The Good Shapers: How Did They Perform?

Last year, as spring training began to ramp up, we got the annual collection of articles about players reporting to camp in “the best shape of their lives”. While it’s a phrase so overused that it is easy to mock, I figured it would be worthwhile to catalog the players who were noted to have worked hard over the off-season, giving us the chance to look back and see if we can spot any performance differences from guys in the group. Thus, “The Good Shapers” post was born. Today, we fulfill the second half of the purpose, and look back at whether these guys actually performed better than expected.

We’re going to start with the hitters today, since evaluating their results is pretty straight forward. There are fewer environmental factors to consider, and we can essentially look at their pre-season projections and their final batting line without worrying about too many biases or noise in the data. For this task, we’re using the 2010 Marcel projections. On to the results.

We’re looking at 17 position players who had some kind of “best shape of his life” cliche tossed their way in February of last year. The list runs the gamut of player types, but, thankfully, most of these guys are full-time players, so we have a decent sample size for most of the players in the pool.

Of the 17, eight players beat their Marcel projected wOBA. Here are the numbers.

Andruw Jones – projected .306; actual .364
Miguel Cabrera – projected .387; actual .429
Geovany Soto – projected .350; actual .387
Corey Hart – projected .340; actual .369
Delmon Young – projected .326; actual .352
Nick Swisher – projected .353; actual .377
David Ortiz – projected .366; actual .380
Matt Stairs – projected .331; actual .336

And here are the nine who did not meet their projected wOBA.

Kyle Blanks – projected .360; actual .281
Aaron Rowand – projected .334; actual .287
Russell Martin – projected .343; actual .306
Yadier Molina – projected .330; actual .299
David Wright – projected .383; actual .364
Nick Markakis – .projected .366; actual .353
Martin Prado – projected .356; actual .352
David Freese – projected .343; actual .341
Brian McCann – projected .362; actual .361

With nine players on the under and eight players on the over, it might be easy to conclude that – as we all suspect – these reports generally don’t mean anything. But we have to make a few adjustments: Prado, Freese, and McCann basically hit their projections dead on the nose, so while they’re technically under the number, it is by such a small number that they can’t seriously be lumped into the same category as the likes of Blanks and Rowand. At the least, we should give those guys their own category (and probably add Stairs to it as well), which would give us seven guys who beat their wOBA projections, six guys who did not, and four who essentially hit it on the mark.

Beyond that, we also have to account for the fact that offense took a league-wide downturn in 2010 that the Marcel Projections weren’t expecting. The average wOBA for the 843 batters that received Marcel projections was .329, and even that number understates the expectation, as a lot of non-major league players are included in that average. In reality, the guys who were just under their projections were more valuable than Marcel expected, because they put up those similar results in a lower run environment than projected.

If we move all of the borderline guys into the winner’s side of things to account for the run environment changes, that gives the good shapers 11 wins and six losses against the projection. Not a bad showing, honestly. The overall projected wOBA for this group was .353, four points lower than the .357 mark that they actually hit last year. Another small win for the good shape crowd.

But we’d actually expect a weighted average to come out on the high side, as the guys who are beating their projections would be allowed to remain in the line-up (and rack up plate appearances) while the guys who were under-performing would see their playing time reduced. This is essentially what happened, as Delmon Young and Corey Hart beat their playing time estimates by over 100 plate appearances apiece while Aaron Rowand was moved into a back-up role during the season and fell 200 plate appearances short of his projection.

So, what can we conclude from the position player side of “The Best Shape Of Their Lives” group? It’s just one season of 17 different players, so it is nothing like an exhaustive study, but there doesn’t appear to be strong evidence that it is a significant predictor of a strong season on the way. These guys did slightly better than expected, but the overall bump was small, and it almost entirely disappears if you remove Miguel Cabrera’s sobriety from the sample. While we can point to guys like Delmon Young, who almost certainly did benefit from losing 40 pounds and getting in better shape, hitting the gym doesn’t appear to be much of a predictor of a breakout year. It probably doesn’t hurt to exercise a lot over the winter, but there’s not a lot of evidence that these guys benefited significantly from their changes in physiques. If it helped, it was a minor change more than any kind of career resurrection.

Those are just the hitters, of course. What about the pitchers? We’ll tackle them later in the week.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Ben Duronio
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Ben Duronio
5 years 8 months ago

Wouldn’t overall value numbers and amount of plate appearances or games played perhaps help be a better indicator of whether their good shape helped their performance? Avoiding injuries and being able to get through the rigors of a long season may be more a reason to get in great shape than rate stat improvements.

TheUnrepentantGunner
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TheUnrepentantGunner
5 years 8 months ago

what’s interesting is that i think in some limited cases it could make a differene. if a player is clearly overweight and clearly has an unacceptable bodfat percentage, losing some of that weight and converting more of it into muscle can’t HURT, but could possibly help.

somehow though a guy like aaron rowand didnt exactly look like kung fu panda to me.

i think the other factor here is age. almost to a tee the top younger guys are all sub 30 years old (the top 5 are) while the big losers seem to be spread out

if youve survived in the game for 10 yeras you were probably in enough shape to play it. if youre prodigiously talented but were heretofore squandering tha talent: (see miggy) then it might help, and at least wont hurt?

The Duder
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The Duder
5 years 8 months ago

Yea, it would be interesting to see some more qualitative grading applied here. Like, throw out some guys who didn’t really change their bodies a whole lot from year to year. But overall, great idea for an article. Funny stuff.

Joeiq
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Joeiq
5 years 8 months ago

Wright was overprojected if you ask me. And since he had a concussion at the end of the year, I really don’t think he could possibly be in the best shape of his life. His decrease in pitch recognition is probably a result of the concussion.

Blanks, Freese I also don’t think can be counted because they are too new and can’t accurately be projected. Stairs is just a PH so shouldn’t count.

In general only people who were in less than ideal shape in prior years should be considered. I’m also suspicious of some of these best shape claims.

Overall I would reduce the negative list to Roland, Markakis, Molina, Martin and the plus side to
Jones, Cabrera, Hart, Soto, Young, swisher, ortiz.

And maybe Prado and McCann on the positive list too.

My take is that it can make a difference, you have to use your human intuition to pick the winners.

Travis
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Travis
5 years 8 months ago

I understand what you did, but in doing so you reduced the experiment to one that’s very subjective. Removing players because you don’t like the definition for inclusion removes any rigor that existed.

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
5 years 8 months ago

This seems simply to me.

In order to win the “Comeback player of the year” award, you have to either be injured or awful the year before.

Those stats are going to drop your projected value for the upcoming year. So, all you have to do to “over-perform” is to return to your previous performance. All you have to do is “perform as expected” is to perform slightly less than you did before the injury or down year.

So, it would seem to make some sense that the majority of the “best shape” guys would perform at or above expectations just simply due to “regression to the mean”, right?

I think the cliche part of it is that the “best shape of their life” may be true and my be not … like we’ve been recording what shape a player is in for each ST they attend.

We have to be able to prove that they actually were in the best shape of their life before we can attribute their rebound to it. The rebound, as I have hopefully illustrated, could just be due to the natural bounceback from a down season the year before.

MikeB22
Member
MikeB22
5 years 8 months ago

I would think the projections take into account all things (including the likelihood of a bounce-back year). The projects don’t assume last year’s numbers to continue, of course.

Take Markakis for instance: projected .366 wOBA, but came in at .353. But the .353 was above last year’s .349. Also look at David Ortiz. Last year he had a .340 wOBA, but was projected at .366 (still hit .380); not too bad of a projection for a skill-declining 35 year old DH.

Mr Punch
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Mr Punch
5 years 8 months ago

If I understand TUR and CC11 correctly, I’m with the former. Guys who are “in the best shape of their careers” have had careers; they’re going to tend to be older players who realize that they face decline unless they shape up (this is much more true today than it was a generation ago, I’d guess). Now, this ought to work in many cases – but “working” is defined as temporarily halting or slowing a pattern of decline, perhaps returning to the level of two years before at best.

While comparison to projections that take account of aging addresses the issue in principle, there are enough moving parts here that I’d think we’d need a great deal of evidence to reach conclusions that are more than vaguely suggestive.

Jimbo
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Jimbo
5 years 8 months ago

“I think the cliche part of it is that the “best shape of their life” may be true and my be not … like we’ve been recording what shape a player is in for each ST they attend.”

If I recall, the whole point was to shed light on the cliche. Since we often hear “BSOTL” tossed around, the question was whether or not that was material.

Couple things for Dave:
1. How difficult would it be to compare this 17 to a random group of 17 ‘peers’? Then perhaps the overall wOBA (.357 vs .353) would have more context as good/bad/average.
2. Even if it doesn’t point to a pending breakout, if it CAN predict who is more likely to simply meet their projections then I’d say it could still be something meaningful to take note of in ST.

BlackSwan
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BlackSwan
5 years 8 months ago

How about running a statistical test that would determine the phi correlation coefficient for “good shape” vs. “beat projected wOBA.” I don’t think it’s too much to ask for such a test on a sabermetrics site. It beats the alternative–waving a wand and saying that “it feels significant to me.”

evo34
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evo34
4 years 7 months ago

That, or recognize that a subjectively-generated sample of 17 players is going to tell you jack…

Xave
Guest
5 years 8 months ago

The problem is we have no measurement to separate degrees of BSOTF. Are they in the “best shape of their life” or merely “slightly better shape than last year”? I’m waiting for the day when we have BODY F/X installed in each player throughout the off-season. Then, we can get some real analysis done.

Jason B
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Jason B
5 years 8 months ago

Good point – I think when writers use gushing terms like “best shape of their life” it really is “slightly better shape than last year”. Hyperbole moves papers and gets page views!

Scott Boras
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Scott Boras
5 years 8 months ago

Hyperbole nothin’! A-Rod may hit 1100 homers by the time he’s done.

anonymous
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anonymous
5 years 8 months ago

I know he wasn’t included in the original post, but I swear Aubrey Huff was said to be in the best shape of his life last spring. That could sort of be a win for the good shapers..

Jack Nugent
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5 years 8 months ago

Tyler Colvin is another name I was gonna throw out. Obviously, last year was his rookie year, so we didn’t have anything to go off of in 2010, and the talk surrounding him had more to do with adding muscle and strength, rather than losing a bunch of weight, but he’s another guy who was getting a lot of attention because of his offseason work regimen who beat his preseason projections by a mile.

durs836
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durs836
5 years 8 months ago

I was thinking the same thing.

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
5 years 8 months ago

Let’s face it, “Best shape of their life” almost always seems to mean “lost a decent amount of weight”, with the other times meaning “doesn’t seem to have nagging injuries”.

It’s rarely, “wow, the 36 year old looks 32.”

Plus, the player is coming off of a “down year” … otherwise it loses its significance. If the player dominated while being in lesser shape, then who cares?

For example, Pujols could have an MVP year in 2011. That off-season he could lose 15 pounds, and be in absolutely fantastic physical condition. You wouldn’t hear coming into 2012, “Pujols is in the best shape of his life”

———————————–

I still thinks it’s mostly due to the natural “normalization” of stats following a downish year for established players.

fergie348
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fergie348
5 years 8 months ago

The two top underperformers on you list, Blanks and Rowand, had bad numbers not because they were in bad shape but because each had massive holes in their swings that could easily be exploited by pitchers. From what I saw:

Blanks. Long swing, easy to tie up with inside fastballs.
Rowand. Short swing but no ability to identify spin, easy to get swinging over breaking balls down and away.

Neither adjusted to what was being done to them, so they ended up with very poor offensive numbers. In short, though in good shape neither one can actually hit major league pitching..

jmr
Member
jmr
5 years 8 months ago

I’m concerned about using projections like Marcel to test this, or at least, using them the way they are used here. I think we need to compute the average over- or under-projection (probably weighted by PA) and then compare the over- or under-projection for the BSOTL players to see how it compares to average. I think Dave did this a bit by categorizing and shifting based on the difference between expected and actual run environment but it would be good to see how off Marcel (and others) were off across the board.

Dave wrote “Did Corey Hart play more than expected because he was in better shape or, more likely, because he was having a career year at the plate?” Well, isn’t it meaningful if we find BSOTL players that have career years? If it’s balanced out by a number of BSOTL players that have bad years and don’t get their expected playing time then point taken, of course.

DrBGiantsfan
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5 years 8 months ago

Not sure if the exact phrase was used, but there was significant discussion about Aubrey Huff getting himself into better shape before last season. The visual results were obvious and he had a stellar season on the field.

wat
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wat
5 years 8 months ago

Yeah I thought he would be on here too.

zak
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zak
5 years 8 months ago

just a random point Delmon looked like he had put the wait all back on by the all star break it was a short lived best shape of his life lol.

Will Hatheway
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Will Hatheway
5 years 8 months ago

I’m a recovering addict/alcoholic and really, really happy to see Cabrera’s improvements (especially in day games). I partially picked him up in most of my fantasy leagues because of his (then) recent disclosure, and boy oh boy he did it. Good for him.

Scott
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Scott
5 years 7 months ago

Why not use hypothesis testing to analyze the chance that this is significant?

Josh
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Josh
5 years 7 months ago

Picture of Roger Bernadina in the DC metro Express paper today with the caption, “Bernadina spent most of the winter training in the Netherlands and appears to be in the best shape of his life.” Related link: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/nationalsjournal/2011/02/roger_bernadina_is_jacked.html

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