Last week Baseball Prospectus released its projections for the 2020 season. Their projections are known as PECOTA which stands for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimal Test Algorithm and was developed by Nate Silver in 2003.
PECOTA is interesting because BP uses a few different stats than sites like FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference use. For example, their version of WAR is called WARP, and their encompassing offensive stat is DRC+ which stands for deserved runs created and relies on expected contribution rather than averaging past contribution. Think of it as using xFIP instead of FIP. For projecting a player, it makes sense to use a stat based on expected outcome sine we are projecting the future.
Like I did earlier for the ZiPS projections, we’re going to dive into the PECOTA projections both at the team and individual player level to see what we might be able to expect for this upcoming season.
Your 2020 AL East Champion…
…the New York Yankees. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone based on last year, but the Yankees are projected to win the AL East. PECOTA expects them to win 99 games, which again remember is a median projection. The Yankees won 103 games last year, and with strong bullpen management as well as a couple of pleasant performances (such as players recovering well from injuries) the Yankees look poised to win the division and possibly over 100 games again.
BP does a cool thing where they show you the range and likelihood for each team’s total wins, and here is what the AL East looks like:
What is encouraging about that graphic is how far above everyone else the Yankees’ median projection is. The Tampa Bay Rays have to perform ~2+ standard deviations above their mean to reach the Yankees’ mean. In simple terms, it’ll likely take a worst-case scenario for the Rays to outperform the Yankees this year.
The rest of MLB
PECOTA projects the three AL division winners to remain the same with the Houston Astros (ugh) winning 98 games and the Minnesota Twins winning 93. The Rays are projected as the first Wild Card team and the Los Angeles Angels (surprise!) overtaking the Oakland A’s as the second Wild Card team. That would be awesome if Mike Trout returns to the postseason.
In the NL, the Los Angeles Dodgers are expected to dominate with 103 wins, and in shocking news the New York Mets, yes the METS! Are expected to win the NL East. You have the two-time reigning division champion Atlanta Braves and World Series-winning Washington Nationals lower than the boys from Queens in this projection. PECOTA is optimistic about the Mets bullpen (hello old friend Dellin Betances) and I’m just going to believe he is the only reason the Mets have this projection. In awesome news, the Cincinnati Reds are expected to win the NL Central which is awesome because teams who actually spend during the offseason and try to improve deserve to be rewarded.
The Dodgers 103 win projection is the only one higher than the Yankees 99, and PECOTA gives these teams a 99.9% and 97.5% chance of reaching the playoffs. How poetic would it be for these two teams – who were hurt more than any other by the Astros banging – to meet in the World Series this year.
Gerrit Cole is our ace
This projection has Cole with a 2.55 ERA and 303 K in 200 innings. This is awesome because it is an improvement on Cole’s ZiPS projection of a 3.10 ERA and 280 K. It isn’t surprising to see PECOTA higher than ZiPS on Cole because PECOTA relies more on the past 2 years of data which is when Cole made significant changes to his arsenal.
Look how Cole drastically decreased his fastball usage in 2018 and 2019 and increased his breaking ball usage. That lines up with his trade to Houston and revamping of his arsenal. He became an ace after those changes and is now the best pitcher in baseball.
The Ford truck is here
PECOTA is a huge fan of Mike Ford. They expect him to mash 12 HR in limited playing time to the tune of a 126 DRC+. Those lofty projections make sense because Ford combined strong exit velocity (91.9 mph) with a great hard contact % (45.6) last season. Those underlying numbers could mean continued success for Mike Ford, and with the extra roster spot this year, I could see Ford being the last man on the bench.
Gleyber not so good
Weirdly, PECOTA is down on Gleyber Torres. BP projects him for a 111 DRC+ and only 28 home runs. Last season, he hit 38 home runs with a 124 DRC+. Even weirder, they project him for only 2.9 WARP when he has eclipsed 3 WARP in both his seasons. For a player as young as Torres, I have no idea why PECOTA isn’t projecting an improvement. This projection is strikingly different from the incredibly optimistic ZiPS projection, which just to remind everyone looks like this:
So yeah. Even if Gleyber is the average of those two projections he is still a superstar.
Overall, PECOTA is optimistic about the 2020 Yankees. A 99 win projection is nothing to sneeze at, and the projections expect great seasons from players such as Cole, Luis Severino, DJ LeMahieu, and Ford. Projections are just that – projections, and it’s time to get to the games. Which thankfully start this weekend!