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Dodgers early win projections from ZiPS & PECOTA, and the eye of the beholder

Division Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v San Diego Padres - Game Three Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

This is a transitional year in a way for the Dodgers, with Miguel Vargas taking over at second base and a handful of other rookie hitters and pitchers expected to make an impact, after three lineup regulars and the team’s innings pitched leader from last year departed.

That brings a lot of unknowns into the equation when projecting the 2023 season, but those trains keep running. To that end, Dan Szymborski unveiled his early ZiPS projections for the National League at FanGraphs on Friday and Baseball Prospectus introduced their PECOTA projections on Tuesday.

How we view these projections have a lot to do with perspective.

For instance, “Baseball Prospectus projects the Dodgers to have their worst record in five years” is an accurate statement, but only because Los Angeles has an otherworldly .670 winning percentage statement since the start of 2019. Another way of looking at it is the PECOTA standings at Baseball Prospectus have the Dodgers posting the best record in the National League while leading the majors in runs scored (again).

PECOTA preseason Dodgers projections

Year Projected Actual
Year Projected Actual
2013 93 92
2014 98 94
2015 97 92
2016 94 91
2017 97 104
2018 99 92
2019 95 106
2020 103 116*
2021 103 106
2022 100 111
2023 97 TBD
*Dodgers were 43-17 (.717) in the truncated 2020 season, which is a 116-win pace over 162 games. Source: Baseball Prospectus

PECOTA tabs the Dodgers for 97.4 wins. They use the decimal point, which shows just how narrow the margin is between the Dodgers and Mets, who are projected to win 97.2 games. The Padres are projected for 94 wins, and in the American League PECOTA has the Yankees at 99.3 wins and the Astros at 96.2 wins. Atlanta (91.8) is the only other MLB team projected for even 90 wins.

That the Dodgers have the highest win projection in the National League isn’t too much of a surprise, considering it’s been that way with PECOTA since 2013. But that there are other close challengers is a slight twist, and showed just how far the Dodgers could fall from 111 wins and still be an incredibly good team.

“It’s going to be a different ball club this year,” manager Dave Roberts said at FanFest at Dodger Stadium. “When you wear the Dodger uniform, that’s the bar. We’re still expected to win the division.”

Projections generally tend to be conservative, which is why you rarely see a team projected for 100 wins, though the Dodgers were projected to do so by PECOTA in each of the last three seasons. This is rounding up last year’s 99.5-win projection which was made before the Dodgers signed Freddie Freeman.

ZiPS is more on the conservative side. In his early projections at FanGraphs, Szymborski has the Dodgers and Padres even at 91 wins atop the NL West, with the Braves and Mets tied atop the NL East at 94 wins apiece.

“ZiPS surprised me a bit with the NL West,” Szymborski wrote. “Not so much in terms of the order of the standings, but with the relatively small gap between the Dodgers and the Padres, and then the Giants.”

ZiPS has the Giants winning 88 games, going back up on the rollercoaster after following a 107-win campaign by going 81-81 last year. PECOTA this year has the Giants winning 82 games (well, 81.9 wins, but let’s round up).

But again, these projections come with a grain of salt, and are less about a single number than a range of possible outcomes.

For instance, here are the ridge plots for the National League West, which are found on the PECOTA standings page. While the Dodgers are projected for more wins than the Padres, and with a 63.6-percent chance to win the NL West, there are numerous scenarios where San Diego wins the division.

PECOTA National League West projections at Baseball Prospectus, as of February 13, 2023
PECOTA National League West projections at Baseball Prospectus, as of February 13, 2023
Source: Baseball Prospectus

Szymborski in releasing his early ZiPS projections added some much-needed perspective.

“The goal of ZiPS is to be less mind-blowingly awful than any other way of predicting the future,” he wrote. “The future is tantalizingly close but beyond our ken, and if anyone figures out how to deflect the astrophysicist Arthur Eddington’s arrow of time, it’s probably not going to be in the form of baseball projections. So we project probabilities, not certainties.”