2013 ZiPS Projections for Cleveland Indians Players Released

David Richard-US PRESSWIRE

One of the most accurate player projection systems has released its 2013 forecast for the Indians.

The Indians will win ~83 games, if the newly released ZiPS projections for the team prove correct. Obviously, no player projection system is perfect, but ZiPS (developed by Dan Szymborski) might be the very best of the bunch, so I think it makes for the best one to focus on in examining how the Tribe might shape up in 2013. The ZiPS numbers have been released at Fangraphs this year, one team at a time, and you should absolutely check out the full version of the Indians projections, because there's a lot more to see there than I can present here.

Before getting further into this, here's a brief explanation of the methodology (from Fangraphs):

The ZiPS projections use weighted averages of four years of data (three if a player is very old or very young), regresses pitchers based on DIPS theory and BABIP rates, and adjusts for aging by looking at similar players and their aging trends.

ZiPS does not make a complete attempt to project playing time for each individual player, so if you look at the complete list of players they include for the Indians, you may notice that the numbers add up to far more plate appearances and innings than there really are to go around. It's better to look at players individually to see how they might be expected to perform IF given regular playing time.

POSITION PLAYERS

Here are the projections for what Terry Francona has identified as the most expected regular starting lineup:

Player

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS+

wOBA

Def

WAR

Carlos Santana

.248

.362

.435

124

.343

-3

4.4

Nick Swisher

.251

.344

.425

116

.333

1

2.5

Jason Kipnis

.256

.325

.400

104

.318

0

3.0

Lonnie Chisenhall

.255

.305

.398

97

.305

2

2.0

Asdrubal Cabrera

.271

.331

.422

111

.325

-4

3.7

Michael Brantley

.275

.333

.382

102

.308

-1

2.5

Michael Bourn

.266

.330

.362

96

.309

12

4.0

Drew Stubbs

.220

.291

.344

79

.285

2

1.6

Mark Reynolds

.212

.320

.422

108

.322

-17

1.1

Around the infield: ZiPS seems to see Santana's defense improving, because those offensive numbers are right in line with his 2012, but the WAR is higher. That projection would be semi-disastrous for Swisher, given his contract. It's far worse production than in any of his four seasons in New York (where his lowest wOBA was .360). Kipnis and Chisenhall's numbers are pretty close to their 2012 figures, with a little more power for Kipnis and a bit less for Chisenhall. I'm surprised not to see more projected growth, given their youth, and I'll be disappointed if those hitting figures hit the mark. It'd be good to have them both play as solid defenders though. Cabrera's numbers are right in line with last season's production as well, which I'd be happy with.

In the outfield, Brantley's numbers represent a decline from his 2012, back to roughly his 2011 production. There's been debate about whether or not he'd continue to develop, since last year's numbers were already higher than most scouting reports ever had him reaching. Unlike Swisher's, Bourn's projection is something I'd be happy with. Most of the drop in his hitting reflects going to a tougher park for hitters. I didn't include counting stats in the chart, but ZiPS has Bourn with 46 SB against just 13 CS, so they expect his speed to hold up well. Stubbs' offense projections, ugly as they are, would actually be an improvement from his 2012 numbers. His bat looks a lot better against southpaws, so he still seems a platoon candidate.

Mark Reynolds projects as a complete mess on defense, so it seems wise that Francona plans to play Swisher at 1B and keep Reynolds glove where it belongs. Mike Aviles, Ezequiel Carrera, and Cord Phelps all have pretty decent projections, solid backups, capable of filling in without dragging the team down. Among possible DH alternatives (if/when Reynold is at 1B or not playing), Jason Giambi's projected wOBA and OPS+ are .300 and 92, both very weak for a DH, but both also better than Rule 5 pick Chris McGuiness' numbers (.287 and 84). Matt LaPorta's projections are better than Giambi or McGuiness', which is horrifying.

PITCHERS

Here are the seven players most talked about as members of the starting rotation, along with the three pitchers expected to pitch the highest leverage innings out of the bullpen:

Player

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

ERA

FIP

ERA+

WAR

Ubaldo Jimenez

8.09

4.22

0.89

4.37

4.14

91

1.8

Justin Masterson

6.84

3.31

0.74

4.33

3.97

91

2.0

Brett Myers

6.17

2.22

1.11

4.25

4.14

93

2.0

Zach McAllister

6.26

2.93

1.21

5.17

4.60

77

0.0

Carlos Carrasco

5.90

3.66

1.33

5.32

5.03

74

-0.2

Daisuke Matsuzaka

7.11

4.23

1.44

5.46

5.26

72

-0.3

Trevor Bauer

9.47

5.23

1.06

4.45

4.51

89

1.1

Chris Perez

8.54

3.36

0.92

3.81

3.77

104

0.5

Vinnie Pestano

10.31

3.25

0.85

3.25

3.24

122

0.9

Joe Smith

7.00

3.79

0.73

3.94

3.89

100

0.4

That isn't a very pretty picture, though it is better than things were last year. Jimenez and Masterson had ERA+ figures of 72 and 29, respectively, in 2012 so 91 would be a good deal better. Their walk rates are both lower than they were last year, which would be an important step in turning things back around. In 2011, when Myers was last a starter, his ERA+ was 85, so his projection is a notable improvement too, though still not good. It sure would be nice to have a couple league average starters, and it's reasonable to think at one or two of the guys here will outperform his projection and be good average, but it's unlikely anyone shines.

ZiPS isn't buying into McAllister's growth from 2012, a sentiment shared by quite a few Tribe fans too. Carrasco is another pitcher there's been debate over around these parts. ZiPS sides with the "not going to happen" camp. The projection for Matsuzaka is even worth. It's worth pointing out that ZiPS doesn't have any way of accounting for players' injury histories, so if you think surgery hangover is largely responsible for Dice-K's struggles of late, you're welcome to adjust accordingly. I think most Indians fans expect to see Bauer in Cleveland by early summer (and many WANT him there even sooner than that) and his projections merit him being part of the rotation. He looks like the team's fourth best pitcher.

All three of the relievers I included will decline in 2013, according to ZiPS. Perez's projections look weaker than his 2012 numbers in almost every category, though most are mild to moderate drops, not severe. Smith out-pitched his FIP (fielding independent pitching) substantially last season. This means his ERA was a lot better than his strikeout, walk, and home rates would suggest). ZiPS has his FIP going up and his ERA rising an entire run. Pestano's FIP projection is actually better than his 2012 number, but he out-pitched his FIP last year too, so unless he does that again (and some pitchers DO consistently have an ERA better than their FIP), his ERA is likely to rise. He still looks like a very good relief pitcher though, the best on the team again. ZiPS doesn't see any of the other relief options as any better than replacement level.

ADDING IT UP AND PROJECTING A WIN TOTAL

Fangraphs' used the individual projections and its own estimate of playing time to see what kind of combined WAR the team might get from each position. The infield projects to 18 WAR (they put up ~7 last year), which would make it one of the better units in baseball. The outfield projects for 9 WAR (~4 last year), the DH spot for 1 WAR (same as last year), the starting rotation for 6 WAR (~5 last year), and the bullpen for 2 WAR (same as last year). Small gains from the rotation and a big improvement from the lineup, which seems right.

All total, the team projects for 36 WAR, after putting up just 19 in 2012. That's 17 additional wins (after 68 last year). Another way to look at the projected wins for 2012 is to consider that a hypothetical team filled with replacement level players would be expected to win ~45-50 games. Add the Indians' combined WAR of 36 to that, and you get 81-86 wins. Recall that the PECOTA projections for the MLB standings pegged the Indians for 80 wins, but that those figures came before Bourn signed, and would likely bump up to 83 with him added to the roster. ZiPS and PECOTA are on the same page, the Indians look like an 82 to 85 win team on paper, putting them just outside the playoffs, but needing only minor out-performance of projections and/or good fortune to be right in the mix.

LET'S GO TRIBE PROJECTION CONTEST FOR FANS

In three weeks or so, when spring training has played out a bit and the regular season is a little closer, Let's Go Tribe will be posting a list of the most significant players on the team and a few categories for each of them. Readers will have the chance to make their own projections up until the start of the season and when October rolls around, we'll look back and see which one of us was the wisest (we'll look at the least wise as well, because that's always fun!). If I can convince Ferrari to participate, which I probably (by which I mean certainly) can't, there may be a new set of wheels for the winner!

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