Aug 15, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon (4) just misses catching a fly ball against the Oakland Athletics in the fourth inning at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Projections Can Wait

I love baseball projections. A lot of people think they’re stupid because the game is played on the field and all that, but I love them. The key is to take them for what they are and that’s just that they’re another piece of the evaluation puzzle. It’s silly to get mad at a computer, after all. Sometimes players struggle for reasons that can’t be understood by an algorithm. I love when PECOTA projections get released, and it’s only partially because of the over the top fan reaction to them. It’s just fun to see what a computer believes your favorite player(s) will do.

Okay, that’s out of the way.

Projections in early November are stupid.

Maybe that’s not entirely fair. I think individual projections are interesting any time of year. The key, as I mentioned before, is to understand what they are and, maybe more importantly, what they aren’t. So with some early offseason projections coming in, I think it’s great to take a look at what’s out there and to see what exactly is expected of your favorite players.

What’s silly to me is when projections try to evaluate teams right now. It just doesn’t make any sense. There was an article on Fangraphs, and it was actually a really interesting one, that looked at 2018 projections and how the Royals five highest projected WARs are tied for the worst top five of any team in baseball. Their next five players are the worst next five in baseball. And their next 10? Also the worst in baseball.

Man, that’s terrible.

But does it even mean anything right now? I mean, I suppose it doesn’t mean nothing. It means that the Royals have a lot of work to do, but we knew that. It probably means that the upper levels of the minors aren’t exactly littered with replacements for those leaving, but we also knew that, too. With the Royals just having nine players elect free agency, that’s 36 percent of a 25-man roster out the door, including four of their five best offensive players by WARP and three of their four best pitchers by WARP. That’s a lot of talent to be on the loose.

And even with those guys, the Royals still finished just 80-82, so I completely get that the immediate future looks relatively bleak. Are they going to re-sign all of them? I feel pretty confident that the answer to that is no. Are they going to re-sign some? Probably. Maybe they won’t be the best ones to re-sign, but some will be back. There’s a non-zero chance that none of them return. Anything is on the table. And that’s because it’s November 9th.

Without being able to look into my crystal ball, I’d wager a guess that the 2018 Royals win somewhere between 70 and 77 games. That’s pretty bad. It’s not horrible, but it’s pretty darn bad. They have a hole to replace at first base, center field, third base, shortstop and then a few in the bullpen. The Fangraphs article indicates that Sam Gaviglio is currently projected to sport the 11th highest fWAR on the Royals next season. Call me crazy, but that seems unlikely to come true.

I said unlikely because I think it’s certainly possible, and if we’re being honest, that possibility really isn’t a worst case scenario. If Gaviglio really is the Royals 11th best player in 2018, they’ve probably completely embraced the rebuild and have taken some quality first steps to turning their farm system into a plus, even at the expense of the big league roster. And if that’s the case, then yep, the Royals will be one of the very worst teams in the league. But if that time comes, it won’t be vindication for a projection that came out before free agency even got underway.

So indulge all you want on the individual looks. You can see that Salvador Perez’s Steamer projection shows he’ll be a .261/.297/.464 hitter and that Whit Merrifield is projected to regress to .271/.314/.406. You can see that Alex Gordon is expected to be bad, but not quite as terrible as 2017 at .237/.327/.388 while Jorge Soler could be a few swings from solid at .240/.329/.433. Or you can look at the pitching side and wonder if Danny Duffy really will post his worst ERA and his second worst FIP since his rookie season. You can even enjoy a one inning Francisley Bueno projection.

But let’s not sit here and pretend that a team projection in early November for a team that just lost a ridiculous number from their big league team is anything other than noise. There’s a good chance the 2018 Royals are bad. There’s a good chance the 2018 projections when the rosters are actually set show that they’ll be bad. But even with that, what we’re seeing now means very little. Let’s at least let the ink dry on a few of these deals before we hit the algorithm to tell us just how bad this team will be.

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