It’s PECOTA week over at Baseball Prospectus and this morning they released their projected standings for Major League Baseball. Scrolling on down to the National League Central and you’ll see that Cincinnati Reds are projected for a 78-84 record, which would put them in 4th place in the division and eight games back of the St. Louis Cardinals and five games up on the last place Pittsburgh Pirates.
Within the projections are the runs scored and runs allowed for each team. Last year the Reds outperformed their pythagorean record by five wins. Cincinnati scored 783 runs and allowed 821 runs on the season, which would put their pythagorean record at 77-85, but they actually finished 82-80.
So what does the PECOTA projection have in those columns this season? 795 runs scored and 829 runs allowed. If you’re still following along with me, that means that PECOTA is saying that the Reds offense will get slightly better this year. That makes some sense given that for the first two months of the season the club was still running out some guys who were performing poorly and eventually lost their jobs to the rookie crop that’s going to be back now and also helped fuel the turn around last summer.
BUT, and all of those letters are capitalized for a reason, it’s also projecting the Reds pitching staff to give up more runs than they did last year. You’re going to have a hard time selling me on that one. Last year the club saw Nick Lodolo miss almost the entire season. Graham Ashcraft went through one of the worst 10-start stretches in baseball history (though he was absolutely dominant outside of that stretch). The group of Luke Weaver, Ben Lively, Luis Cessa, Connor Phillips, Lyon Richardson, Connor Overton, Brett Kennedy, Levi Stoudt, and Carson Spiers combined for 57 starts and an ERA that pushed somewhere near infinity.
While injuries can still happen, and some of the guys are going to have worse years than last season, with the additions of Nick Martinez and Frankie Montas, the club is going to likely have much better depth in the rotation than last year. They won’t likely be giving multiple starts to multiple players who were pitching in the Atlantic League in April. The bullpen has also added depth, and solid depth at that.
When looking at the individual PECOTA projections for players it’s fair to say that they don’t really think anyone is going to be good, but that most players won’t be bad, either. Only Christian Encarnacion-Strand and TJ Friedl are projected to hit over .250 among anyone expected to get real playing time, and neither is above the .255 mark. That just seems incredibly unlikely. Only one player is projected for 20 home runs, and that’s the top on the team – 20 home runs. That also seems very unlikely.
With the pitching, there’s a lot going on. In the rotation the best ERA is 4.25 and the worst is 4.85. While factoring in the Great American Ball Park tax, basically it’s projecting the rotation as mediocre overall, with no one being good and no one being real bad. The bullpen projections are bad, though. Real bad. Nick Martinez has the best ERA projection from the group at 4.13. Alexis Diaz, who had a 1.84 ERA as a rookie and a 3.07 ERA last season, is projected for an ERA of 4.52. Many of the guys you expect in the bullpen fall into that mid 4’s range with their ERA.
Projections tend to find the middle ground between “if everything goes right” and “if everything goes wrong”. And that makes sense because in most cases, those situations represent the rarity, the unlikely, etc. But some of the projections just seem off. Like they are missing some data points. Alexis Diaz is a big example there. If you could put the over/under on his ERA at 4.52 and take bets on it, the chances you’d get bets on the over could be counted on one hand.
At the end of the day they play the games out on the field. Projections are fun, and there’s some value in them. But for this specific team, it’s real tough to look at the projection and say the pitching will be worse than last season and the offense is only going to score two more runs per month than they did last year.