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dan szymborski's ZIPS projection system isn't as well regarded as nate silver's PECOTA, but it's still pretty good. it also has this virtue: every time there's a trade or free-agent signing, szymborski immediately runs the ZIPS figures for the player(s) involved in the transaction. we won't get the new PECOTA output for about another month.

so without further ado, here are the ZIPS projections for the big-name free-agent pitchers who've signed to date this off-season:

w-l era whip bb/9 k/9
maddux 15-11 3.72 1.19 1.7 5.2
schmidt 12-8 3.94 1.30 3.6 8.6
pettitte 15-9 4.10 1.32 2.3 6.5
lilly 12-12 4.26 1.38 4.2 7.9
garcia 13-11 4.33 1.26 2.5 7.0
woody 8-9 4.56 1.36 2.6 6.0
eaton 9-9 4.72 1.38 2.8 6.6
wolf 4-5 4.89 1.46 3.4 6.1
meche 8-10 4.90 1.47 4.0 6.7
wells 6-9 4.98 1.55 5.0 6.8

i included freddy garcia at the end of the table, even though he was acquired by trade rather than via free agency; the ZIPS projections for vicente padilla haven't appeared yet, for some reason. perhaps these numbers take some of the sting out of the cardinals' failure to land a pricey free-agent pitcher; most of these guys project to be pretty bad, even without factoring in the exorbitant salaries they'll make. kind of interesting that the old pros occupy the head of the class; ZIPS isn't bullish on a single one of the so-called 2d-tier pitchers from this year's class of f.a. hurlers. note the so-so projection for jason schmidt; ZIPS has him as just a shade better than jeff suppan v2005-06. that squares up with Valatan's recent analysis showing that schmidt might be no better than a league-average pitcher over the next few seasons. ted lilly's era projection is adjusted for wrigley; i'd be interested to see how much better his numbers might look at busch III.

in any case, these numbers only reinforce my conviction (growing stronger by the hour) that reyes and wainwright are just as good as most of the free-agent pitchers on the market --- and carry infinitely less financial risk. i can't cite the ZIPS projections for those two, because szymborski hasn't gotten around to running the cardinals' figures yet. but in wainwright's case, anyway, we can safely assume a projected era somewhere in the low 4.00s, if not better; last off-season, based solely on his minor-league numbers, ZIPS projected him to a 4.50 era, and after a strong 2006 he's likely to project to a much lower figure this year. reyes, on the other hand, was significantly worse than his projection; ZIPS forecast an era of 3.72 for anthony in 2006. he'll prob'y be pegged at about 4.50 for 2007.

whenever i throw figures like these around, people want to know what ZIPS' track record is; how much credit can we give to its predictions? in anticipation of that question, i decided to look back at ZIPS' projections for the 2005-06 cohort of free-agent pitchers, and compare the projections to actual performance. actual pitching lines appear first, in black ink; projections occupy the subsequent line, in red:

w-l era whip bb/9 k/9
burnett 10-8 3.98 1.30 2.6 7.8
13-7 3.59 1.22 3.0 7.6
millwood 16-12 4.52 1.31 2.2 6.6
12-8 4.12 1.34 2.6 6.6
washburn 8-14 4.67 1.35 2.6 5.0
9-10 4.55 1.33 2.6 5.2
morris 10-15 4.98 1.35 2.7 5.1
11-12 4.31 1.27 2.0 5.8
byrd 10-9 4.88 1.51 1.9 4.4
13-8 3.90 1.19 1.4 4.6
weaver 8-14 5.76 1.51 2.5 5.6
12-12 4.19 1.28 2.3 6.3
ortiz 11-16 5.57 1.54 3.0 4.9
7-13 4.94 1.41 3.0 5.2
tomko 8-7 4.73 1.35 2.3 6.1
9-12 4.71 1.37 2.7 5.4
wright 6-10 5.19 1.48 3.7 4.6
6-14 5.81 1.61 4.6 5.6
ponson 4-4 5.24 1.62 3.8 4.3
11-12 4.57 1.38 2.9 5.2

that's a pretty worthy job of projecting, all in all. only paul byrd and jeff weaver can truly be characterized as "misses"; the rest turned in actual performance reasonably close to their ZIPS projection. perhaps more to the point, the system was very accurate in projecting the pitchers' performance relative to each other; the ZIPS era's, ranked top to bottom, correspond very closely to ordering of the actual era's (again, byrd and weaver excepted). also of note, ZIPS underestimated in almost every one of these cases; among these pitchers, only jamey wright beat his ZIPS-projected era.

you'll also note that most of last year's free-agent pitchers didn't contribute much in the first year of their contracts.

the same will be true for the 2006-07 free agents, according to ZIPS. again, i'll take my chances on reyes and wainwright over almost any of those guys.