Yesterday was a fun day for nerds like me as the Royals ZiPS projections were released by Dan Szymborski on Fangraphs. For those of you who want to tell me that baseball is played on the field and not in a computer system, I already learned that last week. I do find it fun to see what a system that has been pretty accurate in the past. If nothing else, it’s fun and a bit of an opportunity to talk some baseball when the opportunities have been hard to come by of late. On the whole, nothing jumps out to me as way out of left field in the projections, but there are three players who I was a bit surprised by and one who I just marvel at.
Norichika Aoki – .279/.336/.362 projection, .286/.356/.370 last season
It struck me as a little odd that a guy who had OBPed .355 and .356 in his first two big league seasons would be projected to take a 20 point dip, but maybe the change in leagues combined with his age (he just turned 32) is why ZiPS believes he’s going to see a bit of a decline in his numbers during the 2014 season. Recently, Aoki has said that he was disappointed with his 2013 and had a goal of getting to 200 hits. I hope he’s right and not these projections. The Steamer and Oliver projections are both a little more in line with what Aoki had done in his career up until now. My guess is we see something along the lines of .285/.350/.375 or so for Aoki, which I guess isn’t that far off from ZiPS.
Mike Moustakas – .255/.305/.416 projection, .233/.287/.364 last season
The Moustakas projection surprised me the other way from Aoki’s. I just think it’s way too robust. He’s been good for about half a season as a big leaguer and has looked lost for most of the rest of his time in the majors. I guess ZiPS could be looking at his age and would reasonably conclude that a 25 year-old player would get better from what he’d done, but that OBP alone seems about 15 points higher than I’d even begin to expect. I think it’s clear Moustakas has the talent to surpass even the ZiPS numbers, but he hasn’t shown me much to say that he’s capable of doing that. Interestingly enough, the other two projection systems that are out there right now have him putting up similar numbers, so maybe they know something we don’t. I’d guess about .240/.290/.380 for Moustakas in 2014. If he posts what he’s projected to do, that would go a long way toward really helping out this offense.
Jason Vargas – 4.71 ERA, 5.04 FIP, 5.8 K/9 projection, 4.02 ERA, 4.09 FIP, 6.5 K/9 last season
This projection doesn’t surprise me because I think Vargas will be good, but I think he’ll be better than this both considering his history and considering the fit at Kauffman Stadium and with the Royals defense. I see a pitcher who gives up a fair amount of fly balls and see that he’s gone to a stadium that does one thing to help pitchers and it keeps fly balls in the ballpark. Add to that an excellent outfield defense and Vargas seems like a guy who could far exceed these numbers. Since becoming a full-time starter, Vargas has not had an ERA above 4.25 and has not had a FIP above 4.69. Both other projection systems have Vargas a lot closer to where I’d place him, but I think he has a surprisingly good season that is all due to the stellar defense behind him and he puts up an ERA of a bit under 4.00.
Greg Holland – 2.34 ERA, 2.31 FIP, 13 K/9 projection, 1.21 ERA, 1.36 FIP, 13.8 K/9 last season
Holland is the pitcher I’m amazed by because his projection is just so insanely good. In two of his three big league seasons, his ERA has been sub 2.00 and the worst FIP of his career is 2.29. That’s just crazy. I don’t even know what I’d predict for Greg Holland to do because I fear I’d undersell him, but the point is that he’s going to be really, really good in all likelihood.
Other points that are notable from these projections are that James Shields (4.2 zWAR) and Salavdor Perez (4.0 zWAR) will be the two most valuable Royals on the team. Some other interesting stat lines:
- Eric Hosmer (.296/.353/.459) and Billy Butler (.288/.363/.442) are projected to put up pretty similar seasons. If those are their stat lines, someone else is going to have to step up and exceed their expectations for the Royals to go from below average/average to better than that in their lineup.
- Johnny Giavotella’s projection of .263/.317/.368 is interesting because it indicates he’d put up average or so numbers if given a full season. I’ve been one of Gio’s biggest supporters over the years, but even I think that’s a little crazy at this point. There’s just too much that’s worked against him for me to believe he would do this with the Royals.
- Jeremy Guthrie is projected to post a 4.55 ERA with a 4.81 FIP. The FIP wouldn’t surprise me, but like Vargas, I think he’s a really good fit for this park and this team and I think his ERA is about a quarter run lower than that.
- The relievers who I think will break camp with the team are projected to post an ERA+ of 175, 134, 125, 117, 116, 109 and 90. The 90 belongs to Wade Davis who is projected out as a starter, I believe, so even that will get better.
- Duffy and Ventura are both projected to post about average numbers. If the Royals want to contend in 2014, they’re both going to have to do better than average because the Royals already have average in Vargas and Guthrie.
- I put the lineup through the lineup optimizer tool and it came out with the Royals scoring 727 runs if the starters play all 162 games. Of course that doesn’t happen, so maybe knock off 25 or so runs and we’ll say they’re projected to score about 700 runs this season, which is about 50 more than last year. If 10 runs is a win, the offense has improved by 5 wins. That rotation, though, that’s where the questions lie.
Just a quick and dirty look at it shows that ZiPS projects the Royals to be about 86-76 again or within a couple wins of that point. That makes me feel pretty good because that’s about where I see them when I look at this roster. Obviously, projections are just that and they have to play the games and all that good stuff, but I do think this really shows how badly the Royals need to just add one more piece to get to that 90 win or so mark, which gets the team to the point where just about anything can happen. We’ll see if they have one more move left in them, but I think they’re done for the winter.
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