Astros Get Zapped by ZIPS again...

Astros' fans--well, the saber ones who even know about it---probably don't look forward to the ZIPS projections coming out before each season. The Astros' ZIPS projections have looked terrible over the last couple of years. Of course, that isn't necessarily the fault of the ZIPS computer algorythms; the type of players on the roster has a lot to do with it.

ZIPS is one of the more respected systems for projecting player performance. I won't say it's the best system, because that is hard to determine. But the godawful Astros' projections of the last couple of years have identified some problem areas for the roster that would materialize during the year. Just so you don't become too pessimistic, though, I should point out that sometimes Astros' players outperform the projections.

So, here is the 2011 ZIPS player projections for the Astros, as released over at Baseball Think Factory. Dan Symborksi, the creator of ZIPS, who now writes for ESPN and occasionally comments at TCB, usually has some snarky things to say about the Astros. This time:

the upper levels of the organization look a bit like the baseball equivalent of post-World War II Europe if we had gone in and just kept bombing the cities for a few more years just for the hell of it.

But he does go on to say that the Astros' organization is showing improvement at the lower levels. I won't spend a lot of time talking about individual projections---you can go to the link and read them yourselves. But I will make a some observations on a few of the projections.

The offense projects to be just terrible. Bombed out, maybe, but not likely to be launching many bombs. Carlos Lee and J.D. Martinez project to be the only two above average offensive players, with an OPS+ of 106 and 104, respectively. (And those OPS+ forecasts for Lee and Martinez would be below average for the positions that they play.)

The projection for Altuve is surprisingly good. I would gladly accept a .292, .322, .403 slash line from him in 2012. That's not great, but it would be pretty darned good for a 2d baseman who will be only 22 years old. From there the offense is grim.

Brett Wallace is the fourth best offensive player on the team, but his rate stats are projected to be basically the same as last year (97 OPS+ vs. 96 OPS+ last year). Jed Lowrie and Matt Downs are projected to post the same OPS+ as Wallace. Of course, a 97 OPS+ looks a lot better at shortstop than 1st base. You probably find the offensive projection for Downs to be disappointing---but frankly who the hell knows since his part time stats last season was his first good ML showing?

And, despite the disappointment of a .255 batting average and .728 OPS from Downs, that turns out to be the Astros' best offensive hope out of 3d base. The 3d base incumbents are forecasted to be terrible. Chris Johnson and Jimmy Paredes are both forecasted to be way, way below average for 3d base.

The Rule 5 utility infielder, Marwin Gonzalez, is projected to be somewhat better than Angel Sanchez, and his .650 OPS should be enough to justify his place on the major league roster.

I am surprised at how bad the projection is for Bogusevic. If he posts a .233, .304, .338 slash line, as ZIPS projects, he will be a total bust. In fact, all of the options for CF and RF project are horrendous (I'm trying to find other words rather than continuing to say "terrible"). I'm not as optimistic about Bogusevic as some around here, but I do think that ZIPS is probably way too low.

The offenive projection for the catcher position is terrib...er, appalling.

Wandy is projected to be the Astros' best starting pitcher, but his 100 OPS+ is not much better than average for a starter. Bud Norris and Brett Myers are the only starting pitchers who are close to average. And, if you want to get scared--like maybe the first time you watched The Exorcist--look at the remaining rotation stats if Myers and Wandy are traded away. Oberholtzer is the only minor league starting pitcher who is projected as a sub-5 ERA pitcher for the rotation. An exorcist may be required by Astros fans if the expected trades take place.

The bullpen is dreary too. Wilton Lopez is the only guy who projects to be close to league average for a reliever. Though Abreu's results are projected to be well below average for a relief pitcher, I might be encouraged if he can post the projected 4.10 ERA.

The ZIPS projections of notable events are an interesting way of seeing how the probabilities of various outcomes are distributed for particular players.

You want to know why trading for Lowrie was a good idea? He has a 46% probability of being excellent or very good next year, which is the best probability of premium performance for any Astros' position player. That, my friend, is upside. Jose Altuve has the next highest probability (30%) of excellent or very good performance in 2012. Carlos Lee is third at 28%. On the other side, Brett Wallace has a 56% probability of being poor vs. a 12% probability of being excellent or very good. Those aren't good odds.

Here is a sorry projection, J.D. Martinez with a 5% probability represents the highest probability for .375 or higher OBP on the team. On a more intriguing note, Jose Altuve has a 37% chance of a .300+ batting average and a 24% chance of 10+ triples.

Another fun thing to mention: one of J.D. Martinez's comparables is Carlos Lee. Out with the old and in with the ...same... in LF?

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