I had originally planned to touch on the ZiPS projections for a small weekend piece I was putting together, but I felt the topic needed to be fleshed out a bit more. For those of you who may yet be unfamiliar with ZiPS projections are the brainchild of Dan Szymborski and are “computer-based projections of performance.”
More specifically, “the ZiPS projections use weighted averages of four years of data (three if a player is very old or very young), regresses pitchers based on DIPS theory and BABIP rates, and adjusts for aging by looking at similar players and their aging trends.”
So, yeah, something I could easily scratch out with a mechanical pencil, a roll of duct tape, a graphing calculator and a six-pack of beer. Or not. Regardless of how they’re calculated, it’s the results we’re all truly interested in though, so let’s move on to that.
If you’d like to check out the full monty, you can head over to FanGraphs to check out the post Carson Cistulli put together. But if you’d like the quick-and-dirty, stick around. The first thing I’d like to take a look at is the depth chart, complete with projected WAR for each player or unit. Then I’ll examine the various segments.
A few things really stick out here as I look around the diamond, namely the fact that Kris Bryant is sitting at 3rd with a bit fat 5 next to his name. Okay, that kind of expectation might be a bit high. Or is it? According to ZiPS, Bryant could be good for a WAR of 4.3, the highest projection on the team for 2015. So why is his name missing?
Says Cistulli, “Whether he’ll be part of the opening-day roster isn’t really a question ZiPS, being a computer model, is prepared to answer. There appears to be some evidence, however, that when he does appear in the majors, he (i.e. Bryant) will be among the club’s very best field players.”
Starlin Castro projects to lead the team with a .286 average and 180 hits, picking up 15 homers and a dozen steals along the way. Newcomer Dexter Fowler will be a welcome addition indeed if he can live up to the projected .371 OBP and 13.9% walk rate, both of which would be team highs.
As for power, the Cubs should have it in spades. Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez both look to hit 30 HRs, with Bryant hitting 29; even Arismendy Alcantara shows a nice power stroke, with a projection of 19. The three big boppers also project to pick up at least 90 RBI apiece.
One interesting note in all this is the K-rates, clearly an area of concern for the Cubs moving forward. Baez looks to get down to 32.6%, which is still awfully high. However, it’s not the worst on the team: Bryant’s K-rate is projected to be 32.9%. Oh, but that .500 slugging percentage.
With a projected 4.6 WAR, Jon Lester is looking to earn that big contract. 209 innings pitched, a 3.11 ERA, and 3.28 FIP are all easily the best of the rotation he now anchors. Jake Arrieta may fall back to Earth a bit, though I think fans would be happy with a 3.67 ERA over 28 starts and 154 innings.
Kyle Hendricks projects to be just slightly better than Arrieta in nearly every category, though at only 165 IP, he’s not really the ideal #2 starter. Jason Hammel looks pretty meh, as does Travis Wood, though the latter’s 173 IP is second on the team and signals at least consistent mediocrity.
This unit looks to be pretty strong, with the 5 players mentioned above leading the charge. K/9 numbers look pretty strong, with several guys notching totals higher than 10. Walks, on the other hand, may haunt the latter innings. While the sample size can skew things, many members of the short-outing crew may be avoiding the plate a bit too much.
Jason Motte, now in his second season post-Tommy John surgery, is going to be a nice little case study in 2015. If he can keep the walks down and K’s up, he could be a key to the Cubs’ potential success. ZiPS shows him putting up 8.94 and 2.64 in those categories, respectively, both of which are just a tick above his career marks.
So what are we to make of all this? As with my breakdown of Bill James’s enthusiastic projections, I’ll recommend that we take them with a grain of salt. These numbers, however, appear to be much more grounded in reality.
But what’s really great, and what I believe fans can really take heart in, is the fact that this team is really starting to resemble what everyone had hoped for when Theo Epstein first came to town. There’s a nice mix of veterans and youth, high-priced players and rookie contracts, homegrown and store-bought talent.
The top hitter is a kid the Cubs drafted, the top pitcher a man to whom they handed a giant signing bonus. Add in guys like Fowler, Miguel Montero, Motte, and Hammel with Castro, Rizzo, et al., and you’ve got the type of team that has real potential to make some noise.
If nothing else, they should certainly be fun to watch. Sure, there will be a lot of strikeouts; but there’s gonna be a whole lot of thunder too. And lightening the load on what has been a youth movement of late is a cadre of savvy vets who know the ropes and lead with both words and actions.
If the Cubs can live up to what Szymborski had laid out, I think it’s going to be quite a summer in Chicago. They might even be able to fill the bleachers. If, that is, there are bleachers to fill.