It’s that time of year again, baseball season is upon us and Hit the Cut is here to provide you with a primer on what to expect in the upcoming season.
Projections that rely solely on the eye-test should, in our opinion, be reserved for water cooler conversations. So, in an effort to provide something more empirical, we’ll be staying away from that. Following, we’ll explore two separate projection methods to map out what we expect the standings will come out as once October arrives.
Method 1: Projecting standings based on Pythagorean expectation
As explored in one of our previous articles, using Pythagorean expectation to predict win percentage involves a formula invented by sabermetrics pioneer, Bill James:
To illustrate the effectiveness of this projected win percentage (based on runs scored and allowed), here is a scatter plot showing the relationship between this percentage and actual win percentage from the past ten seasons (2005-2015):
The R-squared value means (for those of you that haven’t taken an intro stats class) that 93% of the variation in win percentage can be explained by Pythagorean expectation (essentially, runs). This leaves 7% for random variation, which we can categorize as luck. This is a very significant relationship and results in Pythagorean expectation win percentage being a prime candidate to predict future team performance. To do this, we took the PECOTA-projected* runs scored and allowed and plugged them into James’ formula. The results:
|Boston Red Sox||735||675||0.54|
|Tampa Bay Rays||702||647||0.54|
|Toronto Blue Jays||767||719||0.53|
|New York Yankees||725||694||0.52|
|Chicago White Sox||696||667||0.52|
|Kansas City Royals||640||695||0.46|
|Los Angeles Angels||675||714||0.47|
|New York Mets||677||597||0.56|
|St. Louis Cardinals||667||664||0.50|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||707||594||0.59|
|San Francisco Giants||643||609||0.53|
|San Diego Padres||650||693||0.47|
Method 2: Projecting standings based on projected WAR (wins above replacement)
Perhaps the most widely used sabermetric statistic, WAR is an attempt to combine everything (offense, defense, fielding, and running) that a player offers in one neat package. When we look at WAR in relation to win percentage, in the same vein as our last comparison, it paints a similar picture (86.6% of the variation in win percentage can be explained by WAR):
Moreover, Fangraphs has projected team WAR values (by combining the projected WAR of the players predicted to be on that team for the upcoming season) so we ranked teams, by division, according to this metric. The results:
Some thoughts about the projections
Now, looking at information above, there’s really only one major discrepancy between the two rankings – the Tampa Bay Rays. Tampa Bay drops from second in the Pythagorean projection all the way to last in the WAR projection. One reason for this is Tampa Bay is not known for having a plethora of stars. The Rays have only 3 players on their depth chart with a WAR higher than 3.0. Compared to teams like the Blue Jays (6 players with a WAR over 3.0, one with a WAR over 6.0) or the Red Sox (4 players with a WAR over 3.0, 1 with a WAR over 5.0) the Rays just don’t have that type of firepower, nor have they ever. However, they pride the core of their team to defensive excellence (4th in Def, a catch-all fielding statistic) and above-average pitching (12th in SIERA, a catch-all pitching statistic), which is why they rank so well in the PECOTA-projected Pythagorean win percentage.
One team’s projections that might come as a surprise to everyone are the reigning World Series Champs. The Kansas City Royals are ranked last in both projections for the AL Central. The Royals, over the past two seasons, have baffled the sabermetric community with their success. Here is Kansas City’s rank over the past two regular seasons in wRC+ (a catch-all offensive statistic) and SIERA.
Nothing special, right? But in this time period, they’ve made it to the World Series twice, winning it all last season. Either KC has found another way to win baseball games that defies sabermetric conventional wisdom, or this team comes back down to Earth and performs how their underlying metrics say they should (which is what our ranking systems and many analysts are predicting).
Adam is a student at McGill University. You can follow him on Twitter @adam_m3318.
Carter is a hockey player, formerly in the WHL for the Vancouver Giants. You can follow him on Twitter @carter_popoff.
You can follow Hit the Cut on Twitter @hitthecutblog.