Baseball Prospectus released its PECOTA projections this week. PECOTA is a projection system initially developed by Nate Silver, who has subsequently gained greater notoriety due to his work at 538. It has since been tweaked over the years by Silver's successors at Baseball Prospectus. For over a decade, the dead of winter has been livened by the release of these projections. PECOTA day is perhaps my favorite day of the year. I write perhaps because it's a tossup between the day Baseball Prospectus releases the PECOTA projections and when Dan Szymborski releases the St. Louis Cardinals ZiPS projections. While I have no children, I understand a parent's dilemma when asked to choose between his or her favorite children when I'm asked to choose between ZiPS and PECOTA for my favorite projection system. When it comes down to these cold, hard formulas, I'm a rank sentimentalist.
Along with the release of individual player projections, Baseball Prospectus puts out team projections. You can view them free of charge on BP's wonderful site. They include team batting and fielding. Best of all, though, are the projected standings.
For those of us concerned about the Cardinals' aging core and frustrating lack of offense in 2014, we can take heart. Kind of. Last year, the Cards hit a collective .253/.320/.369, for an OPS of .689 that ranked eighth in the National League.
BP has developed a stat called True Average (TAv). Here's the explanation of Tav from the BP glossary:
True Average (TAv) is a measure of total offensive value scaled to batting average. Adjustments are made for park and league quality, as such the league-average mark is constant at .260.
True Average incorporates aspects that other linear weights-based metrics ignore. Reaching base on an error and situational hitting are included; meanwhile, strikeouts and bunts are treated as slightly more and less damaging outs than normal. The baseline for an average player is not meant to portray what a typical player has done, but rather what a typical player would do if given similar opportunities. That means adjustments made for parks and league quality. True Average's adjustments go beyond applying a blanket modifier-players who play more home games than road games will see that reflected in their adjustments. Unlike its predecessor, Equivalent Average, True Average does not consider baserunning or basestealing.
Here is an example of the True Average spectrum based upon the 2009-2011 seasons:
Excellent - Miguel Cabrera .342
Great - Alex Rodriguez .300
Average - Austin Jackson .260
Poor - Ronny Cedeno .228
Horrendous - Brandon Wood .192
Last season, the Cardinals' collective TAv of .255 placed 10th in the NL.
PECOTA sees a brighter 2015 for the Cardinals offensively, thanks to an increase in power-hitting. Next season, PECOTA forecasts a St. Louis team BA of .255 and OBP of .322 that are nearly identical to the club's 2014 production. However, PECOTA projects a a nearly 30-point increase in slugging, from .369 to .396. That's a 25-point improvement in Isolated Power (ISO)—a stat that measures only extra-base hits and excludes singles—from .116 to .141.
Axiomatically, the Cards' TAv is forecast to improve from .255 to .265. They've leapfrogged Austin Jackson, in the BP glossary sense, from below average to above average. The St. Louis projected TAv for 2015 ranks third in the NL, per PECOTA.
PECOTA also likes the Cardinals' fielding. Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) is a stat that measures exactly what its name states. From the BP glossary:
Fielding Runs Above Average is Prospectus' individual defensive metric created using play-by-play data with adjustments made based on plays made, the expected numbers of plays per position, the handedness of the batter, the park, and base-out states.
The biggest difference between Fielding Runs Above Average and similar defensive metrics comes in the data and philosophy used. Whereas other metrics use zone-based fielding data, Fielding Runs Above Average ignores that data due to the numerous biases present. Fielding Runs Above Average instead focuses on play-by-play data, taking a step back and focusing on the number of plays made compared to the average number of plays made by a player at said position. The pitcher's groundball tendencies, batter handedness, park, and base-out state all go into figuring out how many plays an average player at a position would make.
Here is an example of the Fielding Runs Above Average spectrum based upon the 2011 season-for the sake of consistency, the players featured below all play the same position (center field):
Excellent - Jacoby Ellsbury 11.6
Great - Nyjer Morgan 5.5
Average - Marlon Byrd 0.6
Poor - Roger Bernadina -5.2
Horrendous - Melky Cabrera -13.2
St. Louis is forecast to to defend its way to save 20.4 runs above average. The Cardinals are projected to have not just an excellent defense, but the best in the NL.
The St. Louis Cardinals are just the best in the NL Central. Their projected 89 wins are seven more than the second-place Cubs, per PECOTA, and nine more than the system projects for the third-place Pirates. That PECOTA sees the Pirates winning just one more game than the Reds and Brewers surprised me, given Steamer's rosier outlook for Pittsburgh. The only NL clubs forecast to win more games that the Cardinals are the Dodgers (97!) and Nationals (91).
Correction: The original version of this post incorrectly stated that PECOTA projects the Cardinals to have the best defense in baseball. It actually forecasts the Cardinals' fielding to be the best in the NL. (PECOTA projects the Royals, A's, and Rays to have better defenses.)