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Can A’s beat their PECOTA projections again in 2021?

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As usual, Oakland is picked to miss the playoffs. They did so anyway the last three years.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Oakland Athletics Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections have been released for 2021, and as usual they aren’t favorable for the Oakland A’s. Fortunately, that hasn’t mattered for the last three years, when the underrated A’s made the playoffs anyway.

It’s nothing personal on PECOTA’s part, and it makes complete sense that Oakland would tend to rank low in any projection system. Their success is usually tied to things like breakout youngsters, and unexpected late-blooming vets, and injury bounce-back gambles, and PECOTA isn’t in the business of predicting big spikes like those. Beating the odds is exactly what a bold, creative, low-budget club like the A’s needs to do, and sometimes that means starting with relatively low odds.

Here’s how the system sees the AL West division stacking up, and you can click here for the whole majors:

  1. Astros: 93-69 (72% odds to win division)
  2. Angels: 87-75 (24%)
  3. A’s: 80-82 (5%)
  4. Mariners: 70-92 (0%)
  5. Rangers: 67-95 (0%)

Ouch. That’s the price of losing Marcus Semien, Tommy La Stella, Liam Hendriks, Joakim Soria, and Yusmeiro Petit, plus getting off-years from both Matts among others.

But fear not, Athletics Nation, for these projections are not set in stone and we’ve seen the A’s beat them before. The past three years they were also not picked to meaningfully factor into the playoff picture, but they made the postseason anyway. PECOTA’s standings for those years:

  • 2018: 77 wins, 4th in AL West
  • 2019: 79 wins, 3rd in AL West
  • 2020: 85 wins, 3rd in AL West

The highest odds they got of reaching the playoffs (division or wild card) were 27.9% entering last summer. Of course, they ended up winning 97 games each season, or the equivalent in the shortened campaign last year, and they 100% made the postseason each time including a 2020 division title.

Again, that’s not to criticize PECOTA, especially for last year. It didn’t know a pandemic would change life as we know it, and Justin Verlander would miss the year for the defending division champs, and Chris Bassitt would break out, and so on. Before that it couldn’t guess Marcus Semien would suddenly have an 8-WAR year, or Blake Treinen would become a legend, or that Ramon Laureano would appear out of nowhere.

Rather, the point is how impressive it is for the A’s to keep consistently beating the odds, which is kind of their thing. They were the most most underrated team by PECOTA in 2018-19 by a wide margin, so what would it take to do it again? Perhaps some combination of Chapman and Olson bouncing back to full strength, and Jesús Luzardo breaking out into the star we know he can be, and a new bullpen crew emerging, and Elvis Andrus bouncing back to healthy productivity, and some unheralded names turning second base and/or LF/DH into plus positions, and so on.

We’ve seen it before, many times, and recently. Nobody beats PECOTA projections like the A’s, and they at least have the tools to pull it off again in 2021.