One of the few flickering lights of the arduous offseason came today as Baseball Prospectus rolls out their annual PECOTA projections! And the nerds rejoiced!
Typically used by hard-up fantasy players looking for an edge, the PECOTAs are the Cadillac of projections. Sure, none are foolproof and the entire concept rubs some people the wrong way (Man, they’re people man. Ballplayers aren’t just numbers, bro.) Nonetheless, they are at the very least interesting and, at the very worst, a good place to pick a fight over the lack of mathematical love extended towards your favorite player.
It seems that the average baseball fanatic is especially hard on the PECOTA rankings. Due in no small part to the aggressive marketing of the BP system (DEADLY ACCURATE! LIKE A SURGICAL STRIKE TO YOUR HOPES AND DREAMS), “haters” love pointing out the foibles of the system. Comparing every Latin American outfielder to Andrew Dawson or bullish/insane projections for quad-A sluggers like Kila Ka’aihue casts plenty of doubt on the system as a whole.
Which isn’t fair. These PEOCTA numbers — and all projection systems like them — provide a framework within which a reasonable expectation of a player’s future can be formed. It doesn’t make any of them gospel and all mathematical approaches aren’t going to yield the same results. Use these numbers as a jump off point, for both conversation and your devious fantasy planning. Because winning the Tao of Stieb’s Roto Hoedown is about more than bragging rights: it’s about honour.
Let’s look at some of the numbers Colin Wyers and his merry band of joyless robots spit out this time around. Starting with the most expensive offseason signings: Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder.
According to PECOTA, Albert Pujols is the best player in baseball. This isn’t exactly news but the amount by which he outpaces the second and third beset players (Evan Longoria and Miguel Cabrera) is noteworthy. Pujols checks in at 7.5 WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player, BP’s in-house version of WAR) while Longoria and Cabrera both project at 5.5 WARP. That two Win gap seems very large, does it not? Jose Bautista led MLB in WARP in 2011 with a hair over 10, less than 1 Win ahead of Matt Kemp.
Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols project to lead baseball in home runs with Mike Stanton (!!!) slotting in just behind them. Pujols, Miguel Caberea, and Prince lead in TAv, the BP branded metric scaled to batting average (as opposed to wOBA which in on an OBP scale.) Things don’t look so shabby for the Tigers, do they?
Justin Verlander checks in as the top pitcher, with CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay, Stephen Strasburg and Dan Haren rounding out the top five. PECOTA only sees 160 innings in Strasburg’s future, yet there he is with more than 5 WARP. HE MIGHT BE PRETTY GOOD, EH? Verlander and Lincecum rate as the best strikeout pitchers according to the system.
But now for the fun part: the comps! Who does PECOTA see in its twisted eye as a suitable comparison for your favorite player? The Albert Pujols comps are slightly bizarre, as he’s already a Hall of Fame caliber player. PECOTA likens him to…Brian Giles, Lance Berkman, and Todd Helton!
Left-handed hitting first baseman at the top of your game? YOU GET A NORM CASH. The former Tigers slugger serves as a comparable player for Joey Votto and Prince Fielder, not to mention Derrick Lee and Dan Johnson! Clearly Norm Cash rules everything around me.
The comps might break down for older players, but what about the young turks standing poised to dominate the baseball landscape for years to come? If your name is Mike Trout, you rest easy. Cesar Cedeno, Justin Upton, Ken Griffey? Sold! Wait, Cesar Cedeno? Right, the former Astros outfielder who broke in as a 19 year-old and enjoyed a 9 year run of 5 rWAR or more per season? That’ll do…
What about Canadian Jesus Brett Lawrie? While his raw PECOTA numbers aren’t too exciting (17 home runs, .756 OPS) his comparable players are a who’s who of guys who are good at baseball! David Wright, Travis Fryman, and Ryan Zimmerman? If you’re a Blue Jays fan and this isn’t good enough for you, I think you should rethink your whole life plan.
Stephen Strasburg’s comps run a little to close to the sado-masochist line for my liking. Mark Prior, Yovani Gallardo, Dwight Gooden? Like a famous man once said, it is better to burn out than play for the Brewers. Yovanni Gallardo’s comps are much weirder. Zack Greinke, Jered Weaver, and Max Scherzer? One of these is agreeable, to me anyway.
The BP folks put a ton of work into the PECOTA system and the subscription is worth it for these figures alone. Once they roll out onto the player pages, they get even more in depth and interesting. Happy digging!