The Obscenely Early ZiPS Projected Standings

Naturally, once the ZiPS elves have finished baking the ZiPS, the first thing I want to do — at least after actually getting some sleep — is to crank out some ZiPS projected standings. So let’s wrap up ZiPS Week (I’m possibly the only person calling it this) by doing the first run of the ZiPS projected standings for the 2020 season.

The methodology I use is not identical to the one we use in our 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 on 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, not dressing up in a tuxedo and playing baccarat like James Bond.

After this is done, then ZiPS applies another set of algorithms with a generalized distribution of injury risk, which changes 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. It then automatically “fills in” playing time from the next players on the list (proportionally) to get to 700 plate appearances for each position and 1458 innings.

ZiPS Simulated Results – Philadelphia Phillies RF
Simulation # Player PA
30153 Bryce Harper 524
Jay Bruce 73
Nick Williams 52
Neil Walker 22
Josh Harrison 18
Roman Quinn 5
Nick Martini 2
Matt Szczur 1
Mikie Mahtook 1
Kyle Garlick 1
Mickey Moniak 1
Simulation # Player PA
325551 Bryce Harper 381
Jay Bruce 132
Nick Williams 94
Neil Walker 40
Josh Harrison 33
Roman Quinn 9
Nick Martini 4
Matt Szczur 2
Mikie Mahtook 2
Kyle Garlick 2
Mickey Moniak 2

What I end up with 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 then end up with the standings for each of the million years.

This all is actually much less complex than it sounds. It’s a relatively simple way to make a projection that has an ungodly amount of irreducible error.

Let’s get to some meat and potatoes! The assumptions used to make the depth charts is updated through the very worrisome Luis Severino injury news, so the Yankee projections already reflect this risk.

ZiPS Projected Standings – AL East
Team W L GB PCT DIV% WC% PLAYOFF% WS WIN% #1 PICK DRAFT POS
New York Yankees 100 62 .617 82.1% 15.6% 97.7% 18.3% 0.0% 28.2
Tampa Bay Rays 91 71 9 .562 15.2% 56.3% 71.5% 5.6% 0.0% 23.4
Boston Red Sox 85 77 15 .525 2.6% 26.6% 29.3% 1.6% 0.0% 18.2
Toronto Blue Jays 72 90 28 .444 0.0% 0.6% 0.6% 0.0% 0.9% 8.5
Baltimore Orioles 58 104 42 .358 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 47.7% 2.2

One can easily see the damage wrought to the Red Sox in the short term by the Mookie Betts trade. From a pure value standpoint, Alex Verdugo and Jeter Downs are a good return for a year of Betts, and it’s incentivized by baseball’s revenue system, but it’s also extremely disappointing when a team that can win goes for value in this manner. Verdugo is a real player and the fact that he’s not a hotshot A-ball prospect but an actual major leaguer mitigates some of the losses. But it pushes the Red Sox well back into the wild card pack with a slim margin for error given the team’s depth issues in many places.

The Rays are threatening to the Yankees, but things do have to go right for them and wrong for the Bombers to make the latter truly uncomfortable. Toronto has a nice core but ZiPS doesn’t see the supporting players as there yet, and the Orioles, well, the games will actually end.

ZiPS Projected Standings – AL Central
Team W L GB PCT DIV% WC% PLAYOFF% WS WIN% #1 PICK DRAFT POS
Minnesota Twins 91 71 .562 60.9% 13.7% 74.7% 7.9% 0.0% 23.2
Cleveland Indians 87 75 4 .537 30.3% 19.7% 49.9% 4.1% 0.0% 20.4
Chicago White Sox 82 80 9 .506 8.7% 9.2% 17.9% 1.2% 0.0% 15.8
Kansas City Royals 70 92 21 .432 0.2% 0.2% 0.3% 0.0% 2.0% 7.3
Detroit Tigers 63 99 28 .389 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 17.7% 3.6

I’m super bummed that the White Sox projection wasn’t three or four wins fatter. I personally see them as an 85- or 86-win team if forced to be pinned down to a prediction right now, but Dan’s thumb is not part of ZiPS. A good chunk of Minnesota’s edge is that they signed Josh Donaldson while the Indians only signed Domingo Santana, who while being an actual upgrade can’t upgrade three positions simultaneously. Even Mike Trout isn’t that magical.

Does this count as a bullish Royals projection? ZiPS thinks the starting rotation could be surprisingly adequate and they do have some interesting older players in the lineup, but the team still has little upside. The Tigers have upside, it’s just not in 2020 even if they roll sevens on all their pitching prospects this year; it will be a surprise if the offense isn’t horrific.

ZiPS Projected Standings – AL West
Team W L GB PCT DIV% WC% PLAYOFF% WS WIN% #1 PICK DRAFT POS
Houston Astros 95 67 .586 74.5% 13.6% 88.1% 11.7% 0.0% 25.6
Oakland A’s 88 74 7 .543 19.4% 29.5% 48.9% 3.7% 0.0% 20.6
Los Angeles Angels 83 79 12 .512 5.6% 13.3% 18.9% 1.1% 0.0% 16.3
Texas Rangers 75 87 20 .463 0.4% 1.7% 2.1% 0.1% 0.3% 10.4
Seattle Mariners 62 100 33 .383 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 21.6% 3.3

If the Astros only win 95 games, people will say it was because of the lack of trash receptacles. But 95 wins is the projection from ZiPS right now, which has no trash can adjustment because such an adjustment would be completely arbitrary and contrary to my mission statement. Getting Lance McCullers Jr. back and a full season of Zack Greinke is quite nice, but losing Gerrit Cole is not. Houston did have a lot of things go right in 2019 and one can’t expect that to be the baseline expectation.

ZiPS has Oakland as the team most likely to threaten the Astros, something they briefly do every year it seems. The A’s have a surprisingly deep organization and this methodology gives them a significant boost over the Angels; even in a million years, there were very few Angels teams that played above .500 ball when deprived of Trout in these simulations. The Angels still have a few too many holes, and while one can understand them being frustrated by the Joc Pederson trade situation, not having Pederson and Ross Stripling on the roster was quite unfortunate. Texas won’t contend until the offense is considerably better, and the Mariners… yikes.

ZiPS Projected Standings – NL East
Team W L GB PCT DIV% WC% PLAYOFF% WS WIN% #1 PICK DRAFT POS
Washington Nationals 91 71 .562 42.1% 30.5% 72.5% 6.2% 0.0% 22.9
Atlanta Braves 90 72 1 .556 33.6% 32.4% 66.0% 5.1% 0.0% 22.1
New York Mets 87 75 4 .537 19.6% 29.8% 49.4% 3.2% 0.0% 20.1
Philadelphia Phillies 82 80 9 .506 4.7% 14.0% 18.7% 0.9% 0.0% 15.6
Miami Marlins 68 94 23 .420 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 4.5% 5.9

ZiPS projected the Nationals to win the NL East last year, but the loss of Anthony Rendon is enough to get the gap between them and the Braves down to almost nothing. It’s really too bad Atlanta wasn’t able to successfully bring back Donaldson because that would’ve been enough to flip these projected standings. ZiPS loves the Mets starting rotation until something bad happens, in which case the spares cause them to fall off the rails very quickly.

The Phillies didn’t do enough this offseason in ZiPS’ eyes; it’s a very, very tough division to play in. Landing Cole or Rendon would have made the NL East projection even more fun. The Marlins still have a ton of offensive holes and slapping some average veterans into them is enough to promote them from doormat status but not to relevance.

ZiPS Projected Standings – NL Central
Team W L GB PCT DIV% WC% PLAYOFF% WS WIN% #1 PICK DRAFT POS
Chicago Cubs 85 77 .525 39.7% 8.3% 48.0% 3.3% 0.0% 18.5
Milwaukee Brewers 82 80 3 .506 23.0% 7.4% 30.4% 1.9% 0.0% 16.3
St. Louis Cardinals 82 80 3 .506 18.8% 6.7% 25.6% 1.5% 0.0% 15.6
Cincinnati Reds 81 81 4 .500 17.8% 6.5% 24.3% 1.4% 0.0% 15.4
Pittsburgh Pirates 71 91 14 .438 0.6% 0.2% 0.8% 0.0% 1.6% 7.6

ZiPS sees the Cubs as the favorite to win the Central, but only by a small margin, unlike the projections from when they were serious World Series contenders. Something tells me that if the Cubs are out of money, they’d be more out of money winning 85 games than as one of the league’s first-tier contenders, but what do I know? I don’t even own a top hat or a monocle. The Reds are still projected to finish fourth, but only by the slightest margin. One thing that ZiPS can’t really take into consideration is that I expect Cincinnati to be extremely aggressive at the trade deadline if they’re close, more aggressive than the rest of the division and arguably with more interesting trade bait.

ZiPS Projected Standings – NL West
Team W L GB PCT DIV% WC% PLAYOFF% WS WIN% #1 PICK DRAFT POS
Los Angeles Dodgers 101 61 .623 93.2% 5.6% 98.8% 17.9% 0.0% 28.3
San Diego Padres 87 75 14 .537 6.2% 45.4% 51.6% 2.7% 0.0% 20.4
Arizona Diamondbacks 80 82 21 .494 0.7% 12.2% 12.9% 0.5% 0.0% 14.3
Colorado Rockies 72 90 29 .444 0.0% 0.8% 0.8% 0.0% 1.0% 8.4
San Francisco Giants 69 93 32 .426 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.0% 2.9% 6.6

ZiPS liked the Dodgers plenty before, so it’s naturally not going to be less excited after they acquire Mookie Betts! They are the clear favorites to have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs until Dave Roberts gets too cute about using Clayton Kershaw as a reliever. Los Angeles has enough of a margin that a lot of things can go afoul, awry, or askew and they can still coast to the playoffs. But remember, there’s a 6.8% projected chance that the Dodgers fail to win the division and things that have a 6.8% chance of occurring happen all the time. Nolan Arenado homered in 6.2% of his plate appearance in 2019; I bet when you saw Arenado hit a home run in a particular at-bat, you didn’t think it was the craziest thing you ever done seen!

If the season finished identically to these standings, the Padres would face the Mets in a one-game playoff to get into the one-game playoff. Suffice it to say that at least in the eyes of my projections, the Padres are finally here. And in proper brown colors!

ZiPS Playoff Matrix
To Win 10th 20th 30th 40th 50th 60th 70th 80th 90th
AL East 94.0 96.2 97.8 99.3 100.7 102.1 103.7 105.4 107.9
AL Central 87.0 89.1 90.6 91.9 93.2 94.4 95.8 97.4 99.7
AL West 89.3 91.4 93.0 94.4 95.7 97.0 98.6 100.3 102.6
AL Wild Card 1 88.8 90.2 91.3 92.3 93.3 94.3 95.4 96.6 98.5
AL Wild Card 2 85.5 86.8 87.8 88.6 89.4 90.2 91.1 92.0 93.5
NL East 88.9 90.8 92.2 93.4 94.5 95.7 97.0 98.5 100.8
NL Central 83.8 85.6 87.0 88.1 89.2 90.3 91.6 93.0 95.1
NL West 93.4 95.9 97.7 99.3 100.7 102.3 103.9 105.8 108.4
NL Wild Card 1 87.4 88.8 89.8 90.7 91.6 92.5 93.5 94.7 96.4
NL Wild Card 2 84.7 85.9 86.8 87.5 88.3 89.0 89.9 90.8 92.2

We hoped you liked reading The Obscenely Early ZiPS Projected Standings by Dan Szymborski!

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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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brisko
Member
brisko

I want to wish everyone a Merry ZiPS Week and a Happy New Baseball Season.

AZ
Member
AZ

Cheers!