It was barely a month ago that we ran our annual positional power rankings series. Perceptions of players and teams ought not to change too much after just a few weeks of baseball, but the neat thing about having projections is around is that they update themselves every night. Never by much, but they’re constantly re-evaluating to reflect whatever’s happened by the appropriate amount. In this sense, they’re like an overreaction guide, holding your hand through the early goings of a season and letting you know just how much to make of Player X’s early-season struggles/successes. Like, for example, if you’re wondering whether to freak out about Rich Hill, you look to see how much the projections have changed since the start of the year, and you listen to the projections when they tell you that it’s perfectly OK to freak out.
And just as the projections can be used as a guide to gauge how much early-season performances mean for players, they can do the same for teams. Team projections are just a composite of a bunch of player projections, after all. And while no one individual has improved their projection nearly as much as Hill, something stuck out to me while doing the research for that post:
Most-Improved Pitcher Projections, Preseason to Now
SOURCE: ZiPS+Steamer projections
-Minimum 100 projected innings pitched
In the interest of full disclosure, the Rays don’t possess the most improved rotation, overall. That’d be the Phillies, by a sizable amount. I’ve written about the Phillies and their ubiquitous curveball usage, but frankly, while it’s fun that they’ve seemingly accelerated their rebuild with an already-good rotation, it still doesn’t really matter, in the scope of 2016, that the Phillies have the most improved rotation. But for the Rays, who have the second-most improved rotation with another gap separating them from third, it does matter, because the Rays aim to compete.
When we ran the positional power rankings, we split the starting pitching rankings into two halves. The Rays made the cut for the first half, but just barely. Just over a month ago, the forecast had the Rays’ rotation ranked 15th, with a projected group WAR of +13.0. Now, the Rays are ranked eighth, with a forecast that would put the group around +15 WAR over a full season. It only took 21 games for the projections to give the Rays’ rotation an extra two wins in the future, based on what they’d seen.
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