For a long time, Royals fans thought PECOTA was the devil for projecting the team to finish far worse than they probably should have and ultimately did. I think a big issue here is that the biggest critics of projection systems don’t exactly understand what they are. They’re limited to the data available. So for a guy with a limited track record, the margin for error will be greater in a projection. And for years, if you looked at the Royals as a collection of pieces rather than the whole, it was easy to understand why the system underestimated them so much.
This year, people weren’t as upset with PECOTA. Hard to imagine. The Royals were projected to be one of the worst teams in baseball and lo and behold, they were. It’s no surprise given the exodus of talent. They actually underperformed their team projection for a lot of the same reason they overperformed in the past. It was about the bullpen. The projection was not for the bullpen to be a complete tire fire like it was, at least early in the year, and therefore accounted for a few extra wins. But I’ve gone on long enough defending PECOTA. I want to look at a few individual offensive projections of players who we expect to see big playing time in 2019 just to see how far off or close it actually was.
Dozier is another player without much of a sample to go by, but given that, I think the projections were surprisingly good. He actually hit for a bit less power than projected, but he had a hand/wrist injury early in the year that a computer can’t account for. He walked at a better rate than projected, but he had the same contact issues the system believed he would and had almost exactly the XBH/PA ratio projected of him. He’ll be in his age-27 season next year, so I imagine his projection will show some improvement, but he’s going to need to best last year’s projection to have a spot in the future.
After a couple down seasons, Gordon’s PECOTA projection was actually predicting a bit of an uptick, but not a return to a top hitter. It was surprisingly close, though the power projection was a little much. As far as counting stats go, PECOTA basically nailed it. Really, I’d call this a big win for the projections. I mean look at that TAv. I’d expect something similar next season, though maybe a touch below what he put up this year as it accounts for aging.
In some ways, they nailed it with Whit. In other ways (most ways?), not so much. He was only projected for 330 plate appearances, so some of the counting stats were pretty low, but some of it was pretty right on. It’s interesting in some ways to me that his ISO was basically nailed as was his strikeout percentage. The walk rate was way higher than expected and it probably didn’t hurt that his BABIP was a good 50 points higher than the projected. But even though he outperformed his xBABIP, his speed helps to give him a bit of an edge there. I’d expect a bit of regression in the average next year, but I’m guessing PECOTA will be more on board with Whit in 2019.
I feel like Mondesi is one of those instances where critics of projection systems would point to its flaws, but for a guy who hit .181/.226/.271 in 209 big league plate appearances coming into the season, there’s reason to think the above projection was actually quite generous. It was banking on improvement with age and a strong showing in AAA translating to the big leagues a little more than previously, but instead, the projection missed on just about everything with the exception of projecting a high strikeout rate. The .299 BABIP projection seemed a little light give his speed and he bested that by a lot at a not crazy .335 (.322 xBABIP). The projections are going to be all over the place on Mondesi for a couple years at least as he gets some data on his side.
This one is just sort of fun because he’s a guy who exploded sort of out of nowhere. PECOTA did believe in his power, but man he still way outperformed it. There’s not much I think we can glean from this since O’Hearn’s emergence was so crazy, but I just think it’s fun to look at the numbers.
The belief in the PECOTA system was that the power would decrease for Perez while the hit tool wouldn’t decline quite as fast as it appears it might be. In fewer plate appearances than projected, Salvy hit six more home runs and struck out 11 more times. The end result wasn’t too far off with the TAv being within just a few points, but the way he got there was definitely not predicted by the projections here.
His season was cut short by yet another injury, but this projection was pretty amazing in a lot of areas. Look at that ISO, walk rate and strikeout rate. He ended up just hitting for a better average than projected which bumped everything up a bit, but some of that is an elite BABIP of .340. He does hit the ball hard and runs pretty well, so he could be a guy to run a high one and it’s not that much higher than his career number of .321, but that appears to be the difference between reality and the projection. I think PECOTA will be quite bullish on Soler from a rate stat standpoint, though I could see him getting a big ding in playing time predictions due to injuries.
I’m a big fan of the projections because a) it’s something to talk about toward the end of a long offseason and b) it’s always fun to predict ahead of time which are bullish, which are bearish and which are right on. Plus, it’s fun at the end of the year to compare a few. And yeah, it’s nice when they’re outperformed by your favorite team too.