There were a few ripples in the digital pond yesterday when USA Today dropped MLB predictions that showed the Cubs with 101 wins, four more than the Cards and 11 more than the Giants, Astros or White Sox. Yes, they had the Sox winning the AL Central handily (6 games ahead of the Royals). The AL in general was projected to be really competitive, with 11 of the 15 teams expected to finish over .500. The NL, however…woof. Well, here, check for yourself.
The important thing to note here is that USA Today is trying to sell clicks or papers or whatever, so there’s an incentive to be a little bold in terms of their predictions. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I’m just trying to point out why we’re going to see such variance in the outcomes projected by various sources. From that USAT piece:
With that, USA TODAY Sports presents its 2016 projected win totals for every team, an exercise intended to provide a road map to the season ahead, with equal doses of probability, pragmatism and passion.
Unlike Las Vegas, our win totals are based on exactly how many games we think each team will win – with no need to make adjustments for the betting public’s anticipated reaction. And unlike the many excellent projection models out there, we are not beholden to formulas capable of producing strikingly accurate statistical projections, but lack an occasionally necessary human element.
We’ll take the liberty of adding a dash of what we’ll call Projected Unforeseen Events, those little miracles or disasters that provide the subtext of every season. Come October, we’ll see how it turned out.
So that’s fun, but today is PECOTA Day, when Baseball Prospectus drops their plethora of predictions, some of which are restrained by a more conservative tether than those above. Then again, while PECOTA only has the Cubs projected (must be subscriber to view) to rack up 92 wins, they’re shown cruising to the Central title with a 10-game cushion. Interestingly enough, that’s exactly how the race plays out in FanGraphs’ projections, though the latter’s win total for the Cubs sits at 94 games.
Because the PECOTA information is currently available to Baseball Prospectus subscribers only, it wouldn’t be fair for me to divulge everything contained therein. I do, however, want to share the predicted NL Central outcomes, along with a couple other interesting tidbits.
As I mentioned, the Cubs (92-70) are picked to finish atop the division, followed by St. Louis (82-80), Pittsburgh (79-83), Milwaukee (77-85), and Cincinnati (74-88). My first thoughts are that this looks way too low for the Pirates and way too high for the Reds. Heck, seeing the Cards only two games over .500 is a bit of a shocker. At the same time, these aren’t two far off from what FG is showing.
FanGraphs has the Cubs, Dodgers (92 wins), and Nationals (88) taking their divisions, with the Mets earning the first Wild Card and the Pirates and Cardinals (84 apiece) fighting it out for the second. PECOTA’s numbers have the Dodgers (94), Cubs, and Mets (91) getting crowns, while the Nats and Giants (87 apiece) battle it out for the right to move on. And you know what? I could see either scenario playing out with equal likelihood. Well, okay, maybe seeing the Cardinals and Pirates both miss out is a bit far-fetched. Playing against AAAA teams in Milwaukee and Cincy should help to pad their win totals.
Here are just a few more observations from the Cubs’ stats in the PECOTA projections:
- .268 tAV (offensive value), 1st (t) in MLB
- -4.5 FRAA (defensive value), 16th in MLB
- 744 runs scored, most in NL
- 644 runs allowed, 5th in NL
- .322 OBP, 1st in NL
That’s some good stuff, particularly the last few sets that illustrate how the Cubs will be able to rack up their wins. Get on base more, score more, give up fewer runs. Boom. There’s a great deal more information on a team- and player-specific level available to Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy subscribers, but you can access some of the writers’ favorite PECOTA predictions for free.
But for those of you who don’t want to bother combing through the chaff to find the wheat you seek, here’s what friend of the program Ryan Davis had to say about the outlook on Jon Lester and the rest of the rotation (emphasis mine):
9. Jon Lester
In December of 2015, the Cubs made their biggest splash in moving from a rebuilding team to becoming a serious contender. That came in the form of signing left-handed starting pitcher Jon Lester to a seven-year, $155 million contract. But something interesting happened as the Cubs rolled towards 97 wins and a trip to the NLCS—Lester performed in the shadow of an even-better pitcher. That would be Jake Arrieta, who went on to win the National League Cy Young award on the back of an historic season.
Lester had a good season, even if it paled in comparison to Arrieta, posting a 3.34 ERA, 3.89 DRA, and 2.8 WARP in 205 innings. But PECOTA has an interesting projection about the pair of pitchers going into 2016, with Arrieta posting a 4.4 WARP (third highest among starting pitchers) and Lester coming in right behind him at 4.3 WARP (fifth highest). That would give the Cubs the best one-two punch in all of baseball right now. Even more shocking? The Cubs entire projected five-man rotation sit in the top-40 in WARP at their position. With the offensive talent the Cubs have, PECOTA’s projection on the Cubs starting rotation—specifically Lester and Arrieta being top-five starters—justifies the talk about the Cubs possibly being the best team in all of baseball. —Ryan Davis
I like it a lot.