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A Midseason Look at Projections vs Reality

During the offseason, I posted a number of articles focused on "Wins Above Replacement" (WAR) projections and the Twins roster as free agents were considered and signed. The latest article, with projections, was posted after the Jim Thome signing. At that time, I projected the Twins as an 87 win team, bumped up to 90 wins after signing Orlando Hudson. This was considered this to be a relatively pessimistic projection, compared the roughly 93-95 win consensus across the Twinkie Town community. With a 46-42 record at the All Star Break, the Twins currently project to win 84.7 games, let's round this up to 85 wins. Simply compared to my projections before the season, it appears the Twins have underperformed by around five wins. How do we explain the difference? Who has underperformed and over performed relative to my projections? (Which by the way I don't claim to be any better or worse than other projections, simply a baseline to which we can compare.) In this article, I will examine, position by position, player by player, my WAR projections to actual performance as posted on fangraphs

C 1B 2B 3B SS LF CF RF DH SP RP Hit Pitch WAR Wins
To Date (All Star Break) 2.2 5.0 2.0 1.1 0.6 1.3 2.1 0.5 1.9 8.0 1.9 16.5 10.4 26.9 -------
Projected to end of season 4.1 9.2 3.7 2.0 1.1 2.4 3.9 0.9 3.5 14.7 3.5 30.4 19.1 49.5
Projection prior to season 6.1 3.5 2.7 0.8 3.1 0.4 3.1 1.8 2.7 13.5 5.4 24.2 18.9 43.1 90.1

I must admit, I'm comparing some apples to oranges here, as the fangraphs WAR calculations don't exactly match my projections, which use Sky Kalkman's spreadsheet from Beyond the Box Score. That said, there's a large 6 WAR gap between how the Twins players have actually performed relative to my baseline projections, and even worse, this gap is a full 11 wins in the wrong direction from the Twins actual 85 win projection based on their actual win-loss record. What gives? I'll attempt to answer this after the jump.

Before I get into a position by position, player by player analysis, let me attempt to explain the 11 win difference. First, remember that WAR projections rely on the Pythagorean method of projecting number of wins based on total runs above replacement (RAR). To date, the Twins have scored 408 runs and allowed 372 runs, which projects to a Pythagorean winning percentage of 0.546, or 48.1 wins. So at the All Star Break, the Twins have underperformed their Pythagorean by two wins, or 3.5 wins prorated over the entire season. This explains 3.5 of the 11 win difference, leaving 7.5 to account.

Second, consider that WAR, which is based on wOBA, does not consider double plays when determining value. Effectively, WAR assumes that a team grounds into a league average number of double plays. To date, as we all know, the Twins have grounded into MANY more double plays (a league leading 102 GIDP) than the average MLB team (69). Using a rough approximation of one run per GIDP (based on my rough analysis of expected runs in various double play situations, I'll refine this later in the season), this means the Twins have lost around 3.3 wins to date, 6.1 wins prorated over the full season, simply due to double plays.

We've explained nearly the entire 11 win difference above. Considering general errors in these types of projections, as well as the fact it appears (though I have not confirmed) that the Twins have grounded into so many double plays in a bases loaded situation to end an inning (-1.5 expected runs), we may find that more than 6.1 wins would be lost due to GIDP.

Looking at the projections, as a whole, it appears that the pitching staff has performed about where I projected them to be, +19.1 WAR versus +18.9, with the starters outperforming by around a run and the relievers underperforming by about the same amount. Considering the way the Twins starters have pitched over the last month, this is more than a little surprising. Looking a bit deeper, remember that WAR projections are based on Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP). The Twins starters have an overall FIP of 4.03 (same as xFIP), good for 11th in MLB, 4th in the AL. Interestingly, the overall starters ERA is much higher at 4.60, the second largest spread in the Majors (Detroit is highest at 4.81 ERA versus 4.21 FIP). One obvious explanation for this type of spread is defense. In 2009, the Twins had an overall UZR of -23 runs. This season, the Twins have much improved their defense, rating at +20.8 runs. So defense doesn't explain the gap, what does? My suspicion is that the Twins starters 20.2% line drive rate allowed (worst in AL, 4th worst in MLB) has meant many more base hits and runs, and this is not considered in either FIP or xFIP.

Offensively, first base is the largest positive, due to Justin Morneau's MVP start +5.0 WAR (+9.2 prorated over a full season). Left field (+2.0 prorated compared to baseline)  has also outperformed projections, due to Delmon Young's solid start, which is a relief to most everyone here. Surprisingly, considering I projected second base at a solid +2.7 WAR, it is projecting to +3.7 at the end of the season. Orlando Hudson has really solidified what was a black hole last season. And finally, third base hasn't completely sucked (I projected +0.8 WAR of suckitude prior to the season. On the negative side, catcher and shortstop (-2.0 WAR each) stand out. At catcher, Joe Mauer's slow start has been well documented, and hopefully he'll heat up in the second half. Though I have a nagging suspicion that a hesitancy to trade Wilson Ramos may be an indication that Mauer's not 100% healthy. And at shortstop, losing J.J. Hardy for much of the first half has hurt, as has his .270 wOBA when he has played. 

To sum up, WAR values to date indicate that the Twins should be winning many more games than they have actually won. This is due to under performing our Pythagorean record, which may very well be a matter of luck, and grounding into a ridiculous number of double plays, which may simply be a "skill" for this team. And our starting pitchers need to stop giving up so many line drives. What do you think?