Among 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.