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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Bill James: Will Middlebrooks Primed For Monster Season With Red Sox

Our miss. Middlebrooks.

So, when James publishes his annual reference guide, with statistical data through the past season and projections for the next one, fans and executives alike tend to pick up a copy. And in this year’s edition of the Bill James Handbook, he predicts another 30-homer season for David Ortiz, 19 homers and an .807 OPS for rookie sensation Xander Bogaerts, and 14 wins for Jon Lester, none of which tests the limits of plausibility.

And then, there’s this: James pegs Will Middlebrooks for 32 home runs, 104 RBI and an .800 OPS.

No, that’s not a misprint. We checked.

Never mind that Middlebrooks struggled so badly through the middle of last season that he was sent to the minors for seven weeks. Or that he was benched for the final two games of the ALCS and the entire World Series in favor of Bogaerts, a natural shortstop who never had played third base on any regular basis and wasn’t called up to the majors until August. Or that he has gotten more attention lately for his dating exploits than for anything he’s done on the field.

When it comes to Middlebrooks, James is a believer.

...As Herald colleague John Tomase recently noted, Chris Young and Tony Clark are examples of players who had a sub-.300 OBP and at least a .450 slugging percentage in their first 500 career plate appearances between ages 23 and 24 and went on to become All-Stars.

According to James, Middlebrooks will have the numbers to reach that status as soon as this season.

The Red Sox certainly hope so.

Repoz Posted: February 12, 2014 at 05:59 AM | 44 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: red sox, sabermetrics

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. boteman digs the circuit clout Posted: February 12, 2014 at 07:18 AM (#4655309)
I hear he's in the best shape of his life.
   2. jacksone (AKA It's OK...) Posted: February 12, 2014 at 08:38 AM (#4655317)
I saw 1 comment in the sidebar, figured I might have a shot at a 'best shape of his life' comment still. Sadly, no.
   3. Publius Publicola Posted: February 12, 2014 at 08:38 AM (#4655318)
Since James works for the Red Sox, it's hard to distinguish opinion from propaganda now.
   4. Publius Publicola Posted: February 12, 2014 at 08:43 AM (#4655319)
I think though, it's unfair to Middlebrooks to use his benching in favor of Bogaerts as an example of his mediocrity. Bogaerts has superstar written all over him so it's no disgrace being displaced by him.
   5. Sonic Youk Posted: February 12, 2014 at 08:47 AM (#4655321)
It's pretty easy to imagine middlebrooks can hit 30 homers and still be a not very good player. In fact, that exactly what he's done over his first 650 career ABs.
   6. Arva Posted: February 12, 2014 at 09:11 AM (#4655326)
If Middlebrooks can't learn better pitch recognition his upside is what, Joe Crede? Crede had an excellent glove, good power, nothing else. In today's MLB, that's a starting third baseman. Looking at baseball reference, Middlebrooks is going to have to improve to get to Crede's offensive levels, however.
   7. Avoid running at all times.-S. Paige Posted: February 12, 2014 at 09:16 AM (#4655327)
Is Middlebrooks a good fielder? Crede was outstanding if I'm remembering correctly.

   8. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: February 12, 2014 at 09:17 AM (#4655328)
I think "Bill James says..." is a bit misleading, he's just running a statistical forecast here. My recollection is that the BJH tends to run high with the offensive numbers.

I'm not on the WMB bandwagon. He can hit the ball a long freakin' way but he has no clue at the plate. Watching him every day it looks as though he makes up his mind to swing before the pitch is released. He'll take a BP fastball down the middle on one pitch then swing at a slider down and away on the next. It's the pitches he inexplicably takes that drives me insane. I'd almost rather him go up there Francouer style and just swing from the time he gets out of the dugout.
   9. bfan Posted: February 12, 2014 at 09:18 AM (#4655329)
Tough crowd here. You would have thought Bill James would have earned some credibility at this point; after all, he is BILL F'ING JAMES.
   10. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: February 12, 2014 at 09:20 AM (#4655330)
I love Bill James. I love the Red Sox. But Middlebrooks is not doing this in 2014. He cannot lay off of pitches out of the strike zone.
   11. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: February 12, 2014 at 09:26 AM (#4655332)
Tough crowd here. You would have thought Bill James would have earned some credibility at this point; after all, he is BILL F'ING JAMES.


He is, but he's not infallible. If there is one thing Bill James' writings have driven home to me over the years it is to not simply accept someone's word for something.
   12. chisoxcollector Posted: February 12, 2014 at 09:27 AM (#4655334)
Is Middlebrooks a good fielder? Crede was outstanding if I'm remembering correctly.


Crede had an amazing glove. He basically had a Brooks Robinson 1970 quality ALCS and WS in 2005. Lots of clutch hits and ridiculous defensive plays. Too bad nobody but Sox fans seemed to notice.
   13. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 12, 2014 at 09:36 AM (#4655336)
Tough crowd here. You would have thought Bill James would have earned some credibility at this point; after all, he is BILL F'ING JAMES.

"Bill James" projections aren't really done by Bill James, IIRC, and have been a joke for years. Not that they miss on guys, every system misses tons of guys. But they butcher simple stuff like not having the run environment for hitting match the run environment for pitching in the same projection.

Projecting an average team to score 750 runs, and allow 650 is simply inexcusable, and has caused me to completely ignore "Bill James" projections.
   14. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: February 12, 2014 at 09:39 AM (#4655337)
Is Middlebrooks a good fielder?


No. His footwork is particularly noteworthy for how bad it is.
   15. Bug Selig Posted: February 12, 2014 at 09:58 AM (#4655340)
If there is one thing Bill James' writings have driven home to me over the years it is to not simply accept someone's word for something.


Exactly. Bill's angle was always the questioning of the CW.
   16. Howie Menckel Posted: February 12, 2014 at 10:05 AM (#4655342)

I hear he's in the best shape of HER life

#rimshot
   17. BDC Posted: February 12, 2014 at 10:08 AM (#4655343)
middlebrooks can hit 30 homers and still be a not very good player. In fact, that exactly what he's done over his first 650

Indeed; I was surprised to see that his career line in almost exactly one full season of play is .254/32/103. My eye goes automatically to the OPS+ column on B-Ref and never to the "scoreboard" stats anymore.

That said, and as people here have said, his OPS+ is mild because his OBP is terrible. He's like a modest rendition of Mark Reynolds so far, and nothing in his record suggests a monster season ahead. But Reynolds himself had a very good year at age 25, so there's hope that Middlebrooks has that career year somewhere in his portfolio ready to deliver.
   18. Tricky Dick Posted: February 12, 2014 at 10:44 AM (#4655368)

Since James works for the Red Sox, it's hard to distinguish opinion from propaganda now.


This seems like a bit of an overreaction. This is just the output of James' projection system which is produced every year. The projection system has always projected on the high side for individual's offensive stats (at least compared to other projection systems, like ZIPS, Steamer, etc.). That's fairly well known. So, maybe the projections look optimistic for Red Sox hitters. If the author takes a look at projections of players on other teams, he probably will see similar optimistic appearing projections for other hitters. And I think that you always take the playing time projections (plate appearances, innings, etc.) with a grain of salt--this is true of almost all projection systems. It's probably a stretch to even call this Bill James' opinion.
   19. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 12, 2014 at 10:54 AM (#4655375)
The projection system has always projected on the high side for individual's offensive stats (at least compared to other projection systems, like ZIPS, Steamer, etc.). That's fairly well known. So, maybe the projections look optimistic for Red Sox hitters. If the author takes a look at projections of players on other teams, he probably will see similar optimistic appearing projections for other hitters.

The problem with "James'" projections is that they're optimistic for both pitchers and hitters. Every team looks good b/c the scoring environments don't match. "He" routinely projects the league to score far more runs than it allows.
   20. GregD Posted: February 12, 2014 at 11:01 AM (#4655379)
Projecting an average team to score 750 runs, and allow 650 is simply inexcusable, and has caused me to completely ignore "Bill James" projections.
Is this literally true? Amazing
   21. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 12, 2014 at 11:04 AM (#4655385)
Is this literally true? Amazing

It has been literally true in the past. I've ignored his projections for the last 3+ years (Fangraphs doesn't even carry them anymore) so I don't know if they fixed it.

With ZiPs, Oliver and Steamer freely available, there's really no reason to ever look at the James' projections.
   22. Mike Emeigh Posted: February 12, 2014 at 11:13 AM (#4655395)
This is just the output of James' projection system which is produced every year.


Exactly.

As for the article itself: Pass.

-- MWE
   23. DJS and the Infinite Sadness Posted: February 12, 2014 at 12:17 PM (#4655458)
Every year I crunch through the James numbers and they're quite optimistic. Last year, for instance, I estimated that the James projections implied that the average team was 87-75. As snapper noted, you can't actually reconcile what offensive environment they're using for hitters and pitchers.
   24. OCD SS Posted: February 12, 2014 at 01:43 PM (#4655551)
The offensive and defensive environment James uses is in lake Wobegone. All the players are above average.
   25. KT's Pot Arb Posted: February 12, 2014 at 01:48 PM (#4655556)
A year ago, I could make the joke that the Sox use the Bill James system projections internally, and it had Bobby V at 10 WAR, man!

But a comedy goldmine hath been ruined by that blasted Worlds Championship. I miss the old Sox already.
   26. Nasty Nate Posted: February 12, 2014 at 01:49 PM (#4655558)
If Middlebrooks can muster an OBP/SLG of .290/.450, the Sox will be OK with that being the 8th or 9th best spot in the lineup.
   27. Textbook Editor Posted: February 12, 2014 at 02:25 PM (#4655596)
I've always thought of him as Shea Hillenbrand v2.0, but (presumably, hopefully) is a much nicer person.
   28. ellsbury my heart at wounded knee Posted: February 12, 2014 at 02:53 PM (#4655645)
If Middlebrooks can't learn better pitch recognition his upside is what, Joe Crede? Crede had an excellent glove, good power, nothing else. In today's MLB, that's a starting third baseman. Looking at baseball reference, Middlebrooks is going to have to improve to get to Crede's offensive levels, however.


How do you figure? Up to Middlebrooks' age, Crede had a 99 OPS+. Middlebrooks has a 102. No doubt Crede beats him on defense, but they're equal offensively through age 25.
   29. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: February 12, 2014 at 02:55 PM (#4655647)
The edge he has on Hillenbrand is he has legitimate power. Hillenbrand was a line drive hitter who could lift one but as a practical matter he basically had 15-20 home run power. If Middlebrooks plays every day 25 homers is the floor. He'll have a .290 OBP so he'll be painful as all hell but when he runs into one it's going to go a long way. That makes him more valuable than Hillenbrand.

As a random aside, while he was not especially fast I remember Hillenbrand being a very good base runner who got great reads.
   30. ellsbury my heart at wounded knee Posted: February 12, 2014 at 03:02 PM (#4655655)
I've always thought of him as Shea Hillenbrand v2.0, but (presumably, hopefully) is a much nicer person.


Hillenbrand had good contact skills, though. If Middlebrooks had the contact skill Hillenbrand did, he'd be an All-Star. As it is, they just share a poor conception of the strikezone.
   31. tfbg9 Posted: February 12, 2014 at 03:04 PM (#4655660)
ZIPS: .249/.291/.425

Steamer: .261/.308/.463

Oliver: .246/.297/.436
   32. tfbg9 Posted: February 12, 2014 at 03:22 PM (#4655689)
If Middlebrooks had the contact skill Hillenbrand did


WMB has 168 K's in 660 PA's, with 30 unintentional BB's. He has supposedly reported to camp with 12 extra pounds of muscle.
Maybe that'll help him wait on pitches a hair longer.
   33. Lars6788 Posted: February 12, 2014 at 04:48 PM (#4655801)
A better Kevin Kouzmanoff?
   34. Walt Davis Posted: February 12, 2014 at 05:01 PM (#4655813)
As others have noted, the HR/RBI numbers are reasonable as that is what WMB has done in a full season's worth of PAs in his career. It's the 50 point jump in OPS that doesn't make sense. It might make some sense since players tend to add some power in this age range and more walks often come with more power ... but if he's got more power, he should hit more than 30 HR.

Anyway, a projection of 260/300/500 would not be a crazytown projection but it's probably a clown projection bro.
   35. bobm Posted: February 12, 2014 at 11:54 PM (#4656030)
Chris Young and Tony Clark are examples of players who had a sub-.300 OBP and at least a .450 slugging percentage in their first 500 career plate appearances between ages 23 and 24 and went on to become All-Stars.


The bullsh!tiest thing about this quote is how it implies what a broad group of players even fit the PA criteria, let alone the All-Star, for whatever that's worth.

Spanning Multiple Seasons or entire Careers, From 1901 to 2013, Through Age 24, (requiring onbase_perc<=.300 and slugging_perc>=.450), sorted by greatest Plate Appearances

                                           
Rk              Player   PA  OBP  SLG   Age
1          Cory Snyder 1048 .284 .474 23-24
2          Chris Davis  872 .300 .459 22-24
3      Willie Stargell  805 .300 .470 22-24
4    Will Middlebrooks  660 .294 .462 23-24
5         Brian Hunter  559 .294 .468 23-24
6           Tony Clark  520 .298 .480 23-24


Spanning Multiple Seasons or entire Careers, From 1901 to 2013, Through Age 23, (requiring onbase_perc<=.300 and slugging_perc>=.450), sorted by greatest Plate Appearances
                                    
Rk        Player  PA  OBP  SLG   Age
1    Chris Young 702 .297 .459 22-23
2    Cory Snyder 433 .299 .500 23-23


Spanning Multiple Seasons or entire Careers, From 1901 to 2013, From Age 23 to 24, (requiring onbase_perc<=.300 and slugging_perc>=.450), sorted by greatest Plate Appearances

                                           
Rk              Player   PA  OBP  SLG   Age
1          Cory Snyder 1048 .284 .474 23-24
2        Matt Williams  975 .294 .477 23-24
3      Willie Stargell  771 .298 .470 23-24
4    Will Middlebrooks  660 .294 .462 23-24
5         Brian Hunter  559 .294 .468 23-24
6           Tony Clark  520 .298 .480 23-24


1,318 players had 500+ PA in their Age 23 and 24 seasons combined, and they found Chris Young and Tony Clark!
   36. bjhanke Posted: February 13, 2014 at 12:05 AM (#4656033)
I tried doing player projections back in the 1990s, with middling success. One thing I found out very quickly is that I was always optimistic overall. The reason is that you have to make projections based on the assumption that the player will be healthy. Well, not every player will be healthy. You just don't know which ones will be and which ones will not. So, optimism in projections is impossible to get rid of, unless you've found a crystal ball that will tell you who's going to get hurt. If you read my projections at the time, they looked just as optimistic as Bill's do. There's no way out of it, that I know of. Dropping the projections overall until they aren't optimistic overall simply means that you're going to underrate the players who do stay healthy. - Brock Hanke
   37. Golfing Great Mitch Cumstein Posted: February 13, 2014 at 01:25 AM (#4656065)
A few years ago an article on Bill James' projections mentioned that the hitters' projections are done by James and another person/group does the pitchers' projections.
   38. Monty Predicts a Padres-Mariners WS in 2016 Posted: February 13, 2014 at 02:16 AM (#4656072)
A few years ago an article on Bill James' projections mentioned that the hitters' projections are done by James and another person/group does the pitchers' projections.


I think it's fair to blame him for things that go out under his name, regardless of whether he did the work himself or just cashed a check.
   39. Golfing Great Mitch Cumstein Posted: February 13, 2014 at 10:56 AM (#4656155)
I'm not absolving him of any blame, just pointing out why things may not match up.
   40. Mike Webber Posted: February 13, 2014 at 12:40 PM (#4656242)
First or Second Half
Direct Link · Determined by All
-Star Break  · Glossary  · SHARE  · Embed  · CSV  · PRE  · LINK  · ?
Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB ROE BAbip tOPSsOPS+
1st Half 53 52 216 203 19 39 13 0 9 25 0 1 9 60 .192 .228 .389 .617 79 7 1 1 2 0 2 .221 76 69
2nd Half 41 39 158 145 22 40 5 0 8 24 3 0 11 38 .276 .329 .476 .805 69 6 1 0 1 3 0 .320 133 125 


First half and second half Splits

Is it far fetched to think WMB 2nd half 276/329/476 is more likely to be what we see in 2014 considering that he had wrist surgery in the off season last year?
   41. Arva Posted: February 13, 2014 at 01:20 PM (#4656272)
I find it hard to believe he can hit .270 while striking out 25% of the time. Also, the 7% walk rate was the highest of his career. He's young, so he might improve, but his pitch recognition is going to have to get better for that to happen.
   42. Nasty Nate Posted: February 13, 2014 at 01:35 PM (#4656280)
I find it hard to believe he can hit .270 while striking out 25% of the time.


I agree that lower than .270 should be the expectation, but he did hit .288 with all those K's in a half-season in 2012.
   43. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: February 13, 2014 at 01:57 PM (#4656305)
First half and second half Splits

Is it far fetched to think WMB 2nd half 276/329/476 is more likely to be what we see in 2014 considering that he had wrist surgery in the off season last year?


.259/.315/.441

That's the performance if you include his post-season efforts which I think is useful given that we are dealing in small sample sizes.

An .800 OPS is possible certainly, it's not that far from .750 but I think .250/.290/.450 is a more reasonable 50% projection than .280/.320/.480. There are enough numbers guys here to tell me how right/wrong I am but that feels right to me.
   44. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: February 13, 2014 at 04:16 PM (#4656465)
Is it far fetched to think WMB 2nd half 276/329/476 is more likely to be what we see in 2014 considering that he had wrist surgery in the off season last year?


His MLB career mark is .254/.294/.462

He hit .302/.345/.520 in AA (2011)
and .268/.320/.491 in AAA (2011-13) (IL not PCL, and Pawtuckett is a pitcher's park)

As for throwing out 1st half 2013, I don't like throwing out a half season's worth of stats- even if you think you have a good reason- because its too easy to let your inner fanboy out and start wishcasting (I'm a Met fan who doesn't take my own advice, I basically disregarded Ike Davis' putrid 1st half 2012, because hey, Valley Fever... Ike of course then showed that he could be just as putrid when not recovering from Valley Fever)

If I had to choose I'd pick Steamer out of the 3 projections shown in #31.

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