Sep 19, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar (11) misses the ground ball during the first inning against the Texas Rangers at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays Vs. Their Projections: Middle Infielders

Part of the fun of the pre-season is projecting just how good or bad each individual team and player could be. This is the first part of a series in which I will break down the projections for every Tampa Bay Ray’ player and why they will play better than their projections or play worse than their projections. For this series, I will be using three of the most popular projection systems: Oliver, Steamer, and ZiPS. Each one features differences on how they calculate a player’s regression, which leads to variation in projected stats. Oliver also standardizes each player’s stats to 600 plate appearances while the other two attempt to project the number of plate appearances a player will have. That has an effect on counting statistics, but I will keep things simple and use none of those in this article. Without further ado, here are the 2014 offensive projections for the Rays’ middle infielders.

*Note that for the purposes of this article I list Logan Forsythe and Sean Rodriguez as middle infielders, even though they both will see time at quite a few positions.

Ben Zobrist- .275/.354/.402 (115 wRC+) in 698 PA in 2013

Steamer- .263/.353/.418 (119 wRC+) over 658 PA
Oliver- .267/.344/.393 (110 wRC+) over 600 PA
ZiPS- .251/.350/.415 (117 wRC+) over 647 PA

Why he will beat the projections

Zobrist’s projections are solid, as all three systems project him to once again be an above-average hitter. Both Steamer and ZiPS think that he will have a slightly better season than last year, but Oliver thinks he will suffer from a slight negative regression. However, it is very possible that Zobrist could beat these projections. In 2013, he posted a .402 slugging percentage, well lower than his 2011 and 2012 slugging percentages, which were .461 and .471 respectively. We could very well see Zobrist put up numbers closer to his 2011 and 2012 seasons. In addition, he hit just .250/.310/.333 against lefties last season, despite a career line of .277/.358/.443 line against southpaws. It is safe to say he will hit lefties much better in 2014 than he did in 2013.

Why he won’t beat the projections

Zobrist is not getting any younger at 32 years old (he turns 33 in May), and often the first thing that a player loses as he ages is his power because of diminished bat speed. At this point we can’t be certain that Zobrist lost power because of his age, but that is a real possibility to consider. Zobrist should still hit for a decent average and draw his usual lion’s share of walks, but his power might continue to decline if it is indeed due to age. Zobrist’s numbers could drop again in 2014, but he will be a very valuable player no matter what thanks to his defense and versatility.

Yunel Escobar- .256/.332/.366 (100 wRC+) in 578 PA in 2013

Steamer- .253/.332/.366 (93 wRC+) in 507 PA
Oliver- .258/.331/.363 (98 wRC+) in 600 PA
ZiPS- .255/.321/.348 (91 wRC+) in 576 PA

Why he will beat the projections

Escobar was a league average hitter last season according to wRC+, but he would have been better if not for a horrid April in which he hit just .169/.229/.286. Yes, Escobar will have his ups and downs, but it is hard to see him managing an unsightly .515 OPS in any given month this year. Also, all these projections use data over the past few seasons for their projections. Escobar’s projections are weighed down by his awful 2012 that he is unlikely to repeat after how comfortable he looked in 2013. And after how good he was after April, who says can’t he ride that momentum into an even better season in 2013?

Why he won’t beat the projections

Like Zobrist, Escobar is not getting any younger at 31 years old. Every player will begin to regress as he gets older, and even though Escobar’s slugging percentage went up from 2012-2013, this could be the year that his power numbers begin to drop. The good news for the Rays is that even if Escobar isn’t great with the bat, his defense more than makes up for it.

Logan Forsythe- .214/.281/.332 (73 wRC+) in 243 PA in 2013

Steamer- .242/.321/.362 (94 wRC+) in 322 PA
Oliver- .252/.325/.390 (103 wRC+) in 600 PA
ZiPS- .224/.311/.337 (86 wRC+) in 380 PA

Why he will beat the projections

Forsythe’s projections vary widely, and that is mainly due to his inconsistency the last two seasons. His 2012, he hit to a 110 wRC+, but in 2013 it fell to just 73. The Rays acquired him hoping that he can play like the former, and there is plenty of evidence that he should. In 2013, Forsythe struggled with plantar fasciitis, which is a very pesky injury. Players generally play with it, but often it leads to poor performance, which surely happened in Forsythe’s case. He will definitely be better than he was in 2013, and should at least beat the ZiPS projection based off of this factor alone. Another reason why he will beat the projections is because of the Rays will play him primarily against lefties, who he has a .793 OPS against compared to just .594 versus righties. Put these two factors together, and it appears Forsythe should outhit his projections.

Why he won’t beat the projections

You can argue that Forsythe won’t beat the projections because his 2012 season was a fluke. Yes, Forsythe had some bad luck because of injuries in 2013, but is that enough of a cause for a 37 point drop in wRC+? His BABIP was a bit low at .255, but it wasn’t so low to justify a precipitous drop in his numbers. The Rays are hoping he can be his 2012 self instead of his 2013 self–they wouldn’t have acquired him otherwise–but there is no guarantee he can do that. In fact, in his 2011 season he was also mediocre, hitting .213/.281/.287 (60 wRC+) in his first 62 big league games. With two poor seasons and one good season under his belt, how can we say for sure that he is going to hit like the one good season rather than the two bad ones?

Sean Rodriguez- .246/.320/.385 (101 wRC+) in 222 PA in 2013

Steamer-.230/.301/.365 (89 wRC+) in 236 PA
Oliver- .233/.309/.367 (92 wRC+) in 600 PA
ZiPS-.233/.310/.376 (95 wRC+) in 318 PA

Why he will beat the projections

Rodriguez finally showed some improvement in 2013 by taking more advantage of his above-average bat speed and increasing his power numbers from the previous two years. Maybe Rodriguez is finally starting to figure out how to hit major league pitching and his numbers could be even better in 2014. He had power potential as a youngster, hitting 29+ home runs in two different minor league seasons. Rodriguez won’t ever hit for that much power in the big leagues, but his power is finally surfacing more often his games, and he could very well increase his numbers further.

Why he won’t beat the projections

Rodriguez hits lefties better, and it is likely that will never change. In fact, he had only 46 plate appearances against righties last year, with his other 176 coming against lefties. It would be hard to get Rodriguez even fewer PA against righties, and if he manages to hit more against righties in 2014 his overall numbers will go down. Also, Rodriguez has simply not been a good hitter in his career. His career wRC+ is just 86, and he put up a wRC+ of just 71 in 2012, when he managed just a .655 OPS against lefties. He did put up a .323 BABIP, which indicates that he was a slightly lucky hitter in 2013. That goes without saying that Rodriguez made just 222 plate appearances in 2013. It is going to take more than 222 plate appearances for Rodriguez to convince people that he can be an average hitter rather than a mediocre one.

That rounds off the projections for the Tampa Bay Rays’ middle infielders. They all have plenty of reasons to be able to outperform their predicted numbers, and the Rays have to be excited about what they can do. Each also comes with a chance of negative regression, but that is the case with almost every player. The Rays do have a strong crop of versatile middle infielders, especially on the defensive side of the ball, and they should be fine at second base and shortstop in 2014 if not better. Check back at Rays Colored Glasses later this week for the second part of this series, where I will be breaking down projections for the Rays’ outfielders.

Tags: Ben Zobrist Logan Forsythe Sean Rodriguez Tampa Bay Rays Yunel Escobar

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