As we reach the mathematical halfway point of the season and approach the trade deadline, this is an opportune moment to run an update of the ZiPS projected standings. The standings are based on projections from the most robust version of ZiPS rather than the simpler one, which is more practical to run daily during the regular season, implementing things like the Statcast-aided zStats and up-to-date minor league translations.
The process that ZiPS uses is the typical one, but I’ll run it down quickly for those who may be new to how these projections work. ZiPS starts with a modified version of our depth chart and applies a generalized probabilistic model of available playing time for the players listed. So instead of a team’s roster strength being a simple sum of everyone’s projected WAR pro-rated to a fixed expected number of plate appearances, we end up with a whole distribution of possible roster strength. As an example: While Jacob deGrom still has a median of 55 innings in the roster sims I run for each team, sometimes he’ll be at 65 or 70 innings, sometimes he’ll be at 30 or 45 innings, and occasionally, it’ll be much worse than that. ZiPS will then “fill in” playing time based on the next players available on the depth chart and their probabilistic measure of availability. Just to stay with the Mets: When the outfield is healthy, the depth chart is mostly Mark Canha, Brandon Nimmo, and Starling Marte. But on the particularly bad rolls, the team’s estimated roster strength will have a lot more Ender Inciarte, Nick Plummer, Mark Vientos, and even players like Daniel Palka and Terrance Gore.
After ZiPS gets a distribution of each team’s roster strength, it “draws” one each year and sims out the rest of the season, team versus team, a million times and sees what happens. Is this a perfect methodology? Absolutely not! But I think we get closer to our goal of trying to evaluate team uncertainty and team depth, something which is harder to do using a less time-consuming scheme.
For today, let’s check in on the American League. Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
On Monday night, the Orioles beat the Mariners, turning an early 7–0 lead into a 9–2 win. In the annals of history, a last-place team beating a fourth-place team in a midseason game won’t exactly be one that old baseball historians recount in future documentaries. But it did cause the O’s to cross a symbolic threshold, guaranteeing that they’d have their first winning calendar month since 2017 (counting a 2–1 March 2019 would be a scurrilous case of loopholery). That’s not exactly cause to break out a Melchizedek of the bubbly stuff, but it’s progress for a team whose rebuilding efforts seemed to be lacking that characteristic.
One thing that bedeviled the Orioles was how little of a boost they received at the start of the rebuilding process. Mike Elias may have been hired after the 2018 season to oversee the reconstruction, but it was the old brain trust who got the ball rolling with major trades, dealing away Manny Machado, Zack Britton, Kevin Gausman, Jonathan Schoop, and Darren O’Day and receiving 15 players in return. Until this season, it looked like the only one that would make any impact on the team’s future would be Dillon Tate, picked up from the Yankees in the Britton trade, who has made his home as a mid-tier reliever. You can make an argument that the best minor leaguer involved in an Orioles trade during the first year of the rebuild was a player who was traded from Charm City, not acquired, when the O’s sent minor league veteran Mike Yastrzemski to the Giants.
The lost 2020 minor league season was problematic for everyone on the planet, but in a pure baseball context, I’ve argued that it was especially so for a Baltimore team flooded with Triple-A tweener pitchers and not enough places to play them. Fast-forward to our second season of relative normalcy, and you start to see a real foundation start to come together. We were generally bullish around here about Baltimore’s farm system coming into the season; my colleagues Eric Longenhagen and Kevin Goldstein rated the team very highly, and ZiPS had the team with the best prospect in baseball both at catcher and on the mound. ZiPS is even more positive about the team’s future now as most of the top prospects have improved their stock, some massively, rather than see it slide. Let’s run down some of the projection changes since the start of the season. Read the rest of this entry »
Who is baseball’s most irreplaceable player in 2022? This doesn’t mean the most valuable player, and in terms of the playoff hunt, the hardest player to replace isn’t necessarily the best one. Some teams are either cruising to the playoffs or effectively eliminated in practice, if not in purely mathematical terms (hello, Tigers and Royals). To answer this question, I ran the updated ZiPS projected standings after Tuesday’s games and then re-ran the entire simulation with the assumption that each relevant player missed the rest of the season due to injury.
For the NL, ZiPS estimates that nine teams remain plausible playoff contenders, which I define as having a 5% chance of making MLB’s new 12-team playoff format. The exceptions are the Diamondbacks, Cubs, Rockies, Pirates, Nationals, and Reds. Seven of the nine remaining teams are above 50%, with only the Phillies (27%) and Marlins (8%) between a coin flip and that arbitrarily chosen 5% threshold. Let’s jump right into the NL’s top 10 list.
Burnes was always going to make this top 10 list, but Brandon Woodruff‘s ankle injury and Freddy Peralta‘s more significant shoulder injury push him into the top slot. The hit may even be more severe than the -11% listed here; ZiPS puts a lot of stock in Aaron Ashby’s presence, but any kind of forearm pain for a pitcher should lead fans to look sadly into the middle distance. Nobody on the Brewers comes even close to Burnes in playoff impact, so a nasty surprise here ought to make them very aggressive about picking up a pitcher. After all, we’re already into the Chi Chi González portion of the depth chart.
Ronald Acuña Jr. has a better projection than Olson, but ZiPS sees Atlanta’s options at first base to be relatively bleak. That was one of the team’s biggest questions back when Freddie Freeman was a free agent, and though Atlanta has patched together DH somewhat, all bets are off with a serious Olson injury. In the event he goes down, I expect it’s more likely that Austin Riley plays first with Phil Gosselin playing third than Adam Duvall or Eddie Rosario getting shifted to first, but since ZiPS isn’t a Gosselin-stanner, it thinks that’s only shuffling a hole around. Read the rest of this entry »
For the AL, ZiPS estimates that 10 teams remain plausible playoff contenders, which I define as having a 5% chance of making MLB’s new 12-team playoff format. The exceptions are the Tigers, Royals, A’s, and Orioles. After this quartet, there’s a significant jump to the Rangers at 9% and the Angels at 10%. Sorry, there are no Yankees and Astros on this list with their respective big leads in their divisions. Let’s jump right into the AL’s top 10 list.
ZiPS projects the Guardians as only the third-best team in the weak AL Central despite currently being part of a first-place tie, which gives them about a coin flip’s chance to make the expanded playoffs. While both Andrés Giménez and Shane Bieber project to finish the season in All-Star territory at over four WAR, Ramírez remains the player who most drives Cleveland and the only one who could figure in the MVP race. Ernie Clement is the most likely player to step in if Ramírez was lost for the year — he’s already filling in for him — and that’s a massive downgrade for a team that generally needs things to go right in order to make the playoffs.
The fact that Devers ranks so highly should get the Red Sox thinking when the subject of a possible extension for their star third baseman comes up. Boston has surged back into the playoff picture in recent weeks, but its playoff hopes still rest on the edge of a knife, and the in-house replacements for Devers are a weak group. Bobby Dalbec and the returning Christian Arroyo would likely take over at third unless the team decided to move Enrique Hernández to the position. Suffice it to say that Boston’s not giving Devers a lot of time off to play some designated hitter. Read the rest of this entry »
This is a wonderful era of baseball in which to be a fan of shortstops. From Francisco Lindor to Carlos Correa to Corey Seager to Xander Bogaerts, there are so many top-tier players at the position. Contrast that with the 1960s and ’70s, an era from which only one shortstop actually got into the Hall of Fame in Luis Aparicio (Ernie Banks never played another game at short after 1961). A merely “good” shortstop can get overlooked in such an atmosphere.
Dansby Swanson certainly wasn’t overlooked during his days as an amateur. The No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft, he was ranked as the best draft-eligible player that year by a number of highly respected analysts and scouts, including our own Kiley McDaniel. Also lending to the hype was the fact that, just six months after being drafted by Arizona, he was the key player in the notorious trade that sent him, Ender Inciarte, and Aaron Blair to Atlanta in exchange for Shelby Miller.
If scouts were over-exuberant about Swanson’s development, so was ZiPS, which pegged him as the fifth-best prospect in baseball before the 2016 season, behind Seager, Byron Buxton, J.P. Crawford, and Orlando Arcia (oof). But Swanson didn’t develop into the superstar that many predicted. Over his first three seasons, he hit .243/.314/.369 for a 75 wRC+ and 2.2 WAR — hardly the worst player in baseball, but a far cry from the phenoms we’ve been blessed with, such as Fernando Tatis Jr. and Mike Trout. While Swanson hadn’t quite been named a bust, there were certainly whispers of disappointment.
If Swanson’s early career didn’t exactly go gangbusters, he steadily improved with the Braves. He had his first two-WAR season in 2019, earned his first MVP vote in ’20, and recorded his first three-WAR season in ’21. Since the start of 2019, he has ranked 10th among shortstops in WAR, sandwiched between Seager and Javier Báez. But in Atlanta’s pecking order in recent years, it’s (rightfully) been Ronald Acuña Jr., Freddie Freeman, and Ozzie Albies that have drawn the most attention among Braves hitters, with Swanson seemingly relegated to being one of the ohyeahhimtoos in public regard.
He’s been more than that this year, particularly of late. There are a lot of players responsible for Atlanta’s current 14-game win streak, and Swanson’s been a key piece of that puzzle, hitting .379/.455/.586 line with 1.1 WAR. But even when you back up and look at the entire season, it’s not the returning Acuña Jr. leading the team in WAR, nor Albies, the big acquisition Matt Olson, Austin Riley, or one of the pitchers; it’s Swanson. Read the rest of this entry »
Two major bits of unpleasant injury-related news hit the headlines on Tuesday afternoon. First, the Blue Jays announced that Hyun Jin Ryu, a key cog in the rotation, would undergo elbow surgery that would result in him missing the rest of the entire 2022 season. Over in the NL West, a scheduled CT scan revealed that Fernando Tatis Jr. had not seen enough healing in his wrist to allow him to start swinging a bat. Both of these injuries are of the type that could impact the divisional races.
For both Ryu and the Jays, his sore elbow is a major hit. Jay Jaffe has already touched on the impact to Toronto’s rotation from the loss of Ryu. In his case, there were clear signs of something being not quite right leading up to his initial trip to the shelf. Per Jay:
This is already Ryu’s second trip to the injured list this season. After lasting just 7.1 innings over his first two starts and allowing a total of 11 runs, he landed on the IL on April 17 with what was described as forearm inflammation. Upon returning to the Blue Jays on May 14, he fared somewhat better, yielding just six runs (five earned) in 19.2 innings over four starts, but his average four-seam fastball velocity decreased by about one mile per hour from outing to outing, from a high of 90.3 mph on May 14 to a low of 87.6 on June 1 — a troubling trend.
Back then, the timetable was reported to be at least multiple weeks. Full Tommy John surgery would obviously end Ryu’s 2022 campaign, but we’re far enough into the season that even repair of a partially torn UCL wouldn’t allow him to return in the fall. If he should require the full surgery, his 2023 season would definitely be in peril, with only a late-season return being feasible. He’s a free agent after the 2023 season, too, so there’s a very real possibility that he’s played his last game in a Jays uniform.
I wouldn’t characterize it as good news, but Ryu’s previous Tommy John surgery was a long time ago, undergone in 2004 when he was still in high school, meaning he got most of a professional career out of his first surgery before a possible revision procedure. Unfortunately, in one study, less than half of pitchers needing a second procedure returned to pitch at least 10 games. Read the rest of this entry »
Faced with a middling rotation on a middling roster, the Angels took a risk this winter when they made Noah Syndergaard their big free-agent pitcher signing over any of the marquee names available. Syndergaard was once one of those dazzling names, but injuries haven taken away three of his most recent seasons (most of 2017, all of 2020, and all but two innings in 2021) and, eventually, the final gear of a fastball and sinker that both tangled with triple digits on the radar gun. It’s difficult for a one-year deal to end too badly, but at $21 million for 2022, the Angels clearly thought of this as more than a pillow contract or a lottery ticket. So has it worked? Sort of.
To get one thing out of the way: Syndergaard is not the pitcher he once was. As Jay Jaffe wrote earlier this month, he’s lost about four miles per hour on his fastball, forcing him to reconfigure his pitch mix. He’s not exactly Jered Weaver or Zack Greinke, let alone Frank Schwindel throwing 35-mph rainbows to the Yankees, but throwing 93 or 94 mph is quite different than throwing 99 or 100. That said, he’s still gotten decent results, at least in bottom-line numbers, and his ERA stands at 3.69, with his FIP barely behind at 3.81. His strikeout rate has plummeted to just 15.4%, or 5.83 K/9, numbers that barely match up to his 26.4% and 9.74 through 2019. But the lack of strikeouts is partially mitigated by the fact that his control remains excellent, and he’s still effective at preventing hitters from making good contact.
Pitchers have been successful with meager strikeout rates, even in today’s game. However, it leaves little margin for error, and when pitchers like Kirk Rueter or Chien-Ming Wang finally hit a bump, they didn’t just get a flat; the wheels fell completely off. Even with more reason to hope for his health than before the season and after some perfectly respectable performances, ZiPS is actually less confident about Syndergaard’s future than before:
While we can be a little more confident now about playing time, we should also be less bullish about the chances of Syndergaard recapturing his pre-injury form. Even with more innings now projected than at the start of 2022, ZiPS has knocked his rest-of-career mean projection from 19.1 WAR to 13.7. Every game of a decidedly mortal Syndergaard takes us a little farther from the thunder god. Read the rest of this entry »
As anyone who does a lot of work with projections could likely tell you, one of the most annoying things about modeling future performance is that results themselves are a small sample size. Individual seasons, even full ones over 162 games, still feature results that are not very predictive, such as a hitter or a pitcher with a BABIP low or high enough to be practically unsustainable. For example, if Luis Arraez finishes the season hitting .350, we don’t actually know that a median projection of .350 was the correct projection going into the season. There’s no divine baseball exchequer to swoop in and let you know if he was “actually” a .350 hitter who did what he was supposed to, a .320 hitter who got lucky, or a .380 hitter who suffered misfortune. If you flip heads on a coin eight times out of 10 and have no reason to believe you have a special coin-flipping ability, you’ll eventually see the split approach 50/50 given a sufficiently large number of coin flips. Convergence in probability is a fairly large academic area that we thankfully do not need to go into here. But for most things in baseball, you never actually get enough coin flips to see this happen. The boundaries of a season are quite strict.
What does this have to do with projections? This volatile data becomes the source of future predictions, and one of the things done in projections is to find things that are not only as predictive as the ordinary stats, but also more predictive based on fewer plate appearances or batters faced. Imagine, for example, if body mass index was a wonderful predictor of isolated power. It would be a highly useful one, as changes to it over the course of a season are bound to be rather small. The underlying reasons for performance tend to be more stable than the results, which is why ERA is more volatile than strikeout rate, and why strikeout rate is more volatile than the plate discipline stats that result in strikeout rate. Read the rest of this entry »
As anyone who does a lot of work with projections could likely tell you, one of the most annoying things about modeling future performance is that results themselves are a small sample size. Individual seasons, even full ones over 162 games, still feature results that are not very predictive, such as a hitter or a pitcher with a BABIP low or high enough to be practically unsustainable. For example, if Luis Arraez finishes the season hitting .350, we don’t actually know that a median projection of .350 was, in fact, the correct projection going into the season. There’s no divine baseball exchecquer to swoop in and let you know if he was “actually” a .350 hitter who did what he was supposed to, a .320 hitter who got lucky, or even a .380 hitter who suffered misfortune. If you flip heads on a coin eight times out of ten and have no reason to believe you have a special coin-flipping ability, you’ll eventually see the split approach 50/50 given a sufficiently large number of coin flips. Convergence in probability is a fairly large academic area that we thankfully do not need to go into here. But for most things in baseball, you never actually get enough coin flips to see this happen. The boundaries of a season are quite strict.
What does this have to do with projections? This volatile data becomes the source of future predictions, and one of the things done in projections is to find things that are not only as predictive as the ordinary stats, but also more predictive based on fewer plate appearances or batters faced. Imagine, for example, if body mass index was a wonderful predictor of isolated power. It would be a highly useful one, as changes to that over the course of a season are bound to be rather small. Underlying reasons for performance tend to be more stable than the results, which is why ERA is more volatile than strikeout rate and why strikeout rate is more volatile than plate discipline stats that result in strikeout rate.
MLB’s own method comes with an x before the stat, whereas what ZiPS uses internally has a z. I’ll let you guess what it stands for! I’ve written more about this stuff in various places such as here and here, so let’s get right to the data for the first two months of the MLB season. Read the rest of this entry »