About a month ago, the White Sox’ ZiPS projections came out, and we learned they didn’t have the same effect from previous seasons. In years the White Sox tried to cobble together a contender, unimpressive individual estimates gave one an idea of the team’s fault lines. That knowledge is far less crucial after an earthquake already wrecked the roster, with more aftershocks expected.
The same goes for the White Sox and Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections. Several years ago, the White Sox openly smirked at PECOTA around this time of year, and with reason. The system habitually underestimated the Sox, or, in particular, the Sox’ above-average ability to keep their best players on the field. But the White Sox haven’t had the kind of pleasant surprises for which improved health bolstered the team’s lineup or rotation, while recently acquired players who projected well found ways to go sour. As a result, PECOTA ended up being too enthusiastic about the Sox in each of the last four seasons.
- 2016: 82-80 (actual: 79-83)
- 2015: 78-84 (actual: 76-86)
- 2014: 75-87 (actual: 73-89)
- 2013: 77-85 (actual: 63-99)
That could very well be the case for this season, although it has less to do with PECOTA’s first draft, and more to do with potential Jose Quintana and David Robertson trades. The system has the Sox at 77-85, which is an ordinary kind of losing season. In fact, the White Sox’ first-round pick is barely protected in this world.
With further dismantling to do, this projection doesn’t resonate the way it did in the years past. Or, the way it probably does for the other teams in the AL Central.
- Indians, 92-70
- Twins, 79-83
- Tigers: 78-84
- White Sox: 77-85
- Royals: 71-91
The White Sox don’t jump out at you in these standings, because they’re not trying to contend in 2017. They’re probably the only ones you can say that about.
One has to take into account that PECOTA hasn’t understood Kansas City for several years, as pnoles dramatized in his preview last season. It came closer to getting the Royals right in 2016 (six wins low) compared to previous seasons (23 and 10 wins low), but it required a catastrophic injury to Mike Moustakas and a less-significant one to Alex Gordon to make it happen.
It’s hard to take that 71-91 record seriously given the history. However, after trading Wade Davis and Jarrod Dyson for a slugger and a starter, the Royals are closer to resembling a typical team than in past years, which could make them more PECOTA-friendly this time around. Acquiring Jorge Soler as an outfielder in Kauffman Stadium feels like trying to put a 4-3 defensive end into a 3-4 scheme, but Dayton Moore might have a sense of how to do that.
As much as the Royals’ history says they can laugh at the projections, it’s still not a good thing to be a 90-loss team on paper. The same can be said for the Tigers, who project to be in the same neighborhood as the Twins. Granted, PECOTA was seven wins low on Detroit in 2017, but the projected 13-win gulf between the Tigers and Indians was reflected in the standings in 2016, as Cleveland won by a comfortable eight games. The margin of error is the bigger obstacle than the individual records.
What the Tigers face is what the White Sox have dealt with in the previous two seasons, and getting doused with cold water is worse in February. Looking at the kind of mountain Detroit has to climb, it’s a little bit of a relief that we won’t have to trust the White Sox front office to beat computers in order to deliver. That relief will turn to resignation with enough losses, but I’m embracing the novelty for now.