Some Notes on the OLIVER Batting Projections

Maybe for Jon Kabat-Zinn and his cadre of ubercalm friends, living in the present moment represents the greatest of goods. Indeed, speaking as someone who’s legitimately jealous of his own life, I can see the merits which lie therein.

However, I also know that, literally, one of life’s greatest joys — and, listen, people, I’m not effing around for even one second when I say this — is the joy derived from poring over pre-season baseball projections.

The whys and wherefores of this joy are a matter I’ve discussed in these pages with noted projectacators Sean Smith and Beloved Pole Dan Szymborski, so I’ll refrain from offering any poorly formed theories here.

Still, it makes sense to note that recent developments in the field add to the sense that projections are headed somewhere. Here I’m thinking specifically of the aforementioned Smith’s entrance into to the Mysterious Innards of Major League Baseball; of Tango’s continued attempts to assess the accuracy of projections via the annual Forecasters Challenge; of the Fan Projection project here at the site and its relative (if not rousing) success in Tango’s competition.

While I possess nothing like Tango’s facility with measuring the quality of projections, it’s totally within my skill set to provide idle commentary on some surprising individual cases.

In this post, I’d like to do that exact thing — with OLIVER’s batting projections, specifically.

The OLIVER system comes to us via the talent of Brian Cartwright and is hosted by The Hardball Times. It’s notable for a number of reasons, as follow:

1. It costs money.
Specifically, $14.95.

2. The interface is excellent.
It’s possible to filter by level, for example, which is helpful for identifying minor-league talent.

3. It projects players in terms of WAR.
And includes fielding projections.

4. It’s super extensive.
There are projections for over 2,500 batters. That seems like a lot.

5. There’s also a customizable fantasy guide.
To determine dollar values for auction leagues, for example.

I’m aware that the above sounds more or less like an advertisement. This isn’t my intention. And note, please, that I’m not qualified to speak to the accuracy of the projections (in particular, because OLIVER wasn’t one of the contestants in last year’s Challenge). If I’m enthusiastic, said enthusiam derives from (a) my natural excitement about the field of projection (for which the reader should adjust, if possible) and (b) THT’s presentation of the OLIVER projections, specifically.

Getting to the batting projections themselves, here are three notable items.

Regarding the Value of Catchers
Catchers are ranked way high by OLIVER — higher than I’d have thought. Joe Mauer‘s second overall, with a 6.1 WAR; Carlos Santana‘s 12th (4.5 WAR); Brian McCann‘s 13th (also at 4.5); Buster Posey‘s 17th (at 4.1); Jesus Montero‘s ranked as a catcher and is 26th (3.5); Matt Wieters (also 3.5) is right behind him. Tyler Flowers and Robinson Chirinos aren’t far behind, either.

That’s six catchers among the top-27 position players, and nine in the top 50.

There are four (or probably more) possible explanations for this:

1. We’re in a pretty excellent period for catchers.

2. Catchers who can hit are more valuable than we might assume.

3. The OLIVER projections for catchers are optimistic.

4. The OLIVER positional adjustments for catchers are high.

Again, I’m not qualified to comment with any depth on these matters.

Regarding the Value of Fielding
OLIVER appears to be quite aggressive with regards to projecting runs afield, which range from +30.4 runs (Atlanta prospect Andrelton Simmons) to -23.3 runs (Colorado’s Chris Nelson, rated as a shortstop).

By comparison, our current Fan projections — with 251 hitters projected — feature a range between +15.0 (Carl Crawford) and -12.0 (Andre Ethier). Shockingly, Andrelton Simmons has not met the requisite minimum votes.

The result of such aggressive fielding projections is that quite a few players with underwhelming offensive skills rate as major league-caliber players. Simmons, Jordy Mercer, Peter Bourjos, Drew Stubbs, Colin Curtis, Brandon Crawford, Cliff Pennington, and Zack Cozart all qualify as basically average-or-better major leaguers, mostly on the strength of their defensive numbers.

A Kinda, Sorta Prospect List
In terms purely of projected 2011 WAR, here’s your top-10 prospect list:

1. Jesus Montero, C, NYA
2. Robinson Chirinos, C, TBA
3. Derek Norris, C, WAS
4. Andrelton Simmons, SS, ATL
5. Mike Moustakas, 3B, KCA
6. Zack Cozart, SS, CIN
7. Jason Kipnis, 2B, CLE
8. William Myers, C, KCA
9. Matt Young, OF, ATL
10. Zelous Wheeler, SS, MIL

New Minnesota shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka’s projected 3.3 WAR would place him second on this list.

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