FanGraphs Fan Projections Are Craaaaazy

UPDATE: The always great David Appelman of FanGraphs found and fixed the problem with the projections.

FanGraphs’ fan projections are crazier than Jim Sipala.

Dave Allen found that fans projected their favorite team’s players more inaccurately than players on other teams. It makes sense: fans are biased towards their team and are unaware of that bias and/or are unable to remove that bias in their evaluation.

But… some of the 2011 fan projections are ridiculous. Take a look at some of the Atlanta Braves hitter projections using wOBA and pitcher projections using FIP:

(Note: positive differentials for hitters are optimistic while negative differentials for pitchers are optimistic.)

Player Pos Fans CarAvg Diff
Heyward, J RF .426 .376 .050
McCann, B C .383 .364 .019
Uggla, D 2B .381 .351 .030
McLouth, N CF .380 .343 .037
Prado, M UTIL .371 .352 .019
Freeman, F 1B .368 N/A N/A
Gonzalez, A SS .339 .298 .041

The pitchers:

Player Fans CarAvg Diff
Hanson, T 2.63 3.38 -0.75
Minor, M 3.24 N/A N/A
Lowe, D 3.43 3.80 -0.37
Jurrjens, J 3.46 3.85 -0.39
Hudson, T 3.51 3.82 -0.31

As you can see, the fans are optimistic that every player with a listed projection will out-pace his career average. In most cases, significantly out-pace their career average.

Just to illustrate how zany the projections are, the .426 wOBA for Heyward would have ranked fourth-best in the Majors in 2010, behind Josh Hamilton, Joey Votto, and Miguel Cabrera. I think Heyward is a great player, but a .426 wOBA in his sophomore season after posting a .376 wOBA? 50 points of wOBA was the difference between Ryan Braun and Jonny Gomes last year.

Fans expect Jair Jurrjens to increase his K/9 by 1.5 and lower his BB/9  by 0.5 compared to his career averages. Derek Lowe is projected to post his highest K/9 since 2001, when he was pitching out of the bullpen for the Boston Red Sox. Tommy Hanson is expected to put up a 2.63 FIP. By comparison, Roy Halladay has only once posted a FIP that low and it was in a short season in which he made just 16 starts.

Meanwhile, the Phillies’ projections aren’t nearly as crazy.

Player Pos Fans CarAvg Diff
Utley, C 2B .395 .388 .007
Howard, R 1B .372 .391 -.019
Victorino, S CF .341 .343 -.002
Ibanez, R LF .334 .351 -.017
Ruiz, C C .330 .326 .004
Rollins, J SS .329 .336 .-007
Polanco, P 3B .321 .334 -.013

Four of the Braves’ hitters — including Nate McLouth and almost Martin Prado — are projected to perform better than Ryan Howard. Heyward is expected to be significantly better than Chase Utley.

Overall, fans are more realistic, or just plain conservative, about the Phillies’ hitters. The largest gap between a player’s career average wOBA and their fan-projected wOBA is Howard at -.019. Every Braves hitter had an equivalent disagreement or greater above their career average.

Player Fans CarAvg Diff
Halladay, R 3.07 3.42 -0.35
Lee, C 3.02 3.77 -0.75
Oswalt, R 3.61 3.34 0.24
Hamels, C 3.62 3.77 -0.15
Blanton, J 4.44 4.21 0.23

Despite equivalent disagreements between the fan-projected FIP and their career averages, Tommy Hanson‘s projection is more unrealistic than Cliff Lee‘s because of how far down his FIP lies. Additionally, Lee’s pitching prior to 2008 is included and we all know that Lee transformed during the same year that the Phillies won the World Series. Overall, the fans are generally optimistic about the Phillies’ starting rotation, but fans are pessimistic about Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton. On the other hand, each pitcher in the Braves’ rotation is expected to best his career average FIP.

Oddly enough, Mike Minor is expected to post a 3.24 FIP, which is outstanding for a pitcher with all of 41 innings of Major League experience. His 9.5 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 were excellent and his 5.98 ERA was egregiously high, but a 3.24 FIP is still unrealistic. Even with those great numbers, his FIP in 2010 was still 3.86.

The fan projections are fun, but they don’t appear to be reliable in any way. Take them with a huge grain of salt; take the more objective methods of projection with a slightly smaller grain of salt.

Chase Utley vs. Robinson Cano

Over at Beyond the Box Score, Daniel Moroz of Camden Crazies compared Chase Utley and Robinson Cano, the top two second basemen in Major League Baseball. He concludes:

Robinson Cano is a very good player. Chase Utley is a very good player. If you want the second-baseman who will put the ball in play more and make flashier looking plays with the glove, then you take Cano. If you want the second-baseman who will make fewer outs and save more runs defensively, then you take Utley.

If Utley doesn’t bounce back at the plate – while Cano maintains his production from 2010 – then we’ll need to revisit this and perhaps give the Yankee the edge. If someone wants to take up the banner for Cano right now though, I’d be glad to hear the arguments.

Right now, I take Utley without hesitation. Last year in what was a career year for Cano, he was worth 6.4 fWAR. Utley, in a career-worst year, was worth 5.2. Utley at his worst is still very close to Cano at his best — that’s just how good Utley is.

However, there are question marks surrounding Utley. He has suffered two major hand injuries (a broken hand and a torn thumb ligament) in his career, recently turned 31 years old, and tends to wear down at the end of the season. In the Utley/Cano debate, Utley is best short-term, but Cano is superior in the long run.