We know that Baseball Prospectus is high on the Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor-league system, as the publication has seven of the Bucs’ prospects among its top 80 for 2014.
However, BP doesn’t feel too great about this year’s Pirates at the big-league level, as its PECOTA projection system has slotted Pittsburgh as the fourth-best team in the National League Central as currently constructed.
PECOTA takes into account each player’s potential for improvement, decline and attrition, relying on a database of similar athletes from MLB history as a basic framework. According to this process, the Pirates are most likely to finish with a record of 78-84 in 2014, which would put them 10 games behind first-place St. Louis.
It’s instructive to remember that PECOTA had the Pirates as an also-ran last year, although it did predict Pittsburgh would be slightly above .500. The Bucs did indeed break their two-decade losing streak last summer, but they also won 94 games and clinched a playoff berth as well.
Baseball Prospectus‘ projection is especially pessimistic about the Pirates’ run prevention in 2014, predicting that they will allow 681 runs. Pittsburgh allowed 577 runs last season, the second-fewest in MLB. PECOTA actually has the Bucs’ offense improving marginally, jumping from 634 to 653 this year.
However, PECOTA doesn’t take into account the type of aggressive defensive shifting the Pirates employed to great effect in 2013. It also doesn’t fully factor in the sway of a strong bullpen, which has been proven to help teams outperform their peripheral numbers.
For example, the Pirates “should’ve” finished with an 88-74 record last year because of their plus-57 run differential, but they obviously tacked six more wins onto that. Managerial decisions and unexpected performances are among other variables that can skew results.
In short, PECOTA is a good baseline for predicting MLB outcomes, but sports have a way of surprising us.