PECOTA: The Mortal Enemy of Old Baseball

Perhaps the most debated thing that doesn’t ever call for a debate in the game of baseball is PECOTA. If you’re not familiar, PECOTA is the projection system that Baseball Prospectus uses every year to determine where they think teams will finish at the end of the regular season. It will project most teams finishing between 70-90 wins, usually never straying from that range to predict a major high or low for a season. There are also individual player PECOTA projections, but for the sake of my attention span we’ll stick to the team outlooks.

The battle for baseball’s soul finds the PECOTA “debate” at the center of most arguments this time of year. In one corner you have the baseball nerd. This Rotisserie fantasy player will actually read through the entire Baseball Prospectus 2016 handbook, taking every single projection as gospel. He/she will treat any deviations from the projections as outliers, such as the Royals who won the World Series after PECOTA projected them to win 72 games. In their world there is no need for scouting, the eye test, or even, dare I say, coaches (see 2015 Miami Marlins). The statistics tell the whole story, and nothing you can tell them about the game supersedes good ol’ math.

In the other corner, sporting a team golf polo and a stopwatch, the baseball purist. This is the more common and more annoying of these two sides.While the pure nerd will say “you can’t argue with math” the purist will say “you can stick the math up your ass.” Probably one of the first questions every year to every single manager in the league is “what do you think of those PECOTA projections” with the inevitable response of “you know what you can do with those projections.” Ha ha fuckin’ ha. Leading this movement are baseball geniuses like Hawk Harrelson and Harold Reynolds. They don’t want to hear your shit about numbers and PECOTA. It’s all about heart, drive, and instinct.TWTW. The Will to Win. They’ll never concede that bunting is almost always a useless act of stupidity and they will always trust their eyes before the numbers…even though the numbers might say someone sucks.

I’d like to think I lie somewhere in the middle of these two gladiators. Good GMs take both the old and new views of baseball into perspective when building their squads. Theo Epstein isn’t pacing the halls thinking about how he can get his PECOTA win total up and he’s also not losing sleep about how weird Kyle Schwarber’s swing looks at times. He’s too busy creating new value. Everyone wondered why he kept David Ross around until those new catching statistics came out, which show that the defensive part of Ross’ game in terms of pitch framing was greatly undervalued by the general public.

If I was one of the dudes who created PECOTA, I would hate what this projection system represents. In no other sport is there such a huge divide over how the game should be viewed, and PECOTA is at the center of the argument.The numbers aren’t meant to be gospel. They aren’t meant to take any fun or emotion out of the game. They’re simply there to provide a guide and a general overview of what a player or a team is like on the diamond. Take a look at Adam Eaton’s advanced statistics. If you watched five minutes of White Sox baseball last year you know what I mean when I say his end of year numbers are bullshit. Conversely, the numbers can help flesh out the true value of a Jason Heyward who sometimes gets dinged in the eye test because he doesn’t hit a bunch of home runs.

Poor PECOTA. All it’s trying to do is provide a simple projection. Yet fans either take it as the absolute truth or a waste of time. Please remember to take the PECOTA projections for what they are: projections.

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