This morning, David Appelman added the 2012 ZIPS projections to the site. While it’s certainly true that most projection systems spit out pretty similar results, ZIPS remains my projection system of choice. Dan Szymborski has done a great job of maintaining the model without huge year to year fluctuations, and the in-season ZIPS tool is a great way to get a feel for how important updated data during the season is in various categories.
So, let’s take a quick stroll through the 2012 ZIPS projections and look at some of the results that stand out. We’ll go position by position, starting behind the plate, and remind you that this is sorted by offense only:
There’s a 32 point gap between Napoli and the next best hitting catcher in wOBA. Yes, some of that is due to the park factors, but there’s still a huge gap between Napoli and Santana. Put simply, Napoli is the best hitting catcher in baseball, and it’s not even very close. He likely gives back some of the bat’s value with his defense, but the fact that he’s improved enough to stay behind the plate makes him an extremely valuable player. He’ll be a pretty fascinating free agent a year from now.
Also interesting to see ZIPS not giving up at all on Joe Mauer, even though it isn’t programmed to know anything about injuries. Even if there weren’t extenuating circumstances, it still sees Mauer’s 2011 as a fluke, and expects him to get back to something resembling his old self in 2012. Twins fans have to like this projection.
ZIPS would like to please ask you to stop projecting imminent decline for Albert Pujols, thanks. Despite all the “trend analysis” that points out that his wOBA has been going the wrong way for three years running, ZIPS projects a nice little bounce back for the Angels new star first baseman. The .397 projection isn’t vintage Pujols, but keep in mind that the run environment has changed since his peak years, and this mark still makes him the fourth best hitter in baseball.
Also, Adrian Gonzalez is projected to outhit Prince Fielder. Even before you include baserunning, defense, and potential aging problems due to size, Gonzalez grades out ahead of the Tigers big off-season splash. Even accounting for giving up three prospects, it’s pretty obvious that Boston did better than Detroit in the “acquire a new first baseman” contest over the last few winters.
For the last few years, Yankees and Red Sox fans have fought over which team actually has the best second baseman in baseball. Turns out, they’re both wrong. Ian Kinsler, everyone – probably the most underrated elite player in baseball.
Like with the Twins and Mauer, you have to think the Phillies would gladly take that projected line from Utley. He might not be the game’s premier second baseman anymore, but a top five performance in nearly 500 plate appearances would be a valuable contribution and help keep Philadelphia on top of the NL East.
Talk about a barren wasteland. Reyes’ move to Miami means that only two of the three decent hitting shortstops in baseball are actually going to play the position this year. The gap between Reyes and the now-third-best-projected-hitting-SS is actually bigger than the gap between Napoli and the next best hitting catcher. This is why I like the Reyes contract – he’s an extremely rare commodity in today’s game. There just aren’t any shortstops who can produce at the plate anymore, and even with the injury problems, the expected performance is going to be clearly worth the money this year.
As for the Scutaro projection, you have to take a bit of air out of the numbers due to the Colorado effect, but still, it’s pretty amazing that the Red Sox essentially had to give this guy away. Very few teams in baseball had better options at shortstop.
ZIPS has climbed aboard the Brett Lawrie bandwagon, and is projecting him to essentially be an All-Star in his first full season. Yeah, that’s not a bad return for two years of Shaun Marcum.
Also, it’s somewhat interesting how Boston and New York both have similar third baseman – aging, injury prone guys who can still hit when healthy but offer suspect defense at the hot corner. Both teams look like they’ll need backups who can play the position regularly.
If Kinsler isn’t the most underrated elite player, it’s probably Holliday, who never comes up in the discussion of the best outfielders in the game but just keeps hitting like one. Once you include park factors and defense, there’s not a huge gap between him and Ryan Braun.
For Hamilton, this isn’t a very good projection. A .358 wOBA while playing half your games in Texas is more good than great, and if he does put up that kind of season at age 31, it will be interesting to see just what the market is for him as a free agent next year. The issues with addiction are already likely to keep him from getting a really long contract, but that kind of performance would probably keep the AAV from getting too high as well.
Factoring in defense and park, McCutchen probably grades out as the best CF in baseball, though it’s pretty close. Kemp and Ellsbury are both expected to still be terrific players, but this is also a huge step backwards for both. 2011 is almost certainly going to represent a career year for each of them.
Also, Shane Vicotrino would like throw his hat into that “underrated elite player” ring. He’s really good, and part of the reason why the Phillies have been able to stay on top of the NL East while Ryan Howard and Chase Utley regressed.
ZIPS doesn’t expect Bautista to slow down at all, and projects him as the best hitter in baseball for 2012. Even as good as Stanton and Upton are, Joey Bats blows them both out of the water here. It’s funny how much attention Jeremy Lin and Tim Tebow have gotten, when Bautista is basically baseball’s version of that story, just better and sustained.
Also, that Michael Cuddyer projection has a lot to do with his new address in Colorado, but the Rockies would still have to be pretty thrilled with that kind of performance. Even with park adjusted numbers and bad defense, he’d grade out as a top 10 right fielder. I still don’t love the signing, but ZIPS thinks Cuddyer is going to age very nicely.
David Ortiz, still good.
Also, ZIPS is a big fan of Jason Kubel. That’s another signing that I’m still not a fan of, but if ZIPS is right, still could work out well for the Diamondbacks. They can’t DH Kubel, but even with bad defense, a .356 wOBA is pretty useful, especially for a line-up that skews very right-handed.
Tomorrow, we’ll walk through some of the pitcher projections.