Earlier this week, Baseball Prospectus released its annual PECOTA projections, based on rosters as they currently stand.
Most of the site’s predicted records (which can be found in full here) were about what you would expect. The Astros and Dodgers were pegged as baseball’s best teams, while the Marlins and Royals were deemed the sport’s worst. Five of the six 2017 division winners were tabbed to repeat, with the rebuilt Yankees jumping the Red Sox in the AL East.
But there were some surprises, and that’s the subject of this roundtable. We asked our writers which team’s PECOTA projection seems most likely to be wrong at the end of the season. Here are their answers:
Andrew Bucholtz: I’m going with the Los Angeles Angels. Most of the PECOTA predictions look pretty safe; they have every division winner from last year repeating except for the Red Sox and have the Red Sox still in the postseason as the first AL wild card with an 87-75 mark.
But the second AL wild card prediction is more interesting; they have the Rays taking it with an 84-78 record but the Mariners (83-79), Twins (81-81) and Angels (80-82) close behind. I think the Angels are as good a bet as any for that second wild card slot, as they went 80-82 last year and got better this offseason with some big moves in an attempt to win in 2018.
As I wrote in last week’s roundtable, there are still some concerns, there’s still more they should look to improve, and I don’t think they’re too likely to dethrone the Astros atop the division. But the Angels improving by three or four wins or more and grabbing that second wild-card slot seems relatively possible to me, apparently more so than it does to PECOTA.
Ian Casselberry: I realize PECOTA projections could be more uncertain than they ever have, especially among presumed contenders, because so many free agents are still available. An impact signing could still be made that changes everything. With that in mind, the Boston Red Sox’s projection of 87 wins looks like it has the best chance of being wrong by the end of the season.
What if, as expected, Boston adds J.D. Martinez to its lineup? Suddenly, home-run power is not an issue for this team and the batting order has a legitimate impact bat in the middle — or even near the top, if Martinez bats third. Adding Martinez would also have a ripple effect. Does that compel Dave Dombrowski to trade Jackie Bradley Jr., maybe to help get another starting pitcher? Would the team consider eating Hanley Ramirez’s $22 million for this season? (Could he also be part of a trade package if the Red Sox subsidize a sizable portion of his remaining contract?)
Pitching help, along with Martinez, would put Boston on more even standing with the Yankees in the AL East — especially if the Yankees don’t add any pitching of their own.
Alex Putterman: PECOTA’s projections for the Tampa Bay Rays always seem generous, and this year is no exception. Last year’s Rays team won only 80 games (albeit with a much higher third-order win percentage), and since October the franchise has traded arguably its best player, Evan Longoria, without adding anyone of note.
PECOTA’s expectation that the Longo-less Rays win 84 games seems overly optimistic, even before considering that Tampa could trade Chris Archer before season’s end. If the Rays seemed motivated to contend for the playoffs, I could see them back into a mid-80s win total in a top-heavy American League. But given that they appear to be sellers more than buyers, I’m skeptical.
Matt Clapp: The Angels’ projection of 80 wins seems awfully low.
I know their rotation is full of question marks and there isn’t a single guy you can feel confident about throwing 160 innings. Shohei Ohtani may be on an innings limit as well. But there’s absolutely talent in that rotation, with Ohtani, Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, Matt Shoemaker, and Andrew Heaney. I’d still try to sign Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta if I were them for more certainty, but if even just a few of those pitchers can make 25+ starts at the level they’re capable of, their win total should be in the mid-80s.
And that’s because the position players are excellent, arguably a top-five group right now (FanGraphs even has their position players for the third-best projected WAR, for what it’s worth). Mike Trout is annually worth 7-to-11 wins. Then there’s Andrelton Simmons, Zack Cozart, Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton, Kole Calhoun, etc. This is a loaded group, full of star-power.
So, there’s no doubt the starting rotation could hold the Angels back a bit, but I just think there’s too much talent from the position players to project this team to not have a winning record.