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February 4, 2014

Overthinking It

Parsing the PECOTAs

by Ben Lindbergh


The PECOTA projections are here, which means that many of you will spend the day exploring the weighted-means spreadsheet and the Depth Charts in search of surprises and confirmations that it’s okay to crush on the players whose performance you’ve been awaiting all winter. That’s exactly what we do when PECOTA’s keepers deliver the first file to the staff; we just have a head start.

We’ll be offering plenty of PECOTA-related content between now and Opening Day, but today, a quick tour is in order. Here’s a look at a few of the most fascinating projections I’ve seen so far, followed by a look at the players projected to improve or decline most dramatically relative to 2013, the closest comparables for recently retired players, and a summary of the weakest projected positions on 2014 contenders.

These are a few of my favorite projections:

Billy Hamilton, Reds
The most common PECOTA complaint among fans who aren’t familiar with the way projections work is that the totals are too conservative. The best player is projected to be worth 6.8 WARP, the highest forecasted home run total is 36, and so on. We’re reasonably certain that the field will top those marks, but we wouldn’t project any particular player to do it; the one who does often has a little luck on his side, or some other factor that helps him outperform his true talent. And so the projected league leaders for the upcoming year almost always have lower rates and totals than the leaders in the previous season.

Billy Hamilton’s projection doesn’t play by those rules, which is why it makes me so happy. Hamilton is projected for 10.8 BRR. Last season’s projected leader (Coco Crisp) had a 7.0 in the spreadsheet, and last season’s actual leader (Matt Carpenter) finished with 8.4. It’s the same, obviously with steals: Hamilton projects to have 73 stolen bases, 21 more than last year’s leader. And PECOTA thinks he can do that despite a .299 OBP, which means he’ll A-B-G: Always Be Going.

PECOTA also likes Hamilton in the field, projecting him for 14 FRAA and a total of 2.9 WARP (Shin-Soo Choo’s projected WARP: 3.3). Since 1950, there have been only 24 player-seasons with a WARP of at least 2.9 and a TAv under .240. We’ve seen only two since 2000: Willy Taveras in 2006 and Jason Kendall in 2008 (Taveras’ season is a much closer match). Hamilton is on the verge of being one of the best things about baseball.

Joey Gallo, Rangers
Joey Gallo’s player comment in Baseball Prospectus 2014 says he “has as much raw power as anyone in professional baseball.” PECOTA agrees, making Giancarlo Stanton his top comp. If you add an AB/HR column to the spreadsheet and sort it in ascending order, you’ll see Gallo at the top, slated for a dinger every 14.1 at-bats…and a strikeout every 2.6 plate appearance.

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