Oh, goody. The annual PECOTA forecast was revealed this week at Baseball Prospectus. It’s one of my favorite days on the baseball calendar, with PECOTA putting many fan bases in various stages of rage. Some of the major-league teams can be counted on to take offense, with players speaking out to ridicule PECOTA’s prediction.
What about 2023? For Cardinals fans, here’s the negative takeaway: in its simulation model, PECOTA has the Cardinals winning an average of 85.8 games, finishing second to Milwaukee in the NL Central, and failing to qualify for the 2023 National League playoffs. That’s down from last year’s 93-win season and the NL Central title.
Ouch. Now here’s a positive to comfort you: the Cardinals consistently do an outstanding job of outperforming the PECOTA projections. It’s uncanny. And the gang at Baseball Prospectus are the first to admit it: the Cardinals have made a habit out of kicking PECOTA’S data-driven rear end.
“Nobody can match the Cardinals,” wrote BP analyst Rob Mains. “They’ve exceeded their PECOTA projection for nine straight seasons.”
It’s true, and Baseball Prospectus helpfully included the details of the Cardinals’ nine-season winning streak against PECOTA. (It does not include the pandemic-shortened 2020.)
2013: Projected, 84 wins. Actual wins, 97. That’s a plus 13 in-your-interface for the Cardinals.
2014: Projected, 88 wins. Actual wins, 90. The Cardinals defeated PECOTA by two.
2015: Projected, 89 wins. Actual wins, 100. That’s a 11-win rout over PECOTA.
2016: Projected, 81 wins. Actual wins, 86. A plus five for the Redbirds.
2017: Projected, 77 wins. Actual wins, 83. A plus six for St. Louis. The winning streak stretched to five consecutive years.
2018: Projected, 85 wins. Actual victories: 88. The Cardinals defeated PECOTA by three.
2019: Projected, 86 wins. Actual wins, 91. Cardinals by five.
2021: Projected wins, 78. Actual wins, 90. The Cardinals whupped PECOTA by 12.
2022: Even better. Projected wins, 79. Actual wins, 93. That’s a 14-win margin of victory.
Over this stretch of nine full seasons, the Cardinals outperformed the PECOTA forecast by 71 wins, undervaluing the Redbirds by an average of 7.8 wins per year.
So if you’re a St. Louis fan, don’t be grouchy. Given its history of off-target projections on the Cardinals, you should happily embrace PECOTA’s grim outlook for 2023. Been there, done that. The Cardinals befuddle PECOTA.
Perhaps Cardinals manager Oli Marmol can have some fun with this.
“And, once again, the Cardinals from division champion to watching the postseason on TV,” Mains wrote. “I told you their division will suffer from the new schedule. PECOTA sees the Brewers supplanting the Redbirds in the National League playoffs in 2023, though with Atlanta as the second wild card instead of the division champion after Steve Cohen’s shopping spree.”
As for PECOTA striking out against the Cardinals at a frequent rate, Mains explained:
“There is not, I swear, a line of PECOTA’s code that reads IF TEAM=”SLN” THEN WINS = WINS -10. But it’s worked out that way. A breakout Tyler O’Neill here, a back-from-Yomiuri Miles Mikolas there, add a 1-3 finish in the MVP vote from Goldschmidt and Arenado, plus your basic Cardinals Devil Magic (Allen Craig’s 2013, Aledmys Díaz’ 2016, Tommy Pham’s 2017, Albert Pujols’ swan song) and, well, you’re going to confound projection systems.”
As for 2023 Cardinals, Mains offered, “So what’s different? Well, they have a 35-year-old first baseman coming off an MVP season, a 32-year-old third baseman coming off the second-best year of his career, and four players in the 2.5-to-3.0 (wins above replacement player) range—Brendan Donovan, Lars Nootbaar, Tommy Edman, and Albert Pujols—with either the risk of regression or the guarantee of retirement. And their top three pitchers, by projected innings, are 34, 41, and 30 years old. It’s not hard to see slippage.
“Might they beat PECOTA’s projection? Sure. But if so, you really should chalk it up to variance, or defying the aging curve, or other teams in their division rolling over and playing dead, or maybe Matthew Liberatore or Jordan Walker becoming household names. It’s not PECOTA hate. Really.”
And PECOTA is certainly factoring the expected weakness of the NL Central — and the AL Central as well. The revised schedule that reduces the number of games played within the division will lead to a more difficult test for the reigning champs of both Central divisions.
“St. Louis and Cleveland may remain the class of their divisions. But they were also the weakest division champions,” Mains wrote. Last season “St. Louis was eight games worse than the Braves, 18 worse than the Dodgers, and got bounced in the Wild Card round. Cleveland was seven games worse than the Yankees and eight worse than the Astros, and exited in the Division Series. Those gaps may be exacerbated in 2023.”
In order here are the highest average PECOTA-projected win totals for National League teams in 2023:
Per PECOTA, here are the highest postseason probabilities in the National League for 2023:
On a related note …
With spring-training camps opening, FanGraphs has released its first set of MLB playoff odds for 2023.
The Cardinals’ average win-total projection is 88.2, which would put them in first place above the Brewers (85.9 wins.) Division-title probability: St. Louis 56.5 percent, Milwaukee 37.6%.
The Cardinals have a 72.4% chance of making the playoffs, a 22.2% chance to clinch a first-round bye in the postseason, a 15.8 chance at being a wild-card if they can’t win the division and a 5.1% shot at winning the World Series.
At 14.6 percent, FanGraphs lists Atlanta as the most likely NL team to win the World Series, followed by the Padres (11.9%), Mets (9.1%), and then the Dodgers and Cardinals each at 5.1%.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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All stats used here were sourced from Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs, Baseball Reference.
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.