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Sabermetrics project down seasons for Yankees, Mets

From left, Yankees' Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and

From left, Yankees' Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Jacoby Ellsbury walk on the field after an exhibition spring training game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014. Credit: AP / Gene J. Puskar

And you thought the Yankees had a disappointing season last year. How does an 82-80 record this season sound?

That's what Baseball Prospectus is predicting.

Ben Lindbergh, editor-in-chief of the popular online home of sabermetric analysis, says their team records are calculated by taking the sum of the individual player projections and adjusted for strength of schedule.

Those player projections are tabulated by the PECOTA forecasting model developed by noted statistician Nate Silver. But there is some guesswork involved when it comes to projecting playing time, namely who gets the bulk of it at each position.

And that's where the 2014 statistical projection for the Yankees is most affected. Lindbergh said the 82-80 record is largely reflective of their expectation that it will be hard for the Yankees to keep their position players healthy, given their age and injury history.

"If they manage to keep their hitters healthier than they did last season, they could easily beat their projection," Lindbergh said. "But we have to bake in the risk."

No doubt health will be a major key to this season for the Yankees, perhaps more than any other team. And if Baseball Prospectus' prediction is correct that only two of their hitters -- Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran -- will eclipse 600 plate appearances, it's easy to envision this $200-million team flirting with .500.

Last season, for example, the injury-plagued Yankees had only two hitters with more than 600 plate appearances in Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner. They start this season well aware that they need new additions such as catcher Brian McCann, Ellsbury and Beltran to help make up for the offense they lost when Cano left.

Maybe it works out for the Yankees, but it's no sure thing, considering the health concerns affecting Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Brian Roberts, Ellsbury and Beltran.

"That makes them a very high-variance team. If they can keep their talent on the field, they'll have some success," Lindbergh said, "but because of their roster construction, they're accepting a lot of downside risk."

Most notably, PECOTA has Jeter, in his final season, hitting .276 with a .334 on-base percentage and .347 slugging percentage and manning shortstop in 60 percent of the Yankees' games. The Yankees would sign up for that today, even if Jeter wouldn't.

Lindbergh also suggested that Ivan Nova might prove to be more valuable than his PECOTA projection of a 4.39 ERA and 1.40 WHIP.

As for the Mets, Baseball Prospectus foresees another fourth-place finish in the National League East at 74-88, falling 14 games behind the Nationals.

While injuries are not as much a concern with the Mets as they are with the Yankees, figuring out who will get the at-bats at some positions (see: first base) proved to be perhaps the biggest challenge when forecasting their season.

At first base, where the spring training competition never really took off, Baseball Prospectus essentially assumes a tie, playing out the season as if the more established Ike Davis will get 60 percent of the at-bats and Lucas Duda will get the rest.

PECOTA, however, forecasts both players with similar stats, which isn't surprising considering their similar strengths and weaknesses. It projects Davis to hit 19 home runs with a .760 OPS and predicts Duda will hit 12 home runs with a .753 OPS.

New York Sports