Every year, Baseball Prospectus releases its PECOTA projections in conjunction with its annual publication. PECOTA is a projection system developed by East Lansing native Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight, who went on to political fame after his time with Baseball Prospectus. The PECOTA release is celebrated by baseball fans, in part because of its reputation as a very accurate system, and in part because of its proximity to spring training.
While individual projections are kept under wraps -- unless you buy the BP annual, that is -- team projections are released to the masses. To no one's surprise, the Tigers are projected to win their fifth consecutive AL Central title. The Cleveland Indians are second, followed by the Chicago White Sox in third. The defending American League champion Kansas City Royals are fourth, while the Minnesota Twins are expected to continue being the division's punching bag.
However, the surprise comes in the projected win totals. The Tigers are projected to win the Central with an 82-80 record, one game better than Cleveland's .500 mark. The White Sox, vastly improved on paper, are only projected to win 78 games, a five win improvement over 2014's 73-89 record. The Royals are projected to lose 90 games after nearly winning 90 in 2014, while the Twins are expected to finish 70-92, just as they did last season.
There seems to be a widespread belief that the AL Central is going to be a much tougher division in years past, in large part thanks to the high profile moves made by the White Sox. Adding Jeff Samardzija, Melky Cabrera, and David Robertson gave them some big-name talent to pair with Chris Sale and Jose Abreu. While they have a lot of ground to make up on the Tigers, a 78-win projection seems low.
How down is PECOTA on the AL Central? At 82 wins, the Tigers would finish tied for third in the AL East, and fifth in the AL West. Conversely, only the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, and Houston Astros would be projected to finish behind the Tigers in the Central.
Baseball Prospectus' projected standings are a far cry from those issued by Fangraphs. A combination of ZiPS and Steamer projections, Fangraphs' standings project the Tigers to win the Central Division with an 85-77 record. The Indians, Royals, and Twins are all projected to have much better records compared to Baseball Prospectus. Both websites agree on the White Sox as a 78-win team.
For those not familiar with projection systems, they do need to be taken with a grain of salt. The numerical projections they spit out are the average of a series of different possibilities -- think back to that bell curve from your college statistics class -- which tends to clump everything towards the conservative ends of the spectrum. PECOTA only projects three 90-win teams in all of baseball and one team with fewer than 70 wins.
What do you think? Will the Tigers win the AL Central in 2015?