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

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.





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.

44 Comments
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JPinPhillymember
2 months ago

Is there a real possibility that Bauer returns to the Dodgers? Seems like they would prefer to not have him around, regardless of the commissioner’s position.

Anon21
2 months ago
Reply to  JPinPhilly

If the commissioner’s office clears him to play, I think they will use him. Always bet the under on rich business executives’ morality and the over on fans’ willingness to forgive sports stars for off-the-field misconduct.

matt
2 months ago
Reply to  Anon21

Even beyond the obvious, it’s been said through reports that he’s never been well liked by teammates (going back to ucla) and that he wouldn’t be welcomed in clubhouse. His reputation around the league as a clubhouse guy is incredibly low, from his stints at UCLA, Cin, Cle, and now LAD.

Owners obviously don’t care about morality. But they do care about PR hit which can hurt business and that the baseball side wants, I very much doubt anyone is going to back up Bauer. Chemistry can’t be measured by any stats but it does matter.

Anon21
2 months ago
Reply to  matt

I’d like to believe the PR hit would make a difference, but given how little backlash teams like the Braves (Ozuna), Astros (Osuna), and Yankees (Chapman) have faced in analogous situations, I do not have a lot of faith that it will. The clubhouse chemistry thing is potentially a separate issue, and if it will piss off enough of the existing stars then maybe it will push LAD to cut him loose. I’ll believe it when I see it.

Last edited 2 months ago by Anon21
sadtrombonemember
2 months ago
Reply to  Anon21

The Astros got absolutely slammed for that move, as they should have.

The Dodgers and Braves probably didn’t know about Ozuna and Bauer before signing them, so I think that’s a little different.

The closest analogy in some ways is Hector Olivera, except that Olivera was not good at baseball compared to Bauer.

In any case, I’m pretty sure MLB is going to issue a suspension, even if it’s a short one, so the Dodgers’ decision on this probably is not forthcoming.

Anon21
2 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

The Astros got slammed, but did it matter? Like can you plausibly connect it to a decline in attendance or something else that an amoral owner who only cares about the bottom line would consider a cost? Also, there’s the confounding factor of that idiot front office guy who taunted women reporters about it; if that hadn’t happened (and there’s no need it should have; the story was essentially dead/old news at that point), it would be even harder to locate any effect.

The Ozuna thing I’m specifically referencing is the Braves allowing him to return to play now that his suspension has been imposed. If they’ve gotten any criticism for that amoral/immoral choice, I haven’t seen it, and it definitely hasn’t created any business problems for them.

Ivan_Grushenkomember
2 months ago
Reply to  JPinPhilly

I doubt they’d just cut him or trade him for nothing risking losing to him later. They’d either use him, bench him or trade him for something that would help them win

PC1970
2 months ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

I’ll bet if you got Andrew Friedman off the record, they’d prefer that Bauer was not eligible to play, either do to being guilty or suspension.

As it is, if eligible, they’re in a tough spot. Who wants to go their boss & say they need to cut a $62 million check to cut someone loose because we signed a guy that is at best an asshole..at worst, a sex criminal who got off due to lack of evidence/technicality? & if you cut him loose, someone else WILL sign him.

Add in the potential PR hit if he they play him & it’s not good at all for LAD.

JohnThackermember
2 months ago
Reply to  PC1970

I’ll bet if you got Andrew Friedman off the record, they’d prefer that Bauer was not eligible to play, either do to being guilty or suspension.

Certainly. The owners would absolutely love it if they always had the option to tear up contracts for off the field misconduct. The players union, completely understandably, would not. And so they come to collective agreements on the issue in general and in specific cases like Bauer’s.

If you think that it’s indicative of an absolute lack of morality to be willing to play Bauer (if and when they’re forced to pay him) given his off the field actions, is it indicative of a lack of morality to insist that he get paid $62M despite his off the field actions?

For people who want to keep off the field actions separate (outside from when off the field convictions make playing impossible), there’s little to square there. But if you open up that can of worms to say that it’s immoral to be willing to play or watch him, then you invite people arguing that it’s immoral to let him get paid, immoral to defend him, etc.

After all, if we’re talking about punishing Bauer personally, at this stage in his career the $62M is worth a lot more than whatever being allowed to play could improve future potential contracts.

sadtrombonemember
2 months ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

I am trying to figure out what team would be so uncaring about public opinion that they would trade for him. Jeff Luhnow is out of the game now.

catmanwayne
2 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Mariners traded for Josh Leuke in the middle of 2010, and the front office claimed they didn’t know/care about his legal issues despite the fact that Texas GM John Daniels brought it up and even offered to renegotiate the trade. Rick Adair, (Mariners pitching coach at the time and former Rangers pitching coordinator during the year Leuke was facing his charges) had also brought up the issues when the trade was made. They also signed well-known pos Milton Bradley that year. The early Jack Zdurencik era was a really disgusting time to be a Mariners fan, and the team was so inept on top of it all.

sadtrombonemember
2 months ago
Reply to  catmanwayne

I forgot about Lueke! That was real bad.

I don’t think we knew exactly how bad of a guy Milton Bradley was when the Mariners signed him–it was near the tail end of his time on the Mariners when little bits started trickling out.

Although considering they traded for Lueke, if they did know, would they have cared?

catmanwayne
2 months ago
Reply to  JPinPhilly

If he’s allowed to play, I hope they put a bag over his head so I don’t have to look at his face when I watch a random Dodgers game on national TV.

sadtrombonemember
2 months ago
Reply to  catmanwayne

He will very likely be allowed to play again at some point. Who would have him, though, is a bit unclear.