Tyler Naquin and Spring Training Statistics

Originally there was a notion among baseball traditionalists that spring training statistics were important indicators. Then the first wave of advanced statistics types came along, the Bill James generation and said that they were meaningless, void of use.

The truth, as is often the case is somewhere in the middle. There has been some fantastic research done which helps us to understand that certain statistics stabilize more quickly and thus can improve forecasting for the regular season.

Dan Rosenheck presented illuminating research at the Sloan Conference which is worth watching/reading if you have the time.

The most important stat that stabilizes quickly is strikeout percentage and as you can see it correlates well with regular season K%.
Naquin's spring strikeout percentage sits at 21%.
Projection systems for Naquins 2016 season:
ZIPS projects: 28.9%
Depth Charts: 25.7%
Steamer: 22.6%

Rosenheck found that spring training data was particular useful in fine tuning projection systems for rookie's because it is helpful to have more information while facing big league pitching.
Indeed, the study found that spring K% is very useful in helping to project regular season K% for rookies.

Let's stop here for a moment, the biggest thing holding back Naquin's hit tool is his strikeout rate, as his minor league BABIP's and scouting reports indicate very good quality of contact rate. I have written on this contact  quality aspect of Naquin's game extensively and you can read about it here.

Therefore, improved K% projections are a huge deal for Naquin in terms of how well his bat will play at the big league level. If the K% sits at around 22-23% it turns him into a potential wRC+ guy of 90 and above which paired with average outfield defense equals a league average player. This sounds underwhelming but I just described Austin Jackson.

If Naquin sits at 22-23% it would allow him to hit .260-.270 with an OBP near .320-.330 which would be very useful out CF especially with solid defense and the league minimum salary. So the spring training results should be very encouraging when it comes to contact and limiting Naquin's K%.

Then we have ISO. Naquin is rocking an ISO of .395! I shouldn't even need to remark as to its absurdity. Another caveat is that Arizona is very favorable in terms of ISO. However, Naquin's projected ISO sits between .114 and .120 depending on the system. 

Spring ISO also correlates reasonably well with regular season ISO. We have reports of Naquin adding 15 pounds of muscle and the largest sample by far we have of Naquin in the minors is at Akron. Akron brutalizes ISO and is one of the hardest parks in baseball to hit for power. Therefore, while Naquin is not Spring 2016 ISO, his minors ISO is likely suppressed.

Obviously, the ISO will decline drastically but in terms of both ISO and K% spring training data suggests that Naquin should outperform his projections in those regards. Further, spring training data in these two regards is useful in projecting rookie performance. 

If you squint it is pretty easy to see .260/.325/.390. A .715 OPS paired with league average defense(likely worth 2 WAR+) in center field is league average or better, and for the Indians that is all they need.

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