This is the time of year I have come to genuinely enjoy — prediction season. With the offseason nearly over for most teams (the Braves still have a few moves up their sleeve), projection systems from media outlets everywhere are beginning to release their results, and as always, they are already beginning to laughably underrate the Braves.
The first one to be released (that I’ve seen at least; trust me, there will be plenty more) is from Baseball Prospectus, courtesy of their PECOTA system. If you’re wondering what the hell PECOTA is, here’s the explanation from Baseball Prospectus:
PECOTA, which stands for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm, is BP’s proprietary system that projects player and team performance
PECOTA is a system that takes a player’s past performance and tries to project the most likely outcome for the following season. It looks at all of the numbers, and all the numbers that make up the numbers, to see which players are more likely to repeat their success and which ones benefited from good fortune.
Listen, I have to give credit to anyone who would go through this much to predict how players and teams will succeed. I’m not really a math guy, so kudos for trying. Because that’s all this really is… trying — at least as far as the Braves are concerned.
For the past four years, PECOTA has attempted to keep Atlanta in a shadow. They predicted they would win just 76 games in 2018. Of course, the Braves won their first of three division titles that season, racking up 90 wins. PECOTA must have thought it was a fluke because they projected Atlanta to win just 84 games in 2019. The Braves won 97. Still, that wasn’t enough to convince PECOTA, who predicted the Braves to win 83 games and finish in third place last season. Of course, the season was shortened, but Atlanta ran away with the division again.
PECOTA projections for the Braves during their three consecutive division titles:
2018 – 76 wins, 4th place
2019 – 84 wins, 3rd place
2020 – 83 wins, 3rd place
2021 – 82 wins, 4th place
— Matt Chrietzberg (@BravesMattC) February 9, 2021
As far as the Braves are concerned, PECOTA has been off by 14 games on average over the last three seasons. Why is that? I have come up with two primary reasons.
First, they completely take out the human element. One thing the Braves have had over the last three seasons that the rest of the NL East has lacked is continuity. They genuinely enjoy playing the game with each other, and they never stop believing. That may sound corny, but it matters over a 162-game season.
Secondly, PECOTA wildly underrates the Braves young talent each season. They are constantly projecting players like Max Fried, Ozzie Albies, Ian Anderson, and Mike Soroka to regress. Meanwhile, they just keep getting better (as most good young players do).
I get that these projection systems are complex and can’t be changed to account for one team, but at a certain point, you have to take a step back and realize something is wrong. PECOTA’s system is obviously extremely flawed when predicting how the Braves will perform and should NEVER be taken seriously. Atlanta is the favorite in Vegas to take home their fourth straight division title for a reason.
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