Friday, April 01, 2016

2016 Predictions

Standard disclaimer applies. Also, I’m giving myself an extra Oreo for every time I can use the phrase "on paper".


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

I’ve picked the Red Sox to win the AL East in 2015, 2012, 2011, 2009, and 2007 and to win the pennant in 2015, 2012, 2011, 2009, and 2007. I was right in 2007; in 2013, when they won another division and pennant, I picked them to finish third. I guess what I’m trying to say is "David Price, if you’re reading this, don’t put in a pre-order on a duck boat."

To attempt to analyze why I have been so wrong about the Red Sox so frequently would be taking this exercise more seriously than I intend, and would be about me and not baseball, which is of no interest to anyone other than me. So I will leave any questions about whether I qualify for the popular definition of insanity to the reader and instead point out that the crude infrastructure I use to inform these predictions really left me with no choice; I have Boston six wins ahead of anyone else in the AL. Only Toronto projects to score more runs and only Cleveland and New York project to allow fewer. One would think they would have fewer disaster positions and a stronger rotation than in 2015.

At first I was surprised to see Toronto still ranked highly, which is a testament to how unless one reasons this out on paper, it would be easy to overreact to losing a rental pitcher who was only there for two months and forget that one picked them second last year as well and there’s little reason to be more bearish on the team now. Of course, reasoning this out on paper is what leads me to pick the Red Sox all the time.

New York should be right in the mix for the wildcard; if Tanaka and Pineda can somehow stay healthy, they have a sneaky good rotation. I’m not feeling the Tampa Bay love, as their rotation has multiple question marks and their offense is lacking (I don’t think one can count on even a healthy Evan Longoria being a star-level performer). Baltimore should serve as a warning as to how quickly special pleading about outperform Pythagorean and winning one-run games and the like can be forgotten when the team has a bad year. They’re not the cool kids any longer, those guys are in the next division…


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

Everyone, including me, will tell you about how little there is separating most of the AL teams paper. Since I suspected this would be the case before I even sat down to put anything on paper, I decided that I would pick the AL in exactly the order my numerical exercise suggested with one exception--should Cleveland be in playoff position, I would drop them out of it. With the exception (discussed below) of the second wildcard, that is exactly what I have done.

I wouldn’t be surprised if I pick the 2017 Tigers to finish last, but I think they did enough patching this season that a dead cat bounce (see what I did there?) may be in the offing. You can just picture them getting off to a slow start and roaring (I’ll stop now) back behind interim manager Dave Clark or whoever.

Then there are the Royals. On paper I have them with 80 wins, just ahead of the White Sox, but I’ll dutifully jump them over Cleveland just the same. They have outplayed their PW% (W% estimated from runs created and allowed) by 19 games over the past two seasons, which is the seventh-highest total since 2003 (I have figured PW% for my end of season stats back to 2003, not always by the exact same method but this is a case in which the concept is much more important than the specific implementation of it). Their predecessors have generally done well in outplaying PW% again in year 3:

The average year 3 out-performance is 3.7 wins, so let’s be generous and give the Royals four more wins (the sabermetrically-sharp among you probably noticed that this very crude and unendorsed methodology is assuming that these teams’ RC and RC Allowed are consistent with pre-season expectations). That puts them at 84; I have Detroit with 84 and Cleveland with 83.

Does that placate you if you think last year was “the year that Base Runs failed”? Setting aside the ridiculous nature of hanging errors which are created jointly by Base Runs and Pythagenpat solely around the neck of the former, of course one must objectively acknowledge that PW%, whatever reasonable inputs one might use, had a bad year in 2015. A really bad year. The chart gives the RMSE of (W% - PW%) from 2003-2015:

A RMSE of equivalent to 6.66 per 162 games was by far the worst over this period. But note that the previous two seasons were the best over this time period, and that the overall trend, if one can divine one, appears to be stable or improving accuracy over time. So which do you believe--that there’s a possibility worth multiple blog posts about that suddenly, in 2015, all of the underpinnings of run and win estimation and the combination thereof suddenly ceased to work? Or that sometimes the dice roll a little bit differently?

The general discussion of PW% is not specific to Kansas City, of course; the Royals could this season once again outplay their PW% even if the league-wide error returns to normal levels. But if you feel compelled to hedge late in your post by writing the phrase “this is probably just a blip”, it almost certainly is a blip.

The Indians are my team, which is why I won’t pick them to make the playoffs unless I’m really feeling it in addition to seeing it in the objective projections (almost the opposite of how I approached picking the Indians as a younger human being, in which case feeling was the only thing that mattered). The fact that they couldn’t even do something like bring in Austin Jackson for $5 million to help shore up a dreadful looking outfield prevents me from believing that this is their year. Seriously, the opening day outfield is Rajai Davis, Tyler Naquin, and Marlon Byrd backed up by Colin Cowgill. Send money. The White Sox could be in the mix, but I still see a below-average offense with good but not great starters and a mediocre bullpen, even if I really like Carlos Rodon. The Twins certainly have some offensive players to watch, but their multi-season run of bad starting pitching doesn’t seem to be coming to end this year.


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

On paper, the Astros and A’s stand out from the pack in this division; the other three look to be pretty close to me. If I was reading this post, I would stop here, because I have vowed to stop reading any baseball article that uses the term “tank” (all apologies to Dayan Viciedo). But it seems to me that much of the alarmism about the imagined problem of “tanking” stems from the interests and fans of rich teams. Fans of these teams, which could never allow themselves to take a clear step backward to the extent that the Astros or Cubs did, don’t seem to appreciate it when opponents try different approaches to build lasting contenders rather than simply throwing money around trying to reach 85 wins and perpetually hunt for a wildcard berth. I can’t blame them--it would be nice to be a fan of a league in which any clubs that can’t match your financial advantage are forever stuck in the middle. But the easiest thing in the world is to be a fan of a rich team and chastise other teams for winning 60 games every once in a while.

I’m not really sold on the Mariners as a wildcard team, but I have a general rule against picking two wildcards from the same division (even though this is quite possible as the NL Central demonstrated last year) and so I’m not picking the Yankees. On paper, I have the Mariners and the Royals virtually tied, with a slight edge to the former. I can talk myself into believing it--most of the reasons why I and many others liked them last year are still in place, with Jerry Dipoto seemingly doing a nice job of tinkering on the edges of the roster. The same is true of the Rangers, but in the opposite direction. Yes, they now have Hamels, we know Prince Fielder is still alive, and Darvish should be back at some point, but there’s still a reason they were picked last by many in 2015. The Angels are unintentionally going for a stars and scrubs approach, but they only have one star. That he’s the brightest in the firmament is still not enough to make that a winning strategy. The A’s should have been much better last year, but this year may be closer to their actual 2015 record than their predicted one.


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

I dislike Dusty Baker’s managing as much as the next guy, probably a bit more since I saw a fair deal of him when he was in Cincinnati. But damned if Matt Williams isn’t one of a very small number of major league managers that I think I’d be willing to replace with Dusty. A player’s manager following the unpopular Williams couldn’t hurt either.

But I don’t think you need to resort to pop psychology in order to think the Nationals are the team to beat in the East. While their roster is not as good on paper as it was last year, they are likely to stay healthier. Even with regression from Harper, significant contributions from Rendon, Ramos, even Daniel Murphy could make this a more productive offense. Their rotation is not Mets-level but it should still be good enough, although the bullpen doesn’t look great. Second half surge and Cespedes resign aside, I see the Mets as an average offense. The most comparable current team is closer to the Indians than to the Cubs. If things go right for the Marlins, this could be their wildcard and World Series year, but thankfully that is often true yet it still has only happened twice. I was surprised that I still had the Braves five games ahead of the Phillies on paper for 2016, although I definitely would take their next five years over the Phillies as well.


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

My crude estimates have the Cubs at 96 wins, which is one of the highest figures I can remember. They easily have the best offense in the league on paper, while allowing the same number of runs as the Mets. They are really good, which means they might have a 15% chance of being recognized as such when it’s all over and an 85% chance of being cited as another sad chapter, 1908, 1945 blahblahblah. I have the Cardinals and the Pirates as dead even on paper, both a step behind the second-place teams on the coasts in the wildcard hunt, St. Louis with better defense and Pittsburgh with better offense. If you believe in Searage magic, that may be reason to go with the latter; I learned today that Cory Luebke made the Pirates pen and I flipped them from how I’d originally written this. Scientific process right here. As with the NL East, I was surprised that I have the Reds five games ahead of the Brewers. As with the NL East, I don’t think it matters much one way or the other.


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

On paper I have the Dodgers six games ahead of the Giants, so it was probably a foolhardy move to flip them here. But the Dodgers have some serious questions about the health of their (otherwise very solid) rotation and enough nagging injuries to position players that I’m leaning Giants. That might be just as well for the Dodgers if they could supplement from their wealth throughout the season and flip the 2014 script on their rivals. Another reason I’m ignoring that six game gap is my number have San Francisco with an average offense and I expect the team that led the majors in park-adjusted OBA last season will retain a little more production than that (even if I too am skeptical of Matt Duffy, Brandon Crawford, Joe Panek: Super Infield!). A lot of the mainstream prognostications I’ve encountered have stated as a given that the Diamondbacks have an excellent offense and just needed to shore up their pitching. But while they were third in the NL in park-adjusted RC/G in 2015, the two teams they trailed by .34 and .14 runs respectively are the two I’m picking ahead of them in the NL West. I guess maybe people really believe in Patrick Corbin’s elbow and Robbie Ray? This makes it three-for-three NL divisions where I’m surprised to have the fourth-place team so far ahead of the last place team on paper (and, except in the case of the East, surprised to have them ahead at all). But I’ll stick with the Rockies over the Padres despite my misgivings.


Chicago (N) over Boston

Just twelve years ago, such a World Series matchup would have conjured up mixed emotions and platitudes of “at least one of them will finally get to win”. This year, everyone outside of New England and St. Louis would be united in singing “Go Cubs Go”. Remember how interesting this could have been when it’s actually Royals/Marlins or something disgusting.

AL Rookie of the Year: 1B AJ Reed, HOU
AL Cy Young: Carlos Carrasco, CLE
AL MVP: OF Mookie Betts, BOS
NL Rookie of the Year: SS Trevor Story, COL
NL Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg, WAS
NL MVP: C Buster Posey, SF

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