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Playing over/under with ZiPS projections

Who will outperform their projections in 2022?

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American League Championship Series - Workout Day Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

There is nothing happening in the baseball world at the moment thanks to that whole lockout deal and the slow-moving negotiations towards a new CBA, but computers never stop. If sci-fi movies have taught me anything, in the long-term that is going to be a major concern, but in the short-term it simply means that we still have projections. Every year, my favorite projection system is typically the ZiPS system, which is run by Dan Szymborski and published every year by FanGraphs. The ZiPS projections for the 2022 Boston Red Sox were released on Monday, and as has become tradition I will play some over/under with a handful of said projections.

J.D. Martinez: 9.3 percent walk rate

All in all, the 2021 season was an effective bounce-back for Martinez, who rebounded from a dismal 2020 to once again put up safely above-average numbers in the middle of Boston’s lineup. That said, he still didn’t always look like prime Martinez, and part of the reason was a relative lack of walks. That was one of the few areas in which he did not bounce back from that 2020 campaign, instead watching his walk rate actually decrease for a second straight year. Along with that lower walk rate, Martinez also swung at more pitches out of the zone, suggesting this wasn’t just a fluke. I’m going to go under here as he seems to have just a little more trouble these days identifying offspeed pitches on a consistent basis out of the hands. I still think he’ll be a productive hitter overall, but I also believe we’ve seen the last of his double-digit walk rates.

Enrique Hernández: 22 home runs

This was one that stood out to me right from the get-go as it goes against the general spirit of what we typically expect to see from projection systems. Most of these systems skew towards the conservative, but here we see ZiPS project a new career-high in homers for a 30-year-old entering his ninth major-league season. Hernández ended up being a great signing by Chaim Bloom and company last winter, and his power was a big reason why. And to be fair, he came just two homers short of this 22 mark in 2021, and his career-high is only one short of the projection. Fenway’s not a huge home run park, but right-handed fly ball hitters like Hernández can take advantage. I’m going to take this ride with ZiPS and go over.

Christian Arroyo/Jackie Bradley Jr.: 222 and 458 plate appearance, respectively

We’re double-dipping on this one because I do think these are kind of related. It’s still a total mystery as to what the Red Sox are going to do after trading Hunter Renfroe for Bradley last month, but I just find it very hard to believe that Bradley is going to be a focal point of this roster on more than a part-time basis. ZiPS seems to have Hernández playing a lot at second base, with Arroyo being relegated to part-time duty. I’m going over on Arroyo and under on Bradley, and in fact I’d probably swap the numbers for the two players. That said, the injury history alone makes the Arroyo projection reasonable.

Christian Vázquez: .127 Isolated Power

One of the most disappointing parts of the 2021 season for the Red Sox was the step back taken by Vázquez at the plate, and most of that had to do with the lack of power production. After surprisingly putting up above-average power numbers in 2019 and 2020, he was well below-average this past season, much more resembling the kind of hitter we saw in the early portions of the catcher’s career. ZiPS sees an increase from his .094 mark, but is still closer to that than the numbers we saw in those other two seasons. The more I look at his underlying numbers, the more concerned I get about the step back Vázquez took last season. I’m going under.

Chris Sale: 30.3 percent strikeout rate

Nobody really knows what we can expect from Sale in 2022, now coming off a fully healthy offseason after recovering from Tommy John surgery. He was sort of all over the place in his starts last season, which is mostly what we expect from a pitcher coming off major surgery. Last season in his nine regular season starts, he finished with a 28 percent strikeout rate. That said, he was over the ZiPS projection in five of his previous six seasons before that. I don’t necessarily expect him to approach 40 percent like we’d seen from him earlier in his career, but I will take the over on this one.

Championship Series - Houston Astros v Boston Red Sox - Game Five Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Rich Hill: 118 23 innings pitched

It’s a fool’s errand to predict a pitcher’s health in any given season, and that goes doubly for a pitcher like Hill who is amazingly entering his age-42 season. Despite having been on this Earth for more than four decades, the southpaw was able to make 31 starts (plus a relief appearance) with 158 23 innings in 2021. That’s incredible! It also makes me very nervous about how much the Red Sox are really going to be able to get from the veteran this year. Whether it’s an injury or a move to the bullpen to save his arm, I just can’t see Hill getting into triple digits innings this year. I’m going under.

Tanner Houck: 4.62 ERA

This one, to me, largely comes down to what kind of role we’re expecting to see from Hill in the coming season. ZiPS has him making 27 appearances with 20 of them coming as starts, and in that case I can see this ERA being in the right range. The more I think about it, though, I think he’s going to spend the majority of his time in the bullpen. This is total speculation, to be clear, but I think if his splitter doesn’t show enough improvement and Garrett Whitlock impresses in longer outings in camp — both of which seem very possible to me — then I think they’ll opt to keep Houck in the bullpen as long as they can. And pitching in shorter stints, I think he’ll keep his ERA well under this.