I’d like to take a moment to address everybody’s favorite now pneumonia-free slugger, Josh Hamilton, and what to expect from him in 2011. For years, fans of Hamilton have wondered what his immense talent would manifest itself as if he could just stay healthy. In 2010, Hamilton finally let us know, puting up a .447 wOBA and 180 wRC+ in 571 PA, good for an absurd 74.5 batting runs, 8.0 WAR and a bit of personal hardware.
Yet digging a little deeper, one finds that this was in part accomplished by very high .390 BABIP, much higher than his career average of .344 BABIP. Those familiar with the stat will note that even a .344 BABIP is quite high; this is because Hamilton has a relatively small sample size of PA when compared to most hitters his age. Previous to last year, Hamilton had a .325 BABIP.
The idea that an MVP candidate was lucky is not terribly surprising; much in the same way that teams that finish with the best records have more bounces go their way than against them, many players who having MVP-type years are benefitting from a bit of luck as well. We know that large deviations in BABIP are most always attributable to luck and should be regressed heavily; the issue then becomes, how do we go about accounting for this luck when projecting a player moving forward?
Last year, Garoon introduced us to a new stat known as wOBAr that was invented by those cleverest of fellows over at Lookout Landing. wOBAr provides a version of wOBA that regresses luck; the clever part is that instead of applying some sort of league-wide adjustment, this stat uses the player’s own batting profile to fill in the gaps. The main precaution one must take is to make sure that the stat is used for players who have played in the majors long enough to have a meaningful batting profile. While Hamilton doesn’t have the PA you would expect of hitter of his caliber and age, it should be good enough for this exercise.
In 2010, Josh Hamilton had a .399 wOBAr. If this had been his (park adjusted) wOBA last year, he would have produced 50.7 batting runs, 23.8 runs or ~2.5 WAR less than he ended up producing. Assuming his defense remained the same, this would have lead to a 5.5 WAR season. Incidentally, that is right around where many of us have projected him previous to this. FanGraphs’ Fans Projection has him around 5.2 WAR and Matches put him around 5.0 WAR yesterday.
It’s possible that Josh Hamilton puts up another 8.0 WAR season in 2011. However, I hope this shows why it would be unwise to expect or project that.
Note: It should also be noted that if Hamilton had been able to play for the full 2010 season, a park adjusted .399 wOBA would have resulted in ~6.25 WAR. The problem, of course, is that I don't think one should project a full season for Hamilton until he does it a couple of times in a row first.