ZiPS Sabremetics Fall Flat On Jose Berrios, Twins

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Let me preface this by saying that I am the last person to ever claim to be a sabermetics wizard. That being said, I don’t discredit them, but I believe they have a time and place for application. In all reality, numbers can be extrapolated to prove virtually any outcome you see fit. Today, the 2015 ZiPS projections came out for the Twins, and there are a few issues I take a stand with.

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Rather than going through and explaining each of the acronyms and the breakdown of how the numbers are figured out, I think the best way to handle this is taking aim at certain areas the appears to be short of reality. Remember, ZiPS produces projections, nothing more. That being said, the numbers are substantiated by statistical data, that in some cases, do a great job at giving us a look into what is to come. With that in mind, lets take a look at a few key points that I think ZiPS has significantly missed on.

Firstly, their prediction of Jose Berrios. As a pitcher, ZiPS has compared, by all statistical measurements, Berrios to that of former major leaguer J.D. Durbin. Last season, Berrios shot up the Twins prospect rankings charts posting extremely impressive numbers over the course of the year. His career 3.05 ERA in three minor league seasons has his arrow pointed straight up. Note he’s just 20 years old and has a 9.5 K/9 ratio, and it’s fair to assume he’ll be a key cog for the Twins future.

Looking at Durbin, his best years in the minors were early on his professional career. Prior to his call up to the Twins, Durbin posted a 4.54 ERA with Triple-A Rochester, a mark Berrios has never come close to. Berrios rose three levels last season after starting the year in Single-A Fort Myers, and finishing with Triple-A Rochester, a feat Durbin’s talent level also never forced. Although Durbin’s best minor league season ERA of 3.12 checks in near Berrios’ career average, suggesting they are the same pitcher seems to discredit many intangibles not measure on paper. After a season in which he pitched in the Futures Game, Berrios likely embarks on his most important season as a pro, in which he could take the final step forward towards a call up.

Moving onto another issue, ZiPS has Joe Mauer measured as a 2 WAR player. This suggests he would be two wins better than a replacement level talent. Last season, he was projected as a 2.8 WAR player, and he came in below that with a mark of 2.1. So why should this year be any different? After significant regression (experienced only one other time in Mauer’s career, 2010 to 2011), Mauer responded with a bounce back season in 2012. Posting career WAR numbers over 4 more often than not, Mauer’s dip can be attributed to a handful of things.

Joe Mauer is no longer a catcher, which takes away his premium bat at a position not regarded for hitting, as well as his highly regarded defensive prowess. However, in his second year at first base, Mauer could be expected to have an even further grasp on the position; as well as a better understanding of how to attack the strike zone without first seeing it from behind the plate. Suggesting that Mauer takes an even further step backwards this season isn’t something I can get on board with. Look for Mauer’s WAR to rest someone in the 3 range at the end of the season.

Finally, I am somewhat confused by ZiPS valuation of Byron Buxton. Regarded as the best prospect in baseball, there’s plenty to be excited about when it comes to the eventual debut at the major league level. Unfortunately, ZiPS sees Buxton being nothing more than a 2 WAR player this season, or equal to an even further regressed version of 2014 Joe Mauer. The slash line ZiPS sees for Buxton is .251/.315/.386 across 382 plate appearances.

Based upon those numbers, not only does ZiPS believe that Buxton will be up right around the middle of the season, but that he will also significantly regress from the ability he has flashed at the minor league level (.300/.389/.485 minor league slash line). ZiPS also see Buxton striking out at around the same rate as Oswaldo Arcia, something that doesn’t seem plausible based upon his zone control abilities in his career thus far.

At the end of the day, it comes down to the fact that while sabermetrics are substantiated numbers, how much stock you put into trends plays an important part. Each number is derived from recent relativity, and the expectation would be that improvement would always be something that follows team growth as a whole; something I believe is fair to assume the Twins have achieved.

Really, we aren’t much more than a few months away from this all playing out on the field, so it’s more than interesting to keep an eye on.

Next: 2015 AL Central Standings Predictions

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