Baseball projections are fun and interesting and we all enjoy them. The people who put them together do a ton of hard work and are a lot smarter than I am. They also get a lot of unfair criticism from legions of fans who think their projectors hate them.
The 2017 PECOTA projections are now out, and about them I have only one thing to say.
THEY HATE THE PHILLIES.
Nah, I’m just kidding, it’s fine, although they do believe the Phillies will finish in last place in the National League East once again, with the second-worst record in the NL.
Last year, the Phillies won 71 games, so an increase to 74 would be an additional three wins if my math is correct. Better than nothing, I guess. But they predict the Phils to finish two games behind the Braves and once again post a team-wide on-base percentage under .300 (.298), both of which suck.
Here are some other projections of note.
Oh Heavens the Defense
The Phillies defense was a little all over the place last season, with a pretty good Fangraphs Def rating of 19.1, 10th-best in all of baseball. But it was also worth -22 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), which was tied for 22nd. They covered a lot of ground as evidenced by their 10th-best Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) of 18.1, but they also committed 97 errors last year, which was middle-of-the-pack.
So obviously the team wasn’t likely to have a terrific defensive rating heading into 2017, despite Gold Glove caliber defense played at shortstop by Freddy Galvis and in center field by Odubel Herrera. But PECOTA projects the Phillies to be have an MLB-worst -28.2 Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) in 2017.
That’s some pretty bad glovework. So what’s the deal there?
They see Cameron Rupp as being worth -8 FRAA, Tommy Joseph -9, Cesar Hernandez at -1, and Maikel Franco at -8. They even have Freddy Galvis at -1, which seems ludicrous on its face. Not a single player in the infield will put up a FRAA in positive territory, according to PECOTA.
Howie Kendrick and Herrera are both positive defensive players in left and center field, but new free agent Michael Saunders would be at -5 FRAA in right.
Maybe we should think twice about asking Vince Velasquez to pitch to more contact.
Tommy Joseph Power Surge But Not Much Else
PECOTA has the young first baseman slugging a team-best 31 dingers next year. Hey, you’ll take that, right? Will you also take a slash line of .252/.298/.475 and a WAR of 0.4 to go along with it?
Yeah, maybe not so much.
Phillies fans are obviously hoping Joseph can put up a line that mirrors his second half numbers, which were .259/.335/.494, good for an .829 OPS and a wRC+ of 119. Is that asking for too much?
According to PECOTA, yeah, it might be.
They Hate Cameron Rupp
Well, maybe this is good news for Jorge Alfaro. PECOTA thinks Rupp is going to be pretty doggone awful.
Rupp is the only regular Phillie who they think will finish the season with a negative WAR, at -0.1. That’s due to the defensive deficiencies mentioned above along with a projected slash line of .223/.280/.384 in 533 PAs.
But let’s be honest here. If Rupp is slashing .223/.280/.384 in May, he’s not going to get 533 plate appearances. You can book that.
Hopeful About Aaron Nola
We’re all worried about Nola. We’re worried his elbow is going to explode into a million pieces at some point in Clearwater, and we’re worried about his last eight starts last year in which he put up an ERA around 457.85.
PECOTA’s numbers for Nola are a little weird. They see him making 26 starts but pitching only 138 innings. That would be an average of 5.3 innings per start, extremely Velasquez-esque. They do see him finishing with a 3.59 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP, and a team-high WAR of 2.2.
That 3.59 ERA would also be the lowest among the five starters, with Velasquez at 3.86, Jerad Eickhoff at 3.90, Jeremy Hellickson at 4.09 and Clay Buchholz at 4.32.
A Cover-Your Eyes Bullpen
According to PECOTA’s projections, only one Phils reliever will have an ERA under 4, Hector Neris, at 3.56. That’s going to make for some very uncomfortable middle and late innings.
But hey, who doesn’t like the excitement of a blown save, right?
Closer Joaquin Benoit will save 35 games but put up an ERA of 4.17, which won’t help his trade value. Jeanmar Gomez will be at 4.51. Pat Neshek, Joely Rodriguez, Edubray Ramos and Adam Morgan will also all have ERAs in the mid-to-high 4s.
Don’t believe me? See for yourself.
That is a whole lot of yikes.
Projections generally tend to be conservative, and that’s why many of the numbers you have read aren’t terribly optimistic or are just flat-out bad for the Phils. The Phillies are still rebuilding, and no, they weren’t very good last year.
There also isn’t a lot of data on which to rely for many of these players. The PA totals simply don’t allow the projections computers to have a real strong base with which to work, so go easy on it, it’s doing the best it can.
And honestly, if all of these numbers went down like this in 2017, would you really be all that surprised?
Phillies fans have some reason to be optimistic this year. Some of these guys should play better this year. And if you look at some of the 90% outcomes, you can get an eyeful of nothing but best-case scenarios for every player.
But computers aren’t programmed to be optimistic. They’re programmed to launch nuclear weapons at us all and then fight wars with us when we try to revolt.
So save your vitriol for those computers, not poor ‘ol PECOTA.