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On Tuesday, Baseball Prospectus released PECOTA's preseason projections. In keeping with tradition, the algorithm has again seemingly undersold the champion Royals, who have nudged aside the White Sox to become the symbol for outpacing expectations. That status is well-earned: over the past three seasons, the Royals have won a majors-leading 44 games more than PECOTA figured they would. Along the way, the Royals have birthed countless thinkpieces and arguments about every facet of their success: whether it's by design; whether it's sustainable; whether it's duplicable; and so on.

At the soul of it is the truth that everyone wants to be the Royals (the postseason version, at least). The transitive property, then, suggests that nobody wants to be the anti-Royals, a role filled in recent years by the Reds. No team has underperformed its PECOTA projections over the last three seasons by more games than the Reds: they won two fewer games than expected in 2013, seven fewer in 2014, and 15 fewer in 2015. Add those failures together, and the Reds have lost 24 games more than PECOTA believed they would—or six more than any other team over the same stretch:











White Sox








Red Sox






Considering the time spent on the Royals' projection-system defiance, it's only right to detail the concrescence of factors that turned the Reds into one of PECOTA's annual disappointments.

Where to start? How about with the usual suspects. Whenever a team is a consistent underachiever, there are usually unforeseen circumstances at play. This can entail injuries, obviously, as well as other unexpected hurdles, like a key player's sudden decline or an organizational philosophy change. Sure enough, the Reds have experienced all of those and more over the past few seasons—especially during the last two, when most of the damage was done. Here's a look at their problems:

  • Health: Take a deep breath, because there's a lot to take in here. Homer Bailey and Devin Mesoraco each missed a chunk of time in 2014, and nearly the entire 2015 season; Sean Marshall, previously one of the league's top left-handed relievers, didn't pitch in 2015 and has averaged eight innings per the last three seasons; Joey Votto was limited to 62 games in 2014; Aroldis Chapman missed a month that year, too; breathe, breathe . . . almost there; Billy Hamilton missed 50 games of his own in 2015; the double-play combination of Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart both missed more than a month, with Cozart appearing in just 53 games last season; and on and on. Phew. The Reds have finished in the bottom-third in payroll lost to the disabled list in each of the past two seasons, and had just nine players manage more than 130 games in either season—the Royals, for reference, had six players do it in 2015.

  • Trades: PECOTA knew the Reds were a team in transition—a status reflected by their declining projected win totals. Still, forecasting playing time is more art than science, and trying to figure out if and when the Reds would trade Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, and others proved to be a fool's errand. You wouldn't count those deals as the driving force behind the Reds' disappointing seasons—not compared to the injuries—but they did play a role, in part because . . .

  • Exposed depth: . . . they, along with the aforementioned injuries and philosophical shift, left the Reds fielding substandard lineups. You probably heard how the Reds started a rookie pitcher in every game following the All-Star break; you might not have heard that Brayan Pena, Tucker Barnhart,Skip Schumaker, Ivan De Jesus, Jason Bourgeois, Kristopher Negron, and Brennan Boesch combined for more than 1,500 plate appearances—all while each of them failed to post a .700 OPS. With no incentive to rush prospects or acquire upgrades, the Reds instead handed what amounts to more than two full-time lineup slots to well-below-average hitters.

  • Unfulfilled promise: While the Reds probably didn't expect much from their replacement-level stand-ins or young pitchers, the same is not true of a few regulars. Jay Bruce will play this season at age-29, yet he's played less like an in-his-prime middle-of-the-order bat than an enigmatic platoon player. Billy Hamilton, meanwhile, failed to make progress at the plate during his second full season. Both suffered through injuries that likely impacted their performances, but the Reds were justified if they wanted more production than they received.

Each of those is a standard, tried-and-true explanation for why a team fails to meet its expectations. The unique aspect to the Reds is they experienced all the above maladies, as opposed to just a few. Observant readers might wonder if the Reds' struggles have another special explanation: their division.

Scroll back to the table above and you'll notice that two other National League Central teams are listed as PECOTA "overachievers," while yet another ranked as an "underachiever." It's natural to wonder whether those designations are connected—do the Reds (and Brewers) look worse than they were relative to their expectations because they were bad when the rest of the division was good? On the flip side, do the Pirates and Cardinals look better because they cleaned up against weak teams? Basically, are we seeing skewed results from a division that featured more extreme results than the norm?

It's an interesting theory, but one the data doesn't support. The Reds went 19-19 against the Pirates and Cardinals in 2014, and 18-20 against them in 2015 (including a winning mark versus Pittsburgh). Granted, the Reds did go 6-13 last season against the Cubs, yet their overall winning percentage was higher against their divisional foes (.434) than everyone else (.360). The same was not true for the Brewers, but there's enough evidence abound to say this wasn't a big factor in the Reds' struggles.

Consider that a good sign if the Reds are to avoid disappointing PECOTA for a fourth season in a row. At the moment, that means notching at least 74 wins—a figure that seems plausible, given the Reds' rebuild is ahead of others occurring at the bottom of the National League. Yet if the past few seasons in Cincinnati have shown us anything, it's that the unexpected always seems to make the difference.

Thank you for reading

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I think where you use the 'transitive property' you technically want to say contrapositive.
This is totally anecdotal but it does seem like player development is a contributor the gap here. Again, totally anecdotal but of the five teams on the left I could easily name player developers/coaches that seem to have very good reputations for four of them (Yost, Larocque, Mirabelli, and Searage). They all have different jobs but they all seem to be considered at or near the top of their respective positions in the industry. When thinking of anecdotal reputations as team/player builders, Dusty Baker was a big elephant in the room on this article. Boston was the only team on the right hand side I could do the same for until I realized that Ben Cherington is gone. I'm sure opinions vary on all these names so please have at this assumption.
What interests me is the White Sox. They don't have the health or trades excuse. Plus they have Don Cooper who is known for getting the most out of pitchers. So what happened? Why did Adams Dunn and LaRoche stink? Why do their players not develop as predicted? In Chicago many would point the finger at Ventura. Can a manager cause underperformance at this level?