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Looking at some PECOTA projections for the Red Sox

They’re not as great as you may hope.

Boston Red Sox v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

There are two things we get this time of year as we begin ramping up for spring training and eventually real baseball that matters. The first is prospect lists, which we’ve discussed a bunch over the last six weeks or so. The other is projections, and one of the most famous and popular projection systems was released today. PECOTA, the Baseball Prospectus projection system first created by Nate Silver, had its 2019 projections unveiled on Thursday.

Before we get into the specifics, we should mention something that’s obvious yet is strawman’d to death this time of year. No one — literally no one — thinks projections are 100 percent accurate or really anything more than a piece of the puzzle that should be considered when considering a player’s value moving forward. Projection systems don’t know some helpful, tangible information we have. On the other hand, they don’t have some of our biases that can cloud our own feelings. Additionally with PECOTA specifically, it’s generally been notoriously conservative with its projections in the past. It seems to be that way this year to, at least at first glance, though BP developer Harry Pavlidis says the implementation of DRC+ (BP’s new hitting metric, on the same scale as wRC+ and OPS+) has made it a bit more aggressive.

PECOTA is my personal favorite projection system because they don’t just give one projection, but rather they give ranges out outcomes. Today, we’ll be looking at the 50 percent outcome for everyone, but I’ll go through some of the ranges over the weekend as well.

Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s just take a quick look at some of the more interesting projections. You can check out the projected standings here, and you can see all of the Red Sox projections here.

  • We’ll start with the overall team projection, which probably isn’t as flattering as you’d expect. The Red Sox are kind of in a tier of their own in the American League, though that tier isn’t at the top like 2018. For the upcoming season, PECOTA projects the Red Sox to drop by a whopping 18 wins from last year’s total all the way down to 90. They are projected to finish six games behind the Yankees in the division and face off against an 86-win Rays team in the American League Wildcard game. The Astros are projected win 99 games, while the Indians are at 96 wins with the Yankees. PECOTA has Boston fifth in both runs scored and runs allowed in the AL and second in defensive value. I’ll take the over on the overall win total.
  • Digging into the individual projections a bit, the one that stood out the most at first glance to me was Dustin Pedroia. Obviously, coming off a totally missed season in 2018 and significant missed time in 2017, there are major question marks about how he’ll play in 2019. PECOTA is optimistic. Projected over 329 plate appearances (playing time is estimated by BP staffers), PECOTA has Pedroia hitting .292/.366/.416 for a 112 DRC+. To put that into context, he had a 111 DRC+ back in 2007 when he won Rookie of the Year. I’m expecting more of a league-average performance from Pedroia, so PECOTA’s projection is a little exciting. Less exciting is that they project slightly below-average defense, which surprised me.
World Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Boston Red Sox - Game One Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
  • Moving behind the plate, a lot of people are wondering where they Red Sox are going to go with their catching situation. It seems all but certain only two of Christian Vázquez, Sandy León and Blake Swihart can stay, but who the pair is has yet to be determined. Offensively, most of us would probably agree the most upside is with a Vázquez/Swihart duo, but PECOTA would not be part of that majority. They project Swihart for a DRC+ of only 64, which would actually be the worst of his career. Meanwhile, they have Vázquez for a mark of 85 (a little higher than the midpoint between 2017 and 2018) and León shockingly at a mark of 80. That would be a monumental jump of 22 points. I’ll take the under for León, though I still think he should be kept along with Vázquez for defensive purposes. PECOTA agrees there, projecting both of them to be above-average at the plate and Swihart to be exactly average.
  • The top players are all still projected to be very good, unsurprisingly. Betts is projected to finish the year worth 7.5 WARP, behind only Mike Trout at 8.7. The next closest to Betts is Francisco Lindor at 5.6, showing PECOTA believes there is a clear 1-2 in baseball with Trout and Betts. It’s hard to disagree. Betts overall is projected to finish with a 141 DRC+. Meanwhile, J.D. Martinez is projected for a mark of 147 and Xander Bogaerts is projected for a 112 DRC+. It’s understandable for a projection system to not buy into Bogaerts’ power as much as us, but I’ll take the over on his projection.
  • Moving over to the pitching side of things, the Red Sox rotation is not projected to be as strong as many of us would probably expect it to be. Chris Sale is obviously amazing and PECOTA agrees. Boston’s ace is projected to finish with a 2.52 ERA with 219 strikeouts and 42 walks over 170 innings. His 5.0 WARP is tops in baseball, above Max Scherzer, Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom and Aaron Nola, all of whom are tied for second at 3.9. Sale is very good.
  • After Sale, however, things drop off pretty quickly. No one else in the rotation is projected to finish worth more than 2.1 wins. Porcello has that projected WARP, while David Price is projected for a 1.9-win season. Eduardo Rodriguez is actually projected to be the second-best pitcher in the rotation on a per-inning basis, and he’d be worth 2.7 wins by this projection over 180 innings. For what it’s worth, that would put him on the same level as Masahiro Tanaka, Jameson Taillon and Jack Flaherty. It’s understandable that PECOTA doesn’t totally buy Nathan Eovaldi given his emergence last year, and that it doesn’t know about the pitch-mix change made by Price in the second half. Still, this is a little upsetting if we’re being honest.
World Series - Boston Red Sox v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Three Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
  • The bullpen, meanwhile, is just as pessimistic but not nearly as surprising. If PECOTA was running the Red Sox, Craig Kimbrel and probably at least one more reliever would have been given a blank check this winter. PECOTA is with me on the Matt Barnes bandwagon at least, projecting him for a 2.49 ERA, 71 strikeouts and 25 walks over 55 innings. Among full-time relievers, PECOTA has his 1.3 WARP tied for fifth in all of baseball with Brad Hand. I finally found someone who can challenge my Matt Barnes optimism, and it’s a computer.
  • As for the rest of the bullpen, well, yikes. I think we all know the bullpen is very shallow, but seeing it all laid out in front of you is kind of depressing. Among relievers they project to throw at least 30 innings, only Heath Hembree is projected to finish with an ERA under 4.00. Unsurprisingly, the system is not super high on Ryan Brasier, who is the kind of older breakout that is often doubted by projection systems. He’s projected for a 4.21 ERA with 53 strikeouts and 21 walks in 55 innings. I think he’ll do better than what PECOTA sees, but it’s probably not a bad thing to have our expectations tempered a bit.
  • Where PECOTA sees some potential solace is with some of the sleepers that could start the year in the minors. For example, they are big fans of Colten Brewer, who they project for a 3.33 ERA with 26 strikeouts and 11 walks. On a total value basis (WARP), that would put him among the better relievers in the game in 55 innings. Durbin Feltman and Travis Lakins are also both projected for sub-4.00 ERA’s in partial seasons, though Lakins’ strikeout-to-walk numbers aren’t pretty. If you’re curious about Darwinzon Hernandez, he is listed with the spot starters. His numbers aren’t pretty across two projects spot starts, but I’m not sure that matters for our purposes since the assumption is he’ll come up to help the bullpen.