If you’re into sabermetrics, you know PECOTA. It’s Baseball Prospectus’ proprietary projection system, developed by the now-famous Nate Silver. It stands for, “Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm.” Other than the catchy name, it has nothing to do with Bill Pecota, briefly an Atlanta Brave of no consequence.
Every winter, Baseball Prospectus unveils its PECOTA numbers for the season ahead. For the saber set, this is the equivalent of Shark Week. Subscribers — I’m one and have been for years — can download the Excel spreadsheet and spend hours poring over it. (Fun takeaway from the newest edition: The Braves’ Julio Teheran is projected as the 67th-best starting pitcher in the majors for 2016; projected as the 68th-best is Shelby Miller, recently and briefly a Brave of some consequence.)
What everybody checks first are PECOTA’s team projections. It will come as no shock that the Braves aren’t tabbed to win the National League East. PECOTA has them going 68-94, which would be a one-game improvement over last season but would represent the second-worst record in baseball. (Not for the first time, we say: Thank goodness for the Phillies!)
The big reveal for PECOTA 2016 was, however, the same as in 2015. A year ago, PECOTA projected the Kansas City Royals — who reached the seventh game of the 2014 World Series — to go 72-90. They went 95-67 and, ahem, won the World Series. This time around, PECOTA has the Royals going 76-86 and finishing last in the American League Central.
This prompted BP editor-in-chief Sam Miller to author a post entitled, “PECOTA Hates the Royals, Part II,” in which he attempts to explain, bandying numbers and methodology and suchlike, what’s kind of inexplicable. BP author and Atlantan Russell Carleton wrote a little something entitled, “Do Bad PECOTA Projections Make Teams Mad?“
To me, this is the fun part of sabermetrics. Numbers often make sense, and sometimes they make no sense . But you can’t really cry bias. (Algorithms tend not to respond to plaints.) And if you check FanGraphs, the other leading baseball site, you’ll note that the Royals are projected to go 79-83, which is better only by a bit.
Regarding the Braves, BP and FanGraphs agree — 68-94. I’m slightly more optimistic. On BP’s Effectively Wild podcast, hosted by Ben Lindbergh of FiveThirtyEight and the aforementioned Mr. Miller, I picked the Braves to go 71-91. (I wouldn’t advise anyone to listen to me ramble for a half-hour; the forecast can be heard around the 29:50 mark.) My thinking, such as it is: The Braves will be terrible early but better once the first wave of prospects hits.
(Boilerplate disclosure: I contributed to the Braves’ chapter of the Baseball Prospectus 2016 almanac, which BP is billing as “the #1 selling sports book on Amazon.”)
Oh, and one thing more: Jayson Stark of ESPN has presented his “Best and Worst of the Offseason,” in which front-office types are polled. The Braves’ Miller-for-Swanson/Inciarte/Blair lollapalooza won “Best Trade” handily.
Further Braves reading: