Braves right fielder Jason Heyward has new running mates in the outfield this year. Will they remain the best outfield in baseball? Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Braves Outfield – Better or Worse in 2013? Part 2


In part 1 of this examination I covered the potential reduced effectiveness of the Braves outfield defense following the replacement of Michael Bourn and Martin Prado with the Upton brothers. If you haven’t read that (shame on you) the bottom line was that statistically the the defense will be worse. If that is the case the next question is, was the offense improved enough to make up for the runs that will be allowed because of that reduction. Today I take a look at that and try to make sense of all the numbers that now batter us in every baseball discussion.

The Numbers

Glancing at the plethora of numbers on Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus or your favorite statistical repository can be confusing and lead to some erroneous conclusions. Every statistic must have context to be informative and unfortunately the pages of numbers and some of the linked glossaries assume that the reader spends a lot of time educating themselves. That’s true for some but not for most. Add to that the various ways of calculating many of the stats and the confusion is multiplied – though I’m, not sure by what factor and what the standard deviation is. (that was a joke; laugh.) I’ll try to cut through some of the noise on a few of these related to the impact of the Braves new outfield.

Runs Created

Runs Created (RC) is a run estimator developed by Bill James. He uses this formula to develop Win Shares.  RC has shown itself to be accurate within 5% for whole teams according to the revered Mr. James. Last year the Braves team RC was 718 and actual runs scored was 700, off by just 2.6%.

Using runs created to evaluate individual players however,  doesn’t produce a true picture. The formula is tweaked so that it closely matches the teams actual results but that tweaking skews individual numbers.  RC is therefore most accurate for whole team evaluation; the player as part of a specific unit rather than a specific level of applied talent and or skill. To get a better look at the individual player wRC+ or Weighted Runs Created Plus.

Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+)

Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) measures how a player’s wRC compares with league average. Being weighted simply means that the RC is smooted out for park and league factors. When that is compared to other players in the same position you get wRC+ where the league average is 100 and every point above 100 is a percentage point above league average and every point below 100 is a percentage point below league average. I’m sure someone will tell me if I’ve misinterpreted that.

Now we’re ready (sort of maybe) to look at last year’s numbers.

Out wRC+ WAR
Michael Bourn 104 6.4
Martin Prado 116 5.9
Chipper Jones 126 3
Total losses 326 15.3
In
B.J. Upton 107 3.3
Justin Upton 108 2.5
Total Gains 215 5.8
Plus
Chris Johnson 108 1.8
Juan Francisco 88 0.8

Between Prado and Bourn we lost a net 220 RC and 12.3 WAR. (I’ll get to Chipper in a minute.)

The new outfield brought in 215 RC and 5.8 WAR.

So the offensive loss in terms of runs created is almost a wash. The big hit is when WAR is calculated  because it takes into account so many other factors and there are multiple ways of calculating it.

The pairing of Francisco and Johnson at third base produced close to the same wRC+ as Chipper did in 2012 though they fell about one War point short or matching him.

That was last year, what do the projections say about 2013?

Expert prognostication for 2013

I spent a lot of time digging through various expert sources for projections and trying to understand how to present them. I’m only showing four of them because. . .well it’s a bit cluttered after – and even within – these. No matter how these oracles present them projections always contain subjective spin. That’s the nature statistical analysis, although it’s down in black and white the numbers themselves are grey. Many formula are modified because of a philosophical approach to the game or the value of the numbers in the formula. It’s easier to see when you look at the numbers. So here’s a sampling. I’ve split the table to make it easier to read.

Justin Upton R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB
Zips 93 152 29 4 22 76 19 9 69
Pecota 94 148 29 4 23 76 16 6 74
Baseball HQ 97 163 30 4 24 73 17 8 66
Bill James 106 169 34 5 28 86 19 9 70
B.J. Upton R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB
Zips 89 145 33 5 25 80 34 10 61
Pecota 89 131 31 3 16 59 37 10 64
Baseball HQ 88 147 36 5 25 91 33 7 61
Bill James 88 144 34 3 23 75 35 11 68

Some things are obvious in this set with just a quick glance. Bill James likes Justin a lot better than others while he agrees with them on B.J. He and Baseball HQ are generally more optimistic while Pecota is more conservative probably because it’s a computer program that looks back a long way.

Justin Upton BB% SO K% ISO BABIP
Zips 10.4% 147.6 22.5% .179 .316
Pecota 11.3% 142 21.6% .187 .303
Baseball HQ 10% 141 21.4% .190  *
Bill James 10.7% 135 20.60% .203 .339
B.J. Upton BB% SO K% ISO BABIP
Zips 9.4% 154.88 25.6% .204 .306
Pecota 10.6% 150 24.8% .159 .308
Baseball HQ 10 181 29.7% .207  *
Bill James 10.5% 167 25.80% .188 .310

 

Justin Upton BA OBP SLG OPS WAR
Zips .263 .348 .442 .790 3
Pecota .258 .346 .443 .789 3.7
Baseball HQ .280 .354 .467 .822 5.4
Bill James .289 .372 .492 .864 6
B.J. Upton BA OBP SLG OPS WAR
Zips .251 .322 .455 .777 3.5
Pecota .245 .326 .407 .733 3.3
Baseball HQ .251 .322 .456 .778 3.7
Bill James .248 .329 .436 .765 3.4

*If a cell is blank that statistic was not included in their projection.

Note that Mr. James and Baseball HQ did not project WAR, I calculated it using the Simple War Calculator on our sister site Wahoo’s on First. I had to use last year’s league averages but that should be close enough for this kind of look. (Well it will have to be won’t it?)

What’s all this mean? Most projections have BJ and Justin turning is close to their average years. The projections believe BJ will get his OBP back over 300 and Justin will add about 1.5 WAR to his 2012 numbers. If that happens they’ll produce slightly more wRC runs than the 215 they provided last year. At worst the outfield will provide as much offense as it did last year. It may well result in more runs as most of Bourn’s production occurred prior to the All Star game.  Consistency  over the whole season might well  see a significant increase in offense.

Conclusions

As I noted on Saturday, saying that our new center fielder is simply average doesn’t make him a bad player and while Justin was a slightly above average right fielder the same tools make him potentially the best left fielder in the league. The DRS stat is a bit misleading because most defensive-stat types agree that 10 runs saved equals one win over the course of a season. so the –38 DRS change means a potential loss of three to four games over the season. That could easily be replaced by improved production with RISP from a healthy Braves lineup no longer unable to hit left handed pitching. We lost more than four games  by one run last year because we failed to get the guy home from third. I expect this lineup to change that in 2013 and offset the theoretical lost games due to diminished DRS. The starting outfield alone could produce 80 home runs, 90 doubles. 75 stolen bases and 230 RBI. Last year the numbers were 46, 98, 70 and 209. Although defense may – may, not will – be less effective, I believe our outfield is better than it was last year and potentially as good as any in baseball.

That’s a Wrap

After going blind and half crazy sorting out the minutia of all these advanced stats I believe now what I believed after we made the trade. The addition of the Uptons to our lineup makes it one most pitchers won’t have a lot of fun facing. From the two through the eight slot a pitcher’s mistake has a high probability of becoming a fan souvenir before he can ask for a new baseball. The eight starters could finish the year with 180 homers and an equal number of doubles. I expect Justin Upton to have a monster year and I expect BJ to have a respectable one too. Heyward is maturing and becoming more dangerous every day and Freddie Freeman who quietly drove in 94 runs with a sore hand and vision issues is healthy again. Brian McCann is in his walk year and Uggla feels he has something to prove (he does) and has been working hard to get back to his old ways. The soft spot may be Francisco who’s worked himself back into shape and is projected to have about 20 homers and 70 RBI. That would put him right at the league average for the position; some soft spot.  The Braves lineup is right up there with the best in the league. While they will miss Prado and Andrelton Simmons will have to grow into the leadoff spot, it’s a much more dangerous lineup than we’ve had for a long, long time.

Tags: Atlanta Braves

  • fireboss

    i know this is optimistic but it’s spring and we’re supposed to be optimistic