PECOTA and you: an unlikely friendship


"So let’s leave it alone, ’cause we can’t see eye to eye.There ain’t no good guys, there ain’t no bad guys.There’s only you and me and we just disagree."

Dave Mason’s plea for a lightening of the discourse hasn’t gotten any less doomed than it was when it was originally recorded in 1977. But if there’s any comfort for PECOTA, Baseball Prospectus’ statistical system for projecting performance that routinely draws the ire of optimistic fan bases, it’s that it has earned the treatment of other great technological developments. Audiences have moved right past marveling at its wonder to balking at its fallibility.

The White Sox, are a unique case, in that they can argue that PECOTA’s margin of error routinely tilts to one side. Since 2005, BPro has only undersold the White Sox twice–in 2007, when they were one game off predicting a surprise collapse that is actually one of the brightest feathers in their cap, and in 2011, when the White Sox cratered to three games worse than their already conservative estimate pitched them.

Due to that history, a dire forecast like the 77-85, third-place finished in the AL Central that the first draft of PECOTA tabbed the White Sox for in 2013 can be dismissed with a handwave and a scoff of “They don’t understand White Sox baseball.” And perhaps they don’t. God knows I’m at a loss most of the time.

Doug Padilla of ESPN Chicago, in his note on PECOTA wrote “PECOTA projections are best known for predicting the performance of an individual player.”

It’s a statement meant to pick at the amount of weight one should put in the team projections, but it also points us to where to look to find where to find the differences between PECOTA’s damning sentence and the relative sense of cautious optimism permeating through the media and fanbase.

Alex Rios & Dayan Viciedo as mediocre outfield corners:

Rios PECOTA projected batting line: .267/.312/.428

Viciedo PECOTA projected batting line: .263/.308/.447

Is it any surprise that PECOTA has no idea what to do with Rios? He turned in an absolutely miserable season, and followed it up with a terrific one. Naturally, a statistics-based prediction is going to pit him close to the middle. That batting line might be fine if Rios was a young and fresh plus-fielding center fielder. But since last year firmly positioned as the heart of the offense, a .740 OPS would be fairly harmful.

With Viciedo, PECOTA has a mediocre major league career, and a mixed bag of minor league numbers to work with. At no point are sound bites of Buddy Bell or Frank Thomas raving about his bat speed, and the combined hope for his development of the entire fan base factored in. The White Sox need Dayan to develop into a middle-of-the-order masher, something he has no statistical record of being for any sustained stretch of time.

The bullpen stinks

Jesse Crain PECOTA projection: 57.1 IP, 3.99 ERA

Nate Jones PECOTA projection: 67 IP, 5.61 ERA

Matt Lindstrom PECOTA projection: 57.1 IP, 4.56 ERA

That’s the entire right-handed setup core, and PECOTA thinks they’re pretty much replacement level. Crain’s success of the past three years have all come in spite of groundball and walk rates that suggest he should be a marginal talent. He’s defied his peripherals long enough for some confidence, but it’s not surprising to see skepticism. Nate Jones’ track record of being an erratic live arm that couldn’t put it together is much longer and more storied that his successful 2012 campaign.

I’m a little stumped by the pessimism for Matt Lindstrom, but it’s crucial to remember that these predictions are regressed to the absolute median, and that there were two shoddy seasons before his work of the last two years, and plenty of injuries throughout that’s reducing the sample they have for him.

Just for fun….

Dewayne Wise PECOTA projection: 34.2 IP, 4.85 ERA

Apparently there’s a non-awful lefty fill-in available down the roster.

Mediocrity from middle of the rotation

John Danks PECOTA projection: 156 IP, 4.12 ERA

Gavin Floyd PECOTA projection: 168 IP, 4.19 ERA

These are perfectly fair based on their last two seasons and not surprising, but if the White Sox are going to be an elite run-prevention team that lives off of its pitching staff, one or both of these guys has to break out and rediscover the form from their halcyon days.

Worth noting:

Tyler Flowers PECOTA projection: .221/.333/.411

The White Sox would take this and cackle all the way to the bank where they would sign the check for Flowers’  low, pre-arbitration salary. It’s not Pierzynski’s 2012, but it’s roughly what Pierzynski produced in the years proceeding the last one, albeit via an uglier method.

Alejandro De Aza is currently projected to be the best position player on the team, in terms of wins above replacement. If that winds up being true–no insult to the commendable and capable Mr. De Aza–the White Sox will probably fall short of winning 80 games.