Right along with the ZiPS projections, I eagerly anticipate the PECOTA projections from Baseball Prospectus each year. As long as you keep the proper perspective, analyzing and discussion pre-season statistical projections can be a lot of fun, and somewhat informative. You have to remember that projection systems are conservative towards the mean (i.e., they tend not to predict outliers, which should be obvious when you think about it, even though we know that outliers and surprises happen every year), and they are merely a reconciliation of the best available data we have. I tend to think they’re best utilized to put certain things on our radar that our own, subjective biases may have us otherwise ignoring.
All right. Enough set up. Here are the PECOTA projections for the Chicago Cubs in 2015, together with the initial projected standings page. Because PECOTA is a premium BP feature, I don’t want to giveaway too much, but I do think there are several things worth discussing:
- Overall, BP is projecting an 82-80 record for the Cubs, which is in the vicinity of FanGraphs’ projections thus far. That’s the sixth best record in the NL, and second in the NL Central behind only the Cardinals (89-73). Because of the many caveats above, I tend not to worry too much about the projected record when I see these things – instead, I prefer to focus on the order of the teams. Seeing the Cubs projected second in the NL Central and sixth in the NL overall? Yeah, that makes me very happy.
- It also makes me happy to see the Pirates projected, right now, for a mere .500 record. In short, BP loves the Pirates’ outfield (who wouldn’t?), but hates their rotation, and thinks they’ll get very little out of first base (Pedro Alvarez) and catcher (not Russell Martin) this year.
- As for the Cubs, the story is somewhat similar to what we saw in the ZiPS projections: no real standout superstars, but decent quality all around. The rotation is probably only so-so, but that seems to be the case with a lot of rotations around the league in PECOTA.
- Relatively speaking, PECOTA really likes Kyle Hendricks (3.11 ERA – best among Cubs starters), and isn’t buying Jake Arrieta’s one-year breakout just yet (3.66 ERA). In the bullpen, PECOTA’s picking veterans Jason Motte and Pedro Strop to outperform the Rondon/Ramirez/Grimm crew.
- PECOTA thinks Kris Bryant is ridiculously awesome for a rookie: .261/.351/.515. Where can I sign up right now for that line from Bryant? If he does that over the course of, say, May through September, the Cubs would have to have had disastrous luck elsewhere not to be in the running for a playoff spot. (PECOTA has Bryant (and Hendricks, for that matter) receiving only about 1/3 of a season worth of PAs, which is very likely too low. That doesn’t affect the rate stats, however, which is what is of the most interest here. To the extent you wanted to pick, you could bump the Cubs’ win total a game or two for this reason, but, as I said, I’m not really all about the win total anyway.)
- This is fun: ZiPS had Jorge Soler at .252/.310/.460, and PECOTA is a nearly identical .257/.316/.458.
- Offensively, Anthony Rizzo leads the Cubs with 3.8 WARP and a .262/.343/.472 line. Obviously that’s hugely conservative when compared to his down-the-ballot MVP season last year, but such is the nature of projections and regression. Still, that wouldn’t be a bad offensive performance by any stretch, and it’s probably rational to expect some slippage from last year.
- PECOTA has Starlin Castro (.277/.317/.397) and Tommy La Stella (.266/.341/.364) as virtually equivalent offensively, which indicates that Castro is getting dinged pretty hard for the disastrous 2013 season. There are some explanations for that year as a blip, but machines don’t much care for your explanations. As for La Stella, pfft, I’d gladly take that OBP from a reserve.
Dig in, and see what you think. I’m not really surprised by too much in there, which pleases me.