FanGraph’s ZiPS projections have been released. For baseball analytics believers, it’s an exciting day, as FanGraphs uses its statistical models to predict what will happen in the upcoming baseball season. For White Sox fans, it should be even more exciting, as the model predicts a huge year for starter Lucas Giolito.
As things stand, ZiPS predicts Giolito to have the highest WAR of any pitcher in baseball this season, rendering him the most valuable pitcher in the game. WAR, or wins above replacement, is a stat that aims to quantify exactly what it sounds like: how many more wins does a certain player add to a team, over a replacement player? According to FanGraphs’ own glossary, a player with a 2.0 WAR is a “solid starter” while a 6.0 WAR player is MVP material. In his MVP campaign last season, José Abreu racked up a 2.6 WAR over 60 games. Extend that pace over 162 games and you get a whopping WAR of 7.2.
But how does Giolito end up as the most valuable pitcher in baseball? Digging a little deeper into the projections, it looks like it’s largely due to his projected 2.98 FIP, which also leads all starters. FIP stands for “Fielding Independent Pitching” and emphasizes plays that only the pitcher controls: strikeouts, unintentional walks, hit by pitches, and home runs surrendered. It takes out the results of balls put into play, as it’s believed the pitcher has less control over the outcomes of those plays. For the White Sox in particular, that FIP will be important since they finished tied for 10th-worst in the league with 39 errors last season. Last year, Giolito posted a 3.19 FIP with a 3.48 ERA.
Two of the big reasons why ZiPS projects that drop in FIP, is because they expect him to not only strike batters out at a higher rate, but also walk batters at a lower rate (we can’t really look at total strikeout/walk numbers due to last year’s shortened season). In 2020, Giolito put up a 12.1 K/9 ratio, along with a 3.5 BB/9 ratio. However this season ZiPS projects a 12.4 K/9 ratio with a 2.8 BB/9 ratio.
According to MLB.com’s glossary, ZiPS uses “growth and decline curves based on player type to find trends. It then factors those trends into the past performance of those players to come up with projections.”
Only time will tell if those trends will prove true. If so, the White Sox may be looking at back-to-back MVP winners.