Analyzing the Blue Jays 2012 ZIPS Projections

Of all of the stat projection systems I think it is safe to assume that the ZIPS projections are the most accurate and realistic.  Everybody loves Bill James but he is known to be very optimistic with his projections and offers almost a “perfect” world scenario for each player where ZIPS is the happy medium alternative.

The Toronto Blue Jays ZIPS projections were released on January 21st, 2012 and I thought we could take a look what our key players are projected to do this season. 

Here is a quick primer on how the ZIPS projection system works from Fangraphs:

The work of Dan Szymborski over at Baseball Think Factory, the ZiPS projections uses 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. It’s an effective projection system, and is displayed at FanGraphs for off-season and in-season projections.

Let’s start with the Jays outfield:

J. Bautista 461 273 408 566 36 101 107 7 158
C. Rasmus 513 250 322 454 23 56 150 8 105
B. Francisco 297 253 326 418 10 29 60 7 98
E. Thames 603 250 313 428 20 45 159 7 96
T. Snider 477 247 304 407 15 37 133 12 89
R. Davis 394 259 299 365 4 20 69 35 77

 –          ZIPS does not think Jose Bautista will repeat his absolutely monster 2011 season and will see a board wide drop in all of his counting stats and rates.  An OPS+ of 158 is nothing to sneeze at and I think this is a reachable projection for Joey Bats.    

–          I think most fans would take the Colby Rasmus numbers projected if he can stay healthy and play league average defense.  A .250 batting average and 23 HRs would suffice and his slash line against righties will be higher than that, as he can struggle versus the southpaws.

–          ZIPS think Eric Thames will beat out Travis Snider for the starting gig in left field and provide slightly better numbers across the board.  There is upside to both of these players and if one of them has a breakout season the Jays line-up will be all the better for it. 

–          Ben Francisco and Rajai Davis will hit right around there career averages and provide professional at-bats.

Overall the outfield will provide some quality at-bats and supply a good dose of power to the Jays line-up.  Defensively it is going to be pretty weak if they start the season as expected with Thames-Rasmus-Bautista as none of these players are considered quality defenders.  Again, there is potential to surprise to the upside if one of Rasmus, Thames or Snider has a breakout season – which would put Toronto’s outfield on par with any team in baseball given the presence of the mighty Jose Bautista.

Let’s check out the infield:

 B. Lawrie 600 275 333 498 27 44 135 24 119
 E. Encarnacion 433 261 331 457 19 42 79 4 109
 A. Lind 556 264 315 466 26 40 120 2 106
 Y. Escobar 522 272 351 393 12 58 68 4 99
 K. Johnson 505 242 323 434 20 59 136 12 101
JP Arencibia 493 229 281 442 24 33 141 0 90

 –          My guess is many Jays fans feel this projection sells the super talented Lawrie a bit short and while I have no doubt he has the potential to surpass those numbers we must also be realistic and expect some struggles as pitchers begin to learn his weaknesses.  If he can stay healthy I think he can be slightly stronger than what ZIPS projects, but not by much, a .275 average and 27 HRs for a kid turning 22 is asking a ton.

–          Prince Fielder Encarnacion/Lind will split time at 1B/DH and should provide decent power production as a group.

–          Yunel Escobar should once again be a steady presence at the top of the order and as always brings a solid up-the-middle defensive game.

–          Kelly Johnson is interesting for me heading in 2012.  I feel there is some upside surprise potential with this player and he could be an on-base threat if he regains that superb patience he has shown in the past.

–          J.P. Arencibia will be the starting catcher for at least one more season until kid-wonder Travis D’Arnaud proves he can handle the rigours of a big league season.  “Aaron Cibia” provides some definite pop at the bottom of the order and there could be worse options – the pitching staff appreciates his efforts behind the plate, more than the scouts anyway.

Again, a pretty solid group and if Lind and Johnson can both rebound there is some upside to the infield.  There will be some growing pains with Brett Lawrie and this group will strikeout a ton but if they can continue to hit the ball hard and hit homeruns, they will be productive.

Let’s take a look at what ZIPS thinks the kids could do if given a full-time opportunity in the big leagues:

T. D’Arnaud 447 253 299 421 15 25 60 7 98
D. Cooper 574 251 311 376 11 50 97 0 83
A. Gose 612 230 300 374 17 51 203 53 79
A. Hechavarria 582 241 269 345 8 23 106 15 63

 It’s always a good idea to understand that for every Brett Lawrie, Ryan Braun and Albert Pujols who come into the league swinging, countless other need time to get adjusted.  There is a possibility we see all four of the players in the big leagues at some point this season but in reality only D’Arnaud could make any meaningful contributions based on ZIPS projections.

As we can see the Anthony Gose contact issues are fully encapsulated by the ZIPS projections – over 203 strikeouts in 612 Abs!  We can also see that although his glove is fully mature, ZIPS feels Hechavarria’s bat has a ways to go.

I love the offseason for all of the movement, prospect rankings and projections that get you excited for the upcoming season.  I think it is safe to say the Blue Jays should have a pretty solid line-up once again after finishing 5th in baseball in runs/game last year.  It’s the other half of the inning that has most fans and pundits wondering and we will dive into the ZIPS pitching projections tomorrow.

What is your ideal line-up for the 2012 Blue Jays?  Post it below in the comments!


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