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Oakland's 2013 Infield According To ZiPS

Part 2 of our series about 2013 ZiPS projections and Athletics Nation predictions.

Will the real Josh Donaldson please stand up? (But only if it's the one from the 2nd half of 2012.)
Will the real Josh Donaldson please stand up? (But only if it's the one from the 2nd half of 2012.)

On Tuesday, we made some predictions about Oakland's outfielders by weighing 2012 stats, 2013 ZiPS projections, and any other relevant information we had to work with. Today, we're going to look at the infielders. This will be a bit trickier than the outfield predictions, because most of these guys have much shorter MLB track records to work with (or no MLB experience at all). Let's jump right in.

Brandon Moss

2012 stats: .291/.358/.596, 21 homers, 26 BB's, 90 K's, (296 PA's)
2013 ZiPS: .236/.307/.436, 21 homers, 44 BB's, 137 K's (532 PA's)
2013 Alex: .245/.321/.500, 31 homers, 55 BB's, 180 K's (590 PA's)

ZiPS needs more than half of a monster season to be convinced of a player's staying power. It has Moss falling down to his pre-2012 career average of .236, mostly because it doesn't believe in last year's .359 BABIP (it has him falling to .284 in that department). It thinks that both his K% and BB% will decrease just a bit, and that his power will drop off significantly.

I think that Moss is just the kind of player who ZiPS isn't built to project. He has made big changes to his swing/approach in the last year or two with Bautista-like results, but there isn't enough of a track record for ZiPS to go with. Of course, that lack of a track record could also mean that 2012 was a fluke, which is the whole point of looking at more than just last year's numbers.

We actually talked about Moss a couple weeks ago. This is one of the more interesting predictions for this team, so let me explain how I came up with these numbers. First off, I fully agree with ZiPS about Moss's BABIP. He is a fly ball hitter without much speed, and that is not the kind of hitter who maintains a high BABIP. As more of those batted balls turn into outs, his batting average will fall. I could see him getting as high as the .250-.260 range, but I'm keeping him at .245, just to be conservative.

However, I disagree with ZiPS on pretty much everything else. I think that his high K% is for real, because he swings hard and often and he doesn't make a lot of contact (67% contact rate last year, with a league-average around 81%). I also think that his BB% will creep upward just a bit, as he gets more respect as a slugger and learns to lay off a few more bad pitches. As for his power, that is absolutely for real. If Moss makes enough contact to play a full season, he's going to hit 30+ homers. I cut 50 points off of his isolated power, but I believe he can still slug .500 despite a low batting average.

Jemile Weeks

2012 stats: .221/.305/.304, 2 homers, 50 BB's, 70 K's
2013 ZiPS: .247/.316/.342, 3 homers, 44 BB's, 83 K's
2013 Alex*: .280/.367/.383, 2 homers, 61 BB's, 84 K's (500 PA's)

Weeks was good in 2011, and bad in 2012. ZiPS basically averages those two results, with a bit more weight on 2012 because it was more recent and a slightly larger sample size.

(Note: After I wrote the following section about Weeks, he was optioned to Sacramento on Sunday.)

I have absolutely no idea what to expect from Weeks. I'm not even talking about how well he'll play; I have no idea how much he'll play. Will he eventually earn a job and get 500 plate appearances? Or will he start in AAA, shuttle back and forth, and maybe platoon with someone for 200-300 plate appearances? Only the Great GM In The Sky knows for sure. Therefore, I am putting an asterisk on my prediction for Weeks:

*This is what I think he'll do if he plays well enough to actually win the everyday job. It's more of a best-case scenario than an actual prediction.

If he hits .220 or .240 in April then he's just not going to remain on the roster, because batting average is his only real tool. However, there is reason to hope that Weeks will turn things around. First off, his BABIP last year was only .256, which seems absurdly low for a player with his profile. Although his line drive rate dropped quite a bit last year, his ground ball rate shot up. A player with his speed should be able to turn a fair amount of ground balls into hits. Given his 2011 BABIP of .350, it's not unreasonable to think he might settle in around .300 over the long haul.

Another encouraging development is Weeks' plate discipline. In 2012, he doubled his BB% while lowering his K%, and so far this spring he's walked four times while striking out only once. If he can keep his walk rate at 10%, keep the K's down, and continue hitting line drives and ground balls, Weeks can become the sparkplug hitter he was in 2011. Then, it's just a matter of teaching him to slide into 2nd base without ending up in center field.

Scott Sizemore

2011 stats: .245/.342/.399, 11 homers, 53 BB's, 112 K's
2013 ZiPS: .233/.314/.361, 9 homers, 42 BB's, 117 K's
2013 Alex*: .240/.345/.405, 15 homers, 65 BB's, 135 K's (500 PA's)

ZiPS has no reason to like Sizemore. His potential is mostly untapped at the Major League level, and ZiPS isn't interested in anything except cold, objective success.

I'm putting the same asterisk on Sizemore that I put on Weeks. It's looking like Sizemore might start the year in AAA, as he has reportedly not appeared ready for the Majors this spring after missing a full year to injury in 2012. However, if he puts himself back on the radar quickly, and steals the job away from a lackluster Rosales or Sogard or an injured Lowrie, then he could still get 500 PA's. I don't see any reason why he'll hit for a high average, since he needed a .321 BABIP just to hit .245 in 2011, but I believe that his plate discipline is for real and that ZiPS is underestimating his power.

Hiro Nakajima

2012 stats: They're in Japanese and I don't know how to read that language.
2013 ZiPS: .271/.320/.366, 8 homers, 35 BB's, 93 K's
2013 Alex: No. Freaking. Clue.

ZiPS doesn't think that Hiro will be a disaster. To put his .686 OPS into context: Cliff Pennington put up exactly a .687 OPS in both 2010 and 2011 as an everyday shortstop in the Coliseum. In those two years, his OPS+ was 88 and 90, respectively (wRC+ = 91 and 92, respectively). That's still a below-average hitter, but with even a little bit of defense he could be better than replacement level.

What do I think? I don't know, do I look like a wizard to you? I'm still not sold on Hiro in any facet of the game, but I'm also keeping an open mind until I see him play actual regular season baseball. As far as I'm concerned, his ZiPS projection is as good of a prediction as I can make. Let's go with that.

Jed Lowrie

2012 stats: .244/.331/.438, 16 homers, 43 BB's, 65 K's (387 PA's)
2013 ZiPS: .246/.328/.410, 10 homers, 34 BB's, 55 K's (332 PA's)
2013 Alex: .261/.356/.440, 15 homers, 48 BB's, 72 K's (400 PA's)

ZiPS isn't a fan. You might see a trend forming: ZiPS doesn't like Oakland's infield. Not one bit. So it goes with young, unproven players, and/or players who are injury-prone.

Before Lowrie went down last July with a serious leg injury, he was hitting .253/.343/.456 with 14 homers and a great walk rate. Upon his return, he didn't hit, he didn't walk, and his defensive range was reportedly decreased. We'll have to wait until the regular season to find out how much he's recovered since then, but at least his spring performance has been encouraging. He's hitting for average and power, his plate discipline is back, and he made a couple of impressive plays in Saturday's game against the Giants. I'm still going to conservatively cap him at 400 plate appearances, but I think he'll hit when he does play - especially if last year's .257 BABIP regresses up toward his career average of .282. However, I do expect a small decrease in power due to his switch from Minute Maid Park to the Coliseum.

Josh Donaldson

2012 stats: .241/.289/.398, 9 homers, 14 BB's, 61 K's (294 PA's)
2012 2nd half: .290/.356/.489, 8 homers, 13 BB's, 35 K's (194 PA's)
2013 ZiPS: .234/.297/.383, 15 homers, 39 BB's, 118 K's (535 PA's)
2013 Alex: .270/.342/.463, 22 homers, 47 BB's, 126 K's (600 PA's)

ZiPS does the same thing to Donaldson that it did to Weeks. It sees his 1st half, and his 2nd half, and it averages them together. That is a reasonable line of logic.

Like any good A's homer, though, I look through my green-and-gold-tinted glasses and see his 2nd half as being closer to the real Donaldson. (Note: I'm not being figurative. I literally have gold-tinted aviators which I wear to A's games.) It's no secret that catchers are not usually good hitters, and that moving out from behind the plate can allow a player to improve his hitting; the position takes a huge physical toll on the body, and the time it takes for a catcher to prepare his game plan takes away from his ability to work on his hitting. Last year was the first time that Donaldson played the bulk of his games as a third basemen rather than a catcher, and I don't think it's a coincidence that he suddenly and dramatically improved at the plate. Following that same logic, it's also not a coincidence that his hitting improved rapidly as he got more comfortable at his new position, since he'd never really played third base before last year.

A good analyst never throws away data, but in this case I think that Donaldson's 1st half numbers are an unreliable data point. The numbers are so atrocious that it's difficult to take them seriously, given Donaldson's relatively sustained success thereafter. Rather than literally average the numbers together, I think it's more accurate to just take those 2nd half numbers and subjectively say, "He's probably one notch down from these."

Donaldson was a bit hit-lucky in his big 2nd half last year, so I'm dropping his average down. However, I think that his improved plate discipline is for real, so I'm giving him a BB% just slightly below average while keeping his K% at around 21%. He's got real power and hits enough line drives that he'll get his share of doubles, so I'm only dropping a few points off of his isolated power from the 2nd half of last year.

John Jaso

2012 stats: .276/.394/.456, 10 homers, 56 BB's, 51 K's (361 PA's)
2013 ZiPS: .259/.364/.398, 7 homers, 48 BB's. 46 K's (364 PA's)
2013 Alex: .270/.381/.449, 8 homers, 56 BB's, 48 K's (400 PA's)

ZiPS is gonna ZiP. No track record, no happy projection.

In defense of ZiPS, though, I also don't know what to make of Jaso. He had a short-season breakout last year, just like so many other A's players did. Plus, Jaso's breakout came in Safeco Field in an awful Mariners lineup, so you don't even have to cut his numbers down to reflect Coliseum effects.

Let's start with what we know for sure. Jaso's plate discipline is money. He will very likely walk more than he strikes out. However, his new situation might have a small effect here. Last year, Jaso was the only good hitter in an otherwise embarrassing Mariners lineup (Kyle Seager and Michael Saunders were the only other full-time players who were above-average hitters). There was no reason to pitch to him. I didn't watch the Mariners play every day because there was perfectly good paint drying on my walls, but I'm willing to bet that Jaso didn't get a whole lot of pitches to hit last year. This year, however, he'll be hitting in front of Reddick and Cespedes, and pitchers will be forced to give him a little more to work with. Seeing more strikes likely means slightly fewer walks, but seeing more pitches to hit might also mean slightly fewer strikeouts. Basically, I took last year's BB% (15.5%) and dropped it down to 14%, and I took last year's K% (14.1%) and dropped it down to his career average of 12%.

Jaso's batting average should be sustainable, if he really is that good of a hitter. His BABIP was fairly average, and moving from Safeco to O.Co shouldn't be a big deal. I rounded down to .270, but really it could vary 20 points in either direction. I went conservative on his power, knocking a couple of homers off but figuring that he should hit the gaps enough to make up for it in his slugging percentage. I've got him at an .830 OPS, which would make him a fringe All-Star in the AL. Let's hope that prediction isn't too generous.

Derek Norris

2012 stats: .201/.276/.349, 7 homers, 21 BB's, 66 K's (232 PA's)
2013 ZiPS: .198/.310/.338, 12 homers, 61 BB's, 141 K's (470 PA's)
2013 Alex: .230/.321/.432, 12 homers, 33 BB's, 81 K's (300 PA's)

ZiPS is not impressed. It thinks that Norris will take a step back from his lackluster rookie season

I disagree. I like Norris - what a shock, right? I think he will improve. He'll have a few more hits fall in and he'll continue to grow into his power. With the increase in power, pitchers will work around him more, and he'll use the good plate discipline that he showed in the minors to draw a few extra walks. He'll still strike out a lot (I put his K% at 27%, down slightly from last year), but he was always supposed to be a Three True Outcomes guy. I conservatively gave him only 300 PA's, because I think that Jaso will get the heavier side of the catching platoon, but if Norris hits like I've predicted then he could work his way into an even larger role - even if that means forcing Jaso to play some games at first base or DH to make room.

Norris has entered the spring in the stereotypical "best shape of his life," and is putting up big numbers so far in the Cactus League. The question is: To what degree will those positive signs translate into regular season success?

Other players

There are a handful of other players in the mix for infield spots. I'm not going to try to predict these guys, because it's just impossible to know what kind of roles they could play. Daric Barton could make the team and platoon with Moss, or he could be dealt at the end of the spring and never suit up for Oakland. Eric Sogard could continue hitting over .500 and force his way into a job in April, or he could go back to AAA and wait for the occasional 2-week call-up when someone gets hurt. I've gone out on a lot of limbs to predict the playing time of the guys above, and even then, I'm only assuming that they will be the ones atop the depth chart when all is said and done. It would be pointless to try to predict how many plate appearances any of these guys will get, so let's just see what ZiPS has to say.

Once again, remember that ZiPS is cruel to players with little or no MLB track record. If all you have is AAA numbers, then it's going to give you Major League equivalents, so unless you have the raw numbers of Shane Peterson in 2012 and the peripherals to back them up, then you're probably going to get a pessimistic projection from ZiPS.

Daric Barton: .231/.354/.345, 7 homers, 73 BB's, 89 K's (496 PA's)
Nate Freiman: .236/.295/.379, 16 homers, 39 BB's, 142 K's (604 PA's)
Scott Moore: .235/.309/.376, 11 homers, 35 BB's, 96 K's (437 PA's)
Grant Green: .247/.287/.350, 9 homers, 29 BB's, 134 K's (634 PA's)
Adam Rosales: .234/.292/.359, 7 homers, 24 BB's 75 K's (352 PA's)
Eric Sogard: .250/.315/.348, 6 homers, 38 BB's, 58 K's (464 PA's)
Andy Parrino: .217/.304/.325, 6 homers, 45 BB's, 127 K's (462 PA's)

Your Turn

What do you think of these projections and predictions? Which ones are right on, and which ones are way off the mark? Make your own guesses in the comments! We'll return later this week with Part 3 of the ZiPS series: The Starting Rotation.