My therapist: PECOTA projections aren’t real, they can’t hurt you.
If you have followed this offseason with any degree of attention, this should come as no shock to you: The Indians are going to be underdogs in the AL Central. That doesn’t mean they can’t win the division and knock the Twins off their throne, but it’s not going to be easy. The Twins, having most recently signed third baseman Josh Donaldson, seem poised to repeat their division win from a year ago, pitching woes or not.
The recently released PECOTA projections agree, putting them at 93.4 wins with a 77.4% chance of winning the AL Central, and an 89.2% chance of making the playoffs. The surging Chicago White Sox, who have seemingly added half a dozen quality players this offseason, are pegged for 82.5 wins and a 5.9% chance of winning the division.
Sandwiched between the two of them is our protagonist, the Cleveland Indians. Highlights of their offseason include not trading Francisco Lindor (yet), dumping Corey Kluber’s salary for a reliever that projections systems are not yet sold on, and maybe signing Domingo Santana. As a result, PECOTA has them at 86.1 wins with a 16.7% chance at winning the division and just a 41.4% chance of making the playoffs. In the land of PECOTA standings, the Indians trail the Tampa Bay Rays (87.3 projected wins) and Los Angeles Angels (86.8) for a shot at playing in the AL Wild Card Game.
Prior to last season, PECOTA had the Indians at 97 wins, the Twins at 81 wins, and everyone else in the division quite a ways behind. A year on the calendar and two front offices going in completely opposite directions have stripped the Indians of their estimated 16-game lead and left them clamoring for a chance at a one-game play-in.
It’s important to note — and Baseball Prospectus will be quick to remind you — that PECOTA does not have a personal vendetta against your favorite team. As far as I know, they don’t even make it wear a Twins jersey. What it’s doing is not hand-picking winners and losers, but estimating a range of games with a thousand simulations. The whole process is explained in more detail over on Baseball Prospectus, no subscription required.
These simulations provide BP with a wide range of probabilities, resulting in these happy little foothills that give you a good idea of how confident the projections are in your team. For instance, the peak on the Indians’ pile of win totals is pretty high around the 85 mark, while the White Sox have a bit of a plateau around 82-85 or so.
There’s also some unimaginable hellscape in the low-60’s for the Indians, but we won’t speak of that.