The Bill James Handbook 2017 is within reach on my desk right now, and that’s where it will be throughout the offseason. The folks at ACTA Sports make sure each year that this invaluable guide to the past season and the season ahead is available as soon as the World Series ends. This way, every fan and baseball mind has great, and unique, information at their immediate disposal.
One of my favorite sections each season, and for many the most valuable, are the estimable Bill James’ and the team from Baseball Info Solutions’ projections for the season ahead.
James takes pride in his successful projections from last year’s edition, such as:
- Albert Pujols hitting 31 homers
- Adam Jones hitting 29 homers
- Chase Headley hitting 14 homers
- Nolan Reimold hitting nine doubles, six homers, and walking 22 times
Those are just four of the examples that James nailed perfectly. But he is also honest about his failings:
- Projecting 13 homers for Daniel Murphy (he hit 25)
- Projecting a .258 season for Cameron Maybin (he hit .315)
- And while the team correctly projected 552 AB for DJ LeMahieu, James thought he would have 157 hits and a .284 BA, while he had 192 hits and a .348 BA
As James writes, “So sometimes we’re mostly right about what a player will do, and sometimes we’re completely wrong. Take it for what you think it is worth.”
Nine to Know: 2017 Projections from the Bill James Handbook
There are projections for every big league player for 2017. With that in mind, let’s do what GMs are doing and look at nine projections for free-agents.
- Yoenis Cespedes — In 2016, Cespedes hit 31 homers and drove home 86. James expects pretty much the same with 30 homers and 85 RBI in 2017. That means that many teams will be after him, including the Mets.
- Justin Turner — Turner hit .275 with 27 homers and 90 RBI in 2016. James does not expect Turner to repeat his performance from his contract season: 17 homers, 73 RBI, and only a .228 BA.
- Aroldis Chapman — Chapman now has a World Series ring to go along with his 36 saves and 1.55 ERA in 2016. James anticipates 37 saves and a 1.83 ERA in 2017.
- Edwin Encarnacion — Encarnacion will be 34 in in the 2017 season. As usual, he was a beast in 2016 with a .263 BA, 42 HR, 127 RBI. Next season, James thinks he will hit .259 with 38 HR and 91 RBI. It’s a pretty safe bet that Dave Dombrowski has Edwin’s agent on his speed dial.
- Ian Desmond — Desmond is in position to cash in on some money he may have left on the table in the past. Desmond hit .285 with a .782 OPS, 22 HR, 86 RBI, and 21 steals in 2016. Next season, he is expected to hit .261 with a .738 OPS, 20 HR, 79 RBI, and 17 steals.
- Mark Melancon — In 2016, Melancon had 47 saves and a 1.61 ERA for the Pirates and Nationals. Projected by James of saving 45 with a 2.04 ERA next season, I have the feeling that Melancon will be a big winner this offseason.
- Jose Bautista — Time is not on Jose’s side as he will be 36 for the 2017 season. Bautista hit 22 homers, drove home 69, and had a .234 BA in just 116 games for the Jays as he battled injuries. Bill James projects a return to form with 33 homers, 91 RBI and a .242 BA in 2017.
- Rich Hill — Everybody knows how Hill went from pitching indy ball in 2015 to becoming an effective starter for the Dodgers. Now, his accountant is going to become aware of it as well. Last season, while battling blisters and other owies, Hill went 3-2 with a 1.83 ERA. Next season, James anticipates a 9-4 record with a 3.02 ERA. That’ll be just fine for teams looking for a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
- Mark Trumbo — There was thunder in Trumbo’s bat this season for the Orioles. Mark hit 47 homers, drove home 108, and hit .256. For 2017, Bill James anticipates Trumbo will hit 36 homers (just like Mike Trout) drive home 81, and compile a .253 batting average. That should be enough for a good size contract for the 31-year old slugger
Projections are just a small part of the great book
The book is filled with items you will spend more time with than you can anticipate. For example, you will find it not at all surprising to see that Clayton Kershaw is on the top of the starting pitching rankings for 2016, but I was a little shocked to find that Felix Hernandez had dropped to #31 by the end of the season and that the 43-year old Bartolo Colon was #41.
How about this beauty? Dustin Pedroia’s singles produced 63.1 runs for the Red Sox, greater than any hitter produced with doubles, triples, or walks, and all but two home-run hitters. Pedroia was also the winner of John Dewan’s Fielding Bible Award for second base in 2016. There’s a chapter in the book all about those as well.
Dewan also has a chapter on shifts. A quick stat for you: In 2016, MLB teams shifted 28,074 times and saved 359 runs.
Speaking of saving runs, Lindsay Zeck’s chapter on 2016 Fielding Statistics quickly tells us that Mookie Betts, the right fielder for the Boston Red Sox, saved his team 32 runs in 2016, the most of any player.
Zeck’s chapter on base-running is another one where you will find you started comparing one player’s second-to-home ability to another, then another and time keeps on moving as you get engrossed in the numbers.
I just learned that 99.3 percent of balls hit 320 to 339 feet were outs; only 0.7 percent were homers. So, when you see ballparks with odd dimensions, you certainly can’t count on the shortest fence being the most likely home run destination.
The Career Register is the heart of the book and includes the career stats of every active major league player. I will be honest, I wish the book would eliminate this section that has data that can easily be found on Baseball-Reference and expand some the other chapters both in terms of content and point size. The book is packed with stats with tiny type.
When you reach page 371 of this over-600-page opus, you feel that you have reached the chapter that GMs are studying like crazy this offseason. Joe Rosales’ chapter on relief pitching is filled with data about usage, inherited runners, saves, and relief results. After seeing the success of the Royals, Indians and Cubs, you are missing out if you don’t truly study this chapter.
Scott Spratt has a great chapter on pitchers hitting, fielding and holding runners, and hitters pitching with all sorts of great stuff.
Now do you see why GMs are reading this?
I didn’t include every chapter that’s in this book. You will find so much more when you order it from Amazon or wherever you get great baseball books. And do me a solid, email with some of the great nuggets you find from your perusals.
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