We move on in our look at baseball forecasts and how they see the Rangers. Today, we look at ZiPS. Dan Szymborski's computer system is a bit more intricate than Marcel, and has become perhaps the most popular of the current systems out there (and for good reason). It's even been used by ESPN.
You can find his Rangers projections here, and a spreadsheet of every projected player here. Further, if you go to a player's FanGraphs profile, you can actually see his projected ZiPS stats right there on the player page. Fancy, huh?
So, how do the Rangers look in Szymborski's model?
Here is what the man himself says about the Rangers when he looks at the pieces:
It's a deep team with a very good farm system that'll be there at the end of the season. The team's still a bit underrated defensively - I'm not sure how much the general public really comprehends just how good the non-Beltre defenders generally are. Even Mike Napoli, considered a serviceable backstop at best, made great strides defensively last season. ZiPS saw the Angels pulling even with the Rangers this season, but the Rangers landed Darvish. I had argued that the Rangers should have made a play at Fielder (before the Darvish bidding), but given the massive deal Boras squeezed out of the Tigers, the Rangers appeared to have made the safer bet.
Once again, the same theme we have with all the forecasts: the Rangers look really good, the Angels have caught up, but the Rangers still look a little better, in part thanks to Yu Darvish.
Positivity aside, ZiPS paints the saddest picture yet of the center field situation; Julio Borbon's 79 OPS+ (.309 weighted On Base Average) leads the way. Not one centerfielder looks like even a solid option. Whether or not the Borbon/Gentry platoon here would be worth it to keep Josh Hamilton out of center is a difficult question to answer, but that seems unlikely. The Rangers might have good reason to be searching hard for a right handed CF bat.
The theme of expecting regression from Mike Napoli continues, though once again even regressing the man has him as one of the best hitters in baseball. The .385 wOBA ZiPS gives him is behind only the names Bautista, Cabrera, and Pujols in the American League. That looks like about 20 fewer runs for the Rangers' offense, but that kind of regression is what tends to happen after super human seasons.
Not too far behind Mike Napoli, however, is cause for excitement in Ian Kinsler. Despite a super human season for a second baseman himself, ZiPS sees no regression coming from Kinsler; literally, exactly none. His .370 wOBA is expected to repeat right to the third significant figure. ZiPS does not foresee another 155 game season from the member of the All-Underrated Team, but it does place him at 135, which would come out as only a small loss for the Rangers (about five runs). For a lot of folks, Ian Kinsler's 2011 season was one deserving of high placement on MVP ballots, and ZiPS thinks 2012 can be nearly as good.
Countering that, unfortunate, are significant expectations of negative regression from Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, and (especially) Michael Young. Mitch Moreland is not even seen as a great positive regression candidate. For the third time in this series, the general consensus is that the Rangers offense should take a step back. However, just like Napoli, that comes from having a great season; great seasons aren't predicted to continue.
As with other forecasts, ZiPS is quite high on Mike Adams, but you may find it interesting that Koji Uehara is actually projected as the Rangers' best reliever. Whether or not ZiPS can actually detect his having a disproportionate problem with home runs in Arlington remains to be seen. Joe Nathan, meanwhile, looks like one of the very worst in the bullpen, as these projections continue to make his signing a tad worrisome.
Neftali Feliz, meanwhile, is actually projected as a starter by ZiPS; the team's best starter, in fact. ZiPS gives Feliz 144 strikeouts against 64 walks in 170 innings, good for a 3.49 ERA and 3.61 FIP. His 131 ERA+ falls behind starting pitchers of the following names, and the following names alone: Johnson, Kershaw, Verlander, Lee, Halladay, Greinke, Lincecum, Hernandez. ZiPS thinks making Feliz a starter is not just a good call, it's a master stroke.
Similarly promising is the forecast of Darvish. His 3.62 ERA (125 ERA+) is just a hair above Feliz, but still fantastic in Arlington, with 24 more innings pitched and a significantly better walk rate. Szymborski's wonderful model predicts the Rangers responded to losing C.J. Wilson (120 ERA+ projection, by the way) by adding a pair of new, young aces. If there was ever a time to wish a computer knew what it was talking about. . .
As for the rest of the rotation, ZiPS sees marked improvement in Colby Lewis, more of the same from Derek Holland, and a slight step back for Matt Harrison (note: these names were accidentally switched in the original version of this post). Nothing here is particularly different from what we've seen in the last two days of this series. Alexi Ogando looks more than capable to fill in for one of them, as he's projected to have an even better 3.71 FIP in 2012.
The more things change, the more they stay the same with these projections. The Rangers' pitching looks fantastic, and the addition of Yu Darvish looks brilliant. The offense looks to take a step back, but that is to be expected, and defense isn't even considered here yet. The result is a team every bit as promising as back-to-back pennants suggests, and likely the favorites in a division with a team that just added the best player of his generation.
Over/Under: 313 combined strikeouts by Neftali Feliz and Yu Darvish.
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