GLENDALE, Ariz. — Why all the fuss over PECOTA projections?
The annual preseason forecast from Baseball Prospectus might be the most well-regarded in the ever expanding realm of numbers analysis today.
It lends itself to the kind of discussion every baseball fan everywhere is having at the outset of spring training, a conversation that will be front and center when the White Sox officially begin spring training Wednesday.
PECOTA’s system “takes a player’s past performance and tries to project the most likely outcome for the following season. It looks at all of the numbers, and all the numbers that make up the numbers, to see which players are more likely to repeat their success and which ones benefited from good fortune.” Feel free to reach for PECOTA (and write this down — Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm), when you are asked “How will the White Sox do this year?”
Sox players will certainly reach for it as motivation, because, while touting them as much improved and perhaps good, it sells them short of being a playoff team. Incentive has no greater strength for a player than being underestimated. From a clubhouse mindset perspective, it’s better for the Sox than being labeled a contender.
The projected win number, revealed on the eve of the day pitchers and catchers report to camp, is 82.5. Eighty-three wins would mark an 11-win improvement over 2019 and have the Sox playing meaningful games in September but finishing third for a second straight season behind the Twins and Indians in the AL Central and likely falling short of the postseason for a 12th consecutive season.
Before scoffing by citing the Sox’ offseason acquisitions and talented young core, it’s worth noting PECOTA wasn’t far off on the Sox a year ago, predicting 70 wins. They won 72 games. Their stated goal in 2020 is the postseason, but a 83-79 finish in the first year of a rebuild should be deemed acceptable through the lens of where the Sox are in their rebuild and where they hope to be. This season could very well be a meaningful, productive stepping stone to 2021 when Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal, Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease could be less question-mark pieces and more sure-thing commodities. With so many young, potentially high-ceiling players besides that foursome – Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Tim Anderson Lucas Giolito, Aaron Bummer to name a handful — rising above 83 wins by a handful of games is every bit as likely as falling below by a handful. The Sox are given an 18.1 percent of making the postseason, and a 5.9 percent chance of winning the division.
That’s improvement. It was evident well before the first day of summer last season the Sox had no chance.
As for the rest of the AL Central, the Sox can be thankful they inhabit the same division as the Tigers (69 win projection) and Royals (68), which factors into PECOTA’s number.
The Sox should benefit from having 19 games against the Royals and Indians, including nine against the Royals in March and April. Of course, the Twins and Indians get the same good deal.
The Twins (93) and Indians (86) are still the teams to beat, but the Sox’ intriguing young talent might allow them more space to slide in between.
We shall see.
“We’ve got the pieces now,” shortstop Tim Anderson said at SoxFest. “The door is wide open for us. All we’ve got [to do] is show up and go out and take it.”