Braves Rewind: 2010 Fan Projections for Braves Outfielders

Today, I'll be analyzing the fans' projections for the Braves' outfielders. The original projections can be seen in this FanPost from last year. According to the fans from FanGraphs*, the Braves' outfield was supposed to be the worst in the division, but they were still supposed to be worth about 9 WAR in all:

Projected  Player PA AVG OBP SLG HR UZR WAR
LF Matt Diaz 507 .305 .367 .441 12 -1.9 2.2
CF Nate McLouth 642 .265 .353 .442 21 -0.4 3.6
RF Jason Heyward* 471 .289 .357 .451 13  2.7 1.9
4th OF Melky Cabrera 530 .276 .331 .398 11 0.3 1.4

* Jason Heyward was not eligible for the fan projections because he had not played in the majors before 2010. The numbers shown here are a weighted average of his CHONE and Bill James projections. Heyward outdid both projections handily.

You guys all lived through the 2010 season, so I don't need to belabor the point. While Heyward was better than most people could have expected, the other guys failed to even come close to their expectations. Here are the actual stats for the four projected OFs, as well as a couple other guys who made an impact:

 Actual Player PA AVG OBP SLG HR UZR WAR
LF Matt Diaz 244 .250 .302 .438   7    0.1  0.7
CF Nate McLouth 288 .190 .298 .322   6 -14.2 -1.3
RF Jason Heyward 623 .277 .393 .456 18    4.8  5.0
4th OF Melky Cabrera 509 .255 .317 .354   4 -15.9 -1.2
CF Rick Ankiel 139 .238 .324 .328   2    2.6  0.5
CF Gregor Blanco   66 .310 .394 .362   0    3.0  0.6

It was reasonable to expect (even if the fans didn't) that Nate McLouth might drop off somewhat, but I don't think even Nate's biggest detractors expected him to do this. He didn't just fall off a cliff in 2010, he left a 10-foot-deep, Nate-McLouth-shaped hole at the bottom, Wile E. Coyote style. It's kind of amazing that as bad as Melky Cabrera was last year, he wasn't as bad as McLouth. Compared to those two, the barely replacement-level performances of Matt Diaz and Rick Ankiel seemed almost competent.

On a more positive note, Jason Heyward rules. If it weren't for him, the Braves would not have come close to the playoffs last year. Add up the WAR from all the Braves' non-Heyward outfielders (except Eric Hinske, who counted as an infielder for these projections), and you'll get a negative number. In other words, Heyward was the only thing keeping our outfield from being AAA-quality in 2010. Thanks, Jason.

(There's more after the jump, including a couple graphs.)

As you've probably guessed, the Braves had the worst outfield in the division, by WAR. They managed this despite several of the other teams' outfields imploding as well. Here's a graph of each team's WAR (I used Rick Ankiel as the Braves' centerfielder, since he at least had a positive WAR). As before, negative WARs are represented by widened bars with red borders. A team's total WAR is the bottom of a red-bordered box.

Actual_vs_projected_of_war_medium
The Phillies won this race almost by default, as they were the only team to have two outfielders with a WAR above 2.0 (which is roughly league-average for a starter). The Braves finished last despite having arguably the most valuable outfielder in Jason Heyward. Three outfielders in the division (Jayson Werth, Angel Pagan, and J-Hey himself) were actually worth more than the Braves' entire outfield, combined. If you add Eric Hinske's 1.0 WAR, most of which came in the outfield, to the Braves' total, they'd still come up just shy of the Nationals' 4th-place total. 

It will be extremely interesting to see how these WAR totals change in 2011. With Werth moving to the Nationals, full seasons from Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison, and Martin Prado probably seeing most of his time in the outfield, the Phillies shouldn't blow away the competition like they did in 2010.

Finally, let's look at the Braves' outfield spider chart. If you want the full explanation of how this works, go to the previous post in this series. The quick summary is that, for each of the five stats, a vertex further from the center of the graph is better. Or, even more simply: more color = better performance.

The gray pentagon represents the overall MLB averages; a point within this grey area is below average, while a point outside it is above average. Green represents the Braves' actual performance. Blue is their projected performance. Anyway, here's the graph:

Actual_vs_projected_-_of_medium

Hey, look at that walk rate! This is thanks mainly to Jason Heyward's world-class patience (though everyone but Matt Diaz was at least decent at drawing walks). Coming from a group that was projected to be below-average at drawing walks, that's a legitimate source of pride. The Braves' outfield actually manage to top their isolated power (ISO) projection as well, though it was still a bit below average.

The rest? Well, it's not so good. The fans thought these guys wouldn't strike out much, but they did (especially Heyward--his one weakness, really). The worst part, however, was on defense. An outfield that was projected to be merely a bit below average ended up being terrible defensively--despite good work from Heyward. Of course, all of this bad defense can be blamed on McLouth and Cabrera, who combined to cost the Braves nearly 3 wins on defense, if UZR is to be believed*.

* I wouldn't quite believe it. It takes at least 2 seasons for defensive data to stabilize, so realistically, we should regress all these numbers by half or more. That'd mean McLouth and Cabrera cost the Braves "only" about 1 to 1.5 wins with their defense.

Looking forward to 2011, the Braves' OF should at least be marginally better. We'll all miss Matt Diaz, but having Prado in left should ease that pain. It's hard to know what to expect from center field, where McLouth is supposedly again the starter. The optimistic outlook would be that there's nowhere to go but up for him; he can't possibly be any worse, right? Not having Melky dragging us down should help as well, provided Joe Mather or whoever else can provide at least replacement-level performance. Still, the outfield has a lot of question marks--more than any other part of the team, I'd say.

What do you guys think? Will the Braves' outfield be better in 2011, and by how much? Which NL East team will get the most value from its outfield? How do you think McLouth will do?

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