Over the last few days, I looked at the projected stats for the starting pitchers, relievers, catchers, and first basemen in camp with the Yankees this spring. The team’s situations at second base, third base, and shortstop are pretty well intertwined — there are several players who will probably end up playing all across the infield. Rather than trying to shoehorn these players into a single position, I’m clumping all three of the non-first base infield positions into one post.
There are a handful of projection systems out there that attempt to use statistical methods to forecast how players will perform in the future. The major systems out there include Davenport by Clay Davenport, Oliver by Brian Cartwright of Hardball Times; PECOTA by Baseball Prospectus; Steamer by Jared Cross, Dash Davison and Peter Rosenbloom, and ZiPS by Dan Szymborski of ESPN. Projections almost never predict performance with perfect precision, but give at least a general and objective prediction of what to expect out of a player going forward.
Additionally, Fangraphs hosts a crowdsourcing platform where every day fans like you and me can predict players’ performances. The Fans projections are only available for a select few players — namely those players who Fangraphs readers find interesting enough to project. They also tend to be somewhat biased as fans tend to be more optimistic forecasters than heartless computers. For these reasons, I didn’t include the Fans projections in the averages listed in the far right-hand column of the graphic below.
The following chart displays projected wOBA’s for the second basemen, third basemen, and shortstops in camp with the Yankees.
This year’s collection of infielders is skewed more towards quantity than quality. There are plenty of mildly interesting players on this list, but none that really stand out above the rest. The expected starters – Brian Roberts, Derek Jeter, and Kelly Johnson - aren’t even at the top of the list.
Strangely, yet unsurprisingly, the infielder with the best offensive projection has played all of two games in the last 30 months and isn’t even in camp on a major league deal. Said player is Scott Sizemore, who is coming off of two tears of the same ACL. To his credit, Sizemore had a pretty solid season back in 2011, but it’s anyone’s guess as to how he’ll fare after missing two consecutive seasons.
Assuming he makes it through spring training in one piece, Roberts is the favorite to be the team’s starting second baseman. Unfortunately, his projections are pretty terrible. Even the most optimistic projection out there pegs him for just a .307 wOBA. Still, it’s been a while since Roberts has stayed healthy for any extended stretch, so you could envision a scenario where he manages to stay on the field and has an Eric Chavez-type revival. Even a small dead-cat bounce would make him better than most of his competition.
While nothing special, Kelly Johnson may be the best player on this list, and I’d imagine he’ll play just about everyday at either second or third base. There’s little disagreement on Johnson’s 2014 offensive output — the systems unanimously predict he’ll at least eclipse the 1 WAR mark.
Projections for Jeter’s farewell season are pretty uninspiring. Coupled with his poor defense, the captain is projected for something in the neighborhood of replacement level. Davenport and Steamer (and the fans) seem to think he’s got one more decent offensive season left in him. Jeter was great in 2012, but it’s just hard to expect much out of him this year given his age and injury history. Hopefully he’s able to rise to the occasion this year because I’d really hate to see him go out with the .263/.323/.349 batting line that Oliver is projecting.
Jeter is expected to play shortstop as much as his body will allow him to, but will inevitably need to spend time at DH. This opens the door for Brendan Ryan to receive a good amount of starts at short. With a measly .270 wOBA, Ryan’s projected to be the worst hitter of the group, but he’s also easily the team’s best defensive infielder. He can pick it with the best of ‘em at short and should come in handy a late-inning replacement for the defensively-challenged Jeter.
Incumbent infielder Eduardo Nunez also figures to be in the infield mix this spring. Nunez’s defensive shortcomings are well documented by now and none of the systems think he’ll hit much either. Alas, the Yankees haven’t given up on “Nunie” yet and I’d expect him to keep getting chances for at least another year.
Dean Anna is a darling of the projection systems. It’s probably safe to say that the league as a whole considers Anna to be about replacement level, but virtually every one of his projections is significantly more bullish than that. He’s projected for a .307 wOBA — not bad for a player who’s supposedly able to hold his own at shortstop. Of course, those projections are based purely off of minor league stats, which makes them a little hard to trust. Anna probably won’t live up to those projections, but he doesn’t really have to in order to be better than some of the guys ahead of him in the depth chart. If you’re interested in a deeper dive on Anna, I’ve already written a disproportionate amount about what to expect from him in 2014.
Corban Joseph‘s projections look mildly enticing, but, like Anna’s, are based on minor league statistics and need to be taken with a grain of salt. Joseph is also a pretty poor defensive player who’s limited to the right side of the infield. He has an interesting bat, but it’s probably not interesting enough to overcome his defensive limitations. I could see him ending up as part of a sad second base platoon at some point this summer, but I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that.
The remaining infielders in camp – Jose Pirela, Zelous Wheeler, and Yangervis Solarte - are little more than depth. Yet, given the fragility of the infielders on the Yankees roster, any one of them could find himself in the Bronx this year. One of these guys will probably be the one player I miss in a game of sporcle three years from now.