February 8, 2013
The BP Wayback Machine
2003 PECOTA Preview: The American League
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It's been a decade since the first time PECOTA projected team performance at BP in the piece reprinted below, which was originally published on March 19, 2003.
The PECOTA system acknowledges that there is a wide range of variance intrinsic to any set of forecasts. What's more, there's no reason to expect that this variance will be unrelated to the team that a player toils for. On the contrary, there are myriad anecdotal examples of entire teams who routinely fall toward the top or the bottom of their forecast range. Under Dusty Baker, the Giants have consistently gotten more production than would reasonably be expected from a set of thirtysomethings. Under Leo Mazzone, the Braves have consistently turned waiver wire fodder into good or even great bullpen arms.
Indeed, it's possible to conjure up an argument like that for just about every team, and some of the time, you won't even be BSing. Translating player projections into team forecasts is an exercise that caters mostly to the left side of the brain; you're sure to see some more creative solutions in the coming days as we publish the BP author forecasts, crazed opium dreams like the Cubs taking the pennant. I have myself deviated from the HAL 9000 version in quite a number of cases. Nevertheless, we've never had anything quite like PECOTA before, and it's worth seeing what it has to say.
A quick outline of the methodology used here:
OK, that was about as quick as an Arvydas Sabonis crossover dribble. But never mind; it's time for the fun stuff.
Team W L BA OBP SLG RS ERA RA ------------------------------------------------------------------- Yankees 109 53 .272 .364 .478 986 3.91 688 Red Sox 104 58 .275 .351 .457 914 3.83 673 Blue Jays 80 82 .264 .337 .442 838 4.84 846 Orioles 69 93 .245 .311 .396 674 4.51 788 Devil Rays 57 105 .250 .314 .391 674 5.29 923
New York Yankees
One-hundred and nine wins is the sort of gaudy number that will cause Bud Selig to wake up drenched in his own sweat. The Yankees get on base so darn well that they'll produce plenty of long rallies, and very possibly approach 1000 runs. Sure, our projection for Hideki Matsui is optimistic (.285 BA/.423 OBP/.572 SLG), but we know a thing or two about how to interpret Japanese stats, and he's filling a slot in the batting order that was a black hole last year (or more precisely, a Rondell White Hole). Moreover, the Yankees lineup was inefficient last year, scoring about 30 fewer runs than you'd expect from the MLV formula. Some of that was due to Joe Torre's stubborn insistence that Alfonso Soriano (.291/.325/.520) is a leadoff hitter--a mistake that he might well replicate this year--but even so the Yankees are likely to get more bang for their buck.
PECOTA expects the Yankees' pitching to be about where it was last year. There's plenty of depth to go around, and Mike Mussina (200 IP, 3.51 ERA) and Roger Clemens (170, 3.54) have the peripheral numbers to suggest that they'll be better than a year ago. Jose Contreras is the one player in the league that we don't have a reliable projection for; I've penciled him in at a 4.00 ERA in 120 innings, which looked conservative a month ago, but much less so after a shaky spring training. Truth is, the Yankees might not need him.
Boston Red Sox
The pitching projects to be the strongest in the league by a toenail. Derek Lowe (170, 3.54) isn't likely to match his production from a year ago, buoyed as it was by an absurdly low hit rate on balls in play that won't be there with Todd Walker replacing Sanchez up the middle. But Pedro Martinez (200, 1.97) is the best pitcher in the league by an astounding margin, and there's adequate depth both at the bottom of the rotation and in the bullpen. If the league plays out as PECOTA thinks it will, Theo and company will have a fascinating decision come September: rest Pedro for the post-season with the wild card firmly in hand, or go for broke and gun for a division title that would end five long years of Yankee hegemony?
Toronto Blue Jays
That said, there are some pessimistic projections in the bunch. Frankie Catalonotto (.285/.356/.413) isn't expected to get his power groove back, and the catching position doesn't have any obvious solution. Roy Halladay (190, 4.33) has about the nastiest projection for him that you're likely to see, the product of a home run rate that PECOTA expects to rise, as well as the last remains of his 2000 campaign that it really doesn't know what to do with. I'd be inclined to take the over on the wins total, but I expect that J.P. Ricciardi will have begun to unload the team's remaining veteran talent by the All-Star break, bringing in young talent for a future season in which the old guard looks a little more vulnerable.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Team W L BA OBP SLG RS ERA RA ------------------------------------------------------------------- White Sox 86 76 .265 .335 .452 850 4.56 797 Twins 84 78 .268 .330 .429 799 4.39 768 Indians 67 95 .252 .325 .407 732 5.04 879 Royals 64 98 .262 .327 .416 762 5.47 951 Tigers 55 107 .244 .313 .381 647 5.21 913
Chicago White Sox
The Sox offense should be good for 200+ home runs again, setting off plenty of fireworks over the Dan Ryan Expressway. If there's a guy that pushes the offense from good to great, it's more likely to be Carlos Lee (.278/.353/.485), he of the great second half, than Frank Thomas (.255/.371/.481). The upside of the pitching staff is limited, as the bottom three slots in the rotation will be filled by youngish hurlers who look more like adequate organizational players than top prospects; but in the weakest division in baseball, that might be enough.
It's the pitching staff that is the greater concern. All of the pitchers in the starting rotation carry some baggage with them--Rick Reed's (150, 4.65) age, Brad Radke's (140, 4.15) hammy, and so on. Although he didn't pitch up to his ERA last year, the acquisition of Kenny Rogers (150, 4.66) makes for a good hedge against those risks, even if it did cause Scoresheet owners everywhere to run screaming over Johan Santana's (130, 3.78) temporary removal from the rotation. The bullpen is good, but not likely to receive the same inspired 2002 performances from the likes of J.C. Romero (70, 3.92) and Tony Fiore (70, 4.36). Add it all up and PECOTA expects the Twins to give up 50 or 60 more runs this year, and the division title in the process.
Still, one of the advantages of an exercise like this is that it provides a check against unrealistic expectations, and the Indians have more than their share of problems. PECOTA is pretty confident that Milton Bradley (.248/.320/.378) doesn't have the power to be more than a fringe player, and the pitching staff behind C.C. Sabathia (190, 4.38) is patched together with strings and duct tape. There's a lot to like here, but it would be easy to expect too much too soon from a smart organization, as a lot of us did from the Padres last year.
Kansas City Royals
Nor is the Tiger pitching staff likely to provide much relief. These were the bottom five pitching staffs in team strikeouts last year:
Team SO ------------------- Detroit 794 Kansas City 909 Colorado 920 Pittsburgh 920 Tampa Bay 925
It wasn't even close. The Tigers struck out nearly 100 fewer batters than the next team from the bottom, which doesn't bode well for soft-tossers like Mike Maroth (150, 5.30) and Andy Van Hekken (150, 5.48). Like a 15th seed from the Sunbelt Conference, the Tigers' biggest advantage is that they have nothing much to lose, whether it means trading Maroth or Van Hekken if and when he gets hot, giving Munson his best shot at third base, or staying patient with Franklyn German (50, 4.96) as his command flutters in and out.
Team W L BA OBP SLG RS ERA RA ------------------------------------------------------------------- Mariners 90 72 .265 .341 .410 788 4.02 705 Athletics 89 73 .258 .333 .426 788 4.05 710 Rangers 83 79 .264 .335 .456 858 4.78 833 Angels 82 80 .266 .328 .421 781 4.41 772
But the Mariners are still a good team. I'd rather have seen them add a power hitter, but the addition of Randy Winn (.273/.341/.412) should give them one of the best outfield defenses in recent history. Bret Boone (.270/.329/.460) wasn't quite as good as in 2001, but he's no fluke, and PECOTA thinks he's Jeff Kent Lite. Jamie Moyer (200, 3.48) takes advantage of his context as well as any pitcher possibly could, and many of the comparables on his list aged with surprising grace. Arthur Rhodes (60, 2.21) might be the best reliever in the league. Greg Colbrunn (.280/.344/.471) might be the most overlooked acquisition of the winter, and looks like a smart hedge against a decline in performance by Edgar. Because the starting lineup is old, there aren't many breakout candidates among the bunch, but if the A's and Angels both fall back to earth, slow and steady could win the race.
Still, there are several reasons to think they'll finish closer to 90 wins than 100. The A's finished seven games ahead of their Pythagenport record last season. Miguel Tejada (.281/.335/.487) isn't likely to have quite as good a season, especially if he's older than his listed age. Billy Beane is counting on Chris Singleton (.262/.298/.396) to improve the outfield flycatching--something that PECOTA's simple team defense adjustment hasn't accounted for--but he's going to create a drag at the bottom of the batting order.
Most important of all are the Three Aces, each of whom is forecast for a drop in performance this season. Barry Zito (200, 3.67) is the best of the bunch, but he was hit-lucky last year. PECOTA expects Mark Mulder (190, 4.21) to be more vulnerable to the long ball. Tim Hudson's (210, 3.87) strikeout rate has declined in each of the last two seasons, and was no better than league average last year. They're fine pitchers, all of them, but counting on all three to pitch as well as they have been is risky business, even before getting into the question of injuries.
The arguably neurotic Buck Schowalter will have plenty of scabs to pick at. His biggest decisions revolve around offense vs. defense up the middle. I'm inclined to agree with Joe Sheehan that a good center fielder is a must in Arlington; with the exceptions of Ugueth Urbina (60, 2.91) and possibly Chan Ho Park (160, 4.68), the Rangers don't have many pitchers who will thrive without it. Replacing Mike Young (.251/.305/.376) with Blalock at second, on the other hand, might be worth a couple of wins, as could riding Todd Greene (.249/.286/.448) for all that he's worth.
Each of those factors are taken into account in one way or another in the projections; both the offense and the pitching are expected to regress, and PECOTA thinks the Angels will play .500 ball.
I don't mean to dismiss the Angels' success from a year ago; in a league that has become increasingly dependant on working pitchers deep into the count, the Angels may gain a profound comparative advantage from swinging early. In a league that has become increasingly dependent on acquiring expensive free agents, the Angels have won with their own talent and cost-effective acquisitions. Their approach led to a championship last season, something that will never be taken away from them. It wouldn't surprise me if they continue to defy expectations. But the weight of statistical evidence is against them.