Vegas Has No Clue Why PECOTA Hates Cubs

Prior to the start of spring training, most folks probably would have guessed that PECOTA was the brand name of a new erectile dysfunction drug. But the Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm’s 79-win projection has actually had quite the opposite effect, causing more than a few Cubs fans to further bemoan the team’s stagnant offseason. And it’s lasted way more than four hours.

We don’t really know exactly what goes into the computer model, nor what kind of a delta we’re dealing with. It’s possible the folks at Baseball Prospectus opted to stick with a more conservative result, though it’s more likely the projections just don’t like the way the Cubs are built.

“I just think their particular projection system doesn’t really match up on how we put our teams together,” Theo Epstein said Friday. “It also hasn’t been particularly accurate, so we’re not losing sleep on it.”

You know what is usually pretty accurate, though? Vegas, baby, Vegas. While money eventually pushes numbers all over the board, oddsmakers know what they’re doing when they set projected win totals for teams. And the experts out in the desert have liked the Cubs quite a bit more than the computers ever since numbers for 2019 started to come out.

One such expert is Randy Blum, supervisor at the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino SuperBook, who joined host Joe Ostrowski on 670 The Score’s Early Odds Saturday morning. SuperBook just posted their initial totals last Sunday, before Manny Machado agreed to a deal with the Padres and prior to Bryce Harper signing, so a few things are still going to move around.

But that shouldn’t do much to impact the Cubs’ numbers, which look at lot better in Vegas than they do at baseball prospectus.

“We opened the Cubs 89 1/2, I don’t know where that PECOTA projection came from. Obviously I know it’s a computer thing and it’s had some success over the years predicting a lot of teams and a lot of people respect it. And I’m one of those people, I respect it as well, but I’m just not buying the Cubs being a last-place team this year.

“We have them winning that division, we had them as a slight favorite to win the division when we opened. They’re neck and neck with the Cardinals, we really like the Cardinals this year.”

Blum went on to say that the Cubs’ total had actually dropped to 89 because of all the under money coming in, at least somewhat due to hysteria over other projections. And for anyone not familiar with how these things work, oddsmakers will adjust their numbers in order to limit exposure. So a lot of people betting that the Cubs will win less than 89 1/2 (avoiding whole numbers eliminates possibility for pushes) forces the book to lower the total.

“Right now we have the Cubs at 12/1 to win the World Series,” Blum explained. “We opened them at 10/1 back in October. It really is not a reflection that we’re down on the Cubs by increasing their odds, it’s just that some of the other teams [made more improvements].”

Those World Series odds are fifth-best in baseball, which is just slightly better than being picked to finish fifth in the NL Central. So what’s the moral of the story? I don’t know, maybe that we’ve got to watch the season unfold before we start freaking out. Or maybe that Kris MF-ing Bryant homered in his first spring at-bat, which spells another MVP and 115 wins.

You can listen to Blum’s interview at about the 12:30 mark in the player below, but there’s also some really great info about legalized gambling in Illinois in the first part of the segment.

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