The 2015 Dodgers ZiPS projections are out, released at FanGraphs on Wednesday morning. The author of the post, and the creator of the ZiPS projection system, Dan Szymborski was kind enough to answer a few questions in conjunction with his projections.
After following up one masterpiece regular season with an even better campaign in 2014, it is understandable that Clayton Kershaw is projected to perform quite well in 2015. ZiPS projects Kershaw to put up a 2.17 ERA and 2.36 FIP in 212 innings, with 238 strikeouts.
But interestingly, Kershaw's top comparable player is peak Sandy Koufax. I asked Szymborski if any other pitchers in his years of projections were projected to be comparable to Koufax at his peak.
"Nobody ever has. There have been a handful of players that have received a young Koufax projection, erratic young lefties that still have some success and strike out a lot of batters. Jonathan Sanchez once had a Koufax comp early in his career," Szymborski said. "Obviously, most guys that pitch like Koufax early don't become KOUFAX later."
ZiPS also projects good things from Joc Pederson, slated to hit .239/.337/.420 with 22 home runs, with 3.3 Wins Above Replacement, which I'm sure the Dodgers would take in a heartbeat. Pederson's 3.3 WAR ranks third among Dodgers position player projections for 2015, behind only Yasiel Puig and Howie Kendrick.
For comparison, ZiPS projects Andre Ethier to hit .259/.335/.392 with 1.1 WAR, and expects Carl Crawford to hit .278/.317/.406 with 1.2 WAR.
Kendrick is projected to hit .291/.337/.419, while shortstop Jimmy Rollins is projected to hit .243/.305/.379 in his age-36 season.
Fellow newcomer Yasmani Grandal is projected by ZiPS to hit .244/.339/.421 with 13 home runs, while his catching partner A.J. Ellis is projected for a rebound in 2015, hitting .230/.334/.341.
It's worth noting that a rough summation of the players on this depth chart reveals 30.0 Wins Above Replacement for position players and 17.7 WAR for pitchers. In 2014, the Dodgers had 31.2 WAR on offense, tops in the majors, and 14.6 WAR from pitchers, 13th in MLB. But before we try to cash that check at the nearest bank, let's note a disclaimer from Szymborski himself:
Szymborski will advise anyone against — and might karate chop anyone guilty of — merely adding up WAR totals on depth chart to produce projected team WAR.
ZiPS does project 13 different Dodgers, if given enough playing time, to produce at least 2 WAR, including 10 position players, giving credence to the stated goal of the new Dodgers front office to build depth around the fringes of the 40-man roster.
ZiPS absolutely adores the Dodger depth.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) January 5, 2015
"This is a strong and curiously diverse Dodgers, team," Carson Cistulli wrote in the piece. "While diverse, the starters are uniform by one standard — namely, the likelihood that they'll produce wins at an average rate of better."
Of the 13 teams with ZiPS projections to date, the next-highest team, only the Nationals (13) and Cardinals (12) also had more than nine such 2-WAR players, and none of the teams had more than seven players in offense. The Dodgers have 10.
Free agent addition Brandon McCarthy, who signed a four-year, $48 million contract in December, is slated to put up a 3.83 ERA and 3.43 FIP in 167 innings, per ZiPS. He is part of a starting pitching staff projected for 15.7 WAR, 6.7 of which comes from Kershaw. But McCarthy, who reached 200 innings for the first time in 2014 and put up a 3.55 FIP to go along with his 4.05 ERA, 175 strikeouts and 33 walks, is someone Szymborski remains high on.
"Brandon McCarthy's projection I feel is too low. Though you wouldn't believe how often I think ZiPS is wrong but then ZiPS turns out to be wrong in the other direction," Szymborski explained. "I was sure David Wright, for example, would crush his ZiPS last year."
Wright was projected in 2014 to hit .276/.358/.467 with 19 home runs in 550 plate appearances and a .367 wOBA. In reality, Wright in 586 PA hit .269/.324/.374 with eight home runs and a .308 wOBA.
Even pitcher Julio Urias, who turned 18 in August, received a 2015 projection, and an enticing one for those thinking a late-season bullpen addition could be in the mix. Urias is projected to put up a 3.77 ERA and 3.94 FIP, and strikeout 23.5 percent of his batters faced in 91 innings. His 1.0 WAR projection is sixth-highest among Dodgers pitchers, behind only the top four starters and closer Kenley Jansen.
But to top that, the No. 1 comparable pitcher to Urias is none other than Randy Johnson.
Urias is the youngest pitcher Szymborski has ever projected.
"I've projected four players for their age-18 season: Elvis Andrus, Fernando Martinez, Jose Tabata, and Angel Villalona. Urias is the first pitcher," Szymborski recalled. "I've only projected four 19-year-old pitchers ever (Madison Bumgarner, Felix Hernandez, Martin Perez, Deolis Guerra)."
ZiPS had an impossible time finding exact-age comps for Urias - a 17-year-old *crushing* the California League is ridonkulous.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) January 7, 2015
That's a high-A league remember, this wasn't Urias dominating the GCL at 17. He's a phenom.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) January 7, 2015
Alex Guerrero, the $28 million man without a position, was projected by ZiPS to hit .253/.312/.398 with 15 home runs, less rosy than the optimistic 2015 Bill James projection of .278/.300/.483 with 24 home runs. But Szymborski picked Guerrero as a possible candidate to outperform his ZiPS projections.
"We still only essentially have half a year of good data about his play, after all," Szymborski noted.
Last year's breakout star, Justin Turner, is projected to hit .290/.346/.410 in 2015 with a 113 OPS+ that is tied for fifth among Dodgers hitters.
We'll close with Jansen, who is projected for a 2.22 ERA and 2.16 FIP in 69 innings, with 105 strikeouts and 20 walks. His No. 1 comp is Jose Valverde, but in a good way.
Also, don't panic about the Jose Valverde comp for Jansen - remember Valverde didn't stink at one time.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) January 5, 2015