Ofman: PECOTA Likely Wrong About Cubs, Sox Predictions
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By George Ofman-
(WBBM) I have an important question to ask: Who is Pecota or is that PECOTA?
Is it an island off the Pacific or a cough suppressant? Did you have it as a side dish with dinner last night or is it some elaborate test chemists take before working for a government lab? Can you do the Pecota or does the Pecota do something to you? Imagine being Pecotaed!
Pecota actually is a name. Bill Pecota was a journeyman big leaguer who played in 698 games over 9 seasons from 1986 through 1994. He was a lifetime .249 hitter. Average, hence the typical Pecota entry. It was developed by Nate Silver, the resident genius statistician who now plies his trade forecasting elections. Pecota actually stands for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm. In other words it’s a sabermetrician’s orgasm. Then again, anything involving sabermetrics get a rise out of baseball junkies, nerds, or someone who can’t get enough of numbers.
It’s fascinating, engrossing and …inaccurate. Not totally inaccurate. This is of course Silver’s brainchild which has been tweaked every year to make it better but when a computer spits out what athletes and teams are expected to achieve, it can’t judge the most important tool: the human element. Players still play, projections don’t.
This is a fantasy product and there are millions of fantasy players in baseball, football and other sports. I myself fantasize about winning the lottery. I imagine Silver would project I have a better chance of being Bill Pecota than I do cashing in a big ticket. I wonder if I fed him my statistics what the results would be.
I don’t want to know. I’d rather have my palm read, rifle through some tarot cards or open a fortune cookie.
But I digress.
Pecota is great because everyone talks and writes about it. It’s become the preseason standard. This year it projects the Cubs and White Sox each to win 77 games. Mighty interesting, this Pecota. If it holds true, the Cubs will gain 16 games and the Sox will lose 8. Who in their right mind believes this? I’ll bet Cubs fans do. I’ll bet Sox fans don’t. Actually, since 2005 Pecota has underrated the Sox by an average of 7.125 games per season.
How could this be? Let’s remember Sports Illustrated pegged the Sox for 95 losses last season. That’s LOSSES! Nobody’s perfect, not even me, though I had the Sox winning 82, better than S.I. and Pecota. Of course, I also predicted Adam Dunn would crush 50 homers blindfolded in his first season with the Sox. Pecota figured he’d hit 50, too. I suggest had Dunn in fact, worn blindfolds, he would have hit more than 11 in 2011. I also had the Hindeburg making 100 trips.
Pecota does have some intriguing predictions such as Alfonso Soriano dipping to 25 homers and 77 RBIs and Anthony Rizzo going 28 and 90 with a .255 average. It also projects Jeff Samardzija will have an inflated ERA and WHIP. I like these numbers. I also like its projection Alex Rios will not have consecutive career years. But Pecota still can’t predict a player’s heart or injuries, drug use, squabbles with managers, coaches, spouses or girlfriends (or boyfriends). It can’t tell you what you’re thinking or fantasizing about unless you’re fantasizing about stats. I’ll bet it can do that.
It’s just a massive amount of statistics fed into a computer. Geeks can’t get enough of it. I am not a geek. A little weird yes, but not a geek.
We all make predictions, especially when it comes to sports. It’s inherent in all of us who need more than just the games to watch. Just a few weeks ago I predicted the final score of the Superbowl would be 35-31. I was off by just one number. Of course, I had the 49ers winning, but that’s so trivial. So here I go just like the rest of you:
The cubs will go 73 and 89. The Sox will finish 82 and 80.
Take that Pecota.
George Ofman is a sports anchor and reporter for WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9FM.