It’s the most wonderful time of the year! That’s right, it is time for the hardcore fans who visit this site to show they can do better than some dumb computer program and project what players will do in 2011. The projection targets offered for your consideration this afternoon are three outfielders facing different sorts of questions going into the next season: the Tigers’ Austin Jackson, the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp, and the Orioles’ Nick Markakis.
Detroit center fielder Austin Jackson was the main piece the Yankees sent to Detroit as part of the trade that saw fan favorite Curtis Granderson depart Motor City. Jackson’s major league debut went well, as he displayed something between good (UZR) and great (DRS) defense while providing more offense (.333 wOBA, .293/.345/.400 with 27 steals) than some expected. A young player like Austin with a short major league track-record particularly calls for the opinions of informed fans: which defensive figure is closer to his true talent, or are they both off the rails? Was his .396 average on balls in play lucky, or is something like that figure repeatable for him given his speed? Will he develop more power, or will he be a speed-and-defense guy?
In 2009 Matt Kemp looked like he had finally become a star, and apparently started dating accordingly. His 2010 was notably low on awesomeness. He plummeted from his five win 2009 all the way down to a Francoeur-ian 0.4. While much of that was that he was merely average as a hitter in 2010, the more disturbing statistics were defensive: UZR saw him as moving from average-ish in previous seasons to more than two wins below average in 2010, and DRS wasn’t much more affirmative. Hopefully, we the fans can add some insight onto whether or not Kemp’s hitting skills have changed in a way that isn’t easily detected by stats (most of his peripherals stayed basically the same except for his BABIP, which was by far the lowest of his career), and also whether or not he can handle center field. Kemp will only be 26 to start the 2011 season.
Nick Markakis was one of the most valuable outfielders in baseball in 2008, impressing in all aspects of his game: hitting for average, getting on base, above-average power, good range, and a nice arm. He was rewarded with a big, fat contract extension. In the two seasons. In the two seasons since signing that contract, however, Markakis has been just barely better than average according to FanGraphs’ WAR. Offensively, his power has taken a dip, as has his walk rate. Both UZR and DRS record his defensive range as declining relative to average. Markakis isn’t the only young (he just turned 27 in November) Oriole to disappoint the last couple of seasons, but he is the one with the biggest contract — indeed, who thought it would be iffy whether or not he would barely be “earning” the money at this point? Not me. I’m guessing there are a variety of strong opinions on Markakis out there, so let’s see how they are reflected in the fan balloting.