The idea for this entry for Michael Clair’s wonderful blog-a-thon is to take a look at 2013’s top ten position players by fWAR and predicting whether they will be over or under that value for 2014. Without actually getting into the numbers, my prediction is that most will be under as that seems to be the nature of the game. For example, who can imagine Chris Davis reproducing the kind of season he had in 2013 again in 2014? I used fWAR instead of rWAR because the data is easier to list. Here goes:
Mike Trout – Over: Oliver and Steamer projections both project Trout to fall under the amazing 10.6 fWAR he compiled in 2013. Looking at their projections, they see him having a lower ISO and batting average and his BABIP down some from where it has been the last two seasons. With all due respect to projection systems, the most talented player in baseball is only getting better. An injury (God forbid) could change that of course, but if Trout plays another full season at center and if Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols return to some of their former glory, look out world. Trout is just getting started.
Andrew McCutchen – Over: McCutchen put together is most valuable season of his career while having the lowest ISO of his past three seasons and a wOBA that was ten points lower than his 2012 season. If all other things are close to being equal, and if his power gets back to his career path, then he should be even better this coming season. Oliver and Steamer projections list him much lower in the 6.5 to 6.8 range. I don’t agree.
Josh Donaldson – Under: Donaldson came out of the blue to have an amazing season in 2013. Everything about his game was so much better than what he showed as a rookie in 2012. For example, his 4.8% walk rate jumped to 11.4%. Amazing. Two parts of his game should not suffer at all. His base running and fielding have been terrific since he joined the Athletics. So that part of the equation should be the same. Then it comes down to the offensive part of his game. Looking at his minor league numbers, the walk percentage was not a fluke. But the power numbers seem out of line with what he did in the minors. I think his ISO will be lower in 2013. The projection systems really don’t believe in what he did in 2013 and project him to be as three wins less a player in 2013. That seems overly pessimistic to me.
Carlos Gomez – Over: Gomez really came into his own in 2013 and his 7.6 fWAR were almost equal parts defense, offense and base running. The defense and base running should be consistent as he is terrific in both categories. Like Donaldson, a lot will depend on if his offense continues to explode. Gomez’s rise actually started in the second half of 2012, so he has put up these kind of numbers for a year and a half now. The only thing troubling me is the power. He never displayed the kind of power he has shown in the last eighteen months in his younger days or in the minors. For how long Gomez has been showing this kind of offense, I have to believe it is not a fluke and that he will continue to grow offensively. His patience at the plate is not great, but it did show improvement. Braun coming back should help too. The projection systems are skeptical, but I am not.
Miguel Cabrera – Over: Think about the season Cabrera just had and then consider that he compiled those numbers without any benefit from September when he was hurt most of the month. Holy schmoley, the guy was a beast. Even so, his defense at third really kicked him down to finish well off of Trout’s pace as the value leader in the league. But consider this: He is moving back to first base, where he is much better, his health will be better and he should have more runners on base in front of him than last year. My theory is that a guy with a wOBA over .400 for seven of the last eight years is not going anywhere and he will score better defensive numbers at first base. Be duly warned that projection systems have him about a win less though.
Matt Carpenter – Under: Carpenter had a magical season in 2013 and compiled 7 fWAR for the season. Did anyone expect that? I don’t think so. Will anyone expect him to repeat that magic? I don’t think so either. The projection systems certainly do not. I will say that the guy is a line drive machine and has good plate discipline. Those kinds of things will keep you producing. A permanent move to his familiar position at third should help too. So I may be wrong here. Line drive hitters do not have big slumps and if he improves his power numbers even a little bit with more experience, he will make my prediction look stupid.
Evan Longoria – Over: Longoria played 160 games in 2013, so we can put away that injury concern. Despite having a very great season with 6.8 fWAR, that total was below what he did in 2009 and 2010. Here are the factors where I think he will be back to the seven and a half range in 2014: His ISO and strikeout percentage were higher than his career averages in 2013. His walk rate was a little less. If those things bounce back to his normal range, he will have a much better year. His walk rate was a little less and that should bounce back too. Longoria did much better at his home ballpark than he has in the past and perhaps has put that issue behind him. Look for more from one of the best fielding third basemen in baseball in 2014.
Chris Davis – Under: Think of the players that have hit over 50 homers in the recent past. Guys like Jose Bautista, Ryan Howard and A-Rod all failed to match that number in subsequent years. I think he will hit around 41 homers, which is still great, but nothing like the magic carpet ride he put together in 2013. The projections systems do not think he will be half as valuable in 2014 as he was in 2013. I am less pessimistic, but still cannot believe that Davis can repeat such a miraculous season. His fielding could improve the more he is at first, but that is about it as far as my optimism goes.
Paul Goldschmidt – Over: The projection systems seem overly pessimistic on this one. Consider that Goldschmidt’s batting average, on-base average and slugging have gone up every year in the last three years. Consider that while doing so, his strikeout rate has gone down every season. I believe he is still peaking an can get even better. His defense at first base has been knocked down but is improving. I think the improvement will continue. My only hesitation is where the Diamondbacks are going as a team. Their plan has been confusing and could hinder him in some ways. But I think we still haven’t seen the best of Goldschmidt, which is pretty scary considering how good he was in 2013.
Manny Machado – Under: I am waffling on this one. I am always hesitant about players who have so much of their value brought up by defense. There is no doubt he had one of the great defensive seasons of all time at third base last season. And then there is that knee injury caused in part by a genetically malformed joint. Will that be a ticking time bomb for the rest of his career? On the other hand, he has not yet become the offensive player I thought he would be. His patience at the plate and his 4% walk rate are far below what he did in the minors. It is disappointing. I expected him to be more of a .360 to .380 wOBA kind of guy and not the .325 guy he was in 2013 following the .317 wOBA he had in 2012. Perhaps he will find his way offensively. He sure looks like a great hitter even if he has not shown it. But it is the knee that worries me too much to give him a prediction of over his last year’s valuation. His projections are brutal, by the way.
So there you have it. By my count, six of the ten top valued players of 2013 should be even better in 2014. And I waffled on the tenth guy. While I am not a computer spitting out projections, we’ll just have to wait and see how accurate I am. Even I think I am too much of an optimist. The exercise was still fun though.
William Tasker was born in New Jersey but has lived in New England since 1975 and in northern Maine since 1990. After a long career as a senior executive for a software company, he is currently the executive director for his city’s chamber of commerce. He has been writing his blog, The Flagrant Fan, for eleven years and also writes for It’s About the Money, Stupid, a Yankees blog that is part of ESPN’s SweetSpot network. He recently scored his first ESPN byline.
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