Clayton might have broken the idea of a conservative projection system.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
In his yearly exercise of projecting every 30 teams, Dan Szymborski Dodger projections were published at fangraphs dot com today. Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi’s emergence in the front office probably meant that the projections would be strong due to a shifting towards new school ideas, and that’s exactly what happened. We’ll run through some surprises, some amazing feats, and a certain projection for a 18 year old Dodger left handed starter in the minor leagues.
Pretty much, the Dodgers are projected to be really really really freaking good, whether that’s Steamer, Bill James’ projections, or ZIPS, the systems feel like the Dodgers are one of the top 3 teams in baseball which is a great sign.
With all projection based analysis, it should be noted that the systems are notoriously conservative, don’t really account for injuries (because who could project that?) and they have no prior scouting knowledge, so take these with a grain of salt. That said, the 2015 Dodgers should be a good team with a balanced offense, a stronger than average defense, and a pitching staff to rival all pitching staffs. They are pretty safe favorites for the NL West crown, again.
So starting with the pitching, there is something insane right off the bat. Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher on the planet and the chance to become the pitcher of the generation is projected to be worth 7 WAR. Szymborski says this is because his floor is basically a 200 IP workhorse who strikes out 25% of the batters he faces while only walking 7% of the batters he faces. The dude is pretty good. What was really fun was his comparison. Kershaw’s number 1 comparison is another pretty good one in Sandy Koufax. Kershaw’s number 1 comparison is Sandy Koufax. Clayton Kershaw‘s number one comparison is Sandy Koufax.
We don’t appreciate him enough, we don’t deserve him.
Greinke will be great, and projected at a 3.06 ERA Ryu is viewed as a solid 3.26 ERA type pitcher, even so, it’s not difficult to imagine them beating those projections. However one of the more disappointing projections centers around Brett Anderson, ZIPS gives him 1 WAR which would be just fine for a 5th starter given that starters who pitched from that slot last season were worth a whopping -1.6 WAR. So 1 WAR is perfectly okay, BUT ZIPS only gives him 55.3 innings.
The innings Anderson does pitch are probably going to be above average, with the obvious caveat that he really doesn’t pitch all that much. The problem will be filling out the rest of the innings, and that’s where Joe Wieland (projected for a 4.26 ERA), Carlos Frias (projected for a 4.42 ERA), Mike Bolsinger (projected for a 4.22 ERA) and Juan Nicasio (projected for a 4.31 ERA) come in. None of those figures are going to work well in the division the Dodgers play in, so that’s a potential problem.
As far as the bullpen goes, Kenley Jansen‘s 13.70 K/9 and 2.61 BB/9 bode well, as his comparison is peak Jose Valverde. Kenley is one of the best closers in the game and the Dodgers are lucky to have him. Chris Hatcher is projected to throw 71 innings of 3.16 FIP ball (no Dodger reliever last season threw that many innings with a FIP that low). The gains the Dodgers will receive going from Wilson to Hatcher and Wright/Maholm/ any assortment of terrible relievers.
However perhaps the most interesting bit of information has to do with a prospect, Yimi Garcia. Garcia showed the Dodgers that while his fastball was pretty averagish, only sitting 90-92, his slider is devastating, striking out Anthony Rendon in Garcia’s major league debut. He is a fly ball pitcher that gave up 2 home runs in his 10 innings last season -though that could have easily been 3 or 4- so he still has some maturing to do in that department. ZIPS sees him as a 9.92 K/9 2.27 BB/9 player with a 3.04 FIP (16% above the league average). I think everybody would take that type of season from Garcia.
Shifting to the offense what I noticed right off the bat are how aggressive the projections are on Enrique Hernandez and Austin Barnes. Hernandez is projected to play slightly above average defense at second base along with a 96 OPS+, Barnes is down for 2.2 WAR, but only hitting .238/.305/.347, playing catcher is a really valuable skill, it’s really the only reason Wellington Castillo was a starter last season. Regardless, both of those players look like solid additions, and despite them being throw ins in the Dee Gordon trade, ZIPS thinks they will be better than the former Dodger second baseman.
The projections in the left field seem a bit optimistic with Scott Van Slyke and Carl Crawford being worth a combined 3.9 WAR. The same thing goes for the Yasmani Grandal/A.J. Ellis duo, as the system thinks they will be worth 4.5 WAR (it also thinks Ellis will garner more playing time), but perhaps the biggest shocker was the fact that ZIPS has Joc Pederson down for a .239/.327/.420 line which comes out to a 110 OPS+. Combine that with solid average defense and he’s a valued at a 3.3 win player.
Personally i’d take the under on all of the aforementioned starting position players, but Van Slyke continuing to mash left handed pitching, Grandal truly breaking out, and Pederson developing into a 5 tool player isn’t impossible.
I do think that Yasiel Puig should be seen as the next great Dodger player. His number 1 comparison is hall of famer Al Kaline, he’s pegged down for a 143 OPS+ (i’d take the over) and is heading into his age 24 season. Puig is so great, and we appreciate him even less than we do Clayton Kershaw.
Rounding out the summary, I guess it’s time to talk about Julio Urias.
I don’t know how aggressive projection systems are with prospects, mostly because the Dodgers haven’t had an elite starting pitching prospect since Clayton Kershaw. But ZIPS spit out a really crazy comparison to Urias. You’ll see that Urias’ number one comp is Randy Johnson. And that’s not the fringy DH or fringy 3b that played in the early 80’s, ZIPS actually says his number one comparison is the dude who was just elected into the Hall of Fame. To put this in perspective, 18 year old Julio Urias is being compared to Randy Johnson, thrower of a perfect game, winner of 5 Cy Youngs, pitching triple crown winner 4 time ERA champion, and 10 time all star. Nevermind that Urias is listed a 5-11 while Johnson towered over everybody at 6-10, or the fact that even when Urias fills out, it’s difficult to see him touching 225 pounds unless he takes the Bartolo Colon approach to living which would not be ideal.
Szymborski says it’s a product of ZIPS having no idea what to do with a 17/18 year old tearing up High A (even though Felix Hernandez pretty much did the same thing while also touching double A in 2004)
For what it’s worth the other comparisons were Al Leiter, Rich Hill, Cliff Lee, Billy Wagner, Randy Myers. Hill and Myers are fairly underwhelming comparisons, but if Urias has half the career Cliff Lee does it will be a success.
Remember that thing about projection systems having no scouting information? Well I’d say Urias comp’d to Johnson is the easiest way to see that. Ultimately I wouldn’t expect Felix, Leiter, Johnson, Lee, or even Wagner as a career path for the left handed prospect, Urias’ focus should be on getting though his age 18 season (hahahhh) healthy and learning how to go deep into games.
Anyways, Szymborski does great work and the Dodgers are projected to be at least average or better at every single position other than their 5th spot in the rotation, and the bullpen (which probably isn’t even done yet). It’s something to look forward too, and comforting to know that the team may actually be better next season.