is a little bit of an outlier when it comes to projection-making. Here are a few of the players in baseball history who were minor league lifers, became a starter for the first time in their age-32 season, and produced a six-win season by FanGraphs’ metrics:
Staph Clemenson, 1947 – Chattanooga Lookouts
Mickey Mantel, 1958 – New Amsterdam
Vincent Damon Furnier, 1977 – Lace and Whiskey Tour
I had to make those up because I couldn’t find any real seasons, though you might remember Mantel’s season being chronicled in the seminal book by Edmund Wells. There are surprise seasons, and there’s what Andres Torres did. He was a non-roster invitee who became a fifth-outfielder, who became a starter only because of injury, who became someone worthy of a few MVP votes. That all happened over two seasons after he turned 30.
So what can anyone predict going forward? Of course, Torres is in the best shape of his life, so surely his performance will increase. And there are legitimate reasons to think that this kind of talent was always in Torres, lying dormant because:
- He had a slappy, Juan Pierre-style of hitting until he completely overhauled his swing to generate more power. Three seasons later, he used that new swing to become a doubles machine.
- He suffers from ADHD, for which he didn’t take medicine until recently.
Both of those are plausible reasons for a player’s performance to spike suddenly. They sure beat standards like, "He finally got his chance to play," or "He was in the best shape of his life." Still, the established rule of thumb is that if a player wildly exceeds expectations one year, he’s likely to meet expectations the next. It’s a cruel rule, but it’s usually right. Here are three outfielders Baseball Prospectus projects to outhit Torres if given the chance to play:
And that’s just limiting the search to thedream outfield of aught-eight. Other names pop up, too. . . . It’s a harsh .251/.322/.414 world projected for Andres, which would be pretty danged miserable out of the leadoff spot. If you saw him whiffing at breaking balls in the dirt in the NLCS, it’s a projection that’ll scare you.
Right when you start getting defensive, irate, or depressed, you might notice that BP also lists Robin Yount as one of Torres’s comparable players. Yount won the MVP when he was 33. And that’s the perfect way to describe what to expect this year: Torres will put up far worse numbers in 2011, unless he’s the best player in the league.
Bill James, Marcel, and the fan projections from FanGraphs are a little less apocalyptic. I’ll use these as a foundation, not because I can properly evaluate the science behind the competing projection systems, but because a miserable year from Torres would be like a sequel to "The Shawshank Redemption" that details how Andy and Red both died from scarlet fever within months of reuniting. Obviously the sequel isn’t going to be as awesome, but if you can’t at least attempt to build on the good feelings from the original, I don’t even want to know about it.