Spencer Strider's projections are weird. That's not a bad thing.

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals
Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages

Spencer Strider was the second-best pitcher on the Braves by FWAR last season, finishing the year with 4.9. The Rookie of the Year runner-up was so good he created a record. Despite this, Spencer Strider's projections, especially his ZiPS projections don't have him coming close to repeating his success.

Even though Strider's projected to accumulate two WAR fewer than he did last year, however, it isn't a bad thing. If anything, his 2023 projections demonstrate just how much of a unicorn the Braves' flame thrower is.

Why Spencer Strider's projections are low

The projections aren't actually low. Perhaps I've been a little misleading to start. I apologize. After all, being projected by ZiPS for nearly 3.0 WAR in 122 innings is actually pretty good — All-Star level, even.

However, when you compare these ZiPS projections to Strider's rookie year, you'll see regression in almost every category. From a strikeout rate that's five percentage points lower to a FIP that's a run-and-a-half higher.

This might be surprising to some people. After all, Spencer Strider was one of the best starting pitchers on a rate basis last season in the major leagues. This was largely due to a sky-high strikeout rate of 38.3% and a low homer rate of just 1.3%. These are both things that FIP loves.

Strider's level of success was highly unexpected, given the fact he had only pitched a total of 96.1 professional innings prior to 2022. In addition to having a lack of professional innings, he also had a lack of collegiate innings, having only pitched 89.2 innings in college and collegiate summer ball.

It's this exact lack of experience that makes it difficult for projection systems, if not outright unprojectable. This is especially true for ZiPS, which uses multiple seasons of data to try and make the most accurate projections.

While ZiPS does weigh recent seasons more heavily, Strider's 2021 blaze through the minors wasn't all that jaw-dropping, at least from a statistical standpoint. Although the righty played for every single Braves affiliate in 2021, he wasn't as lights out in the minors as he was in the major leagues the following season.

His minor league stats consisted of a solid but not shocking 3.64 ERA, 39.3% strikeout rate, and 10.2% walk rate. In his stats in Mississippi, where he pitched 63 out of his 94 innings, his ERA was a much higher 4.71, and his strikeout rate was a slightly lower 35.3%.

Additionally, in his brief cameo with Atlanta in 2021, Strider allowed a homer, walked a batter, and didn't record a strikeout in his 2.1 innings, giving him a 10.03 FIP and a -0.1 fWAR.

While this super small sample isn't indicative of long-term success, it's important to remember that this and his minor-league performance are part of what is being heavily weighed in ZiPS.

If you were to go all the way back to Strider's college days, you'd also find less-than-impressive stats. In his freshman year in 2018, Strider had a 4.76 ERA, predominantly in relief, across 51 innings, and had a strikeout rate of 29.8%. His walk rate was a concerningly high 14.9%.

After missing 2019 to Tommy John Surgery, he was only able get in 12 innings of work in 2020 before the season was canceled in March. He allow six runs, giving him a 4.50 ERA for the incredibly abbreviated season.

With this in mind, let's go back over Spencer Strider's projections according to ZiPS:













The first thing that might stand out to you is the lack of innings. After all, it's fewer innings than Strider pitched last year for the Braves, and he spent the first two months in the bullpen. However, it becomes obvious that the lack of innings is partially how ZiPS uses previous seasons to project future usage. Last season was Strider's career high in innings by a lot.

Additionally, a closer examination of how Strider's innings are broken down shows that the ZiPS projection system is heavily weighing Strider's usage out of the bullpen last year, as ZiPS projects the flame thrower to make nine relief appearances.

Strider's lack of data also plays a role in why his 80th percentile and 20th percentile WAR, a ZiPS version of best and worst case scenarios, are so low. The 80th percentile projections are still a whole WAR lower than what Strider actually produced in 130 innings in 2022 at 3.9 WAR.

According to ZiPS, the best three comparisons to Strider are Van Mungo, Tom Cheney, and Rich Harden. None of these pitchers came within 15 percentage points of the righty's strikeout rates.

While ZiPS tries to be as thorough as possible, taking in years of data to make best-guess projections, a unicorn like Spencer Strider will appear which makes projections difficult. Expecting another historically good season might be a fool's errand, but don't be surprised if Strider overperforms even the most optimistic ZiPS projection.