FANALYTICS: When good projections go bad

It is not a cop-out to say that it doesn't matter whether our projections are right or wrong. We cannot predict the future; all we can do is provide a sound process for constructing a "most likely expectation for future performance." All we can control is the process.

As such, there is a limit to how much blame we can shoulder for this year's misses. If we've captured as much information as is available, used the best methodology and analyzed the results correctly, that's about the best we can do. We simply can't control outcomes.

What we can do is analyze all the misses to see why they occurred. This is always a valuable exercise each year. It puts a proper focus on the variables that were out of our control as well as providing perspective on those players that we might have done a better job with.

With less than a week left in the 2012 season, there have been 58 players who performed at least $10 worse than projection: 30 batters and 28 pitchers. Given that nearly 50% of baseball's top-ranked 300 players lost time to injury, demotion or suspension in 2012, gross over-projections of only 58 of the original pool of 1,239 projected players (4.7%) is quite good.

There were also 56 players who performed at least $10 better than projection -- 35 batters and 21 pitchers. All these comparisons were made using 15-team mixed league values.

In general, we can organize 2012's forecasting misses into several categories.

First, the performances that exceeded projection by at least $10...

Development beyond the growth trend: These are young players for whom we knew there was skill. Some of them were prized prospects in the past who have taken their time ascending the growth curve. Others were a surprise only because their performance spike arrived sooner than anyone anticipated... Jose Altuve, Pedro Alvarez, Ian Desmond, Alcides Escobar, Carlos Gomez, Bryce Harper, Chase Headley, Jason Heyward, Austin Jackson, Andrew McCutchen, Josh Reddick, Ben Revere, Wilin Rosario, Mike Trout, Ryan Cook, Ross Detwiler, Gio Gonzalez, Kris Medlen, Wade Miley, Chris Sale.

While I include Trout in this group, it is clear that nobody would have ever expected these types of numbers, even at his peak. So he does remain in a class by himself.

Skilled players who just had big years: We knew these guys were good too; we just didn't anticipate they'd be this good... Edwin Encarnacion, Aaron Hill, Carlos Ruiz, A.J. Burnett, Matt Cain, Ryan Dempster.

Unexpected health: We knew these players had the goods; we just didn't know whether they'd be healthy... Adam LaRoche, Buster Posey.

Unexpected playing time: These players had the skills—and may have even displayed them at some time in the past—but had questionable playing time potential coming into this season. Some benefited from another player's injury, a rookie who didn't pan out or leveraged a short streak into a regular gig... Norichika Aoki, Tyler Colvin, Todd Frazier, Chris Johnson, Juan Pierre, Michael Saunders, Kyle Seager.

Unexpected return to form: These players had the skills, having displayed them at some point in the past. But those skills had been M.I.A. long enough that we began to doubt that they'd ever return; our projections model got sick of waiting. Or those previous skills displays were so inconsistent that projecting an "up year" would have been a shot in the dark; our projections model got sick of guessing. Yes, "once you display a skill, you own it" but still... Adam Dunn, Ryan Ludwick, Angel Pagan, Alex Rios.

Unexpected role: This category is reserved for 2012's surprise closers. There are always some every year, relievers who are on nobody's radar for saves and are suddenly thrust into the role with great success... Aroldis Chapman, Ernesto Frieri, Kenley Jansen, Casey Janssen, Jim Johnson, Rafael Soriano, Tom Wilhelmsen.

The anti-regressions: After 2011, some players had regression written all over them. Sometimes it was statistical regression; sometimes a change of venue should have been foreboding. In the end, they somehow performed just like they did in 2011... Mark Trumbo, Matt Harrison, Hiroki Kuroda.

Melky Cabrera would have been a part of this group had we not found out the real reason for his exciting, new skill set.

Celebrate and claim we're geniuses: How these players put up the numbers they did is a mystery, but fantasy owners will likely chalk it up to their own superior scouting skills as they count their winnings. The truth is, who knows? However, the odds of a comparable follow-up for these players—particularly those with soft peripherals—will be small:

Garrett Jones' 2012 season might be considered as a "development beyond the growth trend" if he wasn't already 31 years old. That makes it look like more of an outlier and unlikely to repeat... We acknowledge that catchers often experience power spikes in the mid-30s, but I'm more willing to buy that with Carlos Ruiz—who already had a solid skills foundation—than A.J. Pierzynski. In fact, AJP's career high PX, HR/F and OPS—despite a 9% drop in contact rate—makes it look like he might have had outside help... Alfonso Soriano set a career high in RBIs on the worst club he's ever played on and put up his best power numbers since 2007, at age 36. Yeah, that'll happen again.

A 7-5 record with a 3.20 ERA should not put someone on this list, but that's what R.A. Dickey has done in the second half. Knuckleballers don't follow any of our rules, but regression is regression... Kyle Lohse has put up the best skills of his career—and can thank his teammates for the 16 wins—but it is rare for a pitcher to have a breakout at age 33 that's repeatable... And finally, what can you say about Fernando Rodney? Back in March, Joe Maddon said that Rodney was the most impressive pitcher in camp (but of course, we called that "noise"). There is nothing in his current peripherals that looks even remotely like the pre-2012 Rodney, except a 58% ground ball rate.

And, the performances that fell at least $10 short of projection...

The DL denizens: These are players who got hurt, may not have returned fully healthy, or may have never been fully healthy (whether they'd admit it or not)... Jose Bautista, Jason Bay, Lance Berkman, Carl Crawford, Michael Cuddyer, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Matt Kemp, Adam Lind, Evan Longoria, Michael Morse, Mike Napoli, Pablo Sandoval, Mark Teixeira, Troy Tulowitzki, Joey Votto, Jayson Werth, Chris Young, Josh Beckett, Chris Carpenter, John Danks, Neftali Feliz, Jaime Garcia, Matt Garza, Roy Halladay, Dan Haren, Daniel Hudson, Jon Lester, Ted Lilly, Cory Luebke, Mariano Rivera, Drew Storen.

Note that some of these players seemed to be putting up sub-par numbers before they actually hit the DL. Many were likely playing through the hurt before breaking down.

Accelerated skills erosion: These are players who we knew were on the downside of their careers but who we did not think would plummet so quickly. In some cases, there were injuries involved, but all in all, 2012 probably was the beginning of the end for most of these guys... Marlon Byrd, Dan Uggla, Kevin Youkilis, Michael Young, Heath Bell.

Inflated expectations: Here are players who we really should not have expected much more than what they produced. Some had short or spotty track records, others had soft peripherals coming into 2012, and still others were inflated by media hype. Yes, for some of these, it was "What the heck was I thinking?" But the BPI trends were intriguing enough to take a small leap of faith... Jeff Francoeur, Eric Hosmer, Howie Kendrick, Brett Lawrie, John Mayberry, Gavin Floyd, Josh Johnson, Ian Kennedy, Matt Moore.

Misplaced regression: Sometimes, we're so bullish on a player that we ignore the potential for regression within the bounds of random variance... Robinson Cano, Mike Adams, Cliff Lee, C.C. Sabathia, C.J. Wilson.

Unexpected loss of role: This category is usually composed of closers who lost their job through no fault of their own. But this year, we can thank Mike Trout for putting Peter Bourjos on the list. Oh, and Kyle Farnsworth.

While Farnsworth was the only former closer to return at least $10 less than his projected value through the loss of role alone, there were a bunch of other Draft Day closers who lost their role but weren't valued high enough to meet the $10-loss threshold: Andrew Bailey, Matt Capps, Brandon League, Sergio Santos, Jonathan Broxton, Sean Marshall and Brett Myers. Brian Wilson, Ryan Madson and Joakim Soria would have made the list had they made it to draft day.

Throw our hands up and yell at the TV: These are the players for whom I have no rational explanation for what happened. We can speculate that they hid an injury, went off of PEDs, or just didn't have their head on right in 2012:

Let's start with Albert Pujols. The unexplained part is what he was doing from Opening Day until about May 10. From that point on, he was pretty much vintage. But those six early weeks are concerning because "once you display a skills deficiency, you own that too" and now it's two consecutive seasons in which he started slow. We call that the beginning of a pattern.

John Axford has managed to save 33 games yet still earned significantly less than his projected value. The BPIs attribute it to more hard hit balls, more line drives, more walks and an elevated HR/F rate. The only saving grace is that these problems infected only three of six months, and they're all small sample sizes anyway... In his entire pro career, Daniel Bard had never thrown even 80 IP in a season and had not started a game since 2007, at age 22. Still, the Red Sox were committed to making him a starter. Well, that worked out well...

Finally, the two most aggravating pitchers of the year... Tim Lincecum put up six consecutive dominating starts between August 21 and September 18, and his owners breathed a sigh of relief. Then the D-backs clobbered him on Tuesday, his worst start of the second half. For those of his owners in redraft leagues, at least you have an off-season. For us owners in long-term keeper leagues, the agony never ends. My only savings grace is that I am not a Ricky Romero owner.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.