The PECOTA projections are now available at Baseball Prospectus. While we aren’t going to just copy and paste, and give away the entirety of the projections, it does seem like a fun exercise to take a look at a surprise or two.
One of the bigger story lines when it comes to the pitching staff this spring will be Robert Stephenson. The rotation, it appears, is full. The bullpen has most of it’s spots locked down, too. And Robert Stephenson is out of options. That means he’s going to either have to make the team, or be designated for assignment or traded.
When he made his debut in 2016 he struggled as a 23-year-old. He posted a 6.08 ERA over 8 starts, walked 19 batters, allowed 9 home runs, and struck out 31. It was a tough debut. In 2017 he struggled mightily out of the bullpen, but had success as a starter – at least when it comes to ERA. In 11 starts that year he had a 3.41 ERA in 58.0 innings with 36 walks and 56 strikeouts. He only allowed 5 home runs. The walk rate was far too high, but the other numbers were strong. As a reliever, though, he posted a 7.43 ERA in 26.2 innings with 7 home runs allowed, 17 walks, and 30 strikeouts. The home runs and walks were big problems as a reliever.
Last year he barely saw time in the Major Leagues. He pitched in a total of four games, and he struggled. He walked more batters than he struck out, 12-to-11, in 11.2 innings. He was very good in 20 starts in Triple-A, though. With Louisville he posted a 2.87 ERA in 113.0 innings with 57 walks and 135 strikeouts.
With his history in the Major Leagues being what it is, the reasonable expectation would be that his projections wouldn’t look good. And to be fair, they aren’t exactly great. That said, PECOTA projects Robert Stephenson to post a 4.24 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP this upcoming season. It’s in limited action, but it’s essentially saying that he’s projecting to be a league average pitcher when he does take the mound. The walk rate is still high, but so is the projected strikeout rate, and it thinks he’ll be able to keep the ball in the ballpark at a reasonable rate.
At the plate there are two surprises. The PECOTA system sees plenty of regression coming for Eugenio Suarez in the power department. That leads to a big drop off in his slugging percentage, and thus his OPS. But the other surprise is that of Joey Votto.
As was written yesterday, Joey Votto struggled to do damage on pitches inside of the strikezone in 2018. It was that drop off in power, and it was a big drop off, that led to him merely being a good hitter instead of the great hitter he’s always been. PECOTA sees a big rebound coming for Votto in the power aspect of his game.
In the 2018 season he managed just 12 home runs while getting 623 plate appearances. In the previous three years he averaged 31 home runs and 693 plate appearances. He isn’t projected to be quite that good, but he is projected for 21 home runs in 623 plate appearances. That’s enough to push his slugging percentage back over the .500 mark. After slugging just .419 in 2018, a jump up to .503 is huge.
There’s some more interesting things in the PECOTA projections – both at the team level and the individual level. Be sure to go check it all out.