Projection season winds down for the Giants with Dan Szymborski’s latest ZiPS projection for 2019. Much like the PECOTA projections, which Kenny covered so well here and here, the Giants don’t project to amount to much, although success could be in the eye of the beholder. Here’s the handy cartoon chart:
ZiPS... likes... the Giants? Or, at least, parts of the Giants? A lot of that infield sure looks like the “championship core” Farhan Zaidi has referred to throughout the offseason. It all comes down to health, of course, and if you want to believe that the volume of injuries suffered by Giants regulars over the past few years is more fluke than reality, then I won’t begrudge you that dream.
I like ZiPS for a lot of reasons. I’m naturally biased towards Dan Szymborski in general because he seems like a nice guy who’s got a good sense of humor and seems to engage in the data analysis of baseball more in line with how I like to consider it — it enhances but doesn’t control my enjoyment of the sport. But his system also tends to be surprising at times. For instance, Marwin Gonzalez’s #1 comp last season was Lamar Johnson.
Johnson was a first baseman/DH for the White Sox back in the late 70s / early 80s who had a four season run from 26-29 years old where he posted a 111 OPS+ and was out of baseball two years later. Gonzalez just finished that 26-29 run with a 112 OPS+. Does that means ZiPS suggests the Giants should stay away from him as a potential outfield or utility piece when they swing and miss on Harper? Maybe!
It’s why I like ZiPS. It suggests strong possibilities. It’s a system that seems to have a realistic perspective on Brandon Belt, realistically factoring in diminished playing time (484 PA) due to his extensive injury history, though still projecting him to be the team’s best hitter by OPS+ (112).
Can we just cut out all the bad stuff in this projection — the outfield, the rotation — and get to the good stuff? Like a baseball scenes-only cut of For the Love of the Game or a Julia Child-only version of Julie & Julia?
The Dereck Rodriguez projection alone feels like a solid win against a computer, or like the actual baseball scenes in For the Love of the Game. Andrew Suarez’s projected part-time role and troublesomely miniscule production? That’s the Kevin Costner-Kelly Preston relationship subplot, in particular, the scene where she catches him with the massage therapist. Let’s just cut that out. We get it.
That Rodriguez projection doesn’t look like a true winner, of course, but projecting him to be basically league average over the course of a full-ish season is promising. Remember, as much as he impressed, there’s still cause for concern. The “underlying analytics” (mainly the strikeout rate) don’t love him as much as Bruce Bochy does. And, sadly, it doesn’t look like ZiPS agrees with my “maybe Andrew Suarez could be the next Dallas Keuchel” wishcasting.
Buster Posey still projects to be a damned fine baseball player. He’s Meryl Streep’s performance in Julie & Julia. Just don’t cut back to those Amy Adams scenes (the outfield). ZiPS, like the rest of us, doesn’t know what the hell is going on there, either, though it does seem to think Drew Ferguson — this year’s Chris Taylor? — can be a 1-win player. And it still likes Joe Panik. Well, we all like Joe Panik, but the projections like him to be bounce back in terms of his on base percentage.
Even if we cut out all the bad bits of these ZiPS projections, though, we find the Giants mostly lacking when it comes to the rest of the division. The Dodgers’ rotation alone projects to be worth twice as many wins as the Giants’ and the Diamondbacks about 1.5 times better. ZiPS puts the Dodgers in 95-win territory and Arizona around 85. The Giants at 77 (Rockies and Padres have yet to be released). We did not need a projection system to tell us this, but here is a projection system telling us this.
Should Bryce Harper decide to come to the Giants, and we’re conservative about his contributions (say, the 4-5 win range), it doesn’t remarkably improve that outfield or the team’s overall chances... but hey, it couldn’t hurt.
It’s the time of the year to be as optimistic as possible. So, let’s ignore the bad stuff — the rotation, the outfield, the overall projection of the team being stuck in the mud — and consider that at least on paper, the Giants’ strengths still look strong.