If you have ever made your way over to a Fangraphs player page and looked below the lifetime year-by-year stats, you’ve probably seen a shade of green containing acronyms (which seem to be growing by the year) with stats for a season that hasn’t happened yet. These are player projections and while they are not perfect, they provide a good baseline for us to ground our expectations for the upcoming season. They draw from the past performance of the player, weighted more heavily towards their most recent seasons, but also use historical data of the career trends of previous players with similar age, experience, and skill level. Projections strive for the 50th-percentile median outcome to help keep our cognitive biases in check. Leave the Hot Takes out of this exercise.
While there are many excellent projection systems, some of which are behind paywalls, we’re going to focus on three publicly available models to evaluate Red Sox players that I’ve found useful in the past: Steamer, The BATX, and ZiPS. You may see additional projections for ATC and Depth Charts in your Fangraphs surfing as well. This is useful but not original information. They are simply aggregating numerous other projection systems into one and deciding how to weight them; the kind of project one could do if really good at Excel. For example, Depth Charts combines Steamer and ZiPS, and then adjusts for playing time. ATC aggregates the inputs of Steamer, The BATX, ZiPS and more. Razzball takes Steamer’s projections and adjusts daily for projected playing time. There’s also Ron Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster, which has had four decades of success. And for you fantasy baseball players, Vlad Sedler makes his own projections at FTN Fantasy ($) that I would recommend.
So let’s take a look at these projection systems and break down the Red Sox hitters, in order of Roster Resource’s Projected Lineup:
1) Jarren Duran, CF (L)
Let’s start on a positive note. Projections really like what Duran did a year ago and are betting on close to a repeat. What sticks out to me is that The BATX is highest on Duran, which is a projection system that has been notoriously low on players with limited major-league experience. The fact that Duran is a sneaky 27 year-old may be a factor in countering that. The 27 steals is the seventeenth-highest projected number in all of baseball. Duran’s .295 average a year ago was partially fueled by a .381 BABIP (MLB Avg: .297). Each model this year is bringing that number to between .325-.330 which seems feasible because of Duran’s speed.
2) Rafael Devers, 3B (L)
Steamer gives a slight edge for Devers, projecting him in the top-10 in all of MLB in HR, RBI, and Runs, as well as tied for fourteenth in WAR among hitters. The .285 BA would be in the top-15 as well. All of the models’ outputs seem like a fair median outcome for the 27-year-old Devers who had a 55.1% Hard-Hit% last year putting him in the top-2 percentile in MLB, deserving better than his .271 BA.
3) Triston Casas, 1B (L)
Coming off an electric second half in which he hit .317 with 15 HR and 38 RBI in just 54 games after the break, I was more interested in seeing Casas’s projections than anyone else’s. Steamer is most bullish on Casas, projecting a 130 wRC+ and an .858 OPS (19th in MLB), to go with 29 HRs (T-27th). The BATX projection with a .242 BA and .340 OBP seems more like a 10th percentile outcome to me, but a second-year player at the age of 24 does not always pop in their model. Regardless, a 130 vs. 109 wRC+ is a wild disparity. ZiPS creator Dan Szymborski surmises, “For Triston Casas, my best guess is that the systems have different ideas about how a left-handed power hitter will generally fare in Fenway Park, which has a rather unorthodox shape and is generally an awful place to be a lefty slugger. Even Ted Williams felt the effects!”
4) Trevor Story, SS (R)
The projections are not being kind to Story entering 2024. Since there is such a heavy weight to the previous seasons and Story is coming off of two consecutive disappointing campaigns, the prime Trevor Story years are only factoring in a small amount at this point. He is also entering his age-31 season. Story has struck out 31.4% of the time the past two seasons so the ~28% projection might be generous. Nonetheless, both the BATX and Steamer project a 20/20 season for Story. ZiPS has similar rate stats for Story but is more pessimistic with the playing time, projecting 99 games played.
5) Masataka Yoshida, DH (L)
Yoshida’s name seems to be an afterthought in the Red Sox’ core entering this season, likely due to his miserable end to the season, in which he hit just .254 with an 18.4% K-rate (an unheard-of rate for him) after the break. What we forget is that Yoshida hit .316 before the break, with a .382 OBP and 10.7 K%, and was 36% better than the league average hitter (136 wRC+). ZiPS and Steamer haven’t forgotten about that and expect an average north of .290 this season to go with a similar power output to last year and getting back to a 12-13 K%. These projections all seem entirely fair and could be exceeded if Yoshida can better handle the grind of a 162-game season on his second go-around.
6) Tyler O’Neill, LF (R)
O’Neill, like Story, has had a monster season but it is now three years in the past as well as low games-played totals due to injuries the last two years. O’Neill turns 29 in June which conceivably should still be in his prime years. ZiPS having a projected .268 average and .826 OPS is most eye-opening. The BATX and Steamer seem to be closer to the mark that I would expect; something in the .250 batting average range with 20+ homers and 10+ steals. Quality defense should push that past a 2-WAR season, something he has only done once, in his whopping 5.5 fWAR season in 2021.
7) Wilyer Abreu, RF (L)
For now, we have to assume that Abreu is the strong-side platoon in right field, even though another bat has to be coming, right? Right??
Abreu has had a double-digit walk rate at every stop so his OBP projections seem fair. If he does in fact get over 400 plate appearances, the 15 HR / 9 SB season that ZiPS projects is conceivable. Personally, I’d like to give Abreu another year to prove himself before giving him this kind of workload. And even then, Roman Anthony is hopefully knocking on the door.
8) Vaughn Grissom, 2B (R)
Grissom destroyed Triple-A last year with a .920 OPS and a 12.0%/14.1% BB:K but was blocked in Atlanta after showing subpar defensive ability at shortstop. He should get every opportunity to play at the revolving door that has been second base at Fenway. Steamer and ZiPS both believe that he can be a 2+ WAR player and 10% better than league average hitter, which I would certainly take in his first full season. Even if his output was of The BATX projection of .280 with 10 HR, 57 RBI and 10 SB, as long as he holds his own defensively, I would sign up for that from the 23-year-old Grissom.
9) Connor Wong, C (R)
Some strong disparities for Wong with a batting average range of .231 to .249, and home runs between 8 and 13. Both BATX and Steamer have him at an 80 wRC+ and the difference between 75 and 104 games played might be as simple as “Is Kyle Teel up in the second half this year?”
Rob Refsnyder, OF (R)
2023 OPS: .828 vs LHP, .466 vs RHP = .682 overall
2023 wRC+: 133 vs LHP, 31 vs RHP = 93 overall
Let’s stick to what works.
Reese McGuire, C (L)
Yeah, we’re going to see Kyle Teel this year.
Ceddanne Rafaela, OF/IF (R) and Enmanuel Valdez 2B (L)
ZiPS playing time projections for Rafaela and Valdez are a bit far-fetched but worth a look for the rate stats.
Next week, we’ll take a look at the pitching projections and then all collectively vomit into a bucket.