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Which players project to improve or decline the most in 2015?

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Brian Kersey

This is the last installment of the three part Most Improved Player series. I described the methodology behind MIP and how it is different from the Comeback Player Award on Monday.

We've already seen that J.D Martinez was the most improved position player and Phil Hughes the most improved pitcher in 2014. Carlos Gonzalez and Clay Buchholz had the largest drop-offs in performance.

In this post, I'll use the Steamer projections from Fangraphs to look at which players figure to improve (or decline) the most in 2015.

Most improved position players

Below are the position players that are expected to improve their performance the most in 2015 based on fWAR/150. (Qualified players are those with 250 more plate appearances in 2014)

All of the players on the list performed below replacement in 2014, and their projected bounce backs in 2015 will still leave 8 of the 10 players below league median (2.11) in total WAR/150.

Michael Choice ranked last in fWAR/150 in 2014 out of the 311 position players who qualified for this study. His projected 5.59-game improvement in 2015 still leaves him ranked 261st next season.

Only two players are projected to post fWAR/150s above league median: A.J. Ellis (No. 86) and Carlos Gonzalez (No. 100).

Four players on the projected most improved list were among the largest decliners in 2014: Jay Bruce, Nick Swisher, Carlos Gonzalez and Stephen Drew.

Largest drop-off

Below are the 10 position players expected to experience the most decline in performance in 2014:

All of the players on this list ranked the top 20 percent of all position players in 2014. Seven of 10 are expected to perform above league median in 2015. Steve Pearce is projected to have the greatest drop-off in performance, but he is also the only player that is expected to remain within the top 20th percentile. He was the second highest ranked player in 2014 and ranks No. 59 next year, according to Steamer. The largest projected decline belongs to Collin Cowgill, who is projected to drop from No. 49 to No. 269.

Pirates position players

Pedro Alvarez's performance is projected to improve the most, while Josh Harrison experiences the largest drop-off. However, Harrison is expected to still outperform Alvarez by almost 0.8 WAR/150. Even though he is projected somewhat, Andrew McCutchen should remain the most valuable contributor. Russell Martin is projected to decline almost as much as Harrison, but should remain the second highest contributor (if he remains a Pirate). Ike Davis is projected to improve substantially. Finally, Gregory Polanco figure to improve and Travis Snider to decline, but Snider projects to outperform Polanco.

Here are the changes in rank out of 311 qualified position players:

Alvarez climbs and Snider drops the most spots. Seven of the 11 players remain ranked above league median, and four are among the top 20 percent.

Most improved pitchers

Here are the 10 pitchers who are projected to improve the most in 2015: (Pitchers must have pitched 100 innings in 2014 to qualify.)

There are many interesting names on this list for Pirates fans. Besides Jeff Locke and Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett ranks as the project third most improved and possible free agent target Justin Masterson ranks fifth.

Five pitchers appear on this list who also were among the biggest decliners in 2014: C.J. Wilson, Eric Stults, Mike Minor, Burnett and Masterson.

Three pitchers are projected to post fWAR/150s above the league median (1.28): Liriano, Burnett and Vidal Nuno.

Eric Stults ranked last out of 149 qualified pitchers in 2014. His league-leading projected improvement moves him up to No. 120 for 2015.

Largest projected decline

10 pitchers projected to experience the largest drop in performance:

This year's most improved pitcher, Phil Hughes, is projected to experience a fairly large performance decline. Clayton Kershaw declines as well, but is still ranked third among all pitchers in fWAR/150. Four pitchers on this list are expected to perform above league median, while performing significantly worse than 2014: Jacob deGrom, Jake Arrieta,  Kershaw and Hughes.

Pirates pitchers

Jeff Locke is projected to have the largest performance jump, while Vance Worley figures to have the greatest drop-off. However, Worley is expected to perform better than Locke. Edinson Volquez figures to post\ the lowest projected fWAR/150 and decline slightly.

Here are the changes in rank out of 149 qualified pitchers:

Francisco Liriano improves his rank by 53 spots and is the only Pirates pitcher to crack the top 20 percent. Liriano, Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole are all projected to rank above the league median.

Conclusion

This concludes this year's most improved player series. The important thing to remember is that rankings are based on the fWAR/150, which places each player on equal footing in terms of playing time, and that to qualify for the study a player needed in 250 plate appearances or 100 innings pitched in 2013 and 2014 (or, just 250 PA/100 IP in 2014 for this projection analysis).

Final results:


Most improved Largest decline
2014 position player J.D. Martinez Carlos Gonzalez
2014 pitcher Phil Hughes Clay Buchholz
2015 position Player Mike Choice Steve Pearce
2015 pitcher Eric Stults Chris Young

(Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs. Note: Pitchers numbers are slightly different in this post from the previous MIP post. Here I used innings pitched instead of total batters faced.)