Some Thoughts on Monday’s Polling

Player projections, because of what they are, are always going to be pretty accurate at the group level, or else they’d be really lousy player projections in dire need of improvement. So when thinking about the future, a projection should always be the starting point. One truth is that there will be few exceptions to the rule that players follow their projections. Another truth is that there will always be exceptions. A third truth is that baseball fans will over-identify presumed exceptions, because we’re not very good at weighing recent events. As such, if this counts as a debate, it’s going to be a long-running, unwinnable debate, with new possible exceptions submitted every year. There’s always going to be some reason to believe in a given player who hasn’t performed like his projection over a couple weeks or months.

Dave wrote about some pretty important research last Friday, finding that in-season projections work well and there’s not much sense in isolating season-to-date statistics. Monday I put up ten polls and then another ten polls, focusing on position players and pitchers who haven’t met their projections so far. On each player, I wanted to gauge audience opinion, to see who people think might be exceptions, and who people think are just players on a streak or a slump. There’s not a ton we’ll be able to do with the results, when it comes to furthering our understanding of the game, but I thought it could be fun to quickly review some stuff we can already see. While more voting has taken place since the writing of this post, the numbers shouldn’t have changed very much.

Let’s start with a graph, showing poll results for each player. The graph is presented as an oversimplification, but the idea is this: voters either believe more heavily in the season performance, or they believe more heavily in the rest-of-season projection. There’s nothing in here about magnitudes, but this should provide an idea of which players the audience believes have meaningfully changed their true talent, with the projections not yet having caught up.

performancevsprojectiongraph

Let’s use Domonic Brown as an example, since he (unfortunately) shows up first. He entered Monday with a .257 wOBA, and he also had a rest-of-season projected .331 wOBA. Of the voters, 33% thought the projection seemed right. That left 67% who thought the projection looked too high — that is, they figure Brown is worse. There’s no indication of how much worse, since it was a subjective poll left up to judgment, but suffice to say, two-thirds of the voters believe Brown is bad enough now to not be that close to a .331 true talent. Last year, his wOBA was .351, and he’s still just 26 years old, but there seems to be a strong belief that his swing is messed up. He has been hitting way too many balls on the ground, for him.

The graph is arranged in descending order of audience weight on the in-season numbers. So at the far end, we get Nelson Cruz, in whose surprising performance the audience believes the least. Monday, Cruz was projected for a .355 wOBA. Last season, he posted a .359 wOBA. The voters don’t seem to be buying his power streak. If I had to guess at reasons, he’s almost 34 years old. His ball-in-play rates look normal, his discipline numbers look normal, and nobody’s written anything about any adjustments he’s made. And to be honest, I think there’s been Cruz-related skepticism around here for several months, and I imagine that’s lingering, hot start be damned. Usually hitters in their mid-30s don’t suddenly get a lot better, and that’s the audience opinion.

I’m more surprised by the name beside Cruz. I would’ve figured Lonnie Chisenhall would get a bit too much credit, being a younger player who was also in danger of becoming a busted prospect. With that kind of player, fans are often over-eager to believe in performance improvements. Fans figure he’s above-average, but they don’t figure he’s good, with 79% believing the .342 projection. With a BABIP in the .400s, it’s clear that Chisenhall’s numbers are going to come down. The projections, though, also see an increase in strikeouts and a decrease in power. I’m curious about the poll results here, but pleasantly surprised by the rational objectivity.

There are four players who the majority of fans believe have different true talents now than their projections:

  1. Domonic Brown (67% vs. 33%)
  2. Dallas Keuchel (66% vs. 34%)
  3. Brian Dozier (63% vs. 37%)
  4. Mike Moustakas (60% vs. 40%)

Just missing, at this writing: Felix Doubront, with splits of 48% vs. 52%. I’ve already touched on Brown. Keuchel isn’t surprising, here, because we’ve written about a repertoire change he’s made. My sense is people are more willing to believe in changes if they can easily identify a reason behind an improvement or decline. The same thought applies to Dozier, who made some mechanical adjustments to his swing a year ago. It’s easy to believe Dozier is better now, and that the projections make too much of his terrible and light-hitting 2012 debut. He’s projected for an ISO even below what he did in 2013. And then there’s Moustakas, who’s been frustrating people for years. Dave did write something about Moustakas making too much bad contact, and for that reason and others, people don’t believe he’s as good as even a .312 wOBA. I mean, two-fifths of voters believe he’s at that level, but 50% more voters believe he’s meaningfully worse.

To split these results ten by ten: with position players, on average, 41% of voters saw a change in true talent, while 59% believed the projections. With pitchers, on average, 42% of voters saw a change in true talent, while 58% believed the projections. I expected the pitchers to generate different results, because I think it’s easier to believe in a pitcher making a change than in a hitter making a change. Hitting, after all, is reactive, and it’s easy to see a repertoire change or a drop in velocity. But my expectations have been proven to be off, at least with these particular players.

To split these results ten by ten, differently: with the over-performers, on average, 41% of voters saw a change in true talent, while 59% believed the projections. With under-performers, on average, 42% of voters saw a change in true talent, while 58% believed the projections. Once again, no meaningful difference between groups, no evidence of potential biases. I could see it being more tempting to believe in short-term over-performance, but I can also see it being more tempting to believe in a player falling apart because frustrating is hard to shake and images of under-performance linger. Again, this could just be about the players I selected. Ultimately, we’re dealing with only 20 names.

Overall, the averages were 41% and 59%. Which means, overall, most people trust the projections. This, a few days after a post literally titled “You Should Trust the Projections”. On the one hand, that’s 41% of people disobeying the advice, but on the other hand, we know there are always exceptions, and these are 20 of the potentially most likely players to be exceptional. So even around the extremes, more people believe the projections than don’t. Seems about right to me. Seems like a sign of a pretty sharp audience.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.



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tz
Guest
tz

I think the biggest area where the projection systems struggle is for guys who hit very well in the minors but struggled their first few years in the majors. So when a guy like Dozier starts to really break out (like Lucroy is also doing), it’s tougher for a projection system to account for than it is for a knowledgeable follower of the game.

Sky Kalkman
Member

Pretty sure most popular projection systems incorporate minor league performance.

tz
Guest
tz

I know they do, but to clarify my initial comment, I think that projection systems would have a hard time determining how much weight to give to the recent MLB experience vs. the earlier minor league performance. Some guys make a smooth transition to the majors, others tend not to.

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