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June 19, 2014

Overthinking It

The Players PECOTA Has Missed

by Ben Lindbergh

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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.)

Hitters

The Overperformers

Lonnie Chisenhall, Indians (.350 TAv; .267 preseason, .278 rest of season)
Over or Under: Under. Sam and I both picked Chisenhall to look more like the player who had a tough time landing a starting job this spring than the player who’s posted the fifth-highest TAv in baseball. However, we may have neglected one crucial piece of evidence: Jason Giambi believes in him, and Giambi works wonders.

Carlos Gomez, Brewers (.337 TAv; .256 preseason; .264 rest of season)
Over or Under: Over, by plenty. PECOTA is still factoring in the years when Gomez was an easy out, but he’s beaten that rest-of-season projection in each of the past two seasons and become one of the NL’s best players.

Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers (.341 TAv; .265 preseason, .275 rest of season)
Over or Under: Under. This looks like a push, but I’ll come down on the “under” side. Love me some Lucroy, though.

Adam LaRoche, Nationals (.343 TAv; .268 preseason, .271 rest of season)
Over or Under: Under. LaRoche has a .285 career TAv, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him beat this, but I’ll bet on him breaking down or tiring as he approaches the big 3-5.

Luis Valbuena, Cubs (.330 TAv; .257 preseason, .261 rest of season)
Over or Under: Over, though I don’t feel great about it. Valbuena has enjoyed a big BABIP boost.

Seth Smith, Padres (.342 TAv; .272 preseason, .277 rest of season)
Over or Under: Under. Coin flip.

Nelson Cruz, Orioles (.346 TAv; .283 preseason, .286 rest of season)
Over or Under: Over. Why? Wouldn’t you like to know.

Andrew McCutchen, Pirates (.371 TAv; .308 preseason, .310 rest of season)
Over or Under: Over. Coming off McCutchen’s MVP year, I would’ve taken the over on the preseason projection, and the rest-of-season mark hasn’t changed much despite the best-in-baseball production.

Michael Brantley, Indians (.318 TAv; .260 preseason, .269 rest of season)
Over or Under: Over. Buying the breakout, at least to this extent.

Evan Gattis, Braves (.340 TAv; .282 preseason, .286 rest of season)
Over or Under: Under. But not by much.

The Underperformers

Alejandro De Aza, White Sox (.221 TAv; .269 preseason, .263 rest of season)
Over or Under: Under. PECOTA’s preseason projection for De Aza was a bit too rich for my taste, though the six-point decline makes this a toss-up.

David Freese, Angels (.223 TAv; .277 preseason, .272 rest of season)
Over or Under: Under. Concerns about body breakage.

Will Venable, Padres (.213 TAv; .267 preseason, .262 rest of season)
Over or Under: Over. He’s never failed to top .262, usually by a comfortable margin.

Yonder Alonso, Padres (.217 TAv; .272 preseason, .265 rest of season)
Over or Under: Under, because he was the third-most popular first-base pick in HACKING MASS, and 57 participants can’t be wrong.

Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies (.244 TAv; .300 preseason, .296 rest of season)
Over or Under: Under, because of concerns about his health. As Sam (who took the over) put it on the podcast, “Who knows if they got all the tentacles out of the fatty mass?”

Domonic Brown, Phillies (.223 TAv; .281 preseason, .272 rest of season)
Over or Under: Under, because nothing is allowed to go well for the Phillies in 2014.

Jackie Bradley, Red Sox (.215 TAv; .273 preseason, .260 rest of season)
Over or Under: Under, despite the biggest drop of any hitter from pre-season projection to rest-of-season projection.

Joe Mauer, Twins (.243 TAv; .306 preseason, .298 rest of season)
Over or Under: Under, on the off chance that the position change or the aftereffects of the concussion are hampering him in some way.

Brian McCann, Yankees (.221 TAv; .284 preseason, .278 rest of season)
Over or Under: Over. It’s been a bleak year for McCann, but I’ll bet on a much stronger second half. His fly ball distance is down 16 feet, but if his power strike returns, he stands to benefit more from Yankee Stadium (as a left-handed, fly ball, pull hitter) than the typical batter, which means that our park projections might not ding him as much as they should.

Jedd Gyorko, Padres (.191 TAv; .277 preseason, .265 rest of season)
Over or Under: Over. Because I said “over” on the podcast off the top of my head, and I don’t want to flip-flop so soon.

Pitchers

The Overperformers

Scott Kazmir, Athletics (2.05 ERA; 4.57 preseason, 4.16 rest of season)
Over or Under: Under, easily. (For pitchers, under is good.) Our annual comment for Kazmir ended with this: “PECOTA—which ignores offseason training, confidence, new mechanics, medical repairs, good direction, intensely hard work, Indians coaches and dedication—says ‘nope.’” We don’t have to ignore those things.

Mark Buehrle, Blue Jays (2.28 ERA; 4.36 preseason, 4.28 rest of season)
Over or Under: Over, although it hurts. Buehrle has been one of the season’s best stories, but in order for it to have a happy ending, he’d have to continue to post the best HR/FB rate of his career in a park that usually turns flies into four-baggers.

Dallas Keuchel, Astros (2.63 ERA; 4.68 preseason, 4.29 rest of season)
Over or Under: Under. Keuchel is leading the majors in groundball rate and limiting walks thanks to some meaningful changes to his pitch selection. Read all about it.

Collin McHugh, Astros (3.03 ERA; 4.70 preseason, 4.66 rest of season)
Over or Under: Under. McHugh is doing things differently, in a way that would suggest that he’s now better than we thought. We don’t know whether he’ll continue to do those things differently, or whether, if he does, they’ll continue to be so effective, but 4.66 is an easy bar to clear.

Julio Teheran, Braves (2.31 ERA; 3.93 preseason, 3.87 rest of season)
Over or Under: Under. His FIP isn’t anything special, but it’s much more special than 3.87.

Wily Peralta, Brewers (2.98 ERA; 4.58 preseason, 4.55 rest of season)
Over or Under: Under. A groundballer with good control whose sinker averages 96.5 mph? There’s not a lot to dislike there.

Tim Hudson, Giants (1.81 ERA; 3.40 preseason, 3.29 rest of season)
Over or Under: Over, but barely, particularly in a pitcher’s park. Since these stats are through Tuesday, they aren’t including his ugly outing on Wednesday.

Jordan Lyles, Rockies (3.52 ERA; 5.08 preseason, 5.04 rest of season)
Over or Under: Under. A slight increase in sinker rate, a slight increase in groundball rate, and a slight increase in my confidence level.

Danny Duffy, Royals (2.83 ERA; 4.39 preseason, 4.18 rest of season)
Over or Under: Over. Beware of .224 BABIPs.

Chris Young, Mariners (3.40 ERA; 4.96 preseason, 4.63 rest of season)
Over or Under: Over. Even though the extreme fly ball pitcher has been confined to the best pitcher’s parks, the combination of a 12.4 percent strikeout rate and a .217 BABIP spells tough times ahead.

The Underperformers

Ricky Nolasco, Twins (5.66 ERA; 4.31 preseason, 4.47 rest of season)
Over or Under: Over, because he’s in the AL and in his 30s now, but not much over. Nolasco has pitched in hard luck, which should improve, and 4.47 is right around where he almost always is.

Juan Nicasio, Rockies (5.66 ERA; 4.50 preseason, 4.70 rest of season)
Over or Under: Over, though this might be moot, since Nicasio (who admitted, “Right now, I’m lost”) was just demoted to the minors.

Tim Lincecum, Giants (4.81 ERA; 3.36 preseason, 3.48 rest of season)
Over or Under: Over, by a whole heck of a lot. PECOTA is getting lonely in the Lincecum camp.

Matt Cain, Giants (4.52 ERA; 3.06 preseason, 3.13 rest of season)
Over or Under: Over. The command and control seem to have slipped.

Brandon McCarthy, Diamondbacks (5.18 ERA; 3.66 preseason, 3.82 rest of season)
Over or Under: Under. McCarthy’s velo is way up, and his peripherals are pristine.

Franklin Morales, Rockies (5.83 ERA; 4.24 preseason, 4.67 rest of season)
Over or Under: Over. Velo drop and missing strikeouts.

Eric Stults, Padres (5.76 ERA; 4.03 preseason, 4.42 rest of season)
Over or Under: Under, if Stults manages to avoid taking the Nicasio path to Triple-A.

Colby Lewis, Rangers (5.97 ERA; 3.86 preseason, 4.23 rest of season)
Over or Under: Over, although there’s some good BABIP regression on the way.

Justin Verlander, Tigers (4.98 ERA; 2.84 preseason, 3.03 rest of season)
Over or Under: Over. Because. But I’d take the under on 4.98, if it makes Tigers fans feel any better.

Clay Buchholz, Red Sox (7.02 ERA; 3.61 preseason, 3.92 rest of season)
Over or Under: Over. Buchholz has been among the most difficult players to project for some time, but he’s looked utterly lost this season, and probably not just because of his knee.

We’ll close with a look at the players whose rest-of-season PECOTAs differ the most from their preseason PECOTAs. Some of them were included on the lists above, but others are making their first appearance in this article. (The shorter a player’s track record heading into the year, the more a few months can impact his projection, so the players whose performances have been the biggest surprise so far aren’t always the ones who’ve most changed PECOTA’s opinion.)

Pitchers

Name

IP

ERA

Preseason PECOTA

RoS PECOTA

DIFF

Yusmeiro Petit

52

4.33

3.84

3.42

-0.42

Scott Kazmir

88

2.05

4.57

4.16

-0.41

Dallas Keuchel

95.7

2.63

4.68

4.29

-0.39

Chris Young

79.3

3.40

4.96

4.63

-0.33

Roenis Elias

92

3.91

4.61

4.31

-0.30

Yordano Ventura

77.3

3.26

4.52

4.26

-0.26

Kyle Gibson

76

3.55

4.46

4.21

-0.25

Sonny Gray

92

2.93

3.65

3.42

-0.23

Danny Duffy

54

2.83

4.39

4.18

-0.21

Johnny Cueto

108

1.92

3.39

3.18

-0.21

Drew Hutchison

82

3.62

4.29

4.08

-0.21

Name

IP

ERA

Preseason PECOTA

RoS PECOTA

DIFF

Tony Cingrani

61.7

4.52

3.79

4.20

0.41

Nick Martinez

52.7

4.44

4.93

5.35

0.42

Marco Estrada

84

4.82

3.62

4.04

0.42

Tom Koehler

84.3

3.84

4.28

4.71

0.43

Franklin Morales

71

5.83

4.24

4.67

0.43

David Phelps

58.3

4.32

4.23

4.70

0.47

Shelby Miller

84.3

3.42

3.69

4.17

0.48

Andrew Cashner

69.3

2.47

3.23

3.83

0.60

Jesse Chavez

86

2.93

3.90

4.65

0.75

Robbie Ross

61

5.61

4.35

5.16

0.81


Hitters

Name

PA

TAv

Preseason TAv

RoS TAv

DIFF

Lonnie Chisenhall

209

.350

.267

.278

.011

Yasiel Puig

294

.358

.307

.318

.011

Jonathan Lucroy

287

.341

.265

.275

.010

Michael Brantley

297

.318

.260

.269

.009

Carlos Gomez

286

.337

.256

.264

.008

Chris Owings

238

.260

.229

.236

.007

Victor Martinez

284

.323

.282

.288

.006

Seth Smith

229

.342

.272

.277

.005

Scooter Gennett

237

.294

.243

.248

.005

Brian Dozier

314

.294

.254

.259

.005

Matt Adams

218

.315

.283

.288

.005

Name

PA

TAv

Preseason TAv

RoS TAv

DIFF

Mike Zunino

218

.237

.262

.255

-.007

Brett Lawrie

269

.248

.279

.272

-.007

Eric Hosmer

313

.247

.278

.271

-.007

Nate Schierholtz

240

.222

.261

.254

-.007

Yonder Alonso

244

.217

.272

.265

-.007

Norichika Aoki

287

.245

.269

.261

-.008

Joe Mauer

285

.243

.306

.298

-.008

Jean Segura

280

.237

.260

.251

-.009

Jordy Mercer

218

.228

.264

.255

-.009

Brad Miller

223

.226

.271

.262

-.009

Domonic Brown

263

.223

.281

.272

-.009

Jedd Gyorko

221

.191

.277

.265

-.012

Jackie Bradley

233

.215

.273

.260

-.013


Bonus Round
Since most of this article has been about the players PECOTA failed to project through the first few months of the season, let’s end it on a more positive note for the projection system. Here’s a list of the hitters whom PECOTA has projected to within three points of TAv, including a few whose projections looked questionable on Opening Day:

Nick Castellanos, Denard Span, Adrian Beltre, Matt Carpenter, Ian Desmond, Salvador Perez, Jayson Werth, J.J. Hardy, Danny Espinosa, James Loney, Chris Davis, Mike Napoli, Hanley Ramirez, Yoenis Cespedes.

And finally, the pitchers whom PECOTA has pegged to within two-tenths of a run:

Scott Feldman, Michael Wacha, Rick Porcello, Hyun-jin Ryu, Wei-Yin Chen, John Danks, Yovani Gallardo, Brad Peacock, Bronson Arroyo, A.J. Burnett, C.J. Wilson, Alex Wood, David Phelps, Drew Smyly, R.A. Dickey, Cliff Lee, Brett Oberholtzer, Erik Bedard, Dan Haren, Jose Quintana, Ian Kennedy

Thanks to Rob McQuown for research assistance.

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

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