Last week, Dan Szymborski released the 2013 version of ZiPS for the Kansas City Royals. I talked very briefly about these in Friday Notes, but I wanted to circle back based on a conversation that was had yesterday on the Kansas City Baseball Vault that Clint and I participated in. We talked a little about the projections and what they mean, which gave me the idea to get into them a little bit. If you’re unfamiliar with ZiPS, they are a projection system designed by Szymborski that takes a look at the previous four seasons for most players (age 24-38) and the previous three seasons for the rest. Then it looks at typical aging curves as exhibited by similar players. Needless to say, there’s plenty of room for error due to the system ignoring the human element. More weight is placed on the more recent seasons, but a player like Alex Gordon, for example, still won’t look great by these projections because of how bad he was in 2011 and 2012. Â So I’m going to take a look at a few players and why I think he may do better or worse than what the projection shows.
Alex Gordon – .269/.352/.434, 17 HR, 67 RBI, 86 R, .341 wOBA
I mentioned Gordon in the opening paragraph, and I think he’s one of the biggest under projections on the Royals list. I really believe his subpar 2009 and 2010 are knocking every slash stat in this projection down by at least 20 points. My non-computerized guess on Gordon would be about .290/.365/.475 for 2013 and about a .360 wOBA. Over the last two seasons, Gordon has hit .298/.372/.478. Is that what we expected his prime to look like back in 2006 or so? Of course not, but he’s a damn fine player and a different player than the one we saw prior to the 2011 season. If I had to bet on one player outperforming his projection, it’d be Gordon.
Mike Moustakas – .261/.310/.430, 20 HR, 81 RBI, 71 R, .316 wOBA
The more I talk to people close to the Royals, the more I begin to believe that the knee injury Moustakas dealt with around the middle of the season hurt him the whole rest of the year and was a big contributor to his massive decline in the second half. He missed very little time, so the projections would have no way of quantifying what playing hurt could do for a player. I do think it’s conceivable that Moustakas will always be considered an underachiever based on his draft position, but I also think we’re going to see a season out of him that will end up being the norm. I’d give him a guess at .275/.330/.480 next season. The slugging percentage in the projection was the most surprising thing to me as I see as he was hovering in the .480-.500 range for much of the first part of the season before his injury. Maybe I’m totally off, but I think we’ll see the early season Moustakas for the whole year in 2013.
James Shields – 4.11 ERA, 3.92 FIP, 208 IP, 7.92 K/9, 2.29 BB/9
Shields, like Gordon, is hurt in the projections by his 2010 season when he put up pretty rough raw numbers, but the advanced statistics showed a rebound was likely. I might have him in the category of players I think will be better than their projections partially because I’m at least hopeful he’ll be better than this, but I also legitimately think he’ll be better. I’d be surprised if he put up his lowest strikeout rate of the last three seasons in 2013, and I don’t think his home run rate will spike like the projections say with him moving to a park that suppresses homers like Kauffman does and getting out of the AL East and some of the small ballparks there. If I had to guess, I’d put Shields at a 3.50-3.70 ERA or so with about 220 innings, 8.5 K/9 and about where the projections have him on his walk rate.
Kelvin Herrera -Â 3.72 ERA, 3.41 FIP, 77.1 IP, 8.15 K/9, 2.45 BB/9
I hesitated for a second to include a reliever because their performances are so random due to the low number of innings pitched, but I just feel so strongly that Herrera is a star in the bullpen that I wanted to mention him. I love what he brings to the table with the fantastic fastball, the great control and what seems like an ability to withstand pressure. It may be a small quibble, but after putting up a 2.35 ERA and a 2.70 FIP, I see him at least maintaining that level of production in 2013. Again, throwing such a low amount of innings lends itself to random occurrence and a bad outing could bump an ERA for the whole season, but Herrera’s another guy I’d bet strongly on doing better than these projections. I just love what he brings to the table. I do think the strikeout and walk numbers are about right, but the home run numbers don’t seem likely to be as high as the projections have them, which should help in bringing the ERA down to where I see it.
I don’t really see a ton of players likely to do worse than their projections. ZiPS is kind of notorious for being conservative in its projections, which makes sense as it provides the middle of the road projection. I’ve seen a lot of people a little upset with these (though I hope not at them, that’d be weird), but for me there just aren’t a ton of projections that look that far off. I think a guy like Eric Hosmer has a chance to just obliterate his projection of .273/.336/.435. Gun to my head, I’d say he beats that, but it’s really hard for me to predict that after what we saw him do in 2012. We can all hope for a Jason Heyward like renaissance, but you never know. And that’s just it with all of these projections. The axiom that is often given to people who pay close attention to advanced statistics is that the game is not played on paper, and that’s very true in the case of these and any projections. Their purpose is for fun and while they do have some predictive value, I just love seeing them come out because it means baseball is on the way.