Every year more and more baseball fans look to the PECOTA (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm) projections and this year the Dodgers are well regarded.
They also did well in 2018 with a projection of 97 wins (they ended up with 92) and in 2019 they are projected to have 94 wins and win the National League West by 6 games. They are also projected to win at least 5 more games than any team in the NL.
We’ll take a look at some of the key projected statistics for each player and look at some surprises.
NOTE: WARP is the Baseball Prospectus version of Wins Above Replacement (WAR).
PECOTA projects Austin Barnes to rebound quite a bit with the bat. If he ends up with an OPS of .724 (.637 in 2018), the catching spot will be in good hands. Most of his defensive game is elite (his throwing is just decent) and if he’s not an automatic out then he and Russell Martin will be a good catching combination. Barnes mentioned in an interview with David Vassegh that he’s been working with the new hitting coach, Robert Van Scoyoc, and is making good progress. He felt he got off to a bad start last year (his throwing arm was hurting in spring training) and just never recovered.
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PECOTA doesn’t project Cody Bellinger to have any improvement at all from 2018. I believe that Bellinger will bounce back quite a bit and will be closer to what he was in 2017. I believe the Dodgers are of the same mind or they would have traded him for J.T. Realmuto. I believe Cody approaches 40 home runs in 2019 and will be a 5 win player. Heck, he’s still only 23.
PECOTA projects Max Muncy to experience quite a bit of regression in 2019. They expect his OPS to drop from .973 to .811. With a more consistent group of players around him I believe we’ll see Muncy continue to have good at bats and not regress too much. Even if he does regress as PECOTA thinks he will that’s still a good player on offense. The biggest question is his defense and I hope he stays at first base.
PECOTA has projected A.J. Pollock to basically be the same player he was in 2018. That will be true if Pollock is injured. However, if Pollock plays like he did before he got hurt in 2018, we get a slash line of .293/.349/.620. That is the player the Dodgers are hoping for in 2019. I don’t expect his OBP to be too much more than 50 points higher than his batting average as he is an aggressive hitter. He’s another who has worked with Van Scoyoc before so that is another factor.
PECOTA has always been conservative with rookies and they really come in low on Alex Verdugo. His PECOTA slash of .255/.314/.400 is way off in my opinion. In guessing low I would say it should be .275/.340/.450. Again, that is low. Verdugo is a player with an advanced approach at the plate who will be a more consistent presence in the lineup. The only way I see him struggling is if he is not given consistent playing time.
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NOTE: WHIP is Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched
PECOTA projects Clayton Kershaw to have an ERA of 3.24. That would be his highest since 2008, when he was a rookie. In 2018 Kershaw was not the same pitcher as his fastball hovered between 89-91 MPH. I believe he will regain a little bit of velocity and will continue to get used to not throwing 94-95 any more. If he can reduce his home runs he can become elite again.
PECOTA projects Walker Buehler to have an ERA of 3.61 and a WHIP of 1.20. In 2018 his ERA was 2.62 and his WHIP was 0.961. It looks like they are projecting him to have some walk issues. Instead of this projection, I see Buehler competing for the 2019 Cy Young award. I do think his innings need to be managed a bit as he pitched all the way through late October for the first time.
PECOTA projects Hyun-Jin Ryu to see his ERA explode from 1.97 in 2018 to 3.77 in 2019. I don’t think Ryu repeats his 2018 but I expect his ERA to stay in the 2’s. The knock on Ryu is that he pitches so much better at home than on the road. If the Dodgers can find a way to strategically have him skip a few starts on the road he will have dominant statistics. The Dodgers have the depth to skip him periodically and they should do it.
PECOTA projects Pedro Baez to go back to being bad Pedro as evidenced by a projected ERA of 4.36 with a high walk rate. I believe that Baez has turned the corner and will be an important part of the 2019 bullpen. In fact, PECOTA doesn’t seem to like much of the bullpen at all if you look at the projected statistics. This is where I believe PECOTA will be way off as the bullpen looks to be a strength.
I really enjoy PECOTA as it causes a deeper look at more of the players. Baseball Prospectus should be applauded for their amazing work as it gives a well thought out methodology to try and project a baseball season. Cleary, it will have plenty of things that become way off but they don’t make any excuses. It also gives us some projections to look at and talk about. I was optimistic about the Dodgers in 2019 but, after further analysis I am quite bullish on them. They aren’t perfect and some tweaks could occur but I do like (and so does PECOTA) what they are going into 2019.
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