Every year, Baseball Prospectus comes out with their PECOTA projections, and fans of MLB teams eagerly flock to the website to check out how their favorite team will fare in the upcoming season.
For those looking for a bit of a primer, PECOTA is a mathematical formula that stands for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm. Nate Silver, formerly of the New York Times and now a partner with ESPN with 538.com, invented the formula back in 2002, and introduced it in 2003. It uses proprietary formulas, but some of the components include batting average, home runs, and RBI, as well as other advanced statistics like Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) and EqA (Equivalent Runs Average), and it’s used to determine how players will perform in a given year.
Baseball Prospectus then takes the data that the computer spits out about players and uses it to determine what each team’s record will be in the upcoming season.
For the Chicago Cubs, PECOTA projections have them improving this season to 71-91, an improvement of five wins over last year’s 66-96 campaign. For Chicago White Sox fans, PECOTA is projecting that the team will improve dramatically, going 75-87 in the AL Central race.
The Cubs are forecasted to finish in the basement of the NL Central again in 2014, with the Cardinals winning the division and the Pirates experiencing a significant drop-off in finishing behind the Milwaukee Brewers. For the Sox, they are forecasted to finish fourth in the AL Central, four games behind the Kansas City Royals and 13 games behind the division champion Detroit Tigers.
Going into deeper detail, the Cubs are only projected to score 641 runs, the third lowest total in the National League and third lowest in the Majors behind only the Mets and Marlins. The Cubs are also projected to give up 732 runs, the second highest total in the NL behind only the Colorado Rockies.
Last year, the PECOTA projections had the Cubs finishing at 77-85 before the season began, and the team seemed well on its way to coming close to that mark before tailing off at the end thanks to a combination of regression by Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, as well as trading off of several pieces that were helping the team to stay afloat.
This season, the PECOTA projections are much more modest about the Cubs’ chances for success, and there is a good reason for that. The Cubs didn’t exactly light the world on fire with their acquisitions over the winter, with Jose Veras being the only big piece that they added. Add to that the fact that guys like Javier Baez and Kris Bryant are more likely to be September call-ups than May reinforcements, and you can see that the Cubs aren’t going to make any big steps forward, or at least realistically feel that they can do so.