Truck Day has come and gone, and pitchers and catchers will officially be reporting to camp before we know it. Baseball isn’t quite here yet, but it’s right around the corner. Another good sign: Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections are being rolled out. Projections can be overused and over-praised by some, but they are an undeniably useful tool when trying to figure out what will happen in the coming year. They’re certain to be far from perfect, but they’re also more reliable than simple intuition. Everyone has their favorite projection systems, but I’ll always be partial to PECOTA. Today, I’ll be looking at the most interesting mean, 50th percentile projections for Red Sox players.
Andrew Benintendi will be the second best position player on the Red Sox
Nobody will be surprised to learn that Mookie Betts is projected to be Boston’s best position player in 2017. Without even looking, I’m confident in assuming that every projection system will agree on this. Seeing Andrew Benintendi as the second best by WARP, on the other hand, was a bit of a shock. The way I look at things, the Red Sox are loaded with talented players that have longer track records than Benintendi, even without David Ortiz. If you were to have asked me, I would’ve guessed Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley before getting to Benintendi. The rookie is projected to hit .273/.338/.464 with 18 home runs, but his defense is what’s expected to really put him over the top. PECOTA foresees him as the eighth most valuable defensive player in baseball, the third most valuable non-catcher and the second most valuable defensive outfielder. This is where projections (and WAR in general, to be honest) kind of lose me. Defensive metrics are inconsistent enough that projected metrics are to be taken with huge grains of salt. That being said, I have no doubt Benintendi will be a great defensive left fielder (if not quite that good) and the offensive projection is more than acceptable.
PECOTA foresees a solid year from Pablo Sandoval
The most use I get out of projections are for players I can’t wrap my head around. Pablo Sandoval is perhaps the most obvious of those players. My heart continues to talk itself into believing he can bounce back for the simple reason that Hanley did it. My gut and head continue to tell me that he’s just toast, and that for every Hanley there’s a Crawford. PECOTA sees a solid year that I think we’d all be happy with. In 580 plate appearances he’s projected to hit .274/.330/.426, a line that works out to being slightly above average after adjusting for park. His WARP is way down to 0.5 for some reason -- his defense is projected to be below average, but only by a few runs — but if he plays all year with that kind of offensive performance all of Boston would be ecstatic. Even if it’s not quite the Hanley bounce-back model. For what it’s worth, Sandoval has a wide range of outcomes in PECOTA. According to the system, his 10th-percentile projection is -1.2 WARP, and his 90th-percentile is 2.5 WARP.
Chris Sale is the best pitcher in the American League
This isn’t super surprising, and yet is incredibly exciting to see. It’s particularly exciting for those of us who are still a little sad about seeing Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech in other organizations. The Red Sox may have lost some potentially elite players, but they are getting a real one back in return. Chris Sale is projected for a 3.18 ERA with 10.6 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 and 1.1 HR/9. What’s particularly encouraging about this projection is that he keeps the lofty expectations even with the baked in assumption that he’ll give up a few more home runs than is typical for such an ace. Only Clayton Kershaw is ahead of him on the projected leaderboard, with Corey Kluber and David Price (hey, I know him) trailing him in the AL. For context, Baseball Prospectus WARP is based on DRA.
Craig Kimbrel will fix his control problem....sort of.
We all know Craig Kimbrel’s propensity for allowing free passes in 2016 was his biggest issue, and it’s the number one aspect of his game he needs to fix heading into 2016. He’s still one of the game’s better relievers, but if he continues to walk batters like he did last year he’ll quickly fall out of that group. Unsurprisingly, PECOTA sees him getting back towards his normal walk rates in 2017. The bad news is it doesn’t see him getting all the way back. Kimbrel is projected to walk 4.1 batters per nine innings. On the one hand, that is a full walk lower than 2016’s rate. On the other hand, it would be higher than any full-season rate he had prior to 2016. All things told, it’s a positive projection. PECOTA sees him getting back to a sub-3.00 ERA after posting a career-high 3.01 ERA in 2016.
Carson Smith will not miss a beat
Like Sandoval, it’s hard to know exactly what to expect from Carson Smith this year. Pitchers successfully return from Tommy John often enough to be reasonably confident he’ll be the same guy he was in Seattle, but it’s still major elbow surgery. The bad news is they only see him pitching about a third of a season, racking up 22 innings over 21 appearances. Ideally, the Red Sox will get more from him, but this seems like a reasonable mid-range projection. The good news is he’s projected to pitch very well in that time. PECOTA foresees 10.2 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and 0.8 HR/9 with a 3.18 ERA. Applying this to the real world team, this would give the Red Sox plenty of time to be confident in Smith being a postseason weapon, assuming they can make it that far.
Overall, PECOTA paints the Red Sox in a promising light and the team should be happy if everyone meets their expectations. Obviously, things don’t work that neatly and many players will outperform and underperform their projections by wide margins. Tomorrow, we’ll look at some of the more interesting player comps from PECOTA, which is another one of my favorite parts of projection season. In the meantime, how do the projections look? Any major head scratchers?