2014 Projections: Outfielders

Over the last few days, I looked at the projected stats for the starting pitchersrelieverscatchers,  first basemen, and second basemen, third basemen, and shortstops in camp with the Yankees this spring. This final installment looks at the outfielders.

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 outfielders in camp with the Yankees.

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The Yankees’ outfield should be in good shape in 2014. With newly acquired outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran joining incumbents Brett Gardner and Alfonso Soriano, the team has four outfielders who are probably good enough to play everyday. Fitting them all into the lineup shouldn’t be a problem, though. Derek Jeter is the only other non-outfieldes who figures to see significant time at designated hitter, so on most nights, there should be room at DH for whichever of Beltran or Soriano isn’t manning right field.

Although he’ll be 37 this year, the projection systems all forsee great things from Beltran at the plate. None predict much a drop-off from his 2013 campaign where he wOBA’d .359 wOBA with a 130 wRC+. Davenport is easily the highest on Beltran, projecting him for a .225 ISO and 24 homers over 500 PA’s. The other systems call for an ISO around .200 — on par with what he posted last season.

There’s some discord among the systems on Ellsbury’s 2014 offensive output. Unsurprisingly, much of this disagreement relates to Ellsbury’s power output, namely his home run total. It would seem the projection systems are still figuring out what to make of Ellsbury’s outlier 2011 campaign when he uncharacteristically belted 32 homeruns. ZiPS is the most optimistic of the bunch, predicting him for 15 homers per 600 plate appearances, while Oliver only calls for nine — roughly on par with his non-2011 rate.

The projection systems are divided on how heavily to weigh Ellsbury's 2011 campaign.
The projection systems are divided on how heavily to weigh Ellsbury’s 2011 power surge.

The fans are very bullish on Brett Gardner, pegging him for a .344 wOBA, but the projection systems all fall at or around the .322 mark. The systems do disagree on Gardner’s stolen base totals, however, which took a dive in 2013.

The projection systems aren't sure what to make of Gardner's lack of steals in 2013.
The projection systems aren’t sure what to make of Gardner’s lack of steals in 2013.

The consensus on Soriano is that he’ll post a wOBA somewhere in the .325 range, which is nothing special for a player with Soriano’s defensive limitations. Soriano’s clearly the fourth fiddle in the Yankees’ outfield orchestra, but will still see regular playing time until he plays himself out of it.

The systems are all down on Ichiro Suzuki, who figures to be the team’s fourth outfielder this year. This isn’t all that surprising – 39-year-olds who can’t hit generally don’t turn things around at age 40. His defense and base running are still decent enough to make him serviceable, but it’s hard to argue he’s any better than Zoilo Almonte, who’s probably just as good in the field and is unanimously projected to be the better hitter.

Reading too much into projections for minor leaguers is always dangerous, but Tyler Austin‘s Davenport projection is pretty interesting. After a dominant 2012, Austin had a rough go of it double-A Trenton last year due in part to a wrist injury. Austin will probably spend all of 2014 in the minors, especially considering the team’s outfield depth, but if he rakes this year – like Davenport suggests he will – it might be hard for the Yankees to keep him down all summer. 2014 should be a telling year in terms of Austin’s future potential, so I sure hope Davenport’s algorithm is on to something.

Although Austin figures to be the better hitter right now, Slade Heathcott is probably higher on the depth chart thanks to his defensive abilities and spot on the 40-man roster. Heathcott’s biggest issue is staying on the field.  Considering how much he’s actually played, Heathcott’s climbed the minor league ladder pretty quickly, but missing 40+ games a year of development can really set a young player back. If Heathcott can stay healthy all season, he should improve enough to earn at least a September callup. The projections say he’s better than Ichiro right now, which isn’t all that hard to believe.

Ramon Flores, Adonis Garcia, Antoan Richardson, and Mason Williams figure to spend all of 2014 in the minor leagues. Williams is one of the organization’s very best prospects, but he’ll need to hit a little more before he’s ready for the show. As a 40-man guy, Flores could get a look if the Yankees are ever short-handed in the outfield, but given the guys ahead of him, he’s probably a non-factor this year.

About Chris

Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, and is an occasional user of the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell
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