Each offseason, Dan Szymborski of Fangraphs puts each team into his ZiPS machine and season projections come out the other end. While any projection system will have its flaws and will never be totally accurate, ZiPS is generally considered one of the more solid projection systems in baseball. The intricacies of Dan’s system are much more complex than to be discussed here, but a brief synopsis of how the system works can be found here
On January 3rd, Dan released his projections for the 2022 Red Sox, which can be found here. An important thing to keep in mind when looking at ZiPS is that this is a 50th percentile projection. That is to say, if these totals seem low, the system more or less gives the player a coin flip’s chance to exceed them (albeit this also means they also have the same odds to underperform them). Additionally, these projections look at the team as it was at the time of the MLB lockout. Trade, free agent signings, and other transactions are not what ZiPS is interested in. As such, the team being projected right now is unlikely to be the team that takes the field on opening day.
There are not too many surprises to be found in these projections. Perhaps the most eye-catching projection is that of JD Martinez, who is projected at a slightly below league average WAR total of 1.8 with a 115 OPS+ and just 25 home runs, a far cry from his 3.0 bWAR and 126 OPS+ in 2021. After a disastrous 2020 season that saw many begin to question what was left in Martinez’s bat, his 2021 was a massive rebound that seemed to silence any such questions while earning his fourth trip to the all star game. ZiPS isn’t convinced of his rebound. This, as noted by Szymborksi, is largely due to his age. JD will be 34 in 2022. While Martinez’s advanced and methodical plate appearance gives me more faith in his ability to age gracefully than I would otherwise have, father-time waits for no man.
In the infield, ZiPS is generally positive, projecting each of Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and the second base duo of Enrique Hernandez/Christian Arroyo to finish somewhere between 3 and 4 WAR. While this total is below the totals posted by each of these three in 2021, projection systems tend to air on the side of caution. Particularly with Hernandez, this projection, while lower than his performance last year, is a vote of confidence if anything, as 2021 was a career year for the utility player. Anytime you expect a player to repeat or exceed a career year, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Devers is also coming off of a career year, in which he went to his first all star game, won his first silver slugger, and set a career high with 38 home runs. Devers, unlike Hernandez, is still young enough that he should continue to improve, and it would not be at all surprising to see him put together even better seasons in the future. Xander Bogaerts has been remarkably consistent at the plate over the last four seasons, posting an OPS+ between 135 and 127 every year since 2018. ZiPS expects him to be in the same neighborhood at a 125 mark.
In the outfield, ZiPS is less optimistic. Granted, the Red Sox are almost certainly going to make a move to supplement this group, but currency ZiPS projects Jarren Duran and Christin Stewart to split time in left, Hernandez and Jackie Bradley Jr to split time in center, and Alex Verdugo to be the everyday right fielder. The system is not particularly optimistic about any of the three. While Duran is still a top prospect, his cup of coffee in 2021 was abysmal. Stewart is a 28-year-old who last appeared in the Majors in 2020 with Detroit, where he posted a 43 OPS+ across 36 games. Stewart would be better served as AAA depth, rather than any sort of Major League job. With Hernandez expected to get most of the time at second, Bradley would be getting the bulk of the time in center. After Bradley was one of the worst hitters in the entire league last season, ZiPS doesn’t see that changing too much, projecting him for a paltry .659 OPS. As with Duran/Stewart in left field, a move should be expected here. Either for a center fielder or for a second baseman, with Hernandez being moved back to center, where he spent most of his time last season. Verdugo is projected for a fairly similar season to his 2021. In ‘21, he produced 2.2 WAR with a 106 OPS+. ZiPS likes him for marks of 1.9 and 109 in 2022, essentially the same, well within the margin of error. This may seem slightly pessimistic as you would generally expect a 25-year-old to improve, but such is the nature of projections.
On the pitching side of things, there are some highs and lows. The system seems to believe in both Nathan Eovaldi’s 2021 breakout, as well as Chris Sale’s ability to bounce back from Tommy John surgery in his first full season back. The two aces are projected for 3.8 and 3.6 WAR, although it should be noted that ZiPS doesn’t expect Sale to take on quite a full season’s workload, closer to 20 starts. This seems wise given Sale’s injury history, as well as the depth the rotation should have, which would allow Alex Cora to get creative and give Sale extra days of rest when necessary. ZiPS is less optimistic on the rest of the rotation. Pivetta slots in as the third most valuable starter, projected for 1.6 WAR, while the trio of veteran free agent signings (Michael Wacha, James Paxton, Rich Hill) all fall between 0 and 1 WAR. These all feel about right. Pivetta had something of a breakout in 2021 (104 ERA+), but he had never cracked 90 in that stat before this year. He’ll need to show that his improvements were legitimate in 2022. As for the newcomers, expecting much of anything out of them would be foolish. That’s not to say they are worthless players, far from it. But they are simply depth, and any value that arises from depth is a bonus.
One of the bigger questions in terms of the composition of the 2022 Red Sox roster will be whether Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock slot into the rotation or bullpen. ZiPS foresees each of them spending some time in both roles, with Houck projected for 20 starts, whereas Whitlock would make just 5. A hybrid role for each is what seems most likely, although the exact start: relief appearance ratio for each remains to be seen. ZiPS does predict some regression for each. Houck is seen as closer to league average, with a 101 ERA+, whereas Whitlock is still seen as providing high-quality innings with a 121 mark. While both of these numbers are good to great, they are a steep drop off from their marks of 135 and 241 respectively in 2021. This pretty clearly makes sense for two reasons. Firstly that they each had such outstanding seasons in 2021 that it would be remarkably difficult to replicate or build off of those performances. Secondly, assuming they make more starts than last year, that naturally comes with a drop-off in performance on a per-inning basis, as the sample gets larger and the amount of energy a pitcher can put into each pitch drops.
ZiPS is fairly high on the bullpen as well. Each of Matt Barnes, Josh Taylor, Darwinzon Hernandez, Hirokazu Sawamura, and Ryan Brasier are in the same ballpark projection-wise, between a 116 and 124 ERA+. For a bit more context, Barnes’ entire 2021 season (the highs and lows) averaged out to a 125 mark. Taylor and Darwinzon were at 140 and 141 respectively. While these projections are showing some regression, relievers are so fickle that some amount of regression should be expected for any bullpen arm that isn’t in the upper tier of the league. If the bullpen lives up to these expectations, it will be more than strong enough for this team to be successful.
Szymborski projects the Red Sox for around 85 wins with the current roster, but even he notes that he expects that total to go up by at least a few after an outfield addition or two. The AL East is shaping up to be extremely competitive again, and the Red Sox are probably just a move or two away from being right in the thick of it, and Szymborski’s ZiPS system seems to agree with that notion.
Matt O’Halloran is a junior mathematics major at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He works in analytics with the school’s baseball program. He is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and an editor at Diamond Digest. He can be found on Twitter @matto20.