Random Thoughts

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Emptying the Inbox

A couple of recently publicized announcements from the stats world are worth noting.

After a couple of fits and starts, Baseball Prospectus has issued its PECOTA projections for the 2010 season, and to no surprise of any White Sox fan, our team does not fair very well.

According to the annual estimates, the Sox will finish 80-82 with about a 27 percent chance to make the playoffs, said Clay Davenport of BP, citing the computer’s concern with age.

But as Sox fans realize, PECOTA has never been kind to a Kenny Williams constructed team, and amazingly, in five of the last six seasons it has underestimated our final performance (the other year hit it on the head).

Here is PECOTA’s past performance regarding the White Sox (as best we can find):

2004 — est 79 wins, actual 83 wins (outperformed by 4 wins)

2005 — estimated 80 wins, actual 99 wins and a World Series (outperformed by 19)

2006 — estimated 80 wins (where was the love?), actual 90 (outperformed by 8)

2007 — estimated 73, won 73 (nailed it)

2008 — estimated 77, won 89 (we outperformed by 12)

2009 — estimated 72, won 79 (outperformed by 6)

So since 2004, the White Sox have outperformed PECOTA projections by 49 games!

Maybe some reader would want to see if that is the biggest over performance in MLB.

So, why do we think PECOTA annually swings and misses on the White Sox?

Last summer, the BP folks were at the ballpark for a seminar and were impressively frank and open about the system, its “flaws” and why the Sox and udnerwhelming in the preseason computer’s analysis.

Two topics seemed to reoccur:  1. health (and the ability of Herm Schneider and his staff to take players with injury histories and have them on the field more than any computer can project); and 2. part of Ken Williams’ modus operandi is to find players (like Carlos Quentin), who we believe have the talent, but for whatever reasons — injury, lack of opportunity/playing time, depth of another team’s roster — just haven’t been given the opportunity to play.  Those players, and I understand this, are inherently difficult to evaluate/project going into a season.

There are a lot of folks much smarter than me and much more versed in this that I am, so I’d love to read thoughts/comments related to these annual rankings of the White Sox.

Bill James

One of my heroes (to be a bit overdramatic).  James recently came out with his “Young Talent Inventory” judging the teams with the best young talent in the game.  The White Sox rank ninth overall (sixth in the AL), while John Danks and Carlos Quentin are among the best young players in baseball.  Last season, the White Sox ranked 25th on this scale, so 2010’s improvement was 16 places.


The year that PECOTA nailed it head-on (2007), they lucked into it. They projected our offense to be great, following 2006’s outburst, but our pitching to be awful. In fact, the opposite was the case. So they were just as off-the-mark in 2007 (in fact, moreso because they were wrong on both sides of the ball) but lucked into an exact prediction. PECOTA just does not analyze the Sox well at all, and I have been on record saying that Herm Schneider is one of the main reasons why. I hope he’s with us for a looooong time.

“2006 — estimated 80 wins (where was the love?), actual 90 (outperformed by 8)

2009 — estimated 72, won 79 (outperformed by 6)”

May just be me and my fuzzy math, but last I knew 90 – 80 = 10 (not 8) and 79 – 72 = 7 (not 6)… so… yeah.

Yes, as Scott noted, players with injury history are not rated very highly by PECOTA, and the Sox have a history of doing well with them. Another reason that PECOTA misses so much on the Sox is that it has low regard for a high-contact, low-strikeout pitcher like Mark Buehrle. In one sense, it’s justified, because a guy who throws 95 is much more likely to succeed in MLB than a guy who throws 85, but Mark has clearly proven himself as an exception to the rule, while PECOOTA will continue to project him similarly to other pitchers with low strikeout totals.

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