Analyzing the 2008 PECOTA Yankees

PECOTA (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm) is a sabermetric system for predicting Major League Baseball player performance that was invented by Nate Silver in 2002-2003 and introduced to the public in the book Baseball Prospectus 2003. Every year, PECOTA releases its predictions for everything baseball related. Every stat for every player and team records. And they’re usually insanely accurate. Last year they predicted the final records of 26 teams to within 5 games of their actual records. That’s pretty damn good. So I put a lot of stock into their predictions. This year, the top of the AL East looks like this:

Yankees: 103-59
Red Sox: 101-61

No team won 100 games in 2007 so having two winning 100 this year surprised me a little. And I was further surprised when I saw PECOTA’s individual player predictions. Their player predictions are generally less accurate than their team predictions due to uncontrollable circumstances, but they are still closer on average than anyone else.

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Note that the DH and 1B position is a mess (as well as LF if Hideki Matsui’s knee is still troublesome) so I simply went with Damon and Giambi to fill out the lineup, although it’s certainly possible that someone along the lines of Morgan Ensberg, Shelley Duncan or Juan Miranda steps up and take one or both of those spots. Still, with Giambi projected to a .796 OPS and Damon to a .772 OPS, it seems unlikely those guys will bring much more than that. That Yankees lineup would score 916 runs in 2008, down from the 969 they scored in 2007, but 916 will still probably lead the Majors. Offense is not a problem for the Yankees. It’s the pitching.

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The wins aren’t what’s important here, as they are the most unsubstantial stat in baseball. Wins rely more on the offense than the pitcher. All of PECOTA’s pitching predictions are middle of the road predictions. Wang and Pettitte (barring injury) will throw more innings that 178 and 176, respectively. Of note is that the best ERA is Joba Chamberlain, which leads me to believe that he needs to be in the rotation as soon as possible, and in the playoffs. Because he’ll need to be limited in innings, the Yankees are starting him off in the bullpen, which I think is a good idea as long as they bring him back to starting. Some plan along the lines of this would be the ideal situation:

  1. Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy would stay healthy to form the rotation. All five would be needed from the outset because the Yanks have just two scheduled off-days from March 31 through May 4.
  2. Chamberlain stabilizes the area the Yankees profess offers their greatest uncertainty in 2008: Their setup crew in front of Mariano Rivera. The Yanks envision Chamberlain dominating in the eighth based on his 0.38 ERA and .145 batting average against in 19 regular-season games as a reliever last year.
  3. The Yanks see the Chamberlain/Rivera tandem helping them be a dominant late-inning team over the first two months of the season. At some point in June, the Yanks would send Chamberlain to the minors for 3-4 weeks to stretch him out to 5-6 innings in preparation to be a full-time starter in the second half.
  4. The Yanks hope is that over the first two months other relievers show enough fortitude/reliability to be moved into the eighth inning. Only Kyle Farnsworth and LaTroy Hawkins are guaranteed jobs. The Yanks think Girardi, who was a Cub teammate of Farnsworth for three years, might help the talented righty find greater consistency and grab the eighth inning.

And then the bullpen. Because of injuries and struggles of the starting rotation in 2007, the bullpen was abused and overused. That led to incredible efficiency and effectiveness in April and May and then resulted in a crash-and-burn during the summer and a total burnout (Joba Chamberlain nonwithstanding) by the end of the year.

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PECOTA views the starting rotation as a more cohesive and effective unit this year with so many options, and therefore believes that the bullpen will rebound. The Yankees have 25 pitchers on their 40-man roster. That’s a ton. They’re hoping that one or two of those will stick as a reliable reliever. PECOTA seems to be high on Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez and even show some faith in Kyle Farnsworth. Joba starting out in the bullpen will help even more. And PECOTA doesn’t project Humberto Sanchez as a bullpen option, but he may be able to go around August, and is more than capable of doing a good Joba impersonation.

The Yankees gave up 777 runs in 2007, and the 2008 PECOTA projections have the Yankees giving up 668 runs, 109 less than last year, and the main reason for the 9 win bump in their record.

I doubt that the Yankees will reach 103 wins this year, especially in the AL East, but they do seem to have some order and if they play their rookie cards right, 103 wins are certainly not out of the question. Either way, I still believe Boston is the team to beat in the American League this year, but the mix of veterans and youngsters in each organization will make for a very intriguing 2008 American League baseball season.

Pitchers and catchers report February 14th!

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Posted on February 12, 2008, in Sports. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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