The Red Sox and PECOTA’s Pessimism

Last week I wrote about the Red Sox offense, specifically about how the current narrative associated with the Red Sox, that they need help on offense, is overblown. The Red Sox, I argued, should have a very good offense in 2018. With lots of young talent that mostly under-performed last season, I said, the team should improve significantly on the field even if they don’t add J.D. Martinez, or any other comparable hitter. Early this week we (BP) released our yearly PECOTA projections, and so I thought it might be a good and useful endeavor to compare what I wrote last week with what PECOTA is educatedly guessing about the 2018 Red Sox lineup. So I did. And you might want to lay down now. Also aspirin. I suggest a couple of aspirin.

You may recall that in my article last week I looked at three primary factors/indicators that bode well for a Red Sox offensive bounce back. The first was age. The Red Sox lineup is mostly young and aging towards their peak seasons or already in their peak seasons. That means improvement is in the offing, very generally speaking. The second was 2018 projections. We will return to this. The third was under/over performance last season. I took the members of the 2018 Sox lineup, looked at what they did last year, and then compared that to what they were projected to do in 2017. This was an attempt to look at how the 2017 team hit compared to what a reasonable expectation would have been at the time. I found that, unsurprisingly, the team under-performed what was expected of them almost across the board.

Two of those three items — the players’ age and their under-performance relative to expectations last season — were true at the time and will remain so after this article. Now to the second item, the 2018 projections. Here’s what I wrote last week about what FanGraphs’ projections said about the Red Sox lineup:

Going by those same rough estimates, of the Red Sox starting nine, FanGraphs projects seven of the Red Sox to improve, five of which significantly. Only Pedroia and Mitch Moreland are projected to improve only slightly from their 2017 performances. Rafael Devers is projected to perform just as he did last season, only to play a full season’s worth of games, which would be a large upgrade over what the Red Sox have been getting from third basemen over the past half decade or more. Only Christian Vazquez is projected to put up a worse performance.

So that’s what FanGraphs has to say. PECOTA, however, sings a very different tune. Of the Red Sox starting nine, which at the moment includes Hanley Ramirez, only two are projected to improve on last year’s WARP total. Those two are Andrew Benintendi (projected to go from 1.8 WARP to 2.5) and the aforementioned Ramirez, who is projected to go from -0.1 WARP to 1.5. Other than that Rafael Devers and Christian Vazquez are both projected at about what they did last season (within 0.1 WARP either way). For Devers that’s problematic because he’s projected for most of a full season in 2018 where as last year he came up in late July. This means he’s projected for less value per plate appearance despite, well, everything about him. For Vazquez, it’s the same story, but in his case it makes more sense. His offense last season had the whiff of unsustainability about it, so should he come back to earth a bit, and thus he would need more playing time to achieve the same value.

The scary part of the projections comes when you look at the meat of the lineup. Mookie Betts is projected to drop a half win. Xander Bogaerts is projected to drop a win. Jackie Bradley is projected to drop 0.2 WARP but he was at 1.2 last season — a number I don’t agree with considering his defense. Mitch Moreland is projected to be worth 0.0 WARP. So that’s your 2018 Red Sox lineup. Only one guy over 2.5 WARP, and just two over 2.0.

This is probably a good time to point out a few things. Firstly, PECOTA doesn’t know Moreland and Xander played through injuries that very much impacted their performance. It only knows their performance, but presumably, with some health, there’s more performance in there for both those guys. It’s a similar story for Jackie Bradley’s knee injury at the start of the season.

Furthermore, these are only projections and conservative projections at that. To pull from another somewhat notable team, Aaron Judge is projected to drop three wins from last season’s total, and Giancarlo Stanton is projected to drop 4.5. So, you know, things could be worse.

On the whole, these will probably be solid projections, but no set of preseason projections is going to be wholly 100 percent correct. The Red Sox offense could be vastly improved over last season’s output, and if I had to guess, that would be where I would go. I still think last season was a dip in what was and is an overall good offensive team. I think more players are closer to their peak-age seasons, and with some more health, a more modern hitting approach implemented by the new hitting coach, and a bit more luck, the team should be better and far more productive in 2018.

That all said, PECOTA’s projections offer a different viewpoint, and indeed, a greater argument for signing someone like J.D. Martinez. Replacing or augmenting Ramirez’s production by adding Martinez could go a long way if indeed the offense falters in the way PECOTA is saying it will.

Then again…

Photo by Bob DeChiara — USA TODAY Sports

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1 comment on “The Red Sox and PECOTA’s Pessimism”


It’s funny that we expect someone who had a down year to bounce back the next because of intangibles and injuries and regressing to the mean, while the computer admits, perhaps grudgingly, that the down year could well be a predictor of future performance.

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