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February 19, 2009

PECOTA Projected Standings

Pegging the 2009 Season

by Clay Davenport

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Now that the depth charts are out, we have a chance to do a first run of the Playoff Odds chart. The Playoff Odds chart-and I am aware that, strictly speaking, they aren't presented as odds-is a system that we run during the season. We use the team's record and the actual schedule to play out the rest of the season.

In this case, we're playing the entire season from day one, and we're using the depth-chart projections to set the team's strength (though since the depth charts also use a strength-of-schedule adjustment to calculate the records you see, I had to temporarily undo that). We can set a win percentage for each game, and by essentially rolling dice in the computer, we can determine who wins or loses each game. We can do that for an entire season, or a dozen seasons, or a million seasons-and yes, our usual number is a cool million. We can and do play around with the team's strength, knowing that it's ultimately just an estimate, and that the real team may turn out to be better (or worse) than we think.

It turns out that everyone has a chance. The odds for some of them are very long-four of the teams have only a single-digit chance of making the postseason-but nobody starts from zero:


                        Div.     Wild    Total
NL East      W      L   Title %  Card %  Postseason %
Mets       92.2   69.8   39.1    11.8    50.9
Phillies   87.1   74.9   23.9    10.7    34.7
Braves     87.0   75.0   23.7    10.7    34.4
Nationals  78.5   83.5    9.5     5.5    15.0
Marlins    71.6   90.4    3.8     2.5     6.3

The Mets are once again the favorites in the NL East... and how has that worked out the past two years? We all know the answer, but hey, now Francisco Rodriguez is here to save the day! It's no surprise that the defending World Champion Phillies would be a solid contender, but the Braves? Even with an unsettled outfield, the Braves do quite well-but then PECOTA always seems to have a mostly unrequited man-crush on Javier Vazquez. We're looking at a huge improvement for the Nationals (59-102 last season), but there's just too much in front of them.

Last year the PECOTA starting standings came out with the same order as this-with win totals of 94, 86, 85, 72, and 71. The Mets and Phils were fairly close, with the Mets at 89 and Philly at 92; the other three teams all missed by 13 (the Braves and Nationals down 13, the Marlins up).


                        Div.     Wild    Total
NL Central   W      L   Title %  Card %  Postseason %
Cubs       95.3   66.7   52.0    10.0    62.0
Brewers    86.4   75.6   22.9    10.4    33.3
Cardinals  80.1   81.9   11.6     6.5    18.1
Reds       79.4   82.6   10.4     6.1    16.4
Astros     66.6   95.4    1.9     1.2     3.1
Pirates    64.5   97.5    1.3     0.8     2.1

The Cubs came through the process with the best record in the NL (made easier by having the easiest-rated schedule in the majors), and they also carry the best chance to make the playoffs at a tick under 62 percent. The Brewers, last year's wild-card team, have a good chance of repeating, projected in a tight race with the Phillies and Braves. That leaves us with two teams, the Reds and the Cardinals, right around .500, and two teams who figure to be left far in the background, the Astros and Pirates. The latter two are the least-likely playoff teams in baseball, a product both of their badness and the Cubs' strength.

Last year, PECOTA picked the Cubs to win the division, and they did, and the Brewers to win the NL Wild Card, which they did. We had the Cubs at 91 (actual 97) and Brewers at 88 (real 90). The Reds were pegged at 80 (they wound up winning 74), followed by the Cardinals at 75-they overachieved at 86. The Pirates (projected 73) and Astros (72) brought up the rear, andwhile the Pirates came close with 67 wins, and the Astros' 86 wins was a big surprise.


                        Div.     Wild    Total
NL West      W      L   Title %  Card %  Postseason %
D'backs    91.6   70.4   46.7     6.9    53.6
Dodgers    83.7   78.3   22.5     6.4    28.9
Giants     77.9   84.1   12.1     4.1    16.3
Rockies    77.1   84.9   11.0     3.7    14.7
Padres     74.0   88.0    7.6     2.6    10.3

The Diamondbacks look like they have a clear advantage in the NL West, but not quite enough to claim a 50 percent chance at taking the division. The Dodgers are reasonably strong, a step ahead of the pack behind them. The Giants and Padres feature two of the worst offenses in baseball, which helps hold them back.

A year ago, we picked the Dodgers to lead the division with 87, and they won the division with 84. After that we had Arizona at 86 (actually 82), Colorado at 82 (74), San Diego at 78 (a disappointing 63), and the Giants with 71 (they actually had 72).


                        Div.     Wild    Total
AL East      W      L   Title %  Card %  Postseason %
Red Sox    98.0   64.0   38.9    24.0    62.0
Yankees    95.9   66.1   32.1    24.5    56.5
Rays       91.3   70.7   20.3    21.1    41.4
Blue Jays  81.2   80.8    6.4    10.1    16.5
Orioles    73.9   88.1    2.3     4.5     6.8

This is the powerhouse division; they very nearly rated as having the three most likely playoff teams in the AL, even though only two of them can make it. An Eastern team took the AL Wild Card in a staggering 84 percent of the simulations; even the Orioles earn a higher wild-card chance than any team in the other two divisions. All that playing against each other comes at a cost, however, as each team is losing 3-4 games against an average strength of schedule.

Last year the disparity between the East and the other divisions wasn't expected to be so large. The Yankees were projected at 97, and only came home with 89. Boston was supposed to be second with 91, and they were second with 95. By our own lights, Tampa Bay was a mild surprise (projected 88, actually 97) en route to their winning the division. Toronto (expected 78, actual 86) and Baltimore (said 66, got 68) fell in behind.


                        Div.     Wild    Total
AL Central   W      L   Title %  Card %  Postseason %
Indians    83.0   79.0   32.3     2.6    34.8
Twins      79.4   82.6   22.6     2.2    24.8
Tigers     78.3   83.7   20.2     2.1    22.2
Royals     74.7   87.3   13.8     1.5    15.3
White Sox  73.0   89.0   11.2     1.2    12.4

This is the majors' most compact division, with only 10 games separating the top from the bottom and nobody deserving a nod as a clear favorite-a purely random draw would give every team here a 20 percent chance at the division, and the Indians are the only team to go more than 50 percent off of that mark.

This was a terrible division for us and for PECOTA last year. Cleveland and Detroit were supposed to be very strong, and were projected for 92 and 91 wins; instead the Indians only won 81, and the Tigers' 74 wins gave them the worst miss on their projection (-17 in the win column) in the majors. The White Sox and Twins were supposed to have had 77 and 73 wins, and both finished the scheduled regular season with 88 wins for another pair of double-digit misses. The Royals were at least close (72 versus an actual 75).


                        Div.     Wild    Total
AL West      W      L   Title %  Card %  Postseason %
Angels     84.3   77.7   42.1     2.2    44.3
Athletics  82.3   79.7   35.4     2.3    37.6
Rangers    71.9   90.1   12.5     1.0    13.5
Mariners   70.0   92.0   10.1     0.8    10.9

The A's and Angels earn a clear nod as near co-favorites out west; right now we've got the Angels as slight favorites, though it was the other way around before they signed Bobby Abreu. The Rangers' pitching has a chance to remind people of the Philadelphia teams of the '30s, when the Phillies featured pitchers nicknamed Boom-Boom, Line Drive, and Losing Pitcher.

We thought the Angels would take the division last year with 87 wins, but they wound up with 100. Oakland fell a little short of expectations (only 75, instead of the 80 we called), the Mariners were dreadful (61 wins, instead of 75), and the Rangers were mild overachievers (pulling 79 out of an expected 73).

All in all, last year's expected standings were off by an average of about 8.5 games (simple average). While I certainly hope we can do better than that this year, some of the errors are the result of injuries, trades, and signings that haven't happened yet. Something like, oh, say... signing Manny Ramirez, perhaps? Single events like that can make a rather noticeable difference in the expected standings.

But that's a story for another day.

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