Ask Oliver

As many of you know, our THT Forecasts tool offers performance and playing time projections for thousands of major and minor league players, auction value calculators, and many other features that will help any novice or veteran owner compete.

I’m not just randomly plugging our wares; I call attention to THT Forecasts because for today’s column, I just plucked the names of a few players about whom I am curious and/or conflicted to see what Oliver, our projection system, has to say.

Before getting into the projections for some of the more contentious players, let me offer a word about Oliver overall. Oliver has received very high praise and performed on par with other industry-leading forecasting systems. However, Oliver’s number often strike me as a tad on the low side. Part of that is that many of the mainstream projections you see, especially in magazines, etc. probably don’t really account for the likelihood of injury with any reasonable accuracy.

Regardless, an important measure of a forecasting system’s accuracy is how well it predicts performance relative to itself. So, just to set the context for the following predictions, consider that Oliver projects only 13 players to reach 30 home runs, two to reach 100 runs, and 14 to reach 100 RBI.

On to the conversation pieces.

Chase Utley
Oliver says:
PA: 589
R: 76
HR: 17
RBI: 68
SB: 11
AVG. 268

Utley returned from injury last season as early as could have been expected. That was the good news. The bad news was that he never really looked like his vintage self. With a full offseason of rest, will Utley regain more of his original form?

I wanted a reason to be optimistic about taking a shot on one of the best players of the 2000s, but it doesn’t look to be there. As far back as last year, Philadelphia Phillies GM, Ruben Amaro, Jr. intimated that Utley’s knee troubles may never fully go away.

To be fair, these are certainly not bad numbers to get from 130 games or so of a second baseman. Utley’s health and age may be working against him, but his home park and pedigree give him a shot at a ceiling that’s much higher than several players who are projected to produce at around the same level. For all the hype about Dustin Ackley, he didn’t out-produce a recovering Utley in 2011, and I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if he failed to do so in 2012, either.

I see Utley as a solid, good-but-not-elite middle infielder option with a bit of an extra injury risk, but accompanied by the potential to make lots of drafters look really dumb at the end of the season.

Pablo Sandoval
Oliver says:
PA: 658
R: 88
HR: 28
RBI: 102
SB: 4
AVG: .302

This is a monster projection! Oliver thinks Sandoval is going to play the entire season and rake! Panda really had it going last year and was on pace for more than 30 homers, a true feat given his home park.

I was burned by Sandoval in 2010, but I try not to be emotional about these things. Sandoval certainly does have his fans, a group to which I once belonged. Personally, I’m not sure he can be fully trusted given his sordid history.

One thing I do like about him, however, is that he has that very valuable fantasy trait of going few plate appearances without making contact. He doesn’t walk and he doesn’t strike out often for a player with his slugging prowess, which is a nice recipe for counting stats. Further, the lack of strikeouts help make up for the lack of walks when it comes to maintaining a high batting average.

At the end of the day, my concern is pretty much the same as it is every year with Giants hitters. The surrounding cast is weak, which I think will make it more difficult for Sandoval to score runs than Oliver seems to believe, and I worry about the home park. Overall, I’m not as high on the Kung Fu Panda as Oliver is, but I can understand the optimism.

Michael Pineda
Oliver says:
IP: 180
W: 12
K: 171
ERA: 3.33
WHIP: 1.16
SV: 0

Using Recurrent Neural Networks to Predict Player Performance
Technology is rapidly advancing possibilities in decision-making.

Last season, Pineda quickly became one of my favorite pitchers to watch. I had targeted him in all my leagues and was quite happy with my returns. He’s so big and physically imposing that when he pitches, it looks like you’re watching a Little League game where the kid on the mound hit puberty two years before everybody else on the field.

Now a member of the Yankees rotation (am I the only one who thought it would have made more sense for Seattle to trade Felix Hernandez than Pineda?), the world will get a front-row seat to see what this kid makes of himself.

This is a pretty good projection. The Yankees offense might boost the win total more than noted here. If I had to guess a fairly narrow window, I’d put my money on 14–16 victories. At the same time, it’s possible that the rate stats wind up a bit higher, too. Finally, there also appears to be even greater upside on the strikeout rate. Pineda’s swinging strike percentage was pretty impressive last year, at 11.8 percent.

David Wright
Oliver says:
PA: 589
R: 79
HR: 19
RBI: 76
SB: 16
AVG: .286

Ben Pritchett likes David Wright more than you do, and probably more than Oliver does. I agree. Actually, when you consider that this projection is expecting Wright will miss 25-30 games, it may not actually be too far below my hopes for the face of the New York Mets.

I wrote about Wright a few months ago, expressing my reasons for optimism there, so I won’t rehash them much. Like Ben, I have “a feeling,” but my optimism for Wright is based on a logical chain of reasoning and my interpretation of his approach gleaned from many years as a miserable Mets fan.

The bottom line is that if he slips to third-round type ADP, he offers as much profit potential as you are likely to find that early in a draft. Even at Oliver’s somewhat tempered projections above, prorated for a full season, that is already third-round production at a somewhat thin position.

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I look forward to Oliver every year. Curious what the projections are for someone like Castro since after the big three of Tulo, Reyes, and Hanley, he’s really the last guy to get excited about in a very weak class


Wright’s numbers seem about right…. if you take away about dozen of those SBs.


Is there a reason HBT closes threads to comments and if so, why do you guys close off the comments so soon after the initial publication of the entry?

I am specifically referring to the Dynasty rankings published a couple weeks ago.

Derek Ambrosino
Derek Ambrosino


I think the default settings are the comments close after a week or so. The primary reason would be that by that time discussion usually dies down and open comment sections then just become fertile ground for spambots and the like.

I’ll see if we can manually override the default and re-open that comment thread if discussion is still live.