The Particulars of PECOTA’s Projections

PECOTA finally arrived about a week ago, and boy oh boy do things look awfully familiar. The projections seemed to affirm the general consensus: that the Red Sox have a pretty good team that’s not necessarily great. They project as the fourth-best team in the AL, which sounds about right. PECOTA sees an elite defensive team that gets on base without a lot of power. They (it? we?) also see a top-heavy rotation followed by an acceptable bullpen — one that could benefit from adding another lefty. It’s crazy how easy it is to project teams when nothing happens in the offseason!

With that said, PECOTA gives us approximately 50,000 projections per team, so there’s plenty to get sincerely angry about. As literally every single Kansas City Royals fan will tell you, PECOTA doesn’t always get it right. I took a look through the Red Sox projections and cherry-picked a few, sorting them into arbitrary groups that have very little to do with one another. Let’s see how it worked!

Three Projections That Stood Out

1. Chris Sale’s 2.44 ERA

I’ll be honest: when I saw this, I immediately went to check how it stacked up against Corey Kluber’s ERA, and hell yeah, Sale’s is marginally better, so 2018 Cy Young confirmed.

But yes, that is an absurdly low ERA, even for Sale. The only two starters to post an ERA lower than 2.44 last season were Kluber (2.25) and Clayton Kershaw (2.31). It would be Sale’s lowest ERA since the 2014 season and mark the first time he ever posted back-to-back seasons with a sub-three ERA. What makes things even more interesting is that most of Sale’s other projections predict a small regression, so something doesn’t match up. This might be more of an argument against the reliability of solely looking at ERA more than anything else, but that’s a really low number.

2. Joe Kelly coming for Matt Barnes’ innings

Man, PECOTA did Barnes dirty this year. After (barely) leading the bullpen in innings pitched last year, Barnes is projected to be fourth on the totem pole this season. Craig Kimbrel, Carson Smith, and Joe Kelly are all projected to throw more innings than Barnes. The first two make sense, but it’s interesting to see Joe Kelly sneak in front of Barnes. Granted, a healthy Tyler Thornburg also means less innings to go around for righties, but Barnes really feels that the worst. Kelly threw 58 innings last year and is projected to throw 51 this season. Barnes threw 69.2 innings last season and is projected to come in at 46 this year. Kelly doesn’t get the strikeouts that Barnes does, and they both walk way too many batters, but the latter was undeniably bad in important situations last year and probably needs to earn some trust back. Maybe this should be titled “Tyler Thornburg coming for Matt Barnes’ innings” but my bet is Kelly starts the year as the seventh inning guy.

3. Rafael Devers hitting .258

Devers’ value to the 2018 Red Sox is hardly (if at all) connected to hitting for average, but .258 feels low. He hit well throughout his time in the Red Sox system and slashed .284/.338/.482 during his 60-game stint in the majors last season. Even if he can’t hit above .280 during his first full season in the bigs, .254 seems underwhelming. He’s a free-swinger who doesn’t draw a lot of walks, yet he posted a league-average OBP last season. His natural talent as a hitter makes me think his floor is closer to .265-.270, and that’d be just fine. And on that note, some quick hits:

Three Projections I Loved

1. Rafael Devers hitting 21 home runs
2. 22.9 Fielding Runs Above Average – best in the AL East, third-best in the AL, and top-five in all of baseball.
3. Mookie Betts looking a lot more like 2016 Mookie than 2017 Mookie.

Three Projections That Spooked Me

1. How similar Drew Pomeranz and David Price’s seasons look.
2. Steven Wright getting the fifth spot in the rotation over Eduardo Rodriguez.
3. Xander Bogaerts having a lower TAv than Hanley Ramirez.

Photo by Patrick McDermott — USA TODAY Sports

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