It is projection season! ZIPS is the gold standard of player projections, and ZIPS-meister Dan Szymborski released his 2019 ZIPS projections for the Royals this week. It is not pretty, but for a team coming off a 104-loss season without any major off-season improvements, it is not as bad as you might think.
For one, the second-best projection on the team (behind Whit Merrifield) is for 23-year Adalberto Mondesí, with 2.7 WAR and a line of .261/.295/.462 with 18 home runs. Mondesí put up 2.8 fWAR in just 75 games last year, so you may want to take the over on that projection, which is taking his complete performance over the last four seasons into account. ZIPS comps Mondesí to former Twins All-Star shortstop Cristian Guzman, which perhaps may seem underwhelming, but we’re just scratching the surface of what Mondesí can do and ZIPS is only taking into account actual minor league and Major League performance.
Here is are projections for each position showing the total WAR for that position, with the starter listed.
Sneak peek at upcoming ZiPS projections for the actual #Royals, not the fake Royals which happened to exactly be the Blue Jays. pic.twitter.com/gLLOoSitxm— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) January 15, 2019
What is ZIPS? It is a system of player projections developed by Dan Szymborski that uses stats from the previous four season, with more recent seasons weighed heavier. Using past player growth and decline curves, Szymborski is able to project how a player may perform over time. The playing time totals are just an estimate, not to be given too much weight.
The Billy Hamilton signing was panned by many, and while he doesn’t project to hit much - .242/.300/.330 - he still projects to be a pretty valuable player at 1.4 WAR, fifth among all Royals hitters, due to his speed and defense. Alex Gordon’s defense carries him as well, projecting him to be a 1.1 WAR player despite a line of .230/.317/.352. Infield prospect Nicky Lopez fares very well in projections with a line of .260/.321/.344 and 1.5 WAR, suggesting he may be ready for big league action. Overall, Merrifield, Lopez and Jorge Soler are the only hitters that project to have an on-base percentage over .320.
Merrifield, Hamilton and Mondesi will give the Royals amazing speed, with ZIPS projecting the trio to all steal at least 30 bases. Terrance Gore, unfortunately, doesn’t project to hit enough to steal that many bags, with a projected line of .199/.264/.222.
ZiPS also projects three Royals hitters to steal 30+ bases. That's only happened three times this century (2001 Mariners, 2009 Rays, and 2012 Brewers - Remember when Ryan Braun stole 30 bases?) pic.twitter.com/AIFI39OStO— Shaun Newkirk (@Shauncore) January 16, 2019
On the pitching side, the Royals do have four starting pitchers that project to be 1+ WAR pitchers - Jake Junis (2.0), Brad Keller (1.9), Danny Duffy (1.8), and Ben Lively (1.3), with Jesse Hahn not far behind at a 0.9. The bullpen is a bit of a mess with Richard Lovelady (1.1 WAR, 3.52 ERA) projected as the best reliever. ZIPS projects Rule 5 pick Sam McWilliams to hold his own with a 4.74 ERA and 0.8 WAR, but the numbers are pretty ugly for the other pitcher acquired in the Rule 5 draft, Chris Ellis.
Despite the solid projection for Mondesí, Syzmborski doesn’t see enough young talent with upside.
Troubling and not seen in full here is that ZiPS simply projects very few of the hitting prospects in the upper levels of the organization as good bets to be relevant by the time the Royals are good again. It’s essentially Adalberto Mondesi and Nicky Lopez. Khalil Lee and Emmanuel Rivera are the only two other offensive prospects on this list for whom ZiPS gives even an over/under of three WAR over their major league careers. Now, it’s not quite as bad as that considering a couple of the names I’m not yet projecting are Seuly Matias and Nick Pratto, but it’s certainly less than ideal for a team that really ought to be 2 1/2 years into a rebuild by now.
These projections suggest the Royals should be a better team in 2019, although the progress may not be as much as perhaps Dayton Moore hopes for. It is a process, and getting more young players can give the Royals greater opportunites to exceed projections.
What do you think of these projections? Any projections that stand out as too high or too low?