PECOTA projects winning season for Nationals, is it too optimistic?

PECOTA is a projection system derived by Nate Silver with Baseball Prospectus. It is arguably the most accurate projection system, and works based on a combination of similarity scores and multiple projected career paths. You can read more about it here. Regardless, for those of you who have had enough prospects talk (don’t worry though! there’s plenty more coming), or enough of projections that seem to only cater to career means, PECOTA is for you. Now on to it.

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(Baseball Prospectus)

The big news here is that PECOTA projects the Nationals to have a winning season in 2010 with an 82-80 record. Yes, ladies and gentleman, that puts us in the back-end of the wild card race. PECOTA also projects the Nationals to be the most improved team in baseball by a large amount. What I find most interesting about their projections, however, is that even with them projecting Nyjer Morgan to have a full season, they don’t project their offense to improve at all. The .252 batting average and .330 OBP numbers are actually lower than their .258 and .337.

What PECOTA does predict, however, is that the Nationals will improve their runs allowed by over 115. That’s a pretty dramatic improvement. The club allowed 875 runs last year with a combination over under-preforming pitching and just plain sloppy defense. The 757 RA prediction would but the Nationals as having the third lowest RA in the league. To be honest, if anything, I would have expected the RA number to improve but also for the RS to go up as well.

Also, before you get too too excited, PECOTA also projected the Nationals to go 75-87 last year and that clearly didn’t happen. However a lot went wrong in 2009 that had been accounted for in PECOTA. For instance, no one thought the Nationals defense would be THAT terrible, no one thought pitchers like Scott Olsen and Daniel Cabrera would be overwhelmingly unserviceable, and no one could perceive the injuries. PECOTA also projected the Nationals line-up to have a break-out year, and while it did in many ways, a lot of those projections were aimed at Jesus Flores, Elijah Dukes, and Lastings Milledge.

Lets take a look at how PECOTA projects our line up. Just to clarify, all these numbers are from Baseball Prospectus, a subscription site, so while I will share some of the numbers, I will try to be discreet to respect their business.

2010 PECOTA Batter Projections (The most interesting)

-Nyjer Morgan’s success is projected to continue, with the obvious drop in batting average. Morgan is projected to go .286/.352/.399 with a 23.4 VORP. They also project 39 steals, which may be conservative.

-Ryan Zimmerman’s production is projected to go down slightly. PECOTA things he will come down to earth with .277/.348/.479 and a 38.6 VORP. They predict 27 homers and 90 RBI as well.

-PECOTA once again loves Elijah Dukes as it projects him to bat .245/.358/.426 with 17 homers and 71 RBI in 564 plate appearances.

-Ian Desmond is projected to not quite be the player many Nationals fans are hoping for this season, with a line of .242/.314/.381. However PECOTA projects him to be above replacement level with a 13.5 VORP, which isn’t terrible for a rookie shortstop.

2010 PECOTA Pitching Projections (The most Interesting)

-John Lannan is by far projected to be more valuable than Jason Marquis with a VORP of 35.9 compared to Marquis’ 18.6. Both are predicted to have an ERA below four and to strike out between 85-90 batters.

-PECOTA seems to love J.D. Martin. They project him to pitch the third most innings on the staff, post a 4.03 ERA and have a VORP of 17.7, making him the third best full-time starter on the Nationals.

-STEPHEN STRASBURG is projected to start 15 games this season in washington, posting a 4.07 ERA with 110 strikeouts in only 97 innings. They project his VORP to be 31.2. Although it should be noted that many are questioning that number.

-Matt Capps is projected to bounce back by pitching 65 innings, posting a 3.52 ERA and closing 35 games for Washington.

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