old-computerAmong the “things” you get with a Baseball Prospectus subscription is one of the deeper projection dives in the industry, aka the PECOTA system, originally devised by Nate Silver (yes, that Nate Silver), and revised/improved/etc. over the last decade by the fine folks at BP. Like all projection systems, it’s necessarily imperfect (can’t predict baseball, and all that), but it is among the data points as we evaluate this Cubs roster on paper.

PECOTA 2014 is out today. I won’t give away too much, since it is subscription information, but some highlights:

  • Overall, PECOTA sees the Cubs as a 71-91 team (that’s before adding Jason Hammel, so 72-90 is conceivable), which is pretty damn bad as far as projections go. It’s even with the Twins, and ahead of only the Astros (65-97) and the Marlins (69-93). On the flip side, PECOTA wants to have the Dodgers’ babies, projecting them for 98 wins, a staggering 9 more than the second best team (the Red Sox; the Cardinals are one win shy of that, with 88).
  • There’s no getting around it or hiding it: PECOTA hates Jeff Samardzija. The Cubs’ number one pitcher is projected by PECOTA to be the worst starter on the Cubs next year, with a 4.49 ERA and just 14 quality starts over 195 innings and 31 starts. And it’s not like Samardzija is “the worst” of an otherwise beloved group: only Travis Wood (2.1) is projected to be worth more than a single win above replacement. Indeed, Samardzija’s projected 0.1 wins above replacement means that he’s projected to be, essentially, a replacement-level player you could pick up off of the scrap heap at any time. This projection, based on a huge number of inputs, is pessimistic in the extreme. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but it’s a clear outlier in the system.
  • Add a win for Hammel and credit Samardzija with a more plausible three wins, and suddenly the Cubs are a 75-win team. Hooray?
  • On the bright side, PECOTA likes Starlin Castro (.280/.318/.411) and Anthony Rizzo (.258/.332/.472) to approach three wins apiece, and Ryan Sweeney and Justin Ruggiano are reasonably well-liked in the outfield, all things considered.
  • PECOTA believes that Mike Olt (.224/.314/.424) would likely outproduce both Luis Valbuena (.233/.315/.382) and Donnie Murphy (.237/.298/.446), which is encouraging, though (1) none of those numbers are all that impression, and (2) we all know that the story with Olt comes down to much more than any projection system can peg down.
  • Most of the pitching lands just about where you’d expect it, with Travis Wood looking good in the high-3s in terms of ERA, and each of Edwin Jackson and Jake Arrieta sitting in the low-4s. Big-time regression is projected for James Russell (4.45 ERA), which is unfortunately a reasonable bet, given the heavy workload and the questionable peripherals last year. Hopefully the addition of a second lefty (Wesley Wright) and an improved pen overall will allow the Cubs to manage Russell’s usage and optimize his spots.
  • nate1m

    I’d take 72 wins. 61->66->72. Trend?

  • hartmtown

    Why again did they not trade Russell at the deadline?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I don’t know – presumably held the line on a high price. I think it was the right time to pull the trigger, and that’s not just me hindsighting things. Then again, maybe other teams had the same concerns we do, and the offers were minimal or non-existent.

      • hansman

        Based on the returns they have gotten, I am guessing the same.

        For someone like Russell who had minimal trade value and could still provide value to the big league club as a super-loogy, not accepting a low offer is a good thing.

        • Kyle

          I think we’ll probably see a pitcher moved by the end of spring training, unless we have an unusually bad run of pitcher injuries.

          Samardzija, Wood, Jackson, Hammel, Arrieta, Hendricks, Rusin, Grimm, Ramirez, Cabrera, Marshall, Parker, Raley, Rosscup, Russell, Strop, Veras, Villanueva, Wright, Vizcaino, Lim. That’s 20 pitchers for 12 spots before we even get into the “could be ready to contribute later in the year” tier with guys like Fujikawa, Rivero, Beeler. And maybe a guy like Schlitter or Wada emerges.

          We may be short on good pitching, but we’ve probably got too much vaguely-useful, back-of-the-pen pitching to efficiently use it all.

          • Jason P

            At least one of those guys — probably Marshall or Raley — will be gone within the next couple of days when they add Hammel to the 40-man.

            • Kyle

              Probably, but I could see it being Brett Jackson. Including Vitters, we’re carrying eight outfielders on the 40-man. That’s a bit much.

            • CubFan Paul

              Why are people down on Marshall?

              • Brocktoon

                He’s one of 8 million interchangeable bad pitchers we’ve cycled in and out over the past 2 years

                • CubFan Paul
                  • Brocktoon

                    That article is just mad Libs for 10 other pickups we’ve made in the last 2 years. Former fringey prospect, removed from 40 man of team better than the cubs(double bonus if team is padres or Red Sox) cubs waive guy they picked up one month prior in same situation.


                    These were all Brett Marshall before Brett Marshall was. It’s shuffling 40 man deck chairs until the next busted prospect gets waived

          • MightyBear

            You forgot James McDonald.

  • Jon

    Just to play along, would you guys trade a complete crashing to earth of Samardzija(his trade value is dead, etc) in exchange for those respective rebounds of both Castro and Rizzo?

  • Fishin Phil

    Just curious, how have PECOTA’s projections stacked up compared to actual results over the years? Just wondering whether I should bother watching any games this year.

    • terencemann

      PECOTA has been outpaced by other projection systems lately. There was a time when it was the best but other systems have just gotten better.

    • Edwin

      Why would a projection make you want to watch or not watch the games?

  • brainiac

    this assumes that we don’t dump the rest of our players paid more than $5 an hour by the break and that there’s no injuries. i see 70 wins as optimistic. and even if we win 75 i’m still a sad cat.

  • Wilburthefirst

    … pleading ignorance here that I assume I could correct with hours of reading and comparison, but wondering if anyone can offer an opinion on why the “statistically derived meh” for Samardzija?

    I assume PECOTA’s projection for Samardzija is a decline in performance from last year and it is based on actual performance declines by a number of “comparable” pitchers over the past decade or two. Does anyone know if which pitching comps PEcOTA weights more heavily? Seems like an interesting topic to track this coming season and I haven’t gone down this road before.


  • VanceLawblawsLawBlog

    71 wins feels oddly optimistic. Roger Dorn isn’t walking through that door…

  • Ill see you at Sluggers.

    Mike Olt must not believe in his projections either…..he retweeted the esurance $1.5M giveaway on twitter last night haha..

  • Brocktoon

    Wasn’t it thought that PECOTA was broken once Nate left BP?

  • CubsFanSaxMan

    Question – do the PECOTA ratings affect things such as contract negotiations? How about trade value? Is Samardzija suddenly worth less on the market? Can the FO use this to their advantage in negotiating a deal? Just asking.

    • Kyle

      No. But the front office undoubtedly has their own, proprietary projection system that informs their decisions.

  • salesguy

    Though with additions like Baez, Bryant, and possibly Alacantra, a less pessimistic bounce back year by Jackson, and you are talking about a team that could close in on 80 wins. I’m not trying to pour Kool-Aid all over the situation or anything, but with a couple of breaks, I don’t think at or close to .500 is out of the question. Given the last couple of seasons, I think that would be progress.

    • Kyle

      Sure. It’s pretty hard to build a team where .500 isn’t possible if you get a lot of good things happening. I’ll be rooting for it, probably futilely but you never know.

  • JacqueJones

    based on the projections Brett has produced my guess is that PECOTA has a longer “memory” than other projection systems. Both Samardzija and Russell arent too far removed from being kinda crappy pitchers. That would also explain the relatively optimistic Castro and Olt projections.

  • blublud

    Those numbers show Murphey with a .744 OPS and Olt with a .738 OPS. That doesn’t show Olt out performing Murphey.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      A point of OBP is more “valuable” than a point of SLG. An appropriately weighted total statistic would have Olt slightly more valuable at those numbers.

  • Kyle

    PECOTA has always absolutely buried Samardzija.

    75 wins is where I have them, but I can see the downside any why a system might come in lower.

    • JacqueJones

      I think alot of that has to do with his 2009 and 2010 years where he put up -.4 and -.5 WAR respectively. I’d imagine that it’d be hard for a projection system to forget those years. Same with James Rusell. He’s a decent reliever now, albeit somewhat lucky, but prior to 2012 he was below replacement level.

      • Kyle

        I imagine PECOTA is still going back that far and farther. It hated him in the minors, too, because he had terrible numbers and was a later-round pick (PECOTA uses pick-slot as a proxy for scouting consensus on a guy).

        Russell I’m just not convinced has ever been good. A guy can have 120 lucky innings or so, and it’s not hard for me to buy that happened with Russell, who doesn’t have particularly impressive scouting reports or peripherals

    • YourResidentJag

      Just another reason to try and trade him before the season starts.

  • blublud

    I think this team is better than most people think and could surprise a lot of people. For one, there may not be one team with as many players as we have with the potential to outperform their projections. Castillo will be a top catcher in the NL this year. Castro and Rizzo are both good, but they have the ability to possibly blow their projections out of the water. Lake and Olt are guys who have plenty of tools that just need to be put together. Barney has the ability to be a league average 2nd baseban with the bat, which would make him extremely valuable. If Schierholtz can just repeat last year without the September falloff, he will be very good. Sweeny should be able to be close to average. I like the pitching staff very much. I actually think our staff is better than league average. 75 wins is not impossible.

    I predicted 82 wins, and our number in the first half last year suggest we should have been close.

    • blublud

      In fact, 75 wins should be more than probable.

      • Jon

        I hate to win 75 games and chance losing that protected draft pick we have no intention on using.

        • aaronb

          No worries. 75 wins are about 15 more than we will actually win. Especially since we will trade anything not nailed down come July.

    • Funn Dave

      “I think this team is better than most people think and could surprise a lot of people.”

      Funny, I heard that same line last year. And the year before 😛

      • DarthHater

        Funny, I read the same comment last year. And the year before. 😛

        • Funn Dave

          I’m soo much bigger than you.

          • DarthHater

            Funner, too.

    • Wilburthefirst

      Not impossible for sure, but sadly it just seems too improbable,

      Every team has one or two players that regresses and who will that be this year? Outfield just doesn’t have the ability to consistently produce runs over the breadth of the season ….

  • bleedingcubbieblue

    nice to see the return of vance law (at least his name’s sake) in the comments.

    • VanceLawblawsLawBlog

      I keep trying to get Luis Salazar and Dave Magadan to join, but they are pretty heavily into ESPN.com threads.

  • VanceLawblawsLawBlog

    For those that have ESPN Insider, Dave Szymborski puts Keith Law’s top 100 through ZIPS to see how the projections match up. Definitely worth a read, but it has Javier Baez at 1, Kris Bryant at 9, and Arismany Alcantara at 13.

    Also, Dan Vogelbach snuck in at 97.

  • cubfanincardinalland

    I think you will see much more parity in baseball this season, especially in the NL. 90 wins will be very tough for teams to achieve. Waiting for the Vegas over under win totals to come out. Probably have St. Louis at 93 wins or so, I love the under on them. Cubs will be around 70 or 71, think a good bet on the over.

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