There are a whole lot of people who are not impressed by the Red Sox' off-season. PECOTA, however, is not a person, and is as impressed as an objective construct can be. Baseball Prospectus' projection system was released on Monday, bringing with it projected statistics, playing time, and records for all 30 clubs. The Red Sox got the nod for second place in the difficult American League East, with a record good enough for playoff baseball.
Well, sort of. The Red Sox, at 86-76, tied for second with the Tampa Bay Rays, with both clubs beating out the Toronto Blue Jays by one game. The Rangers, at 87-75, are projected for the first of two wild cards, leaving the Sox and Rays in a projected game 163 to determine who gets the second spot. There are a few things that merit mentioning, with that out of the way.
These projections are based on the estimated playing time of Jason Martinez and his MLB Depth Charts staff. So, for instance, they have Jonny Gomes playing a lot more left field than he likely will, or, likely even more than they'll have him listed for by the time the final projections for Opening Day are released. They also project Will Middlebrooks to be much worse than he was in 2012, though, that's not unexpected, since something like PECOTA works on comps and stats, and Middlebrooks is a category of player that projection systems aren't going to handle well -- especially not with just half-a-season of big-league data to work with.
There are a few more items like that, ones that merit a deeper look, and we'll give that to you on both the hitting and pitching side this week. For now, though, just know that, if a few of the more negative PECOTA projections on the Sox prove their pessimism wasn't necessary, then the Red Sox can do much better than just 86 wins. One other thing to remember, though, is that wins league-wide tend to be down in projections.
The AL leader in wins has 92 in these projections. The MLB leader is at 93. Last year, those respective totals came to 95 and 98, respectively, with five teams finishing with over 90 wins in the AL alone, compared to PECOTA's projection of three. The projections presented are essentially the middle ground of probabilities, the most-likely scenario, but not, by any means, the only one. The Red Sox could easily finish under .500 with their collection of talent if a few notable concerns become notable realities, but they could just as easily win over 90 if a few very believable situations play out in their favor. They aren't the only club in that situation, but it beats being a team with a very small range of opportunities, all of which are depressing. (Sorry, Houston.)
So, the Red Sox are by no means guaranteed a playoff spot, second place in the AL East, or the eight-best record in the majors, but it's good to see that PECOTA's mid-range possibility for them includes all of that. They could be better, they could be worse, but it should be an entertaining team to watch, at least, nothing close to the one that was on the field for the last month of 2012.