Projections are like little brothers: fun in theory, but sometimes they are far more trouble than they’re worth. No matter what anyone says, they are at least a little surprising, full of shenanigans, and constantly changing their tune. Finally—and this last bit is important—they are always, always wrong.
One of the more reputable projections systems that has been releasing the numbers it has generated for the last few years has been ZiPS, a computer system that was created by sabermetricist Dan Szymborski. Each year, ZiPS comes up with detailed projections for every player on every MLB team, and many, many other players that serve as depth and may at some point see time in the major leagues. While some projections are way off, for the most part, ZiPS is somewhere around what reality turns out to be.
On that note, the Tigers’ 2017 ZiPS projections have been released. The graphic below shows the Tigers’ depth chart with the corresponding Wins Above Replacement (WAR) projections for each player listed.
There are a few interesting nuggets in this estimation of the Tigers abilities in 2017. First, the projections for Victor Martinez and Nick Castellanos seem to be a bit bearish. It is true that Martinez, the team’s designated hitter, had a terrible 2015 and his knee seems to be on Father Time’s hit-list. However, he had a very good 2016, in which he hit .289/.351/.476, a respectable line indeed.
Castellanos also had a good season, but unlike Martinez, his was not a resurgence, but instead a long-awaited breakout. He was an excellent prospect and was heralded for his bat for a long time and finally showed why in 2016, swatting .285/.331/.496. His BABIP of .345 may show that he has a bit of regression in store, but likely not enough to make him a 2 WAR player.
Frankly, the McCann/Hicks catching platoon is likely being overestimated. While McCann is an able defender with a cannon for an arm and a well-liked player in general, what he needs is a true platoon partner, not a backup. Unfortunately, a backup is exactly what Hicks is going to be. They may surprise us, but the pair of lefty-mashers will probably not put up 1.5 WAR apiece.
Unsurprisingly, first baseman Miguel Cabrera, ace Justin Verlander, and second baseman Ian Kinsler are set to lead the team in production. While it would be no surprise to see them spot the 4 WAR apiece that ZiPS estimates them achieving, it also wouldn’t be any kind of shock to see them do better. Considering that (per Baseball-Reference) Cabrera posted 4.9 WAR, Verlander played at a 6.6 WAR pace, and Kinsler managed a career-high 6.1 WAR, one might expect them to put up numbers closer to 5 WAR apiece.
The projected total production for the 2017 incarnations these players tallies to 38 WAR. This is one win higher than the ZiPS projections for 2016, which came up to 37 WAR.
Here are more complete projections for the hitters that are most likely spend significant time in the bigs in 2017, and the full projections are posted on FanGraphs.
These projections should trend close to reality but some players will likely perform below expectation while others will vastly exceed it. There is also the possibility that the Tigers will do better or worse than these projections indicate due to trades of stars or the acquisition of a player that will fill a hole in center field or behind the plate. In any case, if these projections are close to accurate, the Tigers are going to be a good, competitive team in 2017.