Sunday, March 31, 2013

2013 Predictions

These predictions are offered solely in the spirit of fun. While rudimentary “analysis” has gone into them, they should not be viewed in anyway as a rigorous analytical exercise and they certainly should not be viewed as a reflection on the field of sabermetrics. All responsibility for any horrific predictions lies squarely with the author and no one else.

I’ve grown tired of writing an involved annual disclaimer, so I’ll keep it short. The standard error for predicting W% from aggregate season runs scored and allowed is around four games. That means that even if one could forecast aggregate team performance, playing time, in-season roster moves, and the like perfectly, their resulting win estimates would still have a standard error of four games--and that assumes that all of those components would transfer perfectly to the runs scored and allowed figures. Those who expect sabermetricians (or any other brand of baseball observers) to produce hyper-accurate preseason predictions expect the impossible. (Of course, the same scolding is due those who oversell their predictions when they should know better).

One might agree with my general point and still consider it a bit self-serving given the fact that the two teams I picked to appear in the 2012 World Series each went 69-93.

AL EAST

1. Toronto
2. New York (wildcard)
3. Tampa Bay
4. Boston
5. Baltimore

I (starting out by really going out on a limb) consider this the most competitive division in the majors; the only outcome that would surprise me is Baltimore finishing first. Toronto is the buzz team, which is usually a good one to bet against--the team that makes the big moves is always more exciting and thus likely to be a popular pick beyond what’s reasonable. But the Jays made legitimate, wholesale upgrades with Jose Reyes, RA Dickey, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle. Add in a healthy Jose Bautista and the forever tantalizing promise of Brandon Morrow and I think they stack up well with the rest of the division.

There are a lot of baseball fans who despise New York and Boston. I am not one of them; I like the Yankees and have no issue with the Red Sox. I find the incessant media coverage of the two teams obnoxious, but I don’t hold it against the teams themselves. But the worst thing that can happen if you hate coverage of New York and Boston is for them to be down, because then the stories become insufferable. Whatever shortcomings the two teams have will be forever exaggerated as they are judged against not the standard of a normal major league team but against the ideal of what a Yankee or Red Sox team should be. The drumbeat has started already this spring, as some Yankee and Red Sox fans trip all over themselves to declare their nine the favorites to bring up the cellar in this division.

Both the Yankees and the Red Sox have obvious weaknesses. New York’s injury problems have brought the advancing age of their mainstays to the forefront, but assuming they can get Teixeira and Granderson back in a reasonable timeframe, there is no need to panic. Boston does not have the pitching to match New York on paper, and while I don’t think their offseason acquisitions (namely Victorino, Drew, Gomes, and Napoli) are long-term solutions, they figure to provide enough offense to keep the Red Sox competitive.

Picking Tampa Bay to finish third is by no means writing them off; the on-paper margin between the top four teams is razor-thin. But the Rays appear to have taken a step back in 2013 talent by trading James Shields, and other than health for Longoria I don’t see any particular reason to expect a significantly improved offense. Baltimore has a much tougher road.

AL CENTRAL

1. Detroit
2. Chicago
3. Cleveland
4. Kansas City
5. Minnesota

Last year I picked Detroit but claimed the inevitability of their victory was being overstated. While the preseason 2012 Tiger backers likely feel vindicated by their pennant, those in my camp can feel vindicated by the arduous slog that was required to overcome Chicago. But this year I do think Detroit stands out as the most likely team in MLB to win their division. What’s changed for me? Verlander’s repeat turn as a super-ace, Fister once again pitching well, Scherzer’s potential, Anibal Sanchez, the additions of Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez, that bad regression from Austin Jackson could be offset by good regression from Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta…This is not to say that Detroit is untouchable, but they are a strong favorite for good reason.

Chicago is the choice for second by default. Cleveland and Kansas City both acted like contenders in the offseason, but the most obvious manifestation of both pushes is a better chance of finishing second. At least Cleveland did it by spending money rather than prospects. Things look bleak enough for the Twins that national writers are already warning the brass that they best not fire the sainted Ron Gardenhire.

AL WEST

1. Los Angeles
2. Texas (wildcard)
3. Oakland
4. Seattle
5. Houston

At least from the Angels fans that I encounter on the internet, it appears that there is a great deal of skepticism regarding their chances in 2013. I suppose that given the Rangers’ late season collapse and passive offseason, there must be a fair amount of pessimism in Texas as well. These team s look really close to me on paper. Los Angeles’ lineup will disappoint relative to what some people expect from Trout/Pujols/Hamilton, but I think the smart money is still that the first two will be in the thick of the AL MVP discussion. Texas may not have made any notable offseason moves, and obviously Hamilton is a big loss, but don’t overlook the impact of having out junkie Michael Young out of the picture. They also have upper level prospects on the doorstep (Profar, Olt, Martin) to provide depth. Oakland took a giant leap forward last year, and while I don’t think it was an illusion, they still appear to me to be less talented than the two teams that have taken turns running this division since 2006 with the exception of the A’s intrusion in 2012.

I try to avoid making predictions I don’t really believe for shock value, but I was oh so tempted to pick Houston ahead of Seattle just to be contrarian (not because I think there’s a very good chance it will happen). The Mariners strategy of collecting 1B/DHs while shedding one of their best offensive assets (who happened to be a catcher) was difficult to understand; pre-extending King Felix has no impact on the 2013 outlook but also strains this author’s understanding. Of course, we all know that Jack Z. operates on a higher cognitive level than we do. Houston is a terrible team, of course, but as is always the case, the extent of that will be blown out of proportion by the media. These are not the ’62 Mets.

NL EAST

1. Atlanta
2. Washington (wildcard)
3. Philadelphia
4. New York
5. Miami

I’m not bored (or vain) enough to systematically review my predictions, but if I had to guess, the two teams I’ve been wrong on most consistently have been Cleveland and Atlanta. The former is understandable, as even mild fandom can cloud one’s judgment. I have no good excuse in the case of the Braves--I prematurely predicted the end of their run of division titles, but in the last few years have consistently overrated them--except for last year, when they won the wildcard but I picked them to finish third. I may be falling into the same trap this year. Perhaps it’s that they have three of my favorite fifteen or so outfielders. Maybe it’s the suspicion that Washington is due for what Bill James used to call the Plexiglass Principle (Bill had several different flavors of regression to the mean). Maybe it’s a belief that their offense is solid, their rotation is good, and their bullpen is excellent.

Atlanta of course is not an outlandish pick by any means, as they would be seeking a fourth consecutive playoff appearance under the current system. The Nationals are certainly a strong contender as well, and to me the two teams are very close on paper, not just in terms of projected wins but also runs scored and allowed. The Phillies are a high variance team; they could have a last hurrah season in which Utley and Halladay are healthy, Howard is useful, and the like. Or they could waste 500 PAs each on Michael and Delmon Young as Utley goes to the DL, Howard is worthless, Halladay is hurt, etc. The middle ground appears to me to be another .500 season. The 2013 version of the Mets are a mess, but as with the Yankees and Red Sox, the big market will greatly amplify the extent to which that is true. Miami should challenge Houston for the #1 draft pick.

NL CENTRAL

1. Cincinnati
2. St. Louis (wildcard)
3. Milwaukee
4. Pittsburgh
5. Chicago

I was all set to pick St. Louis to win but backed off after news of Chris Carpenter’s injury broke. This is admittedly an irrational decision, since I never should have been counting on an effective Carpenter over a significant number of innings. In any event, picking the Reds always scares me because I don’t trust Dusty Baker to make good in-season personnel decisions. Last year the Reds got 161 starts from their Opening Day rotation (coincidentally, I happened to attend the one game which was started by Todd Redmond). Still, Baker managed to turn Aroldis Chapman into a traditional closer and give away an extraordinary number of outs by stubbornly leading off with Zack Cozart. With Baker seemingly pulling the strings in the decision to keep Chapman in the bullpen, one can only fathom the amount of damage he could wrought if forced to make difficult decisions in 2013.

The Cardinals don’t have the upside the Reds do, but should be well-positioned in case Cincinnati falters. Their pitching depth and the possibility of Oscar Taveras stepping up in case of injury to any of the bats makes them the safe pick. Milwaukee bringing in Kyle Lohse is not enough to keep them from projecting to jostle with Miami for the NL’s worst run prevention unit outside of Coors. Pittsburgh’s offense outside of McCutchen looks quite suspect to me, with a troublesome lack of OBA, although others see them as middle-of-the-pack. Chicago joins the Red Sox/Yankees/Mets as a team that will be underrated because of exaggeration of their flaws; I really don’t see much to distinguish three through five in this division.

NL WEST

1. Los Angeles
2. San Francisco
3. Arizona
4. San Diego
5. Colorado

One of the easiest ways a team can be overhyped in preseason predictions is to acquire a bunch of big names that outstrip the expected production of the players they belong to. Los Angeles is in that position to some extent, but there’s still enough expected production to make them the favorites in the West. It’s the pitching and not the offense that should shine for the Dodgers, as they have some holes at second and third, and question marks at catcher and in left. San Francisco will be wildly overrated thanks to their postseason success; talk of dynasty is laughable, which is not to say they won’t be in the thick of the race.

Rhetorically, at least, Arizona is positioning itself as the new great hope and symbol for traditionalists. Perhaps instead of running Justin Upton and Trevor Bauer out of town and talking about how they plan to exceed their Pythagorean record as in 2007 and 2011, they should focus more on improving their run differential so that they don’t need to outplay their Pythagorean record. On paper, they appear to be a low-to-mid eighties win team. San Diego has some solid pieces in Headley, Grandal, Maybin, and Quentin, but the supporting cast and starting pitching is not good enough. Colorado can’t get any worse starting pitching then they did last year, but that’s not a ringing endorsement. It’s all been downhill from here.

WORLD SERIES
Atlanta over Los Angeles A

AL Rookie of the Year: CF Aaron Hicks, MIN
AL Cy Young: Yu Darvish, TEX
AL MVP: 2B Robinson Cano, NYA

NL Rookie of the Year: SP Shelby Miller, STL
NL Cy Young: Yovani Gallardo, MIL
NL MVP: CF Matt Kemp, LA

First manager fired: Ned Yost, KC

Best pennant race: AL East
Worst pennant race: AL Central

Most likely to go .500 in each league: OAK, PHI

Team in each league most likely to disappoint mainstream consensus: CLE, PHI
Team in each league most likely to surprise mainstream consensus: HOU, NYA, CHN
Since it’s the Astros’ first year in the AL, I don’t think it’s cheating to list the Yankees as well.

Most annoying stories of the year: Overhyping the struggles of the Yankees and Red Sox; What’s the matter with Mike Trout?; Anything involving steroids, naturally; The attempt to cast Yasiel Puig as the Dodgers’ version of Mike Trout on the basis of some spring training hacking and admittedly freakish feats; Make sure to tune in as natural treasure Tim McCarver ends his career, leaving the distinction between a suicide squeeze and a safety squeeze forever unknown to the masses

1 comment:

  1. I could have made better predictions by picking random teams and players out of a hat

    ReplyDelete

Comments are moderated, so there will be a lag between your post and it actually appearing. I reserve the right to reject any comment for any reason.