Yankees picked to finish third, miss playoffs

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Pecota.jpgPECOTA — 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.

Kevin Kiermaier on Rays’ recent moves: “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset.”

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On Sunday, we heard from former Ray and current Giants third baseman Evan Longoria. The Rays recently traded pitcher Jake Odorizzi to the Twins for a prospect and designated All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense outside of a cost-cutting perspective. Longoria said, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

Today, we’re hearing from a current Ray: center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is set to enter his fifth full season with the club. Via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Kiermaier said, “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset with the moves. No beating around the bush. It’s one of those things that makes you scratch your head, you don’t know the reasoning why. And then you see the team’s explanation and still it’s just like, okay, well, so be it.”

Longoria — formerly the face of the franchise — was traded to the Giants in December and the Rays continued to subtract with their recent moves involving Odorizzi and Dickerson. Odorizzi has a career 3.83 ERA in what has been a solid, if unspectacular, career. Dickerson put up an All-Star season, posting an .815 OPS with 27 home runs in 150 games. Moving either player was not done to fix a positional log jam. In fact, with Odorizzi out of the picture, the Rays are planning to use a four-man starting rotation for the first six-plus weeks of the season, Topkin reported on Sunday. Dickerson’s ouster simply opens the door for Mallex Smith, who posted a .684 OPS last year, to start every day in the outfield.

The Rays got markedly worse after going 80-82 last season. They saved a few million bucks jettisoning Odorizzi and Dickerson. And Rays ownership still wants the public to foot most of the bill for their new stadium.

When it was just one small market team pinching pennies, it was fine. But now that more than half of the league has adopted penny-pinching principles popularized by Moneyball and Sabermetrics (with the Rays among the chief offenders), the game of baseball has become markedly less fan- and player-friendly. This offseason has been less about players signing contracts and changing teams in trades — which helps build excitement and intrigue for the coming year — and more about front offices doing math problems concerning the $197 million competitive balance tax threshold and other self-imposed monetary restraints. Fun. Kiermaier is right to be upset and he’s very likely not alone in feeling that way.