We’re nearing six weeks into the baseball season, which means there have been enough games that some things are starting to be seriously altered in terms of both playoff odds, but perhaps more importantly: projected win percentages going forward. As boring as the last sentence was, it’s important. As explained last week, projection systems have long memories, meaning early season performances are discounted somewhat heavily, and previous biases are still clung to. At this point though, most of the teams at the top are expected win more than half of their remaining games and most of the teams at the bottom are expected to lose a majority of their remaining games. For this week’s Joe, I thought it’d be interesting to look at the outliers in those capacities and try to figure out why that’s the case.
The Astros have taken the AL West by storm, ranking in the top ten in both runs scored and runs allowed (sixth overall in run differential). Yet PECOTA pegs them for a .485 expected win total. Sure, this is enough for Houston to make the playoffs nearly half the time, but given that there are 32 games in the bank, why the pessimism? Jake Marisnick has been an integral part of the Astros offensive success, slashing .319/.364/.516, and he’s projected to slash .234/.274/.357 the rest of the way. Along the same lines, there are substantial backslides expected for Collin McHugh and Dallas Keuchel. While improvements are expected for some current underperformers (Evan Gattis is a big one), it’s not enough to offset the expected regressions from the overperformers. Whether it’s reasonable to expect Keuchel or others to slide backwards as much as PECOTA does… that’s a different question altogether.
Losing Records, Winning Expected Win Percentages
Boston Red Sox– Record: 14-17, Expected Win%: .525
This one isn’t as hard to figure, as Hanley Ramirez is just about the only Red Sox player performing above what you might expect – and even his production is within reason. The entire pitching staff should be better, if only because it’s hard to be worse. While it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming there’s no light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to the rotation, remember just a few weeks ago when the sky was falling in Washington. The Nationals are now two games above .500, and a similar run of good play would put the Red Sox well above that mark. Getting Mike Napoli, Xander Bogaerts, and Mookie Betts fully on track would do wonders toward making that happen.
The A’s are an astonishing nine games below .500, but thanks to a solid preseason projection (36.8 percent to make the playoffs) and a run differential befitting a team just under .500, the rest-of-the-season situation doesn’t seem so dire. It’s fair to question whether they should get the benefit of the doubt though, as Stephen Vogt surely isn’t a 1000 OPS player and Josh Reddick has never had a full-season OBP of .330, much less hit that well. Additionally, Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray can’t reasonably be expected to improve on their stellar starts, so that leaves us wondering where the improvement is going to come from. Brett Lawrie is one answer, and a healthy Ben Zobrist gives us a second. Coco Crisp’s impact can’t be overlooked either, as a hobbled Crisp is going to severely underperform expectations that were set by the healthy version. The real change is going to have to come in Oakland’s rotation, as the pitchers behind Kazmir and Gray need to improve. The A’s sit at fifth in MLB in runs scored – so while there have been some disappointing offensive performances thus far, the blame lies on a pitching staff that has allowed a fourth-worst 156 runs thus far.