Expectation vs. reality: How do hitters’ projections compare to results?

Expectation vs. reality: How do hitters’ projections compare to results?

PITTSBURGH — It’s safe to say the Pirates' offense didn’t live up to expectations this season.

While there may not have been a ton of optimism around the team after finishing in the National League Central’s cellar in 2019, the belief was there would at least be some fun hitters to watch this year. Josh Bell was coming off an All-Star campaign. Bryan Reynolds slugged his way into the rookie of the year discussion. Kevin Newman hit .300. Gregory Polanco was finally healthy and returning.

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That didn’t happen in 2020. The offense finished with the worst on-base percentage (.284), slugging percentage (.357), OPS (.641) and OPS+ (74) in all of baseball. Bell, Reynolds, Newman, Polanco and Adam Frazier struggled throughout. Outfielders had a collective .190 batting average and .578 OPS, both of which are the worst for a National League club since at least 1901.

I could go on. I did go on and on while covering them this season. Here’s the short version: They stunk.

They certainly didn’t live up to expectations. Or did they, at least in an analytical sense?

The advent of Statcast and Baseball Savant in 2015 brought two new metrics into the mainstream: Exit velocity and launch angle. Now instead of just saying a hitter tattooed a ball, we can find out within 0.1 mph how hard it was hit and what direction it came off the bat. These weren’t just novelties, but ways to track how a hitter was striking the ball. If they were in a hitless streak but were making quality contact, it would suggest they could break out of the slump soon. If they were on a hitting streak but with only bloops and bleeders, it might paint a more pessimistic picture going forward.

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