clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Three takeaways from this year’s ZiPS projections

What do the projections have to say about the Cardinals next year.

MLB: Game 1-Milwaukee Brewers at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, over at FanGraphs, Carson Cistulli unveiled Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections for the Cardinals next season. Cistulli indicated “the club is throttled by quality depth”. Perhaps the most interesting nugget we already discussed, that Marcell Ozuna’s top comp at this age is Matt Holliday. There are a few other things worth noting.

ZiPS Believes in Jedd Gyorko

Next season, ZiPS gives Gyorko a .263/.327/.462 line, which is a bit better than what Steamer projected. In 480 plate appearances, ZiPS puts Gyorko at 2.9 zWAR, the fourth highest mark on the team. Steamer gave Gyorko just 2.2 WAR in 583 plate appearances.

That’s roughly a win difference between the two projections over 480 prorated plate appearances. Move the projections out to 600 PA, and we are talking about a difference of nearly a win and a half, the biggest difference between the two projection systems on the Cardinals. It would appear that some of the difference is due to fielding differences.

Steamer sees Gyorko as a below-average third baseman while ZiPS sees him as above-average. Over the last three seasons, Gyorko has a plus 8.4 UZR and plus 23 DRS in over 2200 innings at second and third base. ZiPS projection seems to believe those recent numbers even if you factor in his poor shortstop numbers during those years. The Cardinals are looking for a third baseman, but Gyorko is a solid player.

Everyone is hedging their bets on Tommy Pham’s breakout

Tommy Pham entered the 2017 season as a 29-year-old with 358 MLB plate appearances, a 32% k-rate and a 114 wRC+ getting under 200 PA in 2015 and 2016. Pham destroyed fools in 2017, with a 148 wRC+ in 530 PA. For his career, Pham has a .281/.380/.493 line with a 134 wRC+. So what do the projections say?

It isn’t that the projections ignore Pham’s breakout, but they expect the 30-year-old to revert back to pre-2017 form. He sees an uptick in strikeouts and a substantial reduction in power with both Steamer and ZiPS both have Pham at roughly 115 wRC+. Some of the realism is fair as Pham’s BABIP might drop from .356 as the projections suggest. Pham’s xwOBA was about 40 points higher than his actual wOBA, which would have put him closer to a 125 wRC+, still well above-average.

On the other hand, Pham was finally healthy and finally had his eyes working properly for the first time last season, and we saw what he could do. Projections seem to be throwing up their hands, not quite sure if last year was real, but not willing to discount it completely. If there is one player who could crush the projections next year, it is Tommy Pham.

Alex Reyes’ comp is fascinating

Everyone missed out on seeing Alex Reyes last season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. This season, the projections still see Reyes’ potential as high despite the missed season. Reyes is projected for under 100 innings, but his 25% k-rate is the highest of any starter while his 3.90 FIP and 3.86 ERA are about 10% better than average.

What is very interesting about Reyes—outside of his spectacular stuff—is the top comp put on him by ZiPS: Sam McDowell. It’s fine if you have never heard of Sam McDowell. He didn’t make the Hall of Fame. He played on some not-good Cleveland teams. He never played in the postseason. His career was basically done after his age-28 season.

Alex Reyes is about to enter his age-23 season. This is how Sam McDowell fared compared to his peers from 1965-1970 by WAR.

1965-1970 IP K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP WAR
Bob Gibson 1667.1 7.84 2.52 2.44 2.47 42.7
Sam McDowell 1562.2 9.51 4.03 2.74 2.61 39.6
Juan Marichal 1673.1 6.31 1.46 2.57 2.75 33.6
Gaylord Perry 1689.1 6.5 2.28 2.91 2.8 32.9
Fergie Jenkins 1418.1 7.63 2.11 3.05 2.86 30.2
Jim Bunning 1498.2 7.04 2.12 3.01 2.81 29.4

It’s okay not to have heard of Sam McDowell, but the one player he’s behind from 1965-1970 is one of the greatest pitchers of all time. The four players McDowell is ahead of are all in the Hall of Fame. McDowell had one of the greatest six-year runs for a pitcher in history.

Since 1947, only 11 pitchers have put up more WAR between age-23 and age-28 than Sam McDowell. The only pitchers ahead of him not in the Hall of Fame are Clayton Kershaw, Roger Clemens, Felix Hernandez, and Chris Sale. McDowell led American League pitcher in fWAR—twice with bWAR—but in 1965 the Cy Young was for all of MLB and Sandy Koufax won, in 1969 Denny McLain won 30 games, and in 1970, Jim Perry had 24 wins for the Twins with a higher ERA and the Orioles staff all split the vote with McDowell in a tight vote. It’s possible to look at a lot of comps and find them underwhelming to the point you just skip over them. Alex Reyes’ comp is fascinating.