Happy PECOTA day, everyone! Baseball Prospectus' projection system is out in the wild for 2016, which means we have projected standings to dissect. The Red Sox are currently slated to finish second in the AL East, but with a record that would net them the first of two AL wild card spots. It's no division title, PECOTA, but this is a good start.
PECOTA forecasts the Red Sox for the second-most runs in the division, as well as the second-fewest allowed. The major difference between them and the Rays -- the team PECOTA sees winning the division at 91-71 to Boston's 88-74 -- is defense. The Rays are getting credit for almost 60 runs above average defensively, whereas the Red Sox are getting four.
The Rays as the best defensive team in the league is not a stretch by any means. But the Red Sox only getting four runs above average when they have Dustin Pedroia, the revamped defensive of Xander Bogaerts, and an outfield of Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, and Jackie Bradley Jr. seems unlikely. Sure, two of those three might not hit, but you know they're going to field, and Hanley Ramirez won't be anywhere near left this season, either.
The only other AL team projected to a better record than the Sox is the Indians, who lead the league's forecasts with 92 victories. PECOTA has the Sox ahead of the AL West-winning Astros (87 wins), and just ahead of wild card number two, the 86-win Blue Jays. The Yankees are also almost a playoff team with 85 wins -- it's only the Orioles (72-90) that PECOTA sees as a weak club from the otherwise talented East.
Seeing how PECOTA got the Sox to the playoffs is what's most intriguing, of course. Rebound seasons from Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, for one. A tolerable offensive campaign from Jackie Bradley Jr. -- how happy would you be if Bradley put up a line featuring a league-average on-base percentage? -- and continued excellence from Mookie Betts and David Ortiz.
The pitching also gets far more love than last year, when PECOTA hated each and every Red Sox starter. It sees a bit of a sophomore slide from Eduardo Rodriguez, but that's probably his pre-Red Sox numbers still getting a little too much influence in projections. Rick Porcello is expected to rebound, Buchholz is getting too much credit for innings and not enough credit for the quality of them... overall, it's a solid rotation, though.
The bullpen could stand to get a little more love from PECOTA, but projecting relievers is difficult even for a program designed to do just that. It's predicting rather human seasons -- well, for them, anyway -- from all three of Craig Kimbrel, Koji Uehara, and Carson Smith. It would be shocking if that were to occur for all three, but again: who knows with relievers.
There are quibbles to be made with some of these projections for sure, but even with that the picture they have painted is promising. The Sox could very well be a better team than the one presented here, but they could also very realistically be worse if some of these rebounds or growth spurts don't occur. Given that, this is a pretty fair assessment as far as February goes.
We'll have some more in-depth looks at PECOTA projections later this week. For now, how do you feel about a projected wild card berth?