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PECOTA: Otherworldly computational intelligence predicts bad season for White Sox

Will the wonders of technology never cease?

Imagine that you have access to the world’s most powerful quantum computer. This is a machine with nearly god-like capabilities of taking unlimited information, to not just count the grains of sand on a beach but to recreate the ancient rocks from which each grain eroded. And you take this opportunity to tell it that you’re hungry. You haven’t eaten since lunch, and honestly, it was a light lunch. The computer summons its vast post-human intelligence, and tells you to maybe eat dinner.

“Wow,” you’d think, with a level of respect falling somewhat short of awe. “No shit.”

To which the computer would respond: Well, that was a dumb question.

That’s more or less the reaction of White Sox fans to Baseball Prospectus’s annual PECOTA release. PECOTA, for those of you who don’t know, is the identification of possibilities for an upcoming season. It shows the most likely range of wins (and losses) for each team, based on past performance and how it projects moving forward.

To no one’s surprise, the predictions for the White Sox in 2024 are bad. No shit.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Wins 65.5
Losses 96.5
Odds of Winning the Division 0.0%
Wild Card Odds 0.0%
World Series 0.0%

Perhaps the only surprise is that this might not be as bad as you think. Most people are predicting the Sox to lose 100 games — and some cynics think things could break as bad as 110 losses. We’re going to find out who thinks what when predictions roll out closer to Opening Day.

But the important thing to remember about PECOTA is that it isn’t a prediction. These aren’t picks, by any stretch. When the stat-averse say things like, “A computer can’t tell you what a player is going to do! That’s why they play the games!” it’s important to remember that their splutterings are actually correct — though, as is often the case with angry people spluttering about something they don’t understand, not for the right reasons. The “computer” understands that people are playing the games. And it is saying: Here is the most likely range of possibilities.

So when it comes to White Sox wins, 65.5 is the most likely outcome. And you can tell that this exists in the realm of pure mathematics, because the one outcome I can guarantee is that the White Sox will not win 65.5 games.

Somewhere around there is the most-likely number in the range of possible outcomes. And the range for the White Sox is about what you’d think:

If you look where the right-side line is at its most narrow, that’s about 87 wins — the best possible outcome as imagined by PECOTA. Slightly more likely is around 81-82 wins. Minnesota, with a whole lot of range better than .500, is the most likely AL Central team to win more than 82. So is Cleveland. Detroit and Kansas City probably won’t, but are still likely to be better than the White Sox. Add it all up, and 0.0% playoff odds for the White Sox ... make perfect sense.

The one positive here is that the Sox are projected to be slightly better than most fans imagine in a division that actually seems to be less horror show than it has been of late. So while the AL Central might still be a bit of a joke, it’s not as bitterly unfunny a joke as it used to be. Small victories.

Small victories are pretty much all the Sox can hope for this year. We didn’t need PECOTA to tell us that, obviously. But you can, if you want, look at the right side of the projections. Not all the way, but around the 70, 72-win mark. It’s not wildly unrealistic. And at this point, that’s not a small thing. It’s at least a quantum of solace.

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