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Three Takeaways from the Cardinals ZiPS projections

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The ZiPS projections just came out for the St. Louis Cardinals. Some initial thoughts on the coming season.

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Every year, people take their shot at predicting how certain players will do. There are hopes for 30 home runs for sluggers, 200 strikeouts for the ace, and maybe a high on-base percentage for guys expected to be at the top of lineup. Predictions are not the same as projections. In a prediction you might begin with "I think he will..." In a projection, at places like FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus, computers produce projections based on models, often using past history of the player along with their age eventually producing comparable players to create an expectation of production for the following year.

ZiPS, created by Dan Szymborski, whose written work can be found on ESPN Insder, is one such projection system, and it is a very good one. ZiPS, along with Steamer and the combined FanGraphs Depth Charts, are all hosted at FanGraphs, and the ZiPS projections for the Cardinals were just released in article written by Carson Cistulli.

I definitely recommend taking a look over at the article as there is more information over there than can possibly be unpacked in a single post, but I would draw special attention to the disclaimer:

Disclaimer: ZiPS projections are computer-based projections of performance. Performances have not been allocated to predicted playing time in the majors as€” many of the players listed above are unlikely to play in the majors at all in 2016. ZiPS is projecting equivalent production as 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.

While not necessarily the best way to look at the playing time numbers, one viewpoint that is helpful to me is to consider the playing time as taking into account the risk of injury. Jaime Garcia is projected for under 100 innings. We do not know how many innings he will pitch this year, but given his history, a low innings total helps bake that risk into the projection.

1. Unless Carpenter keeps his power bat going, the Cardinals do not have a star position player

With Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday showing signs of aging, and Jason Heyward signing with the Chicago Cubs, the Cardinals do not have a single position-player projected for more than four zWAR (the WAR methodology used for ZiPS projections), a subject Ben Godar touched on earlier in the offseason. If Matt Carpenter were to hit another 28 home runs, it is fair to say his season would likely qualify and approach his 2015 5.2fWAR season. ZiPS projects a repeat of Carpenter's average and on-base percentage of around .270 and .360, respectively, but given Carpenter's lack of home runs prior to 2015, his home runs are projected at 16 with a 60 point drop in slugging. ZiPS likes Stephen Piscotty, projecting him as the Cardinals third-best hitter, but expecting more at this stage of his career would be a bit overzealous.

2. The Cardinals are incredibly deep everywhere

The Cardinals are expected to be contenders once again, and given item number one above, they need to make up for their lack of position-player firepower. They make up for it with incredible depth. A quick look at the projections shows six of the eight projected starters at or above average (2.0 zWAR), with only Brandon Moss and Matt Holliday below. Just looking at the totals does not do the depth justice as more players are actually above-average performers.

Pro-rating plate appearances to 600, the Cardinals have nine players performing at an above-average rate with Matt Holliday, Greg Garcia, and Tommy Pham also making the cut, with Jedd Gyorko, Aledmy Diaz, Brandon Moss, and Matt Adams not far behind. On a rate basis, Pham is actually projected to outperform Randal Grichuk, and if he is healthy, he should no problem finding playing time.

On the pitching side, the Cardinals have four starters decently above average on the whole, with Garcia also above average with an innings deficit. On a rate basis, Tyler Lyons and Tim Cooney profile right at about average with Marco Gonzales a bit below the two of them. Top prospect Alex Reyes does not have a great projection, but could hold his own. The bullpen has excellent projections for Trevor Rosenthal, very good projections from Kevin Siegrist, and average to above-average contributions from Jordan Walden, Miguel Socolovich, Seung Hwan Oh, Sam Tuivailala, Jonathan Broxton, and Seth Maness. That is eight pitchers without mentioning Tyler Lyons, Tim Cooney, Marco Gonzales, or perhaps Alex Reyes. If players should go down, the Cardinals do have decent reinforcements.

3. Pitching will again carry the day for the Cardinals

Nobody expects the Cardinals to do quite as well as preventing runs as they did last year, but the possibility does exist for them to pitch just as well. Carlos Martinez is expected to improve slightly from last season. Adam Wainwright is expected to return to form. Michael Wacha needs only to repeat an inconsistent season to meet expectations. Mike Leake's peripheral stats actually line up pretty well with the departed John Lackey, and while it is unreasonable to expect much from Jaime Garcia after 129 excellent innings last year, the team does have reinforcement to soften the blow.

While there are many inferences and conclusions to be drawn from these projections, they help confirm a lot of what we already know, but generally paint a solid picture of the team for this season.