There’s a fresh 2024 season projection to share with you.

It comes from the esteemed analysts at Baseball Prospectus.

PECOTA has spoken. The notorious projection model is on the loose, evidently unhinged, spitting out numbers that infuriate fan bases in every region of the baseball nation.

This has become an effective running joke at Baseball Prospectus, with the authors using a go-to headline to introduce a new year of preseason projections:

Why PECOTA Hates Your Team.

Cardinals fans are traditionally among the loudest protestors. The BFIB were predictably ticked off in 2023, when the evil PECOTA projected only 85 wins for St. Louis. Wrong again. The ‘23 Cardinals lost 91 games and finished with the fourth-worst winning percentage by the franchise (.438) during the 63-season Expansion Era. We didn’t know it at the time, but PECOTA was too kind.

PECOTA had a long streak of underestimating the Cardinals’ victory count. But at this time last year, PECOTA overestimated the Cardinals. And the 2023 outlook was different. Too positive.

“Stand down, Cardinals fans,” BP’s Rob Mains wrote this week. “For years, Redbird Nation had a bittersweet, love/hate relationship with PECOTA that, in the interest of efficiency, mostly dropped the sweet and love part.

“For 11 straight years, the team exceeded its preseason PECOTA projections. Some years, the difference was tiny … some years it was large … but every season since the 2012 Cardinals, at 88-74, missed their PECOTA projection by a game, PECOTA has undershot the team’s final winning percentage.”

Onto 2024.

PECOTA likes the St. Louis Cardinals to win the NL Central division. The projected win total (85) is nothing special, but it’s the highest in the division. Here’s a look, and these forecasts are the average number of wins generated by simulations. Take a look:

Cardinals, 85.2
Cubs, 80.0
Brewers, 78.9
Reds, 78.6
Pirates, 72.3

That 85.2-win projection for St. Louis is essentially tied for third best in the National League:

Dodgers, 101.9
Braves, 100.3
Diamondbacks, 85.3
Cardinals 85.2
Phillies, 85.0

BP gives the Cardinals a 52.9 percent chance to win the NL Central — and a 63.2% shot of making the playoffs.

Let’s note that PECOTA has only 12 of the 30 major-league teams finishing with more than 84. And for many of those clubs ,a playoff spot is hardly a longshot. I believe these prophecies represent MLB’s more balanced direction. As I’ve pointed out several times this offseason, teams have qualified for the postseason with fewer regular-season wins.

Since 2022, when MLB expanded the playoff format to include a third wild-card team in each league, 18 different franchises have earned a spot in the playoffs.

Eleven teams got in with no more than 90 wins. Seven teams made it to the tournament after posting fewer than 90 victories.

The last three teams to win the NL pennant – Atlanta, Philadelphia and Arizona – averaged just 86.3 regular-season wins.

Many of you will sneer when you look at the 85.3 projected wins for the 2024 Cardinals. But this is the updated reality. More teams get in now. If the Cardinals are in that 85-win range, they’ll be in the hunt. If they can exceed that total and push it to 87, 88 or 89 – a playoff spot is likely.

More teams in the playoffs means a lower standard for wins needed to make the playoffs. Yeah, it’s really that that simple.

Baseball Prospectus may be in for another round of hostile objections from members of the Cardinal fan base. Only this time, instead of the caterwauling over a negative Cardinal forecast, the complaints will be about an overly optimistic PECOTA projection.

I kind of know about that. I’ve been writing a series of columns, with each piece offering a different reason for my optimism over 2024. I think the Cardinals will win more than 85 games – how many more, I don’t know. But every time I explain my optimism, a percentage of the fan base all but accuses me (1) of abusing mind-bending drugs or (2) being on the Cardinals’ payroll.

The skepticism is understandable. The scars from 2023 remain. The burn of 91 defeats still stings. The infection of ugly baseball still causes rashes. With some of the more aggrieved fans, optimism in advance of 2024 is incomprehensible.

Well, talk to PECOTA about that. As part of the 2024 release of the projections, Baseball Prospectus wrote about teams that PECOTA likes.

That group included the Cardinals.

“The Cardinals get the benefit of the doubt in a very weak NL Central, but this is at least partially because they have perhaps the most complete roster in the division,” Craig Goldstein wrote. “They’ve overhauled their bullpen and three spots in the rotation—though with the latter it’s not entirely clear how much is for the better.

“Regardless, as improved as the pitching staff may be thanks to Sonny Gray & Co., the optimism (such that 85 wins is optimism) surrounding this projection is fueled by the lineup: It features five bats projected to be 12% or more above league-average. Not only do they have those five bats, but another five project to be league-average to slightly above. There are just no breaks throughout the lineup, with the exception of perhaps Masyn Winn, who could easily show improvement after a tough start to his hitting career. With additional breakout potential from the likes of Nolan Gorman and Jordan Walker, this is a deep, flexible lineup with lots of upside.”

So much positivity.

OUTRAGEOUS!

By now we shouldn’t be surprised by projections that display a more favorable outlook on the Cardinals. FanGraphs still has the Cardinals rated above their rivals in the NL Central, posting them with a 38.3% of finishing in first place. So does Clay Davenport. ESPN and MLB.com each see the Cardinals as an improved team that should take a jump forward in 2024. PECOTA is the latest example. The view of the NL Central could change if the Cubs go big in spending for an impact free agent. Or two. Or three. We’ll see.

In another column, Baseball Prospectus introduced teams that PECOTA dislikes. The list Rangers, Phillies, Cubs, Reds and Royals.

PECOTA is just fine with the Cardinals.

“Even if PECOTA hates a team,” Mains wrote, “it gets over the grudge. Eventually. I mean, check out PECOTA’s projected standings for this year; it seems to like the Cardinals this year, right?”

Cardinals management has impressed PECOTA.

Impressing the fan base is a more arduous challenge.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or grab the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb

All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Sports Info Solutions and Cot’s Contracts unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.