Happy PECOTA day, everyone! If you don't know what PECOTA is, now is a good time to get acquainted. PECOTA is Baseball Prospectus's forecasting system, originally developed by Nate Silver. (The same Nate Silver who created fivethirtyeight.com, and has moved on from baseball to the political forecasting world.) It's one of the longer running projection systems out there, and, along with the Super Bowl and Groundhog Day, is just one more status symbol that alerts us to the approach of that most glorious of times: spring training. Silver doesn't run it anymore -- now it's Colin Wyers' baby -- but it continues to evolve.
You need a subscription to be able to get the full forecast spectrum, but today you can get a peak at a few intriguing Red Sox projections. I've singled out a few worth discussing here at Over the Monster, related to the things that everyone seems the most nervous or intrigued about.
Listing projections here isn't the same as agreeing with them wholeheartedly, but instead they are here to give you an outside point of view on some Red Sox matters.
Alex Wilson: Wilson will be at spring training, competing for one of the last two starter jobs along with half-a-dozen other hurlers. He's the least likely to earn the gig, though, given he has all of 21 innings under his belt at Triple-A and isn't on the 40-man roster yet. (Though, once the Red Sox are able to put John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka on the 60-day DL, there will be room for Wilson should he earn the spot.)
Splitting time between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket in 2011, Wilson struck out 8.3 per nine against three walks per nine, posting an ERA of 3.11 over 133 innings. This was a significant improvement over his time at Double-A in 2010, when he struck out just 6.4 per nine over 75 innings and 16 starts, and with a 6.66 ERA.
PECOTA has recognized this jump in production, but still doesn't think he's quite ready for the majors yet. A 5.07 ERA and 1.6 K/BB ratio (with a below-average strikeout rate) don't scream "major league ready", but not being ready out of camp doesn't mean he'll never pitch in Boston in 2012. With some more success at Triple-A, the #14 prospect (via Sox Prospects) in the system should be able to improve on that projection.
Will Middlebrooks: Kevin Youkilis has averaged just 119 games a year over the last three seasons, thanks to a variety of injuries. He's also never played 150 games in a year, and averaged just 146 per year even when he was generally healthy. Durability just hasn't been a strength for him, and heading into his age-33 campaign, once again as a third baseman, no one is counting on him to be in Boston all year, either.
Enter Will Middlebrooks, considered by many to be Boston's top prospect. At the least, he's one of the closest to making the majors, as he finished the 2011 campaign at Triple-A. He didn't do well there, though, hitting just .161/.200/.268 in 60 plate appearances. That short stint was a promotion earned by having his finest minor league season at Double-A Portland, though: Middlebrooks hit .302/.345/.520 with career-highs in homers, Isolated Power, and a career-best in strikeout rate.
He hasn't figured out how to walk -- and properly never will -- but his plate coverage is his weapon to counter that. PECOTA doesn't think he's ready for the majors right away, forecasting a .238/.280/.383 line for the third baseman that is the equivalent of replacement level, but that's also not very far off from where Boston would need him to be to tolerate his bat in the lineup as he continues to learn how to hit advanced pitching. Another 20-30 points of batting average would turn that line into something completely different, and, given the accolades his glove has received, would be enough out of a 23-year-old rookie forced into action by injury to Youkilis.
Mike Aviles vs. Marco Scutaro: PECOTA seems to think that Boston made the right move here by sticking with the 31-year-old Aviles over the oft-injured and and 36-year-old Scutaro. The system projects Aviles to hit .279/.310/.422 for a .254 True Average, with Scutaro at .281/.347/.391 and a .255 TAv. That's the same value, even if one comes through power and one through patience, but given relieving themselves of Scutaro allows them flexibility and production elsewhere -- starting with Cody Ross, and ending with [insert eventual trade target/signing here], Boston's decision makes sense.
If you're curious about overall value, it's basically a wash, with Scutaro coming in at 1.9 WARP and Aviles at 1.6, despite Scutaro's projection for about 200 more plate appearances due to having the second base job to himself in Colorado. Combining Aviles with Nick Punto closes the projection gap, but playing Aviles full-time would also do the trick in PECOTA's mind.
Daniel Bard: In December, the arguments for and against Bard as a starter were presented, with the conclusion that it was absolutely worth trying this experiment. Nate Silver's research on converting relievers to starters and vice versa was leaned on, and, in Bard's case, resulted in the expectations for something around a 3.60 ERA as a starter, compared to his 2.88 career ERA out of the bullpen.
PECOTA has Bard listed as a starter and reliever, since Boston hasn't quite guaranteed Bard the job yet (his projection will change when Bard officially gets one job or the other, as PECOTA has depth chart-augmented forecasts as well). The expectation: 133 innings, split between 19 starts and 23 relief appearances, a 3.49 ERA, 9.4 strikeouts per nine, 4.1 walks per nine, and third on the pitching staff in wins above replacement. More starts and fewer relief spots would mean a more acceptable innings total.
This is encouraging, but I'm still interested in seeing what Bard's projection would look like if PECOTA assumed he had a starting job only -- are those relief appearances helping to save his season, or is he just going to be successful regardless of role?