Today is Valentine's Day. It's also Pitchers and Catchers Report Day, always a special moment in baseball circles, in Lake Buena Vista. Last Tuesday was a big baseball day, too, though due to developments regarding a local team in a different sport it went unremarked in this space. I correct that now.
Last Tuesday was PECOTA Day at Baseball Prospectus. PECOTA -- stands for "Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm" -- is BP's measuring stick. On Feb. 7, we subscribers gained access to a spreadsheet of so much data as to make you (lovely image upcoming) belch decimal points. But the fun part of PECOTA is always the projected standings.
Cutting (not quickly enough, I concede) to the chase: PECOTA projects the 2017 Atlanta Braves to go 77-85. That's a significant improvement over last season's projection of 68-94. (Lo and behold, the Braves actually went 68-93.) It's also the ninth-highest win total in the 15-team National League, which says something about the National League and also something about the Braves.
A disclaimer: Numerically based projections flatten toward the middle. (Toward what's probable, as opposed to possible.) PECOTA has no team winning 100 games -- the Dodgers are slotted at 99-63, which sounds high to me -- and no team losing more than 93. PECOTA has only five NL teams breaking .500: Dodgers, Cubs, Mets, Nationals and Giants.
Meaning: If the Braves get a little lucky, they might have a whisper of a playoff chance come midsummer. (Last season they had no chance as of mid-April.) I'm on record as picking them to go 80-82 -- for the second year running, I'm three games more optimistic than PECOTA -- but I'd be less than forthright if I didn't say that the loss of Sean Rodriguez, perhaps for the year, has given me pause. As much as I enjoy the stylings of Bartolo Colon, I considered Rodriguez the Braves' best offseason acquisition.
But enough negativity, at least for the moment. Here I offer the complete list of teams PECOTA expects to win fewer games than the 2017 Braves: Orioles (2016 playoff team), White Sox, Royals (2015 world champs), A's (Moneyball), Phillies, Brewers, Cardinals (whoa!), Rockies and Padres. That would make the local nine just another middling team, which would represent progress. Not so long ago, we were worried -- seriously worried, I remind you -- that this could be the worst team in the history of baseball.
Oh, and one thing more: FanGraphs, which has its own projection system, values the Braves slightly less highly. FG has them going 74-88 .
Apologies for making like Lt. Colombo here, but here's one other Other Thing: BP asks that paying customers not share too much proprietary content with non-paying masses, so I won't break down the projections for every key Brave. I will note that PECOTA projects the aggregate WARP (that's BP's version of wins above replacement) value of the over-30/40 club of imported starting pitchers -- Colon, Jaime Garcia and R.A. Dickey -- at 2.6.
That doesn't sound like much -- Chris Archer, still a Tampa Bay Ray as of this writing, is projected at 3.2 by his lonesome -- but consider: Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair and Williams Perez started the second-, fourth- and fifth-most games for the 2016 Braves. Their collective WARP was 0.1.
Further spring cheer: 8 Braves among Baseball America's top 78 prospects, including 4 non-pitchers!