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A look at the Cardinals’ new projections for 2017

If you trust the numbers, the Cardinals look a little better today than they did a couple of days ago.

Pittsburgh Pirates v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Here were are today on yet another day with no baseball. Tomorrow won’t feature baseball, and neither will the next day, or the day after that. However, there was some fun news yesterday. There are two major public baseball projection systems. One, Steamer, has been available for some time now. When anyone has referred to “the projections” the last couple of months, they’ve meant Steamer. The other, Zips, has a little more of a flair for the dramatic (or perhaps just a better business model). Its creator, Dan Szymborski, releases them on a team by team basis throughout the off-season. Yesterday was Cards fans’ turn to enjoy Zips’ goodness.

For those that already are familiar with Steamers’ projections, it was a breathe of fresh air. As Craig mentioned yesterday, Zips is higher than Steamer on several position players. Zips uses “zWAR” to denote Zips projected WAR, and to make things easier we’ll call Steamer’s projected WAR “sWAR”. To get rid of any playing time issues, we’ll adjust everything to 600 plate appearances. Check it out:

Of course, you probably had your own opinion of the Cardinals and their assorted players that doesn’t involve the projections. I see them as a great starting point, especially since no one has the time to do a complete in-depth look on every single player in the league. Still, it’s nice to see some data-based evidence that supports the Cardinals more than the previous set of data-based evidence. Craig mentioned that Piscotty saw the biggest jump among regulars, but he has some company up there when adding outfield prospect Harrison Bader and the currently buried-on-the-bench Greg Garcia.

The starting pitching however, is about the same overall. First, I should mention that the differences are more murky because of all the unknowns surrounding who is actually in the Cardinals rotation. Steamer projects Alex Reyes and Michael Wacha to both be out of the bullpen, and Luke Weaver in the rotation, which doesn’t seem very likely to be the case. Zips projects all three as starters, but to keep things simple, we’ll just work with the five that each project as starters:

All in all, we’re looking at a rotation projected similarly by both. Zips has more love for El Gallo, where as Steamer is higher on Waino.

Let’s look at a few of the bigger differences between the two, starting with Greg Garcia:

Both projection systems see Garcia as having above-average BABIP skills, though Steamer believes in him a little more. It’s the defense where the projections disagree, as Zips sees an above average defender and Steamer below average.

As an everyday player, Piscotty is more important to these discussions though. Here’s how his career and projections break down:

Both projection systems see him with lower strikeout and power numbers, a throwback to his minor league numbers before he successfully made a conscious adjustment. The projections agree on his BABIP, the biggest part of Piscotty’s value to date. Zips believes a little more in the power though, while expecting him to strike out less.

Next up, we’ll look at Jedd Gyorko:

Now here’s a player where you should expect some difference in the projections. By year, his wRC+ has went: 109, 76, 92, and 111. Correspondingly, his WAR has been: 2.4, -0.1, 0.6, and 2.3. Still, the projections are pretty darn identical on offense. The difference entirely comes from the field. The same can be said about Kolten Wong:

There’s an even more insignificant difference between the projections on offense for Wong. Again, Zips just seems to like the defense better. If you’re down on Wong, it might be comforting to know that both expect him to be better in 2017 than his career rates, which is kind of rare for a projection system.

So what have we learned here? Maybe it’s that the Cardinals defense won’t be as bad as Steamer thought it would be. That’s an underwhelming finding I guess, but it’s not nothing. A run saved on defense is just as good as a run scored on offense, and there’s definitely plenty of Cardinals fans that were fed up with the team’s defensive performance in 2016.

Of course, games are played on the field, not on paper. Nothing really changed when Szymborski released his projections on the Cardinals. Still, it’s hard not to feel a little more optimistic about the Cardinals after he did so. I felt more optimistic about the Cardinals than Steamer did, but I also obviously have a bit of an emotional attachment to them that might preclude 100% objectivity. Zips has no such bias, so it feels good to have that feeling backed up. Indeed, that lack of bias and emotion is exactly what I love about the numbers. I understand if you feel differently. Hopefully the next few months go by quickly, so we can get back to actual wins and losses, rather than projected ones.