Baseball Prospectus' projection system, PECOTA, has been released, and along with its predictions for where teams will finish in 2013, we also get to see individual stats. Some of these are as you expect -- spoiler, PECOTA thinks Dustin Pedroia is good at baseball! -- but there are others that surprise, disappoint, or do a little of both. That's typical of projection systems, though: for one reason or another, there are players with which they do not, and cannot, have all the possible information possible.
Granted, in PECOTA's defense, they at least have the percentile projections, so the ceilings, floors, and everything in between are available for you to cite. But, at this early stage, all we have to work with is the most-likely projection, the middle-ground weighted mean, and considering that's what PECOTA feels has the best chance to occur, they're ripe for criticism or praise, where warranted.
On Tuesday, we looked in more detail at five hitter projections from Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA forecasting system. This time around, we'll shift over to pitchers.
John Lackey: Well, you had to know this one was going to be messy. After missing 2012 with Tommy John surgery, putting up a solid (but disappointing) 2010, and the horribleness of 2011 sandwiched between those two data points, you get Lackey's 2013 projection of a 4.78 ERA in 148 innings. There are plenty of reasons to believe he'll be better than that, though. First of all, his surgery was so long ago that it wouldn't be weird if he threw 30 starts rather than the 26 projected here, giving him somewhere between another 20-30 innings depending on how well he's throwing. It's also been long enough that it's likely his command will be in a better place than his low strikeout and high walk rates in the projections suggest.
Then, of course, there's the simple fact that his 2011 can't just be scrubbed from the record, even if it's the result of pitching while Lackey's elbow was in shreds. All things considered, a projected 4.78 ERA isn't all that bad, and if you account for that his 2011 is unfairly making things worse in this regard, it gives you more reason to believe Lackey can actually contribute to the 2013 Red Sox.
If you missed it, or want a reminder, earlier this off-season we covered how other pitchers around Lackey's age have pitched after recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Jon Lester: PECOTA thinks Lester can once again lead the staff, with a 3.63 ERA and 195 innings, as well as seeing a return to his more strikeout-oriented ways at 8.5 per nine. There's little reason to believe this isn't possible. Lester struggled with his mechanics for two-thirds of 2012 before things came to a head in a start against Toronto in which he gave up nine runs. The Red Sox and Lester dealt with the mechanical issue then by changing his throwing routine in order to emphasize command, but these things don't heal themselves overnight: the fact Lester's last third of the 2012 season, in which he posted a 3.92 ERA and commanded well within the zone for the first time all year, even exists is in his favor for 2013, as it's a head start on rectifying a significant issue.
Prior to 2012, Lester was one of just half-a-dozen pitchers in the league who had been as durable and productive as he had been since 2008, his first full season in the majors -- Lester averaged 200 innings per season, all with an ERA+ of 135, from 2008 through 2011, joining the likes of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum, CC Sabathia, and Felix Hernandez. PECOTA doesn't see him getting right back to that level of ace-dom, at least not with its mid-level projection, but it does see a return to being a #1 starter type. That would be huge for the Red Sox, even if it's all they get out of him.
Ryan Dempster: The free agent right-hander is the one new addition to Boston's rotation, but PECOTA sees him doing essentially what he was signed to do. While a 4.26 ERA doesn't look pretty sans context, you have to consider that we're talking about pitching in the tough AL East, in a difficult park for pitchers: 4.26 is not bad at all for a mid-rotation Red Sox starter. In fact, by wins above replacement, PECOTA sees him as average, logging two wins. That's just with 180 innings, too, and there's good reason to believe that Dempster can best that by a considerable amount -- he's averaged just under 200 since returning to a starting role in 2008, and has one injury to speak of during that entire stretch.
If Dempster makes 30-32 starts, approaches 200 innings, and "only" has a league-average ERA through the lens of non-adjusted numbers, then he's earned his paycheck, and the middle of Boston's rotation is likely in a good place.
Steven Wright: It's hard to take the projection of a knuckleballer with no major-league experience too seriously, but, for the sake of seeing it, Wright is forecasted for 10 starts with a 5.59 ERA, with just 35 strikeouts against 23 walks, and eight homers allowed in 53 innings. This could certainly happen, but as we all know with brand new knuckleballers, attempting to predict what's going to happen with them is a good way to end up looking foolish.
Quality Starts: This isn't a pitcher, obviously, but it's worth pointing out: PECOTA predicts 75 quality starts for the Red Sox, whereas in 2012, when they won just 69 games, they had 72. Obviously, this isn't impacting what PECOTA thinks their record is going to be all that much, since they are projected to finish in second in the AL East with 86 wins, but it's a bit odd to see such little increase between the two compared to the jump in wins. Then again, with PECOTA bearish on Felix Doubront, assuming Clay Buchholz will be worse than he is likely to be, and giving both Wright and Franklin Morales little credit in the spot-starter gig, maybe it's not that surprising.