Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE
These are the type of posts I absolutely dread writing. Projections, predictions, prognostication, life-line reading, forecasting, reading the smoke from a burned sacrifice; they all have their place, but often rely so heavily on things out of personal control, or flat out guessing, that indulging in them is largely a time wasting exercise. You can predict the Yankees will win all of their games or project 45 home runs for Alex Rodriguez, and even if there is a legitimate formula for doing so, you might end up being Nate Silver or looking like the pantless minister on the sidewalk waving your ideological, or literal as the case may be, junk at traffic. But this off-season has been so wholly uninteresting and different from previous ones so far, this is where we are.
Luckily, this particular set of projections is not my own. As the title would lead you believe, the projections belong to Bill James and the folks at Baseball Info Solutions. Stats are available for just about every player, but with so much of the hitting side of the team still undecided, pitching is the way we're going today. It seems strange to post projections now for an offense that is, presumably, missing its starting catcher, outfielder and shortstop. The season probably won't end with the initial starting lineup anyway, but it will certainly be a lot closer than assuming the Whiteside/Cervelli/Stewart monster will make up the catcher position.
With the notable exception of Andy Pettitte, the starting rotation is far closer to complete. The top three, and likely a fourth starter have their spot as winter meetings get ready to start, so looking ahead, even if it is just one flavor of projection, is fair. So dive into some time wastin':
There's room for optimism heading into every season, but even then, a couple of these projections are somewhat surprising. Phil Hughes' outlook stands as the glaring example, penciled in for the best season of his career by a pretty wide margin. Highest strikeout rate, slight jump in walks, but over more innings than his previous career high, lowest ERA, lowest FIP; one can only hope this is case. Hughes gave reason to believe he's capable of doing all those nice things with his June through September run last year, but even then it still seems odd. At this point fans may be numb to expectations for him. Thought to be a top-line starter in waiting, and then wasn't. Looked destined for a full-time job in the pen, then pulled a more than serviceable starter costume out of his locker. The people running these numbers kind of have to do these projections for Hughes, but he does live in that area where there really isn't much of a point in trying.
The rest is more or less what we would expect, with the only notable exceptions being Nova's strikeout drop Pineda's innings outlook. One hundred and eighty-seven innings! That number is likely based on him being available for the whole season, which he won't be, so there's already one projection sure to disappoint. Nova's huge drop in strikeouts, and subsequent ERA/FIP drop, is a bit trickier to figure. It does make sense that he would allow fewer runs this season, specifically home runs, assuming you think his true talent level is somewhere between 2011 and 2012 and not one of those extremes. Perhaps the drop in strikeouts signals an expectation that he will go back to trying to induce contact with the fastball rather than throw a ton of sliders to miss bats. A mix of the two would be ideal, but beggars can't be choosers. He just needs to pitch better in 2013.
It's just now becoming clear that this isn't much to help make the off-season of non-activity to date more interesting. That's probably a good thing, though. Sabathia is expected to be great, and likely will. If last year is any indication, Kuroda should be right near where he's projected to be. Hughes and Nova shouldn't be too far off where they have been pegged to be and Phelps is a wild card. Four solid bets and one mystery is an infinitely better situation than wild optimism or pessimism surrounding a rotation of question marks. Now with the news that Pettitte is close to returning to the team, that question mark may turn into another know what to expect player. But it does kind of throw off the rotation and with it the expectations. Projections can be the worst.