The 2024 ZiPS Projection Gainers: Hitters

Matt McLain
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The full midseason run of the ZiPS projections have been completed, and while the standings updates are always a lot of fun, they tend to move in a similar direction to our FanGraphs standings, so they’re usually not the most shocking. What I find the most interesting are the player projections, and not even the numbers for the rest of the season — the in-season model is simpler, but improvements in the full model are naturally going to be incremental — but the ones that look toward 2024 and beyond.

For today, we’ll start with the hitters with the largest increases in projected 2024 WAR since my original projections and dig a little into what changed for each player. Sometimes it’s performance, sometimes it’s health, sometimes it’s a change in position. Let’s jump straight into the names, since I assume everyone reading this knows that ZiPS isn’t a cheeseburger or a hoodie.

1. Matt McLain, Cincinnati Reds
2024 WAR: 1.8 preseason, 3.7 midseason (+1.94)
2024 wOBA: .323 preseason, .350 midseason (+.027)

McLain was one of the biggest positive outlier picks in the ZiPS Top 100 Prospects, ranking 31st, easily the highest of any source I’ve found. It’s not like he didn’t have credentials, as a two-time first-rounder coming off an .800 OPS in his first full professional season. McLain quickly made ZiPS look good by cranking up the turbo early in 2023, hitting 12 homers in six weeks for Triple-A Louisville and earning a quick promotion. Hitting .299/.364/.505 with no burning questions about his viability at shortstop, he’s looking nearly as promising early on as another young middle infielder that ZiPS went out on a limb for a decade ago: the 26th-ranked Mookie Betts. (Though don’t call him the next Mookie quite yet!)

2. Elly De La Cruz, Cincinnati Reds
2024 WAR: 1.0 preseason, 2.8 midseason (+1.79)
2024 wOBA: .310 preseason, .340 midseason (+.030)

McLain may have the edge in the Rookie of the Year voting, but De La Cruz has caught the imagination of the public in a way that his less-flashy teammate hasn’t. He’s certainly raised Ell at the plate, slugging nearly .500 in the majors, and his wonderful baserunning aggression shows a real feel for the game and a situational awareness that is rare among even baseball’s speediest. But he’s still not quite as polished as McLain, and there are still some skills to be honed: he can be a little too aggressive at the plate at times, his contact rates could use a bit of a bump, and there are still questions as to what position he’ll end up at long-term. Regardless, De La Cruz is one of the most fun players to watch right now; the Reds knew what they were doing when they gave him Eric Davis’ number 44.

3. Ronald Acuña Jr., Atlanta Braves
2024 WAR: 4.5 preseason, 6.0 midseason (+1.50)
2024 wOBA: .373 preseason, .393 midseason (+.019)

Would Acuña Jr.’s torn ACL change his trajectory in a negative way? That was the big question for him coming into the 2023 season after a return campaign that most players would love but that was decidedly inferior to his best performances. Now we can say: no. Acuña has been on a tear this year, and if the season ended today, he’d almost certainly be the NL MVP winner. A 40–40 season is in play, and while he’s probably off the homer pace this year too much, I don’t think a 50–50 run is completely implausible sometime over the next couple years.

4. Zach Neto, Los Angeles Angels
2024 WAR: 0.1 preseason, 1.6 midseason (+1.45)
2024 wOBA: .294 preseason, .327 midseason (+.033)

ZiPS was skeptical about Neto entering the season, but not because of anything necessarily being wrong with him; it stemmed from the simple fact that he had just over a month of professional baseball under his belt. While he was solid in Double-A, which he practically went to straight out of college, it just wasn’t a lot to go on. It took all of a week of him torturing Triple-A pitchers before the Angels tried to catch lightning in a bottle, and while his performance hasn’t been phenom-level, he’s more than held his own against MLB pitching. ZiPS has seen enough that it’s comfortable thinking of him as a league-average talent in the majors; if this continues, that projection will likely rise quite a bit more before the 2024 season.

5. Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays
2024 WAR: 3.4 preseason, 4.8 midseason (+1.39)
2024 wOBA: .342 preseason, .338 midseason (-.004)

I’d hardly call ZiPS a Franco skeptic given that it’s regularly projected him in the top 10 for rest-of-career WAR. The problem has been health, with a professional high in games played coming into the season of just 110. Playing time and health are useful predictors for future playing time and health, and with Franco healthy this year, ZiPS is a lot more confident that it can project him for a full season. Amusingly, his projected wOBA has actually dropped slightly — his zStats are a little more negative than his xStats — but by an insignificant margin that’s notable only because of that negative sign in front of it.

6. Masyn Winn, St. Louis Cardinals
2024 WAR: 0.2 preseason, 1.5 midseason (+1.35)
2024 wOBA: .271 preseason, .282 midseason (+.011)

Coming into the season, ZiPS saw Winn like Jordan Walker: more as a long-term play than a player who would pay immediate dividends. The defensive projection at the time was rather meh given Winn’s reputation, but this year, ZiPS has him as +8 runs in a half-season at Triple-A, so there’s an instant boost there in the projections. The fact that he’s been able to keep doing what he did offensively at Triple-A this year, at an extremely young age, provides a significant wOBA boost in the projections as well. He just missed the ZiPS Top 100 this year, but he’ll make it next year unless the Cardinals call him up quickly (or trade him to a team that does).

7. Josh Jung, Texas Rangers
2024 WAR: 1.3 preseason, 2.6 midseason (+1.34)
2024 wOBA: .324 preseason, .337 midseason (+.013)

As with Franco, Jung being healthy — in this case after missing half a season with a torn labrum — results in a significant increase in the projection. In some ways, this is more a restoration of his pre-2022 projection: .263/.322/.444 for 2.2 WAR in 110 projected games at the time. ZiPS is now fully buying the increased power, and Jung finishing the season with 150 games played would push his 2024 projected WAR over three wins.

8. Jake Scheiner, Seattle Mariners
2024 WAR: -0.3 preseason, 1.1 midseason (+1.31)
2024 wOBA: .290 preseason, .304 midseason (+.014)

Scheiner is the only player on this list that probably qualifies as a Ken Phelps All-Star, the old Bill James term for veteran players in the high minors that were overlooked. There were a lot more of them in the 1980s, when James coined the phrase; teams are a lot better now at giving talent every opportunity to succeed, and Japan and Korea are more viable places for players who fall through the cracks.

Scheiner isn’t literally going to be Ken Phelps, but after belatedly getting promoted to Triple-A Tacoma, he’s finally enjoying his first really fascinating offensive season in the minors. Sure, it’s the Pacific Coast League, but Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium has long been one of the biggest pitchers’ parks in a notoriously offense-heavy environment. ZiPS doesn’t think Scheiner is actually good yet, but he’s done enough that he has his uses as a role player in the majors; if I’m a team trading with the Mariners this summer, I wouldn’t mind him as an interesting throw-in.

9. Corbin Carroll, Arizona Diamondbacks
2024 WAR: 3.9 preseason, 5.1 midseason (+1.28)
2024 wOBA: .334 preseason, .360 midseason (+.026)

ZiPS was all-in on Carroll going into the season, projecting him as the NL Rookie of the Year, its top prospect over Gunnar Henderson, and with a WAR total edging out established outfielders such as Cedric Mullins and Bryan Reynolds. That Carroll has one of the most improved projections for next year despite all this love is testament to how monster a season he’s having. There are nearly two weeks of July to go, and he’s almost caught up to his yearly projection already! He’s a superstar, and the Diamondbacks were right to lock him up at the first opportunity.

10. Colt Keith, Detroit Tigers
2024 WAR: 0.0 preseason, 1.3 midseason (+1.26)
2024 wOBA: .283 preseason, .315 midseason (+.032)

I wouldn’t call ZiPS excited about Keith given its concerns about his defense (about five runs per season below-average at third), but it’s increasingly interested in his bat thanks to his .977 OPS with Double-A Erie. He’s since been promoted to the Toledo Mud Hens, and given Detroit’s offensive woes, it he continues to hit at this level, he’ll have the Old English D on his cap fairly quickly.

Top 2024 ZiPS Gainers – Hitters
Player 2024 WAR Preseason 2024 Change 2024 wOBA Preseason 2024 Change
Matt McLain 3.7 1.8 1.94 .350 .323 .027
Elly de la Cruz 2.8 1.0 1.79 .340 .310 .030
Ronald Acuña Jr. 6.0 4.5 1.50 .393 .374 .019
Zach Neto 1.6 0.1 1.45 .327 .294 .033
Wander Franco 4.8 3.4 1.39 .338 .342 -.004
Masyn Winn 1.5 0.2 1.35 .282 .271 .011
Josh Jung 2.6 1.3 1.34 .337 .324 .013
Jake Scheiner 1.1 -0.3 1.31 .304 .290 .014
Corbin Carroll 5.1 3.9 1.28 .360 .334 .026
Colt Keith 1.3 0.0 1.26 .315 .283 .032
Christopher Morel 2.4 1.2 1.23 .333 .308 .025
Miguel Amaya 0.9 -0.3 1.18 .304 .282 .022
Luis Matos 1.7 0.5 1.17 .309 .284 .024
Luken Baker 0.2 -1.0 1.17 .299 .271 .028
Heston Kjerstad 0.7 -0.4 1.14 .311 .274 .037
Justyn-Henry Malloy 1.3 0.2 1.14 .312 .297 .015
Sean Murphy 4.9 3.8 1.14 .364 .343 .022
Tyler Black 1.5 0.3 1.14 .306 .289 .017
Luis Robert Jr. 3.9 2.8 1.11 .352 .335 .017
Austin Gauthier 0.5 -0.6 1.11 .303 .277 .027
Aaron Palensky 0.5 -0.6 1.09 .307 .266 .041
Jose Caballero 1.3 0.2 1.08 .297 .273 .024
Jordan Westburg 2.9 1.8 1.07 .326 .307 .019
Matt Rudick 1.0 0.0 1.07 .299 .270 .029
Lawrence Butler -0.1 -1.2 1.06 .279 .254 .025
Jake Bauers 0.5 -0.5 1.05 .311 .277 .033
Cody Thomas 0.3 -0.7 1.03 .293 .266 .027
LaMonte Wade Jr. 1.8 0.8 1.01 .342 .326 .016

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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9 months ago

Great share and article Dan!