On Wednesday, Baseball Prospectus (“BP”) published their highly-esteemed PECOTA projections for MLB teams in the 2018 season. If you are a seasoned baseball statistician reading this, and you know what the PECOTA projections entail, feel free to skip the next section to see the actual analysis.
If you are not familiar, according to Wikipedia, PECOTA is a backronym, taken from the name of former Kansas City Royal Bill Pecota. It also stands for the Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm. For our purpose, it is simply another method of projecting how teams and players will perform in a certain year. While PECOTA calculations are considerably intricate, for those of you who are not MIT statistics graduates, you only need to know that the projections for the season are based off of three essential categories; per BP’s glossary:
- Major league equivalents, specifically for minor league baseball players. Based on a database of roughly every baseball player who has played since World War II, BP takes the careers of those who haven’t reached the Majors yet, and compares it to the careers of those who have, in order to determine reasonable player comparisons.
- “Baseline forecasts, which use weighted averages and regression to the mean to produce an estimate of a player’s true talent level.” Statistical predictions.
- Adjustment for player’s career arcs, based on historically compounded and statistically calculated trends in players’ performances, reflective of their ages and stages in their careers.
Once you understand all of that kerfuffle, you get pretty run-of-the-mill line projections for hitters and pitchers, as well as season predictions on the team-level. The system also attempts to predict depth charts, batting lineups, and pitching rotations.
You will also notice however that Baseball Prospectus does make use of their own unique statistics as well. Those statistics are True Average (TAV), Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA), Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) and Deserved Run Average (DRA). Click the stat abbreviations for full definitions from BP’s glossary.
Okay that was fun; now that you’ve learned how to drive the car, it’s time to take her out for a spin.
Marlins 2018 Team PECOTA Projections
The forecast isn’t good. With a roster replete with unproven prospects and stopgaps, the statistics predict that the Marlins will finish last in the NL East, as well as last in the National League and Major League Baseball. The Marlins also sit near the the bottom of the rankings in runs scored, runs allowed, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and True Average.
There is a glimmer of hope in batting average, where the Marlins rise to the middle of the pack. Oddly enough, the comparative offensive production by batting average doesn’t reflect at all in on-base percentage. The rankings suggest that even though the Marlins will hit for average decently, they will still fail to get on base at a competitive rate.
Fielding, as evidenced by Fielding Runs Above Average, will be the Marlins’ best quality. The Marlins have always been a defensive power, thanks in part to the instruction of Coach Perry Hill, as well as other sure gloves around the diamond such as Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Dee Gordon, and Adeiny Hechavarria. In 2017, the Marlins ranked 3rd in Major League Baseball in terms of Fangraphs’ Defensive Runs Above Average.
However this year, with said players gone, and with others predicted by PECOTA to play out of position, the Marlins defensive reputation suffers a considerable hit. By the season’s end, PECOTA has the Marlins defense costing the team 6.9 runs, compared to that of an average fielding team. With this said, let’s take a look at the Marlins depth chart, as predicted by PECOTA.
Using the above mentioned algorithm - taking into account experience, statistical regression, and player comparisons - PECOTA predicts this to be the optimal depth chart for the Marlins in 2018.
The most welcome surprise on the chart is Lewis Brinson. A Native of South Florida, Brinson came over from the Brewers with three other reputable prospects in the Christian Yelich trade. And while the other three prospects - Monte Harrison, Isan Diaz, and Jordan Yamamoto - are all expected to start in the low minors, Brinson is expected to make an instant impact on the club. PECOTA has Brinson being the most valuable player in the lineup with 2.5 Wins Above Replacement. While his projected peripherals aren’t the highest, his potential can’t be understated; the prospect hype is real, and as colleague Ely Sussman explains, there is reason to believe that Brinson will lead not only the team, but the league’s rookies in 2018 as well.
After Brinson, JT Realmuto falls into second highest WARP with 2.1. PECOTA predicts the speedy catcher to bat first. Despite the fact that he was a 5.3 WARP player in 2017, as most projection systems tend to be, PECOTA is exceedingly bearish on Realmuto’s outlook for 2018. PECOTA predicts that Realmuto’s OBP and TAV will fall from .279 and .332 in 2017 to .261 and .320 in 2018. However, given the increase in plate appearances he’s likely to see as he moves up in the order and in the clubhouse, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Realmuto far outperform said numbers.
That conclusion assumes that Realmuto stays with the club; speaking of which, Starlin Castro figures to be the third most productive player on the roster in 2018, with a WARP of 1.3. If he stays with the Marlins, PECOTA predicts that Castro will man second base for at least 85 percent of the innings to be played. On the other hand, Derek Dietrich is predicted to make up the bulk of his time coming off the bench, and splitting starts between third base and left field.
It’s curious that Martin Prado is predicted to be the incur the most playing time - 60 percent - in left field. While the projection system is probably right to include Prado’s bat in the lineup, it seems to ignore a very human element in subjecting the 34 year old to cover the outfield, just one year after he spent the vast majority of the season nursing a knee injury. Barring someone ousting Prado or another injury flareup, he is expected to have a modest year, contributing .6 WARP to the Marlins to the tune of a .253 TAV and a .325 OBP.
Prado shares a WARP with the predicted first starter, Dan Straily. In a .6 WARP season, PECOTA predicts Straily to go 9-14, with a 4.59 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP. For comparison, last year, Straily pitched his way to a 2.2 WARP year, with a 4.26 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP. After Straily, the rotation rounds out with Jose Ureña, Wei-Yin Chen, Adam Conley, and Dillon Peters, with Peters sitting right at 0.0 WARP.
As for the bullpen, Brad Ziegler is predicted to assume the closer role; although he is expected to cost the team .1 runs, he is slated to notch 30 saves. With a predicted 5.31 ERA, there is plenty of room for Junichi Tazawa to surpass expectations out of the setup role. It should be noted that 5.31 would already be an improvement from his 2017 ERA of 5.69; still, if the Marlins could glean just a smidgeon more stability out of the back of their bullpen, it could help them notch a few more in the W column.
Kyle Barraclough should play a bigger role in said smidgeon; pegged as the second setup man, The Bear Claw rakes in the highest projected WARP among pitchers with .7. The proof is in the numbers; while it would certainly be gratifying for the front office to see a return on their investments in elder statesmen Ziegler and Tazawa, if the Marlins want to be competitive, it would best serve them to give the ball to Barraclough in high-leverage situations.
The conclusion, if you didn’t know it already, is that it’s probably going to be a rough year. Last year, PECOTA had the Marlins pegged to go 76-86. The Marlins ended up going 77-85. Still, the projections aren’t perfect, and once again, they ignore “The Human Element.” With just less than two months until April, it’s okay to be cautiously optimistic. The Marlins players would be wise to channel their inner Las Vegas Golden Knights. In their season preview, ESPN said this about the NHL’s most recent piecemeal expansion team:
“A poker pro has a better chance of hitting a straight flush on the river than the Golden Knights have of making the playoffs.”
The Golden Knights now sit atop the Pacific Division, with 10 points on the second-place San Jose Sharks. Anything can happen.
Information on PECOTA and Baseball Prospectus statistics courtesy of Wikipedia and the Baseball Prospectus glossary.