In January, Philadelphia Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said he believed the team could win the National League East in 2020, despite it being expected to be one of the most competitive divisions in the sport. His reasoning? So much went wrong in a disappointing 2019 season, and the Phillies still managed to go 81-81.
PECOTA, Baseball Prospectus‘ statistical model, isn’t as optimistic. Tuesday, they released their 2020 record projections and have the Phillies finishing in fourth place in the National League East. That, in itself, isn’t especially shocking considering the Phillies finished in fourth a season ago. However, the 77-85 record that the Phillies are projected to have in Joe Girardi’s first season is:
Just on the surface, 77-85 feels overly pessimistic. Klentak is correct in his assessment that the Phillies had more go wrong in 2019 than perhaps any other season in recent memory. Odubel Herrera, the team’s Opening Day center fielder, was arrested for domestic violence on Memorial Day and ultimately suspended for the rest of the season. Andrew McCutchen suffered a season-ending ACL tear less than 10 days later. Hector Neris and Jose Alvarez were the only relievers that were on the Opening Day roster that didn’t spend any time on the injured list.
Water finding its level in 2020 doesn’t necessarily mean that the Phillies will win the National League East, but one would think that with some better luck the Phillies will win more than the 81 games they won in 2019, not less. That doesn’t even account for the fact that the Phillies signed Didi Gregorius and Zack Wheeler this offseason and expect top prospects Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm to make their major league debuts at some point in 2020.
It is worth noting that PECOTA’s projections are generally pretty conservative. Only four teams are projected by the system to win over 90 games in 2020. Last season, 10 teams won 90 or more games. Heck, there were four teams that won over 100 games last season. Even in 2011, when the Phillies ultimately won a franchise record 102 regular season games, PECOTA only projected they would win 91 games.
This isn’t simply a case of the Phillies win projection seeming very off. The Atlanta Braves, who won 96 games in 2019, are only projected to win 83 games by PECOTA. The Oakland Athletics, who have won 97 games in each of the past two seasons, are only projected to win 85 games. The San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers, two teams expected to compete for one of the two National League Wild Card spots, are only expected to win 79 games according to this system.
As pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, it’s natural to crave baseball content, especially season projections. All projections – and some more than others – should be taken with a grain of salt.
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