Author Archive

2019 ZiPS Projections – Boston Red Sox

After having typically appeared in the hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have now been released at FanGraphs for more than half a decade. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Boston Red Sox.

Batters

Obviously, the top of the offense is extremely strong, with reigning MVP Mookie Betts and one of the most dangerous hitters today, J.D. Martinez, who can be forgiven for being relatively one-dimensional when that one dimension involves a 170 wRC+ and an OPS over 1.000. But there were some cracks in the back-end in 2018, with Eduardo Núñez a stretch as a full-time second baseman and Mitch Moreland inevitably cooling off after a hot start to finish with the Usual Mitch Moreland Stats. The team brought in Steve Pearce and Ian Kinsler to dampen these issues. Pearce’s tenure was much more successful, but he also remains a role player heading into his late-30s, albeit a very good one. I remain hopeful about Rafael Devers’ future given that most players his age are still in the minors, but you can’t just wave away the fact that he regressed significantly both at the plate and in the field in 2018. Boston’s three-headed catcher-beast contributed defensively, and did a better job framing than dirty cops in a Brian De Palma movie, but you’d still like their bats to improve to a more normal version of terrible than we saw last season.

The good news is that when your highs are high and your lows are low, it’s easier to make a significant addition than it is if you have a team that’s fairly average from top to bottom. J.T. Realmuto would be just about the perfect fit for the team if the Marlins were motivated to make a reasonable trade. I suspect the Red Sox will be content with Moreland and Pearce at first as they more pressing needs on the roster. And Pearce probably was the best first baseman available in free agency, unless you’ve received some weird news from the future about how 2019 was the The Summer of Duda.

Pitchers

There’s not a lot to complain about in the rotation, so long as everyone is healthy. All five starters are projected to have ERAs better than league-average, and ZiPS, like Steamer, is cautiously optimistic about Nathan Eovaldi’s future, even though 200 innings shouldn’t be the default expectation for a pitcher with his injury history. Some depth would be nice, but Steven Wright is likely a perfectly capable emergency option and the bullpen, as constituted, is probably a below-average group. Even a diminished Craig Kimbrel is a tough reliever to lose. ZiPS thinks a lot of the no-name relievers can be adequate, especially Colten Brewer, a hard cutter/curve hurler picked up from the Padres a few weeks ago.

Bench and Prospects

The problem with the Red Sox farm system is that while it’s far from empty, trades and successful graduations have depleted the upper minors considerably, to the point that if the team is looking for a mid-season reinforcement, they’re more likely to call up a prospect rather than trade them for a more veteran solution. Sam Travis now has a .713 OPS in nearly a thousand Triple-A plate appearances; ZiPS has almost written him completely off as a prospect at this point. And there are no starting pitching prospects that are all that interesting for 2019. That Rusney Castillo has one of the best projections of the players currently at Triple A at .269/.304/.370 is a pretty good example of just how thin the high minors currently are. The big exception here is Michael Chavis, who ZiPS sees developing into an average third baseman with power upside, though not intriguing enough to be a better option than Devers in 2019, or a good enough hitter in the short-term to make Moreland and Pearce uncomfortable.

One pedantic note for 2019: for the WAR graphic, I’m using FanGraphs’ depth chart playing time, not the playing time ZiPS spits out, so there will be occasional differences in WAR totals.

Ballpark graphic courtesy Eephus League. Depth charts constructed by way of those listed here at site.

Batters – Counting Stats
Player B Age PO G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Mookie Betts R 26 RF 148 591 114 177 43 4 28 94 75 91 29 6
J.D. Martinez R 31 DH 140 529 88 153 32 2 36 106 59 151 4 1
Xander Bogaerts R 26 SS 150 584 91 166 37 3 20 91 56 117 11 2
Andrew Benintendi L 24 LF 153 582 95 165 38 6 18 91 70 110 21 5
Jackie Bradley Jr. L 29 CF 138 479 73 118 28 4 17 68 49 133 12 2
Rafael Devers L 22 3B 140 525 75 139 30 1 27 84 44 135 6 3
Ian Kinsler R 37 2B 115 448 64 113 25 1 11 46 38 64 13 6
Dustin Pedroia R 35 2B 96 384 47 104 17 0 7 44 38 51 3 3
Eduardo Nunez B 32 3B 128 479 57 134 27 2 10 54 19 69 14 5
Michael Chavis R 23 3B 94 363 49 88 22 1 17 54 24 117 3 1
Mitch Moreland L 33 1B 124 409 50 98 23 1 16 64 42 109 1 0
Brock Holt! L 31 2B 109 335 40 89 18 2 6 43 38 77 7 7
Rusney Castillo R 31 CF 111 435 48 117 24 1 6 42 19 81 9 5
Steve Pearce R 36 LF 77 239 32 61 13 1 10 36 25 51 0 1
Tzu-Wei Lin L 25 SS 111 386 44 95 17 4 5 32 30 90 7 6
Bobby Dalbec R 24 3B 116 435 56 87 23 2 21 62 42 212 3 3
Hanley Ramirez R 35 1B 102 386 49 97 18 0 16 61 38 88 5 2
Christian Vazquez R 28 C 89 293 34 75 15 1 4 25 16 54 5 1
Sandy Leon B 30 C 91 285 33 63 13 1 6 30 20 79 1 0
Brandon Phillips R 38 2B 92 355 46 93 20 0 7 36 16 59 4 4
Dan Butler R 32 C 66 217 23 48 12 0 3 21 21 54 0 0
Mike Miller R 29 SS 98 332 35 83 15 1 3 26 23 59 8 5
Tony Renda R 28 2B 92 338 38 87 20 2 4 31 20 54 9 3
Blake Swihart B 27 C 73 220 28 49 10 1 3 20 19 67 4 1
Jantzen Witte R 29 3B 102 371 41 87 22 2 7 38 29 102 4 3
Adam Lind L 35 1B 92 291 35 73 14 0 10 44 25 66 0 1
Ivan De Jesus R 32 2B 107 352 34 87 16 2 3 31 25 82 2 3
Marco Hernandez L 26 2B 72 246 27 62 11 2 5 23 9 65 2 2
Chad de la Guerra L 26 2B 99 385 43 82 16 2 10 39 27 131 5 2
Sam Travis R 25 1B 113 402 46 98 20 1 8 38 31 104 4 3
Austin Rei R 25 C 87 302 31 57 15 1 5 26 26 109 1 3
Juan Centeno L 29 C 74 252 24 63 12 1 3 24 13 46 0 1
Jeremy Barfield R 30 LF 65 233 28 48 9 0 9 28 18 83 0 0
Mike Ohlman R 28 C 79 268 31 53 10 0 9 30 29 112 1 0
Josh Ockimey L 23 1B 123 447 55 98 21 1 16 55 53 182 1 2
C.J. Chatham R 24 SS 113 437 42 105 17 3 5 36 18 110 7 5
Mike Olt R 30 3B 84 291 33 57 13 0 10 32 30 118 0 0
Cole Sturgeon L 27 RF 110 405 39 94 17 2 6 35 23 105 9 4
Kyle Wren L 28 LF 109 385 41 88 13 4 3 33 34 98 14 6
Aneury Tavarez L 27 RF 102 382 39 86 16 3 7 32 23 110 9 5
Tyler Hill R 23 RF 127 472 53 112 20 2 4 37 37 87 22 11
Victor Acosta R 23 RF 111 399 39 96 25 2 6 38 20 62 4 5
Brett Netzer L 23 2B 120 477 42 108 24 2 2 36 26 137 3 10
Tate Matheny R 25 CF 111 419 41 86 17 3 3 31 28 161 11 9

Batters – Rate Stats
Player BA OBP SLG OPS+ ISO BABIP RC/27 Def WAR No. 1 Comp
Mookie Betts .299 .379 .528 138 .228 .316 8.0 17 6.7 Al Kaline
J.D. Martinez .289 .361 .561 140 .272 .342 7.7 0 4.0 Tony Perez
Xander Bogaerts .284 .351 .461 114 .176 .327 6.2 -2 3.8 Alan Trammell
Andrew Benintendi .284 .360 .462 117 .179 .324 6.5 2 3.4 John Kruk
Jackie Bradley Jr. .246 .326 .428 99 .182 .307 5.2 5 2.5 Lloyd Moseby
Rafael Devers .265 .320 .480 109 .215 .309 5.6 -6 1.9 Fernando Tatis
Ian Kinsler .252 .317 .386 86 .134 .273 4.4 8 1.8 Ray Durham
Dustin Pedroia .271 .336 .370 88 .099 .298 4.5 3 1.3 Mark Loretta
Eduardo Nunez .280 .310 .407 89 .127 .310 4.8 0 1.1 Julian Javier
Michael Chavis .242 .299 .449 95 .207 .310 4.8 -1 1.1 Mark Reynolds
Mitch Moreland .240 .314 .418 93 .178 .289 4.7 4 0.9 Kevin Barker
Brock Holt! .266 .349 .385 96 .119 .329 4.7 -5 0.7 Pete Runnels
Rusney Castillo .269 .304 .370 78 .101 .319 4.1 1 0.5 Ken Berry
Steve Pearce .255 .336 .444 105 .188 .287 5.3 -3 0.5 Dusty Baker
Tzu-Wei Lin .246 .301 .350 73 .104 .309 3.6 2 0.5 Scott Leius
Bobby Dalbec .200 .280 .407 80 .207 .327 3.8 0 0.5 Jared Sandberg
Hanley Ramirez .251 .325 .422 97 .171 .287 5.0 -2 0.4 Cliff Floyd
Christian Vazquez .256 .300 .355 74 .099 .302 4.0 -1 0.4 Angelo Encarnacion
Sandy Leon .221 .277 .337 63 .116 .285 3.3 4 0.4 Chad Moeller
Brandon Phillips .262 .302 .377 79 .115 .298 4.0 -2 0.2 Frank White
Dan Butler .221 .296 .318 64 .097 .281 3.3 -1 0.0 Keith McDonald
Mike Miller .250 .302 .328 68 .078 .296 3.5 -1 0.0 Ever Magallanes
Tony Renda .257 .305 .364 77 .107 .296 4.1 -4 0.0 William Bergolla
Blake Swihart .223 .286 .318 61 .095 .307 3.3 -1 -0.1 Tony DeFrancesco
Jantzen Witte .235 .297 .361 74 .127 .305 3.7 -4 -0.2 Rodney Nye
Adam Lind .251 .307 .402 87 .151 .293 4.4 -3 -0.3 Glenn Adams
Ivan De Jesus .247 .306 .330 70 .082 .315 3.5 -3 -0.3 Marty Perez
Marco Hernandez .252 .280 .374 72 .122 .324 3.7 -5 -0.5 Juan Melo
Chad de la Guerra .213 .270 .343 62 .130 .295 3.2 0 -0.5 Chris Saunders
Sam Travis .244 .301 .358 75 .114 .310 3.8 0 -0.5 Juan Tejeda
Austin Rei .189 .272 .295 51 .106 .277 2.5 0 -0.5 Brian Moon
Juan Centeno .250 .290 .341 67 .091 .296 3.5 -6 -0.5 Ken Huckaby
Jeremy Barfield .206 .270 .361 66 .155 .277 3.3 -1 -0.5 Jeremy Ware
Mike Ohlman .198 .277 .336 62 .138 .299 3.2 -6 -0.6 Henry Mercedes
Josh Ockimey .219 .302 .378 80 .159 .329 3.9 -3 -0.6 Nate Rolison
C.J. Chatham .240 .273 .327 59 .087 .311 3.1 -1 -0.6 Eddie Zosky
Mike Olt .196 .274 .344 63 .148 .288 3.2 -4 -0.7 Jose Santos
Cole Sturgeon .232 .277 .328 61 .096 .299 3.2 3 -0.8 Greg Thomson
Kyle Wren .229 .292 .306 60 .078 .299 3.2 2 -0.8 Jason Maas
Aneury Tavarez .225 .273 .338 62 .113 .298 3.2 2 -0.9 Greg Thomson
Tyler Hill .237 .303 .314 65 .076 .283 3.4 0 -1.0 Stephen Kirkpatrick
Victor Acosta .241 .281 .358 69 .118 .272 3.4 -2 -1.0 Rod Bair
Brett Netzer .226 .270 .298 51 .071 .314 2.4 4 -1.2 Demetrish Jenkins
Tate Matheny .205 .258 .282 44 .076 .325 2.3 -2 -1.9 Kevin Batiste

Pitchers – Counting Stats
Player T Age W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO
Chris Sale L 30 15 5 2.62 29 29 182.0 144 53 16 34 225
David Price L 33 13 8 3.78 28 28 164.3 158 69 20 42 157
Eduardo Rodriguez L 26 10 7 3.99 29 26 144.3 134 64 18 49 153
Rick Porcello R 30 13 10 4.36 30 30 175.3 186 85 27 40 158
Nathan Eovaldi R 29 8 5 3.98 23 22 110.7 118 49 14 26 96
Craig Kimbrel R 31 4 2 2.68 60 0 57.0 36 17 5 26 89
Matthew Kent L 26 7 6 4.79 27 27 150.3 179 80 17 45 91
Drew Pomeranz L 30 8 7 4.60 28 21 115.3 115 59 15 54 103
Chandler Shepherd R 26 8 8 4.79 23 23 124.0 144 66 17 31 81
Matt Barnes R 29 5 3 3.54 62 0 61.0 51 24 6 30 80
Joe Kelly R 31 4 2 3.58 65 0 60.3 54 24 4 29 60
Dedgar Jimenez L 23 9 9 4.92 25 24 130.0 146 71 16 52 88
Steven Wright R 34 4 4 4.46 21 11 82.7 85 41 11 32 59
Hector Velazquez R 30 4 4 4.58 34 14 96.3 108 49 13 32 64
Justin Haley R 28 7 7 4.88 25 21 107.0 121 58 14 37 75
Heath Hembree R 30 3 2 3.84 61 0 58.7 54 25 8 22 67
Ryan Brasier R 31 5 3 3.79 57 0 57.0 56 24 6 15 45
Carson Smith R 29 2 1 3.00 33 0 30.0 25 10 2 11 34
Mike Shawaryn R 24 9 9 5.18 26 25 133.7 148 77 23 47 104
Colten Brewer R 26 4 3 3.86 49 0 58.3 55 25 5 23 58
Marcus Walden R 30 4 3 4.36 29 8 66.0 69 32 5 28 45
William Cuevas R 28 8 9 5.14 28 22 126.0 139 72 19 52 96
Travis Lakins R 25 4 3 4.62 29 11 62.3 66 32 7 29 50
Brandon Workman R 30 5 4 4.30 54 0 60.7 61 29 8 22 54
Bobby Poyner L 26 1 1 4.33 50 0 62.3 66 30 9 16 52
Fernando Rodriguez Jr. R 35 3 3 4.70 31 4 51.7 50 27 7 22 49
Robby Scott L 29 3 3 4.47 53 0 52.3 50 26 7 23 51
Darwinzon Hernandez L 22 6 6 5.31 26 22 95.0 92 56 10 74 89
Bryan Mata R 20 5 5 5.27 18 18 68.3 71 40 4 59 46
Mark Montgomery R 28 4 4 4.57 46 0 45.3 45 23 6 21 43
Denyi Reyes R 22 8 9 5.49 19 19 101.7 118 62 18 34 59
Josh Taylor L 26 4 4 4.63 55 0 58.3 61 30 6 29 48
Trevor Kelley R 25 2 2 4.80 40 0 54.3 60 29 6 20 36
Matthew Gorst R 24 4 4 4.97 40 0 63.3 71 35 10 22 42
Tyler Thornburg R 30 3 3 4.86 48 0 46.3 45 25 7 23 41
Domingo Tapia R 27 4 5 5.12 44 5 65.0 73 37 8 31 43
Tanner Houck R 23 8 10 5.84 22 22 103.3 115 67 15 68 75
Teddy Stankiewicz R 25 8 10 5.95 25 21 134.7 168 89 28 42 82

Pitchers – Rate Stats
Player TBF K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA+ ERA- FIP WAR No. 1 Comp
Chris Sale 727 11.13 1.68 0.79 .292 168 59 2.61 5.9 Johan Santana
David Price 689 8.60 2.30 1.10 .298 117 86 3.72 3.3 Frank Viola
Eduardo Rodriguez 611 9.54 3.06 1.12 .301 110 91 3.77 2.5 Chris Nabholz
Rick Porcello 748 8.11 2.05 1.39 .309 101 99 4.19 2.3 Moose Haas
Nathan Eovaldi 470 7.81 2.11 1.14 .313 111 90 3.82 1.9 Carl Pavano
Craig Kimbrel 233 14.05 4.11 0.79 .282 159 63 2.69 1.7 Greg Harris
Matthew Kent 672 5.45 2.69 1.02 .318 92 109 4.49 1.3 Jeff Johnson
Drew Pomeranz 510 8.04 4.21 1.17 .299 96 104 4.54 1.2 Rich Robertson
Chandler Shepherd 543 5.88 2.25 1.23 .311 92 109 4.52 1.1 Lary Sorensen
Matt Barnes 262 11.80 4.43 0.89 .313 124 80 3.38 1.1 Ryne Duren
Joe Kelly 263 8.95 4.33 0.60 .299 123 81 3.61 1.0 Jim Hughes
Dedgar Jimenez 585 6.09 3.60 1.11 .308 90 112 4.76 1.0 Wes Whisler
Steven Wright 363 6.42 3.48 1.20 .288 99 101 4.76 1.0 Diego Segui
Hector Velazquez 427 5.98 2.99 1.21 .304 96 104 4.76 0.9 Dallas Green
Justin Haley 477 6.31 3.11 1.18 .310 90 111 4.65 0.8 Bill Swift
Heath Hembree 249 10.28 3.38 1.23 .305 115 87 3.81 0.8 Jay Powell
Ryan Brasier 240 7.11 2.37 0.95 .291 116 86 3.83 0.8 Kent Tekulve
Carson Smith 126 10.20 3.30 0.60 .299 147 68 3.05 0.7 Danny Kolb
Mike Shawaryn 594 7.00 3.16 1.55 .303 85 118 5.07 0.6 Andy Taulbee
Colten Brewer 252 8.95 3.55 0.77 .307 111 90 3.61 0.6 Jose Rodriguez
Marcus Walden 293 6.14 3.82 0.68 .302 98 102 4.18 0.6 Ed Klieman
William Cuevas 566 6.86 3.71 1.36 .306 86 117 4.99 0.6 Jeremy Guthrie
Travis Lakins 281 7.22 4.19 1.01 .309 95 105 4.59 0.6 Tim Byron
Brandon Workman 263 8.01 3.26 1.19 .299 102 98 4.27 0.5 Kenny Greer
Bobby Poyner 267 7.51 2.31 1.30 .305 102 98 4.27 0.5 Chris Key
Fernando Rodriguez Jr. 225 8.54 3.83 1.22 .297 94 107 4.41 0.3 Don Aase
Robby Scott 230 8.77 3.96 1.20 .297 99 101 4.49 0.3 Scott Wiegandt
Darwinzon Hernandez 450 8.43 7.01 0.95 .303 83 120 5.17 0.3 Bryan Clark
Bryan Mata 335 6.06 7.77 0.53 .303 84 120 5.37 0.3 Rick Berg
Mark Montgomery 201 8.54 4.17 1.19 .302 97 104 4.50 0.2 Greg Bauer
Denyi Reyes 458 5.22 3.01 1.59 .296 80 125 5.56 0.2 Bob Tewksbury
Josh Taylor 264 7.41 4.47 0.93 .309 92 108 4.49 0.2 Philip Barzilla
Trevor Kelley 242 5.96 3.31 0.99 .305 92 109 4.53 0.1 Bob Miller
Matthew Gorst 282 5.97 3.13 1.42 .299 89 113 5.11 0.0 Rich DeLosSantos
Tyler Thornburg 206 7.96 4.47 1.36 .286 88 114 4.96 0.0 Craig McMurtry
Domingo Tapia 298 5.95 4.29 1.11 .307 83 120 5.04 0.0 Barry Hertzler
Tanner Houck 491 6.53 5.92 1.31 .306 76 132 5.73 -0.2 Randy Nosek
Teddy Stankiewicz 611 5.48 2.81 1.87 .310 74 135 5.75 -0.5 Cameron Reimers

Disclaimer: ZiPS projections are computer-based projections of performance. Performances have not been allocated to predicted playing time in the majors — many of the players listed above are unlikely to play in the majors at all in 2019. ZiPS is projecting equivalent production — a .240 ZiPS projection may end up being .280 in AAA or .300 in AA, for example. Whether or not a player will play is one of many non-statistical factors one has to take into account when predicting the future.

Players are listed with their most recent teams, unless I have made a mistake. This is very possible, as a lot of minor-league signings go generally unreported in the offseason.

ZiPS’ projections are based on the American League having a 4.29 ERA and the National League having a 4.15 ERA.

Players who are expected to be out due to injury are still projected. More information is always better than less information, and a computer isn’t the tool that should project the injury status of, for example, a pitcher who has had Tommy John surgery.

Both hitters and pitchers are ranked by projected zWAR — which is to say, WAR values as calculated by me, Dan Szymborski, whose surname is spelled with a z. WAR values might differ slightly from those which appear in full release of ZiPS. Finally, I will advise anyone against — and might karate chop anyone guilty of — merely adding up WAR totals on a depth chart to produce projected team WAR.


Elegy for ’18 – Colorado Rockies

Nolan Arenado was one of two MVP-candidate hitters on an otherwise sluggish Colorado offense.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

The Colorado Rockies beat the Chicago Cubs in the Wild Card game and almost toppled the reigning NL champion Dodgers in the West, but fell to the awesome power of Wade Miley and Jhoulys Chacin. Colorado was a solid team in 2018, but remained a bundle of confusing inconsistencies. Unlike many good Rockies teams, they figured out how to field a rotation that was little fazed by Planet Coors, only to have a shallow, unsteady offense prove to be their downfall.

The Setup

Coming off an 87-75 season, the team’s first winning season in seven years and first playoff appearance in eight, and with a few glaring holes, the opportunity existed for the Rockies to make an aggressive push to challenge the NL elites over the 2017-2018 offseason.

Instead, the team spent $106 million on three free agent relievers – Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw, and the returning Jake McGee. The bullpen was actually a strength for the team in 2017, finishing sixth in the majors in WAR among relievers; their 3.94 FIP was quite impressive for a team that played half their games at Coors Field. If you don’t buy into WAR for relievers, that 3.94 FIP was good enough for the team to rank sixth in the majors in FIP- and seventh in ERA-.

Now, it was reasonable to make bullpen additions, especially after 2017 All-Star Greg Holland, who ended up doing a poor job evaluating the market for his services, departed in free agency. It may have been necessary to make an addition even if they had kept Holland, of course, given his 6.38 second-half ERA (I wouldn’t fault the Rockies for Holland’s 2018 in this scenario, Jeff Bridich not being a Time Lord as far as I know).

What was unreasonable was what the Rockies did about the significant holes they had outside of the bullpen.

Namely? Next-to-nothing.

The team’s 90 OPS+ in 2017 was the 10th-worst in modern baseball history among teams that made the playoffs, though it has since been knocked down to 11th by the 2018 Rockies. Their 87-75 record, while a positive given the team’s recent history, felt a bit disappointing considering it took six above-average starters (German Marquel, Kyle Freeland, Tyler Chatwood, Antonio Senzatela, Jon Gray, and Tyler Anderson), a top-tier bullpen, and two legitimate MVP candidates on the offense just to get that point.

There’s a fair argument to be made that OPS+ and similar measures can underrate the Rockies. One longstanding explanation has been the Coors Field hangover theory, which has been demonstrated with mixed results over the last decade, and generally holds that Rockies hitters are hurt somewhat by the difference between Coors Field and the parks closer to sea level. The problem for the Rockies’ offense is that this effect has a limit; there isn’t enough wiggle room to make them anywhere near a 105 OPS+ team or something.

And furthermore, if Rockies hitters face a special disadvantage from playing at Coors that simply makes hitters worse overall in terms of their value, it doesn’t excuse the front office’s role in that underperformance; it means that they have to overengineer things when putting together an offense. It’s an aggravating factor for a crime of apathy, not a mitigating one.

The front office made exactly one move to improve the offense, bringing in Chris Iannetta, who hit .254/.354/.511 for the Diamondbacks in 2017; he’d turn 35 near the start of the 2018 season. And that was it.

Whether due to ignorance or incompetence, the front office ignored the fact that their 1B/LF/RF offensive triad were all at the bottom of the league in 2017. Despite the noise about giving Ryan McMahon and David Dahl real shots in spring training, Ian Desmond and the injured Gerardo Parra were given their jobs back on a silver platter, along with Carlos Gonzalez, who re-signed with the team in the middle of spring training.

The Projection

The ZiPS projections had the Rockies at 82-80 coming into the season, facing significant trouble behind the Dodgers from the Diamondbacks (a good call for 5/6th of the season) and the Giants (oops). ZiPS was very optimistic about the pitching staff, with Jon Gray, German Marquez, Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela, Tyler Anderson, a returning Chad Bettis, and even Jeff Hoffman all projected for an ERA+ of at least 96 for the season. But ZiPS only saw 1.0 combined WAR from the Trio of Sadness at 1B/LF/RF, and another blazing hot 0.7 WAR from Iannetta.

The Results

For a nine-win miss, ZiPS didn’t do too badly with the Rockies, getting the team’s essential contours right but missing on the magnitude of just how good the starting pitchers were. From a projected solid-and-deep mix of no. 2 and 3 starters came two stars in German Marquez and Kyle Freeland, the latter of whom was a legitimate Cy Young ballot contender (depending on your philosophy on FIP vs. ERA and related adjusted measures when it comes to evaluating past contributions).

The Rockies should get a ton of credit for their rotation, piecing together a group that received relatively little trouble from pitching half of their games in Coors Field, a feat that has frequently eluded the team over their existence. They’ve built good bullpens before — the mid 90s Rockies had a terrific group — but starting pitching was always a particular bedevilment.

Colorado Pitching Rotations, 1993-2018
Season ERA FIP WAR ERA-
2009 4.10 3.97 16.8 89
2018 4.17 4.07 15.0 90
2017 4.59 4.56 11.7 91
2010 4.21 3.83 16.3 92
2007 4.58 4.71 11.8 96
2006 4.72 4.50 14.9 96
2000 5.59 5.31 11.4 98
2016 4.79 4.39 11.6 99
1995 5.19 4.92 8.3 101
2013 4.57 4.11 11.0 104
2001 5.48 5.14 9.8 105
1997 5.48 5.25 7.4 106
1998 5.62 4.99 10.7 107
2011 4.73 4.46 8.4 108
2002 5.24 5.27 5.4 108
1996 5.68 5.42 6.1 109
2008 5.14 4.49 12.0 110
1994 5.30 4.72 6.4 111
1999 6.19 5.61 7.6 111
2003 5.57 5.16 7.2 113
2014 4.89 4.54 5.9 114
2005 5.30 4.83 8.2 114
2004 5.54 5.19 7.1 114
2015 5.27 4.87 4.3 117
1993 5.49 4.81 5.6 119
2012 5.81 5.14 2.6 126

Surprisingly, the bullpen turned out to be a bit of a disaster over the first half of the season. Davis wasn’t horrific, just mediocre, but Shaw and McGee were nearly unmitigated disasters; the three signed relievers combining to make $31 million in return for 171.1 innings of 5.41 ERA ball, which is…not…good. The second half of the season turned out to be sunnier and the addition of Seung-hwan Oh was one of the better trade pickups in baseball.

The offense was a rerun of the 2017 season. Once again, the team had two MVP candidates (with Charlie Blackmon swapped out for Trevor Story) and little production from the key offensive positions. The aforementioned Trio of Sadness, projected at 1.0 WAR, combined for 1.0 WAR, though with the odd wrinkly that they only got that high because of Carlos Gonzalez’s positive defense by UZR. David Dahl grudgingly got playing time at points when healthy, and Ryan McMahon was mostly relegated to the bench. Raimel Tapia appeared in 25 games but only started two of them, generally being used only as a pinch-hitter or pinch-runner.

Given a chance at a mulligan to address the offensive at the trade deadline, the Rockies made the big addition of…Matt Holliday, who received little interest in the offseason and spent his age-38 season out of professional baseball. Holliday did hit, but gave back almost as much value in defense, finishing at 0.1 WAR in his brief return. It’s notable how easily Holliday was handed playing time compared to the team’s young players, getting 65 plate appearances in his five weeks with little of the resistance McMahon or Tapia faced.

Despite the front office hinderance, the Rockies’ rotation and stars got them to 90 wins, a game shy of toppling the Dodgers in the division, and the playoffs, before an embarrassing NLDS sweep by the Brewers, only scoring two runs in three games.

What Comes Next

What’s frustrating about the Rockies is just how many of the tools they have for a great team, rather than a merely good one that wins 85-90 games for a few years. The player development part of the front office has done a terrific job, with almost the entire rotation coming from within; the lone exception is German Marquez, who was obtained from the Rays in the Corey Dickerson trade. The team’s three MVP-candidate position players the last two years (Blackmon, Arenado, and Story) are also farm system products. In the pen, Scott Oberg was homegrown and while Adam Ottavino wasn’t a Colorado product, the Rockies were the team that turned him into a top reliever after being a mediocre starting pitcher prospect claimed off waivers.

And the team has more talent coming. Brendan Rodgers should seize a job in the infield fairly quickly, and Tapia and McMahon, while not technically qualifying as prospects, really should be given their limited opportunities to shine thus far.

It’s at the major league level, however, the team is just not currently run all that well. But there’s still time; despite the problems, they did make the playoffs in consecutive seasons, and the team still has opportunities to add real difference-makers in offense. Why shouldn’t the Rockies be a player for Bryce Harper? I’d argue there’s no team in baseball that needs him more.

And changing how the team is run wouldn’t require a giant teardown and rebuild. It just requires properly evaluating the team’s offensive weaknesses, realizing that Ian Desmond is a sunk cost who should either be a role player or making the league minimum with another team after his release, and treating the team’s offensive prospects as potential contributors who can add value rather that as inconveniences for mediocre veterans. Keep the team, nix the front office.

ZiPS Projection – Nolan Arenado

One problem on the horizon for Colorado is the impending free agency of Nolan Arenado, the prize of their high-performing prospect pipeline. He’s Troy Tulowitzki without the injuries, a player still on the sunny side of 30 who could very possibly have Hall of Fame career, especially if the BBWAA becomes better at evaluating mid-spectrum players.

ZiPS Projections – Nolan Arenado
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2019 .289 .356 .552 589 100 170 39 4 36 118 63 118 2 123 9 4.5
2020 .288 .356 .552 562 94 162 39 5 33 111 60 110 2 123 8 4.2
2021 .288 .355 .550 545 90 157 37 5 32 107 57 104 2 122 7 4.0
2022 .286 .352 .537 525 84 150 35 5 29 99 54 98 2 119 7 3.6
2023 .279 .344 .512 502 77 140 32 5 25 90 50 91 2 111 6 2.8
2024 .274 .336 .487 478 70 131 28 4 22 81 45 82 2 103 5 2.1

ZiPS suggests a five-year, $143 million extension for Arenado if signed today. While he’s likely not the type of player who should be signed to an eight-to-ten-year extension, as he’s not hitting the free agent market at as young an age as Manny Machado or Bryce Harper are, he’s a player the Rockies can’t easily replace, and has deserved his MVP consideration the last two seasons.


2019 ZiPS Projections – Atlanta Braves

After having typically appeared in the hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have now been released at FanGraphs for more than half a decade. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Atlanta Braves.

Batters
Sure, you can buy an All-Star, but making one of your own is so much more satisfying. After years of rebuilding, in which Freddie Freeman stood mostly alone in the offense, the Braves added Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña, both legitimate stars who will be with the Braves well into the 2020s. Josh Donaldson was just about the perfect addition to the team — after all, you can pay almost anything for a one-year contract without singeing your fingers too badly. Sure, there’s risk with the former AL MVP given his age and recent injury history, but he won’t block Austin Riley and the Braves have the perfect Plan B in Johan Camargo, who may very well be a super-sub type for the team in 2019. Absent Atlanta giving a whole lot of money to Bryce Harper to possibly become the NL favorite, I’d personally prefer they just plunk Camargo out in left and not worry about Adam Duvall, whose limited window as a legitimate starter has likely closed. No doubt some will bemoan the loss of Nick Markakis, but the team was right to ride his first half heroics and move on after his .701 OPS second-half.

Pitchers
Let’s get the very minor bad news out of the way: ZiPS doesn’t see any of the Braves’ starting pitchers as likely to match up against a deGrom or a Kershaw or a Scherzer, not even Foltynewicz. But that’s very minor bad news, because even if no individual pitcher has better than a coin flip’s chance of being a star in 2019, the Braves’ enviable young depth can help them compensate for their lack of a true staff ace. The Braves are playing Plinko on The Price is Right, only Drew Carey gave them a hundred of those little disks. ZiPS actually projects the 11th-to-15th best starting pitchers in the organization (Max Fried, Joey Wentz, Wes Parsons, Ian Anderson, and Kyle Muller) to not be that far from league average, which is a filthy, disgusting horde of pitching to have if the projections prove true. In fact, The Braves may find themselves in the odd position of having too much pitching to sort through in Triple-A. A few will end up in the bullpen, of course, but Atlanta can go into the next few trade deadlines and offseasons with enough interesting pieces to make a competitive offer for any player another team is willing to trade.

Bench and Prospects
The offensive prospects aren’t quite as strong, but Riley looks like he’ll be a legit major leaguer in the not-too-distant future and Christian Pache has tremendous upside; the Braves would surely be happy if he matched the on-field contributions of his number one comp. The only real concern I have here is with the dearth of the kind of position player reinforcements that most teams try to stock at Triple-A, but there’s still plenty of time for Atlanta to get those minor-league signings in. Veterans like Lane Adams, Preston Tucker, or Xavier Avery, while unlikely to move the needle too far, are still handy to have around in a “break-glass-in-case-of-emergency” situation. I’d also like to see another arm or two in the bullpen; players like Sam Freeman are hardly bad pitchers, but the Braves are a legitimate contender, and I think they’re only a couple of lucky breaks with the pitching staff away from being in the conversation for the best team in the National League.

One pedantic note for 2019: for the WAR graphic, I’m using FanGraphs’ depth chart playing time, not the playing time ZiPS spits out, so there will be occasional differences in WAR totals.

Ballpark graphic courtesy Eephus League. Depth charts constructed by way of those listed here at site.

Batters – Counting Stats
Player B Age PO G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Freddie Freeman L 29 1B 149 552 89 164 39 3 26 90 78 127 8 3
Ozzie Albies B 22 2B 156 634 101 172 36 7 22 78 41 118 17 3
Ronald Acuña R 21 LF 140 550 88 152 29 5 30 81 54 165 25 11
Josh Donaldson R 33 3B 107 397 69 106 22 2 23 68 65 100 4 1
Ender Inciarte L 28 CF 153 609 87 173 28 6 9 54 45 86 23 12
Johan Camargo R 25 3B 143 491 62 128 30 3 16 68 42 117 1 1
Dansby Swanson R 25 SS 140 508 61 123 27 5 12 62 52 130 9 3
Austin Riley R 22 3B 123 472 61 116 23 3 19 64 36 155 1 1
Nick Markakis L 35 RF 144 553 64 153 33 1 9 72 60 85 1 1
Tyler Flowers R 33 C 87 273 28 64 12 0 8 35 28 84 0 0
Lucas Duda L 33 1B 103 339 39 77 18 0 18 56 38 112 1 0
Brian McCann L 35 C 89 298 37 69 9 1 11 45 32 63 0 1
Adam Duvall R 30 LF 139 473 60 110 27 2 20 82 34 134 4 3
Rio Ruiz L 25 3B 146 513 61 121 26 3 12 59 47 132 2 2
Cristian Pache R 20 CF 128 505 45 125 17 6 9 38 24 140 9 10
Charlie Culberson R 30 LF 111 330 38 79 16 2 8 36 19 84 4 3
Danny Santana B 28 CF 103 325 41 77 18 4 9 38 14 89 12 6
Rene Rivera R 35 C 61 173 14 38 7 0 6 24 10 58 0 0
Lane Adams R 29 CF 110 314 37 66 13 2 8 33 26 117 18 4
Ryan Flaherty L 32 3B 75 179 20 38 7 1 3 16 19 50 3 1
Pedro Florimon B 32 SS 100 267 30 55 11 3 5 25 22 100 5 3
Jonathan Morales R 24 C 93 321 30 70 13 1 3 26 16 60 1 3
Ryan LaMarre R 30 CF 89 266 26 60 12 1 4 23 17 88 6 3
Raffy Lopez L 31 C 83 265 30 57 11 1 8 35 24 93 1 0
Alex Jackson R 23 C 101 361 41 73 19 2 12 42 27 136 0 0
Tyler Marlette R 26 C 111 406 45 88 19 2 11 44 31 122 3 2
Preston Tucker L 28 LF 121 364 44 85 19 2 13 48 30 89 1 1
Phil Gosselin R 30 2B 112 303 34 70 15 2 4 26 22 71 1 2
Sean Kazmar R 34 SS 93 333 31 79 15 2 4 28 11 46 2 2
Travis Demeritte R 24 LF 125 451 55 90 20 5 16 51 47 183 5 4
Xavier Avery L 29 RF 95 309 37 64 13 2 8 29 36 135 10 5
Luis Marte R 25 SS 114 425 37 97 16 2 6 33 8 92 9 4
Carlos Franco R 27 1B 122 439 49 91 18 1 15 53 42 176 1 2
Ray-Patrick Didder R 24 SS 125 432 47 82 11 6 5 32 37 161 19 9

Batters – Rate Stats
Player BA OBP SLG OPS+ ISO BABIP RC/27 Def WAR No. 1 Comp
Freddie Freeman .297 .389 .520 142 .223 .346 7.8 4 4.9 Will Clark
Ozzie Albies .271 .319 .454 104 .183 .304 5.6 9 4.3 Zoilo Versalles
Ronald Acuña .276 .344 .511 126 .235 .344 6.6 5 4.0 Frank Robinson
Josh Donaldson .267 .373 .506 133 .239 .303 7.0 2 3.9 Chipper Jones
Ender Inciarte .284 .335 .394 95 .110 .319 5.0 9 3.0 Del Unser
Johan Camargo .261 .322 .432 100 .171 .313 5.1 2 2.2 Kevin Kouzmanoff
Dansby Swanson .242 .313 .386 87 .144 .303 4.4 5 1.8 Glenn Hubbard
Austin Riley .246 .304 .428 94 .182 .326 4.6 2 1.7 Brook Jacoby
Nick Markakis .277 .348 .389 98 .112 .314 5.0 -2 1.0 Keith Hernandez
Tyler Flowers .234 .328 .366 87 .132 .309 4.2 -1 1.0 Tom Wilson
Lucas Duda .227 .315 .440 100 .212 .282 4.9 0 0.8 Graham Koonce
Brian McCann .232 .318 .379 86 .148 .259 4.2 -3 0.7 Dave Valle
Adam Duvall .233 .289 .425 88 .192 .282 4.3 3 0.7 Peter Camelo
Rio Ruiz .236 .300 .368 78 .133 .295 3.9 0 0.5 Casey Webster
Cristian Pache .248 .281 .358 70 .111 .326 3.4 6 0.3 Milton Bradley
Charlie Culberson .239 .284 .373 75 .133 .298 3.7 7 0.3 Marlin McPhail
Danny Santana .237 .270 .400 77 .163 .300 3.8 0 0.2 Randy Kutcher
Rene Rivera .220 .273 .364 69 .145 .294 3.4 0 0.2 Shawn Wooten
Lane Adams .210 .275 .341 64 .131 .307 3.5 1 0.1 Mark Doran
Ryan Flaherty .212 .294 .313 63 .101 .278 3.2 2 0.0 Rabbit Warstler
Pedro Florimon .206 .270 .326 59 .120 .309 2.9 2 -0.1 Kevin Stocker
Jonathan Morales .218 .262 .293 49 .075 .260 2.5 6 -0.1 Rogelio Arias
Ryan LaMarre .226 .279 .323 62 .098 .322 3.1 2 -0.1 Charles Thomas
Raffy Lopez .215 .280 .355 69 .140 .299 3.5 -3 -0.2 Chad Moeller
Alex Jackson .202 .271 .366 69 .163 .286 3.4 -5 -0.3 Todd Pratt
Tyler Marlette .217 .275 .355 68 .138 .282 3.3 -6 -0.3 Blake Barthol
Preston Tucker .234 .295 .404 85 .170 .275 4.2 -6 -0.4 Brad Bierley
Phil Gosselin .231 .284 .333 65 .102 .289 3.2 -2 -0.4 Rodney Nye
Sean Kazmar .237 .268 .330 60 .093 .265 3.1 -2 -0.5 Neifi Perez
Travis Demeritte .200 .276 .373 72 .173 .294 3.4 0 -0.6 James Sherrill
Xavier Avery .207 .290 .340 69 .133 .337 3.4 -1 -0.6 Damon Mashore
Luis Marte .228 .245 .318 50 .089 .278 2.7 2 -0.8 Tony Rodriguez
Carlos Franco .207 .277 .355 68 .148 .306 3.3 1 -0.9 Matt Padgett
Ray-Patrick Didder .190 .277 .278 50 .088 .289 2.6 -7 -1.4 Jose Castro

Pitchers – Counting Stats
Player T Age W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO
Kevin Gausman R 28 11 9 3.94 30 30 173.7 171 76 22 50 153
Mike Foltynewicz R 27 12 10 3.93 30 30 167.3 153 73 21 63 172
Sean Newcomb L 26 11 9 4.28 30 29 153.7 137 73 19 73 150
Touki Toussaint R 23 10 9 4.17 30 29 153.3 142 71 15 83 156
Mike Soroka R 21 7 5 3.56 19 19 101.0 100 40 9 27 83
Bryse Wilson R 21 8 7 4.16 28 25 127.7 127 59 15 49 119
Julio Teheran R 28 9 9 4.54 30 30 164.7 152 83 27 70 143
Kyle Wright R 23 9 9 4.39 32 25 137.3 140 67 14 65 115
Luiz Gohara L 22 6 5 4.28 26 20 103.0 100 49 13 40 100
Kolby Allard L 21 7 7 4.37 25 23 125.7 135 61 14 48 96
Brad Brach R 33 4 3 3.41 63 0 63.3 54 24 5 26 65
Dan Winkler R 29 2 1 3.09 64 0 55.3 48 19 4 19 61
A.J. Minter L 25 4 2 3.30 61 0 57.3 50 21 5 22 65
Max Fried L 25 7 7 4.37 29 22 111.3 105 54 12 63 111
Joey Wentz L 21 5 4 4.19 21 21 86.0 83 40 6 48 74
Anibal Sanchez R 35 6 7 4.66 25 22 119.7 119 62 21 40 117
Wes Parsons R 26 6 6 4.47 25 18 106.7 111 53 13 42 84
Luke Jackson R 27 3 2 3.62 49 2 64.7 57 26 4 35 69
Ian Anderson R 21 5 5 4.61 21 21 105.3 105 54 14 53 96
Darren O’Day R 36 2 1 3.16 40 0 37.0 29 13 4 13 45
Corbin Clouse L 24 5 4 3.84 46 2 61.0 53 26 4 37 67
Arodys Vizcaino R 28 3 2 3.50 47 0 43.7 37 17 4 19 47
Thomas Burrows L 24 5 4 3.88 46 0 65.0 55 28 3 47 70
Brandon McCarthy R 35 4 5 4.54 16 14 75.3 84 38 12 21 56
Miguel Socolovich R 32 5 4 3.98 40 2 54.3 54 24 6 16 47
Shane Carle R 27 3 3 4.06 57 0 64.3 65 29 6 25 46
Sam Freeman L 32 4 3 4.10 59 0 52.7 46 24 4 35 56
Jesse Biddle L 27 4 3 4.19 58 0 62.3 58 29 7 31 62
Jason Hursh R 27 4 4 4.27 52 1 65.3 65 31 4 37 50
Grant Dayton L 31 2 2 3.82 34 0 35.3 31 15 5 13 41
Chad Bell L 30 4 5 4.94 32 9 82.0 88 45 12 35 69
Fernando Salas R 34 4 4 4.35 53 0 51.7 53 25 8 16 47
Chad Sobotka R 25 4 4 4.31 54 0 62.7 54 30 6 44 70
Peter Moylan R 40 1 1 4.00 47 0 36.0 34 16 3 16 31
Kyle Muller L 21 6 7 5.10 23 23 113.0 122 64 16 58 89
Chase Whitley R 30 2 2 4.71 25 3 42.0 44 22 7 13 33
Josh Ravin R 31 2 2 4.18 29 0 32.3 26 15 4 19 42
Aaron Blair R 27 7 9 5.18 25 25 125.0 129 72 18 65 104
Jonny Venters L 34 3 3 4.35 45 0 31.0 29 15 2 21 26
Jose Al. Ramirez R 29 3 3 4.72 53 0 53.3 49 28 7 32 53
David Peterson R 29 2 2 4.70 35 0 46.0 51 24 5 17 26
Michael Mader L 25 5 7 5.36 31 16 95.7 104 57 13 60 70
Jacob Webb R 25 3 4 4.97 50 0 54.3 50 30 8 36 61
Patrick Weigel R 24 2 3 5.57 13 12 51.7 57 32 9 28 38
Rex Brothers L 31 4 5 5.23 48 0 41.3 35 24 3 44 50
Huascar Ynoa R 21 8 11 5.53 23 23 99.3 103 61 13 75 89
Josh Graham R 25 5 7 5.68 46 0 58.7 60 37 9 44 54

Pitchers – Rate Stats
Player TBF K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA+ ERA- FIP WAR No. 1 Comp
Kevin Gausman 734 7.93 2.59 1.14 .296 109 92 3.98 2.9 Jake Westbrook
Mike Foltynewicz 715 9.25 3.39 1.13 .293 106 94 4.00 2.5 Ramon Martinez
Sean Newcomb 661 8.79 4.28 1.11 .282 101 99 4.25 2.0 Vinegar Bend Mizell
Touki Toussaint 683 9.16 4.87 0.88 .302 100 100 4.17 2.0 Dick Ruthven
Mike Soroka 427 7.40 2.41 0.80 .299 117 86 3.59 1.9 Early Wynn
Bryse Wilson 557 8.39 3.45 1.06 .305 100 100 4.13 1.6 Mike LaCoss
Julio Teheran 712 7.82 3.83 1.48 .269 92 109 4.97 1.4 Al Nipper
Kyle Wright 614 7.54 4.26 0.92 .305 95 105 4.37 1.4 Charlie Haeger
Luiz Gohara 447 8.74 3.50 1.14 .301 100 100 4.16 1.3 Tom McGraw
Kolby Allard 557 6.88 3.44 1.00 .309 95 105 4.38 1.3 Jeff Mutis
Brad Brach 266 9.24 3.69 0.71 .288 126 79 3.36 1.2 Jim Hughes
Dan Winkler 233 9.92 3.09 0.65 .303 135 74 3.13 1.1 Heathcliff Slocumb
A.J. Minter 242 10.20 3.45 0.78 .304 131 77 3.27 1.1 Shane Rawley
Max Fried 501 8.97 5.09 0.97 .302 95 105 4.44 1.1 Ken Chase
Joey Wentz 388 7.74 5.02 0.63 .302 100 100 4.18 1.1 Jerry Reuss
Anibal Sanchez 513 8.80 3.01 1.58 .295 92 108 4.55 1.0 Rick Helling
Wes Parsons 471 7.09 3.54 1.10 .301 93 107 4.51 1.0 Bill Swift
Luke Jackson 286 9.60 4.87 0.56 .305 119 84 3.63 1.0 Clay Bryant
Ian Anderson 474 8.20 4.53 1.20 .299 90 111 4.76 0.8 Matt Clement
Darren O’Day 154 10.95 3.16 0.97 .281 136 73 3.42 0.8 Curt Leskanic
Corbin Clouse 272 9.89 5.46 0.59 .304 109 92 3.77 0.7 Grant Jackson
Arodys Vizcaino 185 9.69 3.92 0.82 .289 119 84 3.56 0.7 John Riedling
Thomas Burrows 297 9.69 6.51 0.42 .301 108 93 3.95 0.6 Luke Walker
Brandon McCarthy 327 6.69 2.51 1.43 .305 92 109 4.65 0.6 Flint Rhem
Miguel Socolovich 231 7.79 2.65 0.99 .300 105 95 3.85 0.5 Bobby Tiefenauer
Shane Carle 281 6.44 3.50 0.84 .294 103 97 4.24 0.5 Stan Thomas
Sam Freeman 239 9.57 5.98 0.68 .298 105 95 4.18 0.5 Marshall Bridges
Jesse Biddle 275 8.95 4.48 1.01 .297 100 100 4.26 0.4 Marcelino Lopez
Jason Hursh 297 6.89 5.10 0.55 .302 98 102 4.30 0.4 Hal Reniff
Grant Dayton 149 10.44 3.31 1.27 .292 109 92 3.86 0.4 Jim Poole
Chad Bell 367 7.57 3.84 1.32 .308 87 115 4.80 0.3 Trever Miller
Fernando Salas 221 8.19 2.79 1.39 .302 99 101 4.33 0.3 A.J. Sager
Chad Sobotka 285 10.05 6.32 0.86 .296 97 103 4.41 0.3 Clay Bryant
Peter Moylan 157 7.75 4.00 0.75 .295 104 96 4.01 0.3 Ted Abernathy
Kyle Muller 518 7.09 4.62 1.27 .305 82 122 5.14 0.3 Mike Wodnicki
Chase Whitley 182 7.07 2.79 1.50 .291 91 110 4.82 0.2 Nate Snell
Josh Ravin 142 11.69 5.29 1.11 .293 100 100 4.11 0.2 Dwayne Henry
Aaron Blair 567 7.49 4.68 1.30 .298 80 124 5.09 0.2 Elvin Nina
Jonny Venters 142 7.55 6.10 0.58 .293 96 104 4.44 0.1 Marshall Bridges
Jose Al. Ramirez 242 8.94 5.40 1.18 .290 91 110 4.95 0.1 Jake Robbins
David Peterson 204 5.09 3.33 0.98 .299 89 113 4.67 0.0 Jim Todd
Michael Mader 450 6.59 5.64 1.22 .302 78 129 5.52 -0.1 Chris Short
Jacob Webb 249 10.10 5.96 1.33 .298 84 119 4.97 -0.1 Marc Pisciotta
Patrick Weigel 239 6.62 4.88 1.57 .298 75 134 5.74 -0.1 Jake Joseph
Rex Brothers 202 10.89 9.58 0.65 .311 80 125 5.01 -0.2 Arnold Earley
Huascar Ynoa 476 8.06 6.80 1.18 .308 75 133 5.54 -0.2 Randy Nosek
Josh Graham 280 8.28 6.75 1.38 .302 73 136 5.76 -0.6 Darin Moore

Disclaimer: ZiPS projections are computer-based projections of performance. Performances have not been allocated to predicted playing time in the majors — many of the players listed above are unlikely to play in the majors at all in 2019. ZiPS is projecting equivalent production — a .240 ZiPS projection may end up being .280 in AAA or .300 in AA, for example. Whether or not a player will play is one of many non-statistical factors one has to take into account when predicting the future.

Players are listed with their most recent teams, unless I have made a mistake. This is very possible, as a lot of minor-league signings go generally unreported in the offseason.

ZiPS’ projections are based on the American League having a 4.29 ERA and the National League having a 4.15 ERA.

Players who are expected to be out due to injury are still projected. More information is always better than less information, and a computer isn’t the tool that should project the injury status of, for example, a pitcher who has had Tommy John surgery.

Both hitters and pitchers are ranked by projected zWAR — which is to say, WAR values as calculated by me, Dan Szymborski, whose surname is spelled with a z. WAR values might differ slightly from those which appear in full release of ZiPS. Finally, I will advise anyone against — and might karate chop anyone guilty of — merely adding up WAR totals on a depth chart to produce projected team WAR.


2019 ZiPS Projections – Cleveland Indians

After having typically appeared in the hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have now been released at FanGraphs for more than half a decade. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Cleveland Indians.

Batters
Mind the gap! One wouldn’t think of the Colorado Rockies and Cleveland Indians as having similar front offices or philosophies, but they ended up in a similar place when it came to their offenses, with each boasting a of couple MVP-types who carried a disproportionately large portion of the load. Now, the Indians don’t have a replacement level Ian Desmond in the lineup, and the lesser lights don’t cost quite as much, but it still leaves Cleveland with a fairly unbalanced offense. The outfield is the biggest problem, with Michael Brantley, who did not receive a qualifying offer, still possessing the third-best batter projection on the team. While Cleveland’s still good enough otherwise that they can win the Central without much of a struggle — even if they trade a starting pitcher and go into the season with their existing outfield — it’s not ideal.

Pitchers
ZiPS really, really likes Shane Bieber. It likes him to such a degree that when I saw the nearly four-WAR projection, I fired up his profile page and checked the Steamer projection to make sure I hadn’t accidentally broken something. Like the time I initially projected Jose Molina to have a 1.200 batting average. I talked more about this in Cleveland’s Elegy for ’18 just a few days ago, but it’s understandable why the Indians are willing to talk pitcher trades. The team is still hopeful about Danny Salazar and while I can’t get in their brains, I suspect they feel the difference between Danny Salazar (or the other fallback options) and Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer is smaller than the difference between nothing and the prospects they could get in return. While I would’ve preferred the team to at least give Brantley a qualifying offer and pinch pennies a few years down the road, one can at least understand their thinking.
Read the rest of this entry »


Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 12/3/18

12:02
Dan Szymborski: There are civil defense sirens going off, so either it’s noon on the first Monday or I’m going to die soon. Let’s find out which!

12:02
MrMet33: Any update on ZiPS release schedule for 2019 projections?

12:03
Dan Szymborski: Starting tomorrow! Since I’ll be able to do more a week for FG as I’m now full-time here, we should end around the same time.

12:03
Jay: What should the Padres do with Wil Myers, Hunter Renfroe, Franchy, and Franmil?

12:05
Hunt for for 28: The return for Segura seems pretty weak to me.. plus taking on Santana?? I don’t get it

12:05
Dan Szymborski: Honestly, I think you have to trade Myers. With Hosmer at first for no particular reason

Read the rest of this entry »


Elegy for ’18 – Cleveland Indians

No matter what retooling the Indians do in 2019, Francisco Lindor is a franchise mainstay
(Photo: Erik Drost)

Coming off three consecutive division wins and a World Series appearance that fell short of the championship by a single run, this offseason has started differently, with the Indians talking about trading a piece or two from their core. In a weak division with two teams rebuilding, a third team with some big holes left to fill, and a fourth trying to rebuild without rebuilding, can the Indians still maintain their hold on the AL Central for the time being?

The Setup

In the last quarter-century, the Cleveland Indians have gone through a significant generational change: the franchise is no longer defined by ineptitude. As losers go, it was the Cubs that got the “lovable” label; Cleveland’s forays into last place felt more sad than anything else. The John Hart era changed all this and after more than 40 years without a playoff spot — indeed, without even a finish above fourth place during the divisional era — Cleveland won the Central in six of seven years, starting in 1995. Cleveland has had two other periods of success since, each with different player cores, and the latest one finds the team at the forefront of sabermetric thought.

The end of Cleveland’s 2017 season was a frustrating one. The Indians won 102 games, the most in the American League and behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers overall. It was a team that was built for playoff success, with dangerous arms at the top of the rotation and bullpen. After the aforementioned World Series appearance the previous season, it was a bit humiliating to exit October in a backdoor sweep, losing a 2-0 series lead over the Yankees on seven unearned runs in the final two games and a team offense that only hit .171/.263/.287.

Baseball losses don’t necessarily teach you a lesson — even the 2018 Orioles dealt better teams 47 losses this season past season — and it was a good thing the organization didn’t panic and decide they lost the ALDS to the Yankees due to some fatal construction flaw.

But maintaining a core can be expensive. Cleveland lost seven players in free agency after the 2017 season (Carlos Santana, Bryan Shaw, Jay Bruce, Austin Jackson, Joe Smith, Boone Logan, Craig Breslow) to contracts totaling $150 million, and while only Santana and perhaps Shaw had been key long-term pieces for the team, the departures constituted some real value lost.

Read the rest of this entry »


Mariners and White Sox Swap Former Tampa Bay Rays

While waiting for the main course of a possible Robinson Canó trade, Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto temporarily sated his trade-based appetites by sending relief pitcher Alex Colomé to the White Sox for catcher Omar Narváez.

For the White Sox, this trade, coupled with the rumors of the team’s real interest in some of this year’s top free agents, may imply something about when they see their competitive window opening.

Narváez was essentially the default option for the White Sox after the suprise 80-game suspension of Welington Castillo, stemming from his positive test for high levels of erythropoietin. A former Rule 5 pick from the Tampa Bay Rays, Narváez had been generally considered a defense-first catcher, well off the top prospect lists. But he could get on-base a bit, sort of like another former White Sox prospect, Mark Johnson, enough to make him mildly interesting and he was promoted quickly given that the catchers of interest in the organization were generally behind him chronologically. Narváez proved better than expected, and hit .275/.366/.429 for the White Sox, good for 2.1 WAR in just 322 plate appearances, which created an interesting dilemma for the team.

Preliminary ZiPS Projection, Omar Narváez
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2019 .255 .332 .366 290 30 74 11 0 7 25 33 58 0 94 -4 1.0
2020 .255 .335 .371 275 29 70 11 0 7 24 33 57 0 97 -5 0.9
2021 .252 .337 .359 270 28 68 11 0 6 24 34 56 0 94 -6 0.7
2022 .250 .332 .356 264 27 66 10 0 6 23 32 53 0 92 -7 0.5

In the short-term, the White Sox had already invested in Castillo; in the longer-term, Narváez would have considerable pressure from the farm in the form of Zack Collins and Seby Zavala, neither of whom the team has thrown in the towel on as a catcher. Sure, you can keep Narváez around as a defensive caddy or a fallback if neither prospect ends up at catcher in the majors, but is that the best use of a resource? Narváez’s season makes him interesting for a rebuilding team at an earlier stage in the process, like the Mariners, who can afford to give him the at-bats needed to prove 2018’s improvement wasn’t a fluke.

Chicago’s bullpen is very thin at the moment after Nate Jones and Jace Fry, and with them having enough young talent that they could catch lightning in a bottle and compete in 2019 and 2020 (especially in the latter year), a pickup like Colomé for a catcher you might not be able to use as much as is ideal makes for an interesting swap. Colomé’s not an elite reliever, simply a solid one, and I don’t believe that there were any better prospects forthcoming given that the trade that originally brought him to the Mariners only fetched Tommy Romero and Andrew Moore. Even that trade needed Denard Span to make it happen. And if the White Sox don’t compete in either of the next two seasons, it’s an organization that has shown little reluctance to re-gift a relief pitcher.

Preliminary ZiPS Projection, Alex Colomé
Year W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2019 6 4 3.41 64 0 63.3 56 24 6 19 66 126 1.4
2020 5 3 3.39 62 0 61.0 54 23 6 19 64 127 1.3

The Mariners are clearly entering a rebuilding phase, so they have time to take a long look at Narváez. One thing I ride rebuilding teams for is when they don’t utilize roster spots to learn something useful about players, and there are things to learn when it comes to Narváez. In addition to assessing whether his 2018 122 wRC+ represents skill at the plate that’s here to stay, there are concerns about his defense; by Baseball Prospectus’ catcher defense metrics, he was worth -10.8 framing runs in 2018, after a 2017 that was almost as poor. Figuring out what Seattle has while they have time, before the wins matter as much again, is useful. David Freitas isn’t going to be the catcher when the Mariners are good again, and neither will some stopgap veteran signed to fill out the lineup for a year. If Narváez is good, the Mariners get three additional seasons of him after this one; if Jonathan Lucroy or Nick Hundley or Matt Wieters are good, they just get better paid in next year’s one-year contracts. Either way, it’s going to be a few years before finding playing time for Cal Raleigh, drafted in 2018, theoretically becomes a need.


Elegy for ’18 – Oakland Athletics

The A’s outperformed their projections despite a rotation that lost key pieces to injury.
(Photo: DR. Buddie)

The Red Sox may have won the World Series, but in many ways, it was the Oakland Athletics that were baseball’s hot summer jam. Winning 97 games, the most since the heady Moneyball days of yore, Oakland returned to the penthouse from the outhouse. And quite literally, given that the 2018 version featured stories of a possible privately financed new ballpark rather than tales of raw sewage befouling the clubhouse. No, their…stuff…doesn’t yet work in the playoffs, but getting there is half the battle.

The Setup

The A’s were largely a victim of their own success, with their stathead shenanigans and a movie in which their GM was played by an A-list actor helping to usher in a new era in baseball, one in which every team in baseball has embraced modernity to at least some extent.

Much of the praise Oakland received 15 years ago had to do with a front office that was largely playing in a world in which many of their opponents didn’t know all the rules. Once the people you’re playing Monopoly with realize that they too can build houses and hotels on properties, things get a lot harder.

Baseball got a lot smarter and the A’s saw their edge harder to maintain. It’s one thing to be smart while the other guy is rich, but what happens when the rich teams are also smart?

Times have been lean in Oakland since the frustrating finish to the 2014 season, when the team lost ten games to the Angels over a two-week period in late summer, falling from a first-place battle to nearly missing the playoffs entirely.

The A’s have generally been content to just survive on a yearly basis, holding their head safely above baseball’s true pits of despair, but never keeping together enough of a core to win consistently. The front office is far from incompetent and has continued to cleverly acquire under-appreciated talent like Blake Treinen and Khris Davis, even if it’s frequently more expensive to do so than it used to be.

Read the rest of this entry »


Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 11/26/18

11:59
Dan Szymborski: Noonish: A time for chats, chatting and chaterations.

12:01
Darragh: Russell Martin for Jason Vargas and/or Anthony Swarzak? Is this close to being plausible for both teams?

12:01
Dan Szymborski: Meh, not really interested in that return from the Blue Jays side.

12:02
Dan Szymborski: If you’re not getting a more interesting piece in return, I’d rather just keep Martin around as the veteran backup to Jansen

12:02
Pog: Can we assume that players not on the trade value list have less than the ~$40M that the guys at the back of the list do?

12:02
Dan Szymborski: That would be a good assumption!

Read the rest of this entry »


Elegy for ’18 – Chicago Cubs

Kris Bryant’s injury-marred 2018 contributed to a 95-win Cubs season that managed to somehow disappoint.
(Photo: Minda Haas Kuhlmann)

Some may say it was choking. Some may say it’s a new curse. Some may even say it was due to only scoring two runs in 22 innings of two must-win games against the Brewers and Rockies. However it happened, the Cubs were the first team dispatched of the ten playoff teams, baseball’s answer to the point-of-view character in the first chapter of a George RR Martin book.

The Setup

This may be a bit of obscure trivia, but the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in 2016, a matchup against the Cleveland Indians that determined which team could waste enough cheap beer to fill a very disappointing swimming pool.

Following up on a World Series championship is always a bit of a tricky problem to approach for a team. Since new seasons start every year–a very fortunate fact for those of us employed as baseball writers–there’s no final happy ending in which everyone walks off into the sunset. Even championship teams have difficult decisions to make, often centered around how much you’re willing to tinker with a winning roster while also keeping the team’s core more-or-less together.

Read the rest of this entry »


Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 11/19/18

12:00
Dan Szymborski: GOBBLE GOBBLE

12:01
ChiSox2020: If White Sox don’t get Machado or Harper, should they pursue Grandal? How much should the loss of a 2nd round pick factor into any FA signings?

12:02
Dan Szymborski: Honestly, I think the White Sox should be in a go big or go home mindset. Unless they get players who are build-arounds that will be around for the rest of the rebuilding process, I think they should mostly chase deals. Those mid-market FAs are better fits for the actually competitive teams.

12:02
Tony Kemp is religion: Would you ever make your long-term forecasts available? I’m sure a lot of people (including myself!) would pay a small sum to access them. Free is also OK! I really want to see Soto’s long-term forecasts with “really really big numbers!”

12:03
Dan Szymborski: I’m a bit of a data hoarder. You’ll start to see more things come out at FG, but still figuring out what’s best to make public and what’s best to greedily save for articles and such.

12:03
Jackson C.: Mondays start to get a bit depressing for me as winter approaches. Any tips for remaining sane in this cold, baseball-less time?

Read the rest of this entry »


Elegy for ’18 – St. Louis Cardinals

Matt Carpenter was often a bright spot in an otherwise mediocre Cardinals offense.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

For all the ups and downs of St. Louis’ 2018 season, the team finished with an 88-74 record, fully in that 85-90 win-window that forms the team’s bog-standard result. The Cardinals made it interesting over the summer after the merciful guillotining of manager Mike Matheny, but a bleak September left them a distant third in the NL Central.

The Setup

Some teams are wild gamblers, throwing caution and giant wads of money to the wind, hoping to end up as either spectacular successes or failures that are quickly forgotten as attentions shift to the next crazy scheme. The St. Louis Cardinals stand in opposition to that. They are the safe, sensible team that reminds you on nickel-shots night that you have work tomorrow and really should stop for the evening because the chair you’re talking to isn’t actually W.C. Fields.

St. Louis builds from within, signs reasonable players to reasonable contracts, and when a beloved franchise player hits free agency, won’t spend exorbitantly to chase crazy bids. Even Albert Pujols, the team’s soul for a decade, was allowed to move on when the numbers got too uncomfortably high.

That’s not to say the Cardinals don’t make moves, but rather, that they make reasonable ones. Marcell Ozuna, coming off a .312/.376/.548 breakout campaign with the Marlins, was the team’s big offseason pickup, one that didn’t demand the team’s crown jewels. And with Ozuna in tow, giving the Cardinals an easy Ozuna-Tommy PhamDexter Fowler outfield rather than the juggling act of recent years, the team felt comfortable enough to trade Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk to claw back some of the value given to the Marlins.

Another quiet move was the signing of former Padres relief prospect Miles Mikolas to a two-year, $15.5 million contract after he was reinvented as a harder-throwing Bob Tewksbury for the Yomiuri Giants. It was another sensible move compared to the prospect of overpaying for one of the multitude of third-tier starters otherwise found in a weak free agent market.

For a smart, well-run team with a knack for punching above their market size, there was always a worry on the horizon stemming from the team’s longtime rival, the Chicago Cubs. Being safe and sensible was a better playbook when the Cubs were in their Jim Hendry years or during the long rebuilding phase; there was no heavy in the division that could use cash to suffocate St. Louis’s measured approach.

But the Cubs happened, a team with the unfortunate tendency of being rich while also not being completely insane with their money. A Jason Heyward-size error would have really hurt St. Louis’s flexibility but the Cubs could seemingly say “Nah, it’s cool, bro, that wasn’t even our favorite Scrooge McDuck vault of gold coins.”

Even in a 2017 season when everything went wrong, the Cubs still won 92 games, enough to win the NL Central by six games. Could a high-floor, low-ceiling St. Louis team full of three-win players really provide a consistent threat to the Cubs? Or would the Cardinals be better served by taking a little more risk, given their division? That was the key uncertainty as the team entered 2018.

The Projection

This question was precisely what worried ZiPS going into the season. With a 94-win projection for the Cubs, ZiPS only gave the Cardinals and Brewers about a combined one-in-three shot of catching Chicago. St. Louis’ 87 forecasted wins looked a lot like the typical Cardinals season; that aforementioned 85-90 wins that has led the team to consistent contend for a playoff spot while never really being spoken of as an elite team.

The Results

The team started the season with Adam Wainwright on the disabled list with a hamstring pull, but St. Louis had already moved on from the days when they counted on Wainwright being in the rotation. Jack Flaherty, the eventual fifth-place Rookie of the Year finisher, filled in. Wainwright struggled upon his return, but the rest of the starters pitched as well as could have been expected, combining for a 3.00 ERA through the end of May, the third-best in baseball behind the Astros and Nationals.

Until the final month of the season, when St. Louis struggled in a variety of interesting ways, the rotation held up admirably, with little fault attached during the year’s doldrums. Wainwright was back on the DL by the end of April with elbow problems and Michael Wacha’s oblique strain ended his season in June, though he was set to return in September before a setback. But Flaherty was already a superior option to Wainwright and John Gant and Austin Gomber picked up most of the rest of the missing starts; the starting pitching was never really a serious problem.

The offense, on the other hand, was a regular problem. Matt Carpenter started out heat-death-of-the-universe cold, but while he heated up to a blazing MVP-like level for the middle months of the season, other pieces who were expected to contribute, like Ozuna and Fowler, largely didn’t.

Except for a brief period at the top of the division in May, after a fun week in which they swept both Chicago teams, the team hovered around the .500 mark for most of the first half. Milwaukee was the team to take advantage of Chicago not putting away the division early, which resulted in a great deal of tension surrounding St. Louis, something that’s fairly unusual for a Cardinals team.

Pham had already expressed displeasure with his contract situation before the season — the unfortunate result of being a late bloomer scheduled to hit free agency right before his age-34 season. Fowler and John Mozeliak publicly traded barbs and while the latter clarified his comments in the press, there were indications bubbling to the surface that manager Mike Matheny had lost the team.

Matheny was always kind of an oddball fit for the Cardinals; an old-school style manager they hoped would embrace at least some analytics and handle the team, and especially the pitching staff, well. The latter characteristic matched his reputation as a veteran catcher.

The analytics-embracing never really happened and Matheny was a fairly poor in-game tactician, who generally ran his bullpen in a manner that could most kindly be described as slapdash. But he generally kept past teams together and had gotten results.

With the clubhouse melting down, Matheny fighting with the media, and incidents such as tacitly allowing Bud Norris to bully Jordan Hicks marring the season, the argument for keeping Matheny evaporated quickly.

I’m usually skeptical of the idea of managerial changes being a big reason for a team’s sudden improvement, but things in St. Louis calmed down quickly once Mike Shildt took over the job on an interim basis, performing well enough to lose the interim tag just six weeks after he inherited the job. The public infighting quickly stopped and the team went on a tear, going 28-13 through the end of August.

Gone was Pham, traded to the Rays at the deadline, a destination likely to please him even less from a financial perspective; Harrison Bader and his shockingly good glove were given centerfield. Also out was Greg Holland, who pitched so poorly in 2018 that even Matheny noticed and stopped using him in high-leverage situations.

In the midst of their best run of the season, Shildt showed little resistance to using the team’s secondary talents. Pitchers like Gomber, Tyson Ross, and Daniel Poncedeleon assumed more flexible roles, a drastic change from Matheny’s rigid pitcher usage.

September, though, was a tough one. The rotation had its first really weak stretch, with a 4.60 ERA and a 4.72 FIP, and the offense once again fell back to the middle of the pack, with a 90 wRC+ for the month. Carpenter dropped out of the MVP conversation almost completely, with a .170/.313/.245 line for the month. Ozuna was the only player on the team with an .800 OPS. The bullpen, though never the team’s strong suit, had shown some life tapping into the team’s Triple-A depth but regressed to a 4.99 FIP.

Going into the last week of the season, the Cardinals actually had a game-and-a-half lead over the Colorado Rockies for the second wild card spot. The team controlled their destiny, but then lost five of the last six games to the Brewers and Cubs by a 39-20 scoring margin.

What Comes Next?

One interesting thing about the Cardinals is that there’s a very real sense the team is willing to be more aggressive this winter, especially financially, than they have in the past. While they aren’t going to shout “Hey, we have $400 million, make us an offer,” I suspect that at a minimum, the team will contemplating entering the Bryce Harper or Manny Machado sweepstakes.

The Cardinals are a hard team to upgrade in that they’re just so solid in most places. The starting lineup is deep enough that, outside of Dexter Fowler, they really need to be exciting to justify the term. Taking a chance on Josh Donaldson is one of those moves that does have interesting upside, but the rest of the market’s second-tier should be rather uninteresting, at least as it concerns the lineup. It may seem a stretch for St. Louis to spend more than twice what they’ve ever spent on a player contract, but remember, they were a team connected with Giancarlo Stanton, and reportedly made a significant offer to David Price when the pitcher was a free agent.

Where second-tier free agents could prove more useful is the bullpen. While the pen has never really been as bad as advertised — many fans think the team’s relievers were Old Testament-bad — but the team could use a left-handed pitcher like Andrew Miller or Zach Britton and the stakes are high-enough that there’s an argument for overpaying a bit.

Early ZiPS Projection – Miles Mikolas

Given that Nippon Professional Baseball is a high-level league, Mikolas didn’t exactly come out of nowhere; he wouldn’t have been given a $7 million contract with a career 5.32 MLB ERA and no prospect pedigree if he had. But he’s also a pitcher who allows a lot of contact for someone who can hit 95 MPH with a slider that will be given a lot more respect the second go-around.

ZiPS Projection – Miles Mikolas
Year W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2019 12 8 3.54 29 29 175.3 176 69 19 37 138 120 3.5
2020 11 7 3.53 26 26 158.0 158 62 17 33 123 120 3.2
2021 10 7 3.67 26 26 154.3 157 63 17 33 116 115 2.9
2022 10 7 3.70 24 24 143.7 146 59 16 30 108 115 2.7

Despite the foreboding introduction, ZiPS is actually quite optimistic Mikolas’s regression still leaves him as a solid number two starter. A few more home runs come out in the projections, but ZiPS also sees a bump in his strikeout rate and top-notch control. Though not directly shown here, ZiPS also sees a lot more upside in his strikeout rate than downside; Mikolas obviously doesn’t throw as hard as Hicks, but he isn’t Jered Weaver either.

One last pedantic note: Mikolas will be a free agent after the 2019 season, not after 2022 as you would expect from a pitcher with his service time. Mikolas came to St. Louis as a pure free agent and the team agreed to him becoming a free agent at the end of his contract rather than entering the arbitration track like most three-year players. So the Lizard King gets to hit the open market fairly quickly after a terrific “rookie” season.


Elegy for ’18 – Tampa Bay Rays

Sergio Romo was at the forefront of the Ray’s opener strategy
(Photo: Keith Allison)

The team that made openers baseball’s hot new thing made a run at the playoffs with a blazing final act, but fell short of the playoffs thanks to the daunting win total non-AL Central teams needed to stretch the season into October.

The Setup

The Tampa Bay Rays, newly shorn of the Devil in their name, were rightly one of baseball’s darlings from 2008 to 2013, winning 90 games in all but one season and making four playoff appearances, including one World Series. That’s no easy feat in a division with the Red Sox and Yankees, the baseball versions of Rich Uncle Pennybags from Monopoly come to life. If Tampa has an avatar, it’s more akin to Chris Farley’s plaid-jacketed motivational speaker who lives in a van down by the river.

The initial run of the Rays eventually lost steam, the team dragged down by some difficult realities they had to face. One of the biggest problems for the Rays was that the common notion that building a consistent winner will lead to increased attendance (which would in turn lead to larger revenues that could keep the team together), didn’t actually work in their case. Whether it’s the fault of the park or not, by the time of their final 90-win season, the team was welcoming barely 100,000 fans more to the Trop than they were in 2007, a 66-win slog and the team’s tenth consecutive losing season.

For a team payroll that has never even come close to nine digits to compete in the AL East, the Rays absolutely have to have an assembly line of prospects, a continual cycle of replacement of talent. The team has always shown a knack for trading or letting players depart before their collapses rather than after, but that isn’t enough by itself.

What failed the team was largely the amateur drafts, starting around 2008, not providing enough quality to replace the departures. Entering 2018, only a single player drafted by the Rays over the previous decade had established himself as an impact player in the majors, Kevin Kiermaier. Let’s put in this way: The Rays made 14 first-round picks from 2008 to 2017 and the second most-accomplished player after Tim Beckham of that group is likely Ryne Stanek or Mikie Mahtook. (I’m talking players taken in the first round proper; the Rays got Blake Snell as a supplementary pick.)

The virtuous cycle of rebuild-invest-push-repeat failed to work for the organization for whatever reason and without a steady flow of prospects, the fact that the Rays have only had one season in which they fell below 70 wins is a testament to the front office’s scrounging abilities. Running the Rays is a bit like being asked to turn straw into gold and oh yeah, you don’t actually have the budget to buy straw.

Trading Evan Longoria, Brad Boxberger, Steven Souza, Corey Dickerson, and Jake Odorizzi before the season didn’t do wonders for the team’s reputation among fans, either. It could rightly be argued that most of these moves made sense from a baseball perspective — almost all of these players were at the height of their value, with the obvious exception of Longoria — but the problem with always making the cheap move is that your fanbase will come to believe that even the good, cheap move was done purely for reasons of thrift.

Not helping the Rays coming into 2018 season was the revelation that every pitcher the Rays had, ever had, or ever will acquire, required Tommy John surgery before the season started. OK, that’s what they call a “lie,” but it felt a bit like the truth when Brent Honeywell and Jose De Leon, both pitchers who the Rays hoped to count on, needed elbow surgery within just a couple weeks of each other.

The Projection

While the projections didn’t adopt quite the same panicked tone many writers displayed regarding the team over the winter, I can hardly claim ZiPS was predicting greatness with a 76-86 projection and a 6% chance at making the playoffs. The computer felt that pretty much every player Tampa Bay traded would have a worse season than with the Rays, but also predicted that with the loss of Honeywell and De Leon, the pitching was stretched too thin, and it was hard to see the Rays improvising enough of a lineup to make up for these losses.

The Results

THE TAMPA BAY RAYS BROKE WINS ABOVE REPLACEMENT!

Sometimes things just need capital letters. If you made a movie about the 2018 Rays, it would be impossible to craft a trailer that didn’t heavily mention the “openers,” possibly with some hoary An Experiment So Crazy That It Just May Work cliché booming over Ryan Yarbrough striking out batters to an 80s rock anthem.

For those curiously still unaware of this concept, beginning with Sergio Romo’s one-inning, three-strikeout “start” on May 19th, the Rays started using relievers to open games; they would quickly give way to a long “reliever,” who would pitch several innings. The general idea was that with a thin pitching staff — the Rays didn’t engage in any such shenanigans with the Blake Snell or Chris Archer starts — there was a benefit to being able to play matchups early in the game and get guaranteed innings from relievers, who are easier to find than a starter with an identical ERA.

As for breaking WAR, starters and relievers are pegged to different replacement levels, reflecting the better quality of free or cheap talent among relievers than starters. But what happens to WAR when relievers are being used as starters and vice-versa? A pitcher like Yarbrough ends up getting pegged relative to the higher replacement level of relievers even though he’s been given the workload of a starter. If these changes become pervasive, it will likely require a reimagining of how we categorize starters and relievers for these purposes.

In the end, the Rays had “relievers” who went five innings 31 times in 2018, the fourth-most going back to 1908 (the limit of Baseball-Reference’s Play Index). The entirety of baseball in 2016 and 2017 only had 37 such games combined. The last team with even ten five-inning relief stints was the 1991 Orioles and that wasn’t so much by design as due to the fact that the team’s rotation was a terrifying Lovecraftian amalgamation.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, however, and none of this would have persisted if the Rays didn’t get results. In the five-inning “relief” stints, the team (Yarbrough was the most notable, but the team also used Austin Pruitt, Yonny Chirinos, and Jalen Beeks prominently in this pseudo-starter role) combined to throw 170 2/3 innings with a 3.48 ERA, sort of like a weird J.A. Happ chimera to join the A-Rod centaur among baseball’s mythical menagerie.

After starting this opening strategy, the Rays went 69-50, a 94-win seasonal pace, and after receiving quick boosts from midseason trades for Tommy Pham and Ji-Man Choi, the team went 36-19 in their closing kick.

Unfortunately, this was the wrong year for that kind of thing. The AL and NL have reversed roles the last couple of years, with the NL becoming wide-open and the AL the league bifurcated into essentially two leagues, one with super-teams, the other with rebuilders.

AL Win-Loss Records After May 18th
Tm W L PCT
Red Sox 78 39 .667
Astros 74 42 .638
Athletics 74 43 .632
Yankees 72 48 .600
Indians 70 49 .588
Rays 69 50 .580
Mariners 64 54 .542
Twins 60 62 .492
Angels 55 62 .470
Blue Jays 51 66 .436
Rangers 49 67 .422
White Sox 51 70 .421
Tigers 44 74 .373
Royals 44 74 .373
Orioles 33 85 .280
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

What’s depressing from the point of view of the Rays is that the team still would have missed the playoffs by two and a half games if the standings reset on the morning of May 19th.

If the Rays had won 94 games instead of their actual 90, it would have been enough to take the AL East in 2017, 2016, and 2015, while earning a wild card appearance in 2014, 2013, and 2012. The last time 94 wins didn’t get October baseball for an AL team was 2010, when there was only one wild card spot; the Yankees went 95-67 that year. Whether 94 or 90 wins, it was only enough in 2018 to make the Rays the last team eliminated from the playoffs in the American League.

What Comes Next?

The Rays will remain misers for the foreseeable future if they don’t finagle their way into a new stadium. Even with the recent success, the team will have to continue to find values on a shoestring budget, something that is harder to do than it used to be with the general inflation of smartness in front offices over the last 15 years.

From a general baseball standpoint, it also remains to be seen how the opener strategy will affect pitcher salaries if more teams adopt this for their lesser pitchers. I don’t believe that in the end it’ll make a big difference; teams are far less likely to care about a starter’s win totals or a reliever’s saves than even ten years ago. But I’m naturally cynical, so I expect to still be watching this closely.

The really good news for the Rays is that they’ll return almost the entire core of the roster in 2019, with only Vidal Nuño, Carlos Gomez, and Sergio Romo hitting free agency. The 2017-2018 bloodletting has resulted in a roster that, even with everybody tendered, has only a single player making $5 million (Kiermaier) and a payroll that can stay short of $50 million.

I suspect we won’t see the Rays shedding much in the way of 2019 talent this winter; if they were close to doing that, I don’t see them adding Mike Zunino, now the team’s veteran in terms of service time. A Kevin Kiermaier trade strikes me as very unlikely, both because he’s coming off a down year full of injuries and because they just traded Mallex Smith. Nor would Austin Meadows be a candidate to make such a trade practical as he’s the probable right fielder.

The very early projections, based solely on what the Rays have on the roster right now, see a team in the mid-80s for wins, with diminished expectations on the De Leon/Honeywell returns. The Rays are a clever organization, however, and with the farm system recovering over the last few years from the doldrums of the early-mid ’10s to once again be in the top tier, I suspect this team can continue to punch above its weight class, even if in miserly fashion.

Preliminary ZiPS Projection, Blake Snell

I think that Snell is likely to be the AL Cy Young winner when the award is announced this afternoon, and with his performance being a key factor in the team’s revival, avoiding serious regression is crucial for Tampa. ZiPS saw an improvement for Snell in 2018, projecting a 3.70 ERA and 186 strikeouts in 175 1/3 innings, enough to just about the hit the three-WAR mark (with a four-to-five win peak), but it didn’t see the Cy Young breakout.

ZiPS Projection, Blake Snell
Year W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2019 14 9 3.05 30 30 165.0 131 56 16 67 199 134 3.9
2020 14 8 3.10 29 29 159.7 127 55 15 65 192 132 3.7
2021 14 8 3.03 29 29 157.7 124 53 15 64 190 135 3.8
2022 13 7 3.06 26 26 144.0 114 49 13 58 173 133 3.4

No 219 ERA+ repeats there, but those are legitimate ace numbers, and ZiPS is being surprisingly un-grumpy about downside risk outside of innings in future seasons. ZiPS sees enough talent in Snell to compensate for the inherent fragility of pitchers and the skewed risk you see in all great players (there are simply larger downsides than upsides). It’ll be interesting to see if the Rays can sign Snell to a similar contract to the recently departed Archer.


Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 11/12/18

12:00
Dan Szymborski: It’s a’ me, Mario!

12:00
Dan Szymborski: OK, not really.

12:01
Dan Szymborski: I’m going to hold off the off-topic questions until we get to the Lightning Round.

12:01
Ginny: do you think “extremely available for trade”  Kole Calhoun has a market? and does the Angels trying to trade him give indication of their actions in the FA market?

12:02
Dan Szymborski: I think he has *some* market, but I think it’s wishful thinking on the Angels if they think someone’s going to pay as if the first half of 2018 never happened.

12:02
Dan Szymborski: I’m not sure it makes a lot of sense for the Angels to trade him.

Read the rest of this entry »


Elegy for ’18 – Arizona Diamondbacks

AJ Pollock’s injuries have made things difficult for the D-backs in the NL West.
(Photo: Hayden Schiff)

The Phillies weren’t the only playoff contender to drop off the face of the earth in September. The land of the chimichanga fared no better in late-season play than the cheesesteak republic, leaving a foul aftertaste to what had been a solid season.

The Setup

Arizona went a new direction after 2016, replacing the general-managerial meanderings of Dave Stewart with the more modern approach of Mike Hazen, formerly under Dave Dombrowski and Ben Cherington with the Red Sox.

Hazen worked quickly, acquiring Ketel Marte and Taijuan Walker from the Seattle Mariners for Mitch Haniger, Jean Segura, and prospect Zac Curtis. But the 2017 season was largely based around the previous core, with Arizona signing several role players — but no big difference-makers — in free agency.

The inherited rotation combined for a 3.61 ERA and 18.8 WAR, that total ranking second in baseball behind only the Indians. Hazen did make one gigantic contribution in the form of J.D. Martinez, acquired from the Tigers in July.

As in-season trades go, the Martinez swap went just about as well as anyone could have expected. The primary starter in left field, Yasmany Tomas, had gone on the disabled list in June with a groin injurym and in truth, the team was already on the verge of giving up on him as a starter. The team’s lack of outfield depth was already glaring, with A.J. Pollock out and Arizona resorting to a Gregor Blanco/Rey Fuentes timeshare in center.

So correctly identifying the team’s biggest problem, Hazen closed a deal on the solution and Martinez paid off, hitting .302/.366/.741 for the team, with a ludicrous 29 home runs in 232 at-bats. The fact that the team’s OPS only improved by seven points in the second half of the season even with Martinez should be a fairly good indication as to the straits in which the offense would have found itself without the pickup. That Hazen managed to bring in Martinez without eviscerating the already suffering farm system was a coup.

The winter of 2017-18 presented the team with a significant problem in the form of contracts. With 16 players in their salary-arbitration years and five in arbitration for the first time, the roster was set to become more expensive without actually improving all that much.

In the end, the 2018 team would cost $40 million more than the 2017 version, and that’s with under $20 million of total spending in free agency, primarily in the form of Alex Avila and Jarrod Dyson.

Going into 2018, the primary questions about the team were whether the offense could survive J.D. Martinez’s departure with only Steven Souza added to the roster and how much 2017’s rotation would regress the following season.

The Projection

ZiPS didn’t see Arizona matching their 93 wins from 2017 but still saw them as the biggest threat to the Dodgers, with a projected 86-76 record and 13% chance of winning the division. The projections were generally optimistic about the rotation staying one of the top groups in baseball, but was much less sanguine about the offense, seeing it as a below-average unit despite Paul Goldschmidt’s best efforts.

The Results

In an abstract sense, Arizona had four seasons in 2018 rather than one, each with a different character and a grossly different set of results.

The Sprint (24-11)
The team started out absolutely blazing, not losing consecutive games until the back end of a four-game split with the Dodgers in May. The pitching went 20-8 with a 2.96 ERA and 280 strikeouts in 255.1 innings, almost looking like a Randy Johnson Cy Young campaign (though, technically, with fewer strikeouts).

There was one giant hiccup, though, in that the pitching was basically propping up the offense. The team won 24 of 35 because of that staff, but were hitting only .228/.311/.407 for the season, ranking 19th in OPS and 17th in runs scored. Those rankings were despite Goldschmidt’s .900 OPS and A.J. Pollock’s 1.021 OPS through the end of April.

What would happen to the offense without Goldschmidt and Pollock, even if they could maintain Cy Young-level pitching for an entire year? As you no doubt realize, I’m asking this question for a very specific reason.

The Wile E. Coyote (2-15)
One of the frequent gags in Wile E. Coyote cartoons features that same coyote — having just endured some mishap with an Acme-brand product — walking off a cliff into thin air and remaining aloft momentarily before realizing his predicament and plummeting to earth.

Pollock broke his thumb on the 15th, leaving the Diamondbacks again to scramble for a center-field replacement in-season. Fortunately, unlike past Diamondbacks teams, this one had prepared for such an event with the signing of Dyson the previous offseason.

It didn’t do the team any good in the end. Dyson didn’t hit at all, leaving a problem in center that wasn’t really resolved until Pollock’s return. But the larger problem was that nobody else hit, either. During these 17 games, the team slashed .182/.248/.291, and even Goldschmidt wasn’t much help.

Normally, there needs to be a lot of suck to go around when losing 15 of 17, but the pitching was absolutely fine. Not at April levels, but pretty good. The 2-15 record and 3.87 ERA they produced has a similar look to Jacob deGrom’s full-season line.

The Surprisingly Normal Period (48-35)
After a carnival-ride first two months came a decidedly normal stretch of the season. The rotation ranked 10th in ERA during this period, a little below where ZiPS pegged them, but amply compensated by the 3.44 ERA from the bullpen.

Even the offense showed a pulse. While Pollock struggled after his return from his thumb injury, hitting .234/.276/.318 through the end of August, the team had six players with at least 100 plate appearances and an .800 OPS in this mini-season: Goldschmidt (1.087), David Peralta (.978), Ketel Marte (.858), Steven Souza (.819), Daniel Descalso (.818), and Eduardo Escobar (.813). This was enough to rank Arizona eighth in runs scored, behind only the Dodgers, the Coors-inflated Rockies, and the Cardinals among NL teams.

The September Collapse (8-19)
On the morning of September 1st, Arizona was still leading the NL West by a single game. This was their last lead of the season, however — and, by the time they went to bed on the 2nd, they were in third place. On only one occasion did Arizona win consecutive games in September, helping the Rockies catch up to the Dodgers in the last week, but long past the point at which they could help themselves in any meaningful way.

Arizona hit .214/.287/.374 in September, Ketel Marte representing the team’s only bright spot at .301/.373/.562. The bullpen collapsed, allowing a .795 OPS en route to a 5.52 September ERA. As before, the starting rotation largely held up its end of the bargain — with the exception, at least, of Zack Godley, admittedly the rotation’s weak point most of the season.

What Comes Next?

The biggest problem the team faces is that the fundamental problems still remain. They still need to improve the offense while navigating significant payroll constraints. The farm system will take years to repair, so they can’t look for many quick fixes from that source.

Arizona already starts with a roster that’s somewhere around $140 million after the re-signing of Eduardo Escobar. This will come down somewhat with Shelby Miller almost certain to be non-tendered and Brad Boxberger a probability to follow Miller to free agency.

Even if we call it a $120 million payroll for the same team as last year but without Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock, that’s a dreadful place to begin an offseason.

The general feeling around baseball, one Arizona has done little to rebut, is that the team is headed for a rebuild. Goldschmidt is unsigned past 2019, and aging first basemen have a tendency to result in terrible contracts for the signing teams. Greinke’s survived the loss of velocity on his fastball, but he’s also a very expensive 35-year-old on a team without much payroll flexibility.

A lot of people are unhappy about the prospect of Arizona and Seattle entering rebuilding phases right now after their competitive 2018 campaigns, but they both share a similar set of problems: payrolls near their maximum willingness to spend combined with minor-league systems that can’t bridge the short-term gaps. Arizona can’t afford even to re-assemble the exact 2018 roster that finished barely above .500.

I don’t expect a full rebuild for the team to be as painful as these sometimes go. The club does have players that can be part of the future around which they build, including Marte, Walker, Robbie Ray, etc. Rebuilds like Houston’s are especially difficult because they weren’t started until after everything of value was gone.

Whether Arizona chooses to go the “let’s call a contractor” or the “cool, check out this WWI-era flamethrower we found!” path, the team is likely to finish 2019 with fewer wins than 2018.

Way-Too-Early Projection – Paul Goldschmidt

It’s not 2019 that’s possibly scary for Arizona and Goldschmidt; the short-term is not the question. What is scary, if Arizona did extend Goldy rather than trade him, is what his decline phase looks like. Age hasn’t been brutal to Joey Votto, but it’s taken a lot of star first basemen very quickly — and not just average guys, but legitimate mega-stars like Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera.

ZiPS Projection – Paul Goldschmidt
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS OPS+ DR WAR
2019 .276 .385 .512 547 94 151 30 3 31 94 93 158 12 4 132 4 3.7
2020 .271 .377 .501 527 87 143 31 3 28 88 87 151 11 4 127 4 3.2
2021 .268 .371 .483 507 80 136 28 3 25 81 80 141 10 3 121 4 2.6
2022 .264 .364 .462 481 72 127 26 3 21 72 72 127 9 3 114 4 2.0
2023 .260 .354 .443 454 64 118 23 3 18 63 63 112 8 3 107 3 1.4
2024 .257 .342 .412 413 54 106 18 2 14 52 51 94 7 3 96 2 0.5

The projection highlights the quandary Arizona’s in. Goldschmidt has been — with the exception of a brief appearance from J.D. Martinez — the centerpiece of the D-backs offense. Losing him would be really tough. On the other hand, if Arizona’s internal projections are anything like ZiPS, they probably can’t sign him either — unless he’ll agree to a Carlos Santana-type deal rather than an Eric Hosmer one. So the idea of Goldschmidt starting 2019 wearing new threads is not far-fetched.


Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 11/5/18

12:01
tb.25: “The only FanGraphs chat that lets you obnoxiously spam emotes.” AKA the best FanGraphs chat.

12:02
Dan Szymborski: Good aftermorninevening!

12:02
Euan Dewar: Hey Dan! No question, just hope you’re doing well and enjoyed the Blizzcon festivities. Was fun to look at twitter and realise a baseball analytics person I like was also chopping it up in WoW on the regular :)

12:03
Dan Szymborski: For the Horde!

12:03
Matt: Have you ever thought about the ramifications of your non-inclusive chili ideology on the bean people?

12:04
Dan Szymborski: People who use beans can still eat it fine, ti’s just not chili.

Read the rest of this entry »


Elegy for ’18 – Seattle Mariners

Seattle will likely have to replace the bat of Nelson Cruz.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

One would think that setting a 15-year record for wins would feel more satisfying than it ultimately did for the 2018 edition of the Mariners. Alas, the world is as cruel as the Wheel of Fortune suggests: consonants are free but you have to pay for vowels. The A’s finished ahead of the M’s, giving the former club a place in the Wild Card Game.

The Setup

One of the defining features of the Seattle Mariners during the Jerry Dipoto regime is that the payroll has increased — from among the bottom 10 in 2012-13 to the back of the top 10 in 2018 — even though the club hasn’t been particularly active in free agency or signing young talent to long-term extensions.

Read the rest of this entry »


Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 10/29/18

12:00
Dan Szymborski:

12:00
Dan Szymborski: Greetings everyone!

12:00
david s: Where in the hell are the 2019 ZiPS, Dane?

12:01
Mark: Dan, can you give me a quick ZiPS projection on when I can care about baseball again.

12:01
Matt: Kinda weird how infatuated with the Yankees the Red Sox fans seem to be, eh?

12:01
Dan Szymborski: You can still care about baseball! Stuff is happening.

Read the rest of this entry »


Elegy for ’18 – Washington Nationals

Yogi Berra once said “if you see a fork in the road, take it.” While that may be typically less-than-helpful, the Nationals find themselves at a crossroads, with one of those big, franchise-altering decisions regarding their still-young star slugger, Bryce Harper, before them. 2018 may have muddied more than clarified the situation.

The Setup

To a large degree, the Nationals have had it easier in the regular season than any contender in baseball, with the possible exception of the Cleveland Indians. With the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies rebuilding, the Miami Marlins doing their usual cry-pauper schtick, and the New York Mets being the Mets and Metsing up a few seasons, Washington entered every season since 2012 as the divisional favorite.

The 2017-2018 offseason was relatively quiet for Washington, with no follow-up trade like the one that brought Adam Eaton to the team. Nor was there a major free agent signing, though this was largely due to the fact that there were few significant free agents available last offseason and even fewer that fit the team’s needs. (Catcher was a position in obvious need of an upgrade, but there was nary a great free agent catcher to be found, and a trade for JT Realmuto failed to materialize.)

Sure, I liked Lorenzo Cain, but considering the team’s minor league talent, would that have been the most efficient signing? The Nationals did at least dip their toes into the Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta markets, but given the disaster of a year Darvish had and with Arrieta being merely solid, it’s hard to say there was much in the way of regret there.

For a team that didn’t expect to have to worry about the Braves and Phillies — yet — and faced a luxury tax threshold beckoning and an uncertain future after the short-term, there’s a very good argument that this was the right way to play the offseason. If the team had dough they were absolutely dying to spend, putting it towards a future Harper contract, if the team went that way, made more sense.

While Washington has had above-average payrolls, it’s not a team that historically has dipped that deeply into the free agent market. They spent aggressively to bring in Max Scherzer (as they should have) but otherwise haven’t spent $50 million on a single free agent player since Jayson Werth.

The team was active, but low-key, picking up a number of role players like Matt Adams, Jeremy Hellickson, and Howie Kendrick. These constituted depth pieces for a contender rather than foundational talent.

Much was made about the team moving on from Dusty Baker, but similarly, I felt it was the right move at the time. Dusty’s challenge in 2016 and 2017 was to take a veteran team, keep them from murdering each other, and guide them along on cruise control. That’s Baker’s specialty. But a the team that had reached the possible end of the Bryce Harper era and now faced the challenges of transitioning to a new core, whether by retool or rebuild? That’s not something I was as keen on having Baker handle.

The Projection

ZiPS still saw the Nationals as the class of the NL East, but with an 89-73 record, they were the only projected division winner with a median win guess under 90 wins. The projections didn’t see this as the year that it was more likely than that the Braves or Phillies took a step forward, but it was still a 1-in-3 chance (32.4%) that a non-Marlin team toppled the team.

The Results

While the season started off strong with a sweep of the Cincinnati Reds, an 11-16 April left the Nationals spending a good chunk of the early part of the season in fourth place, behind the Phillies, Braves, and the surging Mets.

Things seemed to have righted themselves in that lusty month of May, but while Washington ending May in first place, with a 33-23 record, it had become clear that the Braves and Phillies had shown real improvement, not simply an early-year mirage.

The team was in first place and largely hadn’t even yet seen the full benefits of phenom Juan Soto in the lineup (43 PA through the end of May). The only player who wasn’t really hitting at that point was Michael A. Taylor, who was already on borrowed time with Adam Eaton’s return expected.

Then the team’s pitching largely collapsed. At the end of May, Washington’s 3.45 FIP was the second-best in baseball, behind only the Houston Astros. Over the rest of the season, it was 4.52, 24th in the majors. While Scherzer was more or less his usual self, the rest of the rotation combined for a 5.35 ERA.

By the time the trade deadline rolled around, there were a lot more arguments for the Nationals being sellers than buyers. While the team was theoretically still on the outskirts of both the Wild Card and NL East races, they were only hovering around .500.

The team wasn’t major seller until after the post-waiver deadline, only then moving players like Daniel Murphy and Gio Gonzalez who were unsigned past the end of the season.

The Dodgers claimed Bryce Harper on revocable waivers, but the Nationals never seriously discussed trade terms with Los Angeles. It was one of those instances in which you heard a lot of behind-the-scenes rumors. I wonder if we’ll ever get a full, true story about what happened. Did the Dodgers not make a serious offer, taking advantage of their disappointing win total at the time, hoping to keep Harper from a rival? After all, it wasn’t a Randy Myers situation where Washington would just say “fine, he’s yours” so there was little risk in a block.

Or were the Nats owners, primarily the Lerner family, simply not interested in trading Harper when push came to shove? I think it far more likely they were a roadblock to a possible trade than team president Mike Rizzo. Remember, Harper was in a different situation than Manny Machado was, where there was actually a good chance that the owners of his current team would re-sign him in free agency.

Washington ended the season in second place in the division, but that was due more to the Phillies deciding to stop winning games ever than to any impressive late-season surge from the Nationals.

What Comes Next?

The Bryce Harper question is of course the one that will dominate this offseason. Spending $300 million (and maybe more) on a player who has just one MVP-type season in his portfolio is a major risk. But Washington may feel they need to retain him just to keep pace with the Braves and Phillies, one of which has a far better farm system and the other of which possesses a deeper bank account.

Harper’s not the only pending financial decision, either. Anthony Rendon is a free agent after 2019 and it wouldn’t take a crazy-good year from Stephen Strasburg to make him think he could beat four years and $100 million after next season or three years and $75 million after 2020.

The good news is that whichever way the team goes, they do have impressive build-around talent in Soto, Victor Robles, and Trea Turner. But given their division, Washington may be in trouble if they resort to half-measures. In fact, if they want to spend $300 million, Manny Machado is likely a better fit on the roster than Harper, with the added bonus that they can stick it to their rival up the B-W Parkway.

Way-too-Early-Projection – Victor Robles

Ha, you thought this was going to be Juan Soto, didn’t you? Just picture a whole bunch of really big numbers. There, you have the Soto projection.

In essence, a Harper-less Nationals outfield would likely be best configured with Soto, Eaton, and Victor Robles. So with Robles the least established as a major leaguer right now, we’ll go with him, certainly no chopped liver as a consensus top-ten prospect coming into 2018.

ZiPS Projections – Victor Robles
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO HP SB OPS+ DR WAR
2019 .251 .319 .395 474 58 119 26 6 10 53 36 99 13 28 98 7 2.3
2020 .256 .327 .421 461 59 118 28 6 12 56 38 95 12 25 107 6 2.7
2021 .255 .331 .425 463 61 118 28 6 13 58 41 100 13 26 109 6 3.0
2022 .254 .334 .427 464 62 118 29 6 13 58 44 103 13 23 110 6 3.0
2023 .254 .335 .423 461 62 117 29 5 13 58 45 104 13 21 110 5 3.0
2024 .251 .333 .424 458 61 115 28 6 13 57 45 104 13 19 109 5 2.9

Not the flashiest projection around, but ZiPS anticipates Robles to be a contributor in the majors very quickly. If Robles is your third-best outfielder, it makes the “pay Bryce Harper $35 million a year” case harder to make for the team.


Elegy for ’18 – Pittsburgh Pirates

They’re contenders! Or wait, they’re not. No, they actually are! And… it’s gone. In 2018, the Pirates experienced a season of dramatic highs and lows only to end up with basically a .500 record, as if Odysseus had endured war and other dangers simply to end his journey at an Olive Garden.

The Setup

In a lot of ways, the Pirates are a bit of a cautionary tale for rebuilding teams. You can be smart, careful, forward-thinking, but if too many things go unexpectedly awry or you don’t push ahead at the right moment, your team’s peak can still be rather short-lived.

That’s not to say the Pirates are without accomplishment, having made three straight playoff appearances from 2013 to -15, the team’s first since they were giving a regular paycheck to a prime-age slugger by the name of Barry Lamar Bonds. The team of Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington largely reversed the effects produced by 15 years of mismanagement from the Dave Littlefield and Cam Bonifay eras. Even when the team struggled in 2016-17, they never descended to the level of hapless joke, as had previously been the case.

Read the rest of this entry »