The Lockout Projected ZiPS Standings: American League Edition

As you might have noticed if you were surfing FanGraphs while relaxing over the weekend — or recovering from shoveling snow in the Northeast — the ZiPS projections have now been populated in the projections section of the site.

There will be multiple updates to those projections this spring because, well, a whole bunch of the offseason remains, far more than is typical when ZiPS makes its appearance in the database. While I’m more cautiously optimistic than most of my colleagues are about the future of the 2022 season, in the present, baseball’s landscape is less about fans huddled around an abstract hot stove and more about the heat death of the universe. With no MLBPA members being signed, traded, or even acknowledged on official MLB channels, baseball has nearly entered a state of thermodynamic equilibrium.

While this is bad for the game and anyone who likes it, it at least makes depth charts less volatile and provides a good opportunity to run some mid-lockout standings. These are quite obviously nowhere near the final preseason projections, but they’re a snapshot of where baseball stands right now. Which teams are in good shape, and which ones still have work to do? Let’s forget about the eternal void that beckons and get to some projections!

We covered the National League yesterday, but before we turn our attention to the Junior Circuit, a reminder on how these projections are calculated. 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 is the first through 99th percentile projections for each player it projects. I start by making a generalized depth chart, using our Depth Charts as an initial starting point. Since these are my curated projections, I then 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. For instance, here are two simulations concerning Texas Rangers shortstop results:

ZiPS Simulated Results (Texas Rangers SS)
Player PA (Sim No. 666666) PA (Sim No. 420069)
Corey Seager 537 312
Isiah Kiner-Falefa 122 142
Marcus Semien 5 174
Yonny Hernandez 34 62
Ryan Dorow 2 7
Davis Wendzel 0 1
Josh H. Smith 0 1
Jax Biggers 0 1
Ezequiel Duran 0 0
Andy Ibáñez 0 0
Nick Solak 0 0

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.

Now on to the projections. First up: the American League East.

ZiPS Projections – American League East
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
New York Yankees 90 72 .556 39.1% 35.2% 74.3% 8.4%
Toronto Blue Jays 89 73 1 .549 27.4% 36.4% 63.8% 6.2%
Tampa Bay Rays 88 74 2 .543 25.5% 36.2% 61.7% 5.9%
Boston Red Sox 83 79 7 .512 8.0% 22.5% 30.5% 2.2%
Baltimore Orioles 64 98 26 .395 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.0%

Four teams in the division projecting as real contenders has a real effect on the projected win totals versus the overall quality of each team. This is perhaps most obvious in the projection for the Boston Red Sox. ZiPS doesn’t think they’re really just an 83-win team in 2022, but when the prospective schedule is actually simulated, they fall a bit short compared to the division’s top trio. The projection swings aren’t as wild as they were before the 2021 season, as the depth of the rotation has improved a bit: Boston is slated to start the season with Chris Sale, and both Tanner Houck and Kutter Crawford come out with better forecasts than the last time around. That said, the Sox are still short at least one outfielder and their short-term situation at first base is one of the weakest in baseball.

The Yankees have more variance in their projection than last year. ZiPS still likes their front-end talent, but the wheels come off this cart in the simulations where injuries hit. Toronto’s projection is the opposite, with the tightest bands in the division. ZiPS continues to like the Rays more than our Depth Charts do, which I hypothesize comes down to a difference in methodology; ZiPS gives a lot of playing time to the Plan Bs, because the Plan Bs are quite important.

The Orioles exist. Their goal this year is to complete 162 games and win some of them.

ZiPS Projections – American League Central
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Chicago White Sox 88 74 .543 70.7% 4.2% 74.8% 8.0%
Cleveland Guardians 78 84 10 .481 12.0% 5.5% 17.5% 1.3%
Detroit Tigers 76 86 12 .469 6.9% 3.5% 10.4% 0.7%
Minnesota Twins 75 87 13 .463 5.9% 2.9% 8.8% 0.6%
Kansas City Royals 74 88 14 .457 4.5% 2.2% 6.7% 0.4%

The Central projects similarly to last year, with two clear tiers: the White Sox and everyone else. Right now, there’s no particular reason to expect Chicago to do anything but coast to the divisional title, with the usual caveats for injuries and the like.

If the White Sox falter for some reason, ZiPS sees the division becoming a much more interesting dogfight. The dead cat bounce isn’t enough to get ZiPS to project a return to form for the Twins thanks to some extremely unimpressive pitching projections, which can be described as middling across the board with an extremely low ceiling. ZiPS likes the Tigers in the long-term — and I’m taking the over on this projection right now — but there’s still some sorting out to do. Aggressively promoting Riley Greene would add a couple wins to the projections. So would finding an actual DH rather than pretending Miguel Cabrera is still a major league-quality hitter, but I don’t really expect Detroit to go that far.

ZiPS is bullish on Kansas City’s offensive future thanks to the quartet of Bobby Witt Jr., Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez, and Vinnie Pasquantino, but only Witt is likely to see a bunch of playing time in 2022. Still, the division is weak, and it would be dangerous to count the Royals out with such interesting offensive talent in the high minors.

ZiPS Projections – American League West
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Houston Astros 91 71 .562 70.9% 10.6% 81.6% 10.9%
Los Angeles Angels 81 81 10 .500 10.7% 14.0% 24.7% 1.8%
Oakland A’s 81 81 10 .500 10.6% 14.2% 24.8% 1.8%
Seattle Mariners 80 82 11 .494 6.9% 10.5% 17.4% 1.2%
Texas Rangers 73 89 18 .451 0.9% 2.1% 3.0% 0.2%

Even with the departure of Carlos Correa, the Astros project at the top the division. That’s not because ZiPS doesn’t see Correa leaving as a major loss — it quite obviously is — but the computer is far more confident about the fate of the rotation than it was last year at this time. Adding Verlander, even with the time he’s missed and at his age, provides another boost. Houston’s done a better job than I expected in mitigating the loss of some of the core players of the 2010s teams.

Mediocre pitching projections hold both the Mariners and the Athletics back. I expect both of those teams to close some ground with the Astros by the time we get to the projections nearer to Opening Day; the Mariners apparently still intend to spend and Oakland didn’t have their usual burst of bargain shopping before the lockout froze the offseason. The Angels never really get a lousy projection — Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani are too good for that to happen — but they remain a team with serious holes.

I kind of expected the Rangers to come out in the 76-78 win range, but as it happened, any time the team lost two or three starting pitchers for an extended stretch, the staff projections became a nearly-unmitigated disaster in the simulations. This rebuild may still go better than the last one, but there’s a lot of work still to do. The team’s lack of talent at the major league level can’t be rapidly papered over by a few very fun free agent signings.

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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deb81162
2 years ago

I’ll take the over on Sea, Det and Tor
I” take the under on Oak, Cle and Bos

deaconblueray
2 years ago

Outside of a two-week Covid blast around the end of August, the Red Sox had remarkably good overall health last year. That will make almost any team competitive (except the O’s). I’m curious to see if Boston can pull that off again; if not, they will need to acquire a whole lot better bench pretty quickly after the lockout ends. Rays and Jays both look like better bets to me. I have no idea what the Yankees are doing at this point, but it smells…not-so-fresh.

montrealmember
2 years ago

Agreed on most. Over for Toronto and Detroit. Under for Oakland once they make detrimental trades. But the Red Sox will bring in another big hitter so it could be a 3 way race. I don’t count Tampa. Things have broken right but that won’t continue.

David Klein
2 years ago

Things have been “breaking right” for them more often than not since 2008. they have a top flight front office, a top flight bullpen every year, lots of depth and some excellent young players and the best farm system in baseball they’re going be good for quite a while more,

Jross
2 years ago

If they have a top flight front office why do they fire everyone every three years.

David Klein
2 years ago

Huh? Who did they fire? The Rays front office guys get hired by other teams,

Slappytheclown
2 years ago

The Rays have a super deep team. Choi and Yandy have both posted solid wRC the last few years. Meadows, Arozarena and presumably Margot who himself is an average OF are fine. Walls is a 50fv prospect who can pick it and put up 125 to 135 wRC in difficult AA and AAA parks the last few years. They have a league average BACKUP catcher. They have Brujan andJosh Lowe ready and pitchers like Romero, Goss and Steotman in the minors plus Patino and Baz. It’s a team filled with upside and depth but heh if that is things breaking right I’m ok. Joe Ryan was 18…18! On their prospect list last year. Just sayin…

rounders
2 years ago

At this point it makes no sense for the Rays to not be favorites every year unless anybody can make a case for one team standing out, but no team is.

catmanwayne
2 years ago

I am bullish on the Mariners as well. Rotation is still a concern, but I believe that Ray will anchor them, and Gilbert will build off of his debut. It’s better than trying to guess which Kikuchi they might get. The young hitters should improve as well, especially Kelenic and Raleigh because it’ll be hard for them to perform as badly as they did in 2021. The one thing I’m skeptical of is their bullpen. I doubt they’ll keep up the voodoo magic from 2021, despite the fact that Munoz is healthy and a few months later hopefully Giles will begin taking some of the late innings. They definitely should add at least one big bat and one more SP. Things are looking good for Seattle long term, however. Baseball America just tagged their farm system as the best in the sport. They have trade ammo, a lot of room to add payroll, and a lot of young talent trickling in. As it stands, 81-81 sounds about right, but with the potential for more if they continue to add.

Manco
2 years ago