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Calm it Cards

by Allan Best

With Spring Training getting set to start sooner rather than later, the season projections have began to become public.  With the additions the Cardinals made in the offseason there is hope for improvement from last years disappointment.  They secured their lead off man and CF with Fowler and signed a veteran reliever, who happens to be a needed lefty with the loss of Duke, in Brett Cecil, both of which are nice additions.  You also have to figure in the return of Lance Lynn.  He is coming back from Tommy John surgery, but he has been a horse for this club for years and there is no reason to think he can’t come back to form.  If not, well, the Cardinals strongest feature is the amount of depth they have for starting pitchers, both in the majors and minors.  Reyes joining the rotation for a full season and the notion that Waino and Rosenthal will be back to form, are even more reasons for the club to be optimistic.  So the question that keeps floating around in my mind?  Why is PECOTA projecting a 76-86 record for a team that always seems to find their way into the playoff hunt?

PECOTA is a projection system created by Nate Silver in the beginning part of the 2000’s.  It was created to be used for Baseball Prospectus, but since then has been upgraded through the years.  It’s used to project what kind of season an individual player, along with teams as a whole will fair during the course of a Major League season.  PECOTA stands for: Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm.  It basically uses methods to find players comparable to each other to predict what kind of season they will have.  Taking a saber-metrical course to evaluate 30 teams with 25+ major components to come to a conclusion on how any number of individuals will react and perform in an instinct based game is nothing more than a NFL analyst giving his score projections for that week in football…a guess, and nothing more.  We all can make our educated guesses about certain outcomes in any number of different activities, but it will never be factual, just a guess.  Of course the “logical” computer program they use is incapable of measuring will, heart, all the little things that push a player to exceed what expectations have been set before him.  Mid-season, unexpected tragedies, or miracles can happen, can a computer factor these types of occurrences into their projections?  Nope.  That is why these predictions have to be taken with a grain of salt.  In 2015, PECOTA projected the Cardinals to have an 89-73 season. Remember the 100-62 season that actually happened?

The Cardinals have a lot of “ifs” preceding the 2017 season and maybe this has made an impact on the PECOTA prediction.  A miserable defense was directly linked to, if not, the main reason the Cardinals didn’t make the playoffs and what has changed behind the starting pitchers?  The same personnel will man the same positions they did, for the most part, as last season.  Have they improved defensively?  Not on paper, but a computer can’t see if the players put in the work and improved.  Plus, the rotation is packed with a more strikeout prone staff, when last year the pitchers pitched more to contact, so a drastic improvement may not be necessary (but an improvement will be). Speaking of starting pitchers.  Lynn coming back to his 2015 form, along with Waino, Leake improving, and Reyes becoming the rookie of the year everyone in St. Louis is rooting for aren’t exactly locks.  Just remember Cardinals fans, this is a computer, not a person, a Cubs fan, or a grudge holder, and anyone who can take seriously anything that projects Mike Leake as the Cardinals most valuable pitcher needs to calm down.  This is St. Louis, the people know what this organization is capable of, especially with a chip on their shoulder.  I say let the projections come.  They don’t discourage me and it shouldn’t get to the fans in this city.  Find me between mid-June and the trade deadline, when we will all know what this team is really made of.

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