Over or Under? Projecting the 2018 season with PECOTA

Our good friend Baseball Brit returns and this time he’s taking on PECOTA.

The off-season can be a long and arduous wait for baseball-starved fans of the MLB. Not so for mathematically inclined nerds, however. Each year there are a variety of projections made for the forthcoming season from an assortment of sabermetricians and publications. Arguably, the main three projections are outlined below:

  • PECOTA, originally developed by Nate Silver, now owned by Baseball Prospectus.

  • Steamer, created by Jared Cross, Dash Davidson, and Peter Rosenbloom, and available at steamerprojections.com and FanGraphs.

  • ZiPS, from Dan Szymborski, also available at FanGraphs.

For the purposes of this article I will be using the PECOTA projections. These are the predicted statistics found in the popular ‘Baseball Prospectus – The Essential Guide to the Season’ books. They can also be found online, for each team, via the following link: https://legacy.baseballprospectus.com/fantasy/dc/index.php?tm= (click on ‘View Team’ once you have selected your preferred franchise).
I am now going to focus on eight of the projections made by PECOTA for the 2018 season and play some over/under using nothing but intuition, gut-feeling and some tasseography. Why not do something similar for your own team and post on Twitter? Or mercilessly mock my predictions in the comments section.
Giancarlo Stanton: 41 HR
My pick: Over
It’s easy to forget that the exotically named Giancarlo was actually called Mike throughout the majority of his childhood in California. Big G is coming off a season where he was the NL MVP and slugged a league-leading 59 home runs. He has always had the power but also managed to appear at the plate 692 times in 2017 (his highest total). If he can stay healthy again then he should easily hit more than 41 dingers but PECOTA is predicting just 399 plate appearances in 2018. I hope both Giancarlo and Mike prove them wrong.
Shohei Ohtani: 3.48 ERA
My pick: Over
Shohei Ohtani kept many baseball writers in a job as they argued over whether to include an ‘h’ in his surname or not while the hot stove failed to heat up this off-season. He is predicted to be the most valuable starting pitcher on the Angels roster with a 2.8 WARP. However, he pitched just 25.1 innings in the NPB last season and is moving to a new league bursting with power hitters. Couple that with rumblings about his physical revealing a damaged pitching elbow and I sense he may not show fans his best form this season. Perhaps, more intriguingly, he is projected to hit 8 home runs with the bat.
Billy Hamilton: 66 steals
My pick: Under
A darling of fantasy baseball players the world over, Billy Hamilton is a real life roadrunner with one of the most incredible accents in the game. However, he has never stolen more than 59 bases in the big leagues and only appears to improve on his previous season’s total by one steal each year (see below). I, therefore predict him 60 steals in 2018 but expect to be wrong if he can stay healthy and in the line-up for the whole season.

Billy Hamilton steal totals over the past five seasons in the majors

Rougned Odor: .257 BA

My pick: Under

Last year Rougned Odor was either shit out of luck, or just shit. He now owns the worst 30 homer season this century. Allow me to explain. Including last season, there have been a total of 505 instances of a player slugging at least 30 home runs since the year 2000. Odor’s 61 wRC+ is easily the lowest of them all and his .272 wOBA is also the worst. However, his low BABIP of .224 may support the idea that he was simply unlucky. Either way, I feel it unlikely that he will reach .257 considering he hit an awful .204 last season.

Cleveland Indians: 96 wins

My pick: Over

PECOTA predicts that no team will win 100 games or more in the 2018 season (the Astros are highest with 99). The Indians won 102 games in 2017 and the other four teams in the division are not predicted to break .500. In fact, the Bleacher Report pre-season power rankings had the White Sox ranked 26th, the Kansas City Royals 29th and the Detroit Tigers 30th. Therefore, I feel bullish on the Indians, even with the loss of Carlos Santana to the Phillies.

Joey Votto: .423 OBP
My pick: Over

Joey Votto has led the National League in on base percentage for six of the past eight seasons. This equates to an average clip of .436 over that period. PECOTA is predicting that the 34 year old first baseman is due some regression in 2018 but I am having none of it. His lofty .454 OBP last season may not be reached again but he will still be an on base machine – regardless of how much fatter he reportedly has become.

Kazuhisa Makita: 6 Innings Pitched

My pick: Over

I’m feeling pretty confident with this one. Makita is famous as the ‘submarine pitcher’ in the NPB and was signed by the San Diego Padres from the Seibu Lions in the off season to pitch out of the bullpen. PECOTA appears to not rate his chances of making the team as he is projected to pitch just six innings to the fairly awful tune of a 4.33 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and one home run given up. However, over the past two seasons in Japan he has pitched 141.1 innings and allowed just 7 home runs. Eric Hosmer is already impressed for one (see link) and I would love fans to see more of his incredible pitching style on the mound in 2018.

Red Sox:
8 games behind the Yankees in the AL East

My pick: Under

The Red Sox are projected to win 89 games in 2018, a full 8 games behind the Yankees’ total of 97. This will represent a swing of +10 for the Bronx Bombers as they ended their 2017 campaign two wins behind Boston. For a side that has recently added J.D. Martinez (and re-signed Mitch Moreland, ahem) I feel PECOTA is being slightly too harsh on the Red Sox. I expect/hope the AL East will be closer than this.

How many do you think I’ve got right? I’d take a .500 win percentage.

Make sure you follow Baseball Brit as he starts his Independent League Baseball adventures this year!

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