Before the 2013 season started, the hype around the Toronto Blue Jays could not be stronger. The team had failed to make a Postseason appearance in 20 years and as can be expected, fans were finally excited. Unfortunately, the first month of the season has not gone as anticipated. But thanks to baseball projections and statistics, Blue Jays fans can recognize that the hype wasn’t without reason and that expectations can change fast.
I recently got the opportunity to speak with Dan Szymborski, who created the ZiPS projection system. He talked to me about the model and how it relates to the Blue Jays’ expectations in 2013.
For those that are unaware of what ZiPS is, Szymborski explains that "it is a computer model that attempts to gauge probabilities of future play based on a player's basic and advanced statistics and baseball history. “At its core,” Szymborski wrote, “it's a very educated guess based on as much statistical information we currently have on players.”
Szymborski adds that there is no real single factor that drastically changes projections. “Computers can see the forest for the trees and organize thousands of variables extremely well. Humans are better at seeing the individual trees, but sometimes miss the bigger picture, simply because that's the way our brains are wired.”
Looking at the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) projection in the ZiPS model, heading into the 2013 season, the Blue Jays had a combined WAR of a whopping 41.5. Unfortunately, however, three weeks into the season, the total has now dropped to 31.4.
“The future is very foggy and even with the best tools we have, fumbling through the dark is very uncertain,” he said. “ZiPS really liked the Blue Jays going into the season based on hard evidence - it hasn't worked out yet.”
Hopefully for Blue Jays fans, it starts working out soon.