Pitchers and other suspects coming up in tomorrow's post.)

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