Alright, as I have neither class nor work today, I think it's a good time to start discussing the Community Projection Project. For those of you who are not familiar with it, I would suggest that you check out this thread at Beyond The Box Score to get an idea of what we're trying to do. Everyone here at Talking Chop is welcome to chip in with their two cents on the forcasts for Atlanta's 2009 season.
Right now, I'd like to start with the guys who have well-established roles on the Braves. We won't really know how the bench and bullpen will shake out until spring training, but we can be sure about most of the starting lineup.
What better place to start than the best catcher in the National League?
2005 (age 21): 204 plate appearances, .278/.345/.400, .319 wOBA
2006 (age 22): 492 plate appearances, .333/.388/.572, .402 wOBA
2007 (age 23): 552 plate appearances, .270/.320/.452, .328 wOBA
2008 (age 24): 509 plate appearances, .301/.373/.523, .387 wOBA
Brian McCann, one of the many "Baby Braves" that debuted in the 2005 season, has been the best catcher in the NL over the last three years, and 2008 saw a major improvement in his plate discipline. For the first time as a major leaguer, McCann's walk rate topped 10%, up from the ~7.25% of his first two full seasons. This is a major step forward for McCann, who has been a very batting average dependent player for most of his professional career.
Speaking of batting average, McCann has all the makings of a .300 hitter. He makes very consistent contact (85% contact rate) and seldom strikes out (12% K rate for his career).
Overall, McCann profiles as a very well rounded offensive player, one who hits for average, power, and as of 2008, draws a good ammount of walks. So, what do the projection models see for him in 2009?
Marcels: 542 plate appearances, .297/.360/.501, .367 wOBA
CHONE: 503 plate appearances, .297/.368/.503, .379 wOBA
Bill James: 571 plate appearances, .301/.370/.525, .387 wOBA
Clearly, Bill James is the most bullish on McCann - basically a repeat of his monsterous 2008 campaign with 20 more plate appearances. CHONE and Marcels are cautious in their own ways, with predictions of fewer plate appearances and a significant regression respectively. It's worth noting that even the more cautious projection models would have him as one of the top catchers in the big leagues in 2009.
Overall, as it usually is, the truth probably lies somewhere in between the three. Marcels is, to my mind, expecting too much regression in McCann's walk rate. It is not at all unusual for a 24 year old player to establish a new level of performance as he enters his peak and I see no reason to think that McCann's newfound patience is illusory. His plate discipline data (like much of the data I cite, it's available for free at Fangraphs) indicates that he swung at fewer pitches, both balls and strikes, than he had in 2006 or 2007. It seems to indicate an increase in selectiveness at the plate - an excellent thing to have when you're a .300 hitting catcher with plus power. he BJ projection (no sophomoric humor please) is very optimistic about his playing time, and it probably represents a best case scenario and not the mean.
Personally, I think it's safe to peg McCann for 530 plate appearances with a .380 wOBA. For those of you without a spreadsheet in front of you, that line is good for 27 runs above average with the bat. Combine that with the positional adjustment for catchers (+12.5 runs per 162 games) and replacement level (25 runs below average per 162) we have McCann's value right around 50 runs above replacement, good for ~5 wins before we account for defense. This post is getting big enough as is though, and I'll save that for another day.
As I said earlier, I welcome all the input I can get from the Talking Chop community. This is a collaborative effort, and I'm sure most of you have valuable information contribute. I only ask that you keep the discussion respectful.