FANALYTICS: When good projections go bad, 2014

Although we'd like to think otherwise, we cannot predict the future. All we can do is provide a sound process for constructing a "most likely expectation for future performance." If we've captured as much information as is available, used the best methodology and analyzed the results correctly, that's the best we can do.

All we can control is the process. We simply can't control outcomes.

However, one thing we can do is analyze 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 with whom we might have done a better job.

With just more than a week left in the 2014 season, here are all the players who have performed at least $10 better or worse than projected. In general, we can organize these 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, Michael Brantley, Todd Frazier, Corey Kluber, Devin Mesoraco, Marcell Ozuna, Anthony Rendon, Garrett Richards, Anthony Rizzo, Tyson Ross, Julio Teheran, Christian Yelich.

I'll toss Dallas Keuchel (pictured) in this group as well. Although most people didn't see him coming—and our official projections were equally unimpressive—attendees to the First Pitch Forum spring tour heard us talk about how his swinging strike rate jumped from 6% in 2012 to 9% in 2013—the biggest jump in the AL. That along with his high 56% ground ball rate would put an end to his 5.00-plus ERAs. Now if only our projections would heed our First Pitch analyses.

Skilled players who just had big years: We knew these guys were good too; we just didn't anticipate they'd be this good... Dellin Betances, Chris Carter, Johnny Cueto, Brian Dozier, Wade Davis, Felix Hernandez, Jon Lester, Denard Span, Giancarlo Stanton.

Unexpected health: We knew these players had the goods; we just didn't know whether they'd be healthy or would stay healthy all year... Lorenzo Cain, Danny Duffy, Justin Morneau, Michael Morse, Albert Pujols, Ben Revere.

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... Dustin Ackley, Charlie Blackmon, Lonnie Chisenhall, Corey Dickerson, Lucas Duda, Scooter Gennett, Josh Harrison, J.D. Martinez, Tanner Roark.

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 tired 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 tired of guessing. Yes, "once you display a skill, you own it" but still... Dee Gordon, Phil Hughes, Casey McGehee, Drew Stubbs.

Unexpected role: This category is reserved for 2014's surprise closers. There are always some every year, relievers who are on nearly nobody's radar for front-line saves and are suddenly thrust into the role with great success (some did not clear the $10 hurdle but are worth mentioning anyway)... Cody Allen, Joaquin Benoit, Zach Britton, Santiago Casilla, Sean Doolittle, Neftali Feliz, Jake McGee, Mark Melancon, Jenrry Mejia, Jacob Petricka, Chad Qualls, Hector Rondon, Francisco Rodriguez, Joe Smith.

Unexpected discovery of the Fountain of Youth: These players should have been done, or nearly done, or at least headed down the far side of the bell curve. That's what the trends were pointing to. The trends were wrong... Jose Bautista, Marlon Byrd, Adam LaRoche, Victor Martinez, Pat Neshek, Jimmy Rollins.

Unexpected post-PED performance: Yeah, we didn't know how the Biogenesis bustees would fare in their first year back. But Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta both exceeded projections by more than $10, as did post-post-PEDer Melky Cabrera. Everth Cabrera and Ryan Braun? Not so much.

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:

Let's start with Jose Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka. Both came with impressive foreign resumes but we all hedged on our projections, which was the prudent thing to do. After all, Abreu might have struggled in the cold Chicago April and been benched. Nobody took Tanaka's 24-0 record in Japan seriously. The duo blew all our expectations out the window.

Jake Arrieta was one of several former Orioles prospects who were supposed to make up the core of their rotation by now. Only Chris Tillman made it, though Zach Britton did find a role. Brian Matusz fell short, and Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman are still on the outside looking in. Arrieta was one of the lesser-skilled members of this group, yet he's the only one to taste a 100+ BPV as a starter. We're so smart.

Colin McHugh was rated as a 7D prospect by our Minor League Baseball Analyst in 2012. In 2013, he was downgraded to a 6B. And as he was about to enter the Astros rotation for real this year, he was further downgraded to a 6C. For all those scoring at home, a 6C is a "platoon player" (one step down from an "average regular") with a "50% probability of reaching that potential." Jeff Luhnow is a genius.

Jacob DeGrom and Matt Shoemaker weren't on our radar either. They just weren't. It's so easy these days to put up good pitching numbers. </sarcasm>

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)... Homer Bailey, Brandon Belt, Carlos Beltran, Michael Bourn, Ryan Braun, Jay Bruce, Everth Cabrera, Matt Cain, Shin-Soo Choo, Tony Cingrani, Gerrit Cole, Allen Craig, Michael Cuddyer, Yu Darvish, Jose Fernandez, Prince Fielder, Paul Goldschmidt, Carlos Gonzalez, Gio Gonzalez, Josh Hamilton, Bryce Harper, Corey Hart, Eric Hosmer, Casey Janssen, Jason Kipnis, Mat Latos, Brett Lawrie, Cliff Lee, Will Middlebrooks, Mike Minor, Yadier Molina, Will Myers, Bobby Parnell, Brandon Phillips, Wilin Rosario, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Anibal Sanchez, Nick Swisher, Mark Trumbo, Shane Victorino, Joey Votto, Michael Wacha, Matt Wieters, David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman.

(Some of these players seemed to be putting up sub-par numbers before they actually hit the DL. Some may have been playing through the hurt before breaking down.)

Note that there are 45 players on this list (up from 39 last year). These were the DL denizens who lost at least $10 of value. There were dozens more that lost less. In all of the Top 300 coming into the season, 143 players lost time to the DL (and another 15 to demotion or release). The 53% attrition set a new record for losses.

Accelerated skills erosion: These are players who we knew were on the downside of their careers or had soft peripherals but who we did not think would plummet so quickly. In some cases, there were injuries involved, but all in all, 2014 might be the beginning of the end for some of these guys... Grant Balfour, Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Dustin Pedroia (presumably, unless you think his thumb injury has been long-term and chronic), Alex Rios, Joe Nathan, Alfonso Soriano.

And Justin Verlander? Can we put Verlander in here? I don't know. This season looks remarkably similar to 2008, a performance he bounced back from with a vengeance. At 31, it's tough to say his southern trajectory is permanent, but that arm has weathered an average of nearly 220 IP for nine straight years, not including post-season play.

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 2014, and still others were inflated by media hype. Yes, for some of these, it was "What the heck was I thinking?" For others, we've almost come to expect players to ascend the growth curve faster these days. (You're 23 and you haven't broken out yet? What's the problem??) The bottom line is that player performance trends simply don't progress or regress in a straight line; still, the BPI trends were intriguing enough to take a leap of faith. We were wrong... Domonic Brown, Clay Buchholz, Matt Carpenter, Chris Davis (who surpassed even our most pessimistic regression scenario), Alejandro De Aza, Chris Denorfia, Marco Estrada, Freddie Freeman, Jedd Gyorko, Aaron Hill, Jed Lowrie, Brad Miller, Shelby Miller, Daniel Nava, Danny Salazar, Nate Schierholtz, Jean Segura (though there were additional mitigating circumstances in his case), Dan Straily, Will Venable.

If you want to witness the recency bias in action, count how many of the above names had just one great season—in 2013. I count... nearly all of them. Perhaps that begs for a forecasting model that does not place so much weight on the immediate past season's performance. (More on that next week.)

Misplaced regression: Sometimes, we're so bullish on a player that we ignore the potential for regression within the bounds of normal random variance. Gravity is a powerful force, for... Elvis Andrus, Miguel Cabrera, Kenley Jansen, Stephen Strasburg.

Unexpected loss of role: This category is usually composed of closers who lost their job, sometimes through no fault of their own... Grant Balfour (again), Ernesto Frieri, Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson, Nate Jones, Joakim Soria, Jose Veras. I suppose we can also toss Kendrys Morales in here, who neither had a role, nor a team, until June.

Throw our hands up and yell at the TV: These are the players for whom there is little 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 2014. For some, it was just the turn of an unlucky card this year:

Billy Butler finally saw his home run output achieve harmony with his 50% ground ball rate. His plate patience also tumbled, leaving him with the lowest OBP of his career. At the ripe old age of 28, he's fast becoming irrelevant.

I've already listed Jim Johnson among the failed closers who lost the role (sometimes through no fault but their own), but let's get real here. Yes, he did not have the perfect skills set to close, but he did post BPVs of 84 and 103 in his two 50-save seasons. Who would've thought he'd completely collapse while moving to a better team and ballpark?

I could have made an excuse for Joe Mauer and listed him among the DL Denizens. However, his season was so out of character even before the 1-month DL stint that it can't just be written off. I was convinced that moving out from behind the plate full-time would be the elixir to boost his offensive numbers.

The final accounting: The pop quiz was a trick question. If I've counted correctly, there were 70 players who earned at least $10 more than projected; 85 who earned at least $10 less. That's 155 who've performed significantly different than we expected. For perspective, in a 12-team mixed league, this unpredictable group would have made up upwards of TWO THIRDS of the draftable player pool.

There are two ways to look at this. Either it begs for better forecasting methodologies—though we've been plowing that field for three decades and the crop is still barren. Or it forces us to take a different approach to looking at the numbers and constructing our teams.

That's where the Mayberry Method comes in. I'll be spending a good amount of ink on taking the next steps in the upcoming 2015 Baseball Forecaster. It's the book with Clayton Kershaw celebrating his no-hitter on the cover. Pre-publication discount available now.


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