The James Game


Bill James has released his 2011 projections and for the most part they don’t show anything too exciting…

James has Michael Bourn almost exactly duplicating his 2010 campaign and if the prognostication is correct, the Astros will be very content.

Mr. Consistency, Hunter Pence, is projected to have a very similar season to 2010. .285/.339/.484 line is right around his career numbers. However, James predicts Pence’s ISO (isolated power or SLG-AVG) to rebound from a career low .179 in 2010. Pence also posted a career low in SLG (.461) in 2010 despite having his strongest season yet. If his ISO ends up at the .199 that James predicts, Pence may finally get past the 25 homerun plateau!

James also predicts a bounce back for Carlos Lee in 2011. His .279/.331/.473 are all just below his career averages but if he hits 27 homeruns with 101 RBIs as Bill James predicts, the Astros will gladly take it.

Houston’s two corner outfielders are also predicted to each raise their BB% a tick.

While James’ projections are widely considered optimistic, the stat guru certainly tempered any excitement for Jason Castro. The second year catcher is projected to hit .238/.316/.319. While I certainly don’t think Castro is an all-star in 2011, and he’ll never exell in the power department, I expect him to make more progress than this line shows. Castro hit just .205 in 2010, but that was with an unlucky .250 BABiP.

Chris Johnson, on the other hand, is a good example of why James’ projections have a reputation of erring on the positive side. James has Johnson repeating his bad BB% but increasing his K% to a still sub-par 22.1%. However, he projects Johnson to hit .287 thanks in large part to a .338 BABiP. Johnson tended to have high BABiPs in the minors and was ridiculous in this category last season when he hit .387 on balls in play. However, that number should regress even further than .338. Couple that with his strikeout rate and I can’t say I’m too optimistic the third baseman will hit the .287 James predicts. I hope I’m wrong though.

If you’re wondering, Bill James did not offer projections for Brett Wallace. Most likely due to his limited time in the majors.

One of the brightest spots on Houston’s 2010 season was the emergence of starting pitcher Brett Myers as the club’s ace. After pitching in the Citizen’s Bank Homerun-happy confines, Myers flourished in Minute Maid to 14 wins, 180 strikeouts, and a 3.14 ERA. However, Bill James projections suggest these numbers were more a reflection of luck and circumstance than new scenery. James has Myers still having a very strong season with a 4.02 ERA and 183 strikeouts in 215 innings.

James doesn’t see anything inordinate in 2011 for Wandy Rodriguez, projections 12 wins, a slightly higher than 2010 3.71 ERA, and 184 strikeouts.

J.A. Happ has pitched 289 innings in the Majors. Over that span (from 2007 through 2010), he’s posted an ERA of 3.27. And while Bill James predicts Happ’s K% and BB% to both improve, he projects the young leftys ERA will increase a full run to 4.28. Of all his projections, this is probably the one Astros fans most need James to be wrong about.

2010 was a rough season for Bud Norris who struggled mostly due to his BB rate. James projects Norris’ ERA to drop to 4.52 by improving that BB rate just slightly. James also predicts Norris to strikeout about a batter per inning which shouldn’t be any problem for the rotund righty.

So while Bill James seems to be buying on most of Houston’s hitters, he seems to sell the successes of their rotation from 2010. These projections simply reflect the ideas of an individual but none of them are at all unfounded. Some will be dead on and some will be way off. The fun part is seeing which is which.