The optimism of springtime
The PECOTA projections present a range of possibilities for the Royals, most of them not so great. What if everything went right in 2023?
Ahhhh…spring. The time in baseball when optimism abounds. And why shouldn’t it? This year, the Royals will feature a young team with a new manager and a plethora of fresh coaches. You just get the feeling this is a team on the up.
And then PECOTA dropped their projections. Sigh.
I know, I know…we’ve been through this drill before. PECOTA and its associated circuitry hates the Royals. But 62 wins? Harsh, even by their cold, calculating standards.
The cool thing about the PECOTA projections is that they give you a range of outcomes. For the player projections, the ones mentioned are in the 50th percentile, meaning they’re the base average of all the projections that were run by the system. That makes sense. Did you know there are 99th-percentile projections? Those are the absolute best-case scenario outcomes. Those once in a lifetime, everything aligns and the Baseball Gods smile broadly seasons.
In the spirit of spring—and unbridled optimism—I thought it would be fun to look at those best-case numbers and call out a few for some key Royals hitters and pitchers. It’s simply not spring if you can’t dream some player will hit a crazy number.
Salvador Perez - 43 HR
As you undoubtedly know, Perez is two years removed from tying the Royals’ single-season home run record. He was plagued by thumb issues pretty much all of last season (in addition to the usual beatings he endures behind the plate) and hit just 23 dingers. If he’s healthy—and that’s an enormous if—I suppose he could make a run at 40-plus dingers.
This feels like a good 99th-percentile projection to me. Look at Salvy’s career home run numbers at Baseball Reference. From 2015 to 2018, he was a lock for somewhere around 25 home runs in a year. The signs of his power surge were evident in the Covid-shortened 2020 season, but still, that outburst the following year is a massive outlier. Makes you wish he hadn’t been hurt last year just to have a better grip on if he can maintain that power.
Vinnie Pasquantino - .370 OBP
I had to double-check this number. Then, I triple-checked. Yes, this is the 99th percentile for Vincenzo’s on-base percentage. Sometimes, the tubes on the PECOTA are obviously clogged.
Pasquantino finished last year with a .383 OBP. Sure, he did it in 298 plate appearances, but come on! The dude knows how to get on base. A little perspective would be that, if he finishes with a .370 OPB, it would be just the third time in the last 20 years a Royal posted a number that high. Billy Butler, who could mash and for a stretch of about three years was insanely consistent, did it twice and then Eric Hosmer went unconscious in his walk year of 2017. I’ll go out on a limb and say that if The Pasquatch qualifies, he will post an OBP much higher than .370.
Seriously, the goal for him should be Butler’s career-best .388 OBP, which he set in 2010.
Fine, let’s scratch that and find something else.
Vinnie Pasquantino - 1.1 SO:BB ratio
One of my favorite things about Pasquantino is he walks as much as he strikes out. That makes him a unicorn in today’s game. For an old like me, that’s really fun. Last year, in those 398 PAs, he walked 35 times and whiffed on 34 occasions. In Triple-A, before he got the call to The Show he walked 40 times against 39 strikeouts.
Again, PECOTA? The machine is projecting 69 walks and 79 strikeouts for his 99th percentile.
Let’s just call it what it is…PECOTA doesn’t have a data point for fun dudes who rake.
Let’s just move along…
Bobby Witt Jr. - 28 HR and 31 SB
I have to keep reminding myself that these are the 99th projectile projections. And…I have to keep reminding myself they’re projections. It’s because I’m not just drinking the Kool-Aid, I’m showing in it. I look at those numbers and think to myself that they’re shortchanging the guy because he’s got a 30/30 season in him. It may not happen this year, but it is certainly in his toolbox. And it’s certainly not so far removed from possibility that it doesn’t even happen in the 99th percentile.
Reader, I am screaming at a computer.
Witt swiped 30 bags last year. MLB is instituting rule changes to encourage more steals. What I’m saying is take the over on the steals. Then the dingers…He clubbed 20 last year. I would think that if he can stay healthy, he tops that. A year of experience and instruction from Alec Zumwalt and company have to count for something. Thirty? That may be some wild-eyed optimism on my part, but I have to think that he can get to 25. With just some improved selectivity at the plate, he can turn into an All-Star. I firmly believe that.
That’s some easy power.
Brady Singer - 2.73 ERA
In the eyes of PECOTA, Singer’s ceiling elevated greatly following his breakout 2022 season. Just two years ago, he posted a 4.91 ERA. He somehow turned that around so we’re now dreaming on a season where he could trim another half-run off what he did last year.
It’s crazy that Singer made these kinds of strides given his draft class peers have continued to struggle. So imagine Brian Sweeney and Zach Bove going to work on a guy who’s already broken out. This projection feels a lot more aspirational than the ones we saw on the hitting side. Maybe that’s because there’s some skepticism built-in on the pitching side. Still, the fact we are even discussing this ERA for Singer, even in a 99th-percentile projection, is wild.
I’m literally giddy with excitement.
Zack Greinke - 1.64 BB/9
The only team that walked more batters than the Royals’ 3.7 BB/9 last year was the Cincinnati Reds at 3.9 BB/9. The pitchers as a group didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory. As much as I’m keying on the additions of Sweeney and Bove and the overhaul of the pitching philosophy, having Grienke for another season is a nice safety net for the Royals.
Greinke hasn’t walked more than two batters per nine since the 2016 season, his first in Arizona. As he’s matured as a pitcher, he’s compensated for his loss of velocity by becoming the pitching Bob Ross, consistently painting corners and throwing happy strikes.
This 99th percentile projection has him just off his career-best walk rates, which he established in 2019 and 2020 at around an infinitesimal 1.2 BB/9. Honestly, I wouldn’t put such a performance past him.
Jordan Lyles - 12 quality starts
Twelve quality starts doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility for Lyles. Despite his mediocre record the last several seasons, Lyles has been good for about a baker’s dozen quality starts a year.
What caught my attention was that PECOTA has Lyles down for 24 starts. Do the math…12 quality starts in 24 starts…that’s a solid 50 percent. That’s something he hasn’t done since 2014 in Colorado. Don’t forget, Lyles is on this team because he can provide starts and innings. The Royals weren’t exactly shopping for quality when they signed Lyles, it’s about the quantity. They simply need someone to fill a rotation spot. Should he hit that 99th percentile in quality starts, it would be quite a renaissance for the right-hander.
Mr. B, Thx for this dive. Do you think there will be any concentrated effort to get Salvie to be more disciplined? In other words, will they encourage him to "raid the zone" as a hitter and lay off the low, outside offerings? Or will they just let him rip?
I'm with you on Witt. I mean, I have no issues with anything you stated in the article, but especially your take on BWJ's projections.