Insights from the Baseball Prospectus Team of Experts
PECOTA's Bold Predictions (January 2013)
One of the most fascinating moments in assembling the Baseball Prospectus annual comes when we line up the first drafts of the comments with the first set of PECOTA projections. For most players, the projections simply provide some specifics that back up what scouting reports and recent history already suggest. Then there are the player projections that challenge the expert wisdom, or come down strongly on one side or the other for a player that everyone says is too hard to predict. Here are some of the players for whom this year's annual is predicting a surprising and sizable rise or fall from last year's WARP. Every player in the book comes with a few clarifying sentences blending insights from scouting reports with a deeper look at the numbers your fantasy league isn't toting up. However, if you're willing to take a few big bets that a computer knows a lot more about baseball than you, then here are the players to watch the most closely on draft day:
Potential steals: Albert Pujols, Brian McCann, Tim Lincecum, Jon Lester, and Josh Beckett
It's hard to imagine Albert Pujols (projection: .299, 34 HR, 104 RBI) being a "steal," but he got off to a rough start for the Angels, at least by his standards, posting the same WARP as Nick Swisher did for the Yankees. His 2012 career-low TAv marked a fourth consecutive year of decline. PECOTA, however, looks at the 33 year old first baseman and boldly predicts he's a lock to return to form, calling on him to lead the AL in WARP in 2013. For the first time in a long time, Brian McCann (projection: .265/.343/.461) did not look special, posting career lows across the board and riding pine while David Ross caught the first pitch in Wild Card Playoff Game history. He says he'll be ready for opening day, but PECOTA pegs him to see the fewest plate appearances of his career. Still, when he is playing, expect a return to his career (read: All-Star) production rates. Where all your friends see an ERA of 5.18, struggles with command and control, and more than 2 mph lost off his four-seam, PECOTA looks at Tim Lincecum (projection: 187 K, 1.15 WHIP, 2.95 ERA) and sees a guy who could still lead the league in strikeouts and should lop off thirty or so freebies on the way back to a sub-3.00 ERA. Jon Lester (projection: 3.51 ERA) was basically the same pitcher in 2012 as 2011 for the Red Sox, posting a similar WARP even though his strikeout rate dropped for the fourth year in a row and his homer rate rose. However, he was a disaster for fantasy owners. PECOTA sees a return to 2011 level fantasy stats with a 42% chance of improving on even that. Ditto for Josh Beckett (projection: 1.08 WHIP, 3.05 ERA), except all season he'll get to face pitchers a couple of times a game as well.
Don't pull the trigger too soon on: Mike Trout, Melky Cabrera, Austin Jackson, R.A. Dickey, or Wade Miley
Everyone loves phenom Mike Trout (projection: .289, 18 HR, 35 SB), and he's worth having on any team: fantasy, real, probably even the debate team. Still, two of his top comps, Jason Heyward and Justin Upton, serve as good reminders that kid power is unpredictable, and you could be using your first round pick on a guy with similar counting stats to Shane Victorino. Imagine if Melky Cabrera (projection: .282, 13 HR, 11 SB) hadn't been suspended last year, and hit for an average sixty points lower, but was otherwise the same. That's who he's been for most of his career. How much of his improvement can be attributed to using a banned substance? The Blue Jays' two-year, $16 million bet: not too much. PECOTA doesn't care where the regression comes from, just that it comes. Is Austin Jackson (projection: .272/.338/.411) a .300 hitter? Short answer: no. PECOTA's longer answer: hell no. R.A. Dickey (projection: 144 K, 3.57 ERA) is also headed to Toronto, to front their rotation, but our projection has the reigning Cy Young winner posting only the 42nd highest WARP for pitchers in 2013. Wade Miley (projection: 8-8, 94 K, 4.51 ERA) was fun while he lasted. He impressed in his Arizona debut, and only lost his shot at some ROY hardware because he had the bad luck to bow in the same season Bryce Harper. His 4.6-percent rate of fly balls clearing the fence trailed only Gio Gonzalez among NL frontmen, which is either a tremendous achievement, or only good luck about to run out. PECOTA thinks that missed ROY is his last shot any kind of seasonal award, as it's league-average inning-eating from here on out.
At least, this is what PECOTA's predicting. What do our experts say, having sorted the mechanics, scouted the tools, compiled the caveats, explored the extenuating circumstances, and crunched their own numbers? You'll have to check out Baseball Prospectus 2013 to see.