## The Fans Versus the Depth Charts

By now it’s common knowledge that the projections created by the Fans here at FanGraphs are much more optimistic than Steamer or ZiPS or the combination of Steamer and ZiPS used in the Depth Charts. Of course, this isn’t totally fair because of the difference in projected playing time. The Fans project more playing time for most players so those players will generally be projected for more WAR. The Depth Charts can be altered at any time by the people behind the curtain to reflect current injuries or changes in playing time estimates, while the Fans projections have been coming in for the last couple months and don’t accurately reflect recent changes in expected playing time. Still, I thought it would be interesting to look at the Fans versus the Depth Charts to highlight the players with the largest difference in WAR when comparing the two. This information is from Friday the 13th, so the Depth Charts may have had some changes since then. There are 326 players with projections from the Fans and the Depth Charts.

To get this party started, consider the graph below. This graph shows the difference between the Fans projected WAR and the Depth Charts projected WAR for each player in increment of WAR from -1.0 to 2.6. The players on the far left, at -1.0 WAR, are projected for 1.0 less WAR by the Fans than the Depth Charts. The thick line above 0.0 is the dividing point between negative WAR and positive WAR. There were 19 players projected for the same WAR by the Fans and the Depth Charts.

This shows very clearly that the majority of players are projected by the Fans to have more WAR than the Depth Charts are projecting for that player. Can you guess the identity of the player on the far right, the guy who is projected for 2.6 more WAR by the Fans? He’s a FanGraphs’ favorite. It’s *Mookie Betts! A little to his left, at 2.2 more WAR, is Steven Souza. On the other end, the two hitters projected for 1.0 less WAR by the Fans are Mark Trumbo and Drew Stubbs.

*Mookie Betts is projected by the Depth Charts to have 371 PA with a .275/.343/.416 batting line. The Fans project him for 633 PA with a .294/.368/.435 line. The Fans also project him to have better fielding and base running numbers.

The pie chart below shows the breakdown of players projected for less WAR, the same WAR, and more WAR by the Fans. As you can see, 80% of the players are projected for more WAR by the Fans than the Depth Charts.

As mentioned above, the Fans project more playing time for most players than the Depth Charts project. The graph below shows the breakdown by plate appearances when comparing the Fans to the Depth Charts.

Again, not surprising. The Fans consistently project more playing time. The breakdown for plate appearances shows that 79% of the players were projected for more plate appearances by the Fans. This matches up well with the WAR projections, as 80% of the players were projected for more WAR by the Fans. Individually, the three players projected for the greatest difference in plate appearances by the Fans are Danny Espinosa (+296), Jon Singleton (+279), and Robbie Grossman (+277). The four players to the extreme in the other direction are Jake Marisnick (-151), Marcus Semien (-151), Maikel Franco (-145), and Brendan Ryan (-130). The Fans don’t expect these four players to get the kind of playing time the Depth Charts are projecting. Just for fun, the players who have the most similar projections for plate appearances are Marcell Ozuna (-2), Nick Franklin (+1), Justin Turner (+1), and J.D. Martinez (+2).

It’s not all about playing time, though. To find out how much of the higher projection of WAR by the Fans is due to playing time and how much is based on actual production on the field, I adjusted the Fans’ WAR projections to the same number of plate appearances being predicted by the Depth Charts and created the following graph and accompanying pie chart.

Even after adjusting to an equivalent number of plate appearances, the Fans are projecting 75% of the players to have more WAR than the Depth Charts are projecting. This shows that the Fans are consistently projecting hitters to perform better. They are also projecting these hitters to be better fielders and base runners than the Depth Charts are projecting. Consider the table below that shows the average line for these hitters based on the Depth Charts and based on the Fans.

The Fans are projecting these players for an average of 49 more plate appearances and a better hitting line across the board, along with better Fld and BsR and about 0.6 more WAR per hitter.

Let’s look at some individual players, starting with the true oddballs: the players the Fans like much LESS than the Depth Charts. These are the adjusted numbers, meaning that the WAR projected by the Fans is adjusted to the number of plate appearances projected by the Depth Charts. These are the players for whom, playing time being equal, the Fans like much less than the Depth Charts.

All nine of these players are projected by the Fans to hit worse than their Depth Charts projection would suggest and six of the nine players are projected to be worse fielders. I’d say the most surprising player on this list would have to be Mike Trout. As good as the Fans believe Trout will be, the Depth Charts like him even more. Based on raw numbers, Trout is projected for 8.6 WAR by the Depth Charts and 8.2 WAR by the Fans, but the raw numbers show Trout projected by the Fans for 686 plate appearances. In the chart above, Trout’s plate appearances are adjusted down to the 644 projected by the Depth Charts, which drops his WAR to 7.7 and creates a difference of -0.9 WAR. The WAR difference can be attributed to a worse projected wOBA (.401 to .411) and worse fielding.

Other notes on these players:

• The Depth Charts project a .339 wOBA for Mark Trumbo, while the Fans have him at .321. Last year, Trumbo finished with a .308 wOBA. The year before, he was at .322. His career mark is .326 and he’s had a wOBA of .339 or more just once in his four years as a regular (or semi-regular) player. The Fans might end up being more accurate on Trumbo than the Depth Charts.
• Drew Stubbs has a projected wOBA of .313 by the Fans and .327 by the Depth Charts. He had his best-hitting season last year with a .358 wOBA, all of it Coors Field inflated (.431 wOBA at home, .276 on the road).
• Torii Hunter will be 85 years old this year (not really) and it looks like the Fans are pegging him for age-related decline, with a projected wOBA of .319 compared to the Depth Charts’ .327. Hunter hasn’t had a wOBA below .330 since 2003. The Fans are also projecting Hunter to be even worse in the field than the Depth Charts expect.

So, what players do the Fans REALLY like? Which players are projected for significantly more WAR by the Fans than the Depth Charts? Again, the following numbers are adjusted, meaning the players’ plate appearance totals are adjusted to their Depth Chart projections. With this adjustment, FanGraphs’ favorite Mookie Betts is not the most-liked player. Instead, Mr. Steven Souza rises to the top, with his former teammate, Michael Taylor, right there with him, and Joc Pederson rounding out this trio of young Fan favorites.

The Fans project all of these players to hit better, field better, and have better (or equal, in the case of Michael Cuddyer) base running numbers than the Depth Charts are projecting. In the case of Michael Taylor, the Fans are VERY optimistic, projecting a .336 wOBA compared to a .290 wOBA expected of the Depth Charts. The numbers for Taylor are based on just five fans, though, so take this with a giant grain of salt.

Eight of these nine players are young, have little major league experience, or both. Michael Cuddyer is the lone veteran. Cuddyer is coming off back-to-back years with wOBAs of .396 and .414. Of course, those seasons were in Colorado, where Cuddyer took full advantage of the park’s friendliness to hitters. Last year, Cuddyer had a .533 wOBA at home and .324 on the road. In 2013, it was a slightly more reasonable .427/.369 split. He will call Citi Field home this year and the Depth Charts are forecasting a .329 wOBA, while the optimistic Fans see Cuddyer posting a .352 mark.

Souza, Taylor, Pederson, Pompey, and Castillo have almost no major league track record to speak of yet the Fans are projecting them all to be above-average players. It’s very likely that these players will be drafted higher than they should be in the fantasy world. Everyone likes the shiny new toy, but young and inexperienced players generally take time to develop into fantasy assets.

Here is the next group of players liked much more by the Fans projections than the Depth Charts (again, adjusted to equal playing time based on the Depth Charts projections):

This group of players has a few with limited major league experience, such as Kevin Kiermaier, Joe Panik, Jose Ramirez, and Jorge Soler, but also includes a few players who have four or more big league seasons under their belts (Kyle Seager, Lorenzo Cain, Francisco Cervelli). Almost all of these players are projected by the Fans to hit, field, and run better the Depth Charts would suggest. One very notable number on this chart is the relative optimism of the Fans for Wil Myers on defense.

Going back to Kyle Seager, the Fans are projecting a career-high wOBA for Seager, at .354. His career mark is .333. He’s increased his wOBA in each year of his major league career, from .306 to .321 to .337 to .346. The Fans see another increase, while the Depth Charts are projecting regression back to his 2013 mark.

Other notes of interest:

• The Fans project Kiermaier to equal his wOBA from last year’s 108 games with the Rays (.333 last year, projected for .332). The Depth Charts have him at .304.
• The Fans like Josh Rutledge to be close to his career .312 wOBA (projected for .314), but the Depth Charts have him way down at .284.
• In less than a half-season of playing time, Joe Panik had a .317 wOBA last year. The Fans have him projected for a .312 wOBA, while the Depth Charts see much more regression, down to a .291 mark.
• In his two seasons in the bigs, Wil Myers has posted a .357 wOBA and a .275 mark. Of course, he dealt with injuries last year, which likely contributed to that disappointing performance. The Depth Charts are projecting a .329 wOBA for Myers this year, while the Fans have him with a .345 wOBA. Both projections are worse than what Myers did in his rookie year but much better than what he did last year.
• Soler was crazy-good in 24 games last year (.386 wOBA). The Depth Charts have him regressed down to a .339 wOBA, while the Fans have him projected for a .364 mark.
• In 785 career plate appearances, Francisco Cervelli has a career .327 wOBA. The Fans are projecting him for more of the same (.325), while the Depth Charts don’t think he’ll come close to that (.300).

Okay, last group. After adjusting to equalize the playing time, the following players are projected for 1.2 more WAR by the Fans than the Depth Charts:

Here we’re starting to see a few bigger names, like Joe Mauer, George Springer and Adam Jones.

• Joe Mauer has a career .372 wOBA but is coming off a season that saw him with the second-lowest mark of his career, at .322. In the two previous seasons, Mauer had wOBAs of .376 and .383. The Fans are projecting a .357 wOBA, while the Depth Charts are not that optimistic, projecting a .338 mark.
• George Springer’s career wOBA (.352) is between his 2015 Depth Charts projection (.346) and Fans projection (.366).
• Adam Jones has reached his 2015 Fans projected wOBA of .355 just once in his career, back in 2012.
• Jedd Gyorko hit .249/.301/.444 with a .325 wOBA in 2013, then followed that up with a .210/.280/.333 (.275 wOBA) season last year. The Fans see a return to his 2013 glory days (.328 wOBA), while the Depth Charts see improvement (.308 wOBA) but not to the level of two years ago.

The Fans projections are optimistic on most players, but the players listed on the three charts above are the players that the Fans like most of all. Many of them are young with limited major league playing time. It will be interesting to see how accurate the Fans are on these players at the end of the season.

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Bobby Mueller has been a Pittsburgh Pirates fan as far back as the 1979 World Series Championship team ("We R Fam-A-Lee!"). He suffered through the 1980s, then got a reprieve in the early 1990s, only to be crushed by Francisco Cabrera in 1992. After a 20-year stretch of losing seasons, things are looking up for Bobby’s Pirates. His blog can be found at www.baseballonthebrain.com and he tweets at www.twitter.com/bballonthebrain.

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M

The reason fans are typically projecting higher is because the only fans that project on here project just for their team – trending closer to homerism.