In exactly a month, real baseball, on real diamonds, will be played. The Giants’ first Cactus League game is set for Feb. 25 against the Cubs, with pitchers and catchers having officially reported roughly 10 days prior.
Until then, theoretical baseball is the best we can do. And arguably the finest projections in the land have been revealed for the Giants.
ZiPS, the projections formula developed by Fangraphs’ Dan Szymborski, accounts for growth and decline curves based on player type to find trends. The system includes statistics from a player’s previous three or four seasons, depending on their age, and also factors in injury, velocity and play-by-play data.
Projecting players’ future performance is an inexact science. But ZiPS can be a interesting variable to consider.
Here are five takeaways from the Giants’ projections.
The Giants assembled a deep roster
At just about every position, the Giants have options. They should be able to absorb injuries at most spots — excluding catcher — with capable depth pieces.
Of course, the flip side of this is that the Giants don’t have one or two completely indispensable players. In other words, they don’t have a star. While they surely would prefer having an Aaron Judge or Carlos Correa on their team, a quantity over quality strategy may be the best they can do.
Catcher, with Joey Bart and Blake Sabol, is the only position projected to record significantly less than 2.0 WAR — the threshold considered to be starter level.
As Szymborski writes: “There’s a real solidity to the roster; no one on the infield has an impressive projection, but they have a lot of those guys on hand.”
Based on WAR projections, the Giants won’t have a single All-Star caliber player (and All-Star level WAR is known to be at least 5). The closest San Francisco has, expectedly, is Logan Webb — projected to amass 4.3 WAR.
Behind Webb, ZiPS is optimistic about San Francisco’s rotation depth. That’s unsurprising given the additions of Ross Stripling, Sean Manaea, Anthony DeSclafani from injury and Kyle Harrison’s expected debut. The model is also high on SF’s bullpen, with new lefty Taylor Rogers projected for a 3.38 ERA.
Some exciting, and wacky, player comps
Every player gets three comparisons based on age. Next to Vaun Brown’s name? Starling Marte, Ken Griffey, and Ramon Laureano.
When Ken Griffey was 24, he was two years away from his first of three All-Star selections. When Marte was 24, he hit .280 and stole 41 bags for Pittsburgh. When Laureano was 24, he posted an .860 OPS and hit 24 bombs.
Brown, one of the freakiest athletes in the Giants’ system, will start at Double-A. He’s a late bloomer who thrived in the minors last year, hitting 23 homers and swiping 41 steals. If he ascends rapidly to Triple-A with more success, he could add to a much-needed speed boost.
A more confounding comparison set? Giants top prospect Marco Luciano. His comps were Joe Dunlap, Milt Jefferson and Travis Jackson. The first two never reached the bigs and Jackson is a Hall of Famer who played 15 years for the New York Giants from 1922 to 1936. Make it make sense.
ZiPS really likes R.J. Dabovich
The right-handed reliever’s fastball approaches triple digits, but he’s struggled with command. His 7.3 walks per nine innings at Sacramento last year is completely unsustainable.
But if Dabovich can reel in his control, his fastball-curveball could become a weapon. Dabovich posted a 4.38 ERA in 23 games for the River Cats in 2022. ZiPS projects him to post a 3.51 ERA overall in 2023 — third-best in the organization behind only Webb and Rogers.
If ZiPS is on to something with Dabovich, the Giants would need to add him to the 40-man roster and give him a shot in the bullpen. He’s ranked 20th in the Giants’ system by MLB.com, but relievers can get hot and rise quickly.
A wide range of outcomes for Brandon Crawford
At 36 years old, Crawford is set to be the oldest everyday shortstop in MLB. He plummeted down to earth, both offensively and defensively, after a monster 2021 season. Even with stellar flashes in the field late in the year, Crawford dealt with lingering injuries and had his worst fielding season, according to some advanced defensive metrics.
Crawford is projected to put together a 99 OPS+ season, which is a tick below league average. If his defense reverts back to the standard he’s set — plausible given a more structured offseason — the Giants would welcome that.
But as with many aging players, there’s a higher risk of a steep decline. ZiPS’ projections are broken down into 80th and 20th percentiles, essentially pondering what a player’s boom or bust season might look like. For Crawford, the 80th percentile season would have him slashing .281/.353/.448. That would have him at 3.4 WAR.
Crawford’s 20th percentile projection, though, looks like a 77 OPS+ season and 1.0 WAR. That would bring him back to 2019-level of production, when the Giants considered platooning him.
ZiPS thinks the Giants’ 30-homer drought will continue
No Giant has hit 30 home runs since Barry Bonds in 2004. The shocking drought is the longest active streak in MLB.
Brandon Belt would have spelled the drought had he not injured his thumb late in the 2021 season. Other than him, no one has come particularly close. And ZiPS doesn’t think anyone will near 30 bombs next year, either.
Mike Yastrzemski and David Villar are each projected to crack 20 homers, tied for the most on the team. Joc Pederson, who hit 23 last year, is projected to hit just 19. That number feels low considering he’s expected to serve as a full-time designated hitter against right-handed pitchers, both limiting his exposure and keeping his body fresh. ZiPS thinks Mitch Haniger, who hit 39 home runs two years ago, will also hit 19.