Monday, April 1, 2013

Projecting The Offense: Right Field

Right field is the toughest position to project; the Pirates entered Spring Training appearing to give the majority of playing time to Travis Snider, who is attempting to stick in the majors for the sixth time, with Jose Tabata backing him up – perhaps in a platoon. However, Garrett Jones will get the Opening Day start, with both Snider and Tabata on the bench. What is almost certain is that right field is a position that will be in a state of flux for the first half of the season at least.

Travis Snider
2012 (Minors): 246 PA, 16 doubles, 0 triples, 13 home runs, .335/.423/.598, .435 wOBA, 2 stolen bases 
2012 (Majors): 185 PA, 7 doubles, 1 triple, 4 home runs, .250/.319/.378, .307 wOBA, 2 stolen bases 

2013 Projections
Bill James: 312 PA, 19 doubles, 1 triple, 11 home runs, .278/.345/.468, .352 wOBA, 5 stolen bases 
ZiPS: 497 PA, 27 doubles, 1 triple, 13 home runs, .253/.312/.403, .310 wOBA, 9 stolen bases 
Oliver: 482 PA, 23 doubles, 2 triples, 15 home runs, .255/.319/.421, .320 wOBA, 9 stolen bases 

Summary: Snider has a .248/.309/.415 batting line (.316 wOBA) in 1062 plate appearances in the majors. Both ZiPS and Oliver forecasts that Snider can match these numbers, while Bill James has the most aggressive projection (like with Starling Marte) and representing the upside, driven by the highest walk rate (9.0 BB%), lowest strikeout percentage (21.8 K%) and better luck (.332 BABIP). Snider is a .333/.412/.565 batting line in 797 Triple-A plate appearances and the hope will be that some of this minor league success will translate to the majors.

Jose Tabata
2012 (Minors): 173 PA, 9 doubles, 0 triples, 0 home runs, .297/.353/.354, .327 wOBA, 5 stolen bases 
2012 (Majors): 374 PA, 20 doubles, 3 triples, 3 home runs, .243/.315/.348, .296 wOBA, 8 stolen bases 

2013 Projections
Bill James: 353 PA, 19 doubles, 2 triple, 3 home runs, .278/.345/.377, .316 wOBA, 12 stolen bases 
ZiPS: 580 PA, 31 doubles, 4 triple, 5 home runs, .262/.330/.366, .308 wOBA, 19 stolen bases 
Oliver: 552 PA, 25 doubles, 4 triples, 8 home runs, .271/.338/.387, .319 wOBA, 19 stolen bases 

Summary: While Oliver projects a small power increase, all three forecast that his luck will change – with his batting average on balls in play approaching his career .315 mark from the .287 BABIP in 2012. Bill James is the most aggressive in this respect (.319), resulting in the highest batting average and on-base percentage of the three systems. 

Garrett Jones’ Opening Day start in right field is likely a result of Gaby Sanchez outperforming both Snider and Tabata during Spring Training. Sanchez hit .302/.415/.651 with four home runs, with Tabata (.269/.304/.442 with 1 homer) and Snider (.255/.333/.362 without a home run) lagging behind. Nonetheless, I'd expect the club will likely revert back to Snider as the primary option at some point; he's out of options so should be given the opportunity to stake a claim to regular playing time.

If Jones is given the majority of starts against right-handed pitching in right field, Snider’s role is likely to be limited – with Tabata receiving a playing time boost given Jones’ need to be platooned. Snider could therefore see some time as Marte’s backup in left field and in right field when Sanchez is given days off (with Jones deputizing at first base). The situation first base/right field will likely develop further as the season progresses, especially if this is a case where Sanchez is given the first opportunity for everyday plate appearances. 

The problem with the projections for both Tabata and Snider is that only Bill James’ Snider prediction offers any sort of breakout – and a breakout from either Tabata or Snider (or Sanchez at first base) will be required to claim to the position on a full time basis at some point in the season. If any of these players struggle, Jerry Sands and Alex Presley represent the primary depth at Triple-A level and either player could force their way into the mix for starts with a strong start to the season. The concern is that both Snider and Tabata are out of options, which would mean exposing them to waivers if the club were to make a change. 

The Pirates could use a host of different options in right field this season. Whereas Garrett Jones gets the Opening Day start, both Travis Snider and Jose Tabata will see time at the position. Injuries or a lack of production from any of these players will see others receive a chance at the position, with the Pirates potentially using five or six players in right this season. The hope is that Sanchez will breakout at first base or someone will claim the right field job as their own; however entering the season it does appear to be the position to strengthen at the deadline if the Pirates are in contention.

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