Baseball Prospectus just released their most recent PECOTA projections for 2021, and of course, the baseball world is rife with reactions. That also includes the Royals blogosphere, as Royals Review, Into the Fountains, and Royals Academy have all published their own analysis on the PECOTA’s projections for Kansas City for the upcoming season. While I may not necessarily bring up anything that deviates too much from what other Royals analysts are interpreting from the data, I did want to share some early impressions I had from Baseball Prospectus’ set of projections.
Let’s take a look at five takeaways I (and maybe other Royals fans) had from the initial Royals PECOTA projections for next year.
(Side note: I will also take a look at the AL Central as a whole in a coming post. However, I wanted to just focus on the Royals projections for now.)
71 wins is a fair projection for this club
I tend to run on the more “optimistic” side when it comes to Royals fandom. However, I am not necessarily disagreeing with PECOTA’s projection of 71 wins for the Royals in 2021. The Royals certainly improved their roster this off-season with the free agent signings of Mike Minor and Carlos Santana, and it is likely that Brady Singer and Kris Bubic will only improve next year after solid rookie debuts in 2020. That being said, the vaunted “left-handed” bat the Royals were looking for this off-season never really developed, as Jurickson Profar, the only really serious target that they seemed to be in the mix for, opted to stay in San Diego. Thus, it looks like the Royals are looking for internal options to fill the middle-to-end of their lineup. While those options have potential, they certainly aren’t far from sure-things, either.
The Royals won 70 games on a pro-rated basis last year, so PECOTA projects that the Royals will be around the same kind of club in 2021, maybe slightly better. Last year, PECOTA projected the Royals win to win 66 games before COVID abbreviated the season, and the Royals won about four more games than expected (pro-rated, of course). In 2019, PECOTA projected the Royals to win 71, but the club only won 59, 12 short of that preseason projection. Hence, the Royals have a history of both outperforming as well as under-performing their projections recently.
I think 71 is fair. Honestly, I could see the Royals finishing within five to seven games of that projection on both ends, which is a sign of an accurate projection system. Granted, a lot had to go right as well (i.e. no injuries, surprise downfalls, etc.), something PECOTA doesn’t really predict. That being said, this projection should give Royals fans a realistic win number for 2021, as well as a good baseline to judge the season.
More than 71 wins? This team is on the right track.
70 or fewer? Well…that could be something for Royals fans to be concerned about.
PECOTA projects Santana and Soler to bounce back and Salvy and Whit to be consistent, but not “superstars”
Baseball Prospectus uses DRC+ to measure overall offensive production, in comparison to wRC+, which is what Fangraphs primarily uses. DRC+ stands for “Deserved Runs Created Plus” and is defined on Baseball Prospectus’ web site. Here is a brief summary of DRC+ for those who are unfamiliar:
Simply put, DRC+ measures all of a player’s contributions at the plate. The model digs beneath play outcomes to isolate how much of the outcome should be credited to the hitter, then weighs those contributions on the value he provided to the team. Then, the DRC+ model adjusts for context, which include factors like which park the hitter played in and how good the opposing pitcher is. Lastly, DRC+ is scaled so a score of 100 equals league-average performance.“Introducing Deserved Runs Created Plus (DRC+)” by Bryan Grosnick; Baseball Prospectus
For analysis with projections, I think metrics like DRC+ are better to pay attention to rather than just simply pure traditional counting stats (like hits, home runs, RBI, etc). In addition DRC+, I also look at WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player), BRR (Baserunning runs), and FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average). I think giving too much credence to counting stats in projection analysis often leads to misinterpretation and/or disappointment, as they can often be taken out of context when applied.
On a DRC+ and WARP basis, Soler and Santana rise to the top. Soler is projecting a DRC+ of 121 and WARP of 2.7, which is tops for Royals batters in those two categories, respectively. Santana comes in second, with a DRC+ of 119 and WARP of 2.3. I talked about Soler being a bounce-back candidate on Pitcher List, and I think he is capable of returning to his 2019 form based on my deeper look at his 2020 metrics. I think the same is also true of Santana, who suffered some massive regression in BABIP (from .293 in 2019 to .212 in 2020), and is widely known as a slow starter, which hurt him in the abbreviated season. I think the projections on these two players should give hope to Royals fans that Soler and Santana will be valuable run producers in the heart of the Royals lineup in 2021.
The only other Royals batters projected to post two or above WARP seasons were Salvador Perez and Whit Merrifield, whom PECOTA projected 2.0 and 2.2 WARP campaigns, respectively. What’s interesting about their WARP numbers is that their DRC+ projections were relatively low to their WARP, especially when compared to Soler and Santana. PECOTA is only projecting a 107 DRC+ for Salvy and a 105 DRC+ for Whit. That’s a double digit difference individually for both Salvy and Whit when compared to Soler and Santana, on a DRC+ basis.
Whit seems to make up his WARP value with his base running, as his projected BRR is 2.1, the second-best mark on the club (behind only Adalberto Mondesi, who has a 4.8 BRR projection). Salvy makes it up with offensive production, power especially, as his .465 projected slugging is expected to be higher than even Soler’s. That being said, they both take hits defensively, as they both possess negative FRAA marks.
Of course, this is not a surprise, as FRAA for catchers is tied heavily to framing metrics, and Salvy has always rated poorly when it comes to framing pitches (as evidenced further from his framing data on Baseball Savant). For Whit, the movement from position to position over the past two years hasn’t helped, and though he wasn’t as elite defensively at second as Nicky Lopez, he probably would rate better defensively overall if he just played second the past two years rather than move all over the outfield, which he has done in 2019 and 2020.
Dozier and Olivares have promising outlooks for next year
PECOTA projects the Royals hitters to outperform the Royals pitchers on a WARP basis (15.1 for hitters to 9.3 for pitchers). Two surprises for Royals fans were the PECOTA outlooks for Hunter Dozier and Edward Olivares. While Dozier did breakout in 2019, his track record in the majors prior to that season was sketchy, and though he showed improvement in plate discipline in 2020, his power regressed a little, as his xSLG dropped from .480 in 2019 to .383 in 2020, according to Savant. However, PECOTA projects a DRC+ of 104 and a WARP of 1.5 for Dozier in 2021, with the latter being the highest mark of Royals batters who do not hit the 2.0 and above mark on WARP. If healthy, it is reasonable to think that Dozier will be able to not only match those metrics, but perhaps slightly outperform his projections, much like he did in 2019.
Olivares, however, was even more surprising, and he could be a good reason why Moore wasn’t too aggressive in pursuing a free agent outfielder beyond Michael A. Taylor (more on that later). PECOTA projects Olivares to post a DRC+ of 86 and a WARP of 1.1. On a DRC+ basis, his projection is higher than Lopez (84), Mondesi (85), and even Taylor (74). On a WARP basis, he actually is projected to outperform Franchy Cordero (0.9 WARP), who is being widely projected by Royals fans for a breakout campaign in 2021 (which I have done as well). Where does Olivares rate so highly? Mostly on defense, as his 6.4 FRAA is even better than Lopez. Granted, I do not think Olivares is a “Gold Glove” outfielder by any means. However, its seems like BP and PECOTA like his glove more than other outlets, and it will be interesting to see if he progresses in this area in 2021.
Furthermore, the projection for Olivares should give comfort to Royals fans if Taylor doesn’t perform as expected. There’s a lot to like about Taylor in 2021, and for $1.75 million, he certainly could be another Maikel Franco (i.e. a cheap and surprising one-year breakout). However, Taylor is 29, and still strikes out way too much for a guy with his speed and power potential (his career strikeout rate is 31.2 percent, according to Savant). If Taylor becomes Billy Hamilton 2.0 (or worse), Olivares may be able to step in and be the productive center fielder the Royals need in 2021 and maybe beyond.
The rotation projects to be good, not great, with Minor leading the pack
For Royals fans who are concerned about Minor’s rough 2020 campaign (5.56 ERA in 56.2 total IP with the Rangers and A’s last year), PECOTA may help calm their nerves. Minor is projected to be the Royals’ most valuable starting pitcher by DRA (Deserved Run Average, which is very similar to Fangraphs’ FIP), as his 4.57 mark is nearly 22 points better than the second-best Royals starter (Brady Singer). Furthermore, the same proves to be true on a WARP basis, as his 1.9 mark is the best overall for Royals pitchers. Thus, Minor may prove to be money well-spent by Dayton Moore this off-season.
The rest of the rotation is pretty even, especially on a WARP basis. Singer is behind minor with a 1.5 WARP, followed by Keller (1.3), Bubic (1.1), and then Duffy (0.9). Duffy seems to have the most pessimistic projections of the bunch, as he is the only “rotation starter” with a DRA over 5, and his DRA- (adjust deserved run average) is also the highest as well (Keller and Bubic are over 100 too, but only by one, unlike Duffy, who has a DRA- of 106). Hence, this doesn’t really bode well for the minority of Royals fans who believe Duffy should stay in the rotation much longer. That being said, considering Duffy is in the last year of his deal, he could be trade bait for the Royals, especially if pitchers struggle with injury or aren’t fully recovered in the wake of the wonky 2020 season.
Singer-Keller-Bubic are all real close which is a good sign that the Royals can depend on them for 2021. Jackson Kowar had a slightly optimistic PECOTA projection, as he is projecting a 109 DRA-, which is better than other “outside” starter options like Carlos Hernandez (114), Ronald Bolanos (117), and Scott Blewett (117). While PECOTA didn’t project a whole lot of innings, it is promising to see him as a serviceable option in 2021, should something happen to one of the projected starters next year.
Staumont was biggest surprise for an “under-valued” Royals bullpen
The bullpen was a strength for the Royals last year, as they ranked in the Top 10 on an ERA basis. However, PECOTA wasn’t favorable in their projections of the Royals bullpen for 2021: the best projected reliever on a WARP basis was Scott Barlow, whom they projected a 0.7 WARP in 2021. PECOTA was a lot more pessimistic on Holland (0.3 WARP) and even Jesse Hahn (0.4 WARP), both pitchers who had breakout 2020 campaigns after struggles with injury and effectiveness in 2018 and 2019. However, the biggest surprise was Josh Staumont, whom PECOTA projected a -0.2 WARP and 115 DRA-, the worst projections overall for any Royals reliever.
Of course, projections are always difficult with relievers, especially considering their sample sizes (i.e. innings pitched) are always so low. Furthermore, their pessimistic projection for the former top Royals prospect isn’t surprising, especially considering Staumont’s control issues at both the Major and Minor League level. Last year, even though he ranked in the 90th percentile in strikeout rate, he also ranked in the 7th percentile in walk rate, according to Savant. The control issues also haunted him in the Minors, as he has only posted a K/BB ratio over two once in his time in the Royals farm system, according to Fangraphs (2019 in Omaha; 2.00 is baseline average typically for K/BB ratio).
Hence, PECOTA may be accounting his control issues into his projections here, and that he may not strikeout enough batters to make up a possible large number of walks over the course of a full 162 game slate. I do think Staumont’s a bit of a changed pitcher from 2019. His fastball velocity was way up in 2020 (98 to 95.9 MPH from 2020 to 2019, respectively), and he was more effective with it too (his 2020 whiff rate on his fastball was nearly double his 2019 rate). That being said, PECOTA and other projections go on past data, and Staumont’s metrics in 2019 were a bit flawed (low K rate; high walk rate; much higher FIP than ERA), and I think that may be affecting his 2021 projection more than it probably should.
Not be a Royals homer, but I think it’s safe to say that Staumont will surpass his PECOTA projections quite comfortably in 2021.
(Photo Credit: Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports)