Over at Baseball Think Factory, my ESPN Insider colleague Dan Szymborski has been dutifully unfurling his most wonderful ZiPS projections for the upcoming season. Forecasts for our Cardinals, beloved possessors of belt and title, can be found here. So let’s talk about the hitters, shall we? Click to enlarge and regard:
ZiPS, to my mind, tends to skew a bit conservative on individual projections. That is, except in the cases of the superduperstar class of player, one is likely to be underwhelmed and a bit disappointed by the outputs. Know, however, that, a, this can be considered a feature and not a bug, and, b, fans of other teams are similarly indignant. With all that said, I think ZiPS might be a tad too bearish on some players. On some, though, I tend to agree with the pessimism …
- Matt Holliday is tabbed for a slugging percentage of .484. Just twice has he posted such a “low” figure on an extended basis: his rookie season, and his 93-game Oakland exile in 2009. It’s possible that Holliday, at age 32, is about to enter his decline phase, but a 41-point drop in SLG seems a bit steep. I’ll take the over on Holliday in terms of power production.
- The Allen Craig projection will outrage some, but it doesn’t strike me as unreasonable. Given additional exposure to same-side pitching and in the full light of his good-but-not-great minor league numbers, I can see his settling in at about this level. While I’d love to believe that Craig’s 2011 represents his true level of ability, I simply don’t. He’ll be a useful player and perhaps even a capable regular, but there’s not much to suggest he’s a future star. On the other hand, I’ll be pleased if he’s able to play in 123 games, as ZiPS anticipates.
- In the same vein, David Freese‘s forecast seems plausible. Last October’s sorcery notwithstanding, this is a player who’s shown vanishingly little raw power at the highest level (career ISO of .131) and drawn just 47 walks in 667 career plate appearances. In other words, he needs to hit around .300 in order to be even modestly productive. So far, he’s managed to achieve that, thanks in large part to a career BABIP of .365. Self-evidently, Freese is good enough to be a regular on a championship-caliber team, but don’t let his postseason performance lead to irrational expectations.
- Considering Yadier Molina‘s full career, predicting a regression makes a lot of sense. However, it’s possible that the power spike he enjoyed in 2011 is sustainable. His 2011 SLG of .465 was 73 points higher than his previous career best, and that came in a season in which offensive levels were depressed on a league-wide basis. How’d he do it? At a basic level, Molina hit more balls in the air than ever before and converted a higher percentage of those fly balls into homers than ever before. While I don’t think a 126 OPS+ is his new baseline, I’ll take the over.
Oh, and there’s also this guy, plucked from the Giants page:
Given Carlos Beltran‘s age, a decline from his .300/.385/.525 season is to be expected. Even at the forecasted levels, though, he’s going to be a productive addition to the lineup. Somewhat more disconcerting is that ZiPS tabs him for just 450-ish plate appearances in 2011. But the odds of a healthy Beltran might be better than anticipated.
His knees will always be the worry. Beltran underwent major surgery on both knees in October of 2007 and then endured another procedure on his right knee in March of 2010. Because of those maladies, he was limited to just 81 games in 2009 and 64 games in 2010.
The good news, however, is that Beltran hasn’t been sidelined with knee problems of any kind since last spring training, and then it was his less troublesome left knee. The right knee’s been in fighting shape since September 2010. Beltran made only one trip to the DL last season, and that was due to a sprained wrist (obviously unrelated to his chronic knee problems). It’s also worth noting that Beltran logged almost 600 plate appearances last season despite playing more than 1,100 innings in the field. Obviously, Beltran is no longer suited to regular duty in center, but recent trends suggest he’s more durable right now than he has been in some time. As well, the Cardinals have the outfield depth (particularly once Craig returns) to rest Beltran once a week or so and in low-leverage late innings. This is a long way of saying that I’ll take the over on playing time for Beltran.
Next time — i.e., when the writer’s considerable indolence permits — I’ll take a look at what ZiPS has to say about the Cardinal pitching staff.