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The 2023 ZiPS projections have arrived to vindicate the Giants (a little bit)

The front office’s plan for the organization has raised their annual floor to an on-paper playoff race participant.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at San Francisco Giants Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Back in November, we looked at the very early ZiPS projection for the San Francisco Giants by the esteemed Dan Szymborski. That was before all the unpleasantness of the Judge and Correa pursuits and before even a hint that Plan B would be a pivot to quality quantity. And now this morning comes the formal season projection based on the likely roster.

It’s good!

The Giants went from an 83-79 projection to, in Dan’s words, “an 85-90 win team,” and I think that’s just swell. He notes that their starting pitching depth is better than their NL West rivals, while not really being better anywhere else. But I think that’s the point. Until the player development system — Literally, The Most Important Part of The Giants Plan To Return To Being A Competitive Team Every Season — starts working as intended, a team of depth — just as many 1.5-2.5 win players and platoons as they can find or make — will have to suffice.

We’ve seen the plan working well since 2020. Even in the fluke year of 2021, it was star players plus platooning that created such an unlikely and never to be duplicated result (that plus juiced balls and older players having gotten extra rest from the abbreviated 2020 season). The Giants do have an impressive formula. I’d almost say magical, but that might come off as insulting to the math they’ve worked so hard to put together.

The thrust of Dan’s full post on the results is that star players (3-4+ WAR players) make good teams great. The Giants aren’t yet a great team, even with that 85-90 win assessment he makes. The ceiling is a little bit more limited, even if the floor projects a bit more certain. It’s a collection of Some Guys, with a chance for a few of those guys to be more. That’s mainly on the offensive side, though. They do have one star player: their ace, Logan Webb.

ZiPS knocks off half a win from his 2022 result, but 3.7 WAR on ~170 IP is star caliber, exactly what the Giants need from their #1 starter. He’s not the only good news in the projection, either.

The Good

You mean, besides an 85-90 win team on paper?

The DH situation. In the NL last year, Justin Turner led that position with 2.4 fWAR. Yordan Álvarez led the sport with 6.6 fWAR. Shohei Ohtani came in at 3.8 fWAR on a line of .273/.356/.519. The Giants’ DH position registered 0.0 wins above replacement on a line of .233/.321./386. This was an obvious spot for improvement and the Giants might’ve actually succeeded here.

ZiPS, perhaps incorrectly, used Joc Pederson + Michael Conforto + Mitch Haniger at the position to get its projection (Haniger and Conforto are slated to play the field — for now); but Pederson’s bat alone was worth 2.1 fWAR last year. Tagging him with the qualifying offer just to keep him around and shove him into this lineup spot looks to be wise — on paper.

Meanwhile, Mike Yastrzemski and David Villar appear to be the top hitters on the team. Both their 80th percentile and 20th percentile projections have them leading the roster. Yastrzemski serves as a reminder of the front office’s prowess for data scouting while Villar could serve as the one piece of evidence to prove that the Giants’ farm system is great.

After Webb, the rotation looks solid to great. Cobb (2.3 fWAR), Wood (1.9), Stripling, and DeSclafani (1.9), and Kyle Harrison (1.6) jump out — Sean Manaea will appear later in this post — and if the Giants did manage to improve their defense (a situation we can only say is TBD until Spring Training gets going), they seem to have maintained at least a portion of their strength over the past couple of seasons.

The bullpen has solid+ contributions all the way around, with potential rookie R.J. Dabovich (0.6 fWAR) exciting Dan’s algorithm:

R.J. Dabovich is a ZiPS Special here, a pitcher with velocity approaching 100 mph but some control issues. I have plate discipline stats derived from minor league play-by-play, and ZiPS actually think that Dabovich’s walk rate in Triple-A was much higher than he deserved.

The pitching projection comes in below the actual 2022 result (18.3 vs. 20.0), but that has at least a little something to do with losing a truly standout and difficult to repeat performance from Carlos Rodón.

The Bad

ZiPS has no faith in Sean Manaea. A 1-WAR projection on 4.21 ERA pitching (24 starts). It basically takes his career line — 1.22 WHIP, 4.07 FIP, 21.6% K%, 6.2% BB% — and projects a little bit better than that. On the other hand, if you think of Manaea, Wood, DeSclafani, and Harrison as all being in the mix for either their own spot in the rotation or the same spot, then it seems like the Giants are trying to create a cosmic gumbo that gives them decent options with high floors. This should be good news for the fans who hate bullpen games.

That catching situation — at least from a hitting standpoint — is borderline dire. Joey Bart, Blake Sabol, and Austin Wynns (still with the team, remember — he was outrighted to Sacramento) have an 80th percentile projection of a little bit over league average, and as a group, the ZiPS projection is 1.3 fWAR. It has not been a high value offensive position in the league the past three years:

It’s not a high bar to clear and the Giants’ situation looks setup to at least meet it; but it’s a far cry from the Buster Posey days, as one would expect after, you know, Posey’s departure.

The Smug(ly)

ZiPS has Aaron Judge as a 7-win player and Carlos Correa as a 5-win player. You add Judge to the outfield and you improve the team’s projection by 5 wins. You add Correa to the infield and you improve the team’s projection by 1.5-2 wins.

Now, every win counts, and the knock-on effects of having a player like Correa not only on the field and your lineup but also in the clubhouse could have a lot of positive effects elsewhere (maybe there are behavioral models emerging to show that excited players hit their 80th percentiles more frequently, whatever), but based on what we know now, the Giants have built a team nearly as good without Correa as one they’d have with it.

As for Judge, it shows why they were willing to do a blitz to try to land him — they also offered him the most money out of their two top pursuits. At least in 2023, they would’ve improved their odds of not just competing for the third Wild Card for as long as possible, but the division, too.

At the end of the day, they’ve put together a roster that can still compete deep into September and maybe even flirt with winning the division if some other things out of their control break their way. People like to compare the Giants’ on-paper projections to last year’s Phillies team, conveniently ignoring that they had two star hitters in their lineup — JT Realmuto and Bryce Harper — and two aces in their rotation.

The Giants don’t have either of those conditions, but they certainly project to have a collection of players who could perhaps generate enough success to approximate a version of last year’s Phillies team. But for now, let’s try to think of them as just The Giants: a perfectly cromulent roster, embiggened by a front office that’s proven time and again that it knows how to maximize players’ talents to generate team success.