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ZiPS 2024 Top 100 Prospects

Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

For the ninth time (in 10 years — it’s a long story), we’ve reached the point in the offseason where I run down the ZiPS Top 100 prospects. For those wandering in who may hear “ZiPS” and think of the University of Akron or possibly the popular Cincinnati burger spot, ZiPS is a computer projection system that crunches a lot of data about players and attempts to peer through the fog that obscures the future. You can read more about the system here or in MLB.com’s executive summary.

ZiPS prospect projections aren’t an attempt to supplant scouting. Rather, they try to be a supplement to scout-generated lists. There’s a lot of uncertainty in lower-level minor league stats that isn’t present at the upper levels. As such, non-statistical information about players takes on added value. ZiPS doesn’t seek to be the one-ring-to-bind-them-all-unified-field-theory-giant-Katamari-Damacy-ball of prognostication; it aims to give the very best data-generated predictions possible, for people to use, ignore, mock, or worship according to their personal tastes and worldview. Read the rest of this entry »


The 2024 Pre-Spring Training ZiPS Projected Standings: National League

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

With the Dodgers reporting for pitchers and catchers today, this week seems like a good time to run ZiPS projections for all 30 teams. I covered the American League projections yesterday, so today is all about the National League. Let’s be clear up front: These are not the final preseason projections, but they’re the best expression of how ZiPS sees the NL right now. After all, several marquee free agents remain unsigned and rosters will surely change between now and the start of the 2024 season.

These standings are the result of a million simulations, not results obtained from binomial, or more competently, beta-binomial magic. The methodology isn’t identical to the one we use for our playoff odds, which were released Wednesday, meaning there naturally will be some notable differences in the results.

So how does ZiPS calculate the season? Stored within ZiPS are the first- through 99th-percentile projections for each player. I start by making a generalized depth chart, using our Depth Charts as a jumping off point. Since these are my curated projections, I make changes based on my personal feelings about who will receive playing time as filtered through arbitrary whimsy my logic and reasoning. ZiPS then generates a million versions of each team in Monte Carlo fashion (the computational algorithms, that is — though it would be fun to don a tuxedo and play chemin de fer like James Bond).

After that is done, ZiPS applies another set of algorithms with a generalized distribution of injury risk that changes the baseline plate appearances or innings pitched for each player. ZiPS then automatically and proportionally “fills in” playing time from the next players on the list to get to a full slate of PAs and innings.

The result is a million different rosters for each team and an associated winning percentage for each million of them. After applying the new strength of schedule calculations based on the other 29 teams, I end up with the standings for each of the million seasons. I promise, this is much less complex than it sounds.

The goal of ZiPS is to be less awful than any other way of predicting the future. The future is tantalizingly close but beyond our ken, and if anyone figures out how to deflect the astrophysicist Arthur Eddington’s arrow of time, it’s probably not going to be in the form of baseball projections. So we project probabilities, not certainties.

Over the last decade, ZiPS has averaged 19.6 correct teams when looking at Vegas preseason over/under lines. I’m always tinkering with methodology, but most of the low-hanging fruit in predicting how teams will perform has already been harvested. ZiPS’ misses for teams from year to year are uncorrelated, with an r-squared of one year’s miss to the next of 0.000562. In other words, none of the year-to-year misses for individual franchises has told us anything about future misses for those franchises.

2024 ZiPS Projected Median Standings – National League East
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Atlanta Braves 95 67 .586 71.3% 21.4% 92.7% 17.4%
Philadelphia Phillies 85 77 10 .525 13.9% 41.2% 55.0% 3.6%
New York Mets 83 79 12 .512 8.9% 34.4% 43.3% 2.3%
Miami Marlins 81 81 14 .500 5.9% 28.4% 34.3% 1.5%
Washington Nationals 66 96 29 .407 0.0% 0.8% 0.9% 0.0%

That ZiPS likes the Atlanta Braves can hardly be considered a surprise considering they won 104 games last year, all projection systems everywhere love them, and I’ve been warning non-Braves fans that this would be the likely result all winter. What else is there to say? They’re a great team and there’s no scary number two in the division.

The Phillies project just slightly worse than last year, partially due to some aging risk in their prime offensive players, but more likely than not — really, unless they lose either Zack Wheeler or Aaron Nola to injury — they are going to be a playoff team. Catching the Braves isn’t a futile gesture — we’re talking a roughly one-in-seven chance — but they’ll need some help from Atlanta to win the division.

ZiPS doesn’t think the Mets did enough to patch up their rotation, but if their starting pitchers are better than expected, they should contend for a wild card. The Marlins project a little worse than New York, but they have a high variance in their projected outcomes; their pitching is elite, and that could be enough to make a pretty lousy offense almost unimportant — as was the case last year when they snagged a wild card berth.

Last year, the Nationals remained within bullhorn distance of .500 for much of the late summer, but they aren’t good enough to take a big step forward in 2024. Washington has the worst ZiPS projection for any National League team.

2024 ZiPS Projected Median Standings – National League Central
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
St. Louis Cardinals 83 79 .512 33.2% 15.7% 48.9% 2.9%
Chicago Cubs 81 81 2 .500 23.5% 15.2% 38.6% 1.9%
Milwaukee Brewers 80 82 3 .494 20.5% 14.3% 34.8% 1.5%
Cincinnati Reds 79 83 4 .488 16.0% 12.7% 28.8% 1.1%
Pittsburgh Pirates 75 87 8 .463 6.8% 7.1% 13.9% 0.3%

While it may seem like a relief that ZiPS is hedging enough here that I won’t get blamed too badly, no matter what happens, I also won’t get much credit! Fans have a tendency to overrate teams when things are going well and underrate teams when they’re not, and I think the Cardinals are a good example of this. The additions outside of Sonny Gray don’t send a tingle down your spine, but they did successfully patch up the rotation, which was a gaping wound for most of last season. Paul Goldschmidt, 36, and Nolan Arenado, who turns 33 in April, might not be as good as they once were, but if they age gradually instead of all at once, St. Louis should have the necessary depth in its lineup to score enough runs to compete in such a weak division. ZiPS isn’t alone here.

Shota Imanaga is my favorite signing this winter, but the Cubs are probably still one more starting pitcher away from being the favorite in this division. I’d certainly like more ambitious solutions at first base or catcher. In recent weeks, the Brewers patched some of their roster holes, signing first baseman Rhys Hoskins, starting pitcher Jakob Junis, and backup catcher and DH Gary Sánchez, but they also opened up a larger, newer one when they traded ace right-hander Corbin Burnes for infield prospect Joey Ortiz and left-hander DL Hall. Ortiz should get the chance to play every day, and Hall could be the latest dominant arm fermented by Milwaukee’s reliever brewery, but the Brewers will feel the absence of Burnes in 2024.

There’s a lot to like about the Reds’ future, but they haven’t done much this offseason to address their shortcomings. They have a logjam of guys who get a lot of their value playing third base, but instead of using some of those players as trade pieces to upgrade elsewhere, the Reds are going to shove them all into the lineup at various other positions, such as first base, DH and corner outfield. That isn’t a particularly lucrative plan. Cincinnati’s starting pitching could be very good, but there is a quite a bit of variance with this group due to consistency and/or injury concerns. A few bad “rolls” here and the rotation could become awful quickly.

The Pirates aren’t a depressing team and have some interesting players to watch, like shortstop Oneil Cruz, outfielder Bryan Reynolds, and third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes. But they do have some holes to fill at other positions, and their starting pitching staff probably peaks at OK. ZiPS is a bigger fan of their bullpen.

2024 ZiPS Projected Median Standings – National League West
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Los Angeles Dodgers 93 69 .574 66.2% 21.8% 88.1% 13.9%
Arizona Diamondbacks 84 78 9 .519 16.6% 34.8% 51.4% 3.3%
San Francisco Giants 82 80 11 .506 11.2% 29.9% 41.1% 2.1%
San Diego Padres 79 83 14 .488 5.9% 21.2% 27.1% 1.0%
Colorado Rockies 67 95 26 .414 0.1% 1.0% 1.1% 0.0%

The Dodgers are clearly the best team in the NL West, but they’re not invincible. The team’s pitching plan to have about 15 really talented pitchers and hope nine or so are healthy at any given time could work out tremendously – as it has in recent years – but there’s certainly some risk there. It’s hard to capture in preseason projections, but the Dodgers will likely be aggressive in making trades to remedy flaws that pop up with their pitching staff during the season.

Arizona is a good team, but as is the case with the Rangers, there’s a serious risk of overrating a team because of a World Series appearance. The Diamondbacks were an 84-win team last year and their outlook for 2024 would’ve been about the same if the Brewers had eliminated them in the first round rather than vice-versa. That said, Arizona made several moves this offseason and, as a result, appears to be a better team overall than it was last year (and they were a team I talked up quite a bit).

The Giants are underwhelming, in part because they’ve missed out on most of the big free agents they’ve gone after, but that doesn’t mean they are bad. They are solid enough that they could make a wild card push, and their floor is higher than many think. But they need some more production in their lineup, and behind Logan Webb, there are a lot of moving parts in the rotation.

Replacing Juan Soto is a nearly impossible task, so it’s unsurprising that the Padres are projected to take a step back this season. ZiPS projects both the offense and the pitching to rank somewhere in the 17 to 21 range, depending on playing time assumptions. And while San Diego has repaired its farm system quicker than many (including this writer) expected, that doesn’t exactly help much for 2024.

The Rockies aren’t going to the postseason and will probably be well out of the playoff picture by mid-April. But at least they didn’t do anything this offseason to make their long-term outlook worse, which is kind of an improvement. I’m mildly hopeful that they take the proper lesson from the Nolan Jones trade and make it an organizational priority to acquire every interesting 25-year-old from a team that is unsure what to do with him.

2024 ZiPS Projected Playoff Wins – National League
To Win 10th 20th 30th 40th 50th 60th 70th 80th 90th
NL East 88.7 91.2 93.0 94.6 96.2 97.8 99.5 101.7 104.7
NL Central 82.8 84.9 86.4 87.7 89.0 90.3 91.7 93.4 95.9
NL West 87.2 89.6 91.4 92.9 94.4 96.0 97.7 99.8 102.7
To Win 10th 20th 30th 40th 50th 60th 70th 80th 90th
NL Wild Card 1 86.1 87.6 88.7 89.7 90.7 91.6 92.7 94.0 95.9
NL Wild Card 2 83.3 84.6 85.6 86.5 87.3 88.1 89.0 90.0 91.5
NL Wild Card 3 81.2 82.5 83.4 84.2 84.9 85.7 86.5 87.4 88.7

And here we have the simple chart – which I’ve been including in all of these ZiPS projected standings, except the times I forget – to show what win totals likely will make the playoffs, rather than the highest median win projection.


Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 2/8/24

12:01
Avatar Dan Szymborski: If you can’t do the chat time, don’t do the chat crime

12:02
Avatar Dan Szymborski: I don’t know what that means either, like most things out of my mouth

12:03
the person who asks the lunch question: what’s for lunch?

12:03
Avatar Dan Szymborski: Nothing, this isn’t an eating Thursday

12:03
Andy Dufresne: Are you bullish on Correa exceeding his projections now that the foot (and septum) are fixed?

12:03
Avatar Dan Szymborski: Mildly so? I tend to be skeptical over “OK, this fixes the injury thing for good” things

Read the rest of this entry »


The 2024 Pre-Spring Training ZiPS Projected Standings: American League

Reggie Hildred-USA TODAY Sports

With the Dodgers reporting for pitchers and catchers on Friday, this week seems like a good time to do run ZiPS projections for all 30 teams. Let’s be clear up front: These are not the final preseason projections – and an ancient curse I saw suggests that if you quote them as such, ghosts will eat your lymphatic system – but they’re the best expression of how ZiPS sees the league right now. After all, several marquee free agents remain unsigned and rosters will surely change between now and the start of the 2024 season.

These standings are the result of a million simulations, not results obtained from binomial, or more competently, beta-binomial magic. The methodology isn’t identical to the one we use for our playoff odds, which were released yesterday, meaning there naturally will be some notable differences in the results.

So how does ZiPS calculate the season? Stored within ZiPS are the first- through 99th-percentile projections for each player. I start by making a generalized depth chart, using our Depth Charts as a jumping off point. Since these are my curated projections, I make changes based on my personal feelings about who will receive playing time as filtered through arbitrary whimsy my logic and reasoning. ZiPS then generates a million versions of each team in Monte Carlo fashion (the computational algorithms, that is — no one is dressing up in a tuxedo and playing chemin de fer like James Bond).

After that is done, ZiPS applies another set of algorithms with a generalized distribution of injury risk that changes the baseline plate appearances or innings pitched for each player. ZiPS then automatically and proportionally “fills in” playing time from the next players on the list to get to a full slate of PAs and innings.

The result is a million different rosters for each team and an associated winning percentage for each million of them. After applying the new strength of schedule calculations based on the other 29 teams, I end up with the standings for each of the million seasons. I promise, this is much less complex than it sounds.

The goal of ZiPS is to be less awful than any other way of predicting the future. The future is tantalizingly close but beyond our ken, and if anyone figures out how to deflect the astrophysicist Arthur Eddington’s arrow of time, it’s probably not going to be in the form of baseball projections. So we project probabilities, not certainties.

Over the last decade, ZiPS has averaged 19.6 correct teams when looking at Vegas preseason over/under lines. I’m always tinkering with methodology, but most of the low-hanging fruit in predicting how teams will perform has already been harvested. ZiPS’ misses for teams from year to year are uncorrelated, with an r-squared of one year’s miss to the next of 0.000562. In other words, none year-to-year misses for individual franchises has told us anything about future misses for those franchises.

2024 ZiPS Projected Median Standings – American League East
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Baltimore Orioles 90 72 .556 36.4% 38.5% 74.9% 8.4%
New York Yankees 88 74 2 .543 25.5% 40.0% 65.6% 5.9%
Toronto Blue Jays 88 74 2 .543 24.5% 39.1% 63.6% 5.6%
Tampa Bay Rays 83 79 7 .512 9.7% 29.9% 39.5% 2.1%
Boston Red Sox 79 83 11 .488 3.9% 18.1% 22.0% 0.8%

I’m from Baltimore, but I would hope last year’s projection miss would disavow anyone of the notion that I weight these team standings toward my personal preferences. The Orioles – and last year’s Orioles – do a bit better in my methodology than others, I suspect because of the weight I deal with depth. In those seasons in which they lose players, especially offensive ones, the team’s depth keeps the falloff from being too dire. Even in simulation no. 452,331, in which the O’s lose both Gunnar Henderson and Adley Rutschmann to season-ending injuries before the first game, the team still finished 84-78!

The Yankees have significant downside given how much of their punch is tied up in a handful of players, but the reports of their death are quite premature. Juan Soto will provide a huge offensive boost this year, even if they don’t re-sign him after the season. They also added two other outfielders, Alex Verdugo and Trent Grisham, who are better than everybody they ran out there last year, with the exception of Aaron Judge.

ZiPS likes Toronto’s rotation and expects the return of Kevin Kiermaier to help, but without Matt Chapman, it sees third base as a major downgrade from last year. The Rays almost always get the most out of their depth, but ZiPS isn’t sure how much production they will get from their DH spot or how they will cobble together their rotation without Tyler Glasnow.

The Red Sox aren’t a dreadful team, but they’re merely OK in a division that has four good-to-great teams. That being said, they’re just good enough that they still have slightly better than a one-in-five chance of making the playoffs.

2024 ZiPS Projected Median Standings – American League Central
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Cleveland Guardians 85 77 .525 42.4% 13.6% 56.0% 3.9%
Minnesota Twins 85 77 .525 42.1% 13.6% 55.7% 3.8%
Detroit Tigers 77 85 8 .475 10.3% 7.3% 17.7% 0.5%
Kansas City Royals 74 88 11 .457 4.7% 3.9% 8.6% 0.2%
Chicago White Sox 66 96 19 .407 0.4% 0.4% 0.7% 0.0%

ZiPS projects Cleveland to be relatively even with Minnesota, in large part because it likes the rotation trio of Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie, and Tanner Bibee more than other projection systems do. ZiPS doesn’t see the Guardians as significantly below average at any position — Andrés Giménez remains a ZiPS favorite — and it thinks their bullpen is underrated. The Twins won the division fairly comfortably last year, but remember, they won only 87 games and just lost the AL Cy Young runner-up, Sonny Gray, in free agency. The Jorge Polanco trade came from a surplus of infield talent, but the additions of Anthony DeSclafani and Justin Topa won’t compensate for Gray’s loss to the rotation. If you like Carlos Santana, the team’s “big” offseason signing, I’d recommend you not look at the projection for him.

The projections still see more upside for Detroit’s pitching than its hitting, though after Spencer Torkelson’s surge last summer, ZiPS does expect him to keep improving in his third big league season. The Tigers are good enough that they can make a serious run at .500, but they’ll need some good fortune to get enough offense.

The Royals get credit for being active in free agency this offseason, signing veteran starting pitchers Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha, reliever Will Smith, slugger Hunter Renfroe, and utility man Adam Frazier, among other players. That said, those are the types of moves a team makes when it already has a strong core in place and is ready to contend, and, at least as ZiPS sees it, the Royals aren’t quite there yet. That’s not the worst thing in the world, considering they just signed shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. to the longest, most valuable extension in franchise history.

ZiPS has the White Sox as one of the worst teams in baseball, with little to look forward to outside of Dylan Cease, Luis Robert Jr., and the hope that Yoán Moncada and Eloy Jiménez get back on track. This organization is in a very dangerous position in that, like the Rockies a few years ago, I’m not sure it truly understands where it stands.

2024 ZiPS Projected Median Standings – American League West
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Houston Astros 89 73 .549 43.3% 26.5% 69.8% 7.3%
Texas Rangers 86 76 3 .531 28.0% 28.4% 56.4% 4.5%
Seattle Mariners 85 77 4 .525 23.0% 27.4% 50.4% 3.5%
Los Angeles Angels 79 83 10 .488 5.6% 13.2% 18.9% 0.6%
Oakland A’s 63 99 26 .389 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.0%

ZiPS still sees the Astros as the class of the AL West, thanks to the massive concentration of talent in the heart of their lineup. It wasn’t a busy winter for Houston, but the big addition, Josh Hader, gives a boost to the bullpen. The Astros, though, are not unstoppable. They have a lot of viable arms in the rotation, but the upside isn’t what it was three or four years ago, even if Justin Verlander has another strong season left in his arm.

The Rangers are a well-built team, but a lot of their offensive talent is on the wrong side of 30, and last year was probably the best case scenario for a few of their hitters. Their starting pitching is weaker now than it was at the end of 2023. ZiPS did account for the late-season returns of Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, and Tyler Mahle to reinforce the rotation, but all those games without them count, too, and as of this writing, Texas has not re-signed or replaced Jordan Montgomery.

ZiPS likes a lot of what the Mariners did this offseason. It projects Jorge Polanco as a moderate plus at second base and Luis Urías to be an effective replacement for Eugenio Suárez. Gregory Santos is in the top tier of projected relievers, though his projection will come down just a tad once a fixed error in the ZiPS database propagates to our player pages.

It will be nice for the Angels to get full seasons from Zach Neto and Nolan Schanuel, and the team has spent its offseason quietly beefing up its bullpen. But losing Shohei Ohtani is going to hurt.

I believe I have talked about all the major league teams in the AL West and surely did not forget anyone.

2024 ZiPS Projected Playoff Wins – American League
To Win 10th 20th 30th 40th 50th 60th 70th 80th 90th
AL East 89.2 91.4 93.0 94.4 95.7 97.1 98.5 100.2 102.7
AL Central 82.7 85.1 86.8 88.3 89.7 91.2 92.8 94.7 97.3
AL West 86.7 89.0 90.6 92.1 93.5 94.9 96.4 98.2 100.8
To Win 10th 20th 30th 40th 50th 60th 70th 80th 90th
AL Wild Card 1 87.3 88.8 89.9 90.9 91.8 92.8 93.9 95.1 97.0
AL Wild Card 2 84.6 86.0 86.9 87.8 88.6 89.5 90.3 91.4 92.9
AL Wild Card 3 82.5 83.8 84.7 85.5 86.2 87.0 87.8 88.8 90.2

One thing that drive me nuts about the discourse of the ZiPS projections is when someone looks at the top median projection and gets very angry with me that some division can be won with 89 or 90 wins. Since most of the tweets on this subject have an aspect for Mature Audiences Only, I’ve translated an example into something suitable for polite company.

Verily, Szymborski, thou art bereft of wit! How dare thee proclaim that a mere tally of 89 victories shall secure the Astros dominion over the AL Wast! Thy discourse betrays a lamentable ignorance, akin to that of a common dullard. Thy prognostications, I dare say, are as worthless as the dregs of a shire-reeve’s larder after Michaelmas!

Yes, the Astros have the best median projection in the AL West at 89 wins, but that doesn’t mean 89 wins will actually win the AL West. This last chart shows the probabilities that X number of wins will take the division or wild card spot in question. So, 89 wins might win the AL West, but only about 20% of the time. The Orioles project to 90 wins, but in the 36.4% of scenarios in which they won the AL East, they averaged 95.3 wins.


Royals Sign Bobby Witt Jr. To Franchise-Record Extension

Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Royals committed to the largest contract in franchise history on Monday, signing shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. to an 11-year extension worth $288.8 million. In addition to the guarantee, which runs through the 2034 season, there’s a three-year club option worth $89 million that would bring the total value of the deal to $377 million if exercised. Witt gets some options of his own, with four opt-out opportunities from 2030 to 2033 (the seventh, eighth, ninth, and 10th seasons of the deal). The 23-year-old Witt had a breakout 2023 season, hitting .276/.319/.495 with 30 homers and 49 stolen bases, good for 5.7 WAR, a mark that ranked third among shortstops behind only Corey Seager and Francisco Lindor.

Suffice it to say, I was floored when news of this deal hit Monday afternoon. Money may not go as far as it used to, but a nearly $300 million commitment is still a pretty large one, with fewer than 20 contracts in league history exceeding $250 million in guaranteed cash. A contract this big would still be a massive story in New York or Los Angeles; in the context of Kansas City baseball, the discovery of extraterrestrial life would probably get booted from the front page in favor of this deal. To say the Royals don’t typically enter into pacts like this would be an epic understatement. We’re talking about a franchise that had never given out even a $100 million contract, with the largest previous deal being Salvador Perez’s 2021 extension that guaranteed him $82 million over four years. Triple the size of Perez’s bag of cash and you still have enough left over to make a stack of hundred dollar bills about 140 feet high.

The Royals picked the right player to play Rich Uncle Pennybags with. Witt is the team’s best young player since Carlos Beltrán about 20 years ago. Back then, the Royals valued him so highly that after agreeing in principle to a three-year, $25 million contract, ownership decided to blow up the deal by trying to pull back a million dollars. A year later, Beltrán was traded in a three-way swap that netted the organization Mark Teahen, Mike Wood, and John Buck, who combined for about seven total WAR as Royals. Two decades later, Beltrán has a good shot at making the Hall of Fame — the biggest obstacle is his involvement in Houston’s trashcananigans — and if he gets a plaque, it may be with NY on the cap, not KC.

Witt isn’t some stathead favorite who snuck in a great season on the back of a spike in walks and crazy one-year defensive numbers (though we’ll get to his defense in a minute) — he was one of the top amateurs in the country, and as a pro prospect, he was one of those rare players who the scouts, the numbers crowd, and the computers all relished. He so electrified the atmosphere in spring training in 2021 that the Royals might have given serious thought to having him basically skip the whole upper minors.

While the Royals were probably right to develop Witt traditionally, assigning him to Double-A in 2021, they cleared the decks to get him a full-time spot in the lineup for 2022. Adalberto Mondesi’s presence resulted in Witt starting off at third base, but Mondesi’s ACL tear opened up the shortstop job, which Witt has mostly held since. A .254/.294/.428 line in his rookie campaign wasn’t phenom material, but as a 22-year-old shortstop, it was still enough to place him around average at the position, with a whole lot of unexplored ceiling remaining. Let’s crank up the time machine and jump back to his long-term ZiPS projections before last season:

ZiPS Projections – Bobby Witt Jr. (Pre-2023)
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2023 .265 .313 .462 565 88 150 35 5 22 86 35 134 25 110 -6 2.6
2024 .269 .320 .470 583 94 157 37 4 24 91 39 131 24 114 -5 3.1
2025 .273 .325 .475 598 99 163 38 4 25 95 42 129 24 116 -5 3.4
2026 .276 .329 .482 608 103 168 39 4 26 97 44 127 22 120 -5 3.7
2027 .278 .332 .484 608 104 169 39 4 26 97 45 125 20 121 -5 3.9
2028 .277 .334 .480 602 104 167 38 3 26 95 47 122 18 121 -5 3.8
2029 .277 .333 .478 592 101 164 38 3 25 94 46 121 17 120 -5 3.6
2030 .277 .334 .477 577 98 160 37 3 24 91 45 118 15 120 -6 3.5
2031 .277 .333 .476 578 97 160 37 3 24 91 44 119 14 119 -7 3.3
2032 .276 .332 .473 558 93 154 35 3 23 86 43 116 13 118 -7 3.0
2033 .276 .331 .467 537 87 148 34 3 21 82 41 112 11 117 -8 2.7
2034 .274 .329 .460 511 81 140 32 3 19 76 38 108 9 114 -9 2.3

Assuming the reduced salary figures for his pre-free agency years, ZiPS would have offered 11 years and $282 million to cover Witt through the 2034 season, though without the opt-out years, which do add significant value for most players. And remember, that projection isn’t what the computer suggests knowing how last season went — this is before 2023.

While this projection did a decent job of pegging Witt’s 2023 offense (with a projected OPS+ of 114 vs. an actual OPS+ of 120 and a wRC+ of 115), the computer didn’t see his defensive improvements coming. Originally, it was up for debate whether Witt’s future in the majors would be at shortstop or third base; the Royals originally starting Mondesi at short over Witt wasn’t necessarily some bit of undue veteran deference. Per Statcast’s RAA, Witt improved by 17 runs at shortstop from 2022 to 2023, ranking as the top defensive shortstop in the American League last season. Even Sports Info Solutions’ Defensive Runs Saved, a relative skeptic on Witt, saw a 12-run improvement.

Defense is notoriously hard to measure, but Witt’s numbers improved both in terms of range and avoiding errors. The latter is a relatively small part of defense, but it’s also one that’s much easier to measure, and Witt netted six runs of his improvement just from avoiding errors, going from six non-throwing errors to only two in 2023 despite 50% more innings. Last August, Jake Mintz went into detail on Witt’s defensive instruction at shortstop:

For a crash course in rewiring his defensive approach, Witt’s personal hitting coach Jeremy Isenhower invited well-known private infield coach Nate Trosky out to his hitting facility in Tomball, Texas, for two days of intensive training with the young shortstop. In the nippy mid-December chill, Trosky, an eccentric, fast talking, sun-hat wearing, country-song singing, infield mental skills expert, ran Witt through nearly six straight hours of instruction.
[…]
A close review of Witt’s 2022 errors confirms this hypothesis. Most of his fielding mistakes appeared to stem from a hesitant first step that led to issues with Witt’s timing and rhythm toward the ball. But if Trosky made things incredibly complicated on purpose, Royals first-year infield coach José Alguacil has taken an opposite yet complementary approach.

Let’s spin up the computer one more time and get Witt’s current projection, through the team option years:

ZiPS Projections – Bobby Witt Jr.
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2024 .275 .323 .481 615 97 169 35 7 26 97 41 127 35 119 1 4.1
2025 .279 .329 .488 613 100 171 35 6 27 98 43 122 32 122 1 4.3
2026 .279 .330 .485 612 101 171 35 5 27 98 44 119 30 122 1 4.3
2027 .280 .333 .487 610 102 171 35 5 27 98 46 116 28 123 1 4.4
2028 .281 .335 .484 609 103 171 35 4 27 97 47 115 25 123 1 4.5
2029 .280 .335 .478 607 102 170 34 4 26 95 48 113 23 122 1 4.2
2030 .279 .334 .475 591 98 165 33 4 25 92 46 110 21 121 0 4.0
2031 .279 .333 .476 569 93 159 32 4 24 88 44 107 18 121 -1 3.7
2032 .279 .333 .471 569 92 159 32 4 23 87 44 107 17 119 -2 3.5
2033 .277 .332 .464 541 86 150 30 4 21 81 42 103 15 117 -3 3.1
2034 .276 .330 .458 515 81 142 28 3 20 76 39 99 13 115 -3 2.7
2035 .273 .325 .450 484 73 132 26 3 18 69 36 94 10 112 -4 2.2
2036 .271 .323 .438 447 66 121 24 3 15 62 33 87 8 108 -5 1.6
2037 .268 .322 .431 406 58 109 21 3 13 55 30 80 7 106 -5 1.3

How good is this projection? ZiPS would happily throw another $100 million Witt’s way, meaning the Royals still have a lot of room for this deal to be absolutely fabulous from their point of view. Note that ZiPS isn’t even assuming Witt is a +10 defensive shortstop; 2023 was only enough for it to believe that he’s league average. If I tell ZiPS to assume he’s a -10 shortstop with the glove right now, it still thinks $240 million would be a fair deal. In other words, liking this contract from Kansas City’s perspective does not require you to abandon all skepticism about his defense.

Outside of the bottom line figure, it’s encouraging to see the Royals invest in a young star to this degree. It’s hard to remember now, but at one point, the Royals were one of baseball’s model franchises. Founded with the late Ewing Kauffman as the owner, the Royals managed to pass the .500 mark in just their third year of existence, and following their breakout 1975, they were one of the top teams in baseball for 15 years, a whole generation of baseball:

Franchise Wins, 1975-1989
Team W L WPct
Yankees 1323 1043 .559
Red Sox 1286 1083 .543
Royals 1286 1084 .543
Dodgers 1277 1099 .537
Orioles 1267 1096 .536
Reds 1261 1111 .532
Phillies 1245 1128 .525
Cardinals 1217 1152 .514
Tigers 1214 1156 .512
Astros 1207 1171 .508
Pirates 1198 1167 .507
Brewers 1193 1179 .503
Expos 1187 1184 .501
Angels 1180 1195 .497
Mets 1177 1192 .497
Athletics 1174 1201 .494
Giants 1162 1215 .489
Rangers 1139 1230 .481
Blue Jays 983 1064 .480
White Sox 1131 1233 .478
Twins 1133 1239 .478
Cubs 1125 1241 .475
Padres 1127 1249 .474
Indians 1091 1267 .463
Braves 1045 1319 .442
Mariners 860 1190 .420

Kauffman mostly kept Kansas City’s stars together and put the team’s cash back into the roster. From 1985 to 1994, the Royals were only out of the top 10 in payroll once, in 1992, and even led the league in 1990. But Kauffman passed away in 1993 and so did the team’s Golden Era. Outside of the Royals’ brief period of relevance in the mid-2010s, they spent so much time in the basement that someone should have checked them for a Vitamin D deficiency. The team’s success in 2014-2015 energized the locals for the first time in decades, but the organization showed little inclination to actually try and keep those fans, and as the team’s core aged and/or moved on, so did the KC faithful. Paid attendance in the championship 2015 season was over 33,000 per game. The Royals haven’t even done half that since 2019.

Does signing Bobby Witt Jr. bring back the Royals as a dynasty? Of course not — the team has still more holes than Clyde Barrow’s 1934 Ford DeLuxe Fordor. But Witt’s signing is a callback to a happier time, when Royal blue held more than just temporary apparel for superstars. Whether or not the Royals solve their other problems, for the next decade, shortstop probably won’t be one of them.


ZiPS 2024-2027 Movers and Shakers

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, I looked at players the projection systems agree on and homes for remaining top free agents using ZiPS. To complete this troika of pieces reviewing some of the ZiPS projections, I’ve asked ZiPS for the players whose medium-term outlook has changed the most from last year’s projections to this year’s. There are a lot of ways to do it, but I went with the simple method of looking at 2024-2027 projections at this time last year and the 2024-2027 projections right now.

Let’s jump right into the projections.

ZiPS Gainers – Hitters
Player Current 2024-2027 WAR Old 2024-2027 WAR Difference
Nolan Jones 12.4 2.4 9.9
Ronald Acuña Jr. 27.9 18.8 9.1
Evan Carter 11.1 3.3 7.8
Masyn Winn 11.8 4.1 7.7
Colt Keith 8.6 1.6 7.1
Chas McCormick 10.0 3.8 6.2
Jake Burger 7.6 1.4 6.2
Patrick Bailey 10.5 4.6 5.9
Jordan Lawlar 11.2 5.5 5.7
Jose Caballero 6.6 0.9 5.7
Henry Davis 7.3 1.7 5.6
Tyler Black 7.8 2.2 5.6
Jackson Chourio 9.0 3.7 5.4
Zack Gelof 9.1 3.9 5.2
Brooks Lee 6.9 1.7 5.1
William Contreras 11.9 6.8 5.1
Matt Wallner 7.7 2.6 5.1
Coby Mayo 11.5 6.6 4.9
Wilyer Abreu 6.6 1.8 4.8
Mookie Betts 17.1 12.4 4.7
James Outman 12.5 7.9 4.6
Devin Mann 6.4 1.8 4.5
Nico Hoerner 14.4 10.0 4.4
Davis Schneider 12.9 8.5 4.4
Estevan Florial 7.1 2.8 4.3
Jorge Barrosa 8.9 4.7 4.3
Gabriel Moreno 11.8 7.7 4.1
Jack Suwinski 10.2 6.1 4.1
Corey Seager 14.7 10.7 4.0
Matt McLain 14.6 10.7 3.9

I’m actually a little surprised that someone beat Ronald Acuña Jr. here. I liked Colorado’s pickup of Nolan Jones a lot – and nobody would claim I wear purple-and-black colored glasses – but he turned out even better than I or the projection system expected. Jones was a high-power, high-BABIP talent in the minors, both characteristics that served him well in Coors. Nobody’s confusing him with Kevin Kiermaier, but he turned out to be more competent defensively in the outfield than most expected, a not insignificant thing in a park with a very large outfield. Note that ZiPS doesn’t exclusively use Statcast’s OAA/RAA in its defensive estimations; it uses a mix that is mostly so, but still contains a bit of DRS and a dash of UZR. A .400 BABIP would be difficult to “keep” under any circumstances, so regression is expected, but Jones’ career is still on a lot more solid ground than a year ago.

The reason for the suspicions on Acuña are unsurprising and not a secret: He was recovering from a serious ACL injury and had a fairly run-of-the-mill return in 2022. I don’t necessarily think ZiPS was wrong to make this projection given the risk, though I’ll note that it “hated” him to the tune of having the seventh-best four-year WAR projection for a position player. Well, 2023 happened, and I doubt I have to explain the qualities of that campaign for him. He’s back on the previous track on dueling with Juan Soto and Julio Rodríguez for best X-year projections.

None of the projection systems think Evan Carter will hit for as much average as he did during his first taste of the big leagues, but they all think he’s an above-average starter in the majors right now. There was promise in his profile entering 2023, but a lot more uncertainty because for as young as he was, he was still a relatively low-power prospect with a lot of walk value – not always a huge plus for a prospect becuase of the risk of Jeremy Hermida Syndrome – and hadn’t yet played above High-A ball. The majors turned out not to be so far away.

I said last year at this time that ZiPS needed another year to be sure about Masyn Winn, and that’s precisely what happened. Colt Keith, with a full healthy season after a shoulder injury, put himself into the top tier of prospects and earned an extension from the Tigers before he played a game. Chas McCormick is one of the oldest players on the list, and even if it took a long time until Dusty Baker noticed his improvement, the Astros were aware of it. Patrick Bailey turned out to be a truly dynamite defensive player in the majors.

The Henry Davis bump feels a little odd, but ZiPS was really down on him until his minor league performance in 2023, which featured a spicy 178 wRC+ at Double-A and Triple-A. Jake Burger did enough to upgrade him from a useful role player into a short-term league-average starter. Jordan Lawlar’s very short debut in the majors wasn’t impressive, but a 20-year-old shortstop with a 127 wRC+ in the high minors is someone on the verge of being in phenom territory, especially because he can actually play the position; he’s not a Danny Tartabull slugger shoehorned into a position he can’t play.

ZiPS Decliners – Hitters
Player Current 2024-2027 WAR Old 2024-2027 WAR Difference
Robert Hassell III -1.7 7.1 -8.8
MJ Melendez 0.3 8.6 -8.3
Aaron Zavala -6.1 1.9 -8.0
Jake Cronenworth 4.9 12.4 -7.5
Michael Perez -1.7 5.5 -7.3
Addison Barger 3.8 10.7 -6.9
Orlando Martinez -3.3 3.3 -6.6
Alexander Canario 3.7 10.2 -6.5
Diego Cartaya 0.4 6.6 -6.2
Brett Baty 7.6 13.8 -6.2
Juan Yepez 1.0 7.1 -6.1
Rodolfo Castro 0.2 6.2 -6.0
Joshua Mears 0.1 6.0 -5.9
Cal Conley -4.0 1.8 -5.8
Enrique Hernández 1.1 6.9 -5.8
Travis Swaggerty -0.4 5.2 -5.6
Alex Binelas 1.4 7.0 -5.5
Wendell Rijo -3.3 2.2 -5.5
Allan Cerda 1.5 7.0 -5.5
Josh Rojas 1.9 7.3 -5.3
Anthony Volpe 11.7 17.0 -5.3
Brett Auerbach -0.3 4.9 -5.1
Kevin Padlo 2.0 7.1 -5.0
Jose Miranda 5.8 10.8 -5.0
Jose Torres 0.7 5.6 -4.9
Adalberto Mondesi 2.2 7.1 -4.9
Miguel Vargas 8.0 12.7 -4.8
Carlos Correa 13.0 17.7 -4.7
Parker Bates -1.0 3.7 -4.7
Nick Pratto 1.7 6.4 -4.7

Robert Hassell III missed most of the Arizona Fall League in 2022 with a broken hamate bone, and things got even worse when the calendar flipped; he hit .221/.324/.321 across two levels in 2023. Just to contextualize how troubling a line that is, ZiPS gets a translation of .201/.275/.274 for the year. It doesn’t end him as a prospect, but it isn’t encouraging to see such a lack of production from one of the two outfield prospects the Nationals received in the Soto trade. On the bright side for Washington, the other outfielder it picked up for Soto, James Wood, was the No. 2 prospect in all of baseball in our updated 2023 rankings and had a four WAR improvement in this exercise.

This wasn’t a great season for Royals hitting prospects. The trio of MJ Melendez, Nick Pratto, and Vinnie Pasquantino were expected to provide some reinforcements to a punchless outlet, but two of the three (Melendez and Pratto) made this list. Even Pasquantino ranked 56th, but that’s more due to his missing more than three months with a shoulder injury that required season-ending surgery; he’s performed considerably better than the other two in the majors. Melendez now finds himself with a limited path to a long career. His bat regressed massively, a major issue now that the Royals are using him as a DH and in the outfield instead of as a catcher because they didn’t trust his glove behind the plate. He now needs to either convince the Royals he can handle catching (and actually be able to do so) or make a huge step forward with the bat, both easier said than done. Pratto was promoted in late April and had a big May, but he basically stopped hitting after that, eventually getting demoted the minors. He didn’t hit there, either.

ZiPS wasn’t a fan of Aaron Zavala, a second-round pick by the Rangers in 2021, but after this walk-heavy prospect hit the wall in Double-A (.194/.343/.285), it’s even less so. However, I wouldn’t completely write him off yet, because it’s hard for a projection system to deal with his injury setbacks; a spinal tumor and UCL surgery in consecutive years have presented major obstacles for him. He may be too patient as a hitter, but he also has had such little experience as a pro that he could still develop a more aggressive approach at the plate. Plate discipline is a means to an end, not an end to itself; if he doesn’t learn to punish pitchers when he get his pitch, he won’t make it as he moves up the minor league ladder.

Jake Cronenworth is a good bounceback candidate with the bat, but playing him at first always was going to take away a chunk of his value, especially as he turned out to be a rather unimpressive defensive player there. Addison Barger was a ZiPS favorite entering 2023, but an elbow injury cost him two months of the season and possibly contributed to his giant step backwards in the power department.

Brett Baty still has one of the best projections on this list, but a half-year of some really awful play in the majors ought to sap some of the exuberance about his output.

At the back of the list, Carlos Correa may have pleased the Twins in October, but it was one of his worst seasons as a pro. Because of his strong track record, ZiPS expects him to be much better moving forward than he was in 2023, but it can’t completely ignore such a down year. ZiPS also remains high on Anthony Volpe overall, but he didn’t show as much progress with the bat as ZiPS had hoped, and some of that superstar high-end has been whittled down a bit.

ZiPS Gainers – Pitchers
Player Current 2024-2027 WAR Old 2024-2027 WAR Difference
Kyle Bradish 10.3 4.7 5.6
Brock Stewart 2.4 -3.1 5.5
Eury Pérez 11.3 6.4 4.9
Gregory Santos 4.7 0.1 4.5
Zach Eflin 11.1 6.7 4.4
Michael King 5.7 1.3 4.4
Tanner Bibee 9.9 5.6 4.3
Bobby Miller 10.5 6.3 4.2
Cristopher Sánchez 7.4 3.7 3.7
Jack O’Loughlin 4.3 0.7 3.6
Blake Snell 10.2 6.7 3.5
Pablo López 11.5 8.2 3.4
Johan Oviedo 7.6 4.3 3.3
Braxton Garrett 8.5 5.4 3.2
Abner Uribe 3.1 0.0 3.1
Jesús Luzardo 9.8 6.9 3.0
Spencer Strider 14.5 11.6 2.9
Yennier Cano 2.5 -0.4 2.9
Mitch Keller 8.5 5.6 2.9
J.P. France 5.3 2.4 2.8
Ryan Weathers 5.3 2.5 2.8
Sonny Gray 8.5 5.8 2.7
Blayne Enlow 3.9 1.2 2.7
Erick Fedde 3.3 0.6 2.7
Jared Jones 6.9 4.2 2.7
Zack Littell 4.4 1.7 2.6
Seth Lugo 2.9 0.2 2.6
Allan Winans 6.1 3.5 2.6
Justin Steele 10.3 7.7 2.6
Sean Hunley 4.7 2.1 2.6

Some may believe that ZiPS isn’t as positive about Kyle Bradish’s 2023 as it should be, but he is the biggest positive mover among pitchers, going from a fringe fifth starter (in the opinion of ZiPS) to at least a legitimate number-two guy behind Corbin Burnes (!!!). I talked a bit about Brock Stewart in Projection Fight Club; he’s had a long injury history, but the anemic plate discipline numbers batters managed against him last season made ZiPS a believer, even with a relatively small sample size.

Eury Pérez amply demonstrated he was ready for the majors, and just in time to add some cover to a rotation that will be without Sandy Alcantara for 2024. Gregory Santos quickly figured out the whole command thing to go along with a fastball that can touch the century mark. I like to imagine I was correct about the Zach Eflin breakout, even if I was a few years early, but I don’t expect anyone to give me credit for that. He was fourth in the AL in WAR among pitchers, after all. Health seems to be the biggest boost here, because Eflin has been good for a while; he has now had four consecutive seasons with a FIP below four.

The Phillies no longer have Eflin, but they do have Cristopher Sánchez, who quickly worked his way into the rotation to give them a boost down the stretch. ZiPS thinks he’s for real. Same goes for Tanner Bibee, who showed he could finish off batters quite competently with both his slider and his changeup. Michael King consolidated his 2022 gains, and it’s completely unsurprising the Padres want to look at him as a starter if they can.

ZiPS Decliners – Pitchers
Player Current 2024-2027 WAR Old 2024-2027 WAR Difference
Alek Manoah 5.2 14.9 -9.7
Carlos Rodón 6.1 13.7 -7.6
Noah Syndergaard 0.9 8.3 -7.4
Shintaro Fujinami -0.6 5.1 -5.7
Luis Severino 2.2 7.8 -5.6
T.J. Sikkema 0.1 5.4 -5.3
Kyle Wright 4.5 9.4 -4.9
Eric Torres -1.5 2.7 -4.2
Brandon Woodruff 10.1 14.3 -4.2
Alex Wood 1.9 6.0 -4.0
Julio Urías 10.3 14.3 -4.0
Max Scherzer 4.2 8.1 -4.0
Justin Verlander 3.8 7.6 -3.9
Jacob deGrom 4.6 8.5 -3.9
Tony Santillan 0.4 4.2 -3.9
Tony Gonsolin 4.8 8.5 -3.7
Shohei Ohtani 11.9 15.5 -3.6
Germán Márquez 5.7 9.3 -3.6
Jordan Lyles -1.4 2.2 -3.6
Dylan Floro -1.4 2.1 -3.5
Lucas Sims 0.0 3.5 -3.5
Ross Stripling 1.3 4.9 -3.5
Juan Then 0.8 4.2 -3.4
Brad Keller 0.6 4.0 -3.4
Nestor Cortes 6.3 9.6 -3.4
Max Fried 12.0 15.4 -3.4
Sam Delaplane -1.6 1.7 -3.4
Luis Patiño 1.7 5.0 -3.3
Matt Frisbee 2.7 6.0 -3.3
Thaddeus Ward 0.0 3.3 -3.3

Alek Manoah’s 2023 represented such a turn of fate that William Hogarth could have painted it. After finishing third in the 2022 AL Cy Young race, he was demoted from the majors to the lowest level of the minors last June, returned after a month, and then was optioned again during the second week of August, this time to Triple-A, where he never pitched because of various ailments. No matter how much promise he has flashed in the past, ZiPS can’t ignore such a brutal decline. Carlos Rodón and Luis Severino were both injured and ineffective last year, two of the reasons the Yankees missed the playoffs. Noah Syndergaard demonstrated that it’s unlikely he can transition effectively from the power pitcher he once was into a finesse guy, and ZiPS jumped off the Shintaro Fujinami train, though I still have some hope for him as a full-time reliever. Kyle Wright and Brandon Woodruff both had significant injuries.

Note that the Ohtani decline here is as a pitcher only, and as mad as it makes me, it’s fair given he just had his second Tommy John surgery.

All told, the decliners for pitchers are much less interesting than the gainers or the hitter numbers, simply because elbows and shoulders change the expectations for pitchers more quickly. I think next year, I’ll filter out injured pitchers.

Coming up later this week: the first official ZiPS projected standings of 2024!


Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 2/1/24

12:03
Avatar Dan Szymborski: It’s a chat!

12:03
The person who asks the lunch question: What’s for lunch?

12:03
Avatar Dan Szymborski: Egg salad sandwich

12:04
Daniel: What kind of year do you expect from Corbin Burnes? Will we ever see a year from him again like his 2021?

12:05
Avatar Dan Szymborski: That’s not the *average* result, but the chance is certainly there

12:05
Avatar Dan Szymborski: I do think he’s slightly down from his highest peak

Read the rest of this entry »


Projection Fight Club 2024

BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN/USA TODAY NETWORK

The first rule of Projection Fight Club is that you don’t talk about Projection Fight Club. Fortunately, the second rule of Projection Fight Club is that you are allowed to write about Projection Fight Club — otherwise, I might get in hot water with our editors for pitching an article I can’t actually produce.

If you’ve been paying attention to the projections housed here at FanGraphs (this is an odd article to read if you’re haven’t been), you’ve probably seen that our player pages now include ZiPS, Steamer, and THE BAT projections for the 2024 season (ATC projections are also available). You may have compared them a little. Perhaps you’ve even shaken your fist at the heavens for the temerity of allowing these systems to besmirch the good name of your favorite player or team. For me, the most interesting projections are the ones where the various systems disagree the most. After all, we watch heavyweight fights, not heavyweight agreements. Nobody would shell out cash to watch the Universal Amiable Concordance Championship.

Since we now have the different projections available, I thought I’d highlight some of the players who inspire the greatest discord amongst the various systems. I’m not going to guess which system will end up being right — it would be inappropriate for me to write a piece like that with one of the pugilists in the ring — but where possible, I’ll talk a bit about the complications involved with projecting those players, and in the instances where ZiPS stands alone as the biggest outlier, I’ll try to lend some additional insight as to why my system is being so nice or mean. Read the rest of this entry »


ZiPS-ifying the Free Agent Market

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

We’re all looking for an end to the winter doldrums, but whatever meteorological fortunes Punxsutawney Phil might indicate in a few days, the real start of spring doesn’t come until pitchers and catchers report. The vernal equinox ain’t the boss of me! But before camp opens, some unfinished offseason business remains, with scads of free agents still unsigned. And while many of the biggest names — Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Aaron Nola — have long been off the board, there are still players out there who could have a real effect on their next team’s fate.

Of course, we could just wait and see what happens, but I’m impatient. Since I just finished the ZiPS team-by-team rundowns, let’s use them… for evil. Rather than sit around checking our watches, I asked ZiPS to estimate which team will get the biggest championship boost from each free agent. Now, these suggestions don’t have the force of law or extortion — I’d need to be about 700% smarter and at least 7% more villainous to properly construct a doomsday machine — but let’s just imagine. Just to be clear, these aren’t predictions about what will happen, but rather an indication of which team the projections say has the greatest 2024 incentive to sign each player. And if teams aren’t considering these signings, well, maybe they should? We’ll use our 2024 free agent rankings and forcibly sign some of the players remaining. For each player, I’ll include their percentile projections with their new, possibly unwilling employers. Read the rest of this entry »


The Tigers Wrangle a Colt

Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch-USA TODAY NETWORK

The Detroit Tigers locked up one of their top young prospects to a long-term extension over the weekend, signing infielder Colt Keith to a six-year contract worth $28.6 million guaranteed, including a buyout after year six. With three team options totaling an additional $38 million, Keith might not hit free agency until after the 2032 season. Those options can be enriched further, by up to $18 million, depending on Keith’s success at earning MVP votes, Silver Slugger awards, and All-Star appearances. The deal has a maximum value of $82 million over nine years.

One of Detroit’s recent struggles has been its inability to find and develop offensive talent. This wasn’t the case during the team’s run of success in the early 2010s, with future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera as its anchor. But as Cabrera and Victor Martinez aged, and other key contributors, such as Prince Fielder, J.D. Martinez and Austin Jackson, left for other teams, the Tigers’ offensive output dropped to the bottom of the league. Aside from Nick Castellanos, who was traded in 2019, none of the young hitters coming up through the system have panned out.

That said, the Tigers have seen some signs of hope over the last few years. When healthy, Riley Greene has been very good, and while Spencer Torkelson had a rough start to his big league career, he improved significantly in the second half of 2023. Detroit still needs more, though, and that may come in the form of Keith, a fifth-round pick from the COVID-abbreviated 2020 draft. Keith showed promise in 2022, hitting .301/.370/.544 for West Michigan of the High-A Midwest League, but he injured his shoulder badly on a pickoff attempt in June, costing him the rest of the season. He recovered enough to play in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .344/.463/.541 in 80 plate appearances over 19 games.

Despite the short season, he ranked atop Detroit’s prospect list found in our humble home. Splitting 2023 between Double- and Triple-A, Keith stayed healthy and hit a combined .306/.380/.552 with 27 homers and 38 doubles. ZiPS translates that performance into a .268/.328/.454, 20 homer line, well below the level of phenom, but more than respectable for a second base/third base prospect in his first go at the high minors.

With a contract that can stretch for nine years, let’s crank out the long-term ZiPS projection for Keith.

ZiPS Projections – Colt Keith
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2024 .252 .314 .434 507 72 128 29 3 19 75 44 128 2 107 -3 1.6
2025 .254 .317 .442 527 77 134 30 3 21 80 47 127 2 110 -3 2.0
2026 .257 .322 .451 545 82 140 31 3 23 85 51 125 2 114 -3 2.4
2027 .258 .324 .456 562 87 145 32 2 25 90 54 124 2 116 -3 2.6
2028 .259 .327 .458 576 90 149 33 2 26 93 57 124 2 118 -2 2.8
2029 .257 .327 .459 579 92 149 32 2 27 94 59 121 2 118 -2 2.9
2030 .258 .328 .461 577 92 149 32 2 27 94 59 121 2 119 -2 3.0
2031 .259 .329 .460 567 89 147 32 2 26 93 58 120 2 119 -3 2.9
2032 .261 .331 .462 567 89 148 32 2 26 93 58 120 1 120 -3 2.8

While those are not star-level projections, they are the ones of a player you’d like to keep around through his prime. There are lots of familiar names among Keith’s ZiPS comps, such as Eric Chavez, Hank Blalock, Jedd Gyorko, Castellanos himself, Rafael Devers, Ryan Zimmerman, Travis Fryman, and Joe Crede. No, none of them were Hall of Famers – though it’s plausible that Devers could hit enough homers to prove the exception – but each were solid big leaguers.

One of the largest remaining questions around Keith is what position he’ll play in the majors. He’s played both second and third base, and appears to be below average at both. The probabilistic coordinate method that ZiPS uses graded Keith at about eight runs below average at second base, per 1300 innings, in 2023 and six runs below average at third. My colleague Eric Longenhagen feels that Keith is more likely to stick at second, rather than third.

During his stay in Toledo, Keith began to see more time at second base rather than his native third. He’s a bad defender at both spots but has a much greater chance at becoming passable (read: hidden) at second, where some of Keith’s issues with throwing are masked.

[…]

Keith has bulked up considerably since signing, and the effects of his increased size are evident on defense. Once a fair bet to stay on the middle infield, he is now fighting just to stay at third. He is stiff and bulky, his actions are well below average, and while he shows you a big arm when he gets to wind up and really let it eat, he struggles to throw from odd platforms. It’s feasible a team could live with him playing third base situationally, but it’s not ideal, and Colt is a 30-grade defender right now.

In a perfect world, Keith would stick at one of the two positions, with Jace Jung manning the other. One of the nice things about a rebuild is that teams get the chance to experiment, and the Tigers take advantage of that with Keith. Playing him in left field would be a great deal less exciting, but not a disastrous outcome, with mean projected OPS+ numbers in the high 110s during his prime. Left field Keith profiles similarly to Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who as one of the best outfielders available in free agency this offseason managed to snag a three-year deal with the Diamondbacks.

There are risks that come with signing a player with so little professional experience, but those are reflected in the price. Yes, $28.6 million is a lot of cash, but not so much in the context of baseball, and the ZiPS projection for Keith suggests a $38 million offer, taking into consideration the reduced salaries of the cost-controlled years. Similar extensions to Jon Singleton and Scott Kingery didn’t work out particularly well for the teams that made them, namely the Astros and Phillies, but those deals weren’t detrimental, either. The upside for Detroit here is considerable.

Are the Tigers playoff contenders in 2024? Probably not. But they’re not so far away that it would be a black swan event if they made some noise in the AL Central race or threatened to grab the last wild card spot. If they succeed, it will likely be in large part due to players like Keith taking a step forward.