Wednesday, March 30, 2011

2011 Predictions

There are many great things to be said about internet publication.  It’s free, it’s instantaneous and any boring person like myself can get his thoughts out there and have them found by interested parties.  The unfortunate thing about it is that any idiot can find it too.  If you write in print or for a price, idiots still read your work (or worse yet, get secondhand accounts that substitute for reading), but there is a higher barrier to entry than a lucky Google search.

No matter how many disclaimers you put on a post, the reader can always ignore them.  The reader can quote you out of context by means of a simple copy and paste that any semi-coordinated five-year old could manage.  No matter how careful you are, there is a decent chance that your disclaimers will be ignored and your words will be turned on their head.

Making the disclaimer more strenuous will do no good, naturally, but it’s the only option available to the blogger.  If you find this site via a Google search and fail to read and understand the next few sentences, that's on you, not me.

These predictions are offered in the spirit of fun, not science or anything resembling science.  They are one man’s opinion, one man’s wild guess at an unknowable future.  If you do not believe that future is unknowable, if you think that you are blessed with some special insight that allows you to predict the outcome of pennant races, you are likely incapable of understanding this point, but nevertheless: even if you could predict exactly how many runs a team would score and allow over the course of the upcoming season, you still could do no better than predict their win total to within a standard error of four games.

Of course, some folks predictions will be more accurate for a single season.  Some will be better over the long haul, too, although expecting a persistent and consistent performance is folly.  It is quite possible that I am poorer than most at this exercise.

Understand, though, that the picks that follow are the product of one man’s feeble mind.  They do not in any way, shape or form reflect the predictions of “sabermetrics”.  They are not based on any sabermetrically rigorous procedure; I do some very crude estimates of team runs scored and allowed based on freely available projections, but then I substitute my own opinion wherever I feel.  If you want predictions based on a more rigorous sabermetric procedure, you need to visit Baseball Prospectus or the Replacement Level Yankee Weblog or somewhere, anywhere else--not this blog.

Another point I make every year but which is hopelessly lost on the mental midgets who invariably stumble upon this page is that the format distorts my true feelings.  I have limited myself to the format of ordinal standings rank not because it is a better format, but because to do what is more telling, offering expected wins and probabilities, requires the use of a rigorous procedure to be remotely credible, and then it becomes harder to shrug it off as a fun, seat-of-the pants exercise.

Given the constraints of the ordinal prediction format, one is forced to predict which team will win the NL Central, and which will finish second, and all down the line.  In reality, I have no idea who will win the NL Central.  I believe that three clubs--Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and St. Louis--are essentially equal in their chances.  A fourth, Chicago, could certainly win if things broke their ways.  And while it may be unlikely, one cannot give true zero odds to the possibility of a miracle in Houston and Pittsburgh.  Add it all up, and I wouldn’t be willing to give you better than a 35% chance that any single team wins.  But making an ordinal prediction gives the impression that the predictor believes that the team listed first has an expected outcome of first place.  The intelligent reader and prognosticator understand the difference and don’t need to have it spelled out.

Anyway, I’ve done all I could, spilling 650 words on why what follows should not be taken seriously.  Someone with Google will invariably stumble upon this and be unwilling or unable to understand anyway.  Oh well:


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

I agree with the consensus view--the Red Sox look to be the best team in baseball. Their offense should be great, their starting pitching might have only one truly safe bet in Jon Lester but also features four guys with the potential to pitch really well, and their bullpen has three big arms (albeit perhaps with two empty heads) at the back. Too much is being made of the Yankees' pitching concerns, I believe. There are a lot of teams expected to contend with question marks at the back of their rotation, but since we're conditioned to see New York run out four guys with track records, it looks worse than it is. I was very tempted to pick the Rays second, but it would be a dishonest pick for shock value. This should still be a very competitive ballclub, and there a couple divisions I probably would pick them to win. The mainstream is spending too much time fretting about losing Pena, Garza and Bartlett and not enough recognizing that their performances in 2010 were far from irreplaceable. Crawford is obviously a much bigger loss, as is their bullpen's splendid 2010 performance which couldn't be replicated even if they were all still in St. Pete. The Orioles are not nearly as close as they seem to think they are, but I thought they'd be better last year and meeting those expectations could be enough for fourth place. I like Alex Anthopoulos' moves as much as the next guy, but I liked much of what Jack Zduriencik did last winter too. I don't think the Blue Jays project to be a better team than they were last year, and their homer-happy offense is almost surely unsustainable. If you had to fall into the silly cliché trap and pick “this year's Mariners”, you could do worse than Toronto.


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

I've had it out for the White Sox organization for a long time, mostly focused on their manager. It's more a personality thing than a baseball thing, but I'd be lying if I said that I've always been able to successfully separate the two.  So it is not with any sort of relish that I predict they'll win the AL Central. But their starting pitching is excellent, and while I wouldn't want their 2013 offense, their 2011 offense should be fine. The Twins did nothing, which is usually not a great sign. If Justin Morneau is healthy, I'm not sure he's a great bet to provide much more value than he did in 2010, when he was arguably the best hitter in the league for half a season. My crude spreadsheet actually gives Minnesota an insignificant edge over Chicago, so I see these two clubs as quite close. The Tigers are spending money without any particular target in mind, or at least that is the impression they give off. They are a contender in this division, but they represent the second tier. The second tier is small because it does not include the Indians or the Royals. Neither pose much of a threat, and I won't rehash my thoughts on the Tribe here. Dayton Moore's farm system is a universally-acknowledged jewel, but the man has yet to provide much evidence that he is capable of constructing a winning major league team, although this wasn't really the year to try, One can easily imagine five-star prospects surrounded with the Jeff Francoeurs and Melky Cabreras and Pedro Felizs of 2014 (that would be a fun exercise--who is the next Jeff Francoeur? Who was the last Jeff Francoeur?)


1. Texas
2. Oakland
3. Los Angeles
4. Seattle

The Rangers are my reluctant pick--I love to pick against pennant winners without sterling regular season records, because the mainstream halo effect for playoff success is far too strong. Like the talk of the Twins dangling Liriano, the decision to keep Feliz in the bullpen gives off a sense of complacency and overconfidence. However, Texas does look like the strongest club on paper. Of course, games aren't played on paper, and so if the great clubhouse influence of the sainted team-player Michael Young is dispatched, they will plummet to 100 losses. The A's made an effort, but their offense still makes them hard to pick. They also don't have a strong Buster Posey candidate to emulate the 2010 trick of their baymates. The big splash Tony Reagins promised for the Angels was fulfilled if you think about “big splash” in terms of Olympic diving. The Pythagorean fairy better bring some extra pixie dust. The Mariners have to score more runs, don't they? Don't they?


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

Four aces = unbeatable! The pitching fetish that still looms large in the conventional narrative demands that tribute be paid to the Phillies, but would it be sacrilege to point out that pitchers often get hurt, and an offense built on a bunch of players on the wrong side of thirty whose best player is a major injury question might be a little vulnerable? Just checking. The Braves have been my irrational NL pick for some time now; since they finally rewarded my faith with a playoff berth, there's no reason to stop now. The bullpen is due for some regression, but the starting pitching looks fine and they should score some runs. The Mets look like a .500 team, which means the ratio of lamenting how bad they are to reality will be way out of whack. The Marlins seem stuck in neutral, even if they hadn't traded Uggla; even if you believe in success cycle theory, it's no one's birthright to win the World Series on a six-year cycle. This might be the MLB division with the most delusional owners; the Mets apparently put all their eggs in one basket, Loria thinks his world title is two years overdue, and the Nationals think that Jayson Werth + Stephen Strasburgh + Bryce Harper = 2012 contention without a lot of downside risk. Good luck to all.


1. St. Louis
2. Milwaukee
3. Chicago
4. Cincinnati
5. Pittsburgh
6. Houston

My crude projections have some kind of borderline irrational love for the Cardinals. Perhaps it's the fact that they ignore fielding; perhaps there's some truth there. Picking them to win after the Wainwright injury in an already close division may seem foolish, but what the heck? At least I can point to the fact that it's not alone—PECOTA also puts St. Louis on top, albeit by an insignificant margin. The Brewers have shown a tendency to go for it with gusto by trading for starting pitchers, and while I wouldn't want my team doing the same, it could very well pay off in this division; and for the moment, fate has smiled upon them. The Cubs probably aren't as close to winning this division as the Garza trade suggests they think, but a lot went wrong for them last year (some of it of their own volition, mind you), obscuring the fact that in 2009 they were kind of in the mix. My own intuition tells me that the picks for this division are scrambled, but the spreadsheet really doesn't like the Reds that much, and I can see why. Their offense still has issues at short and in left, Scott Rolen was a big contributor in 2010 but at this stage isn't the most reliable guy around, Joey Votto isn't really Albert Pujols Jr., and I'm not really a Drew Stubbs believer. They don't really have a leadoff hitter (which I point out not because the leadoff role is particularly important but because they either don't have or don't trust high OBA guys without power), and you still have to wonder about Dusty's ability to push the right the buttons if things don't go according to plan. The starting pitching has solid depth, but they also lack front line starters barring a Cueto or Volquez breakout. They are certainly the team I've picked fourth in a division that I think has the best chance to win it--again, that's the inherent peril in using an ordinal standing prediction approach. It should go without saying that they're much closer to St. Louis on paper than they are to Pittsburgh. The Pirates should not lose 100 games again, and the Astros might be as good of a bet as any team in the game to do so.


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

I really don't like picking the Giants. Winning the World Series doesn't wipe the fact that their playoff berth was not secured until the final Sunday of the season out of existence, and their offense is still quite suspect. However, the Rockies didn't do much to improve; I wouldn't be surprised to see serious regression from Carlos Gonzalez, and my crude projection attempt sees them as a .500 team. The Dodgers could surprise some people since expectations are not particularly high. Their pitching staff should be one of the best of the NL (at least before park adjustments), but there are a number of weak/questionable spots on offense. The Padres obviously traded away their best player without much coming back to help them in 2011; still, they should be respectable. The Diamondbacks may think that shedding strikeouts is the magic elixir to increased offense, but you still should expect to score more runs with Mark Reynolds as your third baseman than Melvin Mora.


Boston over Atlanta

While I think they are far from a juggernaut (just as I thought during last year’s postseason), I would have to admit that the Phillies are the team most likely to win the NL pennant and the NL East.  However, my estimation of their chance to do so is so much lower than that of the mainstream that to pick them to win and thus replicate everybody's prediction would be boring. I almost feel the same way about Boston--the scattered talk about winning 110 games is irrational. However, I think Boston stands out from the pack more than Philly, and picking against your head twice is just a waste of everyone's time. My crude standings projections have the Giants second in the NL behind the Phillies, but picking them would be even worse in terms of overvaluing the previous postseason and assuming repeats, so the mantle falls to the Braves.

AL Rookie of the Year: SP Jeremy Hellickson, TB
It doesn't feel like he should be eligible, but he is.
AL Cy Young: Jon Lester, BOS
Let's try this again. I picked him last year and he had a fine season, but not a spectacular one.
AL MVP: 1B Adrian Gonzalez, BOS
I always like to pick a newcomer for MVP if possible (voters love shiny things), and Fenway should help the mainstream perception of his performance if nothing else.
NL Rookie of the Year: 1B Freddie Freeman, ATL
Having a job is half the battle.
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, LA
I was going to pick Zack Greinke, but missing a few starts is a hurdle to overcome.
NL MVP: SS Troy Tulowitzki, COL
You know that the writers are just dying for an excuse to give this to Ryan Howard.

First manager fired: Jim Riggleman, WAS
Spending all that money on Jayson Werth leads me to conclude that the powers that be in Washington think they're a stronger club than they are.
Best pennant race: NL Central
Worst pennant race: AL West
Worst team in each league: KC, HOU
Most likely to go .500 in each league: OAK, CHN
Team in each league most likely to disappoint mainstream consensus: DET, CIN
Team in each league most likely to surprise mainstream consensus: TB, LA
Most obnoxious stories of the year: Michael Young, Pujols' contract status, Nolan Ryan taught the Rangers pitchers to do X, Josh Hamilton, whether various starters turned relievers should be used in a sane manner (Chapman, Joba, Feliz)...basically the Texas Rangers, win or lose.

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