As Sir Isaac Newton’s third law has reminded the world for over three centuries, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
While accepted as fact, in our fantasy play, this basic tenet is often forgotten or at least shoved to the side. The reality in making projections is that with every incremental at-bat or inning pitched a player receives, someone else should get one less.
This past week, I had an exchange with a reader who is enamored by the power numbers shown by St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Allen Craig in 2011.
I can see why. 11 home runs in just 200 regular-season at-bats (plus four more in 37 post-season ABs) let alone the added bonus of second-base eligibility in some leagues should be more than enough to interest anyone looking for a player that may deliver upside simply with more playing time.
The rub with this reader was his unreasonable expectation that Craig be handed the Cardinals starting right field job, assuring the right-handed hitter of at least 500 plate appearances. In a vacuum, that would be peachy.
In the real world, however, that isn’t slated to happen. Sure, shaky-kneed Lance Berkman vacated that position in favor of a return to a safer stop at first base in 2012. However, the Cardinals made an attempt to replace at least a part of the bat of Albert Pujols with another bad-kneed ex-Houston Astro in Carlos Beltran. My acquaintance felt the Cardinals already had that offense in Craig.
Beltran, who like his past and present teammate Berkman had a bounceback season of sorts in 2011, is at the stage of his career where he no longer has to be in charge in the field. The move to a corner spot from his long-time home in centerfield, something he once fought, is now embraced by Beltran.
Speaking of braces, that is what the 34-year-old wears on his knees. That move to right is precisely to try to keep him healthy. There seems no reason the Cardinals will risk further injury to Beltran by playing him every day in center. After all, they committed $26 million to him over the next two years. While not Pujols money, it is still significant.
The most Beltran might do is play in center against left-handed pitching, as regular starter Jon Jay as well as his back up Skip Schumaker are not proficient at hitting against lefties. The idea of starting Craig regularly in center would weaken the Cardinals defense considerably and for that reason, it does not seem feasible.
All is not lost for Craig, however. There is a decent chance that despite all the care and feeding, Berkman and/or Beltran will return to the disabled list this season. That would open the door for more than utility at-bats for Craig – as long as it doesn’t occur in the first month or so of the season.
You see, it turns out that Craig has a bad knee, too. Ironically, it was in Houston last summer that he fractured his kneecap when making a sliding catch in the area where the field and the right-field stands at Minute Maid Park meet. Inadequate healing led to corrective surgery in the off-season that may keep Craig out until sometime in May.
Then there is the issue of Craig proving himself over a longer stretch. There is still some doubt as to what kind of player he will be when receiving 500-600 at-bats and NL pitchers get additional looks at him.
When you are evaluating playing time estimates in whatever projections you use, make sure these kinds of situations are acknowledged and reflected as accurately as possible. For example, assuming full starter’s at-bats for all four of Jay, Craig, Beltran and Berkman is not realistic, given they will share three positions at most.
Here at Mastersball, our projections more than take this type of uncertainty into account. We incorporate it. You can check out the whole story, but here is the essence:
"Our playing time determination is as rigorous as any in the industry. First, a playing time grid is determined, assigning the percentage each player will play each position. This sets the total expected playing time for each player. Then a batting order grid is determined, assigning each player a percentage that totals his playing time percentage. Since some teams accrue more plate appearances than others, and since players at the top of the order are at the plate more than at the bottom of the order, it is not fair to assign the same number of plate appearances to a Kansas City Royal projected for 50% playing time batting ninth as it is for a New York Yankee projected for 50% playing time that leads off. Our model employs a three-year average for each of the team’s position in the batting order as a basis for the calculation. In addition, the number of times each team pinch hits is determined and used in the calculation, as the percentage of pinch hit appearances is also projected per player. The final result is a team’s total number of plate appearances is logically based on its three-year history."
For pitchers, here is the process. "A total of 162 games started are assigned per team. The historical IP per start for each starter is used to project the number of innings. The innings from starters are totaled and reliever innings are subjectively assigned to bring the team total to 1458 (9 x 162)."
To those who have already subscribed to our Mastersball Platinum Package for 2012, we appreciate your trust. If you are on the fence, please consider giving us a chance. Unlike the three Cardinals mentioned above, our knees are strong, so we can provide the support you need and expect.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. He finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com and weekly in-season at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.