- FanGraphs Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs -

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.