Saturday, February 16, 2008

You Say PECOTA, I Say WTF!

Baseball Prospectus has released their preliminary projected standings for the coming year. And while they're not historically bad, they're probably lower than you'd expect: 72-90. What galls me, though, is that that's a few games worse than the husk of the Marlins. Last year, for what it's worth, mostly based upon their inability to figure out what was going on with our rotation, they projected the Nats for 67-94.

They create the standings by using their PECOTA projections (which I discussed briefly earlier) and assigning playing time based on who's likely to bat where and for how often. It does this for offense and defense, then figures out projected runs scored/allowed totals... and then a projected won/lost record.

They have us pegged for 759 runs, 10th in the league. (They're assuming that the Nats stadium is a slight pitcher's park -- if I'm remembering correctly -- but even that's a big jump up from RFK.) 759 runs would be about an 80-run improvement. The limited numbers crunching I've done would indicate that 40-50 runs of that is just the move from RFK. So it follows that only 30-40 runs are from actual offensive improvement. My gut (always a good analytical tool) thinks that's low, but we'll look a little more closely in a sec.

The pitching looks dreadful, and they peg the Nats for 855 runs allowed, 15 out of 16 teams in the NL and 220 runs worse than the league-leading Mets.

The depth chart is only available to subscribers, because it gives all the projections, but when I look at it more closely, I can see it was put together by dim-witted baboons. OK, I stretch, but... It's a reasonable attempt, but I'm an optimistic fanboy (believe it or not!), and I see plenty of opportunity for improvement in both the offense and the pitching.

So here's my 24-point plan to screw PECOTA

1) Play Lopez more! He sucked last year, but deal with it. You can't look at one year's worth of stats and make grand pronouncements about players. PECOTA and just about every other projection system, expects a rebound. The depth chart here gives him 45% of the PT at SS and 25% at 2B, meaning he's on the bench 30% of the time. PECOTA gives him a 30-point OBP and 50-point SLG advantage over Guzman (which isn't unreasonable given his career numbers) and roughly the same value as Belliard.

Just a ballpark estimate, but if you give Guzman 500 ABs and Lopez 500 ABs, Lopez should add about 15 runs to the bottom line -- he's about a win-and-a-half better.

2) Keep Langerhans and Harris on the bench! Given our glut of outfielders, they somehow decided to give 20% of the CF plate appearances to the gruesome duo, both of whom are significantly worse than Milledge and Dukes. Take away about half of those ABS and give them to Dukes, and you're talking another half-a-win.

3) Ryan Zimmerman takes a step forward! They've got him at .355/.490, which is only a slight improvement over what he did in '06 at RFK. If his hand's healthy, I'd probably bet the over on that, if only because I think he's going to have a slightly better OBP this year. Sake of argument, let's say he hits .370/.510. That's another win or two right there.

4) Meld Dmitri's buttocks to the bench! They project Dmitri as having 55% of the playing time at 1B despite dropping 40 points of OBP and 10 points of slugging to Nick. Make it 75/25 in favor of NJ, and we're almost to another win. (definitely over if you factor in defense!)

5) Keep Mackowiak out of LF! They give him 15% of Pena's and Duke's rightful PT despite a .150-point OPS disadvantage to both.

6) Fire PECOTA's pitching coach! It really doesn't like our pitchers. Even then, it does some wacky things. John Lannan, for example is projected with a 6.15 ERA. Given his low peripherals, that's not an unreasonable projection, even if most of us would bet the under. But despite that ghastly ERA, it projects him to lead the team in IP!? If he's still over 6 in June, he's going to be enjoying Columbus in July. No way he does that. Replace that with a generic 5.00 ERA projection, and you're looking at another 20 runs saved.

There are a couple other individual projections you could quibble with. It's got Hill at 130 IP and an ERA over 4. I'd probably bet the over and under respectively, even if those are reasonable. Patterson's at 90 IP and over a 4.6 ERA. Both have the potential to be much better than that.

  • So 72-90 sorta looks like the worst-case scenario. If all of the pitching stinks, if none of the hitters break out, and nobody takes steps forward, we're going to be no worse than last year.

    I think they're going to be better than that, and even just allocating the PT properly (which I'm confident that Manny can do much better than the BPro bunch) should add 3-5 wins. Add in the growth potential, and it's not inconceivable that this team could be .500ish.

    I DO know, though, that we're going to be better than the feckin' Marlins!


    • They also predict the Yankees to win 96 games, so don't sweat too much over the poor analysis of the Nats.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/16/2008 10:13 AM  

    • Couple of questions:

      1)How did BP handle the new Nationals Field park factor (since I think PECOTA is park factor adjusted). Did they just act as if it was a league average stadium or did they try to make it fit a certain mold?

      2)I think it's more of a case of the Marlins players developing more (they have Hanley Ramirez looking pretty amazing), since when you actually look at the nats' projections for individual players, aside from poor Lannan and some ridiculous crap from John Patterson and Shawn Hill (which could be attributed to small sample sizes given playing time in the past few years) there is actually a lot of improvement save for maybe a little regression towards the mean by Belliard.

      I'll bet when they put out the individual PECOTA cards, we see really HUGE ranges of potential performance from our starting pitchers due to injury uncertainty.

      By Blogger Michael Taylor, at 2/16/2008 10:34 AM  

    • 1) I think they're assuming that the new barn is a slight pitcher's park... sort of what Shea was over the few years before last.

      2) You're right about the ranges. That's why I'm looking at this projection as a floor. There's a TON of room for potential as none of these projections/pt estimates could be described as 'optimistic'!

      (The Marlins stats seem screwy to me, and I wonder if the park is doing some of that... their place has ALWAYS been a strong pitcher's park, but it played as a really strong hitter's park last year... I wonder if that's screwing up their numbers somehow...)

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 2/16/2008 10:38 AM  

    • Really? Lannan would lose his job for a 6 ERA -- to whom? They've already got plenty of starts projected for Mock and Clippard and Redding. Who's left -- Mike O'Connor?

      As for playing time for hitters, I like Acta a lot, but he's still gonna get pressure from above. Meathook and Guzman are too old and well-paid to ride the bench as much as they should. BP is predicting that Acta won't have much of a choice, not that he'll make bad decisions.

      And anyway, those percentages are weighted averages. Maybe Milledge is great and Langerhans gets 0%, maybe Milledge struggles and Langerhans gets 40%. I think that it would make sense to spread the outfield PT around a little in any case since most of the players involved are still young.

      By Blogger Steve M, at 2/16/2008 11:10 AM  

    • If Lannan puts up a 6.15, he's not going to lead the team in IP! Mock or Balester or Redding or Clippard (all of whom -- save for Balester who's not projected here -- have lower ERAs than Lannan).

      I don't think the FO is going to have as much influence on those things as you think. Managers usually play who the hell they want to play unless they're trying to showcase someone for a trade or for a future decision.

      You're right about them being averages. It's the playing time distribution that I disagree with. With the talent of Dukes as the 4th outfielder, I can't see Harris getting 15% of the PT in left field, barring catastrophic injury! 5/6th outfielders don't play that much.

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 2/16/2008 11:15 AM  

    • "The pitching looks awful". Of course it does. These cheapskates did not spend one dime to upgrade a starting pitching staff that was by far the worst in the majors last year. I am willing to bet the grocery money that Patterson and Hill breakdown before June 1.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/16/2008 1:13 PM  

    • 1) I'd think Lannan projected to have more innings than Patterson, Hill, Redding, and I'll assume the unmentioned Bergmann due to injury risk. None of those others got through last year uninjured. Perhaps Lannan is a proxy for an over- his- head rushed bottom- of- the- rotation prospect, but 6.15 is brutal. What is just the value for a replacement- level starter?

      2) On Nats Journal last week, I took Bill James's projections for JP (113), Bergmann (158), Chico (157), and Redding (155) from his 2008 Handbook, added Hill's 97 innings from last year (could not find a projection), and, assuming a target of 900 innings out of our projected 1st 5 starters, guessed we were about 220 innings short of that. How many innings did BP project from our 1st 5 and how many from the rest of the starters? [900 is about 30- 35 innings less than NL's 2007 non-Nat average; I'd assume we'll use our bullpen more than average but less than last year].

      3) I was a bit confused about the Guzman / Lopez / Belliard split. Did you mean 500 ABs for CG and FL, or 500 for RB and FL?

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/16/2008 6:21 PM  

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