Yesterday Baseball Prospectus released their PECOTA projections, and it took a lot of Jays fans by surprise that, in the publicly available projected standings that I linked to in the Afternoon Snack, the club came up fourth in the American League East, behind not just the Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays, but the Boston Red Sox as well.
This seems slightly less odd when we see that they’re really actually neck-and-neck with the Rays and Sox, who are projected for just one win more than the Jays, but… it’s still maybe a little bit odd.
Granted, as I say every time I do these sorts of posts, I find that projections are, on the whole, pretty much entirely pointless– hardly anything worth going damn ape goof about– but still… I figure it might be worth taking a look through the PECOTA data (while, y’know, being careful not to give away too much of BP’s hard work) to see precisely why the Jays maybe don’t stack up quite as well as we’ve been hoping. (Hint: see the picture above.)
I could probably cut straight to get to the nut of the issue here, but I think it’s important to point out a number of ways in which PECOTA is actually being quite favourable to the Jays.
For example, several players on the club are being projected to have better seasons in 2013 than they did in 2012– some considerably so. Jose Reyes, Adam Lind, Colby Rasmus, Maicer Izturis, and Ricky Romero all have projections more than a full WARP (BP’s own version of WAR) above what they posted last season, with lesser improvements projected for Jose Bautista, J.P. Arencibia and Brandon Morrow (all mostly through additional playing time), as well as Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle.
They can’t all be better, so… sure, that seems like a fair sample of players to improve.
The trouble comes when we look at some of the projected regression. Edwin Encarnacion, perhaps expectedly, takes a step back across the board, with a .256/.341/.470 and a 2.7 WARP projection. A little more surprising is that PECOTA has Brett Lawrie adding some power, but otherwise taking a step back in terms of average and on-base, and losing about half of his defensive value (from a 20.5 FRAA to a projected eight). I’d love to be able to quibble more with the Lawrie projection, but… yeah, he’s probably got to stop swinging as much as he did in 2012, and get back to being the guy who can take a walk that we saw in his debut season– which he started to do with more regularity in September, if we can believe it.
Where I might be more inclined to quibble, however, is the 1.6 WARP projection on Melky Cabrera, who managed 5.1 in 2012, in just 113 games, and was better, even, in Kansas City the year prior. I mean, I get that the BABIP he has posted in each of those two seasons is well above his career norm– skewed as it is by those two potential outliers– and that some kind of regression should be expected, but… yowza.
Crazier still, perhaps, is the case of R.A Dickey, whose projected 1.5 WARP is well off the 3.7 he posted in reality last season– in fact, it’s lower than his WARP in each of his last three seasons, and lower-than or equal-to the projected WARP of four Yankee starters (Sabathia, Kuroda, Hughes, Pettite), three Red Sox starters (Lester, Buchholz, Dempster), two Rays starters (Price, Hellickson), and his teammates Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow.
Of course, it may not be that crazy. We know that defence-independent pitching metrics have trouble with knuckleballers, who, as Dave Cameron explained in a December post at FanGraphs, ”induce weak contact that leads to consistently lower than average rates of hits on balls in play.” So clearly there could be some issues there– though we don’t precisely know what’s under the hood.
But I mean, the NL Cy Young winner is Boston’s fourth-best pitcher? Yeah… no. Matt from House of the Bluebird does the math:
If you instead project 3-3.5 WARP forDickey the Jays move up to second in the AL East and would then be projected to get the 2nd wilcard
— Matt (@Matt_HBB) February 11, 2013
I think that seems a hell of a lot more reasonable, no?
There are other things that may seem a little wonky, especially through our Jays-coloured glasses, in there too, for sure– Mike Napoli and Mark Teixeira each being a half win better than Edwin Encarnacion, or Shane Victorino, Will Middlebrooks, Stephen Drew, and Ichiro all projecting better than Melky– but really… yeah… it’s all just projections! I mean… whatever!