Talking Mets and ZiPS with Dan Szymborski

Fans tend to be either overly optimistic or pessimistic. That is why it is important to look at unbiased, systematic approaches to projections. One of the best sets available are the ZiPS projections from ESPN Insider and Baseball Think Factory Editor-in-Chief Dan Szymborski. Recently Szymborski, an Orioles fan, agreed to a Q&A about his projections and feelings regarding the Mets. Here are this year’s ZiPS projections for the Mets

Can you explain in basic terms how the ZiPS projection system works?

DS: The simplest way I can describe it is: ZiPS uses the last 4 years to establish a baseline for a player from their performance and from predictive models for things like BABIP. It then applies a regression model and calculates probabilities for age-related changes based on large groups of similar players from MLB histories. ZiPS uses the recent past for a player and tries to find similar players at roughly the same age.

Last year coming off the concussion and a down power season, ZiPS projected a .200 ISO for David Wright. Then after he rebounded with a .220 ISO in 2010, the system has him for a .199 ISO this year. Does ZiPS see Wright in the decline portion of his career already?

DS:He’s certainly not in a steep decline phase of his career, but he’s unlikely to take any steps forward at this point – he’s essentially a finished product. The lower ISO projection is partially the result of ZiPS projecting a lower level of offense than it did going into 2010. If ZiPS had more specific knowledge about the 2010 level of offense and more park data, it would’ve had him about a .190 for 2010 rather than .200 and missed by a little bit more.

The Carlos Beltran projection does not inspire confidence. Do fans have any reason to be optimistic he can beat this based on what he did in his final 160 PA (.295/.369/.504), which matches nicely what he did in 2008, his last full season? (.284/.376/.500)

DS:Injuries are always an X factor for projection systems as they always throw a monkeywrench into the works. It’s a problem for people making non-statistical projections as well. With no two injuries being exactly the same and people healing at different rates, we’re likely to have pretty large error bars for injured players for the forseeable futures.

What are your impressions of the Jose Reyes forecast? Do you think he could maintain this rate production if he played in 150 or more games?

DS:I don’t see any reason he couldn’t maintain that level of play. Reyes is probably a good player for the Mets to lock up now given that quite a bit of his decline from pre-09 numbers is league offense-related. At this point, he’s actually probably a bit underrated.

The Jason Bay projection has him with an .804 OPS, which is lower than the other four projections over at FanGraphs. Does it surprise you or give you pause if ZiPS has the highest or lowest projection? Any idea on the historical nature of how ZiPS does in these “extreme” cases?

DS:ZiPS has a mechanism that estimates the probability that a player was injured the previous year, based on changes in playing time and surprisingly large decline in performance (you can do a decent job picking out obvious injury seasons this way). There’s a small injury penalty, but it’s generally fairly conservative. However, ZiPS was lower on Jason Bay than the others last year, too, so it’s not surprising to see it still likes him less.

ZiPS has just a 25-point difference in OPS between our starting first baseman (Ike Davis) and a guy who is hoping to win the 2B job in Spring Training (Daniel Murphy). What does this say about the Mets in general and Davis and Murphy in particular?

DS:Well, Murphy’s not all that bad a hitter, just not as good as Davis. That they are experimenting with Murphy at second is a good sign regarding the new braintrust. Simply put, there was little chance that Murphy will contribute more than Davis at first, so you might as well see what he could do at a position at which he could theoretically help the team. I think in general, teams don’t really experiment enough with their lesser players; if there’s something out there that can improve the chances of a player contributing from, say, 10% to 15%, there’s usually little reason to not try it if it can be done in the minors.

Last year’s Angel Pagan projection was very good (predicted .335 OBP, .446 SLG compared to actual .340/.425) for a player who not many had a good handle on. This year’s forecast shows almost equally likely chances to be excellent (28%), very good (25%), average (26%) and below average (21% combining fair and poor). Why the confusion now that we have a full year of MLB data on him?

DS:Not all uncertainty is simply due to lack of sample size. He’s a league-average outfielder about to hit 30 and decline phases for that type of player is quite erratic.

Mike Pelfrey grades out as essentially a league average pitcher. Is there any reason for fans to hope he can take a step forward or is this just who he is as a player?

DS:There’s still an opportunity for him to improve with his splitter. Learning a pitch at the MLB level isn’t that easy. Even if he doesn’t, he’s a reasonable #2/3 guy and there’s really nothing wrong with that.

What is your best prediction for the combined IP total for Chris Capuano, Dillon Gee, Johan Santana and Chris Young? Can the Mets expect to get the equivalent of two SP worth of innings from this foursome?

DS:Somewhere between 0 and 600. If anyone in the world could predict with any degree of accuracy how pitchers will recover from serious injury, they’d be living in a gigantic mansion in the Alps, sipping ambrosia from gold chalices. Given my status as a thousandaire with a garage full of spiders, I don’t think I’ve cracked that code yet.

I don’t know about Santana’s innings but I expect him to recover pretty well on a performance basis. As long as his fastball can get back up to 87-88 post-injury, I think his circle change will be effective enough to get him good numbers.

As an Orioles fan, what’s your take on the Pedro Beato forecast? Do you think he’ll make the Mets out of Spring Training and if not will Baltimore work out a deal so the Mets can keep him or demand him back?

DS:I actually think it’s likely to be dead-on (famous last words, there). Beato has a lot of potential and can keep the ball down, but as well as he pitched in relief, he wasn’t really that dominating in the minors and there’s a difference between AA and the majors. Still, the Mets are in a position in which that projection at the back of the bullpen really doesn’t hurt them all that much.

Last year we were going to wager a real Coke on Daniel Murphy’s SLG percentage. This year can we do it on Francisco Rodriguez beating his projected BB/9 (4.3) and ERA (3.14), assuming he pitches at least 50 innings? More importantly, will he finish 55 games?

DS:As long as it’s Coke and not Pepsi, I’m in. Given the ultimate unknown of a thumb injury, I’ll take the pessimistic side. I still think he’s an excellent pitcher, but again, injuries are tricky.

*****

I’d like to thank Dan for taking time out to do this. Last week, the two of us did a podcast where we talked about some of these questions and others facing the Mets.

Here is last year’s ZiPS article

4 comments for “Talking Mets and ZiPS with Dan Szymborski

  1. February 21, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Given my status as a thousandaire with a garage full of spiders,

    I LOL’d at that.

    I like to think that Wright wouldn’t be a finished product if the Mets could figure out what changed when he moved to Citi Field. If he made more contact, that ISO would only go up. Maybe not a lot, but it’s the right direction.

    • Brian Joura
      February 21, 2011 at 12:04 pm

      Well, here’s hoping the new hitting coach has him consistently stand closer to the plate this year. Also would be nice if he could lay off high fastballs and low breaking balls, but that’s not as easy to implement as the first one…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *