NOTE: All of this was written Monday afternoon, BEFORE the Michael Bourn signing took place. The PECOTA projections were obviously also made BEFORE that took place. So, as you read through this, mentally adjust a bit, probably adding a fee to their runs scored, subtracted a few from their runs allowed, and giving them another three wins or so.
The general consensus seems to be that the Indians have had a successful off-season. There's been a series of moves for fans to look to as improvements in both the present and future of the team: Hiring Terry Francona, turning the last year of Shin-Soo Choo into ace pitching prospect Trevor Bauer, landing Nick Swisher, and signing a number of question marks to low-risk contracts that give the team options heading into spring training. Most Tribe fans feel like the team is headed in the right direction (some of us more than others, of course).
We don't yet know which five pitchers will start the season in the rotation, or how the DH spot will shake out, or what the usual batting order will be (or if there will even be a "usual batting order"), but with pitchers and catchers having reported to Goodyear, we're getting closer and closer to those answers. It's also projection season. In the weeks to come, Let's Go Tribe will be looking at various projections for players' performances, today I want to look at a projection for the entire team league, the newly released PECOTA standings for 2013.
The PECOTA system was first developed by Nate Silver, who has since moved on to... other things (I wouldn't saybetter ones, because there's no going up from baseball). If you're not familiar with Silver, ask your grandma. If she watched the news regularly in 2012, she can probably tell you about him. The first time I remember hearing a lot about PECOTA was when the system projected the 2007 White Sox for only 72 wins, after they'd averaged 95 over the previous two seasons. In Chicago, people lost their minds about it. At season's end, the White Sox were 72-90, right on the button. No projection is perfect, and Silver wouldn't claim he expects PECOTA to be dead on, but that particular (and high profile) example happening to hit the bullseye helped a lot of people see that detailed statistical analysis is often a better judge than the gut.
Getting back to 2013 and back to the Indians, PECOTA (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm) projects them to finish 80-82, 2nd place in the American League Central. They are projected to score 726 runs, which ranks 8th in the A.L., and allow 737 runs, which ranks 7th. As compared to 2012, that would be an increase of 59 runs scored, a decrease of 107 runs allowed, and an improvement of 12 wins (tied with Toronto for the biggest jump in the American League, with the Cubs leading MLB with a projected 16-win gain).
Here are the PECOTA A.L. Central Standings*:
1) Detroit Tigers: 92-70
2) Cleveland Indians: 80-82
3) Chicago White Sox: 77-85
4) Kansas City Royals: 76-86
5) Minnesota Twins: 66-96
So, the Indians are still projected to finish a distant 12 games out of first place, but any reasonable Tribe fan would have to be happy with such a big improvement from one season to the next. There's a lot more to look at in their projections (really, you should take a minute and check them out), including a 2012 playoff team projected for last place, just how bad the Astros might do in their maiden American League season, and how much the Dodgers' wild spending spree might help them. Keep in mind that the projections you see are somewhat pulled to the middle. A system like PECOTA will almost never project a team to win or lose 100 games, even though that actually happens semi-regularly. Keep that in mind when you look at a team like the Twins or Marlins.
I'm fairly bullish on the Indians for 2013, but even I was surprised to see this positive a report from PECOTA. As I said before, no projection system is perfect, so there's every possibility the Tribe will under-perform these numbers and finished with 90+ losses again. But I think this is also a sign that it's okay for us to feel some optimism about the team as spring training gets under way and we roll closer and closer to Opening Day.
Again, the addition of Bourn will only improve these projections. His ability to get on base and use his speed on the bases will add some runs to the Indians' projected total. His excellent glove work will subtract a few runs from the number they're projected to allow, and given his production the last couple years, he'll likely add three wins to the team's projected total, pushing them to something like 83-79. That's still 9 games behind Detroit, but only 3 games behind Boston and Tampa Bay, projected to finish in a tie for the second wildcard spot. The playoffs are in play, people!