Projections from Bill James: D-backs Hitters

Projections from Bill James: D-backs Hitters

The Bill James Handbook 2011 will be available on November first and includes statistical projections for nearly 900 players. Is Kelly Johnson for real? Will Mark Reynolds and Justin Upton bounce back? Which Chris Young will show up? Inside, we have a sneak peek of James' 2011 projections for Arizona Diamondbacks hitters.

Every year, Bill James, ACTA Sports, and Baseball Info Solutions collaborate to produce The Bill James Handbook.  In addition to providing vital and unique statistics from the just-completed season, the Handbook attempts to project player performances for the upcoming year.  The projections are mostly based on a player's age and career history, although some deduction and intuition are necessarily involved.

The Arizona Diamondbacks have scored between 712 and 720 runs in each of the past four seasons.  Although you usually like consistency in baseball, this can only be viewed as as disappointment.  The Diamondbacks play in one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in all of baseball and have had the same core of young players on offense since 2007.  These prospects were supposed to steadily develop into perennial All-Stars by now.  Instead, every time one hitter steps forward, another one steps back, and the individual players appear unable to sustain their success from one season to the next.  The unfortunate result in 2010 was a record-breaking number of strikeouts for an offense that figured to be among the best in the National League.

Could 2011 finally be the year that several of the hitters have breakout seasons at the same time?  Without further delay, here are the educated guesses from the Bill James Handbook: 

Infielders Age AB 2B 3B HR R RBI BB K SB AVG OBP SLG
Miguel Montero+ 27 403 26 1 14 51 58 41 77 0 .273 .343 .437
Brandon Allen 25 494 26 3 24 72 78 65 124 14 .251 .338 .462
Adam LaRoche* 31 536 38 1 24 71 86 56 151 0 .261 .333 .470
Kelly Johnson+ 29 522 33 5 19 83 65 67 121 10 .268 .354 .460
Stephen Drew+ 28 596 37 9 16 82 67 59 109 8 .270 .338 .443
Mark Reynolds 27 529 27 2 35 89 94 77 212 9 .233 .327 .490
Tony Abreu 26 229 15 1 3 27 25 9 45 3 .275 .303 .389

* The D-backs and LaRoche have a $7.5 M mutual option for 2011

Outfielders Age AB 2B 3B HR R RBI BB K SB AVG OBP SLG
Ryan Church+ 32 242 17 1 6 31 32 24 61 2 .248 .323 .401
Cole Gillespie 27 199 13 2 5 26 26 23 42 6 .251 .332 .412
Gerardo Parra 24 405 22 7 5 49 45 30 70 8 .289 .339 .415
Justin Upton 23 534 32 6 23 86 82 69 144 18 .287 .371 .498
Chris Young 27 569 38 3 25 86 78 68 148 22 .246 .330 .455

+ Indicates an arbitration-eligible player

The first thing that should jump out at you about the projections aren't the projections at all, but the listed ages for next season.  With the exception of LaRoche and Church - neither of whom is guaranteed to be a part of the 2011 roster - every position player will still be under 30 years of age.  There is still room for development and improvement for this group, even though it seems that we've been saying so for years.

James, however, is prognosticating the status quo for most of theses hitters.  Montero's injury-marred season and Young's resurgent season had little effect on the projections; both of their stat line projections here are similar to what James predicted for them last winter.  The Mark Reynolds projection is quite close to his .242/.334/.483 career line; the 2009 and 2010 seasons were both likely flukes for him.  The optimism for Upton has tempered a bit due to the news that he has been playing with a bad shoulder for years, however, you have to wonder about the kind of numbers the 23-year-old would put up with a fully healthy shoulder. 

Perhaps the most encouraging prediction here belongs to Kelly Johnson.  James has the second baseman's production slated far closer to his breakout 2010 campaign than his horrendous 2009 performance.  If the D-backs trust this data, it may make sense to wait on trading him to prove that 2010 was no fluke.  That way, they can enjoy several months of production from Johnson while still getting high trade value for him.

It's interesting to note that the numbers projected for Brandon Allen are nearly identical to those for Adam LaRoche, except that Allen should have more steals and fewer strikeouts.  With this in mind, it's very difficult to see the Diamondbacks spending $7.5 million to retain LaRoche.  Renegotiating a new contract could be difficult as well, since the D-backs have little incentive to offer a multi-year deal to a 31-year-old first baseman with all of the young first base talent in their farm system right now.

With the encouraging forecast for Allen, it's disappointing that James did not include a projection for backup catcher John Hester in his Handbook.  Like Allen, Hester put up incredible numbers under very hitter-friendly conditions in Reno, but struggled to hit in the majors.  If we put a lot of weight in Hester's minor league stats, the Diamondbacks could expect incredible production out of a catcher platoon this season.

Nevertheless, the Bill James Handbook offers a valuable insight into the next season for all of Major League Baseball's players and teams.  From Arizona's perspective, they have five hitters slated to hit at least 23 home runs and another three projected in the 14-19 homer range.  If that happens, this team will score more than 720 runs for the first time since 2006.  Given that most of these players are in the prime of their careers and will be working with an entirely new coaching staff, it's reasonable to expect even better production than what is forecast here.

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