The Hopefully-Not-Horrifyingly-Inaccurate 2022 ZiPS Projections: American League

Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

It arrived stressfully, chaotically, and slightly late, but the 2022 season is here. And that means it’s time for one last important sabermetric ritual: the final ZiPS projected standings that will surely come back and haunt me multiple times as the season progresses.

The methodology I’m using here isn’t identical to the one we use in our Projected Standings, so there will naturally be some important 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 an initial starting point. Since these are my curated projections, I make changes based on my personal feelings about who will receive playing time, as filtered by 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 baccarat like James Bond).

After that is done, ZiPS applies another set of algorithms with a generalized distribution of injury risk, which change the baseline PAs/IPs selected for each player. Of note is that higher-percentile projections already have more playing time than lower-percentile projections before this step. ZiPS then automatically “fills in” playing time from the next players on the list (proportionally) to get to a full slate of plate appearances and innings.

The result is a million different rosters for each team and an associated winning percentage for each of those million teams. 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. This is actually much less complex than it sounds.

So how does it work? The goal of ZiPS is to be less mind-blowingly 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 19.9 correct teams when looking at Vegas preseason over/under lines. I’m always tinkering with methodology, but most of the low-hanging fruit of predicting how teams do have already been harvested.

With one major exception, most of the problems now are accuracy rather than bias. ZiPS misses for teams from year to year are uncorrelated with an r^2 of one year’s miss to the next of 0.000575. Now, correlations with fewer than 20 points aren’t ideal, but the individual franchise with the highest year-to-year r^2 is the Mariners, at 0.03, which isn’t terribly meaningful. If you think that certain franchises have a history of predictive over- or underperformance, you’d have thought wrong, and I’d bet it’s the same for other projection systems.

Now, I did say there was one major exception, and that’s in-season roster changes. As you might logically suspect, ZiPS systematically underestimates teams that add value during the season and overrates teams that subtract value. So it’s not surprising that when you total it up, two of the teams that have made the most in-season additions over the last 17 seasons, the Astros and Yankees, are the two teams that have underperformed most often in ZiPS.

Yesterday, we looked at the National League; today, we check out the Junior Circuit.

ZiPS Projected Standings – American League East
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win% #1 Pick
Toronto Blue Jays 88 74 .543 26.2% 32.7% 58.9% 6.0% 0.0%
Tampa Bay Rays 88 74 .543 25.5% 32.4% 57.9% 5.8% 0.0%
New York Yankees 88 74 .543 25.1% 32.4% 57.5% 5.7% 0.0%
Boston Red Sox 88 74 .543 23.2% 31.7% 54.9% 5.3% 0.0%
Baltimore Orioles 64 98 24 .395 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 33.7%

That level of divisional chaos is sure to delight Jay Jaffe, my colleague and GM of Team Entropy — or at least it would if MLB hadn’t made the decision to eliminate tiebreaker games in 2022, going instead with NFL-style tiebreak procedures only. If you were looking for ZiPS to provide some clarity, I hope you haven’t been waiting with bated breath too long!

The contract that Carlos Correa signed with the Twins really calls into question some of the Yankees’ maneuvering during the final weeks of the offseason. Outbidding Minnesota for Correa (or signing Trevor Story) would have been a more elegant and probably superior solution to the the Josh Donaldson trade, without adding significant money to the payroll. I know they don’t want to block their prospects, but they don’t seem to have been all that imaginative; the Red Sox figured out how to add Story to a team that already had Xander Bogaerts.

Speaking of the Red Sox, I’m not a fan of how much playing time they’re likely to give to Jackie Bradley Jr., but the Story signing, with the resulting shuffle of Enrique Hernández to center field, resolved at least one of their outfield issues. Combined with other changes in the playing time assumptions, Boston basically catches up to the division. The Rays will be the Rays, and they’ll probably add two wins from random pitchers they pick up from indie leagues, but that’s a bit out of ZiPS’ purview. Shane Baz’s elbow injury was a particularly unwelcome bit of news.

The Jays get the top place in the table with the highest divisional odds. Toronto also projects to have the lowest downside of any of the AL East contenders. It’s a deeper roster than last year, and even if areas like the bullpen aren’t exciting, the Jays have heirs and spares in place.

And then there’s the Orioles. I’m looking forward to Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez, Cedric Mullins, and quickly changing the subject to the American League Central lest I have to think too much about this team. At least it’s steamed crab season!

ZiPS Projected Standings – American League Central
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win% #1 Pick
Chicago White Sox 88 74 .543 61.9% 8.2% 70.1% 7.9% 0.0%
Minnesota Twins 83 79 5 .512 27.1% 11.3% 38.4% 3.4% 0.1%
Cleveland Guardians 78 84 10 .481 7.9% 4.7% 12.5% 0.9% 0.9%
Detroit Tigers 73 89 15 .451 2.2% 1.3% 3.5% 0.2% 4.1%
Kansas City Royals 70 92 18 .432 0.9% 0.6% 1.5% 0.1% 8.2%

The White Sox remain the best team in the AL Central, and adding AJ Pollock balances out losing Craig Kimbrel (traded for Pollock) and Garrett Crochet (impending Tommy John surgery). I still wish Chicago had outbid the Rays for Nelson Cruz’s services.

Projected amid the pack this offseason, the Twins have likely shoved their way out of the scrum by adding Correa and Sonny Gray. The White Sox should still be more comfortable than they were before the Twins collapsed last season, as Minnesota hasn’t completely solved its rotation woes.

I remain on the record that I think the Tigers are better than ZiPS thinks, and it’s nice to see that Detroit isn’t going to play games with Spencer Torkelson’s playing time. The Guardians and Royals are both teams with limited short-term upside after low-key offseasons. ZiPS gave Cleveland the most prospects in its top 100 and is a fan of the Royals’ Bobby Witt Jr., Nick Pratto, and MJ Melendez, so both could have much more sunny prognostications in another year or two. The rebellious part of me wanted to pick Steven Kwan as my staff pick for Rookie of the Year, but with Julio Rodríguez and Torkelson both going north with their teams, that would have been a stretch.

ZiPS Projected Standings – American League West
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win% #1 Pick
Houston Astros 90 72 .556 62.1% 12.0% 74.1% 9.3% 0.0%
Seattle Mariners 85 77 5 .525 23.5% 17.0% 40.4% 3.7% 0.0%
Los Angeles Angels 81 81 9 .500 10.6% 10.6% 21.1% 1.7% 0.3%
Texas Rangers 77 85 13 .475 3.7% 4.9% 8.7% 0.6% 1.1%
Oakland A’s 68 94 22 .420 0.2% 0.2% 0.4% 0.0% 15.3%

Correa is a serious loss for the Astros, but they still project as the most complete team in the division. Every spot of the lineup is projected to be worth at least two WAR, even the shortstop crater that Jeremy Peña will seek to fill.

Every time I projected the Mariners this winter, they showed incremental improvement. The last move — giving Rodríguez the chance to start with the team — may be the biggest source. Some may think it disappointing that the Mariners are still projected to win fewer games than in 2021, but exceeding Pythagorean record by 14 wins isn’t something that actually has value in gauging future performance. This 85-win projection is based on more solid ground.

The Angels are a lackluster team with a lackluster offseason, so they ended up with a lackluster projection. With some luck, they could get 16 WAR from Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani alone and have enough go right to fall into the divisional race, but it’s not the most likely outcome.

Texas, on the other hand, had an incredibly productive offseason, but the fact remains that this was an awful team entering the winter. The Rangers have stopped digging the hole, but 2022 is probably too soon for them to climb out.

The A’s have made a lot of improbable runs, but if they cause pain to the Astros and Mariners this year, it might be their most impressive surprise yet. That doesn’t mean we should bank on it; Oakland has lost a lot of people who are really good at playing baseball.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com 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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soddingjunkmailmember
7 months ago

Reports are coming in the Cleveland has extended JRam.

I guess this explains why they’ve spent no money this offseason

Last edited 7 months ago by soddingjunkmail
thunderbuddymember
7 months ago

Actually, the reason they’ve spent no money is that Dolan is cheap and knows he’ll make money win or lose.

soddingjunkmailmember
7 months ago
Reply to  thunderbuddy

Dropping $125M on JRam doesn’t seem to square with your assessment.

catmanwayne
7 months ago

He’s about half of their payroll now. It’s insane.

soddingjunkmailmember
7 months ago
Reply to  catmanwayne

Completely bonkers if the payroll stays there, but since it ranged from $136M-$157M from 2017-2019 I’d say it’s a safe bet to increase.

RobM
7 months ago

I don’t believe that’s a safe assumption at all.

Left of Centerfield
7 months ago

Not sure that’s really true. I don’t think they expected to be able to sign him to an extension. Which is why they were trying to trade him up until the last minute.

If the goal was to sign him to an extension no matter what, then they should have signed some players to play with him this year and next, while his salary is still relatively low.

airforce21one
7 months ago

You don’t think so, huh?