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June 19, 2014

Overthinking It

The Players PECOTA Has Missed

by Ben Lindbergh


Among the things a Baseball Prospectus subscriber might like to know, as we approach the midway point of the season, are the names of the players who’ve roundly beaten (or fallen fall short of) their preseason PECOTA projections, and the names of the players who will continue to do so. The first list of names is much easier to provide than the second. In Russell Carleton’s article today, he alludes to some relevant research by Mitchel Lichtman, who recently studied the subject of breakouts. Here’s how Russell explains what Lichtman did:

He identified hitters who had significantly outperformed their projections in April and then looked to see how well they did from May to September. He found that as a group, their subsequent performance was much closer to their projection than it was to their early-season hot streak, which held true even if he looked at longer stretches of overperformance to start the year. He found roughly the same for hitters who underperformed relative to their projections, and then found roughly the same for pitchers. His conclusion: Don’t get too wrapped up in an early season hot or cold streak. The player will most likely regress.

As Russell observes, while Lichtman’s findings apply to whole populations of players, certain individuals are able to continue to defy their projections for reasons other than random variation:

If we made a list of players who have exceeded expectations this year (pick whatever definition of that you want), most will probably revert to form, but some really are emerging from their chrysalis and have become beautiful butterflies. Let’s say that 10 percent of them are real breakouts (just picking a number). Saying “small-sample fluke” all the time will be correct 90 percent of the time. And only minimally useful.

The trick is to distinguish between the players who have achieved a true talent level significantly higher or lower than their updated projections indicate, and the players whose hot or cold streaks are mirages. Have I proved that I can do so consistently? Nope. Is there any reason to think that I can? Not really! But in the interest of diverting you from more tiresome concerns for a few minutes, I’ll give it my best shot regardless.

The following are the hitters (min. 200 PA) and pitchers (min. 50 IP) who have made PECOTA look silly so far (overperformers first, followed by underperformers). For each one, I’ll list the player’s actual True Average or ERA (through Tuesday), along with his preseason PECOTA and his rest-of-season PECOTA (which is updated daily and displayed on his player cards).Then I’ll tell you whether I’m taking the over or the under on that rest-of-season projection, with a brief explanation of my pick. At the end of the year, we’ll see how bad at this I am—or more accurately, how bad at this I was in one inconclusive sample. (If you like listening to things, you can hear me and Sam Miller performing much the same exercise on today’s episode of Effectively Wild.)

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<< Previous Article
Baseball Therapy: Shou... (06/19)
<< Previous Column
Overthinking It: Why T... (06/17)
Next Column >>
Overthinking It: Josh ... (06/23)
Next Article >>
Eyewitness Accounts: J... (06/19)

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