The Lockout Projected ZiPS Standings: National 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!

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.

We’ll consider the National League today, with the American League to follow tomorrow. First up: the NL East.

ZiPS Projections – National League East
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Atlanta Braves 90 72 .556 49.1% 21.2% 70.3% 7.7%
New York Mets 88 74 2 .543 34.3% 24.4% 58.7% 5.6%
Philadelphia Phillies 82 80 8 .506 9.5% 14.0% 23.5% 1.7%
Miami Marlins 80 82 10 .494 5.7% 10.1% 15.8% 1.0%
Washington Nationals 75 87 15 .463 1.3% 3.0% 4.3% 0.2%

As I expected when discussing Atlanta’s projections, the Braves show up in ZiPS as a mild favorite, even with the baked-in assumption that Freddie Freeman will depart in free agency. His still-likely return would put a few more games between the Braves and the Mets, though that return isn’t certain until there’s a signed contract to that effect. The Mets, meanwhile, have holes, but they probably underperformed their abilities as a group in 2021 and are close enough that with a bit of luck — I know, not a typical Mets phenomena — they can catch the Braves, especially in the Freeman-less scenario.

The Marlins and Phillies project similarly to one another, though they’re teams going in opposite directions. Miami’s pitching staff, especially the rotation, is already playoff-worthy. The offense is…not. But the Marlins have some long-term upside that I’m not sure is present for the Phillies, a team that has been content to simply keep a .500ish roster together. The Marlins are still probably about a year away from making the Braves or Mets nervous about a stumble, but a 6% division chance is not a 0% one.

The Nationals basically project as an awful team that has the benefit of the services of Juan Soto, who can make nearly any team watchable. And in this case, he puts Washington just on the cusp of playoff relevance if a lot goes right, rather than being a near-lost cause.

ZiPS Projections – National League Central
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
St. Louis Cardinals 89 73 .549 49.0% 16.6% 65.5% 6.8%
Milwaukee Brewers 88 74 1 .543 39.3% 18.4% 57.7% 5.5%
Cincinnati Reds 80 82 9 .494 8.5% 8.8% 17.3% 1.2%
Chicago Cubs 76 86 13 .469 3.0% 3.8% 6.8% 0.4%
Pittsburgh Pirates 68 94 21 .420 0.1% 0.2% 0.3% 0.0%

I’m actually mildly surprised that the Cubs didn’t fare better in the ZiPS projected standings. Part of that is ZiPS being stronger on the Brewers rotation than I initially expected and part of it is the lockout preventing the Reds from blowing up their rotation. The Cardinals once again project in that magical 88-to-92 win zone they always seem to occupy, but the Brewers might have more upside due to having three starting pitchers who could be in the Cy Young conversation. That also makes Milwaukee a dangerous October foe. ZiPS really like Aaron Ashby and if the Brewers committed to using him in the rotation (I don’t expect they will), they may catch St. Louis in the forecast.

St. Louis’ pitching isn’t quite as impressive, but ZiPS loves the offense and the defense, enough for the Cardinals to get the top spot. The Cubs still have holes, some of which they’re not likely to deal with when the offseason resumes. The Pirates don’t have much going for them in 2022 after Bryan Reynolds and Ke’Bryan Hayes, but they at least avoid the ignominy of a playoff probability that rounds to zero.

ZiPS Projections – National League West
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Los Angeles Dodgers 94 68 .580 63.7% 24.2% 87.9% 12.2%
San Diego Padres 90 72 4 .556 31.9% 38.5% 70.4% 6.9%
San Francisco Giants 81 81 13 .500 4.2% 15.5% 19.7% 1.2%
Arizona Diamondbacks 72 90 22 .444 0.2% 1.3% 1.5% 0.1%
Colorado Rockies 66 96 28 .407 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.0%

What’s especially interesting to me is the relative weakness of the Dodgers and Padres relative to last year’s projections. Yes, both project to remain excellent teams, but both have roster questions that haven’t yet been resolved this offseason. Los Angeles’ rotation looks more fragile than it has in years and unlike in seasons past, there are a lot of projected scenarios in which it becomes an unimpressive group, at least enough to drop the Dodgers into the pack and occasionally even out of the playoffs. ZiPS remains bullish on San Diego’s pitching, but the team has real needs at first base, left field, right field and, assuming the next CBA works out how we expect, designated hitter. The team may still address those positions, but that hasn’t happened yet.

Some may grumble about the Giants’ projection, but losing Buster Posey chops a few wins off the team’s outlook, as does Kevin Gausman’s departure to the vast cornfields of Canada. Alex Cobb was quite solid for the Angels in 2021, but his health history is troubling. Like the Red Sox’s projection going into the 2021 season, ZiPS sees a lot of variability in the rotation based on health, enough that it makes the team more volatile overall than it would be otherwise.

The Diamondbacks project to have a better season than in 2021 just from regression toward the mean. The good news for the Rockies is that they’re nearly out of star players to alienate and then either trade or simply let walk with limited or no compensation. I’ll let you imagine what the bad news is.

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.

Inline Feedbacks
Kevbot034
1 year ago

I still can’t figure out why the Rockies can stay so poorly run for so long. It’s wild.

David Klein
1 year ago

The Pirates have been terribly run for most of the last near 30 years with a brief respite for a few years in the Cutch years.

1 year ago

It really hasn’t been that poorly run for that long. This is a team that drafted and developed a ton of major league talent up until about, oh, 10 years ago? Remember, other baseball teams were not very smart until recently either. The big turning point was 2012, when they decided to tinker around the edges (and again in 2014) rather than seeking to modernize the operation. What is harder to understand is why they did the same thing in 2022 as they did the last couple of times they decided to shake things up.

David Klein
1 year ago

Its the owner and his son is climbing up the ranks can you say the next Jeff Wilpon?

kidzeromember
1 year ago

Richard Bergstrom
1 year ago

Dick attends almost every home game in person so it’s not like he doesn’t care about the team. He’s just too loyal.

Chili Davis Eyes
1 year ago

You can’t fire the owner.

montrealmember
1 year ago