The ZiPS Midseason Update for the National League

Corbin Burnes
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

As we reach the mathematical halfway point of the season and approach the trade deadline, this is an opportune moment to run an update of the ZiPS projected standings. The standings are based on projections from the most robust version of ZiPS rather than the simpler one, which is more practical to run daily during the regular season, implementing things like the Statcast-aided zStats and up-to-date minor league translations.

The process that ZiPS uses is the typical one, but I’ll run it down quickly for those who may be new to how these projections work. ZiPS starts with a modified version of our depth chart and applies a generalized probabilistic model of available playing time for the players listed. So instead of a team’s roster strength being a simple sum of everyone’s projected WAR pro-rated to a fixed expected number of plate appearances, we end up with a whole distribution of possible roster strength. As an example: While Jacob deGrom still has a median of 55 innings in the roster sims I run for each team, sometimes he’ll be at 65 or 70 innings, sometimes he’ll be at 30 or 45 innings, and occasionally, it’ll be much worse than that. ZiPS will then “fill in” playing time based on the next players available on the depth chart and their probabilistic measure of availability. Just to stay with the Mets: When the outfield is healthy, the depth chart is mostly Mark Canha, Brandon Nimmo, and Starling Marte. But on the particularly bad rolls, the team’s estimated roster strength will have a lot more Ender Inciarte, Nick Plummer, Mark Vientos, and even players like Daniel Palka and Terrance Gore.

After ZiPS gets a distribution of each team’s roster strength, it “draws” one each year and sims out the rest of the season, team versus team, a million times and sees what happens. Is this a perfect methodology? Absolutely not! But I think we get closer to our goal of trying to evaluate team uncertainty and team depth, something which is harder to do using a less time-consuming scheme.

We checked the American League yesterday, so now it’s the Senior Circuit’s term.

ZiPS Projected Standings – NL East
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
New York Mets 96 66 .593 63.5% 34.5% 98.0% 10.1%
Atlanta Braves 93 69 3 .574 35.2% 59.1% 94.4% 8.3%
Philadelphia Phillies 83 79 13 .512 1.1% 27.2% 28.3% 0.8%
Miami Marlins 80 82 16 .494 0.2% 10.2% 10.4% 0.3%
Washington Nationals 64 98 32 .395 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

While both the Mets and Braves are extremely likely to make the playoffs, given the fact that the NL East (and NL West) winners are almost always the teams that get the first-round bye, there’s still a lot more to play for than pride. Coming into the 2022 season, ZiPS saw the Braves as about two games better than the Mets, but even that small edge has disappeared, with the computer now seeing the Mets with a razor-thin average roster strength edge, .564 to .563. Given the 2.5-game lead New York currently holds, attrition favors the Metropolitans. Unsurprisingly, in the simulations, a lot of the swing comes from how many innings Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom pitch in the second half. While that’s usually the case with injury-risk players, I have especially low confidence when trying to make an assumption for deGrom; a probabilistic injury model is all well and good, but if the center is in the wrong place, it can still be a big deal. That’s especially so simply because the upside of deGrom is likely far higher than any other trade deadline acquisition would be.

ZiPS projects the Phillies as getting the second-largest bump in the NL from adding wins, behind only the Giants, so they’re certainly incentivized to be aggressive this month. I would think that the lackluster results of their rebuilding phase would make them even more so. Complicating things is that the Phillies aren’t really awful in that many places, making them a tricky team to upgrade. Bryce Harper’s thumb injury makes DH an obvious place to try to upgrade, but an actual outfielder would be better, as having both Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos out there was never Plan A. Anywhere else, it’s tougher to get much in the way of extra wins; the Phillies are projected to get league-average performance out of most positions, and relievers are quite volatile and much less a guarantee to add wins than a star in another role.

The Marlins are a plausible wild card contender and may simply be easier to upgrade than the Phillies since they do have gaping holes. Avisaíl García has been a disaster in Miami, with his plate discipline somehow being worse than usual, so there’s an obvious place to improve. But will the Marlins, who don’t like paying for anything, actually bench a player they intentionally gave money to? The team also probably needs another starting pitcher in the short term due to injuries and Trevor Rogers struggling. As for the Nationals, they’re clear sellers, and Josh Bell, at a minimum, likely ends up elsewhere.

ZiPS Projected Standings – NL Central
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Milwaukee Brewers 88 74 .543 56.4% 19.1% 75.4% 3.7%
St. Louis Cardinals 87 75 1 .537 43.5% 23.3% 66.8% 4.5%
Chicago Cubs 73 89 15 .451 0.1% 0.2% 0.4% 0.0%
Pittsburgh Pirates 67 95 21 .414 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Cincinnati Reds 64 98 24 .395 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

Brewers or Cardinals? As with Braves versus Mets, ZiPS hasn’t changed its answer since the start of the season, when it saw St. Louis as the slight favorite and Milwaukee as the team with both more upside and more downside. As with the NL East, the Brewers holding a slim lead gives them an edge, though less of one since ZiPS is much less excited about the rotation with Freddy Peralta’s innings disappearing. Of note, though not directly related to the pennant race: Corbin Burnes now has the best five-year projection of any pitcher in baseball. This may not be a popular notion, but I’d love if the Brewers were able to get Joey Gallo from the Yankees for pennies on the dollar. At a cheap enough price, it’d be worth seeing if a change in scenery helps, because the upside in Miller Park American Family Field is high, and having Andrew McCutchen in 2022 is like going to a concert for your favorite band growing up but finding out they’re only going to play stuff from the album released last year.

Then come… the others. The Pirates are actually playing better baseball than some expected, but they’re still not remotely playoff relevant. The Cubs retain a better theoretical chance of a playoff appearance, but like the Reds and Pirates, they will be sellers in coming weeks.

ZiPS Projected Standings – NL West
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Los Angeles Dodgers 97 65 .599 81.0% 17.8% 98.8% 10.1%
San Diego Padres 90 72 7 .556 16.1% 66.7% 82.9% 5.2%
San Francisco Giants 85 77 12 .525 2.9% 41.5% 44.4% 2.2%
Arizona Diamondbacks 72 90 25 .444 0.0% 0.3% 0.3% 0.0%
Colorado Rockies 69 93 28 .426 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

The Dodgers projected as the team with the best roster in baseball up until the Walker Buehler injury, which pushed the Astros and Yankees slightly higher. The projections expect him to be back for the playoffs; the relatively tame World Series odds are due to the fact that they are still in a fight for their division, unlike the elite AL teams. Like the other projection systems, ZiPS is still a bit suspicious about Tony Gonsolin being a star-level hurler, but the computer has a lot of confidence in the offense and sees the team as the solid favorite. That Los Angeles has a curious amount of trouble with the Rockies and Pirates doesn’t really mean anything from a projection standpoint, but it is fun trivia.

San Diego is in the thick of the playoff hunt despite not having Fernando Tatis Jr. at all this season, so getting him back in late July would be sort of like the best deadline acquisition in recent memory! It may not be enough to knock off the Dodgers, as the Padres’ offense still projects in solid “meh” territory. Another outfielder would be a nice-to-have, and Eric Hosmer’s hot start has camouflaged the fact that he has a sub .600 OPS since the start of May. Los Angeles famously swooped in to steal Scherzer from the Padres last summer, so it would be nice to return the favor this time around (with someone other than Scherzer, obviously).

I’m probably the only person in the world that this matters to, but I definitely feel a sense of relief that ZiPS won’t miss the Giants’ win total by 34 games this year! I mean, they technically could, but I’m not even going to run the numbers for the probability that they go 10–72 or worse or 78–4 or better. The scrappy team that uses some retro-classic platooning to win 100 games is a cool story, but real life tends to be a bit boring, and the Giants are simply a slightly above-average team playing slightly above-average baseball. If they decide to be more conventionally aggressive at the deadline, I’d love to see them go after Willson Contreras or Luis Castillo.

Arizona and Colorado are both near their preseason projected paces; the Diamondbacks have seen their projection improve by one win, with the Rockies falling off by the same margin. For Arizona, I’d expect David Peralta and Christian Walker to end the season on new teams, with Zach Davies following, depending on his shoulder. As for the Rockies, I expect that it’ll be like most deadlines in that they’ll be seemingly unaware that there is a trade deadline.





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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David Kleinmember
2 months ago

Josh Bell or Trey Mancini sure would look good in the middle of the Mets lineup as the dh. No I do not believe in Dom Smith’s hot hitting over an extreme small sample size since he returned from the minors.

Last edited 2 months ago by David Klein
sadtrombonemember
2 months ago
Reply to  David Klein

Josh Bell would look really good in the middle of a lot of team’s lineups–the Red Sox, Padres, and Brewers would probably be at least as motivated to make a deal. I would guess all three of them, plus the Mets, will be on the phone with the Orioles and Nats and that they will be the most likely destinations for Bell, Cruz, Mancini, and maybe Santander too. Maaaybe Benintendi or Pham, but since they can sort of still play the outfield they’ll have more suitors.

Markmember
2 months ago
Reply to  David Klein

I don’t believe Mancini or most other RH hitters are significantly better than JD going forward. Bell yes, I finally believe. I assume most other teams do too.

David Kleinmember
2 months ago
Reply to  Mark

Why not? Davis is an extreme ground ball hitter and his zone contact rate is 69% where league average is 82%

idliamin
2 months ago
Reply to  David Klein

I haven’t had a chance to really dig into the numbers, but notwithstanding his lower K rate, Josh Bell seems like a prime candidate for regression. His hard-hit rate is the lowest it’s been since 2017, he’s got a career high BABIP (by quite a lot), and unless his HR/FB really spikes, he’s not hitting HRs at a high enough rate to compensate for likely BABIP regression. I’m not saying I think he’ll crater as much as he did in the second half of 2019, but if he produces at or slightly above a league average rate, I’m not sure that’s better than what JD Davis could do. Also, I have no reason to think the Nats will trade Bell within the division (they didn’t want to do so with Scherzer last year), at least not without adding a division rival tax, so to speak. I could be wrong, though; I usually am.

bosoxforlifemember
2 months ago
Reply to  idliamin

I agree that what Josh Bell is doing is simply a mirage, but i would offer the Nationals Bobby Dalbec and Connor Seabold for him.