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How accurate were preseason projections for the Detroit Tigers?

Alex Avila and J.D. Martinez have been better than expected, but the same cannot be said for Jordan Zimmermann.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Before the beginning of every season, multiple analysts and websites will generate projections for the upcoming season based on their own models. These projections will never be completely correct, but they typically do a decent job of summarizing a player’s expectations for the upcoming season.

One of the best projection systems is Fangraphs’s ZiPS model. Bless You Boys initially took a look at these stats back in December when they were first released. The theme of these projections was not too out of the ordinary, as the usual suspects found their names at the top of the list.

However, December was a long time ago. This season has not played out how many expected (and hoped). Accordingly, many Tigers deviated from the ZiPS model once the season began. Below is a quick glance at how this set of preseason projections compares to the actual first-half performances of the Detroit Tigers in 2017.

Batters

The table below includes players with at least 100 plate appearances so far this season. The far right columns represent each player’s current average and wOBA compared to their projection, where a higher value represents an over-performance. On average, ZiPS was off by about .027 points in batting average in either direction (read: absolute value) and .033 points in wOBA. Tigers batters were spot on this error margin in batting average, but were actually the sixth-closet team in wOBA, varying by .025 points.

ZiPS Projections

Player ZiPS AVG ZiPS wOBA AVG wOBA AVG Delta wOBA Delta
Player ZiPS AVG ZiPS wOBA AVG wOBA AVG Delta wOBA Delta
Alex Avila 0.217 0.309 0.299 0.407 0.082 0.098
Mikie Mahtook 0.239 0.287 0.265 0.297 0.026 0.010
J.D. Martinez 0.283 0.365 0.299 0.405 0.016 0.040
Justin Upton 0.257 0.343 0.265 0.357 0.008 0.014
Andrew Romine 0.233 0.262 0.226 0.280 -0.007 0.018
Victor Martinez 0.263 0.313 0.253 0.298 -0.010 -0.015
Jose Iglesias 0.265 0.288 0.247 0.272 -0.018 -0.016
Nick Castellanos 0.267 0.325 0.248 0.318 -0.019 -0.007
Tyler Collins 0.231 0.287 0.200 0.277 -0.031 -0.010
Ian Kinsler 0.275 0.326 0.240 0.311 -0.035 -0.015
Miguel Cabrera 0.301 0.376 0.264 0.339 -0.037 -0.037
James McCann 0.240 0.279 0.201 0.298 -0.039 0.019

Unsurprisingly, Alex Avila is the Tiger with the biggest jump over his projections. Few saw a resurgence this big in his second stint in Detroit, and no catcher can top his wOBA this season. His righty/lefty splits are still severe — 168 wRC+ vs. 23 wRC+ — but over 90 percent of his plate appearances are against right-handers.

ZiPS projected a slight decline in wOBA for J.D. Martinez after three dominant years, but the right fielder has shown no sign of slowing down. Since returning from the disabled list he ranks sixth among all outfielders with 155 wRC+, which is on pace for a career best.

On the other side of the coin is Miguel Cabrera, who was once again expected to put up huge numbers. 2017 has been a disappointment, and he may end up with the lowest numbers of his career in many stats. Correspondingly, his projections were much higher than his current results.

Pitchers

Similar to the previous section, the far right columns represent each pitcher’s current ERA and FIP compared to their projection. Lower numbers represent an over-performance, while positive numbers show an under-performance. Only pitchers with at least 20 innings were included. ZiPS was off by an average of 1.15 in ERA and 0.87 in FIP. The Tigers were one of the teams with the most variance, including the highest difference in expected ERA.

ZiPS Projections

Name ZiPS ERA ZiPS FIP ERA FIP ERA Delta FIP Delta
Name ZiPS ERA ZiPS FIP ERA FIP ERA Delta FIP Delta
Warwick Saupold 5.44 5.18 1.99 4.35 -3.45 -0.83
Shane Greene 4.98 4.34 3.12 3.84 -1.86 -0.50
Justin Wilson 4.17 3.76 2.36 2.94 -1.81 -0.82
Chad Bell 5.14 4.99 4.32 5.63 -0.82 0.64
Michael Fulmer 3.84 4.07 3.19 3.26 -0.65 -0.81
Alex Wilson 3.75 4.28 4.04 4.38 0.29 0.10
Justin Verlander 3.67 3.65 4.73 4.28 1.06 0.63
Anibal Sanchez 4.77 4.39 5.89 5.18 1.12 0.79
Matt Boyd 4.54 4.54 5.69 4.76 1.15 0.22
Daniel Norris 4.12 4.06 5.29 4.30 1.17 0.24
Jordan Zimmermann 4.14 4.13 5.87 5.82 1.73 1.69
Francisco Rodriguez 3.10 3.69 7.82 7.37 4.72 3.68

Part of this variance comes from Warwick Saupold, a pitcher who entered the season with a small sample size and modest expectations. His 1.99 ERA has been a pleasant surprise and ranks in the top 20 among relievers with at least 20 innings pitched. However, his 4.35 FIP indicates that there has been quite a bit of luck on his side.

Shane Greene and Justin Wilson have anchored the back-end of the Tigers bullpen, and each have performed better than expected. While ZiPS saw ERAs over 4.00 for both relievers, the duo has been much better than this so far this season.

The opposite side has been rough, with every starter outside of Michael Fulmer giving up over a run more than projected. Jordan Zimmermann has been particularly woeful, significantly struggling through most of the year. He will very likely end 2017 with the worst ERA and FIP numbers in his career.

Of the 416 pitchers with at least 20 innings thrown this season, none have deviated more from their projected ERA than Francisco Rodriguez. The former closer was horrendous for the Tigers, owning an ERA and FIP over 7.00. His exit from Detroit was as sour as his performance on the mound. Calling his short-lived season a disappointment is an enormous understatement.

Projection models are never intended to be perfect, but it is hard to argue with the players who have deviated the most from their projections. Unfortunately for the Tigers, the players who have severely under-performed stick out the most. With an embarrassing record and little reason for hope during the rest of the season, this is hardly a surprise.