For the past three seasons, the ultra-competitive AL East has been contested among the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays. That won’t change in 2011, although the plucky, small-market Rays will have a harder task than ever before due to an offseason in which their roster suffered great losses to free agency. The Orioles will be less of a pushover opponent than they have in years and the Blue Jays will continue to be solid if unspectacular, but given the capabilities of the teams at the top of the standings, their progress will be difficult to see with the naked eye.

Baseball Prospectus’s projection system, PECOTA, forecasts the performance of every player in baseball from the majors to the minors. These projections, combined with estimates of playing time, allow us to project the standings. This is how it sees baseball’s toughest division shaking out in 2011.

Boston Red Sox: 92-70 projected 2011 record

Why They Might Win: A reloaded and presumably healthy offense invigorated by Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez will get all the attention, but PECOTA sees the real improvement as being due to a strong starting rotation aided by a rebound season from Josh Beckett and a deeper bullpen.

Why They Might Not Win: PECOTA expects the Sox to drop nearly 50 runs allowed from last year’s total, a tall order if Beckett, John Lackey, and Daisuke Matsuzaka don’t deliver on past performances. “Jarrod Saltalamacchia: Everyday Catcher” seems a series unlikely to get a full order of episodes, and between he and reserve Jason Varitek, opponents may once again run wild.

Player Who Could Surprise: He’s already an All-Star, but Adrian Gonzalez could be due for a real breakout in Fenway Park. Petco limited his offensive output; he hit .307/.381/.579 in Padres road games vs. just .267/.367/.442 at home. PECOTA foresees .281/.379/.502 rates and 31 home runs, but that projection might prove to be too conservative.

Player Who Could Disappoint: Beckett. A return to his 2007-2009 form (3.71 ERA) would make good on PECOTA’s overall pitching prediction by itself, but back injuries tend to recur. If he and his projected 3.95 ERA are on the shelf for any period of time, the Sox will have to fall back on the aged Tim Wakefield or Alfredo Aceves, who has back problems of his own.


New York Yankees 91-71 projected 2011 record

Why They Might Win: With the exceptions of Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher, several Yankees disappointed at the plate last year and yet they still led the league in runs scored. They should be potent again this year, with PECOTA calling for them to lead the division in runs scored. The bullpen, with its Rafael Soriano-to-Mariano Rivera endgame, should be a standout.

Why They Might Not Win: Because the richest team in baseball has Bartolo Colon, Sergio Mitre, and Freddy Garcia competing for rotation spots after the Yankees learned that money can’t buy you happiness—or Cliff Lee.

Player Who Could Surprise: Curtis Granderson. After a late season tutoring session with Kevin Long, Granderson started hitting left-handed pitchers (.286/.375/.500 in a small sample) for the first time in his career. PECOTA expects Granderson to hit .257/.333/.460, but it doesn’t know about Long’s lessons.

Player Who Could Disappoint: Derek Jeter. Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez still have room to rebound, but Jeter couldn’t get the ball off the ground last year. PECOTA’s .281/.350/.389 projection offers faint hope for the 37-year-old shortstop.


Tampa Bay Rays: 84-78 projected 2011 record

Why They Might Win: Rays starters had the third-best ERA in the league. Replacing Matt Garza, whose 15-10 record belied a mediocre season, with top prospect Jeremy Hellickson, should further strengthen the unit. If James Shields can come back from the 6.09 ERA he put up from June on and Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis can recover from some late-season, post-injury doldrums, the Rays could again have a truly outstanding rotation.

Why They Might Not Win: Almost the entirety of last season’s bullpen is gone and the replacements have names like Farnsworth and Peralta. Joe Maddon is the game’s most creative manager, but it would take an act of sorcery to create a bullpen as good as last year’s best-in-AL unit. In addition, with Carl Crawford having decamped to Boston, Evan Longoria may feel lonely as the only top-flight hitter in the lineup. According to PECOTA, the Rays will drop nearly 60 runs of offense and allow over 60 more.

Player Who Could Surprise: Manny Ramirez looked so weak during his Chicago sojourn (one home run in 88 plate appearances) that it’s easy to forget that he hit quite well when available to the Dodgers (.311/.405/.510) and was dealing with a calf injury and a hernia. A Manny resurgence will depend on if he’s engaged, but if Maddon can get and hold his attention, the bat shouldn’t be a problem. A conservative PECOTA calls for him to hit .269/.380/.462.

Player Who Could Disappoint: Top outfield prospect Desmond Jennings. PECOTA expects him to hit just five home runs in 395 PAs, not surprising for a player with his leadoff hitter’s skills. But with Upton hitting just 29 home runs over the last two seasons, Johnny Damon dropping from 24 to eight last season, and Ben Zobrist, who lost 17 home runs between 2009 and 2010, expected to get a lot of swings as the right fielder, the outfield is going to lack pop. It’s not clear when Jennings will come up, but when he does he won’t provide the kind of lift the pasture patrol needs. 


Baltimore Orioles 82-80 projected 2011 record

Why They Might Win: They’ll win if they somehow get furloughed to one of the Central divisions, where the competition is less intense. Otherwise, they will have to settle for enjoying the fruits of a vastly improved offense due to the addition of four veterans to the lineup. Given 13 consecutive losing seasons, a .500 record would be an accomplishment worth celebrating.

Why They Might Not Win: The vets were available to the O’s for a reason: Vlad Guerrero and Derrek Lee are aging, J.J. Hardy is notoriously inconsistent, and Mark Reynolds is a career .235/.323/.461 hitter outside of Phoenix who failed to hit .200 last year. PECOTA sees him roughly duplicating those rates with bad defense. Although the pitching should continue to improve, particularly if top prospect Zach Britton joins the staff at some point this season, there won’t be enough offense to make a decisive difference. 

Player Who Could Surprise: Hardy. Although the 50 home runs he hit from 2007 to 2008 seem a long time ago and his overall 2010 numbers were mediocre, once he got over an injured wrist, he hit .304/.363/.442 in the second half. He’ll be a revelation after two years of Cesar Izturis and should exceed his PECOTA-projected .261/.319/.414 rates. 

Player Who Could Disappoint: Matt Wieters. While fandom still waits for the soon to be 25-year-old catcher to make good on his terrific minor-league numbers, PECOTA has stopped looking for a breakout, calling for a .268/.341/.419 season. Names like Ryan Doumit and Ryan Garko are starting to show up among his comparables, two too many mediocre Ryans for a future star.


Toronto Blue Jays 76-86 projected 2011 record

Why They Might Win: The young starting rotation and rebuilt bullpen could defy PECOTA’s projection and refuse to add 50 runs to last season’s total under new manager/former pitching coach John Farrell, while Adam Lind and Travis Snider finally click, allowing the offense to hold its ground.

Why They Might Not Win: Ricky Romero regresses to the 4.75 ERA PECOTA calls for, Brett Cecil adds half a run to his ERA, and Kyle Drabek (predicted 4.94 ERA in 85.2 innings) has a rough transition to the majors, making the absence of Shaun Marcum more keenly felt. In addition, Vernon Wells’ contract might have been an albatross, but his bat (in even-numbered seasons) was not; it’s a long fall from him to Rajai Davis and his projected .267/.313/.377 season.

Player Who Could Surprise: Rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia. After a two-home run debut, the rookie didn’t hit in his remaining 10 games, but his power production is for real and with only a slight improvement on his projection (.253/.290/.483, 26 home runs in 474 at-bats) he should approximate or surpass John Buck’s production of last year.

Player Who Could Disappoint: Bautista could be the surprise (if he hits another 50 home runs) or disappointment (if he doesn’t). Very few players have been consistent at the 50-home run level, and Bautista is more likely a new George Foster or Brady Anderson than a late-career Babe Ruth. PECOTA isn’t aware of the adjusted swing that touched off his homer barrage, but even so, its calling for 29 home runs seems entirely reasonable.

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

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The Redsox's offense looks like the best lineup I've seen a team put out in recent memory. On base skills, speed, power and left/right magic, it's basically unfair. Ortiz, Drew and Youkilis will all have to have bad years for them to not lead the league in scoring, Yankee's included.
First time PECOTA user, looking at the PECOTA Weighted Means Spreadsheet. Why are the projections so low this year? No pitcher with more than 15 wins, no hitter with more than 110 rbi, highest BA is .317? Is that normal for PECOTA, are they still developing the projections, or am I missing something?
it is normal, the projections are an average projection so none of them are that high. Look at the 90th percentile percentages to see higher end projections, and remember that some people will exceed even those - Jose Bautista 90th percentile projection was for 25 home runs last season, to pick an obvious outlier.
These are projections, not predictions. They aren't meant to look like real end of the year stat lines. If you have 10 players who are true talent 15 win pitchers one will probably a few will win in the 16-20 range, half will win around 15 and then some will win in the 10-14 range.

Fielder is an example of a 100 RBI guy last year who had all of 83 RBI after having 141 the year before. The actual stats are going to fluctuate wildly compared to what a reasonable projection would be.
People, people...let's not forget that the Yankees have Mark Prior floating around in their system this year!
Not trying to be a jerk or anything, but are these the real projections that will match what we'll be getting once the depth charts are released? Or do these contain the same bugs that caused the delay in the first place, and we're only seeing them because "A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider"?
I'm still waiting for the explanation for comparables in the new PECOTA. Given that so many mediocre players in the low minors have hall-of-fame players as their top comps, how are we to interpret players with less spectacular comps?

For instance, Rich Poythress is most similar to Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder and Kent Hrbek. When we pointed this out to Colin, he responded: "Poythress actually has a better forecast if I exclude the comps and use the generic aging curve alone than if I use the aging curve you see in PECOTA (which combines the generic aging curve with the comps-based curve). Not by a whole lot, mind you - something like 20 points of OPS. But it's not like the comps are inflating his projection any. He's forecast as a touch below replacement level anyway."

So what are to conclude from this? That comps are now mostly irrelevant to PECOTA? Or that PECOTA uses comps as part of its algorithm, but the quality of players being compared doesn't matter much (just the curve of their development)?
My take on this is that most players fail to become great. The fact that a young player is mix of players who became great and a bunch of them that never made it should remind us that most prospects don't become great players, not that having Adrian Gonzalez as a comp means they'll become him. Remember Adrian never really blossomed unti he came to San Diego.
"Or that PECOTA uses comps as part of its algorithm, but the quality of players being compared doesn't matter much (just the curve of their development)?"

That's always been the case - PECOTA does not look at the quality of the comp's performance, simply the change in performance from one season to the next.
Colin - If that's the case, then it seems to me that many of BP's writers have not understood this in recent years. There are many articles (including the one above and several others posted in the past few days) which either: a) cite comps to mediocre players and warn that this might be an indication of future mediocre performance or b) cite comps to outstanding performance and cite this as evidence of great potential.

One example that sticks in my mind was Adam Jones, who two years ago had comps to several hall of fame players (including Dave Winfield, as I recall). Several BP writers, including in BP 2009 itself, cited these comps as evidence that Jones might have a spectacular career.

If you're right (and doubtless you are), then the comps are both misunderstood and uninteresting to the vast majority of BP subscribers.
Excellent post. If there's going to be a "How to use PECOTA comps" tutorial for readers, then it's pretty clear that BP writers need it too.
Agreed. It'd be nice to see this exact point addressed. I, too, remember the way Adam Jones' comparables were flaunted and it was never qualified the way Colin just did.
Are the full 2011 projected standings posted anywhere yet?
What is the difference between the standings projected here, and the PECOTA-adjusted playoff odds report that appears in the stats section of the site? That set of standings was revised yesterday but is still quite different from the one that appears here.
I'm sorry, I know this has been covered before, but I dislike these ESPN insider articles. I guess I appreciate having access to them, but they just feel so dumbed down that it's almost painful. In three lines about why the Red Sox might not win, one of which is devoted to how opponents might "run wild" on the Red Sox catchers, there wasn't a mention of injuries, specifically the half the starting roster which is recovering from major injuries. Also, since I'm ranting here, how are stolen bases going to stop the Red Sox from winning? Haven't we moved past over-valuing stolen bases?

I don't mean to be rude or overly critical though I suppose I could fairly be accused of both. I guess what I really want is some notation on the homepage next to the article so I can avoid it if it is an ESPN insider rework. Thanks.
I'm not surprised that you have the Sox and Yanks 1-2 with a significant gap from the rest of the division, but I must say that I'm surprised that you have the Sox only 1 game better than the Yanks. I think unlike most pundits you do have the Rays correctly sliding back pretty close to .500 for 2011, not all the way but close given the O's improvements and the Rays' losses. But I still have got to think that about 3 games separates the Sox and Yanks now.
The Orioles above .500! Woo-hoo!
How interesting that George Foster and Brady Anderson are both listed as 6'1", 185 yet BA was considered a potential juicer. It's also about the same size as Ernie Banks and Alfonso Soriano. I think it makes for a pretty decent power hitter based on historical performance.
I think you'll find that Brady was thought to be a juicer because his HR total went

50 fifty 50

Foster's 52HR was odd, but not that odd, and Banks and Soriano don't fit that kind of pattern at all.
shfifty five! Heh, got a laugh on this, nice work. Oh, and accurate as well of course.
I love that PECOTA projects Kazmir to have a ERA 60 points lower than Romero. I'm not bashing the projections in general, but there are always some funky ones and those 2 definitely surprised me.
PECOTA always hates the Jays. Odds that the Jays truly are last in the East? Never as good as Pecota says.