The Hopefully-Not-Horrifyingly-Inaccurate 2022 ZiPS Projections: National League by Dan Szymborski April 5, 2022 Jayne Kamin-Oncea-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. So, let’s get to the results! ZiPS Projected Standings – National League East Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win% #1 Pick Atlanta Braves 90 72 — .556 46.4% 22.5% 68.9% 7.6% 0.0% New York Mets 88 74 2 .543 32.3% 24.7% 57.1% 5.5% 0.0% Philadelphia Phillies 83 79 7 .512 10.8% 16.1% 27.0% 2.0% 0.1% Miami Marlins 82 80 8 .506 8.5% 14.1% 22.6% 1.6% 0.1% Washington Nationals 76 86 14 .469 1.9% 4.5% 6.4% 0.4% 1.4% The Braves solved their Freddie Freeman conundrum with the Matt Olson trade, which strengthened their projections. The impact on the actual standings is limited as teams like the Phillies and Marlins have made improvements as well, and being teams with larger holes, they get a lot of bang for the buck when making additions. The Mets stay about where they were in the lockout projections, picking up Chris Bassitt and making a minor trade for Joely Rodríguez, a pitcher ZiPS is a huge fan of. Winning the division is a plausible outcome for all of the front four of the NL East. Nelson Cruz improves the Nationals, but it’s a case of too little, too late. While they project better than most divisional also-rans, the rotation and lineup have serious holes; a lot of things have to go right (and wrong for the other teams) to make Washington competitive. ZiPS Projected Standings – National League Central Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win% #1 Pick St. Louis Cardinals 88 74 — .543 49.3% 13.5% 62.8% 6.3% 0.0% Milwaukee Brewers 87 75 1 .537 43.1% 14.4% 57.6% 5.5% 0.0% Chicago Cubs 77 85 11 .475 5.1% 4.2% 9.3% 0.6% 1.0% Cincinnati Reds 74 88 14 .457 2.3% 2.0% 4.2% 0.3% 2.9% Pittsburgh Pirates 68 94 20 .420 0.2% 0.2% 0.4% 0.0% 15.0% The post-lockout offseason frenzy didn’t result in any aggressive buying or trading in the NL Central, or at least the kind that makes a team better. (These top two teams only signed a single player projected at more than one WAR in our depth charts: Steven Matz.) ZiPS still projects a tight race between the Cardinals and Brewers with St. Louis being the more stable team but Milwaukee with a better shot at 100 wins (or 70 or fewer). Chicago is the team in the division that improved the most over the winter, but the Cubs also started from a lower point than all but the Pirates. Even though the retooling went well, there’s probably not enough star potential to take advantage of the Cardinals’ or Brewers’ conservatism. The Reds were an underdog in the previous projections, but there were still a lot of scenarios that saw them catch one of the top teams. But rather than spend time improving the team to serious playoff contender status, they gutted themselves, sending many of their most valuable players out of town. That the Pirates have a much emptier cupboard keeps Cincy projected fourth in the division. ZiPS Projected Standings – National League West Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win% #1 Pick Los Angeles Dodgers 93 69 — .574 59.3% 23.9% 83.1% 10.8% 0.0% San Diego Padres 89 73 4 .549 28.5% 33.6% 62.0% 5.9% 0.0% San Francisco Giants 85 77 8 .525 12.0% 24.8% 36.8% 2.8% 0.0% Arizona Diamondbacks 71 91 22 .438 0.2% 0.9% 1.1% 0.0% 7.2% Colorado Rockies 70 92 23 .432 0.1% 0.6% 0.7% 0.0% 8.5% From a projection standpoint, I was hoping for some clarity on Trevor Bauer. Like our depth charts, ZiPS is projecting him to pitch about a month’s worth of innings, on average, but the truth is, it’s almost a wild guess at this point. With the Dodgers’ rotation not quite as deep in past years, whether he’s suspended or not and whether the team wants him back even if he’s not suspended are two very open questions that could affect the bottom line projections considerably. San Diego has improved with the Sean Manaea trade, but there remain real holes in the lineup at first, left field, and right field. Compensating for three weak offensive positions was a much less daunting task before the Fernando Tatis Jr. injury. The Giants have a better projection than last year, but ZiPS pegs them as a serious wild card contender that has to make their inside straight on the river to take the division.