You have to hand it to the White Sox for sticking it to PECOTA yet again. It just wasn't in the way they intended.
Baseball Prospectus' projection system pegged the Sox for 76 wins after an 85-win season. The White Sox defied it by a whopping 13 wins. Unfortunately, they did it on the wrong side.
But the Sox just didn't foil the crystal balls. They also undermined a tried-and-false premise, and it might be the only time they were happy to beat the odds this season.
Let's go back to February, when Tom Verducci at Sports Illustrated released his list of "Year-After Effect" candidates. Known colloquially elsewhere as the "Verducci Effect," here's his explanation of the methodology:
The Year-After Effect, as I called the risk after a big innings jumps, is not a scientific, predictive system. It's a rule of thumb to identify pitchers who may be at risk because of a sharp increase in workload. The older the pitcher, the bigger the body type and the closer to the 30-inning threshold is their increase, the less they seem to be at risk.
There's no shortage of analysis that discredits the theory, and Russell Carleton at Baseball Prospectus went above and beyond in dismantling it last winter. Nevertheless, because Verducci is a high-profile voice at multiple high-profile outlets (SI and MLB Network, to name two), it gains undeserved annual publicity in spite of the lack of validity, all because it sounds sensible.
Anyway, Verducci identified Chris Sale as the starter most vulnerable to the Year-After Effect after jumping from 71 innings in 2011 to 192 in 2012. Jose Quintana fell two spots behind him, due to an increase that was roughly half of Sale's, but twice as much as the 30-inning threshold. Sale, in particular, intrigued Verducci:
In more than a decade of tracking such innings jumps for young pitchers, I've never seen anything close to the increase the White Sox gave Sale, the reed-thin lefthander who converted from the bullpen to rotation and understandably faded down the stretch (3-5, 4.22 in his last nine starts). The biggest previous jumps belonged to Paul Maholm (+98 1/3 for the 2005 Pirates) and Runelvys Hernandez (+92 for the 2002 Royals).
As it turned out, there was no reason to worry.
The shame about Sale's unsuccessful final start against the Royals on Saturday is that it knocked his ERA a smidge above his first year. But then you look at the 22-inning increase and the sharpening of his peripherals, and it's all good. (Plus, it was way better than his last stand his last time around.)
Quintana looked like he was going to fall short of 200 innings, but shutting down John Danks and skipping Hector Santiago allowed Quintana to pick up one more start, and he threw the seven frames he needed to get there.
Beyond Don Cooper's horses, the list missed on most of the others, too. Of the 11 starters named, only two suffered significant setbacks due to injury. One was Matt Harvey, which is somewhat ironic since Verducci raved about his clean mechanics. The other is Alex Cobb, who took a line drive to the forehead. I don't think the Year-After Effect accounts for that.
The weird thing about the Verducci Effect is that even Verducci finds fault in it. He uses Cooper as the counterpoint, because the Sox typically ignore innings limits to no detriment.
"We go by our own philosophy," pitching coach Don Cooper said. "I don't compare us to other guys. I don't know Stephen Strasburg A to Z. I know Chris Sale from A to Z. I know Jake Peavy from A to Z. I know our guys. I look at them and decide what's best for them." [...]
Cooper watches for signs of wear and tear, but as long as a pitcher keeps a good delivery intact and is healthy, he will keep sending the pitcher to the mound rather than letting a pre-determined innings limit force a shutdown.
"I want our guys to be the best they can be," Cooper said. "How do you do that? You let them go. The best guys are the guys who can do it year after year. Those are the pitchers that are the most valuable guys to have, especially in the American League."
However the Sox achieved it, Cooper's comments can be rolled ahead to 2014 with Sale and Quintana as the new feathers in his cap. But that doesn't mean the article can't be written again. There's always going to be a debate over how to handle young pitchers, and an article about significant workload increases would be equally (or more) valid if it weren't introduced by a theory that is too flawed to take seriously.
Hell, if the Year-After Effect went 0-for-2 in torching the 2013 White Sox -- a team that suffered and stumbled into every other kind of misfortune this season -- that's as good a reason to retire it as any.