Checking In On 2021 Projections + New ZiPS!
Maybe a little late, but it's always fun to look back at the projection systems and see where they went wrong...and where they went right.
Royals fans have always had a love/hate relationship with projections. Mostly it’s that they love to hate them after the team notably not only outperformed their PECOTA projection, particularly in 2015, but obliterated it. The issue, of course, is that the system struggled with a lot of what the Royals did well, which was mostly that they played exceptional defense and their bullpen was about as automatic as a bullpen could be.
It’s easy to forget that these projections are simply based on an algorithm and teams like the Royals weren’t the norm and were thus tough to project. But I’m not here to defend the projections, I’m here to evaluate them, at least as they pertain to 2021. And the 2021 Royals were sort of interesting because they had a few veterans, who you’d feel like the systems would have a handle on and then a few young guys who could go a million different directions. The margin for error on the young guys is generally huge for projections while for the veterans, it’s a little easier to hone in on some numbers.
For these purposes, I want to look at players still with the team because I don’t especially care how Jorge Soler was projected at this point and I’m using the ZiPS projections that you see in Fangraphs from Dan Szymborski and PECOTA that you see in Baseball Prospectus.
Whit Merrifield - I think you can look at the Merrifield projections from both ZiPS and PECOTA and give it a pretty good bullseye. The zWAR on his projection was obviously dead on with his fWAR and while PECOTA pegged him a little lower, I don’t think anyone could have predicted his defense would catapult to the next level like it did at second base. Both missed on SLG, but this is a pretty darn good projection.
Edward Olivares - The sample is small, so it’s important to keep that in mind here, but a low-ish average, sub-.300 OBP and decent ISO was projected from PECOTA, but I think he showed a bit more power than anyone expected in his limited big league time. I’d call those big time wins.
I think Merrifield is one of the easier ones to hit on given that he has so much experience with 2021 his fifth full big league season and he had a good chunk of time in 2016 as well. Olivares seems like more of a lucky draw, but a very good lucky draw if nothing else.
Adalberto Mondesi - You kind of have to ignore the WARs on each of these projections because they’re not playing time predictors, but they both thought hitting for average would be a problem and getting on base would be a problem, but his real-world .222 ISO was a lot higher than either the .177 from ZiPS or .168 from PECOTA.
Andrew Benintendi - Both systems projected a bounceback for him from a brutal 2020 campaign, but they kind of missed on how he’d get there. The average was higher, the OBP lower and the SLG a fair amount higher than either of the two projections listed above. Neither projection had him faring so well defensively, which is the hardest thing to project, I would think.
Obviously the rest are misses here. I’m not going to get into each one individually, but I will touch on a few.
Salvador Perez - I would assume if his fantastic 2020 had been spread out over a full season if the systems would have bought it more. Instead, what was projected was basically 2014-2018 Salvy (.254/.285/.438) with the power boost we saw in 2020 accounted for to raise his SLG in the projections. I think moving forward, getting him right will be extremely difficult due to catcher aging curves but with him having the year and a half off because of Tommy John and the shortened season and being used as a DH more often, especially with the inclusion of MJ Melendez.
Carlos Santana - The shortened 2020 season didn’t just lead to questions among humans, but also in algorithms. How much is that short year weighed? With Sanana, it wasn’t weighed very heavily at all. From 2015-2018, he hit .245/.360/.441 and the projections seemed to sort of throw away both 2019, a huge year, and 2020, a disaster short year. To be honest, it’s hard to argue with that. I expect Santana to be moved for very little once the lockout ends, but if he’s healthy, I wonder if there’s a bit of a bounceback to the guy he was in April and May, which was pretty close to the projections.
Nicky Lopez - Everyone missed on Nicky. I’m not sure what in his two-year career would have given anyone the idea that he’d go from that to what he did, so it’s understandable.
There were some other interesting big misses. Hunter Dozier was whiffed on by the projections. He was looked at as a pretty average bat and he didn’t approach that, though he did hit .239/.310/.411 after he came back in late May from the collision with Jose Abreu, which is right in line with PECOTA. And his .261/.331/.449 line after the break would have put him in the mixed bag section over a full year. The projections also believed Ryan O’Hearn would be less of a drag than he was, but, well, you know.
These are a little harder to evaluate. For one, PECOTA seems to have forgotten Daniel Lynch entirely, which seems odd given how high up he was on prospect lists. There’s also not much here for Jake Brentz or Domingo Tapia who became huge parts of the bullpen, so I’m not going to go crazy on the pitchers here. I did include Richard Lovelady because that’s a big blow to the 2022 bullpen, but maybe Daniel Tillo can take his place and be another plus lefty.
Mike Minor - I’ve said for awhile that if you look past the ERA, Minor had the year pretty much everyone thought he would. Now, ZiPS was a lot closer on his FIP to reality than PECOTA’s DRA and honest ZiPS in general was pretty much dead on, but both systems projected a decent number of strikeouts, a good walk rate and a solid pitcher who shouldn’t be one of your best. I think this is a heck of a projection.
Brad Keller - I think this is a case of peripherals catching up with him both in reality and it finally made the projections for him pretty close. His FIP landed pretty well directly in between the two projections and while the WAR projection was higher on ZiPS, I give that a pass since it’s not a playing time predictor. I think you can say the projections got this one very right.
Scott Barlow - The projections nailed him being a pretty solid strikeout artist with a walk rate that jumps a bit too high for comfort, but that’s about it. ERA indicators in projections will always tend to skew more conservative, so this might have been a closer projection than I’m admitting, but I’ll leave him here.
Daniel Lynch - With no PECOTA projection, it’s just looking at ZiPS, but I still think it’s a pretty good projection that he’d struggle to get strikeouts. I know the minor league numbers supported it, but with no 2020 to look at, I’m impressed by it.
Carlos Hernandez - Nobody could have predicted what he did in 2021, but it’s worth noting that the strikeout and walk numbers were pretty well handled by PECOTA. I still think he has a chance to improve those if he doesn’t completely wear down in September again. He had a 24.9 percent strikeout rate and 10.6 percent walk rate before that final month when he was obviously running on fumes.
Josh Staumont - I don’t think we’re talking enough about how good Staumont was in 2021. He dealt with some health issues that started with having Covid before spring training and never really pitched at full strength for more than a few outings. And he figured out how to control the ball while still getting strikeouts. The projections had him as a walk machine, and I don’t blame them, but as it turns out, he wasn’t at all. I’m very excited to see what he can do in 2022.
The others were kind of meh projections. Kris Bubic was probably part of the mixed bag group, but it was just enough off that I don’t think he belongs in any of the categories. Like I said, I had Lovelady in to show just how good he was in 2021, but the projections were sort of all over the place on him. Brady Singer had the strikeout and walk numbers that PECOTA projected, but his FIP was much better. Of course, his ERA was much worse, so maybe that was actually a pretty good one.
The point here wasn’t to bash projections or praise them, but just to see how they did in 2021. The key to them is to use them correctly. They’re a discussion point, not even a data point. Projections don’t like or dislike any team or any player. I find them interesting, and I love when new ones come out.
Yes, that’s right. The 2022 projections came out yesterday, which actually caused me to release this a day late because I wanted to include them. I put that tweet up above instead of the link to the actual ZiPS, which is this link, because I wanted to note what Dan noted in his tweet about how much better some of the projections for the non-projected players are.
A couple of thoughts on the hitters:
The forecast is for Merrifield to basically maintain what he did in 2021. He has a few more points of average and a touch more SLG, but generally the same player. That’s a risky game to play with a 33-year old, as we saw with Santana last year.
I find it interesting that the Dozier projection isn’t that much below what it was last year, but I’m going to continue my campaign to remind people he’s not as bad as he was early in the year.
The obvious attention here will be on the prospects, and if the Royals make quick decisions to move away from underperformers, wherever they might be, and go to them, that could pay off to the tune of three or four wins. All four of the big bats (Bobby Witt Jr., Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez and Vinnie Pasquantino) actually seem to have pretty similar projections. You figure one could outperform and one could underperform, but they’d still all represent an improvement over guys they could replace. It’s just nice to see the depth starting to build.
And a couple of thoughts on the pitchers:
As Dan says, the rotation projects pretty decent, though without a standout. You would think that someone will find their way to be more than a 3/4/5 guy, but that’s obviously no guarantee. I agree with his assessment of getting a high upside arm, though I also don’t know if it would make enough of a difference to not just let these guys get a bunch of innings and see if any can step up.
I think if the Royals want to clear some payroll for either an extension or to make a signing after the lockout, the underlying numbers in Minor that I mentioned above along with this projection will give teams at least some idea that even though he’s a bit overpaid, it’s just a one-year deal and he’ll at least provide some innings. I wouldn’t be surprised if they could get something for him if they decide to move him.
I feel like I’ve been a bit more optimistic about the bullpen than most for awhile, but I’d bet on more strikeouts than the projections show. Staumont should bounce back some and I think Dylan Coleman will be a monster in the bullpen.
Some Over/Under Predictions
Witt homers (21)
Witt SLG (.454)
Salvador Perez SLG (.494)
Benintendi doubles (32)
Melendez OPS+ (101)
Keller K% (18.6%)
Kowar ERA (4.80)
Staumont Ks (77)
Bubic ERA+ (95)
Coleman K% (25.4%)
Merrifield triples (5)
Mondesi PA (380)
Olivares HR (14)
Lopez WAR (2.4)
Pasquantino SLG (.466)
Bubic ERA (4.80)
Hernandez FIP (4.68)
Lynch ERA- (113)
Staumont BB% (13.5%)
That last part is just some fun with looking at the projections, but I’ll be curious to see how these do when I look back at them next offseason.