Goldman: The most bizarre comparables in 2020 PECOTA projections

From SABR member Steven Goldman at Baseball Prospectus on February 7, 2020:

PECOTA is not HAL. It has no personality. It is no threat to murder an astronaut. When we ask it for a prediction, there is no long, pregnant silence emanating from its cycloptic red eye before it replies, with an ominously flat affect, “I can’t do that, Dave.” That’s not just because no one placed in charge of PECOTA has actually been named Dave; it never said, “I can’t do that, Nate,” either. It has no eye. It has no voice. However, to borrow from another classic of science-fiction, it is possible that though PECOTA has no mouth, it must scream. It’s malevolence is suggested by its desire to kill Gerrit Cole.

As part of the PECOTA process each year, Baseball Prospectus generates a set of comparable players for each current major leaguer as well as their minor-league counterparts. Comparables are the most problematic part of PECOTA because in reality they’re no longer a part of it at all. Whereas in the past finding times-past doppelgangers (players of similar build, position, and statistical results) were part of our methodology, this is a simplistic and inaccurate way to project players into the future. Our lives are our own, and whereas our individual stories may contain broad similarities to those of others, a parallel is not destiny. Thus, comparables are, at best, a conversation-starter. Food for thought. A troubling suggestion that a heretofore unthinking computer program has achieved sentience and is plotting to murder the best pitcher in baseball.

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Originally published: February 7, 2020. Last Updated: February 7, 2020.