December's weather was a reprieve from a harsh November, but the cold and snow have brought back reality like a Lions playoff game. The 2015 ZiPS projections are out for the Tigers, perhaps they can bring some warmth to thoughts of the future?
Many projection systems exist to predict performance in the next season, based on performance in some number of past seasons and then adjusting for age, luck, and similar players. East Lansing's Nate Silver developed PECOTA, which was so successful he decided to expand into forecasting elections. Sean Smith developed CHONE, no longer publicly available presumably because he could sell the results within the industry. Bill James' projections are typically on the high side, perfect for spring training but not when needing to make cold hard rational decisions about player personnel.
The ZiPS projections are the work of Dan Szymborski at Baseball Think Factory. The Z is for Zymborksi, silent S and all. He uses three or four years of past results for a player, accounts for extreme results on batted balls, and considers how players age.
Carson Cistulli at Fangraphs summarized the results here, which allows us to consider the 2015 season. The system does not try to allocate the playing time, but considers each player in isolation. Thus we have over 1100 plate appearances among Alex Avila, James McCann, and Bryan Holaday. Therefore do not try to add all the performances for a team result.
That said, ZiPS is not optimistic about James McCann. With a wOBA of .278, he offers slight improvement over Bryan Holaday's .263. Alex Avila's .229/.333/.379 line could be forecast by any casual Tiger fan.
Miguel Cabrera is expected to rebound a bit with 31 home runs and a .386 wOBA. We will take it, but if Miggy's ankle is fully healed in April he could easily top that.
Ian Kinsler's forecast of a .326 wOBA is a slight improvement, even with aging in his 30s. Kinsler's on-base percentage was uncharacteristically low in 2014 and is expected to rebound to .326.
ZiPS is not high on Jose Iglesias, likely because of little past data and being uncomfortable with extremes. Iglesias will need to be stellar on defense if he hits .253/.298/.311. Avert your eyes from the Alex Gonzalez forecast, the system knows not what it does.
Nick Castellanos should love ZiPS as it sees a big step forward for him in 2015. A .280/.327/.442 line, fueled by 17 home runs, would solidify his spot at third base and in our hearts. It even suggests an improvement in defense, if only because a repeat of his 2014 defensive work is unfathomable.
ZiPS thinks the corner outfielders, Cespedes and J.D. Martinez, are basically the same hitter. But a player who can hit .280/.326/.482 with over 20 home runs is a fine model to copy. ZiPS likes Cespedes' glove and arm much better, making him the more valuable player.
ZiPS does not seem to know about platoons, so Gose and Davis project to be below-average with combined average defense and a WAR of 1.6. Let's hope Ausmus can get the most out of them, as he did with Rajai last year, by using them selectively.
Victor Martinez is expected to return to earth with 18 home runs and a .303 batting average. ZiPS sees more strikeouts than walks this season, but still the second-best hitter on the team.
Other predictions of note: 24 home runs for Mike Hessman -- in Detroit or Toledo? Hernan Perez has a useful 1.2 WAR, identical to Dixon Machado. I'm not sure which is more surprising, but both exceed Andrew Romine whom ZiPS believes falls behind Don Kelly with a .237/.289/.295 line. Steven Moya's 21 home runs would be a welcome addition, but frequent strikeouts and lack of walks leave him below replacement level.
Whom do you see as most likely to deviate from the computer's projections?