PECOTA: An In-Depth Look at the 2015 Phillies
By Ethan Witte
The PECOTA predictions were released last week and available on the Baseball Prospectus website (subscription required, and highly recommended). On the day of their release, TBOH Editor Matt Veasey presented a basic overview of the projections, but today, I want to comb through them a little more thoroughly.
One of the biggest problems that I generally have with projections like PECOTA or ZiPS is that they seem a little pessimistic, sometimes downright silly. I understand that these programs don’t really ever go overboard with their initial projections, but the level of pessimism sometimes gets to me.
Looking deeper at the PECOTA cards from prior years, I’ve come to realize that the projections offered at the initial launch are often closer to the 50th percentile for the forecast. Looking at the individual cards further, they have a forecast from the 90th percentile all the way down to the 10th. Again, I know that it’s better to be safe and project a less than stellar season, but some of the projections PECOTA offered this year were real head scratchers.
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Here are a few of the interesting ones that I found when looking at the Phillies:
*The Phillies bullpen should be pretty dominant. Three relievers who figure to make the 25 man roster – Jonathan Papelbon, Ken Giles, and Jake Diekman – are each expected to have K/9 rates over 10 (10.1, 11, 10.5, respectively). Where this number came from for Papelbon, I’m not exactly sure, as he hasn’t posted a K/9 that high in two years.
With his declining velocity rates, it’s probable that Papelbon doesn’t even sniff double digits in K/9. However, as I wrote in last week’s piece comparing the Phillies bullpen with that of the Royals, having these two power arms to go along with Papelbon seems to be exactly the way the front office is drawing it up. Having this kind of projected success at the end of games could make it the best part of the game to watch for Phils fans.
*If it all breaks right, the Phillies will have not just one major starting pitching trade chip, but two. Cliff Lee is actually projected to have a better season than Cole Hamels. This needs to be taken with a grain of salt, as the PECOTA system does not know the extent of damage that Lee had to his elbow last year.
Injuries, and the consequences of them, are built into these forecasts, but they just can’t know the amount of pain Lee pitched through. Nevertheless, the numbers that PECOTA projects for Lee (8.4 K/9, 1.2 BB/9, 3.26 FRA) are numbers that any playoff contender could use.
The biggest problem regarding a trade is that PECOTA doesn’t show Lee’s price tag, which will be $27.5 million for 2015, with a $12.5 million buyout for 2016. It’s all too apparent that those figures, combined with the fact that Lee’s elbow could explode at any moment, mean the Phillies would have to eat a substantial amount of money in any deal.
However, with the powers-that-be acknowledging that contention is at least 2 years off, expect them to eat the necessary money in order to get substantial prospects in return. The rebuild is in full swing, and Lee approaching these projections, as well as the ability of the Phillies to properly market him, will go a long way towards helping acquire the assets needed to continue the rebuild.
*The other starters outside of Lee and Hamels…eesh. How about 4.87, 5.03, and 5.05? These are FRA numbers PECOTA sees Jerome Williams, David Buchanan and Aaron Harang putting up for the 2015 season. That is terrifying. The even scarier proposition – I think they will prove to be not far off from actual results.
David Buchanan needs to prove he is a legit innings-eating #4 starter
(Photo Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)
The only measure of sustained success from any of these pitchers is what Harang did for Cincinnati in 2007, when he finished 4th in Cy Young voting. Other than that, none of these pitchers have been particularly impressive. Buchanan has the most potential of the three, but even his ceiling is that of a #4 starter who eats innings. In today’s world where pitchers’ salaries are skyrocketing, that does have value.
Recent free agent signee Chad Billingsley is the one pitcher outside of Lee and Hamels who could actually improve his performance. He probably will start with AAA-Lehigh Valley, provided he doesn’t show enough or prove healthy enough to beat Buchanan out for the final spot in the Phillies rotation. The predictions show that the starting pitching of the team could be very bad.
*Offensively, it could get very ugly for the Phillies. The best hitter they project to have is Chase Utley, and his line isn’t even that great: .252/.333/.396. That’s good for .273 True Average (TAv). The only TAv that might be better is Darin Ruf‘s .282, and he isn’t even supposed to be a starter.
We anticipate already that the team will struggle to score runs, but PECOTA seems to think that the Phillies’ offense will be downright awful. When Carlos Ruiz has a .266/.342/.380 projection, it’s good for a very solid .275 TAv. Nothing that would be considered an offensive force, but still very useful. On a playoff contender, you’d look for that to fill the seven or eight hole in the lineup. On these Phillies, he could be the team’s cleanup hitter.
Overall, while it’s entirely possible for any player to beat the PECOTA projections, it’s also highly doubtful that all, or even most, will do so. The Phillies’ offense could be very, very bad.
*This last point isn’t really all that earth shattering, but what exactly the Phillies were thinking when they signed Grady Sizemore, I’m not exactly sure. His projection is very ugly. In 475 projected plate appearances, Sizemore should have a .223/.286/.345 line, with 116 strikeouts, good for a .240 TAv.
Grady Sizemore signing was a puzzler, especially with Phillies rebuilding.
(Photo Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)
If the team were to actually use Sizemore for that many plate appearances, it would block the playing time of younger and (minimally) higher upside guys like Domonic Brown and Darin Ruf. That is a massive waste of time and resources, particularly for a team that publicly states it is rebuilding with youth.
Giving Sizemore that guaranteed deal and subsequent roster spot was already looking like a bad idea. These projections confirm that fact. His roster spot could have been used for a player who could actually have rebounded to have a better line, such as Ryan Ludwick. PECOTA likes Ludwick to hit .235/.302/.383, which isn’t a huge upgrade over Sizemore, and is only worth probably a minor league deal.
That brings me to my point. Signing Sizemore to a major league deal is another example of the failure of the front office to identify positions that could be upgraded, and was also a misuse of resources. Sizemore’s potential playing time should go to Darin Ruf.
PECOTA thinks Ruf will be second on the team in home runs, his 15 behind only Ryan Howard‘s 19. This would make Ruf far more valuable than Sizemore, rendering his spot on the roster pointless. My gut thinks that Sizemore will be cut by the end of June, giving Ruf that opportunity. Hopefully, the front office will see that as well.
PECOTA doesn’t project the 2015 Philadelphia Phillies as doing well, and these are some of the “highlights” when looking at the numbers more closely. Remember: it is a projection system. Nothing is set in stone. However, it tends to be fairly accurate. Here’s hoping, for the sake of Phillies fans everywhere, that they aren’t accurate this time around. Otherwise, we are in for a long, long summer.