It is that time of year where I discuss how Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA system has a blind spot
to the Chicago White Sox. I realize that Nate Silver has had a great year, you know with the Devil Rays prediction and oh yeah, being right about the election more than any other polling data was. I will mention the following things that I always do during my yearly piece on this subject. I love BP and get their annuals every year. A big part of what I like about the annuals is seeing the PECOTA info. It’s not my goal to be the ombudsman for PECOTA, but since I don’t get much explanation for why it has whiffed so badly 5 of the past 6 seasons on the White Sox, here I am again to bust their balls.
Let me begin by mentioning that despite PECOTA having a bad season in 2008, it should feel proud in touting the Devil Rays amazing turn-around. I didn’t believe that they would even have a winning record, so they were definitely proven out and more. My problem is how they still tout how PECOTA in 2007 picked the White Sox to win 72 games and low behold, the Sox won that many games. That was complete fucking luck, as PECOTA was offf on most of the individual stats for why the team stunk. More than anything it came down to the bullpen being horrible. And if you are going to tout how you picked that year right, shouldn’t you mention that PECOTA has been off by 41 games overall, during the past 5 seasons. (They have been off by 45 on the Angels, but I don’t follow them as close, so have an Angel fan discuss that one.)
So why does PECOTA (and to be fair, other projections systems) generally whiff on the White Sox. Here are my hypothesis.
- The White Sox don’t value OBP as highly as most, as slugging is often their bigger target. Considering the park they play in, this works pretty well.
- The White Sox have starting pitchers who generally aren’t strikeout pitchers. The bigger focus is keeping the ball on the ground and not giving up walks. (See Mark Buehrle who is far exceeds his PECOTA projection almost every year.) It’s all about not giving up 3-run homers.
- The White Sox have as good of a record of keeping players healthy as anyone in MLB. So despite having a lot of older players who seem like major injury risks, the training staff keeps them on the field.
- Outside of 2007, the White Sox have a solid bullpen, which Ozzie Guillen does a masterful job of using. He’s helped by having starting pitchers who don’t run high pitch counts, (one advantage of not being K-oriented) and they go longer into the game.
I’m just a fucking dude who sits on his couch punching thoughts into my blog, so I can’t give you the statistical reasons why these things blow up PECOTA. Hey, Nate Silver gets to hang out with Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann, while I tell dick jokes for people in Huntsville, Alabama. Who’s the winner. I just feel like I have a better handle on the AL Central, as PECOTA was as mentioned 41 games off on the White Sox the past 5 seasons and was 28 off on the Twins during this same time period. Take the Angels, White Sox, and Twins together and it makes you wonder if OBP is as important as sabermetrics proclaims. I would argue that park factors are not factored in enough, as these teams have demonstrated. Now let be specific on where I think PECOTA fails again for the 2009 White Sox.
- Mark Buehrle. I know Silver is busy, but if he can’t go over why he whiffs on the White Sox so often, it would be interesting for him to try to explain why PECOTA is so fucking off on Buehrle. This year PECOTA has him with an ERA of 4.58, despite that he has had an ERA of less than 3.89 six of the past eight years. What Mark does that doesn’t get calculated is the way he kills the opposition’s running game and that he gives a quality start almost every time he hits the Durex. I don’t know how you calculate this into a projection system, but I’m guessing no player has outperformed these systems more in his career than Buehrle.
- Gavin Floyd. While I don’t think that Floyd will match his 3.84 ERA in 2009, I think the more than one run jump that PECOTA forecasts (4.90) is way too high. Floyd is one of those guys who you have to watch to appreciate. I’m not usually a scout over stats guy, but sometimes a player has the kind of specific talents that can overcome his periphials. He is the anti-Beuhrle in holding runners, but his breaking stuff is nasty enough to get bad swings on the ball, which keeps him away from big innings.
- Bobby Jenks. Jenks has been one of the top relief pitchers in the game, since the Sox brought him up in 2005. Not being the strikeout pitcher he used to be has made PECOTA go south on him, but I have a hard time not believing he won’t have an ERA in the 2.63 to 2.77 of the past 2 seasons, instead of the one BP has him at, 3.61.
- The whole rest of the bullpen PECOTA sees around a run or more jump on, which I think is too high. The biggest question I have is the health of Dotel and Linebrink, but with a resurgent Mike MacDougal and the best arm in the pen, Matt Thornton providing high quality depth, I think it will be nearly as good as 2008.
- A lot of negative discussion on the White Sox has been offered up about the weakness they have at second, third, and centerfield. They are the 3 biggest question marks on their roster, but let’s look back at what they got from them in 2008. In center, Nick Swisher was a major bust at the plate, while a big liability in the field. It’s hard to see how an Anderson/Wise platoon is going to be much worse overall than in 2008. 3rd base featured half the year with Joe Crede hitting decently, but having a below-average year for him with the glove and then moving to Juan (.296 OBP) Uribe. With Ramirez shifting to short, Chris Getz gets the job at second and while he’s not the Cuban Missile with the bat, I think it’s fair to believe he could match Orlando Cabrera’s offensive output.
- The age of Thome, Dye, Pierzynski, and Konerko is the one place that I do think PECOTA has some merit in downgrading the potential performance in 2009 and the 30-40 points they knock down their individual OBP is probably about right.
Put together these factors, though, and I believe the White Sox will be in the hunt for the AL Central. The
division I’m guessing will require about 87 wins to capture. I was leaning towards the Twins, but the injury issues they are facing with Mauer make me downgrade them. I like the Indians, but have serious questions about how Kerry Wood will hold up, plus I think the starting pitching staff will have a bigger drop than the White Sox will in 2009. I generally pick the White Sox second or third, but I’m picking them to repeat, as I think Kenny Williams will bring in the missing piece at trade time that will push them over the top. This is obviously not something a PECOTA can factor in, so I realize the advantage I have here. The White Sox are the only team in the division that has the financial flexibility to make a deal like this. Oh and let me offer that I believe Bartolo Colon was the biggest pitching steal from the off-season.
White Sox 87
(NOTE: I plan on being at Baseball Prospectus night in June to hang with the accused. Hopefully no William Ligue-type incidents will occur between myself and the BP staff.)
I know Vampire Weekend were over-hyped, but the music reminds me of my college days in the 80’s. This shit is more infectious than a night with the Sham-wow dude.