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PECOTA Looks Ahead to 2010 Philadelphia Phillies

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PECOTA Looks Ahead to 2010 Philadelphia Phillies
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For any stathead or sabermetric fan, the annual release of Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA player projections brings a combination of joy, excitement, and maybe some hatred towards the system itself. 

It's common for about 25 of the 30 teams' fans to be unhappy with what the system is predicting for their teams in any given year, and 2010 is no different. 

PECOTA, which stands for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm and is named after former player Bill Pecota, was developed by former Prospectus writer Nate Silver.

The system has gained popularity for its striking ability to predict a players' production in a given season, and many front offices around the league have begun to take notice of PECOTA and many of the other statistical creations coming from Baseball Prospectus.

There are those who believe there is some sort of controversy in the Baseball Prospectus offices since Silver left the website to focus more on his politically-motivated endeavors at FiveThirtyEight.com.

However, the system has remained intact, and despite the fact that Silver's input has been absent from it for the past two years, the discussion about PECOTA is still relevant and entertaining.

PECOTA is far from a perfect development, and the original release of it proved just that.

The first version had some errors in it, including "double-counting" defense, according to BP staff member Matt Swartz.

Another BP contributor, Eric Seidman, noted that "individual player projections do not match up with the run totals on the projected standings", alongside "problems with BABIP."

In fact, in the second version of PECOTA, the Phillies were slated to finish 85-77, tied with the Braves for first in the National League East.

Naturally, this casued the more angry, virulent response mentioned earlier.

The latest version has the Phillies finishing first in the East and in the National League, with a record of 88-74.

It may seem pessimistic to place a team that has won 93 and 92 games in the last two years respectively at 88 victories, but there is a reason PECOTA has become respected across the statistical landscape in baseball.

PECOTA itself takes into account years of data, and uses mountains of attributes to compare current players to past players' seasons.

It looks at a players' height and weight, usage over their career (plate appearances and innings pitched, for example), and what position the player plays.

It also uses plenty of peripheral statistics, but Silver stated in his introduction of PECOTA about seven years ago that most of the inputted data regards predicting what a player may do in the future instead of comparing them to the past.

In short, PECOTA often spits out lower-than-anticipated numbers.

Yes, it does have the American League East with three 90-win teams (New York, Boston, and Tampa Bay), but around the league, many teams find themselves with less than stellar prognostications.

This can be attributed to the fact that it often projects for certain players to have certain amounts of playing time, with the player comparisons coming into play heavily.

Therefore, certain veterans may be thought of as injury risks according to PECOTA, with bodies ready to break down instead of bodies ready to perform at a high level.

Although the exact formula has never been explicitly described by Baseball Prospectus, its "secret sauce" nature is intriguing.

As for the 2010 edition of the Phightin' Phils, here are some things to expect according to PECOTA in this upcoming season.

The Good

Unless you were living under a rock in 2009, it's well known that there were three glaring issues for the Phillies last season.

The play of Jimmy Rollins, the struggles of Cole Hamels, and the injuries combined with poor performance by Brad Lidge were under the microscope while the team was on their way to a third straight N.L. East crown and second straight World Series trip.

The good news? According to PECOTA, Rollins and Hamels are set to have pretty good years, and Brad Lidge is, at the very least, not expected to have his ERA look like the nation's unemployment rate.

One of the glaring issues regarding PECOTA revolves around the topic of playing time.

It projects Rollins to play just 85% of the games this season. Ditto for Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth, too.

Over the past couple of seasons, the Phillies have become a team that has seen their starters play, and play a lot.

Rollins has played at least 154 games in eight of his nine full seasons in the league.

That being said, he is projected to post a .281/.340/.469 season, with 19 homeruns and 69 RBI.

He is also projected to steal 30 bases, and naturally, his stellar defense is well known around the league.

An .809 OPS from Rollins would be much appreciated, seeing that he had a .296 OBP and .719 OPS in 2009.

It may be hard to call a year in which one's strikeout-walk ratio climbs from 3.70 to 3.91 a disappointment, but Hamels' 2009 was a roller-coaster.

Realistically, there should be no worries about Hamels heading into 2010.

Many are questioning his mental toughness because he said during the 2009 playoffs that he wanted the season to be over.

Don't question his mental toughness. Hamels is a generational talent, and it's sickening to even think his name came up in the Roy Halladay trade rumors.

In 2008, Hamels posted a .270 BABIP, which shows a relative amount of good luck.

In 2009, Hamels' BABIP was .325, an incredible amount of bad luck.

He finished the season a disappointing 10-11 with a 4.32 ERA.

Reports say that Hamels is working out harder than ever, which is a good sign to see.

Some say he didn't take his workouts seriously after the 2008 season, but that's not a real concern.

The truth lies in the numbers, and the numbers say that no matter how hard Hamels works out (as long as he doesn't show up to camp looking like Charles Barkley), he will have a better year this season.

In 2010, expect things to even out for Hamels, as PECOTA projects him to allow just 184 hits in 194 innings, along with a 1.18 WHIP and 3.68 ERA.

The Bad

So here's the space where we bash Baseball Prospectus, right?

Well, not really. PECOTA has proven its worth over the years, and while this section may feature disagreements, the system is the system, and there's not much we can do to change it.

So when we read that Raul Ibanez is only expected to play 70% of the time this year due to whatever reason (injury, old age, fatigue, poor play), it may look alarming at first.

It's just the way PECOTA works, with much historical data factored in to a decline for Ibanez.

We know this much: Ibanez hit a career-high 34 homeruns in 2009, made the All-Star team for the first time in his career, and had a first half of the season that put him on an MVP pace.

The second half, which truly began before the All-Star Break for Ibanez, came after a groin injury which, according to reports, hampered him for the rest of the season. 

As we found out after the World Series, Ibanez had a sports hernia, pain which he played through for the second half of the season.

From the beginning of the year through June 17th, he hit .312 with 22 homeruns and 59 RBI.

After that, he had just a .771 OPS and struck out 70 times in 285 plate appearances.

Before the injury, he struck out just 49 times in 280 plate appearances, and it was obvious that he had altered his swing to compensate for the injury.

So, there are some questions as to whether or not Ibanez, who will be 38 in June, can hold up in 2010.

Considering he didn't become a full-time player until 2002, Ibanez does not have tons of wear and tear on his body.

PECOTA, however, projects Ibanez to post a .269/.340/.444 season, even though he has averaged a .286/.352/.501 season over the past three years.

Could it be possible that one of the "secrets" of PECOTA is its lack of ability to project players who had late starts to their careers?

It has been rumored that this is the case, and it wouldn't be surprising. As has been talked about, the the system is far from perfect.

And don't tell PECOTA about the fact that Halladay has faced some of the stiffest competition in the American League East over his career.

Despite the fact that Halladay has won 37 games while posting a 2.78 ERA and 1.09 WHIP the past two seasons, all while having the third-highest VORP amongst pitchers last year at 74.8, the projections aren't exactly lofty for the veteran workhorse. 

PECOTA has Halladay winning 15 games while posting a 3.42 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, anticipating him to pitch 216 innings in 2010.

That last number may actually be close to what he does pitch, seeing that Halladay will no longer be playing in a league with the designated hitter.

That being said, Halladay had a .313 BABIP last year, and should his luck improve in 2010, he could have a historical season in his first year with the Phillies.

In the end

Naturally, none of this matters once things start to play out on the field this season.

People will be made fun of for their awful predictions, and lauded for their accurate ones.

Then, the search will begin for trends, numbers, and patterns regarding the 2010 campaign.

While PECOTA may be far from perfect it is at the least a glimpse into the very near future.

Thankfully, that future will soon have the sights and sounds of baseball in it.

 

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