Toronto Blue Jays Steamer and ZiPS projections for the 2017 season
Each year, in the dead of the Toronto Blue Jays’ off-season, we look ahead to the coming spring with a handful of projection systems. Going position-by-position, we’ll begin with the starting rotation that carried Toronto through much of 2016.
The systems we’ll look at are Steamer and ZiPS. For a full look at MLB projection systems, how they work, and the intricacies of each, I recommend this piece from Henry Druschel at Beyond the Box Score.
Projection systems, as I always say, are the sober friend at a party. A little more based in logic, a little less optimistic, and less likely to do something drastic (like, say, project a 9.0+ WAR season, as these systems are typically conservative). What they do offer, however — between their existing flaws — is an unbiased baseline for analysis and discussion.
RHP Aaron Sanchez
Steamer: 202 IP, 7.6 K/9, 3.5 BB/9 – 3.98 ERA, 3.0 WAR
ZiPS: 196.0 IP, 8.1 K/9, 2.8 K/9 – 3.35 ERA, 4.6 WAR
The ZiPS projection is certainly more favourable to Sanchez, but even Steamer shows optimism with 200+ innings and a sub-four ERA. Sanchez will continue to face questions about his endurance through 2017, as one season of full rotation work does not mean he’s out of the woods by any means.
Of note from the ZiPS projections: Sanchez’s “No. 1 Comp” player is Dave Stieb. Though this is not the most analytically-based term, Sanchez’s “projection-defying stuff” could help him to exceed these numbers.
RHP Marco Estrada
Steamer: 165 IP, 7.6 K/9, 3.12 BB/9 – 4.67 ERA, 1.6 WAR
ZiPS: 180.1 IP, 6.4 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 – 3.84 ERA, 3.1 WAR
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ZiPS seems to have a better grasp on Estrada’s projection for 2017, though both systems expect him to regress from his 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings in 2016. The right-hander did battle some back issues throughout the season and does not have a lengthy track record as a workhorse, so his innings count will be worth monitoring as well. Given the unusual nature of Estrada’s pitching style (heavy changeup, pitching to wonky contact), he’s a difficult case for projection systems.
LHP J.A. Happ
Steamer: 184 IP, 7.6 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 – 4.15 ERA, 2.4 WAR
ZiPS: 154.2 IP, 8.0 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 – 3.96 ERA, 2.5 WAR
The two seem to agree on Happ’s WAR value, which is reasonable following seasons of 3.4 and 3.2 WAR. Where the two differ is Happ’s innings, and coming off a season that easily represents his career high, that will be an issue (noticing a common thread here for the rotation that chewed through innings brilliantly in 2016?). Short outings plagued Happ more than injuries did earlier in his career, but with bias put aside, one must admit that 20 wins with a 3.18 ERA is not likely to be sustainable for the lefty.
RHP Marcus Stroman
Steamer: 166 IP, 7.4 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 – 3.68 ERA, 3.2 WAR
ZiPS: 140.2 IP, 7.6 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 – 3.97 ERA, 2.2 WAR
Here’s an important one, as Steamer projects Stroman to lead the Blue Jays’ staff in ERA and WAR this season despite the low innings total. That IP number is even lower on ZiPS despite him topping 200 innings in the regular season alone last year, so even with his short track record considered, that’s a bit conservative. Stroman showed through the final months of the season that his early-season struggles might have just been a blip on the radar. In this case, projections do have a value in helping to frame last season’s stats against who the pitcher truly is.
LHP Francisco Liriano
Steamer: 138 IP, 9.3 K/9, 4.1 BB/9 – 3.93 ERA, 2.0 WAR
ZiPS: 158 IP, 9.9 K/9, 4.0 BB/9 – 4.22 ERA, 2.0 WAR
These numbers are in line with what Blue Jays fans can reasonably expect from Liriano. Strikeout and walk ratios that more closely resemble a high-velocity reliever’s will see him dominate some games and struggle in others, but when it all adds up, there should be real value for Toronto. He’s shown the ability to string it together over longer stretches, however, with four seasons of 3.3 WAR or higher scattered throughout his career.