Recently I posted a criticism of Baseball Prospectus' prediction for the 2010 Yankees. That piece ran before BP updated its projections on Monday. For those disinclined to read either post again, BP essentially predicts that many key Yankees will give way to age, even though the team is still projected to finish atop MLB. My criticism of the BP projections can be best summed up below:
Derek Jeter - 2009 actual VORP: 72.8, 2010 projected VORP: 30.3
Jorge Posada - 2009 actual VORP: 35.7, 2010 projected VORP: 16
Mariano Rivera - 2009 actual VORP: 29.5, 2010 projected VORP: 14.3
Phil Hughes - 2009 actual VORP: 25.6, 2010 projected VORP: 10.9
Until the recent change, I would have also included A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte on this list, but their new projections are modest regressions from last season. That improvement aside, BP projects that the four players above will attribute for a loss of 92.1 runs from their 2009 performance. Each one is projected to lose more than 1/2 his value.
A rule of thumb is that 10 runs is about 1 win. Meaning ... the difference between CAIRO's 102 win projection for the Bombers and BP's updated 94 win projection is attributed almost entirely to those 4 players (nevermind some of the other questionable declines PECOTA forecasts).
I have no idea what PECOTA has against Phil Hughes, but my argument has been that since I've been paying attention to it, PECOTA has struggled to project truly outstanding production and quality production from players who contribute as they get older. However, if that observation is to have any merit it needs to hold for the rest of baseball, given that I obviously pay disproportionate attention to the Yankees, and the Yankees have a lot of future HOFers and aging superstars. For the purposes of brevity and local rivalries, in this post the part of the rest of baseball will be played by the Boston Red Sox.
Given that our legal budget is spread thinly as it is, I will avoid posting the actual predictions because Baseball Prospectus charges for them. However, based on my quick, back of the envelope calculations, my criticism stands. Unlike its projections for the Yankees, PECOTA doesn't have as severe a season-to-season volatility in its projections for the Red Sox.That is not to say that PECOTA is putting forward credible estimates at each position. The following 2 predictions stand out for being bad:
Kevin Youkilis - 2010 projection: .288/.387/.500, 28.7 VORP; 2009 actual: .305/.413/.538, 53.5 VORP. I don't like Kevin Youkilis either, but why would he lose almost half his value and post his lowest OBP since 2006?
Victor Martinez - 2010 projected VORP: 23.9; 2009 actual VORP, JUST WITH THE RED SOX: 21.4. Granted, V-Mart overachieved once he got to Boston, but a full year of his production should absolutely be better than his partial year in Boston in 2009.
But that's it on offense. There are some players, such as J.D. Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury, who are projected to see a sharp decline in VORP, but whose raw performance projections from which VORP is calculated seem reasonable. VORP is a counting statistic, a relative statistic, and inherently flawed, so I will avoid criticizing a drop in projected relative value if I feel the performance estimate is accurate.
On the flip side, while virtually every Yankee is projected to LOSE VALUE, many Red Sox are projected to improve. Let's choose one, entirely at random:
David Ortiz - 2010 projected: .267/.368/.492, 19.3 VORP; 2009 actual: .238/.332/.462, 14.5 VORP. Let me get this straight, 35 year old Alex Rodriguez will LOSE VALUE from his approximately 50 VORP performance in a partial 2009 to a 47 VORP across ALL OF 2010, but 34 year old David Ortiz is due to have a comeback?
On the pitching side, PECOTA's projections are slightly more conservative than many actual 2009 performances, but all of the conventional stat projections are satisfactory. For example, Beckett and Lester project to have ERAs of 3.60 and 3.89 respectively. Fans may disagree, but those are reasonable estimates and not substantively different from their 2009 actual ERAs of 3.86 and 3.41. Beckett projects to improve, in fact. PECOTA projects all 3 of the Yankees' big '09 starters to get worse in '10.
PECOTA does have a harsh projection for Papelbon, but that just proves not even computers can stand that jerk. Just kidding. PECOTA seems to be systemically poor at projecting relievers in general. Here are three examples, all from the projections:
Jonathan Papelbon - 55 IP, 2.84 ERA
Mariano Rivera - 55 IP, 3.31 ERA
Phil Hughes - 59 IP, 4.02 ERA
BP sees each of these guys losing AT LEAST one run per 9 innings from their 2009 performances. Ain't happening. The fact that virtually every reliever on either team, even Boone Logan, is projected to pitch no less than 40 and no more than 59 innings doesn't add credibility to the bullpen projections either.
While I wouldn't be shocked to learn that Baseball Prospectus is headquartered in Braintree, MA, I do not believe they are intentionally trying to make a downward projection for the Yankees. Rather, PECOTA consistently makes conservative estimates, and the Yankees seem to be penalized for having old players who are expected to contribute greatly to the team. A quick glance at the Red Sox confirms the absence of such a penalty, at least for one other team.