2015 MLB Season Preview: Using Player Projections to Predict the Standings

As the 2015 Major League Baseball season dawns upon us in all its glory we, here at Hit The Cut, have compiled three pieces to prepare you for the coming months of this great sport. This article will be discussing an advanced and fresh way to project how the league’s standings will play out.

Before we get to the actual standings projections, I first want to introduce some of the stats we will be using. First, wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus) is a measure that quantifies a player’s total offensive contribution, while controlling the effects that different parks can have and the varying season-by-season hitting patterns. The “league average for position players is 100, and every point above 100 is a percentage point above league average”.[1]

Ratings wRC+
Excellent 160
Great 140
Above Average 115
Average 100
Below Average 80
Poor 75
Awful 60

(Fangraphs)[2]

ERA (Earned Run Average) is the average earned runs given up by a pitcher per nine innings.

Ratings ERA
Excellent 2.50
Great 3.00
Above Average 3.40
Average 3.75
Below Average 4.00
Poor 4.30
Awful 4.60

(Fangraphs)[3]

A common sticking point with the use of ERA to quantify a pitcher’s ability is that it also, to some extent, is a measure of the defence of the team behind the pitcher. Lastly RA9-WAR is a pitcher’s win value based on actual runs allowed. It is a fielding dependent stat, which means that it is also very appropriate for our purposes (why this is the case will be addressed shortly). To put RA9-WAR in perspective the average, last season, for a starting pitcher with a minimum of 40 innings pitched was 1.73 wins.[4]

ZiPS and Steamer are two commonly used algorithms which project player performance. Both use a system of weighted averages for a players’ previous seasons and both account for regression (although in different ways). For the purposes of this article, we will be using combined ZiPS and Steamer projections (formulated by Grantland) for projecting wRC+ and ERA, and we will use Steamer projections for RA9-WAR (presented by Fangraphs). Unfortunately, ZiPS and Steamer don’t project defensive performance, thus the use of pitching metrics that are more so dependent on fielding.

The Projections

The projected lineups and rotations* we are using come from Grantland’s Divisional Preview series and reflect players that are projected to start the majority of the season for a certain position (this can potentially differ from opening day lineups, as with the case of the inevitable call up of Kris Bryant and Mike Olt’s subsequent demotion to the bench). First, we took the wRC+ of every player in a team’s lineup and got an average for that. Then we took the ERA or RA9-WAR of every player in team’s rotation and got an average for that. This resulted in two complementary metrics that comprehensively evaluate a team’s potential performance (with regard to starting pitching, offense, and to some extent, defence) in the 2015 season: wRC+ / ERA and wRC+ x RA9-WAR. Without further ado:

AL East[5]

Rank Team wRC+ / ERA Rank Team wRC+ x RA9-WAR
1 Red Sox 27.70 1 Red Sox 202.72
2 Rays 27.66 2 Yankees 185.20
3 Blue Jays 26.27 3 Orioles 163.99
4 Orioles 26.02 4 Blue Jays 157.62
5 Yankees 25.71 5 Rays 149.89

AL Central[6]

Rank Team wRC+ / ERA Rank Team wRC+ x RA9-WAR
1 Indians 29.65 1 Tigers 234.97
2 Tigers 27.99 2 White Sox 221.89
3 Royals 24.72 3 Indians 210.90
4 White Sox 24.57 4 Royals 157.91
5 Twins 23.10 5 Twins 110.16

AL West[7]

Rank Team wRC+ / ERA Rank Team wRC+ x RA9-WAR
1 Angels 29.73 1 Mariners 248.14
2 Mariners 29.67 2 A’s 154.92
3 A’s 26.92 3 Angels 140.30
4 Astros 24.59 4 Astros 114.72
5 Rangers 22.22 5 Rangers 105.39
  • The two teams that would take the wild card spots would be the Mariners and the Tigers, with the wRC+ / ERA ranking, or the White Sox and the Yankees, with the wRC+ x RA9-WAR ranking
  • In accordance with most predictions, we have the AL East projected to be the closest division
  • There is a disagreement between the two metrics as to which the best team will be (only time will tell which one is more accurate) and oddly enough they both happen to be in the AL West: wRC+ / ERA has the Angels and wRC+ x RA9-WAR has the Mariners. If this is any indication of things to come (as it should be) it’s going be an especially tough road to October for the A’s, Astros, and Rangers.
  • Both metrics agree that the Rangers will be the worst team in the AL
  • Team to watch out for: The White Sox. Don’t bet on Chicago getting buried in the standing by divisional counterparts, Cleveland and Detroit. The Chi Sox boast the 3rd highest projected wRC+ x RA9-WAR in the AL. The front end of their rotation is among the best in baseball, with Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija, and the criminally underrated Jose Quintana (10th in the MLB last year in FIP**). On the offensive side of things, if Jose Abreu’s rookie campaign is indicative of his future, we can expect big things from the Windy City. Chicago’s success is also dependent on Adam Eaton, Adam LaRoche, and Melky Cabrera building on their strong 2014 seasons.

NL East[8]

Rank Team wRC+ / ERA Rank Team wRC+ x RA9-WAR
1 Nationals 36.49 1 Nationals 344.10
2 Mets 29.15 2 Marlins 153.85
3 Marlins 28.65 3 Braves 127.13
4 Braves 25.18 4 Mets 126.73
5 Phillies 22.04 5 Phillies 60.00

 

NL Central[9]

Rank Team wRC+ / ERA Rank Team wRC+ x RA9-WAR
1 Cardinals 32.85 1 Cardinals 216.36
2 Pirates 29.64 2 Cubs 205.30
3 Cubs 29.46 3 Reds 165.51
4 Brewers 27.99 4 Brewers 153.00
5 Reds 26.35 5 Pirates 125.16

NL West[10]

Rank Team wRC+ / ERA Rank Team wRC+ x RA9-WAR
1 Dodgers 35.34 1 Dodgers 318.18
2 Giants 30.31 2 Giants 147.90
3 Padres 29.98 3 Padres 136.18
4 Diamondbacks 23.91 4 Rockies 112.10
5 Rockies 23.08 5 Diamondbacks 100.13

 

  • The two teams that would take the wild card spots would be the Giants and the Padres (both from the NL West), with the wRC+ / ERA ranking, or the Cubs and the Reds (both from the NL Central), with the wRC+ x RA9-WAR ranking
  • The NL Central is the closest division, with the two metrics disagreeing on spots 2-5
  • Only two teams in the major leagues scored above 30 in wRC+ / ERA metric and above 300 in wRC+ x RA9-WAR: the Nationals and the Dodgers. Both metrics project the Nats to be the best team in ball this year.
  • Both metrics agree that the Phillies will be the worst team in the NL and in the MLB
  • Team that will let you down: The Pirates. The other day, I saw the projected standings according the experts at ESPN[i]. They had the Pirates winning over 90 games and, ultimately, the World Series. And it’s not just ESPN, numerous publications are so damn high on the Pirates. I don’t buy it and here’s why: the Pirates have the 3rd worst projected wRC+ x RA9-WAR in the NL; they’re loaded offensively, but are full of ‘ifs’ in their rotation (Will A.J. Burnett find the form he was in his first time around in Pittsburgh? How commonly are guys like Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke found on a World Series-winning squad? Etc.). If everything goes right for the Pirates, they could indeed prove me wrong, however, I just don’t see it happening.

So there you have it, the projected 2015 MLB Standings. Check back with us in September to see how we fared!

*All projected lineups and rotations, along with the data used to make the tables are shown here:http://goo.gl/xip6WN

**FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) (http://www.fangraphs.com/library/pitching/fip)

____________________________________________________________

[1] “WRC and WRC+.” FanGraphs Sabermetrics Library. N.p., n.d. Web.      <http://www.fangraphs.com/library/offense/wrc/&gt;.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “ERA.” FanGraphs Sabermetrics Library. N.p., n.d. Web.

<http://www.fangraphs.com/library/pitching/era/&gt;.

[4] “Major League Leaderboards » 2014 » Starters » WAR Statistics.” FanGraphs Baseball. N.p., n.d. Web.                 <http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=sta&lg=all&qual=40&type=6&season=2014&mo                nth=0&season1=2014&ind=0&team=0&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0>.

[5] Lindbergh, Ben. “2015 AL East Preview: Cue the Inevitable Red Sox Resurgence.” Grantland. N.p., 26 Mar. 2015. Web. <http://grantland.com/the-triangle/mlb-2015-al-east-preview-red-sox-blue-jays-orioles-rays-yankees/&gt;.

[6] Keri, Jonah. “2015 AL Central Preview: Watch Out, Detroit – Cleveland’s Coming.” Grantland. N.p., 27 Mar. 2015. Web. <http://grantland.com/the-triangle/2015-mlb-preview-al-central-indians-tigers-white-sox-royals-twins/&gt;.

[7] Lindbergh, Ben. “2015 AL West Preview: Prepare for Playoff Baseball in Seattle.” Grantland. N.p., 30 Mar. 2015. Web. <http://grantland.com/the-triangle/2015-mlb-al-west-preview-mariners-angels-athletics-astros-rangers/&gt;.

[8] Lindbergh, Ben. “2015 NL East Preview: Prepare for Washington’s 162-Game Victory Tour.” Grantland. N.p., 31 Mar. 2015. Web. <http://grantland.com/the-triangle/2015-mlb-nl-east-preview-nationals-marlins-mets-braves-dodgers/&gt;.

[9] Lindbergh, Ben. “2015 NL Central Preview: The Cardinals Don’t Care About Your Cubs Obsession.” Grantland. N.p., 01 Apr. 2015. Web. <http://grantland.com/the-triangle/2015-mlb-nl-central-preview-cardinals-pirates-cubs-brewers-reds/&gt;.

[10] Keri, Jonah. “2015 NL West Preview: The Dodgers Win the Division #EveryYear.” Grantland. N.p., 02 Apr. 2015. Web. <http://grantland.com/the-triangle/2015-mlb-nl-west-preview-dodgers-padres-giants-rockies-diamondbacks/&gt;.

[i] Schoenfield, David. “MLB Predictions: The Final Standings.” ESPN. N.p., 06 Apr. 2015. Web. <http://espn.go.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/56332/mlb-predictions-the-final-standings&gt;.

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