As hot stove season starts to wind down and Opening Day draws near, a baseball fan's mind naturally turns to thoughts of the season to come. Whatever your personal prognosticative prowess, the best place to start when looking for what to expect from your favorite player in 2014 is consulting the various projection systems that can be found around the baseball blogosphere.
Most of the time, there's a pretty clear consensus among the projection systems about what to expect from an established player -- last year, for example, Bill James, Steamer, Oliver and ZiPS all projected Asdrubal Cabrera to hit between 15 and 17 home runs with between 69 and 73 RBIs, and he ended up with 14 and 64. But sometimes the models don't agree with each other. Those are the players it's fun to debate. So I decided to look at some of the players on whom the projection systems disagree most.
Starting with hitters, I looked at weighted on-base average, better known as wOBA, which is essentially a batting average that knows the difference between a single and a home run. To use F.C. Lane's century-old analogy, if you had a quarter, a dime and a nickel, wOBA would know that you have 40 cents while batting average would say that you had three coins.
I then turned to the Steamer Projections created by Jared Cross, Dash Davidson and Peter Rosenbloom, and the Oliver system, designed by Brian Cartwright, and isolated every hitter whom both models project to get at least 400 plate appearances in 2014. (I use Steamer and Oliver not because they are necessarily better than any other systems, but because their 2014 numbers have already been published and the data were easily accessible on FanGraphs. However, anecdotally speaking, in past years Steamer and Oliver seemed to disagree more than most projection systems.)
Subtracting one system's wOBA projection from the other's for each player yielded some intriguing results, and you can find a list of the top 20 most divisive hitters in MLB at the bottom of this piece. Here's a look at five of the most interesting names from that group of 20 -- and my analysis of which projection system is more likely to be right.
2013 stats: .190/.288/.254, .247 wOBA
Steamer 2014: .281/.339/.376, .317 wOBA
Oliver 2014: .252/.315/.331, .289 wOBA
Mr. November has a reputation for being consistent, but after injuries limited him to just 17 forgettable games in 2013, there's considerable disagreement about how much Jeter has left in the tank. It's clear that his career is on the wane (both projections have him in line for the worst full season of his career) but Steamer sees him as a solid contributor in 2014 while Oliver puts him at barely above replacement level.