PECOTA and the Nats in 2016

Baseball Prospectus came out with their PECOTA predictions for the 2016 season, and I took a look to see how the Nats fared. Let’s keep in mind a few things here. First, this is a set of algorithms that predict performance based on past performance, so last year’s numbers, unfortunately for the Nats’ 2016 numbers, do indeed count in the projections. They are also projections based on inputs. I don’t think there are a thousand different algorithms, so some outliers will look just plain wrong. So, while I appreciate Joey Bautista’s ownage of BP, I also recognize they do a great job at doing what they’re doing…

https://twitter.com/JoeyBats19/status/699673493156294658

Also, I’m only going to point out a few that really stood out to me, rather than go through every one. Hey, BP is a great site, and I pay the $30 a year or whatever it is to be able to read it, so should you. If you want the whole thing, you’re going to have to pay them, sorry.

Before we get into the individuals, the Nats are predicted to finish 87-75, 4 games behind the 91-71 Mets. It’s not quite what you’d call a statistical dead heat, there is certainly more love for the Mets there. But, a little bit of overperformance by the Nats and underperformance by the Mets, the exact opposite of 2015, would be enough to swing the standings the other way pretty easily. And overperformance by the Nats is probably as easy (or as hard) as just staying healthy.

PECOTA and Injuries – Underestimating the Nats?

The first question, after looking at these, is how a complex algorithm like PECOTA compensates for players that are often injured. Let’s take a look at Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman:

PECOTA predicts Werth to hit .254/.344/.410. These numbers would far exceed his 2015 totals of .221/.302/.384. But it would be a far cry from his 2014 .292/.394/.455. So, while I see many people thinking he’s done, PECOTA isn’t going that far. Werth, last season, was awful at the beginning, and awful when he came back from injury. But starting from his season low OPS, on August 15, he hit .254/.345/.486 for the rest of the season. That means the PECOTA numbers might be about right – and although I might not expect a .480 slugging, I think the power will still be there enough to give him a slugging closer to .450 than .410. And if I was feeling really optimistic, I might note that his OBP for the three seasons prior to 2015 were .387, .398 and .394, so that number may be depressed from his awful 2015 campaign as well.

As for Zimmerman, well, PECOTA has a history of doing him dirty. This year it’s an unimpressive .260/.326/.428. Those numbers are clearly pulled down in this prediction machine by his .249/.308/.465 totals in 2015. But they never seem to understand his ability to hit for power, every year they underestimate him. And sure, he could hit for a non-2015 career low of .260, but it’s hard to imagine that if he’s healthy he’d do that poorly. Just in 2014 he hit .280/.342/.449, and he wasn’t healthy that year, either.

What’s happening, I think, is that is essentially giving us injury-affected numbers for each of these guys. The problem with this, then, is that they both have over 500 PAs. I don’t know how well they’ll do, and I wouldn’t bet a thing on the health of either of those two. But I’d be willing to bet quite a bit that if Ryan Zimmerman does get 558 PAs, as PECOTA predicts, he’ll hit much better than PECOTA suggests.

Might as well pile on here with Anthony Rendon, who they see hitting a .267/.340/.425. It’s hard to fault them with little input for a young player, but he far exceeded these numbers in 2014. In 2015, he was right around there with AVG and OBP but much lower in SLG. So if you think he can recover to 2014 levels, even with a little less power, he will probably surpass all of those numbers.

One last injury-affected one is Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg had a 3.46 ERA last year, his worst ever. They project him at a 3.25, which is still really good. But he was so awful at the beginning of the year, and so good at the end, it’s hard to know what to think. He started 8 games in April and May and finished the first two months of the season with a 6.55 ERA. He went on the DL, and after that, he had 13 starts with a 1.76 ERA. When he is healthy and working properly, he’s much closer to that 1.76 ERA guy. But PECOTA, just like you and I, have no idea if Strasburg 2016 will be working properly.

Outside of the injury front, I’ll make note of new acquisition Ben Revere, who PECOTA has hitting .289/.320/.352. These numbers aren’t much off from his career average of .295/.328/.348, but it is an interesting time to predict a decline, as he is entering his age 28 season. All three of those predicted slash line numbers would be season lows for him since back in 2011, when he was a 23 year old rookie. At first, I was wondering if this is just the kind of player PECOTA has trouble with. After all, the Royals, who they consistently think will be terrible (76-86 this year!) seem to break the machine. But their Daniel Murphy prediction seems pretty much just what I’d expect from him, and the two of them seem to be those Royals-type players, so… who knows?

We Should Be So Lucky

On the other side of the ledger, Wilson Ramos is predicted to hit .252/.297/.415, which would be a better line than last year and the year before. It’s certainly possible that he’d do this, but even this seems optimistic to me. He has regressed every year offensively, and he isn’t the only catcher in the league to do this, so I find it a little hard to believe he’ll recover so much.

They have Gio Gonzalez as a solid pitcher, posting an ERA of 3.61 and starting 31 games. It’s not a great line, but it’s better than his 3.79 last year. If he does that – starts 31 games and has an ERA+ approaching 110, I think the Nats would be thrilled. I might take the under on that level of performance.

If you look down the list of relievers, PECOTA seems to think they are all some different version of garbage, which I don’t really understand. But the one I really don’t understand is Rafael Martin. In relative terms, PECOTA loves him. His 3.29 projected ERA is a half a run better than anyone else in the bullpen. They don’t have him pitching much, but it’s odd that a 32 year old with a 5.11 ERA in 12 1/3 career MLB innings pitched would be looked upon so favorably. I don’t think that one’s gonna happen.

Stay on the Field

In the end, all of this is an interesting exercise, and it’s fun to see where these guys project. Some of the ones that I’m incredulous about right now will be spot on, and others will be so far off they’ll have to see if some of the vacuum tubes powering the PECOTA machine. When you’re trying to use a set of parameters to put any players’ numbers in and get a forecast, that’s bound to happen. Take everything with a grain of salt, but, understand there is a real science in what they’re doing, these numbers aren’t just made up on the fly.

I think, especially with Rendon, Zimmerman and Werth, a healthy season gets them better than their projections. Another injury-filled year, and it will be more of the same. And I’m not talking about a 162-start season for any of them. It means 500+ healthy plate appearances. A 15-day DL stint or two for any one of them doesn’t stop that from happening – it’s the lingering injuries that Zim and Rendon experienced, or the recovery from a broken hand that Werth dealt with, that really dragged them down. Health is relative here. And if they have relative health, the Nats will outperform these projections just like they underperformed them in 2015.

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