Last year around this time, I compared PECOTA’s projected team records with Bovada’s over/under team win totals. For nearly half of all teams—14 of 30, to be exact—PECOTA and Bovada were within 2.5 wins of each other, which I defined as being in agreement for these purposes. That left 16 teams on which they did not agree—PECOTA was high on eight and Bovada was high on eight. Of those 16 teams, PECOTA chose the correct side of the over/under line on 11 of them. In other words, if you’d have relied on PECOTA to make over/under bets on those 16 teams and placed, say, $100 on each bet, you’d have gone 11-5 and won $550.
Not bad, and certainly good enough to track this whole thing for another season. However, this time around I ran into a problem: PECOTA and Bovada agree too much. They agreed plenty last year too—I even wrote about some of the reasons why—but this year the two sides are within 2.5 wins of each other for 21 of 30 teams. Perhaps this is more evidence to support Rob Mains’ theory that PECOTA actually sways the public, and in turn odds-makers, moving the over/under lines toward the projections. Maybe it’s evidence that our projection system and their projection system are both pretty damn good. Or it could be random. Whatever the case, only nine teams are in the disagreement pile for 2018.
First, here are the 21 teams on which PECOTA and Bovada more or less agree:
PECOTA rarely spits out 95-plus wins for multiple teams, but did so with the Astros, Yankees, Dodgers, and Indians this year—and none of them are more than 2.5 games different than Bovada’s line.
That leaves nine teams. Here are the four that PECOTA is high on:
Of course. PECOTA has a reputation for loving the Rays every year, although as Rob Mains showed last month, it’s only sort of true. Tampa Bay shed veterans all offseason via trades and free agency, parting ways with Evan Longoria, Corey Dickerson, Logan Morrison, Steven Souza, Alex Cobb, and Jake Odorizzi, among others. They also just lost stud pitching prospect Brent Honeywell for the season to elbow surgery. Clearly the public perception is that the Rays are just dumping payroll and rebuilding, and they’ve been criticized more this offseason than any team except the Marlins.
Bovada set the Rays’ over/under at 77.5, which is 2.5 below last season’s 80-82 record. PECOTA thinks they’ll be slightly better than last season, with 84 wins. Tampa Bay’s optimistic projection has certainly generated a lot of “feedback” on Twitter, and I’ll admit to being surprised every time we do an update following another trade and PECOTA still spits out a winning record. It all comes down to pitching and defense, because PECOTA projects the Rays to score the second-fewest runs in the league. It also projects them to allow the fifth-fewest runs, and particularly likes the young rotation trio of Chris Archer, Blake Snell, and Jacob Faria (it also loved Honeywell, before his elbow exploded).
Pittsburgh is somewhat similar to Tampa Bay, in that trading Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen has the public convinced that they’re in full-on rebuilding mode. There’s plenty of truth to that and PECOTA isn’t exactly a big believer, projecting 78 wins and a fourth-place finish, but Bovada sees Pittsburgh as the third-worst team in the league ahead of only the Marlins and Padres. PECOTA likes young arms Jameson Taillon, Felipe Rivero, and Tyler Glasnow too much to let them sink that low, although it’s worth noting that being “high on” the Pirates still means projecting them for the fifth-worst record in the league.
San Diego and Chicago both fall into the “bad but not that bad” category, with PECOTA viewing them as at least somewhat competitive. It’s really more about Bovada setting the bar extremely low, because PECOTA views both the Padres and the White Sox among the worst half-dozen teams in baseball.
Here are the five teams that Bovada is high on:
Of course. PECOTA has been pissing off Royals and Orioles fans for years. Even last season, when PECOTA correctly predicted the demise of the Royals in the face of constant criticism from the 816 area code, it still overshot their decline by nine games. (PECOTA was right about the Orioles last year, pegging them for 73 wins following an 89-73 season. They went 75-87.) Just as PECOTA projects way more teams than usual to win 95-plus games this year, the Royals are a rare team projected to lose 95-plus games. Last season, for instance, PECOTA didn’t project any teams for fewer than 70 wins.
Royals fans certainly know things are going to be ugly for a while, so the only disagreement is about how ugly. Bovada sees them as the fifth-worst team in baseball, and the third-worst team in the bottom-heavy AL Central. PECOTA sees them as the worst team in baseball, scoring the fewest runs and allowing the third-most runs in the league. (Baltimore is one of two AL teams expected to give up even more runs than Kansas City, which explains most of their projected 70-92 record.)
PECOTA projecting the Nationals to be really good instead of really, really good isn’t that interesting—it still sees them winning the NL East with ease—but the Rockies and Angels have generated quite a bit of dissent. PECOTA missed low on Colorado last season, so if that happens again Rockies fans can form a support group with Orioles and Royals backers. Coors Field always skews raw numbers, but PECOTA actually thinks the Rockies’ pitching staff will be solid. However, after adjusting for run-scoring environments it views Colorado’s lineup as the fourth-worst in the league, with mediocrity from everyone but Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon.
The biggest gap between my expectations and PECOTA belongs to the Angels. They went 80-82 last season, so I figured a healthy Mike Trout, a full year of Justin Upton, and the additions of Shohei Ohtani, Ian Kinsler, and Zack Cozart had them looking like Wild Card favorites. Instead, they’re slated for an identical 80-82. Trout isn’t the issue—as usual, PECOTA projects him as the world’s most valuable player. Ohtani isn’t the issue either—he projects as an impact pitcher (3.48 ERA, 9.3 SO/9) and hitter (.270/.332/.460). In fact, PECOTA generally likes the Angels’ top talent across the board, seeing Trout, Ohtani, Upton, Andrelton Simmons, Kole Calhoun, and Garrett Richards as impact players.
So where do the Angels’ projections go wrong? PECOTA thinks Albert Pujols is completely finished, sees Kinsler in a steep decline at age 36, and doesn’t believe at all in Cozart’s late-career breakout offensively. It also thinks the Angels are making a mistake by not finding a better hitter than Luis Valbuena and Chris Carter to sit atop the first base depth chart. On the pitching side, only Ohtani, Richards, Cam Bedrosian, and Blake Parker project to have an ERA under 4.00, and the staff’s depth looks shaky. Bovada has the Angels at 84.5 wins, which would be good for the second Wild Card spot, but even that over/under puts them a clear step below the Red Sox as the AL’s best non-division favorites.
In last year’s version of this article, this is where I compared how PECOTA and Bovada ranked the top 10 teams. I’m going to do that again now, even though it’s pointless this year because the lists are essentially identical.
Because of ties you could technically switch up the ordering so that the two lists aren’t the exact same, but … the two lists are the exact same. Things do change considerably beyond the top 10 teams, and PECOTA and Bovada are very much not in agreement on the bottom 10 teams, but that’s still crazy.
Overall, our projection system and the odds-makers are within 2.5 wins of each other on 21 of 30 teams, within 3.5 wins on 25 of 30 teams, and within 4.5 wins on 28 of 30 teams. The only disagreements bigger than five games: PECOTA likes the Rays to be decent when everyone else seems to think they’ll be horrible, and Bovada likes the Royals to be merely very bad instead of the absolute worst.