Going Deep: ZiPS Three Year Projections
Throughout the year, I plan to take suggestions for Going Deep topics from our community Discord server on pieces that our supporters would like to read. For the first of the year, a suggestion came from our supporter Mike P, who wanted me to take a close look at the new three year projections from Dan Szymborski‘s ZiPS system.
So, let’s get right on into it. I’ll be combing through these newly available projections, pointing out some of the more interesting bits, and discussing how we can use this information for fantasy purposes.
ZiPS Loves Juan Soto
This is easily the first thing that popped out looking at the data. I mean, how can it not? Soto is projected to be on the level of Mike Trout in both 2020 and 2021. In his age 21 and 22 seasons, ZiPS has Soto projected to hit 44 and 48 home runs, respectively, with a slash line north of .300/.410./.620. That seems aggressive for sure, but not necessarily out of the realm of reasonable possibility.
I’ve heard Juan Soto compared to Albert Pujols in his possible career trajectory and, honestly, I can see it. He’s already displaying elite plate discipline at a very young age, with clear power upside (ZiPS has Soto projected for 34 homers in 2019). While I will need to see him make improvements in his ground ball rate (54% in 2018) before I can jump onto the super-duper-mega-ultra-star bandwagon, the train of thought is easy to follow.
As far as what to do with this information, um. Go watch Soto be good? Most Soto owners are big believers in him; they think he can attain that Pujols-like ceiling, so trading for him may be difficult. But, hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained!
Other Young Standouts
Other interesting, young up-and-coming batters that ZiPS seems to be a fan of include Eloy Jimenez, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Kyle Tucker, Tyler O’Neill, and a few more.
I don’t want to spend too much time on Vlad and Eloy, but it may be notable that ZiPS prefers the Chicago White Sox uber-prospect to that of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2020, with them being essentially equal in 2021. Each is expected to bat near .300 with 26-32 home runs, so quibbling isn’t necessary here. They’re both very talented and we should be excited to see their careers unfold.
ZiPS seems to be impressed with what Houston Astros outfield prospect, Kyle Tucker, brings to the table as well. Tucker is projected for a 25/16 season in 2020 while batting .273. If that isn’t enough for you, it bumps up a bit to 26/17 and .271 in 2021. It seems like the fantasy community has backed off hard on Tucker after his poor MLB showing last season. I would be considering stashing him in redraft leagues of all sizes and formats in hopes of a mid-season boost. In dynasty leagues, now may be your last shot to make an offer to the Kyle Tucker owner before he comes up and shows the league what he can really do.
Other interesting youngsters include Tyler O’Neill (projected for 29 homers in both ’20 and ’21), Franmil Reyes (projected for 29 homers in 2020), and Adalberto Mondesi (21/39 in 2020 & 23/37 in 2021 with .260+ AVG). It’s almost always a good idea to invest in young, exciting hitters in dynasty leagues and these guys are solid options.
The answer to the question “Which pitchers does ZiPS like in the long-term?” is pretty easy. To get your answer, think of a pitcher and answer these two questions: 1. Are they currently an ace, or have already shown some form of ace upside? 2. Are they below the age of 31? If you answered at least one of those questions with a yes, that pitcher is probably among the WAR leaders on the 2020 and 2021 projections. If they’re too old, they take a bit of a hit, but Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber, Clayton Kershaw, and Justin Verlander are all within the top-20 projected WAR leaders among pitchers on both lists.
Honestly, looking at the pitching side isn’t all that fun or interesting. My favorite thing about the pitching projections is the projected success of both German Marquez and Jon Gray, two of my personal favorite pitchers. I love both of these guys and really enjoy watching them pitch. I’ve followed Gray’s career and have (unfortunately) owned him in a few leagues throughout the years. ZiPS has Marquez leading the majors in strikeouts in both 2020 and 2021, which is absolutely possible and would be awesome. But that’s enough fanboying.
The most actionable information I took from looking at the starting pitching projections pertains to young pitchers that I hadn’t thought about in a few months. ZiPS really likes both Lance McCullers and Michael Kopech: two young starters with near ace upside that are both going to miss all of 2019. In 2021, ZiPS projects McCullers to have a 3.33 FIP and nearly 10 K/9. As for Kopech, he’s projected to perform to a 3.82 FIP and 10.4 K/9. If you’re in a dynasty league, you may want to check on these guys as potential trade targets. Some owners, especially those competing for a title in 2019, may be willing to part with them for a player or two that help their teams in the short-term.
There are a couple of other pitchers worth mentioning that ZiPS seems to have faith in. The first I’ll mention surprised me with his inclusion between guys like Zack Wheeler and Miles Mikolas. That man is Freddy Peralta, who ZiPS has projected for a 12.17 and 12.44 K/9 in 2020 and ’21 respectively. So, that’s definitely something. I’m not really quite sure what to make of it exactly, but hey, if you’re taking these numbers at face numbers (which you absolutely should not do) Peralta is kind of an ace here.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Shane Bieber. ZiPS has him ranked among Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole, and Aaron Nola in terms of WAR. Bieber is projected to be second and first in innings pitched in ’20 and ’21 respectively (German Marquez is projected first and second in those respective years). His projected 5.6 K/BB rate would definitely make for some awesome production if he does end up totaling near 400 innings over the next two seasons combined.
Keeping an eye on Bieber and Peralta throughout 2019 will be very exciting, but if ZiPS is to be believed, this may be your last chance in a dynasty league to acquire these two without paying an ace price.
If you wanted me to report back on relievers, too bad. Performances from relief pitchers year-to-year are so volatile that looking any more than a year ahead is foolish. This is especially true in terms of fantasy, where the role of the reliever is extremely important to the value of the player. If you don’t play in a league that rewards holds then there are only going to be 30ish relief pitchers that have any value to you whatsoever.
Don’t worry about projections for relievers, particularly those that are three years out.
These projections are really neat and impressive and that’s about as much as I can say about them as an analyst. Honestly, there isn’t a lot of information here that I would consider actionable and ZiPS creator and curator, Dan Szymborski, agrees with me, to an extent. Dan was quoted in the Three Year Projection release, stating, “It’s the ZiPS you love/like/hate, now slightly less accurate! Predicting the future is foggy and the further you go, the thicker the fog gets.”
At the end of the day, these really are impressive and it’s fun to imagine this future. But this is only one of 14,000,605 possible outcomes. Don’t take these as prophecy.
(Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)