Everybody’s talking about PECOTA, but what about, well, Pecota?

Are the White Sox really just an 83-win team? The Baseball Prospectus projections are creating quite a stir again, so we took it up with the ex-major-leaguer for whom the algorithm was named.

SHARE Everybody’s talking about PECOTA, but what about, well, Pecota?
Pecota likes a lot of things about these White Sox. PECOTA, not so much.

Pecota likes a lot of things about these White Sox. PECOTA, not so much.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Where does Bill Pecota get off projecting the loaded-to-the-gills White Sox to come up empty this season with a completely underwhelming 83-79 record?

What kind of operation is he running if the Sox supposedly are going to finish third in their division, behind the Twins (91-71) and Indians (86-76), and not even fare as well as the yesterday’s-news Cubs (85-77)?

Pecota this, Pecota that. Every writer in baseball seems to talk about these projections at this time of year. I don’t cover the sport as closely as many do, but I know the Sox added Lance Lynn and Liam Hendriks to an already-stacked roster. I know the World Series talk around here isn’t just hot air.

I tracked down Pecota and demanded an explanation.

“Beats me,” he said.

OK, so it turns out PECOTA — note the capital letters — is an acronym for an algorithm that Pecota, a former big-league utility infielder from 1986 to 1994, had no hand whatsoever in devising. It was famed statistician Nate Silver who came up with the Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm, since used by Baseball Prospectus. Silver tinkered with the acronym until it fit the name of a guy he deemed to perfectly represent average, run of the mill, dead middle.

‘‘I think it’s a compliment,’’ Pecota said. ‘‘I mean, it’s better than being below average. Heck, yeah.’’

Maybe some of you already knew PECOTA’s origin story. Confession: I already knew Pecota wasn’t PECOTA, too. But I’d looked at the projections dozens of times in recent years without ever considering the man. What must it be like to have everybody talking about him at this time of year without actually talking about him at all?

‘‘I don’t mind it,’’ he said. ‘‘I wouldn’t have called you back if I did.’’


Bill Pecota today.

Pecota, who will turn 61 on Tuesday, was primarily with the Royals during a 698-game career in which he hit .249, belted 22 home runs, drove in 148 runs, stole 52 bases and picked it in the infield better than most. His cell number still has a Kansas City area code, but he’s retired in Scottsdale, Arizona.

He still follows the game closely. Has some thoughts about the Sox, too.

‘‘Jose Abreu, now he is tough, man,’’ he said of the reigning American League MVP. ‘‘That dude can flat-out hit. It’s like he stands up there and decides where he’s going to hit the ball and then just reaches out and puts it there.’’

Pecota was sold early on Yoan Moncada’s potential and has no problem at all — quite the opposite — with the Royals’ bat-flipping rival, Tim Anderson.

‘‘When I played, you’d expect to get drilled if you did something like that,’’ he said. ‘‘Now everything’s opening up as far as celebrating, being more emotional. I think the players have more fun now than we did, so good for them. The game keeps growing. I love it.’’

Still, Pecota is kind of old-school. He rather would see a player for himself than bury his nose in a pile of numbers. And when he tries to decide who’s going to be good and who isn’t, he looks more at pitching and defense than the bats in the lineup.

Hey, it’s just the way he sees things, OK? He isn’t an algorithm, after all.

The Sox teams he played against didn’t go to the playoffs, but he remembers them as good, even fearsome. Carlton Fisk was his favorite guy on the Sox. Frank Thomas and Robin Ventura were mighty good, too. Young lefty Wilson Alvarez made an impression on Pecota back then, too.

As a player, Pecota didn’t have the greatest timing. He got to the Royals in 1986, just missing their World Series run the season before, and disappeared from the big leagues after the player strike of 1994 dropped the curtain on his final season. After that, veteran utility infielders and middle relievers were kind of pushed out of the picture. Teams could put rookies in those roles and pay them much less.

Pecota never got another shot, destined to fade from baseball memory. Until, that is, his name took on a second life of sorts.

‘‘An acronym, is that how you say it?’’ he said. ‘‘Sure, OK. I guess it kind of keeps me in the game, doesn’t it?’’

In no average way, it does.

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