What would you have said if I had told you before the season began that the Padres would be leading the NL West on April 22? Odds are you would have called me crazy, and justifiably so. But here we are, and that's because crazy things happen, especially in short time frames.
While what has happened so far can’t be taken as gospel of what will happen over the rest of the season, we can see that some things have shifted. By looking back at preseason projections and applying them to what has already occurred, we can get an updated look at how teams and players may perform this year. To explain the methodology, I'm going to use the Phillies as an example.
In the April 5 edition of ESPN The Magazine, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections predicted that Philadelphia would win about 93 games. They have won 9 of their first 14 games already, so does that mean they are going to win 84 games the rest of the year to bring their total to 93? No. We wouldn’t expect them to play worse the rest of the year just because they got off to a good start.
Our best assumption is that they are still a 93-win team the rest of the way, so we simply take their projected win percentage (.571) and apply it to their remaining games (148), making their updated projection 94 wins. They have added a win to their preseason expected total by playing so well in the first two weeks of the season.
For an updated look at how ZiPS thinks your team will finish the season, here are the updated projected standings through April 20, rounded to the nearest win:
Generated using Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections.
Even though they are currently leading the NL West, the Padres are still projected as the third-worst team in the majors, behind the Blue Jays and Astros. The Jays are also off to a good start (9-7), but keep in mind that they have yet to play the Yankees, Rays or Red Sox.
The Red Sox's falling into third place was the only major change when comparing the update with the original predictions. For the preseason ZiPS predictions in The Mag, the Red Sox were projected to win the AL East. After their slow start, they are now projected to miss the playoffs. That slow start created a large hole that they now have to dig out of, and with two good teams in the division, it won’t be easy. While Boston’s slow start isn’t reflective of how good the Sox are as a team, their place in the standings may just be “real," because they now have to play better than their true talent level in order to close the gap. They may be able to do it, but it will now be an upset if the Red Sox make the playoffs.
Zach Sanders is a writer for FanGraphs.