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Examining possible ranges of outcomes: Outfielders

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How good, or bad, could the outfield be?

Boston Red Sox Workout Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

We are now into what should have been the third full week of the major-league season, which means we are getting pretty deep into this whole baseball-less thing. That also means that, even if baseball does come back, it is going to be very different than anything we’ve ever seen before and thus we can pretty much throw many or most of our preconceived notions about things out the window. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m just not sure how useful projections will be this year in the event baseball is played.

With that out of the way, I’m going to spend the rest of this article talk about projections, because what else do we have?! There are a lot of different projection systems out there these days, which is a good thing because no one system is perfect but the more data points you can throw into a sample the more useful the information you do have should be. Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA system is one of the most famous systems and has been around forever at this point, and again while it’s not perfect it is one of my favorites.

Specifically, I love that PECOTA doesn’t just publish the 50 percent projection. That is still their main output, but BP will also publish different percentile projections for every hitter, essentially creating a ceiling and a floor for a player. They go mostly by tens of percentage points, but also include the one percent range and 99 percent range projections. Essentially, using their model they simulate the season tens of thousands of times and these are the performances that happened 90 percent of the time, 10 percent of the time, et cetera.

I’m going to take a look at those ranges for the players on the Red Sox roster (click here for BP’s depth chart and links to individual player projections) today and see what the more relatively realistic possible range of outcomes are for everyone, looking at the 10th and 90th percentile outcomes. Today I’ll look at the outfielders. The pitchers will come later in the week.

Andrew Benintendi

10th Percentile: 0.8 WARP

90th Percentile 2.6 WARP

At first glance, this seemed crazy to me, and to be frank I still certainly don’t agree with the overall conclusion. The idea that Benintendi’s realistic best-case isn’t even a three-win player doesn’t make sense to me. However, it seems like this has more to do with positional adjustments than anything else, because the range of offensive outcomes with a 94 DRC+ on the low end and a 123 DRC+ on the high end is more reasonable. I would still kick up that high end a little bit, but it’s not too far off. The thing that stands out the most to me here is that PECOTA sees a nearly 20 percent strikeout rate even at the highest end, despite not striking out more than 17 percent of the time in two of his three full seasons. The power and BABIP vary greatly between the two outcomes, but I think if he is to hit his realistic ceiling, we’d also see a strikeout rate closer to 15 percent, which I think would bump that WARP above 3.0.

Jackie Bradley Jr.

10th Percentile: 0.3 WARP

90th Percentile: 2.4 WARP

Again, I disagree with the ceiling here for Bradley, but again it comes down to the defensive component in the metrics. FRAA, which is Baseball Prospectus’s defensive stat that goes into their WARP number, has been lower on Bradley’s defense in some years, even rating it as a negative as recently as three years ago and only putting him very slightly above average in 2019. If you agree with that, then you can see a ceiling of just barely a regular player, because their 90th percentile offensive outcome is a 109 DRC+. With slightly above-average defense up the middle and a little less than a full-time role — they project him to play in 75 percent of games — a 2.4-win player seems about right. In terms of pure offense, Bradley has one of the biggest ranges of outcomes on the team, with a low-end DRC+ of 78, a 31 point difference from 10th percentile to 90th. Of course, no one who has watched his career would disagree that the variance at the plate is massive.

Kevin Pillar

10th Percentile: -0.4 WARP

90th Percentile: 0.5 WARP

It should be mentioned that these percentiles don’t take playing time into account, or at least that they don’t change playing time across percentiles. The true best-case scenario purely in terms of overall WARP for Pillar would be if someone in the outfield suffered a significant injury and he had to play every day. In that case, given a 91 DRC+ that is projected for him, with his defense he’d be closing in on two WARP with full playing time. As it stands, he is projected to be a glove-first backup who plays in 40 percent of games and his offense ranges from that aforementioned 91 DRC+ on the high end to a borderline unusable 66 mark on the low end.

Alex Verdugo

10th Percentile: 0.9 WARP

90th Percentile: 3.3 WARP

Verdugo is always going to have the unfair (to him) comparisons to Mookie Betts, but according to these projections the young right fielder is already the best outfielder on the team. I wouldn’t say that with a sense of extreme confidence, but it certainly is not an unreasonable stance. However, the difference would appear to be on the defensive end between him and Benintendi, with Verdugo’s 90th percentile DRC+ still coming in at 115. That’s not a bad output, but it is still 11 points below Benintendi’s 90th percentile. PECOTA sees a lot of contact in Verdugo’s future in any outcome, with his strikeout rate only at 16 percent even in the 10th percentile. However, he also has a rough .265 BABIP there with minimal power, leading to an ugly 81 DRC+.

J.D. Martinez

10th Percentile: 2.9 WARP

90th Percentile: 5.8 WARP

Now, one would think that Martinez wouldn’t have such a high floor given that he barely plays the field and when he does he’s not exactly providing a ton of value there. That said, is offense is just so good that it doesn’t matter. Plus, as I mentioned above, playing time is the same here so there’s no chance of last year’s back spasms coming back in these projections. Consider this line: .265/.333/.501 for a 134 DRC+. That is better than the 90th percentile outcome for anyone listed above. It is Martinez’s 10th percentile outcome. Again, I think you can quibble with some of the overall WARP numbers depending on how you would adjust for positional value, but the 134 to 174 range on DRC+ is incredible. For a little bit of context here, only Mike Trout eclipsed that in 2019. Alex Bregman was second in baseball by DRC+ with a 157 mark.

Overall

10th Percentile: 4.5 WARP

90th Percentile: 14.6 WARP

Overall Offense (Including Infielders)

10th Percentile: 10.9 WARP

90th Percentile: 33.9 WARP