PECOTA — or “Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm” for those of you who don’t like clever acronyms — is the statistical projection system owned and operated by the good people at Baseball Prospectus.
While the specific means by which PECOTA predicts what players and teams will do is proprietary — and while the parts that are public are way over my head — the upshot is that PECOTA looks at the career path followed by every player in baseball history, compares current players to those guys, takes its best computerly guess at how the current guys will progress as well, and based on that spits out a set of predictions each year. All prediction systems are going to be subject to some error here and there — you only get out of these things what you put into them — but PECOTA has actually been pretty accurate as far as these things go.
But it does cause an utter s—storm every once in a while.
Last year, for example, PECOTA famously predicted that Orioles’ catcher Matt Wieters would put up one of the best offensive seasons in the history of catchers. That didn’t come to pass, of course, and a lot of people who like to beat up on stat people beat up on the Baseball Prospectus guys over that. Oh, if we were all judged by our worst moments.
I mention all of that because PECOTA’s projected standings for 2010 just came out, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Baseball Prospectus will be the only reputable organization picking the Yankees to finish in third place and out of the playoffs. Oh sure, it’s close — only three games separate them from the first place Rays — but on the outside looking in they are.
Like I said, I’m a moron about such things, but if I had to guess this projection is due in part to the fact that there simply aren’t that many teams in baseball history with as many older players continuing to play elite baseball as the Yankees have, and thus the projection penalizes them a bit more than might be warranted in real life (remember; this is an algorithm talking, not some sportswriter). That is, if you can consider 93 wins a penalty. For what it’s worth, the AL East looks like a tossup in these projections, and the difference between the Rays, Sox and Yankees probably fall within the margin of error.
Not that it will stop some newspaper writer from going crazy in the next day or two and using it as an opportunity to tell stat guys to get out of their mother’s basement and go watch a real baseball game.