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Using 2014 player projections to compare the Indians and Tigers

ZiPS projections for the Indians and Tigers have been released. How do the two teams stack up?

Leon Halip

The Indians finished just ne game behind the Tigers in 2013. How is the race between them shaping up for 2014?

Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections are some of the best in the business. Throughout the offseason, they've been released on a team-by-team basis at FanGraphs, where Carson Cistulli has then done write-ups on the teams. You can find the Cleveland projections here, and the Detroit projections here.

Dan has specifically said you cannot just add together the WAR figures in the tables you see in those write-ups to figure out how many games a team should be expected to win, in large part because they don't really account for playing time. In the write-ups though, Carson goes to the trouble of guessing at playing time, and puts together a pretty graphic showing the production each team is projected for at every position.

Here's the primary player and a projected WAR total for each position*:

Position Indians Tigers
C Yan Gomes (4) Alex Avila (3)
1B Nick Swisher (2) Miguel Cabrera (5)
2B Jason Kipnis (4) Ian Kinsler (4)
3B Lonnie Chisenhall (2) Nick Castellanos (2)
SS Asdrubal Cabrera (3) Jose Iglesias (2)
LF Michael Brantley (2) Andy Dirks (2)
CF Michael Bourn (3) Austin Jackson (3)
RF David Murphy (2) Torii Hunter (1)
DH Carlos Santana (3) Victor Martinez (1)
SP 1 Justin Masterson (2) Justin Verlander (6)
SP 2 Corey Kluber (2) Max Scherzer (5)
SP 3 Danny Salazar (2) Anibal Sanchez (4)
SP 4 Zach McAllister (1) Rick Porcello (2)
SP 5 Carlos Carrasco (1) Drew Smyly (2)
Bullpen multiple players (1) multiple players (2)

*The name listed at each position is the primary player expected to play there, but the WAR figure can include projected production from multiple players at spots where there is expected to be a timeshare (such as catcher for the Tribe, which means the 4 WAR there is a mixture of Gomes and Santana)

I'm not sure if Dan would approve of adding those figures together or not, given that they come with playing-time estimates (I'm sure Carson wouldn't mind my adding them. I could multiply them all together and then divide the total by each city's population and Carson would be cool with it). At the risk of having him drop by here and tell me I'm a fool, here's the math:

The Indians have 25 WAR from position players, compared to 23 for the Tigers, with first base being the only position where Detroit has an advantage. The pitching is a different story though, because the Tigers have the advantage at every single spot in the rotation, along with a superior bullpen (due in large part to their having signed Joe Nathan).

All total, the Indians have 34 WAR, the Tigers have 44. A hypothetical team comprised entirely of replacement-level players would win ~48 games, which puts the Tribe at something like 82 wins, and Detroit at 92.

Obviously you can quibble with individual player's projections (I'm sure many of you feel Masterson and/or Salazar will do better than 2 WAR, and some of you will have a hard time believing Verlander will be worth 6 WAR), but you'd have to do a lot of quibbling to make an argument for the Tribe being as good as the Tigers for 2014.

The good news is, a 10-game difference between the two teams is basically what was projected for 2013, and the Indians managed to outplay those projections and win 92 games. The bad news, teams don't outplay their projections by 10 games very often, and without another upgrade or two, we may be left hoping something like that happens for a second year in a row.