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Oakland A's 2016 outfield by the projections

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We've got ZiPS, PECOTA, and Steamer spitting out numbers for the Athletics. But what do they even mean? We dive in, starting with the outfielders.

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This is a Billy Burns single, obviously.
This is a Billy Burns single, obviously.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Dan Szymborski dropped his ZiPS projections for the Oakland Athletics on Monday, and my Baseball Prospectus 2016 arrived in the mail with its PECOTA projections as well, so let's dive into their projections. First, we start with the outfield.

Projections explained

I'll just borrow Alex Hall's words from a few years ago:

ZiPS relies heavily on previous years' stats, it tends to be a bit pessimistic towards young players, due to lack of an MLB track record, as well as players who have missed lots of time recently (so basically, every single A's player). Here is a surprisingly entertaining FAQ about what ZiPS is and how it works.

Steamer also uses weighted averages while PECOTA relies more heavily on historic player comparisons.

In the tables for each player you'll see a few stats you may not be familiar with. "wOBA" is "weighted On Base Average," a scale that attempts to weight offensive events according to the average number of runs created by such events. Baseball Prospectus uses a similar measure called "TAv" for "True Average." Here's a scale for what these represent:

wOBA TAv
Excellent .400 .330
Great .370 .310
Above Average .340 .280
Average .320 .260
Below Average .310 .250
Poor .300 .240
Awful .290 .230

You'll also see a "Def/FRAA" which stands for Fangraphs' "Def" or "Defensive Runs Above Average" and Baseball Prospectus' "FRAA" or "Fielding Runs Above Average." Def is adjusted for position while FRAA is not.

Finally, all references to WAR will be to FanGraphs' WAR, except that Baseball Prospectus uses Wins Above Replacement Player, or WARP.

Billy Burns

Having turned 26 last August, Billy Burns should remain in his career prime as he works out the kinks from his first full season in the major leagues. Defensively you could see that Burns' speed was doing its best to make up for occasional poor routes that seem more Billy from Family Circus than Billy a Professional Baseball Outfield Man. From his minor league highlights, I also hoped that Burns would take more opportunities to steal bases than the 26 he earned in 2015.

Billy Burns
PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA HR K BB SB Def/FRAA WAR(P)
2016 ZiPS 599 .265 .320 .342 .306 3 96 39 35 Def: 2.0 2.0
2016 Steamer 622 .264 .317 .347 .293 4 96 40 32 Def: -1.5 1.2
2016 PECOTA 641 .259 .318 .341 TAv: .243 4 105 46 38 FRAA: CF -2 1.2
2015 555 .294 .334 .392 .317 5 81 26 26 -3.4/CF -12.9 2.3

All three projection systems are not impressed with Burns' .339 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) last year, with regression towards the league average playing a big part in the reduction on offense. Burns beats these projections if pitchers continue to throw him get-me-over first pitches and Burns puts them in play at a .479/.475/.718 clip, as he did over 118 plate appearances last season.

Burns also could improve if he can cut down on swinging at 36.9 percent of pitches judged to be outside of the strike zone, which was 25th worst out of the 141 MLB hitters who qualified for the batting title. There are successful hitters that go outside the zone that often, but they generally have at least 50 points more of isolated slugging, like Jose Altuve (37.7% O-Swing, .146 ISO) or Todd Frazier (36.9%, .242).

Finally, if he can make better routes on defense he'll get to a lott more balls. There's a lot of room to move up on defense even if he can't up those power numbers.

Burns might miss even these projections if pitchers do fundamentally adjust their first pitch approach and Burns fails to adjust back. For Billy Burns, a walk is just as good as a single, but he doesn't do anybody any good if he does neither.

Josh Reddick

Reddick turns 29 in February, which is a good age to be entering one's free agent walk year. 2015 was an extremely successful year for Reddick after staying on the field to play in 149 games.

Reddick's 2015 was aided by continued improvement in his strikeout rate. Reddick swung for the fences in 2012, hitting 32 home runs but striking out 22.4 percent of the time. In 2015, he hit 20 dingers but halved his strikeout rate to 11.2 percent.

The question mark has been defense, which is an odd thing to say for the 3rd place finisher in the 2015 right field Gold Glove voting. Either his arm's reputation is giving him fewer opportunities to make outfield assists, or his throws are weaker and less accurate than before.

Josh Reddick
PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA HR K BB SB Def/FRAA WAR(P)
2016 ZiPS 516 .257 .320 .433 .329 17 80 44 8 Def: 6.0 2.4
2016 Steamer 574 .263 .325 .444 .332 20 81 48 7 Def: -2.3 2.9
2016 PECOTA 609 .253 .317 .436 TAv: .273 21 107 52 8 FRAA: RF 1 2.5
2015 582 .272 .333 .449 .338 20 65 49 10 5.1/RF -6.7 3.0
2012-15 (avg) 523 .251 .315 .439 .326 19 91 45 8 3.6/RF 1.3 3.2

ZiPS sees Reddick as returning to form as a good outfielder though it is not convinced that Reddick will come close to 600 plate appearances. Steamer is more impressed with his improved ability to get on base and sees a year similar to his 2015 ahead. PECOTA doesn't quite trust that his plate discipline issues have gone away, but they also give him a chance at over 600 plate appearances, his first such season since 2012.

The most obvious way for Reddick to beat these projections is if he puts up the elite defensive seasons he enjoyed in 2012 and 2013 while continuing to hit for power with the improved discipline he's had in recent years. Oh, and stay healthy.

Reddick misses these projections if he ends up spending significant time on the disabled list, he loses even more easy fly balls in the sun, or he starts swinging for the fences without looking for a walk again.

Coco Crisp

Coco Crisp went from being constantly day-to-day in 2014 to constantly on the disabled list in 2015 with his degenerative neck issue. When he did play in 2015, he hit extraordinarily poorly, starting his year by going 2-for-45 in the first half of May before going on the disabled list until August. He returned to make only 16 starts in the 31 games he appeared in, though hitting at an improved .247/.299/.309 in his final 87 plate appearances.

Coco Crisp
PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA HR K BB SB Def/FRAA WAR(P)
2016 ZiPS 346 .247 .319 .373 .311 7 46 34 11 Def: 2.0 0.9
2016 Steamer 309 .238 .315 .359 .298 6 45 31 7 Def: -2.7 0.5
2016 PECOTA 492 .248 .315 .377 TAv: .254 9 64 45 18 FRAA: LF -1 1.3
2015 139 .175 .252 .222 .220 0 25 13 2 0.6/LF -2.8 -0.4
2012-15 (avg) 442 .249 .326 .394 .318 11 55 46 20 -3.8/CF -1.8, LF -1.8 1.8

Everything depends on how healthy Crisp is and whether he can return to some semblance of a good hitter. Even the most optimistic projection, coming from PECOTA, doesn't see Crisp as much more than a role player at this point.

A's general manager David Forst said at Fanfest:

Coco is healthy as we sit here right now, which is kind of the best you can hope for. He's spent time in the offseason working on his neck, working on his various wrist and knee issues, his elbow - there's a list of things - but he is healthy. ... We just need to get him on a field and have him run down a fly ball or take batting practice. Until he does those baseball activities day in, day out, it's hard to say how he holds up.

Crisp only beats these marks if he's healthy, and another unhealthy year absolutely sinks him. Despite the $11 million he's owed for 2016, it's not entirely out of the realm of possibility that poor performance at spring training results in his release to make roster room for an outfielder who just outperforms him such as Jake Smolinski or Andrew Lambo.

Mark Canha

Canha finished his age-26 season showing that the power he demonstrated in spring training, especially from the right side, was no joke. The right-handed batting Canha hit home runs against righties at more than double the rate against lefties. This reverse split could be a result of having to play a lot of left-handers while he was dealing with a respiratory illness that grew worse over the first couple months of the season before feeling restored in June. That does not quite explain the fall off in July to a .208/.269/.313 line, however.

Expect Mark Canha to get a lot of time in left field next season with him platooning with Yonder Alonso at first base. Indeed, the only thing that might keep Crisp's role as anything more than a bench outfielder is Alonso's own difficulties staying healthy, which could slide Canha down to first base more frequently.

Mark Canha
PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA HR K BB SB Def/FRAA WAR(P)
2016 ZiPS 506 .248 .315 .396 .314 13 115 38 5 Def: -2.0 0.3
2016 Steamer 445 .259 .324 .417 .323 13 92 34 4 Def: -8.9 1.0
2016 PECOTA 201 .256 .325 .418 TAv: .272 6 44 16 2 FRAA: 1B -1, RF -0 0.5
2015 485 .254 .315 .426 .323 16 96 33 7 -8.2/1B -1.9, LF 5.4 1.4

The projection systems are not eager to award breakout seasons to players who make their debuts at age 26, with ZiPS in particular disbelieving the 16 home runs he hit in 2015.  Canha beats these projections if it was that respiratory illness that diminished his capacity to play in the middle months, and the August and September Canha is the real Canha.

Sam Fuld

Entering his age-34 season, Sam Fuld has long been a defense-first outfielder, and that reputation has not changed. His 2015 at the plate was a disaster, but the glove held up and he probably remains Oakland's best choice for backup center fielder behind Billy Burns.

Sam Fuld
PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA HR K BB SB Def/FRAA WAR(P)
2016 ZiPS 283 .218 .293 .321 .280 3 46 26 10 Def: 3.0 0.5
2016 Steamer 141 .224 .297 .319 .274 1 24 13 4 Def: -0.1 0.0
2015 325 .197 .276 .293 .255 2 55 30 9 4.6/LF 8.5, CF 2.0 0.1
2012-15 (avg) 259 .220 .296 .310 .273 2 40 25 11 4.0/LF 3.1, CF 2.2, RF 0.2 0.7

Baseball Prospectus thought so little of Fuld's performance in 2015 that it relegated him to its "Lineouts" section without offering a PECOTA projection in the Annual. ZiPS and Steamer express their lack of excitement by handing him very few plate appearances.

The next center fielder behind Fuld in the A's organization is Tyler Ladendorf and after that is Triple-A Rule 5 selectee Danny Oh, I guess? I'm saying there aren't a lot of quality choices to play center field in the A's organization at the moment.

Others

Jake Smolinski could be on the shuttle between Nashville and Oakland frequently as Coco Crisp and Yonder Alonso deal with injuries. Smolinski actually took some reps at first base in practice, though he never got any game action at the position.

Andrew Lambo is trying to come back from injury himself, and it's easy to try to make the comparison to Brandon Moss. Tyler Ladendorf has played up the middle and seems to be the third option in center field right now as long as he can stay healthy, too.

One Triple-A reserve that could play in the corners is Matt McBride. Prospect Matt Olson has also been playing some right field, though I imagine he would have to be performing exceptionally well to merit a call up.