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2012 Prospective: A look at ZiPS projections

David Fung did a good story on 1/30 about the A's projected wins for 2012 using two different projection systems: MARCEL and Clay Davenport. MARCEL is a very basic projection system that weights past seasons in a 5/4/3 fashion, finds a players' league average, and uses a age adjustment to come up with a projection about player future performance. A basic level, this is really what all projection systems do: use some combination of past performance and age to attempt to find the next year's performance. Davenport, BP's PECOTA, RotoChamp, CAIRO, ZiPS, and Bill James are other projections you might have heard of.

I'm going to focus on ZiPS here because a) its data are readily available and complete and b) because I think it is by far the most pessimistic

And here they are:

2012 A's Projections by ZiPS

What I did with that was put it into Excel and scrapped the guys who aren't on the 40 man roster. I know Dan Zymborski (the curator of the ZiPS model) errs on the side of more data, but it's really not helpful for me to see Grant Green or Stephen Parker on this list. So, they're gone.

What I'm going to try and do is try to point out where ZiPS might be too pessimistic on the A's. Let's start with the hitters:

The first thing to point out is how terrible ZiPS projects the offense as a whole. If sorted by OPS+, which is a measure of OPS (on-base + slugging) weighted to the league average (100 being average). Yes, your eyes aren't fooling you -- ZiPS does not project any one A's player to have a league average bat. What about the guys who are close, though?

Crisp is projected for 104 games. While certainly 2010 showed that Coco can be a fragile player, he also played 136 games last year while battling some nagging injuries. Barring unforeseen injury, I expect to see closer to 136 games from Coco in 2012

The same applies for Jemile Weeks, who is projected for 126 games. Again, while his MiLB history is riddled with injury, he was able to remain relatively healthy despite losing his helmet nearly every game. I expect closer to 145 games for Weeks in 2012.

These projections cannot take into account that there will likely be a winner of the 1B sweepstakes. I expect that guy to be Daric Barton over Brandon Allen, with Carter getting an occasional spot start over there. So, that's more ABs of a projected 94 OPS+ hitter over Allen (85).

Scott Sizemore's K% is projected to be somewhere around 26%. That was indeed around his K% last year, but it was also the highest of his professional career to date. This could go either way, of course, but as he gets used to the league and a new position, I would expect it to go down closer to 20% or so.

Starting pitching:

As expected, these projections are considerably more rosy than the hitters' projections.

Again, I think the weighting of prior season's data hurts the A's when the actual prospects look better. ZiPS puts Dallas Braden and Brandon McCarthy down for 21 and 16 starts respectively. Braden, most recently, has said he feels great after his surgery. McCarthy has said that with the A's, he's discovered a new bone doctor and has new techniques in his delivery to minimize the load to his reactive shoulder. Also, while Colon will be entering his age 39 season, last year he posted one of his best K/BB ratios of his career (only one better was in 2005 with the Angels). While his HR/9 ratio was a little higher than his career average of 1.11, he is also going to be starting half his games in Oakland. The more I think about it, the more I think he has one serviceable year left in his arm.

Most projection systems, including ZiPS, also produce defensive and reliever projections. The one thing that is projectable about these statistical groups is the volatility. Defense notoriously needs somewhere around 3 seasons of data to normalize. What's more, with Sizemore and Weeks both presumably improving their defensive prowess from last year, and a mixed bag of results from Barton, the projections become extremely variable. With only a couple truly established relievers on the A's, it also makes those projections extremely difficult to have any confidence in. So, I choose to ignore them.

In terms of where I think the A's will end up, I think close to 70 wins is likely. This is a little more optimistic than Dan Z., but much less so than PECOTA, which projects us closer to a .500 team.

No matter how many wins we will have though, I'm ready for real baseball. How about you?