Projection season is just about over. Steamer released its projections and depth charts on Fangraphs a decent while ago, PECOTA released its projections last week, and now the final Yankees projections, ZiPS, are in. ZiPS, or sZymborski Projection System, was created by Dan Szymborski of ESPN and is widely considered as one of the best publicly available systems. According to the Hardball Times, it actually had the lowest mean absolute error of any system:
As far as the strengths and weaknesses of the system goes, ZiPS does best with veteran players and is generally the worst at identifying breakout stars. In terms of overall performance, ZiPS did the best last year. And when it comes to projecting an entire team, the best projection system by mean absolute error could in fact be the best at achieving that end. Anyway, here is what ZiPS has to say about the 2015 Yankees:
Well then. It's not the most beautiful thing I've ever seen, but it's certainly not the ugliest. First, if we take a look at the position players, we'll notice that the best hitter on the team is projected to be Chase Headley at 111 OPS+, followed by Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Teixeira a few points behind. Considering the offensive woes this team has had the past few years, it certainly isn't encouraging when not one single hitter is projected to hit above 115 OPS+. The contentious Alex Rodriguez is projected to hit 96 OPS+, which makes some sense, considering where the other projections have been.
In terms of overall projected WAR for position players, it's decent. Not good, not great, but also not horrendous. There are four players projected to have greater than or equal to 2.5 WAR, and ten are projected to put up 1.0 WAR. ZiPS is also much more optimistic about Didi Gregorius than both PECOTA and Steamer, and the team could also get as much as 2 WAR at second base between Stephen Drew and Rob Refsnyder.
For pitchers, ZiPS accurately shows the risk for so many of these starting pitchers. While Masahiro Tanaka's 3.4 WAR (113 ERA+) projection and James Shields comp is lovely, no other starting pitcher is projected to put up more than 1.5 WAR. The only other starting pitcher that is projected to have an ERA+ over 100 is Michael Pineda (108), but unfortunately ZiPS does not believe he'll remain healthy as he is projected to pitch just 80.2 innings.
The bullpen, unlike with the PECOTA projections, is projected to be quite good. ZiPS believes that Andrew Miller will put up a win and a 153 ERA+, and that Adam Warren, David Carpenter, and Chasen Shreve will all be above-average in their middle relief roles. The one interesting projection is Dellin Betances, whose 1.9 WAR and 165 ERA+ projection is pretty different from other projection systems. Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus admitted that PECOTA (and I would say most projection systems) has difficulty dealing with role changes and poor performances in larger samples. Most systems are regressed over three or five-year samples, most heavily weighting the most recent year but considering the prior two or four. That is a problem for Betances, whose terrible starting pitching performances in the minors greatly skews a lot of his projections. Fortunately, ZiPS does not have this problem. When I asked Dan Szymborski why the projection looked reasonable, he said the following:
@mattprov94 ZiPS will believe a sudden improvement more if it came as a result of a pronounced G/GS change.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) February 2, 2015
@mattprov94 ZiPS converts his older starting translations into relief, but weights 2014 much more heavily.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) February 2, 2015
@mattprov94 Also a sudden change in peripherals is going to be taken more seriously by ZiPS even without role change.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) February 2, 2015
That's more like it!
It's pretty clear that ZiPS prefers the Yankees in a different way than PECOTA does. Both of them consider their position players to be about the same, but while PECOTA prefers their starting pitching, ZiPS prefers their relief pitching. For this I'll give the advantage to ZiPS, as more realistic relief projections combined with reasonable skepticism surrounding possible starting pitching injuries makes the most sense.
Either way, though, the Yankees look to be about an 81-84 win team no matter how you slice it. This club does have a bit more upside than it has in the past couple of years, but a lot has to go right for that upside to be achieved. If one wants to believe that the starting pitching will remain healthy (bold), then this is a team that will definitely hang around contention.