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Three takeaways from Cardinals ZiPS projections

Dan Szymborksi released his ZiPS projections over at FanGraphs. Here’s what we learned

New York Mets v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

While it might not be a big deal to many of you, I look forward to few days in the offseason related to baseball more than when Dan Szymborksi files his projections with “barkled quaestuary” Carson Cistulli over at FanGraphs. Today, on Friday the 13th, the ZiPS have now been published. You are encouraged to look them up and down yourself and draw any conclusions you deem fit.

For those unfamiliar with how ZiPS works, Dan Szymborksi looks at a whole lot of other players and then considers a whole lot of other factors that he plugs into a computer or something like that and then those factors spit out projections for the upcoming season. He has been doing this for some time, and I find them very valuable in terms of framing expectations for the season.

Here is a rough sketch of the team. Note that Jhonny Peralta is listed at second base, but is much more likely to play third. This does not affect the projection in any meaningful way, I wouldn’t think.

In looking over the projections, here are my initial thoughts.

  1. Carlos Martinez should be a star.

Carlos Martinez is projected for 4.2 WAR in 192.1 innings for next season and while a four-win season might not seem great, it is a very good projection. First, consider this list of players that have been covered thus far by projections and El Gallo’s place in those projections.

ZiPS Projected WAR Age in 2017
Chris Sale 6.2 28
Clayton Kershaw 5.9 29
Madison Bumganer 5.5 27
Max Scherzer 5.5 32
Corey Kluber 5.4 31
David Price 5 31
Johnny Cueto 4.7 31
Aaron Sanchez 4.6 25
Jon Lester 4.4 33
Jake Arrieta 4.4 31
RIck Porcello 4.3 28
Carlos Martinez 4.2 25
Chris Archer 4.1 28
Jose Quintana 3.9 28
Stephen Strasburg 3.9 28
Kyle Hendricks 3.8 27
Carlos Carrasco 3.7 30
Danny Duffy 3.6 28
Zack Greinke 3.6 33
Justin Verlander 3.5 34
Dallas Keuchel 3.5 29

While the ZiPS aren’t done, the only player remaining who figures to be meaningfully higher than Tsunami is Noah Sundergaard with Yu Darvish potentially higher with others like Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, and Jon Gray potentially being in that territory.

Martinez and Aaron Sanchez (along with Syndergaard) are the only players below the age of 27 on that list. Martinez puts himself easily in the top-20 and in a group that is pushing for top-10 status. That is ace-level, and not in an “every team has an ace” type of discussion, but one of the elite pitchers in baseball. His best comp this season from ZiPS is Kevin Brown, one of the greatest pitchers of the last 30 years.

2. ZiPS is more bullish on the Cardinals position players than Steamer

Steamer projections, which are incorporated into the FanGraphs Depth Charts right now see Dexter Fowler, Jedd Gyorko and Kolten Wong as average players. It sees Stephen Piscotty as below average, with Jhonny Peralta below average as well.

ZiPS sees better seasons from almost every Cardinals regular. The biggest jump comes from Stephen Piscotty, who has the second-best offensive projection behind Matt Carpenter and ties Carpenter in overall value at just a tick over three wins above replacement. A difference of opinion is also seen on Dexter Fowler. ZiPS sees better offensive numbers and over the course of 600 plate appearances along with slight differences in defense sees a 50% improvement over Steamer’s two-win season.

There are also slight increases in value for Yadier Molina, as well as Carpenter, Wong, Gyorko, Grichuk, and Peralta. Given similar playing time, the value could be as much as six wins or more when compared with Steamer. That type of difference would put the Cardinals a lot closer to 90 wins than 85 where the Cardinals are currently projected.

3. The Cardinals pitching depth is a mixed bag

The Cardinals currently have 7 starting pitchers projected to be above average or better. Given the current projected starting five, we have Martinez at the top, Lance Lynn and Alex Reyes projected as above average pitchers, Adam Wainwright just a bit behind those two, and then Mike Leake who is projected to be roughly average. That’s a solid starting five.

After those five, Michael Wacha projects right around average and Luke Weaver has a pretty positive projection for next season, pretty close to fellow rookie and top prospect Reyes. That is the very good news. Having seven starting pitchers all projected to be average or better is great depth to have heading into the season as pitchers tend to break down.

After those seven, the Cardinals have a bit of a fall. Last season, the Cardinals had a starting five with Wacha in for Lynn and Garcia in for Reyes, but had Marco Gonzales, Tim Cooney, and Tyler Lyons as potential starters waiting in the wings even before we got to Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver. As Lyons pitched out of the bullpen and got hurt, Marco Gonzales got hurt and Tim Cooney got hurt and is now in Cleveland’s organization, the later depth the Cardinals once had has eroded a bit.

The next best pitcher after the top seven is John Gant, acquired in the Jaime Garcia trade. He profiles as a decent bit below average with Marco Gonzales, Mike Mayers, and Austin Gomber not seen as ready to contribute in the majors in a positive manner. The initial depth is good, but if the Cardinals have more than a couple guys go down, they might need to look outside the organization if they are in playoff position.

Have a good weekend and enjoy the ZiPS.