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April 2, 2009

The Season to Come

NL Projected Standings

by Jay Jaffe

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One real pleasure that we get in working with the PECOTA projection system comes when we move beyond the individual player forecasts to the team level. Every year, once we release the first batch of projections, our staff compiles depth charts and calibrates the playing time at each position for each team. Our system adjusts for strength of schedule, team defense, and reliever leverage, and we update these on a daily basis throughout the exhibition season based upon camp reports, expert injury analysis, our own intuition, and input from readers who keep a close eye on their hometown nine.

The result is our Projected Standings, and it's often where we generate the most controversy. Two years ago, we drew fire for forecasting just 72 wins for the White Sox, who wound up winning exactly that many. Last year, we raised eyebrows with our assertion that the Rays would finish well above .500 for the first time in history. While we don't always hit the bull's-eye so directly, the standings are an area where we stand tall.

Our projections for this year's National League standings aren't likely to receive much brotherly love from Philadelphia, the home of the defending World Champions. That's because PECOTA sees the Phillies finishing with 87 wins, second to the Mets in the NL East and a game short of the Wild Card. Their offense is slated to match last year's number three ranking in scoring, but the pitching is poised for a major drop, from third in runs allowed to 10th. It's not that the staff hasn't seen upgrades; a full year of Joe Blanton and a more or less league-average expectation from fifth-starter candidates Chan Ho Park and J.A. Happ make for a stronger back end of the rotation. Their problems begin with the improbability of Cole Hamels matching last year's 3.09 ERA over a career-high 227 innings (plus another 35 in the postseason); we've got him down for 3.65 and 180, and note that he's already paid a visit to the doctor. The system also sees considerable regression for bullpen studs Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson. If there's room for optimism, it's that 46-year-old freak of nature Jamie Moyer practically broke PECOTA, and our 5.16 ERA forecast is based upon a dearth of comparable players.

As PECOTA sees it, the NL East race should see the twice-brokenhearted Mets christen their new ballpark with a 92-win season and a long-awaited division flag. While they could have done more to patch their rotation and their outfield corners, the bullpen makeover-starring Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz-squarely addresses last year's biggest flaw, and David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Carlos Beltran forecast as the league's third-, fourth-, and fifth-most valuable hitters according to WARP. Also in the hunt for October are the Braves, who not only feature three players who forecast as the league's best or second-best at their positions (Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, and Kelly Johnson), but can boast adding the Derek Lowe-Javier Vazquez tandem to their rotation, the strongest duo of pitchers added by a team last winter this side of the Yankees' CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett.

Over in the NL Central, the Cubs forecast to have the league's highest win total (95), as well as the largest margin (11 games) over the second-place team (the Brewers). The division could be a closer contest if Carlos Zambrano's shoulder problems return, or if oft-injured Milton Bradley and Rich Harden-the team's two major additions from this time last year, one a winter free agent, the other a mid-summer acquisition-can't approach their playing-time projections (491 PA and 155 innings pitched). The Brew Crew's winter blueprint consisted of trying to replace the departed Sabathia and Ben Sheets with Braden Looper (good luck with that), and still figure to be respectable (84 wins), but not much more than that, particularly with ace-in-waiting Yovani Gallardo capped around 150 innings due to age-related workload concerns. They'll scuffle with the 83-win Cardinals, whose hopes of soaring higher hinge upon Chris Carpenter outdoing his projection (110 IP, 4.02 ERA), and with the 79-win Reds, whose fate could improve if the much-touted maturation of Homer Bailey (80 innings last year with a dreadful 5.62 ERA) is for real. The Cards are dragged down by a truly awful defense whose outlook isn't helped by the conversion of Skip Schumaker to the keystone; the Reds are limited by Dusty Baker's insistence upon not only playing Willy Taveras regularly, but sticking the projected .263/.320/.323 hitter in the leadoff spot.

The Central forecasts as the league's weakest division according to overall winning percentage (.488) because of the presence of two doormats, the Astros and Pirates. The 64-win Bucs are a lock for their 17th consecutive losing season, while the 69-win Astros are poised for a 17-win drop-off from last year. The latter finished nine wins above their Pythagorean record last year, so they're already an easy bet to regress, and the combination of an inflexible payroll hamstrung by a few big contracts, the worst farm system in the game, and a rotation relying upon Brian Moehler (5.46 ERA) and the undead Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz-both last effective during the first Dubya administration-add up to one more chance to invoke the time-honored phrase, "Houston, we have a problem."

The Dodgers took home last year's Mild Mild West flag with a paltry 84 wins, but their current forecast calls for a robust 92 victories thanks to the maturation of their homegrown talent. Led by young studs Chad Billingsley (3.51 ERA), Clayton Kershaw (3.98), and Jonathan Broxton (2.78), their staff projects to be the league's best run-prevention unit. On the flip side, their offense projects to finish fifth in scoring, thanks largely to a .342 OBP, second in the league. Perhaps most interesting about their two-team race with the Diamondbacks is that it has changed dramatically since pitchers and catchers reported, with late-spring free-agent additions Manny Ramirez and Orlando Hudson spearheading a 12-game flip-flop relative to our initial projections.

As for the Diamondbacks, their 88-win forecast makes them the favorite for the Wild Card. Despite a winter which saw them shed several key free agents (Hudson, Randy Johnson, Adam Dunn, Juan Cruz) and skimp on their replacements due to economic concerns, they forecast to be solid in both scoring (sixth) and pitching (fifth), thanks to an enviable young nucleus of their own in Chris B. Young, Stephen Drew, Conor Jackson, and Justin Upton, not to mention Brandon Webb and Dan Haren, who forecast to be two of the game's four most valuable pitchers.

At the end of the day, our Projected Standings are not destiny; they're a shorthand for a wider range of probabilities-hundreds, even thousands of them for the players involved-centered around the stated won-loss records. Which teams will break out beyond their projections, or underachieve drastically relative to them, is part of the fun of watching a season unfold. With Opening Day right around the corner, let the unfolding begin.

East        W-L     RS   RA   AVG/ OBP/ SLG
Mets       92-70   825  721  .266/.341/.421
Phillies   87-75   828  769  .265/.339/.436
Braves     86-76   799  742  .272/.342/.420
Nationals  77-85   780  819  .259/.340/.416
Marlins    71-91   727  824  .254/.325/.417

Central     W-L     RS   RA   AVG/ OBP/ SLG
Cubs       95-67   861  726  .271/.347/.432
Brewers    84-78   785  754  .258/.331/.426
Cardinals  83-79   787  767  .258/.333/.428
Reds       79-83   762  775  .257/.325/.421
Astros     69-93   704  811  .261/.321/.403
Pirates    64-98   709  875  .257/.324/.405

West        W-L     RS   RA   AVG/ OBP/ SLG
Dodgers    92-70   819  714  .272/.342/.415
D'backs    88-74   815  741  .262/.335/.434
Giants     76-86   683  717  .263/.319/.397
Padres     72-90   679  753  .252/.323/.394
Rockies    71-91   842  951  .269/.345/.439

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

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39 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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The Nats ahead of the Marlins? That is the biggest surprise I see here. I have a great deal of difficulty believing that one... but in PECOTA we trust, right?

Apr 02, 2009 09:56 AM
rating: 0

It's possible that they have 8% of the Nationals innings projected for Steven Strasburg and that's accounting for some of it. ;-)
Actually, Washington has a pretty solid lineup and no Livan Hernandez. I think they'll have a better record this year, especially if they trade their bonus CI/OF guys for starting pitching help.

Apr 02, 2009 10:33 AM
rating: 0

Love the Strasburg comment! Still, they have far too many CO/1B types, even after releasing Wily Mo, and no pitching depth whatsoever. Further, if that "vaunted" (ahem) offence is counting on production from Nick Johnson, good luck with that.

Remember, at some point, you have to look at health as a skill, at least isn't that what Will Carro says?

Apr 03, 2009 09:06 AM
rating: 0

The Nationals have a good looking offense. In my standings projections I wasn't willing to put them ahead of the Marlins but I did rank the Nats offense as second best in the NL East (behind the Phillies). I'm really looking forward to seeing that offense in action. Especially if Elijah Dukes gets a lot of plate appearances. Milledge has a decent shot at breaking out a little bit. Dunn was a solid pick up. Guzman has played awesome the past two seasons. There's no way they lose 100 games this year :)

Apr 02, 2009 11:26 AM
rating: -1

HonusCobb? Are you, perhaps, a fan of the 1909 World Series?

Apr 03, 2009 06:42 AM
rating: 0
Costa Galanis

I'm a little disappointed that there doesn't appear to be any "surprise" like the ones mentioned at the top of the article. It's always fun to see whether or not those come true. This years projections look rather close to conventional wisdom.

Apr 02, 2009 10:16 AM
rating: 0

I believe they had the Nats a win ahead of the Marlins last year as well... one of those teams did much worse than projected and one did much better. I think we will see something similar this year, I hope.

Apr 02, 2009 10:23 AM
rating: 1

Not trying to criticize too much, as BP is something I love and I agree that PECOTA is the best. But still, every year I hear boasts about the 72 wins pegged for the '07 White Sox. But haven't they missed horribly on the White Sox in most years?

Apr 02, 2009 10:25 AM
rating: 1

To clarify, so I don't sound like a belligerent, wouldn't VegasWatch's regression analysis of all of PECOTA's projections serve as a better feather in your cap than picking a single team in a single year?

Apr 02, 2009 10:29 AM
rating: 2

An apples to apples comparison of the performance of statistical models like PECOTA, CHONE, ZIPS, and Marcel would be interesting.

But I think someone at Fangraphs already did that.

Apr 02, 2009 10:49 AM
rating: 0

Here, this is what I was talking about, and it covers the sort of thing you meant, Evan.


Apr 02, 2009 10:51 AM
rating: 0

It's funny that they use Neyer since I'm pretty sure he's said that he uses PECOTA and then makes a few tweaks as he sees fit.

Apr 02, 2009 11:34 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

I hadn't actually seen that at the time I wrote this piece, but you're right, it is nice to note:


Apr 02, 2009 10:52 AM
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff


Apr 02, 2009 10:52 AM
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Can anyone tell me why I subscribe to BP and not to ESPN Insider?

Apr 02, 2009 11:28 AM
rating: -6


Apr 02, 2009 11:33 AM
rating: 1

Well, for one ESPN Insider comes free with the ESPN The Magazine subscription. But they increased the cost of the Mag subscription to $40 a year. If it wasn't for the extra BP articles coming through, I probably would have cut that. The PFM is good if you can actually use it during an auction.
The other very nice thing is that the writers will answer questions/comments after the articles, although I'm not sure why there hasn't been a message board created here since the articles roll off the main page pretty quickly and a message board could at least catalog all the comments better than the current way.

Apr 02, 2009 12:51 PM
rating: 1

Coverage of baseball teams not from Boston and New York?

Apr 02, 2009 13:36 PM
rating: 5
Matthew Avery

Quick question: The Braves and Mets are projected to post nearly identical slash lines (well, the Braves'll hit for a better BA, but OBA and SLG are practically identical), but the Mets are being projected to score an additional 26 runs. Is this all from baserunning?

Apr 02, 2009 11:38 AM
rating: 1
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Baserunning is part of it; I know the Braves are projected to be a few runs below average (-3.7) based on Clay Davenport's numbers for a recent Christina Kahrl article (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=8658) and I presume the Mets are above average. They didn't show up there, but the raw EqBRR of the starting eight from the PECOTA spreadsheet is +6.2. So we've got about 10 runs covered.

You'd have to ask Clay for more info, though -- best bet is via one of the two teams' depth charts.

Apr 02, 2009 11:54 AM

I wonder, and I could be way off as I didn't go back to look at the depth charts, if the distribution of a teams slash stats would make a difference. I'm not talking lineup position necessarily (i.e. having OBP guys higher in the order leads to more runs), I'm talking about the spread amongst players. For example, say Team A and Team B had the same team OBP, if Team A had a mix of high OBP guys and low OBP guys, while Team B had more of an even spread of medium OBP guys, would one of the teams be expected to score more runs than the other based on that?

Apr 02, 2009 15:51 PM
rating: -1

In the NL West I never would have guessed that the Diamond Backs and Dodgers would have nearly the same projected RS, but the Dodgers would be significantly ahead in RA.

If anything I would have guessed the Dodgers would have the offensive advantage and the D'backs the better projected pitching staff

Apr 02, 2009 11:42 AM
rating: 0

Park effects. If the Dodgers are scoring the same number of runs as the D-Backs, their offense is much better. Similar with the pitching.

Apr 02, 2009 12:48 PM
rating: 0
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Picking the Mets over the Phillies again? There must be some way to inject the Mets' CHOKING DOG tendencies into PECOTA.

Apr 02, 2009 11:54 AM
rating: -7

It's hard to quantify what the Mets lack, but when they fall short again this year, maybe we'll have to try.

Apr 02, 2009 12:15 PM
rating: 0

Blah, blah, blah. Yuck it up Phils fans. We'll see in September.

Apr 02, 2009 19:21 PM
rating: -2
JD Sussman

How much do reliever leveraged innings being pitched by Putz and KRod effect the Mets win total from this year to last year?

Apr 02, 2009 13:22 PM
rating: 1

I'm a little disappointed the article doesn't get into any of the methodology. I'd hate to think its dumbed down for the ESPN crowd.

Apr 02, 2009 13:47 PM
rating: -2
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Sorry you feel that way, but you'll have to ask Nate and Clay as to how that end of things works, because beyond the basics of PECOTA -- which have been discussed at length elsewhere numerous times -- I've spilled just about everything I know about the depth charts methodology in that first graf.

Furthermore, ESPN asks us to keep to a word count, and while they're not fanatical about it so long as the content is high quality, "Fifteen Percent Over, Every Damn Time" Jaffe didn't want to push it. As it is, devoting another 100 or so words to methodology would have meant not discussing some of the teams I did get to.

Luckily I'll have plenty to say about all of these teams in the forthcoming preseason Hit List.

Apr 02, 2009 14:49 PM

I agree...for all the words published on BP every season, there are very, very few devoted to discussing the specific mechanics of how players and teams are projected. Some of us have done independent research on the topic, and would like to at least have a slightly more detailed look at the methodology used.

Apr 03, 2009 03:32 AM
rating: 2

I can believe it all, except for the Padres ahead of the Rockies.

Apr 02, 2009 14:41 PM
rating: 0

Behind Johan Santana, what do the Mets have SP-wise? I'm not too sure they don't end up looking like the Braves a few years back when you could count on good outings from Smoltz and Hudson, then count on losses the next three games!

Granted, the Mets offense should be able to keep them in a lot of games, but I just don't see them winning enough to win the division! Disclaimer here being that I'm a Braves fan, so take this post for what it's worth!!!

Apr 02, 2009 14:41 PM
rating: 0

Maine, Pelfrey, Perez aren't great, but they're not chicken salad, either. The beefed up bullpen will help them, too

Apr 02, 2009 16:17 PM
rating: 0

If those guys show up, the Mets will definitely walk away with the division, but none of those guys have shown an ability to perform at a consistent level for long periods of time!

Apr 03, 2009 11:54 AM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

A suggestion. I know that sometimes the projected standings include the chances for a wild card or division win. Can it also include the chance of breaking a .500 winning percentage for those bubble teams?

Apr 02, 2009 18:40 PM
rating: -1
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You guys need to turn the computers off every once in a while and use some common sense.

Apr 03, 2009 07:02 AM
rating: -15

My main quibble would be in the NL West. I don't understand how the Dodgers are projected to have the fewest RA in the division. Both the Giants AND Dbacks have a much better rotation than the Dodgers, who I admit have the superior bullpen. In terms of Park effects, AT&T is at least as bad as, if not worse than Chavez LAtrine in terms of run suppression.

So is LA's defense that much better than the DBacks or Giants? I can think of several defensive liabilities on both the Dodgers and Giants squad, and I don't know the snakes as well.

Any idea where the Dodgers' impressively low RA is coming from?

Apr 03, 2009 09:56 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Regarding the Dodgers and Giants, you're talking about a difference of three runs, a negligible amount. Based on the depth chart totals, the Giants actually forecast to have the lower ERA, but allow more unearned runs, though I'm not sure how Clay allocates those. In any event, that's a function of the defense, and FWIW, the ESPN Magazine feature we contributed to (visible via Insider http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/insider/news/story?id=4018522) showed the Dodgers at +11 FRAA, the Giants at +1. The Diamondbacks are at +7. Remember that they play in a park that inflates offense considerably, so their staff is likely to give up more runs even if the quality is equal.

Projected five starters' ERA:
Giants 3.94, Dodgers 4.05, D-Backs 4.05

Closer, Setup and Middle Relievers:
Dodgers 3.53, Giants 3.95, D-Backs 4.05

Apr 03, 2009 10:28 AM

Thanks much for the reply!

I agree that the three run difference projected between the Giants and Dodgers is a push. But i have to admit I thought the Dodgers would lag significantly behind both the Giants and Dbacks.

Looking at the Pitchers another way, the total VORP of the 5 Rotation guys, spot starters, and closers+Set-up+mid-relief is: 221.4 for the Dbacks, 192.1 for the Giants, and 179.5 Dodgers. (I didn't think the Dbacks would be so far ahead of the Giants-interesting.) Given that the Dodgers have the better relief crew, I'll grant that they may outperform their pythagorean expectation, but having the best (or near best) run prevention in the division still seems unlikely-is their defense really that far ahead of the Giants and Diamondbacks?

I don't mind the projection of the Dodgers winning the West, I just think it will be on the strength of their offense.

Again, thanks so much for the interesting discussion.


Apr 03, 2009 17:02 PM
rating: 0
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