HR leader? Strikeout king? 2022 stats projections

April 2nd, 2022

Here’s something unsurprising about the 2022 MLB season: Juan Soto is projected to be the best player in baseball. That’s according to the WAR figure as part of the ZiPS projections housed at FanGraphs, as well as a handful of other projection systems as well.

Of course, the game happens on the field from April through October, not on projection systems on computers in the winter -- but these numbers give us ample fodder of what to expect with the upcoming season, and the numbers can be tantalizing.

Just how good is Soto expected to be? Who else is projected to rival him in that echelon? Here’s a look at six intriguing ZiPS projections for the 2022 season. Note: these numbers were as of April 2.

Juan Soto continues to be the best hitter in baseball

Soto’s 2021 earned him his highest MVP finish yet, coming in second behind former teammate Bryce Harper. He continued along the Hall of Fame track we’ve seen since his debut. ZiPS projects more of that Barry Bonds-like production from the plate discipline master. He’s projected for 144 walks, 41 more than the next player on the list (Harper). Soto already ranks sixth since at least 1901 in walks before turning 24, and he’ll be 23 for the entire ‘22 season. Another 144 walks would give him 517 for his career, far more than the current leader on that list through age 23: Ted Williams, with 468.

Williams was bound to come up here, as he is Soto’s historical comp yet again in what is now a yearly and daily comparison. Soto is projected for the highest on-base percentage in the Majors, again, at .461 -- well ahead of second-place Mike Trout’s .418. ZiPS has Soto leading in batting average, too, at .314, and, as alluded to above, in WAR with 7.7. He’s projected for a career-high 35 homers and 120 RBIs, the latter figure being the second-highest such projection. All of this is to say: Juan Soto is still Juan Soto, and we are so lucky to witness his career.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the HR leader

Another trope that won’t be going away anytime soon is Guerrero finding himself atop the home run leaderboard. Guerrero tied for the MLB lead in 2021, and ZiPS projects that he’ll be right back in that mix in ‘22. The projection gives him 43, most in MLB, considering Fernando Tatis Jr.’s injury. For the young Blue Jays slugger, that would be two 40-homer seasons through his age-23 campaign. The only players with multiple 40-homer seasons through their age-23 seasons are Eddie Mathews (three), Alex Rodriguez and Juan González. ZiPS projects that Guerrero will join that list with his 2022 performance.

In related news, Guerrero is projected to lead MLB with a .585 slugging percentage, just ahead of Soto and Mike Trout at .581 each. The projection also has Guerrero hitting .303 and striking out 99 times, continuing the strong plate presence we saw in 2021. Of the 31 batters projected to hit at least 30 home runs, Guerrero is one of two with a strikeout total below 100, along with José Ramírez (32 HR, 83 K’s).

While Pete Alonso leads the NL

The back-to-back Home Run Derby champion and prolific power hitter in Queens will be crushing again in ‘22 per ZiPS. He’s projected to lead the NL with 41 homers, just ahead of Matt Olson’s 40. Alonso would be the first player in Mets history to lead at least the NL in home runs multiple times, having also done so in 2019 when he led the Majors and set a rookie record with 53 home runs. The only other Mets to lead the NL in homers are Howard Johnson (1991), Darryl Strawberry (‘88) and Dave Kingman (‘82).

That would mean a second season with 40-plus homers, too – which no player in Mets history has done. Aside from Alonso, the Mets’ only 40-homer seasons belong to Carlos Beltrán (2006), Mike Piazza (‘99) and Todd Hundley (‘96).

More Shohei Ohtani? Yes, please

Could Ohtani net back-to-back MVP Awards? Only time will tell, but the projections show more of the same from the two-way star in 2022, especially with the bat. He’s projected for 38 homers, tied for fifth in the Majors with Joey Gallo. ZiPS has him slugging .563 and hitting .261, a year after having marks of .592 and .257, respectively. The power is still expected to be there in a big way.

On the mound, his projection includes a 3.63 ERA, up from 3.18 in 2021. But his strikeout totals are projected to almost mirror ‘21, with a 10.6 strikeout-per-nine-innings ratio, just below the 10.8 he had last year. His batting comp is Kirk Gibson and his pitching comp is A.J. Burnett. If there’s one thing we learned in ‘21, it was not to underestimate -- or even attempt to anticipate -- Shohei Ohtani. These projections already sound like a great season, but who knows what he will have in store.

Gerrit Cole is the strikeout king

Cole came just five strikeouts shy of tying Ron Guidry’s 1978 Yankees single-season strikeout record in 2021. In ‘22, ZiPS has him with 248, which would tie Guidry’s record on the dot. It’s also 17 more strikeouts than any other pitcher is projected to have (Max Scherzer is second). No Yankees pitcher has led the AL in strikeouts since Al Downing in 1964. And the last Yankees pitcher with a share of the MLB lead in strikeouts was Vic Raschi in 1951, when he tied with Don Newcombe and Warren Spahn. The last Yankees pitcher to lead MLB outright in strikeouts? That would be Lefty Gomez in 1937 – the only time it has happened.

It isn’t just the strikeouts; Cole’s projections include pure dominance. There’s also 5.8 WAR, just ahead of Zack Wheeler’s 5.5 for most among pitchers.

Reigning NL Cy Corbin Burnes is back to dominate

With Jacob deGrom’s injury, Burnes’ projected 2.77 ERA is projected to lead all starters. His listed innings total of 156 puts him six shy of qualifying, but if he were to reach 162 he’d lead the Majors for a second year in a row. He was already the first Brewers pitcher to lead even his league in ERA for a qualified season. The last pitcher to lead his league in ERA in consecutive seasons was Clayton Kershaw, who led MLB each year from 2011-14. That would be some particularly successful company to join.

Burnes is projected for 4.9 WAR, behind Cole (5.8) and Zack Wheeler (5.5) for third in MLB. Burnes' teammate Brandon Woodruff isn’t too much further down the list at 4.3. The Brewers are one of two teams with two four-WAR projected pitchers, along with the Phillies (Wheeler and Aaron Nola). This pitching will be fun to watch across the board.