Saturday, January 26, 2013

ZIPS Projecting Big Boost from Three New Tigers

Dan Szymborski has released his annual ZIPS projections for Tigers players and they are posted at FanGraphs.  Pre-season projections should always be taken with a grain of salt, but ZIPS is one of the longest-running and accurate systems available.  

The good thing about projections is that they are unbiased and not subject to the emotions of overly optimistic (or pessimistic) hometown fans eagerly awaiting (dreading) the upcoming season.  The limitation of projections is that they do not take into account anything beyond the numbers.  For example, it might be known that a player played through an injury last year or is scheduled to receive more minor league seasoning or any other non-statistical factor that could impact his upcoming season. 

I like to think of a projection as a baseline rather than a prediction.  They tell you how a player should perform based on his past record and the records of similar players. A knowledgeable fan can then take that projection and adjust it up or down according to what he knows about that player beyond the statistics.  One thing that fans are particularly good at any where forecasting systems often fail is guessing playing time.  Fans generally know more than computers which players are going to play regularly, which ones will ride the bench and who will be farmed out to the minors to start the season.

That being said, here is what I found interesting about the 2013 ZIPS:

Not surprisingly, the two players that improved the most last year - center fielder Austin Jackson and left fielder Andy Dirks - are expected to fall back to earth in 2013.  When a player has a season where he performs way above what he has done previously, he typically does not do as well the next season.  Conversely, a player who hits below his career norms in a given season is likely to bounce back the following year.   In each case, the phenomenon is called regression to the mean and most forecasting systems will factor that in to next seasons projection.

After hitting a combined .271/.331/.387 in his first first two seasons, Jackson surprised many observers with his .300/.377/.479 line in 2012.  ZIPS has him at .263/.341/.418 in 2013. I am also expecting a regression although maybe not quite as much.  With his excellent defense, he'd still be a really strong player with those numbers though. 

After hitting .251/.296/.406 in his rookie season, Dirks shot up to .322/.370/.487 in 2012.  ZIPS has him pegged for .276./319/.418 in 2013.  That backs up the Tigers reluctance to make him a full-time player and may explain why they are apparently still looking for right-handed bat.  ZIPS does not think the Tigers' young outfielders - Nick Castellanos and Avisail Garcia - are quite ready for prime time projecting both to have OPS below .700 if they do play in the majors.

None of the Tigers regulars are expected to improve significantly in 2013, but the team should benefit immensely from three new players.  First, right fielder Torii Hunter's estimated .782 ZIPS OPS would be a huge upgrade over Brennan Boesch's .658 mark last year.  Then designated hitter Victor Martinez (.770 ZIPS OPS) should be a major improvement over Delmon Young (.707 in 2012).  Finally, they will get a full year out of second baseman Omar Infante (.695 ZIPS OPS) instead of Ryan Raburn (.480 in 2012) and Ramon Santiago (.555).  That's about eight or nine wins right there without even getting great seasons from the three additions. 

I don't think there is any projection system out there that is able to figure out the unpredictable mound creatures, so I won't dwell too much on that.  The most depressing projection is the 5.60 ERA for Bruce Rondon, the man being hyped as the Tigers possible closer.  Jim Leyland indicated at TigerFest today that Phil Coke is the back-up plan and ZIPS has him at 4.25.  On a more positive note, ZIPS thinks left-hander Drew Smyly is pretty much for real forecasting a 4.20  ERA in 167 innings.

That's all for now,  I will wait until spring training winds down before I sift through all the projections and other data and come up with my own predictions.

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