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The 2024 Pre-Spring Training ZiPS Projected Standings: National League

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

With the Dodgers reporting for pitchers and catchers today, this week seems like a good time to run ZiPS projections for all 30 teams. I covered the American League projections yesterday, so today is all about the National League. Let’s be clear up front: These are not the final preseason projections, but they’re the best expression of how ZiPS sees the NL right now. After all, several marquee free agents remain unsigned and rosters will surely change between now and the start of the 2024 season.

These standings are the result of a million simulations, not results obtained from binomial, or more competently, beta-binomial magic. The methodology isn’t identical to the one we use for our playoff odds, which were released Wednesday, meaning there naturally will be some notable differences in the results.

So how does ZiPS calculate the season? Stored within ZiPS are the first- through 99th-percentile projections for each player. I start by making a generalized depth chart, using our Depth Charts as a jumping off point. Since these are my curated projections, I make changes based on my personal feelings about who will receive playing time as filtered through arbitrary whimsy my logic and reasoning. ZiPS then generates a million versions of each team in Monte Carlo fashion (the computational algorithms, that is — though it would be fun to don a tuxedo and play chemin de fer like James Bond).

After that is done, ZiPS applies another set of algorithms with a generalized distribution of injury risk that changes the baseline plate appearances or innings pitched for each player. ZiPS then automatically and proportionally “fills in” playing time from the next players on the list to get to a full slate of PAs and innings.

The result is a million different rosters for each team and an associated winning percentage for each million of them. After applying the new strength of schedule calculations based on the other 29 teams, I end up with the standings for each of the million seasons. I promise, this is much less complex than it sounds.

The goal of ZiPS is to be less awful than any other way of predicting the future. The future is tantalizingly close but beyond our ken, and if anyone figures out how to deflect the astrophysicist Arthur Eddington’s arrow of time, it’s probably not going to be in the form of baseball projections. So we project probabilities, not certainties.

Over the last decade, ZiPS has averaged 19.6 correct teams when looking at Vegas preseason over/under lines. I’m always tinkering with methodology, but most of the low-hanging fruit in predicting how teams will perform has already been harvested. ZiPS’ misses for teams from year to year are uncorrelated, with an r-squared of one year’s miss to the next of 0.000562. In other words, none of the year-to-year misses for individual franchises has told us anything about future misses for those franchises.

2024 ZiPS Projected Median Standings – National League East

Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Atlanta Braves 95 67 .586 71.3% 21.4% 92.7% 17.4%
Philadelphia Phillies 85 77 10 .525 13.9% 41.2% 55.0% 3.6%
New York Mets 83 79 12 .512 8.9% 34.4% 43.3% 2.3%
Miami Marlins 81 81 14 .500 5.9% 28.4% 34.3% 1.5%
Washington Nationals 66 96 29 .407 0.0% 0.8% 0.9% 0.0%

That ZiPS likes the Atlanta Braves can hardly be considered a surprise considering they won 104 games last year, all projection systems everywhere love them, and I’ve been warning non-Braves fans that this would be the likely result all winter. What else is there to say? They’re a great team and there’s no scary number two in the division.

The Phillies project just slightly worse than last year, partially due to some aging risk in their prime offensive players, but more likely than not — really, unless they lose either Zack Wheeler or Aaron Nola to injury — they are going to be a playoff team. Catching the Braves isn’t a futile gesture — we’re talking a roughly one-in-seven chance — but they’ll need some help from Atlanta to win the division.

ZiPS doesn’t think the Mets did enough to patch up their rotation, but if their starting pitchers are better than expected, they should contend for a wild card. The Marlins project a little worse than New York, but they have a high variance in their projected outcomes; their pitching is elite, and that could be enough to make a pretty lousy offense almost unimportant — as was the case last year when they snagged a wild card berth.

Last year, the Nationals remained within bullhorn distance of .500 for much of the late summer, but they aren’t good enough to take a big step forward in 2024. Washington has the worst ZiPS projection for any National League team.

2024 ZiPS Projected Median Standings – National League Central

Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
St. Louis Cardinals 83 79 .512 33.2% 15.7% 48.9% 2.9%
Chicago Cubs 81 81 2 .500 23.5% 15.2% 38.6% 1.9%
Milwaukee Brewers 80 82 3 .494 20.5% 14.3% 34.8% 1.5%
Cincinnati Reds 79 83 4 .488 16.0% 12.7% 28.8% 1.1%
Pittsburgh Pirates 75 87 8 .463 6.8% 7.1% 13.9% 0.3%

While it may seem like a relief that ZiPS is hedging enough here that I won’t get blamed too badly, no matter what happens, I also won’t get much credit! Fans have a tendency to overrate teams when things are going well and underrate teams when they’re not, and I think the Cardinals are a good example of this. The additions outside of Sonny Gray don’t send a tingle down your spine, but they did successfully patch up the rotation, which was a gaping wound for most of last season. Paul Goldschmidt, 36, and Nolan Arenado, who turns 33 in April, might not be as good as they once were, but if they age gradually instead of all at once, St. Louis should have the necessary depth in its lineup to score enough runs to compete in such a weak division. ZiPS isn’t alone here.

Shota Imanaga is my favorite signing this winter, but the Cubs are probably still one more starting pitcher away from being the favorite in this division. I’d certainly like more ambitious solutions at first base or catcher. In recent weeks, the Brewers patched some of their roster holes, signing first baseman Rhys Hoskins, starting pitcher Jakob Junis, and backup catcher and DH Gary Sánchez, but they also opened up a larger, newer one when they traded ace right-hander Corbin Burnes for infield prospect Joey Ortiz and left-hander DL Hall. Ortiz should get the chance to play every day, and Hall could be the latest dominant arm fermented by Milwaukee’s reliever brewery, but the Brewers will feel the absence of Burnes in 2024.

There’s a lot to like about the Reds’ future, but they haven’t done much this offseason to address their shortcomings. They have a logjam of guys who get a lot of their value playing third base, but instead of using some of those players as trade pieces to upgrade elsewhere, the Reds are going to shove them all into the lineup at various other positions, such as first base, DH and corner outfield. That isn’t a particularly lucrative plan. Cincinnati’s starting pitching could be very good, but there is a quite a bit of variance with this group due to consistency and/or injury concerns. A few bad “rolls” here and the rotation could become awful quickly.

The Pirates aren’t a depressing team and have some interesting players to watch, like shortstop Oneil Cruz, outfielder Bryan Reynolds, and third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes. But they do have some holes to fill at other positions, and their starting pitching staff probably peaks at OK. ZiPS is a bigger fan of their bullpen.

2024 ZiPS Projected Median Standings – National League West

Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Los Angeles Dodgers 93 69 .574 66.2% 21.8% 88.1% 13.9%
Arizona Diamondbacks 84 78 9 .519 16.6% 34.8% 51.4% 3.3%
San Francisco Giants 82 80 11 .506 11.2% 29.9% 41.1% 2.1%
San Diego Padres 79 83 14 .488 5.9% 21.2% 27.1% 1.0%
Colorado Rockies 67 95 26 .414 0.1% 1.0% 1.1% 0.0%

The Dodgers are clearly the best team in the NL West, but they’re not invincible. The team’s pitching plan to have about 15 really talented pitchers and hope nine or so are healthy at any given time could work out tremendously – as it has in recent years – but there’s certainly some risk there. It’s hard to capture in preseason projections, but the Dodgers will likely be aggressive in making trades to remedy flaws that pop up with their pitching staff during the season.

Arizona is a good team, but as is the case with the Rangers, there’s a serious risk of overrating a team because of a World Series appearance. The Diamondbacks were an 84-win team last year and their outlook for 2024 would’ve been about the same if the Brewers had eliminated them in the first round rather than vice-versa. That said, Arizona made several moves this offseason and, as a result, appears to be a better team overall than it was last year (and they were a team I talked up quite a bit).

The Giants are underwhelming, in part because they’ve missed out on most of the big free agents they’ve gone after, but that doesn’t mean they are bad. They are solid enough that they could make a wild card push, and their floor is higher than many think. But they need some more production in their lineup, and behind Logan Webb, there are a lot of moving parts in the rotation.

Replacing Juan Soto is a nearly impossible task, so it’s unsurprising that the Padres are projected to take a step back this season. ZiPS projects both the offense and the pitching to rank somewhere in the 17 to 21 range, depending on playing time assumptions. And while San Diego has repaired its farm system quicker than many (including this writer) expected, that doesn’t exactly help much for 2024.

The Rockies aren’t going to the postseason and will probably be well out of the playoff picture by mid-April. But at least they didn’t do anything this offseason to make their long-term outlook worse, which is kind of an improvement. I’m mildly hopeful that they take the proper lesson from the Nolan Jones trade and make it an organizational priority to acquire every interesting 25-year-old from a team that is unsure what to do with him.

2024 ZiPS Projected Playoff Wins – National League

To Win 10th 20th 30th 40th 50th 60th 70th 80th 90th
NL East 88.7 91.2 93.0 94.6 96.2 97.8 99.5 101.7 104.7
NL Central 82.8 84.9 86.4 87.7 89.0 90.3 91.7 93.4 95.9
NL West 87.2 89.6 91.4 92.9 94.4 96.0 97.7 99.8 102.7
NL Wild Card 1 86.1 87.6 88.7 89.7 90.7 91.6 92.7 94.0 95.9
NL Wild Card 2 83.3 84.6 85.6 86.5 87.3 88.1 89.0 90.0 91.5
NL Wild Card 3 81.2 82.5 83.4 84.2 84.9 85.7 86.5 87.4 88.7

And here we have the simple chart – which I’ve been including in all of these ZiPS projected standings, except the times I forget – to show what win totals likely will make the playoffs, rather than the highest median win projection.

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