It’s PECOTA Week over at Baseball Prospectus, and that means more projections. The BP folks revamped their model this year, and they claim their accuracy is improved, particularly with respect to MiLB pitching. Read more about the whole thing here.
If you read through the ZiPS projections from FanGraphs earlier this week, you get the idea. Below are some of the things that stood out to me while perusing the individual player projections (team record projections are due on Monday).
There are very few surprises among the Tribe hitters: Francisco Lindor is going to be elite again, with a projected 30-home run season and a DRC+ of 123, part of a projected 3.9 WARP season. Also unsurprising is that PECOTA likes Carlos Santana and José Ramírez; what is surprising is that PECOTA likes them in that order. Despite having seven years on the GOAT, Santana is projected for 3.3 WARP whereas Ramírez is projected for 2.5. Some of this comes down to defense, as Santana is projected for 1.0 FRAA at first and José is projected for -2 FRAA at third. The comparables for Ramírez include Nolan Arenado, Adrián Beltré, and Brooks Robinson, however, so it seems safe to say their 50th percentile projection has a considerable amount of uncertainty.
The Indians outfield, as everyone was already aware, is not projected to be great. Tyler Naquin, who is trying his hardest to return from an ACL injury by opening day, is projected as the best outfielder on the Indians, with the same 1.8 WARP projection as Franmil Reyes. Reyes, of course is projected to be a better hitter (121 vs 105 DRC+ and 31 vs. 10 HR), but Naquin has the second-highest defensive projection on the team (10 FRAA). The only other outfielder projected to be worth at least 1.0 WARP is Ka’ai Tom, who has never played a big league game. New addition Delino DeShields is projected for good defense, with 4 FRAA in center, but atrocious offense, with just 78 DRC+. Jordan Luplow is projected for better offense, with 114 DRC+, and has Shin-Soo Choo as his top comparable player, but only has 175 plate appearances projected, limiting his WARP to 0.7.
One big notable and negative takeaway from the PECOTA projections is that Oscar Mercado obviously killed the engine’s mother. Otherwise, it is really hard for me to understand how much of an outlier he is in the projections. Mercado is projected for 560 PA, as many as Ramírez, but just 0.1 WARP and 81 DRC+. The system projects 16 HR and above-average center field defense (2 FRAA) to go with 35 walks (6.25 BB%) and 108 strikeouts (19.2%), all of which makes me think his variance must be quite high as well, with the likelihood of a sophomore slump slightly outweighing solid contributions.
No one values catching quite like BP. FanGraphs made their WAR take catching defense, and all that entails, into account better last year, but there’s still no one valuing catchers quite like BP. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Roberto Pérez is projected to dominate behind the plate again this year.
At catcher, Robo is projected to be worth 25 FRAA in 2020, which is eye-watering. Only one other player in all of baseball is projected to be better; unfortunately, that player now resides in the AL Central and is new White Sox backstop Yasmani Grandal (28 FRAA). Although Francona is on record saying he’ll be less tempted to use Pérez as a late-inning defensive sub on his days off, he still does has a big advantage over backup Sandy León, who is projected for just 1 FRAA.
Neither catcher is expected to be much of a hitter, but Pérez is projected to hit 17 HR next year and post an 89 DRC+. León, on the other hand, is projected for a slash of .217/.281/.351 and a 67 DRC+.
Shane Bieber (14th), Mike Clevinger (23rd), and Carlos Carrasco (35th) have elite projections, all in the 97th percentile or above among all pitchers by PECOTA. All three have deserved run averages (DRA) between 3.72 and 3.81, DRA- of 80 or below, K/9 above 11.2, and BB/9 below 4.0. Those projections would make the Indians’ top three about as tough as any in the league, with WARP projections of 3.64, 3.04, and 2.51 for Bieber, Clevinger, and Carrasco, respectively
However, after those three, the WARP projections are not great. The starter PECOTA likes best, perhaps surprisingly, is Zach Plesac, who is projected to be worth 0.85 WARP but to have above-average DRA- at 102. Aaron Civale is projected for 23 starts but just a 113 DRA- and 0.14 WARP. The only other pitchers projected to start for Cleveland are Scott Moss (-0.01 WARP), Adam Plutko (-0.28 WARP), Logan Allen (-0.72 WARP), and Jefry Rodriguez (-0.81 WARP).
PECOTA does seem to like the Indians bullpen, however. Brad Hand is expected to rebound from a tough second half of 2019 with 0.81 WARP in 2020. He, as well as Oliver Pérez, James Hoyt, and Nick Wittgren are all projected to be better than average in terms of DRA-, with each pitcher projected to have a DRA- below 84. The BP system does not, however, think Emmanuel Clase and James Karinchak are ready to dominate. Despite big strikeout numbers in the minors and dominating stuff, neither Clase nor Karinchak are projected above-average in terms of DRA- and are pegged for 0.13 and 0.09 WARP, respectively.
Besides Tom, mentioned with the outfielders, a few prospects got some love in PECOTA’s projections. Dorssys Paulino, for instance, is projected to be better than DeShields by WARP (0.9) and DRC+ (91). Likewise, PECOTA believes Nolan Jones could be an above-average hitter this year, projecting a DRC+ of 102 for the 22 year old. Daniel Johnson, however, does not get much of an endorsement from the system, as he’s projected for 0.2 WARP and just 99 DRC+.
On the pitching side, PECOTA likes both Jean Carlos Mejia and Triston McKenzie better than other starting pitching options. Although the system does not project them to start, it does have above-average DRA- (94 and 97) and better WARP (0.23 and 0.18) projections for Mejia and McKenzie, respectively, than for Civale.
One other thing to note, although it remains unclear whether or not it truly is Indians related yet, Domingo Santana is projected for 0.9 WARP and 112 DRC+. He would be sixth best player on the Indians by DRC+ and fourth best outfielder by WARP (after Tom). Although his projected 33.4% strikeout rate is still frightening, his top comp this year is Jay Bruce, which wouldn’t be too bad to have around.