White Sox’ PECOTA projection high enough for improvement, low enough for motivation

Why all the fuss over PECOTA projections? The annual preseason forecast from Baseball Prospectus might be the most well-regarded in the realm of numbers analysis.

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White Sox players (from left) Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert, and Jose Abreu pose for a video during SoxFest last month.

White Sox players (from left) Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert, and Jose Abreu pose for a video during SoxFest last month.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Why all the fuss about PECOTA projections?

The annual preseason forecast from Baseball Prospectus might be the most well-regarded in the ever-expanding realm of numbers analysis.

It lends itself to the kind of discussion every baseball fan is having at this time of year, a conversation that will be front and center when the White Sox officially begin spring training Wednesday.

PECOTA’s system ‘‘takes a player’s past performance and tries to project the most likely outcome for the season. It looks at all the numbers — and all the numbers that make up the numbers — to see which players are more likely to repeat their success and which ones benefitted from good fortune.’’

Feel free to reach for PECOTA (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm) when you are asked, ‘‘How will the White Sox do this year?’’

Sox players certainly will reach for it as motivation because, while touting them as much improved, it sells them short of being a playoff team. There is no greater incentive for a player than being underestimated.

The Sox’ projected victory total, revealed on the eve of the day pitchers and catchers report to camp, is 82.5. Eighty-three victories would be 11 more than the Sox had in 2019 and would have them playing meaningful games in September, but PECOTA sees them finishing third for a second consecutive season behind the Twins and Indians in the American League Central and likely falling short of the playoffs for a 12th season in a row.

Before scoffing by citing the Sox’ offseason acquisitions and talented young core, it’s worth noting PECOTA wasn’t far off on the team a year ago, predicting 70 victories. They won 72 games.

The Sox’ stated goal in 2020 is the postseason, but an 83-79 finish should be deemed acceptable through the lens of where they are in their rebuild and where they hope to be. This season well could be a meaningful, productive stepping-stone to 2021, when Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal, Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease could be less question marks and more sure things.

With so many young, potentially high-ceiling players besides that foursome — Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Tim Anderson, Lucas Giolito and Aaron Bummer among them — exceeding 83 victories by a handful of games is as likely as falling short by a handful. PECOTA gives the Sox an 18.1 percent chance of making the playoffs and a 5.9 percent chance of winning the division.

As for the rest of the AL Central, the Sox can be thankful they inhabit the same division as the Tigers (projected to win 69 games) and Royals (68), which factors into PECOTA’s number. The Sox should benefit from playing 19 games apiece against the Royals and Tigers, including nine against the Royals in March and April. Of course, the Twins and Indians get the same deal.

The Twins (projected to win 93 games) and Indians (86) are still the teams to beat, but the Sox’ intriguing young talent might give them a chance.

We shall see.

‘‘We’ve got the pieces now,’’ Anderson said at SoxFest. ‘‘The door is wide-open for us. All we’ve got [to do] is show up and go out and take it.’’

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