Fangraphs now shows Bill James' 2009 projections for ML batters and pitchers. Like last year, these projections from Bill James' annual handbook complement the wide array of stats at Fangraphs. You will find the James projections on the player page for each player.
I don't put a huge amount of stock in the projections by James, or by any other forecaster, whether it is Pecota, ZIPS, or CHONE. But they are interesting to peruse. And comparing the projections for a particular player by various forecasters is a good way to identify players whom have a higher consensus among various projection methods, or conversely cause more divergence. Also, projections like those by Bill James may help reign in some tendencies toward fanboy tunnel vision. The projections may temper excessive enthusiasm about a player's future production, or perhaps bring some realism to overly harsh verdicts about players on your team who had bad years. So, now, let's get to some of James' projections for Astros' players.
I tend to view batting average projections as less reliable, so I will stick to the OPS projections below. Of course, you can look at all the stat projections for a player by going to the Fangraphs site.
His projections show a few key players regressing, even though by a marginal amount in most cases. Berkman and Lee aren't quite as good as last year, but they are still expected to post a nice OPS. That isn't particularly surprising to me, though each could still add 70 or more points to their OPS, if we are lucky. James' projections suggest what many of us suspected, that Wiggy had his career year last season. Wigginton's .800 OPS would be disappointing, but still acceptable at 3d base. The projected decline in Matsui's OPS would be even more disappointing. The projections anticipate noticeable declines in batting average, OBP, and SLG for Kaz, but the forecasts appear to be in line with Matsui's career numbers. We can hope that the projections don't account for an improvement in Kaz's offense which coincided with leaving New York City. Erstad is expected to decline also, probably reflecting a trend which existed in his career before he came to Houston.
The catcher position is projected to be in better shape than perhaps we anticipate. Certainly, I would gladly accept a .748 OPS by Towles next year. You can look at Bourn's forecasted .656 OPS as a glass half full or half empty. If you are inclined toward the former view, then you might be downright giddy about a 100 point increase in his OPS, and a .320 OBP which is not disastrous. However, a sub-.700 OPS is still too low for a starting CFer, and the OBP isn't as high as you seek in your lead off man. The Bourn projection doesn't really surprise me; a mid-.500's OPS is too low to reflect his true talent level. My guess is that James is trusting a MLE conversion of Towles' minor league stats in order to arrive at his projection.
Let's go the starting rotation. I will show the projected ERA and FIP.
Oswalt, 3.50, 3.50
Wolf 4.29, 4.45
W. Rodriguez 4.45, 4.46
Moehler 4.93, 4.78
Backe 5.49, 5.48
There is some good and bad. Oswalt is fine. Wolf's ERA is fine too; I would accept that ERA from him. It's not worth $10 million/year, but I might guess a worse result. Wandy's ERA seems too high; I'm not sure if that is my fan optimism speaking or if it reflects the more in depth knowledge of an individual player that comes with being a fan. Moehler regresses, and it's about what many of us would expect. Backe's ERA is forecasted as horrible, albeit better than the horrendous number from last year.
Without going into detail (you can look it up, if interested), I will simply summarize the relief corps projections as quite good. Valverde, Geary, Brocail, Sampson, and Hawkins are all forecasted to have fine years. Wright and Byrdak are 4-ish ERA projections. If the Astros don't re-sign Brocail, they may have a fairly big hole to fill, though, particularly if Sampson doesn't recover quickly from his surgery.
Given the weakness of the rotation projections, let's look at few plausible free agent pitcher forecasts.
Sheets 3.39 186 IP
Garland 4.38 186 IP
Dempster 3.89 195 IP
Hampton 4.61 132 IP
Burnett 3.62 224 IP
Oliver Perez 4.53 204 IP
Lowe 3.60 206 IP
Sabbathia 3.48 240 IP
Of course, the projections don't account for Sheet's recent injury, but his forecast is good. Garland looks like a Wolf clone. You can see why Sabbathia and Lowe are likely to sign at a very high cost...it's a combination of great run prevention and durability.