2004 Predictions -- Keeping Score
By Tom Tippett
October 14, 2004
When we release our annual Projection Disk in the spring, we give our customers a chance to get a head start on the baseball season. With projected statistics and ratings for over 1600 established big leaguers and top minor-league prospects, plus league schedules, park factors, team rosters, projected pitching rotations, bullpen assignments, lineups and depth charts, the Projection Disk gives them everything they need to play out the new season using the Diamond Mind Baseball simulation game.
It also gives us a chance to get a head start on the season. Ever since we created the first Projection Disk in 1998, we've been publishing our projected standings along with comments on the outlook for all 30 teams. Those projected standings are based on the average of a number of full-season simulations using the Projection Disk.
Of course, nobody really knows what's going to happen when the real season starts, but we're always curious to see how our projected results compare to the real thing. And we're equally interested in seeing how our projections stack up against the predictions made by other leading baseball experts and publications. This article takes a look at those preseason predictions and identifies the folks who were closest to hitting the mark in 2004. And because anyone can get lucky and pick the winners in one season, we also look at how everyone has done over a period of years.
In addition to projecting the order of finish, our simulations provide us with projected win-loss records, projected runs for and against, and the probability that each team will make the postseason by winning its division or grabbing the wild card.
Unfortunately, most of the predictions that are published in major newspapers, magazines and web sites don't include projected win-loss records. Instead, they give the projected order of finish without indicating which races are expected to be hotly contested and which will be runaways. Some don't even bother to predict the order of finish, but settle instead for the division winners and wild card teams.
As a result, we do our best to assign a meaningful score to each prediction based solely on order of finish within each division. We borrowed the scoring system from our friend Pete Palmer, co-author of Total Baseball and The Hidden Game of Baseball, who has been projecting team standings for more than 35 years.
Pete's scoring system subtracts each team's actual placement from its projected placement, squares this difference, and adds them up for all the teams. For example, if you predict a team will finish fourth and they finish second, that's a difference of two places. Square the result, and you get four points. Do this for every team and you get a total score. The lower the score, the more accurate your predictions.
We don't try to break ties. If, for example, two teams tie for first, we say that each team finished in 1.5th place for the purposes of figuring out how many places a prediction was off. Suppose a team was projected to finish third and they tied for first instead. That's a difference of 1.5 places. The square of 1.5 is 2.25, so that would be the point total for this team. That's why you'll see some fractional scores in the tables below.
Keeping things in perspective
That first year, we created a little database with our projected standings and those of fourteen national publications, and we were pleased to see that we ended the year with the best accuracy score among those fifteen forecasts. When we wrote up the results and posted them to our web site, however, we were very careful not to make any grand claims, saying:
"I'm not sure what to make of all this. It's just one year, and it's entirely possible that we were just lucky. Time will tell whether our approach to projecting seasons is consistently better than average."
Over time, we expanded our database to include the predictions of prominent baseball writers from major newspapers and other publications. This is easier said than done because some publications and web sites change their approach from year to year. For example, we used to track the predictions of several ESPN.com writers and editors, but they limited their picks to division winners in 2003. So the number of entries in our database can rise and fall depending on what the various publications do and whether we were able to find those predictions in our spring survey.
In the sections below, we'll show you how various prognosticators ranked in 2004 and over a period of years, with the period varying in length depending on when we added that person or publication to our database. We don't make any claims of completeness here -- there are lots of other predictions that are not in our database -- but we think you'll find that our sample is an interesting one.
For several reasons, we want to emphasize that it's important that nobody take these rankings too seriously.
First, this isn't the only scoring system one could use to rank these projections, of course. A fellow named Gerry Hamilton runs a predictions contest every year (see http://www.tidepool.com/~ggh1/index.html) and assigns a score based on how many games each team finished out of their predicted place in the standings. (We came 22nd out of 195 predictions in their 2004 contest after finishing 4th in 2003.)
Second, because of publishing deadlines, the predictions in some spring baseball magazines are made long before spring training started, others are prepared in early-to-mid March, and some are compiled just before opening day. Obviously, the longer you wait, the more information you have on player movement and injuries.
Third, many newspaper editors ask staff writers to make predictions so their readers have something to chew on for a couple of days. Some writers hate doing them but comply because their editors insist. Some do it even though their main beat is a different sport. Others may make off-the-wall picks just for grins or feel compelled to favor the hometown teams.
Rankings for 2004
It's interesting to see how everyone did this year, but it's even more interesting to look back to see how different people perceived the baseball world before the season started. We'll start by showing you the prediction rankings for the current season, then we'll follow that up with a review of each division race and how those races affected these rankings.
Forecaster Score New York Times 30 Las Vegas over-under line 32.5 Tony DeMarco, MSNBC.com 40 Diamond Mind simulations 42 Bob Hohler, Boston Globe 42 Joe Sheehan, Baseball Prospectus 42 Michael Wolverton, Baseball Prospectus 42 David Lipman, ESPN.com 44 Michael Holley, Boston Globe 46 Gary Huckabay, Baseball Prospectus 46 Team payroll (per USA Today) 46 Poll of SABR members 48 Athlon 48 Eric Mack, CBS SportsLine 48 2003 final standings 48 MLB Yearbook 50 Baseball Prospectus 52 Nate Silver, Baseball Prospectus 52 Lindy's 52 Dan Shaughnessy, Boston Globe 52 ESPN.com power rankings 56 Phil Rogers, ESPN.com 56 Steve Mann 56 The Sporting News (Ken Rosenthal) 58 Rany Jazayerli, Baseball Prospectus 58 Charley McCarthey, CBS SportsLine 58 Baseball America 60 Sports Illustrated 60 Spring Training Yearbook 60 Tristan Cockroft, CBS SportsLine 60 USA Today 61.5 Street & Smith 62 Chris Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus 62 Miami Herald 64 Derek Zumsteg, Baseball Prospectus 64 USA Today Sports Weekly 66 Jonah Keri, Baseball Prospectus 66 Pete Palmer 68 Dallas Morning News 68 Seattle Times 68 CBS SportsLine 72 Gordon Edes, Boston Globe 72 Scott Miller, CBS SportsLine 72 ESPN the magazine (Peter Gammons) 74 Los Angeles Times 74 Bob Ryan, Boston Globe 76 Adam Reich, CBS SportsLine 80 Spring training results 134
The "Diamond Mind simulations" entry is the one representing the average result of simulating the season 100 times. These simulations were done about three weeks before the season started.
There are a few other entries in this list that don't represent the views of a writer or a publication. If you predicted that the 2004 standings would be the same as in 2003, your score would have been 48. If you put together a set of standings based on the Las Vegas over-under line, you'd have racked up an impressively low total of 32.5 points. If you thought the teams would finish in order from highest to lowest payroll, your score would have been 46.
And if you predicted that the regular season standings would match the 2004 spring training standings, your score would have been 134. In other words, the spring training results were almost useless as a predictor of the real season, and that's been true for at least the past four years.
Reviewing the divisions
Much more interesting than the overall scores, in our opinion, are the details. Which teams were consistently under- or over-estimated? Which divisions contained the biggest surprises? Did anyone predict that certain teams would have a sudden change of fortune?
Leaving out the entries that don't represent writers or publications, here are some observations about how the others saw things last spring:
AL East. Everyone had either New York or Boston winning the division, with the Yankees being picked first four more times than the Red Sox. Other than Gary Huckabay, who picked Toronto second and Boston third, everyone had this as a two-team race. A good number of people picked Baltimore third ahead of Toronto, but four people picked the Orioles to finish last, too, so there was no clear consensus on the Orioles.
AL Central. The Kansas City Royals were the downfall for many this year. The young Royals led the division for much of the 2003 season before fading down the stretch, then added some veteran players during the winter. As a result, they were a trendy pick to win the division or finish second behind Minnesota. A good part of the reason our score is among the leaders in 2004 is that we identified the Royals as one of the teams most likely to disappoint. That was based largely on our simulation results, but also based on the fact that the 2003 Royals didn't have the statistical foundation to justify their high placement. Surprisingly, seven predictions had Detroit finishing fourth, in every case because they thought the Indians would be even worse.
AL West. A year ago, our score was significantly improved because we chose to rank the Mariners ahead of the Angels when those two teams finished in a virtual tie for second in our simulations. This year, those teams were again neck and neck, with the Mariners averaging one more win but the Angels having a slightly better run margin. In a decision we'd love to have back, we gave the nod to Seattle. More than twice as many people chose Anaheim to win the division over Oakland, with three choosing the Mariners for first place. Everyone picked the Rangers to finish last, meaning that nobody in our survey got this division (or any other division) correct from top to bottom.
NL East. Before the season, the Phillies appeared to be loaded with talent, the Marlins were shedding payroll after winning the World Series, and the Braves seemed quite vulnerable. All three teams were selected by at least one person to win the division, with Philly being the choice about 80% of the time. Most predictions had a clear separation between the top three and the bottom two, but Montreal (five times) and New York (three times) snuck into third place on a few lists.
NL Central. Only two entries (Diamond Mind and Steve Mann) had the Cardinals finishing first in this division. The others seemed caught up in the hype surrounding the Cubs young pitching (Prior, Wood, Zambrano) and the Astros older pitching (Clemens, Pettitte). Just about every prediction had the Cubs and Astros duking it out for first with the Cardinals third. The picks for first place were almost evenly split between Chicago and Houston, with the Cubs having a very slight edge. There was some variation in the order of the bottom three teams, but nobody picked any of them to finish in the top half of the division.
NL West. Picking the Dodgers to finish at or near the top was a key to the better-scoring predictions this year, as was picking against the Diamondbacks. We were among those who thought Arizona would finish ahead of Los Angeles, but we were not alone. Approximately 2/3 of the predictions had Arizona beating the Dodgers, with thirteen people picking the D'backs to win the division outright. (In an example of the importance of timing, Arizona finished one game ahead of the Dodgers in our simulations, but the teams would have been reversed had we run them again after Milton Bradley was traded to LA.) It's clear that many people thought this division was wide open, as four of the five teams (everyone but the Rockies) were picked to finish first at least once.
Summing up. For the first time ever, not a single division was nailed by even a single predictor. Certain teams surprised a lot of people by overachieving (Texas, Los Angeles) or falling short (Arizona, Seattle, Kansas City, Toronto). As a result, the prediction scores were much higher this year than in 2003. A year ago, things went more in accordance with expectations.
Here are the rankings for those who were included in our sample every year. There's a new entry this year. We went back and ranked all of the teams based on their payroll as reported in USA Today in April, and we computed a standings score based on the "prediction" that teams would finish in order from highest to lowest payroll. As you can see, that doesn't seem to be a very good predictor.
Forecaster 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 1998 Total Diamond Mind 42.0 28.0 40.0 54.5 68.0 42.0 44.5 319.0 Las Vegas over-under 32.5 30.0 46.0 65.5 51.5 48.0 52.0 325.5 Sports Illustrated 60.0 30.0 48.0 56.5 40.0 56.0 54.0 344.5 Steve Mann 56.0 48.0 60.0 38.5 58.0 54.0 44.0 358.5 Sports Weekly 66.0 38.0 42.0 46.5 58.0 51.5 60.0 362.0 Athlon 48.0 36.0 38.0 67.5 42.0 72.0 72.0 375.5 Sporting News 58.0 44.0 54.0 52.5 38.0 78.0 54.0 378.5 Pete Palmer 68.0 56.0 50.0 70.5 54.0 40.0 58.0 396.5 Street & Smith 62.0 36.0 70.0 68.5 58.0 68.0 64.0 426.5 Previous season 48.0 42.0 48.0 64.5 56.0 70.0 100.0 428.5 Payroll ranking 46.0 64.0 102.0 60.0 88.0 72.0 44.0 476.0
In 1999, we added some writers from the Boston Globe.
Forecaster 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 Total Gordon Edes, Boston Globe 52.0 32.0 54.0 56.5 26.0 28.0 248.5 Las Vegas over-under line 32.5 30.0 46.0 65.5 51.5 48.0 273.5 Diamond Mind simulations 42.0 28.0 40.0 54.5 68.0 42.0 274.5 Sports Illustrated 60.0 30.0 48.0 56.5 40.0 56.0 290.5 USA Today Sports Weekly 66.0 38.0 42.0 46.5 58.0 51.5 302.0 Athlon 48.0 36.0 38.0 67.5 42.0 72.0 303.5 Baseball America 60.0 28.0 48.0 54.5 54.0 70.0 314.5 Steve Mann 56.0 48.0 60.0 38.5 58.0 54.0 314.5 Sporting News 58.0 44.0 54.0 52.5 38.0 78.0 324.5 Previous season standings 48.0 42.0 48.0 64.5 56.0 70.0 328.5 Dan Shaughnessy, Globe 52.0 56.0 70.0 44.5 54.0 58.0 334.5 Pete Palmer 68.0 56.0 50.0 70.5 54.0 40.0 338.5 Bob Ryan, Boston Globe 76.0 40.0 58.0 84.5 58.0 40.0 356.5 Street & Smith 62.0 36.0 70.0 68.5 58.0 68.0 362.5 Payroll ranking 46.0 64.0 102.0 60.0 88.0 72.0 432.0
The Diamond Mind simulations missed the mark by quite a bit in 2000. We added a new concept to our projection system that year, but we were unhappy with the results, and we took that out of the model before generating our projections in 2001. The results have been much better since. As you can see, the Las Vegas over-under line has been getting much better in recent years.
Forecaster 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 Total Las Vegas over-under line 32.5 30.0 46.0 65.5 51.5 225.5 Athlon 48.0 36.0 38.0 67.5 42.0 231.5 Diamond Mind simulations 42.0 28.0 40.0 54.5 68.0 232.5 Sports Illustrated 60.0 30.0 48.0 56.5 40.0 234.5 Gordon Edes, Boston Globe 72.0 32.0 54.0 56.5 26.0 240.5 Baseball America 60.0 28.0 48.0 54.5 54.0 244.5 Sporting News 58.0 44.0 54.0 52.5 38.0 246.5 Previous season standings 48.0 42.0 48.0 64.5 56.0 248.5 USA Today Sports Weekly 66.0 38.0 42.0 46.5 58.0 250.5 Steve Mann 56.0 48.0 60.0 38.5 58.0 260.5 Dan Shaughnessy, Globe 52.0 56.0 70.0 44.5 54.0 276.5 Street & Smith 62.0 36.0 70.0 68.5 58.0 294.5 Pete Palmer 68.0 56.0 50.0 70.5 54.0 298.5 Bob Ryan, Boston Globe 76.0 40.0 58.0 84.5 58.0 316.5 Payroll ranking 46.0 64.0 102.0 60.0 88.0 360.0
Lindy's was a strong addition to our survey in 2001. We also added the San Francisco Chronicle that year, but they've been dropped from this list because we couldn't find their 2004 predictions. That paper ranked second from 2001 to 2003.
Forecaster 2004 2003 2002 2001 Total Diamond Mind simulations 42.0 28.0 40.0 54.5 164.5 Lindy's 52.0 40.0 42.0 36.5 170.5 Las Vegas over-under line 32.5 30.0 46.0 65.5 174.0 Tony DeMarco, MSNBC.com 40.0 34.0 34.0 67.5 175.5 Athlon 48.0 36.0 38.0 67.5 189.5 Baseball America 60.0 28.0 48.0 54.5 190.5 USA Today Sports Weekly 66.0 38.0 42.0 46.5 192.5 Sports Illustrated 60.0 30.0 48.0 56.5 194.5 Steve Mann 56.0 48.0 60.0 38.5 202.5 Previous season standings 48.0 42.0 48.0 64.5 202.5 Sporting News 58.0 44.0 54.0 52.5 208.5 Los Angeles Times 74.0 18.0 44.0 73.5 209.5 Gordon Edes, Boston Globe 72.0 32.0 54.0 56.5 214.5 Dan Shaughnessy, Globe 52.0 56.0 70.0 44.5 222.5 Street & Smith 62.0 36.0 70.0 68.5 236.5 Pete Palmer 68.0 56.0 50.0 70.5 244.5 Bob Ryan, Boston Globe 76.0 40.0 58.0 84.5 258.5 Payroll ranking 46.0 64.0 102.0 60.0 272.0 Spring training results 134.0 70.0 86.0 113.5 403.5
Here's how things looked from 2002 to 2004. The LA Times was unable to follow up the excellent 2003 predictions that put them in top spot in last year's two-season rankings.
Forecaster 2004 2003 2002 Total Tony DeMarco, MSNBC.com 40.0 34.0 34.0 108.0 Las Vegas over-under line 32.5 30.0 46.0 108.5 Diamond Mind simulations 42.0 28.0 40.0 110.0 Bob Hohler, Boston Globe 42.0 32.0 38.0 112.0 Athlon 48.0 36.0 38.0 122.0 Lindy's 52.0 40.0 42.0 134.0 Los Angeles Times 74.0 18.0 44.0 136.0 Baseball America 60.0 28.0 48.0 136.0 Sports Illustrated 60.0 30.0 48.0 138.0 Previous season standings 48.0 42.0 48.0 138.0 USA Today Sports Weekly 66.0 38.0 42.0 146.0 USA Today 61.5 32.0 58.0 151.5 Sporting News 58.0 44.0 54.0 156.0 Gordon Edes, Boston Globe 72.0 32.0 54.0 158.0 Steve Mann 56.0 48.0 60.0 164.0 Street & Smith 62.0 36.0 70.0 168.0 Bob Ryan, Boston Globe 76.0 40.0 58.0 174.0 Pete Palmer 68.0 56.0 50.0 174.0 Dan Shaughnessy, Globe 52.0 56.0 70.0 178.0 Payroll ranking 46.0 64.0 102.0 212.0 Spring training results 134.0 70.0 86.0 290.0
Finally, here's how things have looked over the past two years.
Forecaster 2004 2003 Total Las Vegas over-under line 32.5 30.0 62.5 Diamond Mind simulations 42.0 28.0 70.0 Tony DeMarco, MSNBC.com 40.0 34.0 74.0 Bob Hohler, Boston Globe 42.0 32.0 74.0 Athlon 48.0 36.0 84.0 Baseball America 60.0 28.0 88.0 Sports Illustrated 60.0 30.0 90.0 Previous season standings 48.0 42.0 90.0 MLB Yearbook 50.0 40.0 90.0 Lindy's 52.0 40.0 92.0 Los Angeles Times 74.0 18.0 92.0
USA Today 61.5 32.0 93.5 Street & Smith 62.0 36.0 98.0 Sporting News 58.0 44.0 102.0 USA Today Sports Weekly 66.0 38.0 104.0 Gordon Edes, Boston Globe 72.0 32.0 104.0 Steve Mann 56.0 48.0 104.0 Dan Shaughnessy, Globe 52.0 56.0 108.0 Spring Training Yearbook 60.0 48.0 108.0 ESPN the magazine 74.0 36.0 110.0 Payroll ranking 46.0 64.0 110.0 Pete Palmer 68.0 56.0 114.0 Bob Ryan, Boston Globe 76.0 40.0 116.0 Spring training results 134.0 70.0 204.0
Overall, we've been pretty happy with our results, and if there's one thing that stands out, it's our ability to identify over-rated teams.
In 2004, we saw the Royals as a 2003 overachiever that was unlikely to repeat, we projected the Blue Jays to finish below .500, and we didn't buy all of the hype surrounding the Cubs and Astros.
A year earlier, our simulations correctly indicated that the Mets were likely to finish at the bottom of their division again, the Angels were very unlikely to repeat their 2002 success, and the Dodgers wouldn't score enough runs to make a serious run at the NL West title.
Even so, we're always surprised by something that happens each year. We didn't anticipate the emergence of the Rangers and Dodgers in 2004 or the surprising finishes of the Marlins and Royals the year before. As a result, we have a bunch of test cases to study as we consider possible improvements to our projection system.
More than anything, this process -- projecting the season in March, watching the real thing for six months, and taking a look back after the season -- is highly educational for us. So we'll be back with our projected 2005 team standings in March.
- Tags: Projected Standings
Projected Standings for the 2007 Season
y Charles Wolfson and Tom Tippett of Diamond Mind, a Simnasium, Inc. company
March 31, 2007
How will the free agent spending splurge this past winter play out in 2007? Will Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee, Gary Matthews Jr., Gil Meche, Juan Pierre and others justify their big contracts, or will they prove to be multiyear financial millstones for their teams? When and where (if at all) will Roger Clemens pitch in 2007? Will the Cinderella team of 2006, the Tigers, go the way of the White Sox, who took the slipper in 2005, and the Red Sox, who ended the Curse in 2004, and fall short of repeating last year’s success?
As final roster decisions are made and Opening Day approaches, the best laid plans of major league teams are subjected to the scrutiny of commentators, analysts, fantasy addicts and everyday fans, who offer up a varying mix of sabermetrics, wishful thinking and fatalism with their predictions for the coming season.This is the tenth year for which we at Diamond Mind have used our projection methodology and our simulation software to project the final standings for the coming season. Over that span, our approach has produced some prescient (and, for some teams, sobering) forecasts. For example, in 2006 our system correctly identified five of the six division winners, and we were only an NL West tie-breaker away from a clean sweep. For a survey of the relative success of prognosticators across the nation, see 2006 Predictions – Keeping Score.
Before revealing our final standings for the 2007 season, here’s an overview of how we produced them.
We began by projecting the 2007 performance of over 1800 players contending for major league jobs. To do this, we took their major and minor league stats for the past 3 seasons, adjusted for factors such as the level of competition (majors, Japan, AAA, AA, etc) and offense in a league, park effects, and whether the DH rule was in use. Then, giving greater weight to more recent seasons, performances at higher levels, and seasons with more playing time, and adjusting for age, we projected their performance into the league and park where they will be competing in the coming year.We didn’t merely project the aggregate “headline” stats for each player, but their left/right splits as well. We also assigned ratings for skills such as bunting, baserunning, defensive range and throwing.
After all players have been rated, we set up a manager profile for each team, consisting of a starting rotation, bullpen assignments, projected lineups against right- and left-handed starters, and a positional depth chart. Once these profiles were in place for every team, we played out the season using our Diamond Mind Baseball simulation game. The computer manager, guided by our manager profile, makes decisions about starting pitchers, lineups, substitutions, and pitch-by-pitch tactics. Because luck can play a major role in any single season for players and teams (both in real-life and our simulations), we ran the season 200 times and averaged the results.
Factors and Non-factors
To provide you with a bit more insight into the process, factors that we do and don’t take into account in our projections include the following:
- We take past performance in the major and minor leagues, including the Japanese leagues, into account, but not performance in college or high school, independent leagues, winter leagues, spring training, or other foreign leagues.
- We go beyond aggregate projected hitting and pitching stats, taking left/right splits and defense, running, bunting and other skills into account. If a team is imbalanced in some material way, that will show up in its results.
- We take injuries into account in two ways when we project player performance: by discounting past performance that may have been adversely affected by a player attempting to play through injury, and by taking playing time away from a player we know is beginning the season with an injury. However, we don’t attempt to project the likelihood of a player getting injured over the course of a season. Every player has the same chance of injury in our season simulations.
- We don’t attempt to emulate the tactics of specific managers. The computer manager manages each team according to the strengths and weaknesses of its roster. Nor do we attempt to rate managerial ability. We just haven’t seen the evidence over the years to indicate that particular managers’ teams consistently over- (or under-) perform their projected results.
- We don’t factor preseason hype (so-and-so has added a new pitch, is in the best shape of his career, has a more focused and determined attitude, etc) into player projections.
- Strength of schedule necessarily comes into play in our methodology, so teams with relatively weaker divisional opponents or interleague schedules have an advantage. Player match-ups come into play also, so, for example, a right-handed starter with extreme left-right splits pitching in a division loaded with left-handed hitting is going to have a relatively tougher time of it.
Keep in mind that many of the most noteworthy events of a baseball season – the breakout performances and fantastic flops by individual players, the teams for which everything goes right or everything goes wrong, the crippling injuries – are things that might occur in individual seasons that we’ve simulated, but are unlikely to appear in our averaged results.
There is a large element of luck involved in baseball, and any given season, real or simulated, will produce a larger spread of runs and wins than are reflected in our projected standings. That’s because averaging the results of 100 or 200 simulated seasons will tend to smooth out the catching-lightning-in-a-bottle features of any real baseball season.
Projected 2007 standings
Here are the projected final standings for 2007, based on the 200 seasons we simulated on March 23. Anything that has happened since then in the way of roster decisions, trades and injuries is not reflected here. So, for example, Jonathan Papelbon’s return to the closer role did make it into Boston’s manager profile, but Jorge Julio, obtained from the Diamondbacks in a March 26 trade, did not close for the Marlins in our season simulations.
W, L, Pct, GB – average wins, losses, winning percentage, games behind division leader
RF, RA – average runs for and against
Div%, WC% - percentage of seasons winning division and wild card (fractions for ties)
AL East W L Pct GB RF RA Div% WC% New York 96 66 .593 - 937 780 71.8 10.5 Toronto 88 74 .543 8 850 791 18.0 18.7 Boston 86 76 .531 10 907 841 9.5 14.6 Baltimore 76 86 .469 20 799 859 0.8 2.0 Tampa Bay 70 92 .432 26 816 926 AL Central W L Pct GB RF RA Div% WC% Cleveland 91 71 .562 - 865 738 41.1 17.4 Detroit 89 73 .549 2 842 763 31.1 14.9 Minnesota 87 75 .537 4 795 740 24.1 10.0 Chicago 78 84 .481 13 827 870 3.8 1.9 Kansas City 66 96 .407 25 765 915 AL West W L Pct GB RF RA Div% WC% Los Angeles 91 71 .562 - 810 711 75.0 3.1 Oakland 84 78 .519 7 773 748 20.3 5.0 Seattle 77 85 .475 14 748 795 2.8 2.2 Texas 75 87 .463 16 794 851 2.0 NL East W L Pct GB RF RA Div% WC% Philadelphia 85 77 .525 - 852 813 36.9 15.9 Atlanta 84 78 .519 1 804 770 32.2 14.0 New York 82 80 .506 3 813 794 24.3 6.8 Washington 75 87 .463 10 757 823 4.2 2.3 Florida 73 89 .451 12 765 845 2.5 1.0 NL Central W L Pct GB RF RA Div% WC% St Louis 85 77 .525 - 769 728 40.1 6.7 Chicago 83 79 .512 2 818 799 27.9 7.9 Houston 81 81 .500 4 803 800 17.9 7.6 Cincinnati 77 85 .475 8 756 798 5.7 4.2 Milwaukee 76 86 .469 9 736 790 7.7 1.1 Pittsburgh 72 90 .444 13 708 800 0.8 1.3 NL West W L Pct GB RF RA Div% WC% San Diego 88 74 .543 - 806 729 64.0 7.2 Los Angeles 81 81 .500 7 769 785 15.3 10.9 Arizona 79 83 .488 9 811 826 10.3 4.2 San Francisco 78 84 .481 10 776 797 6.0 4.4 Colorado 77 85 .475 11 820 866 4.5 4.8
The trend toward increasing parity that we noted in our Projected Standings for the 2006 Season looks set to continue for 2007. In our 2006 simulations, just three of the 30 major league teams failed to reach the postseason in at least one simulated season. For 2007 that number has dropped to two, with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Kansas City Royals the only teams to be shut out.
In 2004 10 teams (five in the AL and five in the NL) managed 90 or more wins. In 2005 that number dropped to seven (five in the AL and two in the NL). Our 2006 projected standings had just four teams reaching 90 wins (projected/actual wins): the New York Yankees (93/96), Minnesota Twins (90/96), Oakland A’s (96/93) and St. Louis Cardinals (95/83), although six actually achieved it, the other three being the Tigers (79/95), White Sox (86/90) and New York Mets (87/97). For 2007 the number of teams projected to win at least 90 has dropped even further to just three: the Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Angels (91 each) and the Yankees (96).
Last year we projected the runs scored for all National League teams to fall within the fairly narrow range of 705 to 818 runs. The actual spread was a bit wider, from a low of 691 for the Pittsburgh Pirates to a high of 865 for the Philadelphia Phillies (not dissimilar to 2007, with the Phillies projected to score a league high 852 runs and the Pirates bringing up the rear with just 708). More noteworthy for 2007, however, is the fact that no team in the National League is projected to win more than 88 games (the San Diego Padres, with the next best total just 85 by the Phillies and Cardinals) or fewer than the 72 (the Pirates).
This doesn't mean there won't be a 90-game winner in the NL this year. The real season will be played only once, and it's quite possible that two or three teams will find a way to reach that threshold. However, our simulation results suggest that no NL team has put together a roster strong enough to make 90+ wins a high probability.
As far as races to qualify for the postseason, the 2006 season generally followed our projections in the American League, with both the wild card, and the only real divisional race, coming out of the Central. For 2007 the only close divisional race in our AL projections again is the Central, and the Tigers again eke out the wild card by the barest of margins.The 2007 National League divisional races look to be closer, with most teams at least on the fringe of postseason contention (division or wild card) deep into the season. However, the lack of dominant teams in the NL means that any team that manages to put together a big season may waltz home in their division, as the Mets did in 2006, and should two teams manage the feat in a single division, even the wild card race could turn into a runaway.
Divisional Races and Team Comments
We see the Yankees again taking the AL East comfortably, by the biggest margin of any division winner. Heading into 2006, it seemed that the East (courtesy of the Yankees and Red Sox), had taken up permanent ownership of the wild card. Surprise! Despite the greater depth of competition in the AL Central, the wild card came out of the Central in 2006. While the Tigers have the highest win total in our projected wild card standings, the Central took the wild card in 44% of the seasons we simulated, while the East came out on top 47% of the time, and the Blue Jays and Red Sox figure to be in the wild card hunt right down to the wire.
New York Yankees (1st, 96-66, division title 72%, wild card 11%)
It’s April 2, Opening Day, and Yankee Stadium is packed. The Yankees starting lineup is being introduced, the names echoing over the PA. “And warming up in the bullpen, the starting pitcher, Carl Pavano.”
Is there an evil eye trained on Yankees starters? In 2005 they used 14 different ones; in 2006 12. They begin 2007 with Chien-Ming Wang out for at least the month of April (an injury that occurred after our simulations were run and so was not taken into account); potential replacements Jeff Karstens and Humberto Sanchez both with sore elbows; Andy Pettitte struggling with back spasms; and Kei Igawa searching for the strike zone.
On the one hand, the Yankees have made 12 straight trips to the postseason, and they’ve overcome many serious injuries to do it. On the other, the closest they’ve come to the World Series since it was snatched from their grasp by the Red Sox in 2004, is signing the guy who caught the ball for the final out that year, Doug Mientkiewicz, for 2007.
Despite lengthy injuries in 2006 to Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui and Robinson Cano, the Yankees topped all of baseball with a massive 930 runs scored. We project them to come out well on top again in 2007 with 937.
With their vaunted payroll advantage, and 12 straight postseason appearances, for this team it’s all about World Series wins. There was a lot of buzz about prime prospect Phillip Hughes when camp began, and the prospect of Roger Clemens waiting in the wings. It’s par for the course when talking about the Yankees that, in a preseason preview, the main question ends up being whether their rotation come playoff time will set up strongly enough to return them to the Promised Land.
Toronto Blue Jays (2nd, 88-74, division title 18%, wild card 19%)
It’s funny how sometimes a decent season can leave a team and its fans with a bad aftertaste, while a disappointing season nevertheless can leave behind a positive afterglow. The Blue Jays certainly fall in the latter category. After a huge free agent plunge prior to 2006, they fell out of the wild card race early, then endured a period of midseason turmoil in the dugout and clubhouse with the Shea Hillenbrand and Ted Lilly incidents. By season’s end, however, thanks in part to the struggles of the Red Sox, they found themselves in second place in the East, their first finish higher than third since 1993 (the second of their back-to-back championship seasons).
The Blue Jays certainly have the look of an up-and-coming team. They actually scored 70 fewer runs in 2006 than the runs created formula predicted, suggesting that, with a bit more efficiency, they could increase their scoring in 2007 just by repeating their overall offensive output in 2006 (and that’s without any added production from new DH Frank Thomas or hotshot prospect Adam Lind).
For my money, whether the Blue Jays take the next step, from respectable also-ran to a postseason berth, depends on a few key players: Troy Glaus and Thomas on offense, and A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan on the mound. Although closing the gap to the Yankees in the AL East would be a tall order, if these four players can remain healthy and productive, and barring any major problems cropping up elsewhere, Toronto would have as good a shot at the wild card spot as any.
Boston Red Sox (3rd, 86-76, division title 9.5%, wild card 15%)
We can hear the cries echoing from Red Sox Nation. “86 wins? Are you out of your freakin’ minds?!”
Prior to the 2006 season we projected 86 wins for the Red Sox., which is exactly how many games they won. If the Blue Jays season was a feel good disappointment, the Red Sox season certainly was the opposite, although, considering Boston actually was outscored by five runs (820 runs scored to 825 runs allowed), 86 wins was a pretty decent result.
So Boston made some big changes, signing J.D. Drew to replace Trot Nixon in right and Julio Lugo to replace Alex Gonzalez at short; committing to rookie Dustin Pedroia to replace Mark Loretta at second; and, of course, adding Daisuke Matsuzaka to the starting rotation. Then there were the changes they didn’t make: Manny Ramirez remains in left, and Jonathan Papelbon reprises the closer’s role.
Take all of these changes, mix well, simulate the 2007 season 200 times over, and we once again have projected Boston for 86 wins and another third place finish. So how is it possible that the Sox were only moderately better than average in our simulations?
Scoring isn’t the problem. The 2007 Red Sox lineup may not be in the same class as the one in New York, or remind anyone of the 2003-04 version, but it trailed only the Yankees in offense in our simulations.
The problem was pitching. Despite the addition of Daisuke Matsuzaka (projected to be one of the league’s better starters), the team finished 9th in the league in run prevention in the simulations.
How is that possible? Let us count the ways:
- Fenway Park. Just as it makes the hitters look better than they really are, it makes it more difficult for the pitchers to post good numbers.
- The schedule. Boston plays almost half its games in a division with no below-average lineups and a couple of good to great ones, and every inter-league opponent is projected to be average or better in scoring in the NL.
- Age. Three key guys (Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield and Mike Timlin) are 40-plus.
- Bullpen. Except for Papelpon, nobody goes into the season projected to be better than league average.
- 2006. Our projections put more weight on recent performances, so they may be a little pessimistic for players like Beckett, Wakefield and Timlin, who are coming off disappointing seasons.
So, it's quite possible that the Sox will end up playing a whole bunch of 7-5 games, and while they're likely to win more than they'll lose, that's not a proven formula for big-time success. For the Sox to be an elite contender, several members of the pitching staff need to step up.
Can they? Just about everyone on the staff has posted one or more big-league seasons in which they were much better than how we project them for 2007. It's asking too much to expect all of them to return to peak form in unison, but it's not much of a stretch to imagine, say, Schilling and Beckett. If that happens, and there are no big negative surprises, this club could be a legitimate threat to win it all.
Baltimore Orioles (4th, 76-86, division title 0.8%, wild card 2%)
Chad Bradford, 3 years, $10.5 million; Jamie Walker, 3 years, $12 million; Danys Baez, 3 years, $19 million.
We could stop right there, but that wouldn’t really be fair to Orioles fans, although it might be merciful.
Aubrey Huff, 3 years, $20 million; Jay Payton, 2 years, $9.5 million; Kevin Millar, 1 year, $2.75 million.
Can you hear the gap between the Orioles and the Yankees, Blue Jays and Red Sox closing yet?
No review of the Orioles would be complete without mentioning two noteworthy streaks from the 2006 season. Miguel Tejada hit fewer homers (24) in 2006 than in any season since 1999, but he managed that many despite going 126 consecutive at bats from August 22 to September 23 without one. That was no match, however, for up-and-comer Nick Markakis, who went homer-less for three solid months, 205 at bats from April 15 to July 15, yet still ended the season with 16.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays (5th, 70-92, no postseason appearances)
It’s hardly original to question how Tampa Bay can be expected to compete in the AL East with Boardwalk and Park Place (a.k.a. the Yankees and Boston, not to mention Toronto and Baltimore, who are hardly crying poor). Really, though, it seems to me that the problem is more than just money. Casting my mind back a few seasons to my one visit to Tropicana Field, and setting that image against the history and drama that are Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium, and the juxtaposition feels almost surreal.
Nevertheless, at least one well known authority (Jim Callis at Baseball America) has predicted that the Devil Rays will win the World Series … in 2010. The future is now for the Devil Rays in the outfield with their five tool trio of Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli and Delmon Young (assuming they can keep this group intact long enough for the rest of the team to come together, although there already was talk this past winter that they were looking to trade Baldelli for prospects and replace him with Elijah Dukes). The 2007 infield of Ty Wigginton, Akinori Iwamura and Ben Zobrist has been replaced by Callis in 2010 with BJ Upton, Evan Longoria and Reid Brignac. And Scott Kazmir has teamed with prospects Jeff Niemann and Jacob McGee and projected 2007 first overall draft pick David Price to give the team four front-line starters.
Here is where all those phrases about the end of the beginning, and light at the end of the tunnel, come to mind.
Incredibly, it was just 2003 in which this division was so weak that the Kansas City Royals rode a hot April to contention in September, and the Tigers, despite having just endured a 119 loss season, could think that the addition of Pudge Rodriguez and a few other bona fide players might actually put them into contention.
No more. The AL Central is now the deepest, strongest division in baseball. It produced the AL wild card in 2006, and looks set to do so again in 2007, despite the fact that four of the five teams in the division are legitimate contenders who will be banging on each other incessantly throughout the season.
Cleveland Indians (1st, 91-71, division title 41%, wild card 17%)
On March 22 in Lakeland, Florida, the Indians turned 6 double plays against the Tigers, all of the 6-4-3 and 4-6-3 variety, providing a strong indication that the addition of Josh Barfield at second and the rejuvenation of Jhonny Peralta at short could pay dividends this season. The thing is, they lost the game, 5-4.
As we said in our 2006 season projections, “The 2005 Indians [93-69] did everything right except win the close games. They outscored their opponents by 206 runs and outproduced them by 497 total bases and walks, far exceeding the next-best team in the majors, and leaving the rest of the AL Central in their dust. Unfortunately, a 22-36 record in one-run games left them behind the White Sox and out of the action in October.”
So, what happened in 2006? They did everything required to meet, or even exceed, our 88 win projection for them, everything, that is, except actually win games. Their 78 wins was a whopping 12 fewer than the Pythagorean projection based on their +88 run differential.
Following each season we’ve taken to writing an article entitled, Measuring Team Efficiency. This year’s article details the historic inefficiency the Indians displayed in 2006. TBW refers to total bases + walks, and looking at a team’s won-lost record compared to its TBW for/against differential is another way of gauging a team’s over- or under-achievement. In the AL in 2006 the Indians “were second in TBW differential, fourth in run margin, and tied for tenth in wins. That’s not easy to do. Cleveland’s TBW differential of +276 is in the top 12% of all teams in the past third of a century. Fully 90% of those teams won at least 90 games, and the 2006 Indians are only the third team in that group to lose more games than they won.”
An incredible run of ill-fortune? Or is there something about this team that defies conventional analysis? The warning signs were there in our 2006 season simulations, because their projected +91 scoring margin normally would have been good for 91 wins, but they averaged only 88.
The bony finger of blame was pointed squarely at the bullpen in 2006, although the Indians actually reduced their negative won-lost differential in one run games last year from -14 in 2005 to -8 (18-26). Nevertheless, seven games lost in which the team was leading after eight innings, 27 losses of record in relief, 21 blown saves in 45 opportunities, and 45.9% of inherited runners scoring, is very, very bad. It just doesn’t seem that free agents Joe Borowski, Roberto Hernandez and Aaron Fultz are a potent enough remedy for this malady, nor do our season simulations suggest otherwise. (Joe Borowski’s projected record as the Indians closer is 4-8 29/38 4.46.)
Perhaps, however, with this team’s starting rotation, near enough is good enough out of the pen. The Indians project to allow the second fewest runs in the AL, improving from 782 in 2006 to 738, led by C.C. Sabathia (15-8 3.50), Jeremy Sowers (14-8 3.60) and Jake Westbrook (14-9 3.78), while the Tigers and Twins are projected to regress from the miserly 675 and 683 runs they allowed in 2006 to 763 and 740, respectively, in 2007.
2007 may indeed prove to be the Indians’ year. If, however, they produce yet another season of underachievement in the won-lost column, skeptics may be called upon to reconsider whether an ability (or inability) to win, independent of conventional measures of performance, does in fact exist. As Bert Gordon (George C. Scott) said to “Fast Eddie” Felson (Paul Newman) in The Hustler (paraphrasing from memory), “This isn’t football. They don’t pay you for yardage. At the end of the game you count up your money, and that’s how you know who’s best.”
Detroit Tigers (2nd, 89-73, division title 31%, wild card 15%)
Although for 2006 we projected the Tigers to win just 79 games, we did observe that they could be one of the season’s pleasant surprises, and even contend if three or four things went their way.
At least that many things went their way in a season full of positives. Here’s the thing though: apart from the addition of Gary Sheffield (not to be underestimated), this team hasn’t changed much, and with all the great performances last season, there may be more downside than upside potential.
We do see a modest increase in scoring for the Tigers in 2007 to 842 runs, up from 822 in 2006. Interestingly, they got there despite just 9 HR and 35 RBI from LF Craig Monroe (28/92 in 2006), with Marcus Thames, the subject of trade rumors throughout the winter and spring, taking playing time from Monroe and belting a team leading 37 HR.
It’s on the other side of the scoring ledger that we project the team’s vaunted pitching to slip, allowing 763 runs compared to last season’s major league low 675. And the fact is that 2006 ROY Justin Verlander has struggled this spring, Todd Jones and Kenny Rogers (who will open the season on the 15 day DL with a “tired arm”) are a year older, Jeremy Bonderman still hasn’t come up with a consistent change up, and Jamie Walker took the money and moved to Baltimore (those canny Orioles!)
Still, the Tigers have a lot of pitching. Key veterans with past injury histories, like Carlos Guillen, Magglio Ordonez and Pudge Rodriguez, remaining healthy and productive throughout 2006 were a key to the team’s success. Similar good fortune may be even more crucial in 2007.
Minnesota Twins (3rd, 87-75, division title 24%, wild card 10%)
The Twins came to spring training with four spots up for grabs in their starting rotation. As in 2006, when they opted to open the season with veterans Tony Batista and Juan Castro manning the left side of the infield, the Twins signed retread starters Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz for 2007 to fill two of those vacancies.
The team’s remarkable turnaround last season began when Nick Punto and Jason Bartlett replaced Batista and Castro. We didn’t wait that long for youth to be served in our 2007 simulations, going with a rotation behind Johan Santana of (projected 2007 records): Boof Bonser (10-11 5.05), Carlos Silva (11-12 4.83), Matt Garza (11-10 4.63) and Scott Baker (10-11 4.86).
Ponson and Ortiz actually pitched reasonably well this spring, and will open the season in the rotation with Santana, Bonser, and Silva (who pitched poorly), but the likelihood that either will do any better (assuming they keep their jobs) than Garza and Baker did in our simulations seems pretty small. Rather, whether the Twins (who, after all, have won the division four of the last five seasons) can once again survive the AL Central affray to capture a postseason berth, will rest squarely on the shoulders of their Big Four of Santana, Joe Nathan, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer (and the “stress reaction” in Mauer’s leg is worrisome). There’s no room for error in the Central, and little prospect that the Twins could replace what these guys give them if they don’t each put in a top season again in 2007.
Chicago White Sox (4th, 78-84, division title 3.8%, wild card 1.9%)
It’s no mystery what has happened to the White Sox since 2005. The 2005 team was all about pitching, scoring a modest 741 runs but allowing just 645. They didn’t stand pat after their Series win, adding Jim Thome to the lineup and Javier Vazquez (at the cost of CF prospect Chris Young) to the rotation. And the offense took a huge leap forward, scoring 865 runs in 2006. But the gain in scoring was more than offset by the struggles of the pitching staff, which allowed 794, with big drop-offs by the four holdover starters.
We see the rotation as a group performing in 2007 more like it did in 2006 than 2005. In fact, we project another jump in runs allowed by the White Sox, to 870 (exceeded in the AL only by Kansas City and Tampa Bay), with runs scored easing to 827. It looks like it will be all about the pitching for the White Sox again in 2007, but unlike 2005, that may not be a very good thing.
Kansas City Royals (5th, 66-96, no postseason appearances)
While the Royals may not be that much better this year than last, they are at least more interesting.
Positives for the Royals include:
- the arrival of top prospect Alex Gordon;
- the return of Zach Greinke;
- a new unwillingness to tolerate underachievement, evidenced by the axing of Jeremy Affeldt, Ambriorix Burgos, Angel Berroa (a move that occurred after our simulations were run), and others;
- a new willingness to commit substantial money to a player (Gil Meche) that (rightly or wrongly) they judge to have some upside (as opposed to putting-a-professional-product-on-the-field-type free agent signings like Reggie Sanders and Mark Grudzielanek); and
- 2007 being the final season of Mike Sweeney’s five year, $55 million contract extension.
The biggest negative, of course, is that they are on the bottom of the Central, looking up at the Indians, Tigers, Twins and White Sox.
If a team in the AL West wants to play in the postseason in 2007, they’d better win the division, because our projections offer them slim hope of a wild card berth.
Los Angeles Angels (1st, 91-71, division title 75%, wild card 3.1%)
Since 2002 it’s pretty much been a two horse race in the AL West between the Angels and A’s. In 2006, the teams couldn’t have been much closer, with the Angels scoring just five runs less than the A’s, while allowing just five more.
We see the two teams moving in opposite directions in 2007. Our projections have the Angels reducing their runs allowed from 732 to a league best 711 (with the A’s increasing from 727 to 748), and increasing their runs scored from 766 to a division best 810 (with the A’s increasing only slightly from 771 to 778), boosted by the addition of CF Gary Matthews Jr and a full season from 2B Howie Kendrick.
(So why, with a +65 improvement in their run differential, has the Angels’ projected win total gone up by just two from 89 in 2006? Because last year they outperformed their Pythagorean projection by five wins. That still wasn’t good enough to overtake the A’s, whose run differential was only +10 better than the Angels, because the A’s outperformed their Pythagorean projection by even more.)
If there are any clouds on the postseason horizon for the Angels, they are the injuries to Jered Weaver and Chone Figgins (neither of which was factored into our simulations), which are the sort of injuries that could linger beyond April.
Oakland A’s (2nd, 84-78, division title 20%, wild card 5%)
We projected the A’s to finish first in the AL West every season from 2001 to 2006, and they won it in three of those years (the Angels won it in two others), and took the wild card in another (with 102 wins in 2001, the year Seattle won a mind boggling 116 regular season games). We projected the A’s to win over 90 games in every one of those seasons except 2005, and they did.
The A’s have done it by leveraging risk, and there’s plenty of that on their 2007 roster. The thing is, the downturn we’ve projected for 2007 occurs despite having given them the benefit of that leverage in averaging our simulated seasons. We’ve got Bobby Crosby, Mark Ellis, Shannon Stewart, Eric Chavez, Milton Bradley, and even Rich Harden, all remaining reasonably healthy and productive for the entire year. And our projection includes a 27 HR, 98 RBI season from Mike Piazza.
Even if the A’s repeated their level of production from 2006, they likely would be going backwards in the win column, given that they outperformed their Pythagorean projection by eight wins last season. The modest -14 slip in run differential we’ve projected only compounds the problem.
For years (at least in some quarters) the demise of the Oakland A’s has been greatly exaggerated. Until perhaps now.
Seattle Mariners (3rd, 77-85, division title 2.8%, wild card 2.2%)
It’s not like this team didn’t have some decent players to build on at the end of 2006. It’s the changes they’ve made since that leaves you scratching your head in wonderment. Is Jose Vidro supposed to be the second coming of Edgar Martinez? Because his projected 4/30/.271 batting line sure doesn’t look like it. On the other hand, Jeff Weaver’s projected 8-13 5.36 looks exactly like, well, Jeff Weaver.
They swapped Chris Snelling to the Nationals in the Vidro deal, then signed former National Jose Guillen to play right. Why wouldn’t you just put Snelling out there? The Nationals were desperate to unload Vidro, so refusing to give them Snelling wouldn’t have been a deal breaker. Was it that they thought Snelling would never stay healthy? Well, Guillen hasn’t exactly been Mr. Dependability the past three seasons either.
And wouldn’t it be nice if Rafael Soriano (for whom the Braves happily gave up Horatio Ramirez) were still around to set up (or, if necessary, replace the injured) J.J. Putz?
It’s possible that GM Bill Bavasi has been consulting Allison DuBois, and knows things no one else does, though it certainly seems more like he may be taking his advice from Patricia Arquette.
Texas Rangers (4th, 75-87, division title 2%, no wild cards)
Let’s take a journey together down Rangers memory lane:
Before the 2006 season we said: “Will a retooled starting rotation lead to great things in 2006? Maybe, but it doesn't look that way. . . . Kenny Rogers was their best pitcher in 2005, and he's in Detroit now. Chris Young was their second-best starter, and he was traded to San Diego . . .”
Before the 2005 season we said: “Only one of their starting pitchers, Ryan Drese, posted an ERA below the league average last year, and Drese's 4.20 figure carries some baggage.”
Before the 2004 season we said: “The ERAs of the 16 men who started at least one game for the 2003 Rangers were 4.85, 5.09, 5.49, 6.10, 6.23, 6.45, 6.85, 7.01, 7.11, 7.16, 7.30, 7.58, 8.35, 8.53, 11.40, and 12.00. John Thomson, the best of this bunch, is now in Atlanta. The guys who were north of 7.00 amassed a total of 61 starts, so this isn't just a handful of cup-of-coffee September starts that make the overall picture look worse than it really was. You could hardly do worse if you dumped them all and started over with replacement-level pitchers.”
Before the 2003 season we said: “In 2002, much was said and written about the Rangers' pitching woes -- Chan Ho Park was anything but an ace, several key relievers got hurt, and a number of blown leads turned what might have been a good start into a deep hole.”
The more things change in Texas, the more they stay the same.
Nothing will set tongues wagging like a player who has the temerity to predict victory for his team, the way Jimmy Rollins has for the Phillies. It could be, though, that a bit of swagger is just what that team needs.
We project a dogfight in the NL East this year between the Phillies, Mets and Braves. Like last year, however, when the Mets blew the doors off and ran away with the division, any one of these teams, if things go its way, could approximate that feat.
Philadelphia Phillies (1st, 85-77, division title 37%, wild card 16%)
Jimmy Rollins merely said what he claims all the Phillies players think: that they’re the team to beat in the NL East. Our projections back him up, even though for 2007 we have the Phillies winning exactly the same number of games, and registering almost identical runs scored and runs allowed, as they did in 2006.
Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are terrific players. While the addition of C Rod Barajas and 3B Wes Helms might be questioned on another team, both are improvements over their predecessors, Mike Lieberthal and David Bell, and, together with the underappreciated Pat Burrell, Shane Victorino and Aaron Rowand, provide a solid supporting cast for those three.
If the Phils have a significant worry entering the season, it’s the health of their pitching staff. Freddy Garcia won’t be ready for Opening Day and (although he reportedly will only miss a week) may be showing the effects of all the mileage on his right arm. John Lieber, who had been the odd man out of the rotation, also is hurting now and unavailable to take Garcia’s place. And woe be the Phillies if Tom Gordon’s shoulder and elbow don’t make it through the season intact.
Atlanta Braves (2nd, 84-78, division title 32%, wild card 14%)
The streak (14 consecutive division titles from 1991 to 2005, excluding the aborted 1994 season) had to end sometime, and it did in 2006. After John Smoltz, the rotation reminded no one of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine; the bullpen registered a league high 29 blown saves; and 2B Brian Giles had a poor season offensively and defensively.
GM John Schuerholtz is one of the few baseball executives whose personnel moves are given the benefit of the doubt by experts, who may be just humble enough to think, if not admit out loud, that he actually might know something that they don’t. Beginning with the acquisition of closer Bob Wickman during 2006 (from the Indians, ironically, who had the AL’s worst bullpen last year), Schuerholtz has rebuilt the Braves’relief corps, adding Rafael Soriano (for Horatio Ramirez) and Mike Gonzalez (plus SS prospect Brent Lillibridge, for Adam LaRoche). (Is it just a coincidence that Schuerholtz turned to the Mariners and Pirates, two of baseball’s biggest patsies in recent years, to make those deals?)
Giles was non-tendered (would any other team get less criticism for letting a player of his caliber go for nothing?) and will be replaced by the three times converted SS to 3B to OF to 2B Kelly Johnson, and LaRoche will be replaced by some combination of Scott Thorman and Craig Wilson. And while other teams were signing guys like Jason Marquis (Cubs, 3 years, $21 million) and Miguel Batista (Mariners, 3 years, $25 million), the Braves picked up a healthy Mark Redman (a durable league average left-handed starter) as a non-roster invitee, on a deal (now that he’s made the team) that will pay him a mere $750,000 plus incentives.
There are, of course, Braves players that everyone, not just Schuerholtz, knows about, including veterans Andruw and Chipper Jones and Edgar Renteria (another canny Schuerholtz pickup after his one eminently forgettable season in Boston), and young up-and-coming stars Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann (just signed to an unprecedented six years, $26 million deal).
The Braves look to still be a few pieces short of returning to their prior dominance, but would anyone really be too surprised if they came out and smoked the NL East in 2007? After all, Schuerholtz may indeed know stuff that we don’t.
New York Mets (3rd, 82-80, division title 24%, wild card 6.8%)
The Mets won 97 games last year. No other team in the league won even 90.
Basically the entire lineup, which scored 834 runs (3rd best in the league), is back. The only noteworthy change is Moises Alou in LF, who can still rake and is an upgrade.
For all the scrutiny that the starting rotation is getting, is it really any worse than last year’s? The 2006 Mets had seven pitchers with ERA’s between 5.48 and 9.87 start a total of 36 games. Glavine, Hernandez and Maine are back; Pedro Martinez may be for the second half of 2007, and was basically just a .500 pitcher on a .600 team before he went down in 2006. Does anyone seriously think that losing Steve Trachsel will cost the Mets 15 games in the win column?
On the other hand, the Mets outplayed their Pythagorean projection in 2006 by five games, so you could say they begin 2007 from a 92-win baseline. Can Glavine and Hernandez really be counted on to continue their Old Man River acts indefinitely? Projected starters Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez are two of that group of seven pitchers from 2006 with those bloated ERA’s. Plus the bullpen has taken several hits, with the departures of Chad Bradford, Roberto Hernandez and Darren Oliver, and Duaner Sanchez out with injury.
Speculation aside, there is an objective and imposing obstacle in the Mets’ path in 2007, which is a killer inter-league schedule. Besides their usual subway series with the Yankees, they’ve also been scheduled to face the Tigers, Twins and A’s.
If there is one absolutely indispensable player on the Mets, it has to be Billy Wagner. In 2006 he saved 40 games with a 2.24 ERA. In our 2007 season simulations he averaged 30 saves from 38 opportunities with a 3.12 ERA. If the Mets are going to return to the postseason in 2007, they will need to find a way to bridge the gap to Wagner with the lead more often than that, and for him to slam the door decisively when they do.
Washington Nationals (4th, 75-87, division title 4.2%, wild card 2.3%)
If anything caught my eye when we first looked at the results of our season simulations, it was the Nationals finishing ahead of the Marlins in the East. This is a team that many are saying will be lucky to avoid 100 losses.
Nor, looking at their player stats averaged from our simulated seasons, is it readily apparent how they managed it. John Patterson did remain reasonably healthy and pitched pretty effectively, as did Shawn Hill, and Chad Cordero was around to close the entire year.
What is apparent, however, is that the team that will take the field already is several wins worse than the one that averaged 75 simulated wins. Nick Johnson and Alex Escobar, both of whom will open the season on the disabled list, played much more in our simulated seasons than we now know they will. It’s also probably more likely than not that Cordero will be dealt during the year. (We do not attempt to forecast deadline deals from also-rans to contenders in our season simulations.)
If we were to rerun our season simulations today, the Nationals would almost certainly drop to the bottom of the East. They would still, however, most likely dodge the infamy of a 100-loss season.
Florida Marlins (5th, 73-89, division title 2.5%, wild card 1%)
As much of a feel good story as the Marlins were in 2006, they actually ended up winning just 78 games, so our 2007 projection isn’t really that big a regression. And they averaged 73 wins in our simulated seasons with recently released Mike Koplove, not recently acquired Jorge Julio, closing.
Young players, even very good ones, are more likely to take two steps forward, then one step back, than they are to take two steps forward, then two more steps forward. So it’s not surprising that number crunching projections for the Marlins encounter this consolidation stumbling block. In fact, however, on the offensive side, we project the 2007 team to outscore last year’s slightly, 765 to 758. It’s the pitching that lets the team down, allowing 845 runs (next worst to Colorado’s 866) compared to just 772 in 2006.
Josh Johnson’s injury accounts for part of the difference, as does the departure of Joe Borowski. (How well Julio will do as Borowski’s replacement remains to be seen.) For this team to match, let alone surpass, last year’s surprising, if modest, success, it’s going to need a couple of pitchers to step up unexpectedly. A solid season from the surprise winner of the CF job, Alejandro De Aza, wouldn’t hurt either.
The Cardinals ran away with the NL Central in 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2005. They came back to the pack in the other seasons (including 2006, in which they pulled off the division title with just 83 wins) to produce close races with Houston and (in 2001 and 2003) Chicago. We project another close three-way race between the Cardinals, Astros and Cubs in 2007, with the Cards again prevailing.
St Louis Cardinals (1st, 85-77, division title 40%, wild card 6.7%)
There’s not much change to the starting lineup, other than the addition of 2B Adam Kennedy, who strikes me as a natural fit for this team. Our simulations assumed a healthy Jim Edmonds and Juan Encarnacion, although both will probably begin the season on the DL, but the Cardinals have decent backup depth in the outfield. Mainly, however, the Cardinals have Albert Pujols.
It’s the pitching staff where there have been major changes. Jeff Suppan, Jason Marquis and Jeff Weaver, three-fifths of last year’s starting rotation, are gone, replaced by converted relievers Braden Looper and Adam Wainwright, and Kip Wells (at least until the anticipated midseason return of Mark Mulder). No problem, according to our projections, with both Looper and Wainwright, as well Anthony Reyes, performing solidly. Throw in ace Chris Carpenter and the Cardinals staff projects to allow just 728 runs in 2007, down from 762 in 2006 and best in the league.
If there are potential problems they’re in the bullpen, where the jury is still out on whether Jason Isringhausen can bounce back from season ending hip surgery in 2006. Our projections are based on the assumption that he will, to the relatively modest tune of 27 saves (from 37 opportunities) and a 4.18 ERA. Josh Kinney, gone for the year with elbow surgery, also was axed from our Cardinals squad before the simulated seasons were run.
Pujols, pitching, and defense, is the formula that looks to carry the Cardinals to yet another division title in 2007.
Chicago Cubs (2nd, 83-79, division title 28%, wild card 7.9%)
Imagine a game show, with Cubs fans the contestant: “Ok, Cubs fans, you can have an 83-79 season and second place finish to the Cardinals right now, or take what’s behind the curtain!”
Our projection for the Cubs represents a huge 17 win improvement from last season’s 66-96 debacle, though not quite enough to reach the postseason. Of course, they did commit close to $300 million this past winter to achieve it, including $136 million (8 years) to Alfonso Soriano, $75 million (5 years) to Aramis Ramirez, $40 million (4 years) to Ted Lilly, $21 million (3 years) to Jason Marquis, and $13 million (3 years) to Mark DeRosa.
One comforting thought for Cubs fans is that our projections did not assume any material contribution from Kerry Wood or Mark Prior. For those who continue to light candles for these two, however, anything positive that either of them actually does would be an unanticipated bonus.
Among the many things that went wrong for the Cubs last year was a meltdown by the bullpen, particularly closer Ryan Dempster. Sometimes, in setting our manager profiles for each team prior to running our simulated seasons, we conclude that there is a better player available on the roster to fill a role than the guy the team plans to use, and assume that the team will come to the same conclusion and make the change. We concluded that Dempster’s days as Cubs closer were numbered and, with Kerry Wood ruled out, slotted in Bobby Howry, who averaged 30 saves with a 3.68 ERA.
Houston Astros (3rd, 81-81, division title 18%, wild card 7.6%)
Assuming, as most seem to be, that Roger Clemens will return for yet another curtain call in 2007, he could well put the Astros over the top in a close NL Central race. But, with his buddy Andy Pettitte gone to New York, would he choose the Astros over the Yankees (or Red Sox), if they’ve dug yet another huge hole for themselves early in the season? You often hear how important it is that a team get off to a good start. The reason in this case is unusual, but might actually be legitimate.
Was Carlos Lee worth $100 million over six years? Few think so, but all we’re concerned with is whether he will make the Astros a better team in 2007? If you look at the question in terms of Lee replacing Willy Taveras in the lineup, the answer has to be a resounding yes. (Still, no matter how much firepower the Astros cram into the first six spots in the batting order, so long as 7-8-9 are occupied by Brad Ausmus, Adam Everett and the pitcher, they’re always going to be playing with one bat tied behind their backs.)
Jason Jennings should be a solid addition to the rotation behind Roy Oswalt, but we project poor seasons for worn out newcomer, Woody Williams (9-12 5.42), as well as inconsistent holdover Wandy Rodriguez (8-12 5.35), which is another reason why the Rocket would be a big difference maker. Another concern for the Astros has to be Brad Lidge. There’s a lot of analysis about to the effect that his season last year wasn’t really that bad, but personally, we don’t buy it, and if we had to bet on whether he would bounce back in 2007, pitch about the same as in 2006, or deteriorate even further, we ’d bet on the latter, though our projection is “about the same” (5-8 27/36 4.72).
Cincinnati Reds (4th, 77-85, division title 5.7%, wild card 4.2%)
The Reds got off to a strong start in 2006 and, thanks mainly to a near historic collapse by the Cardinals, were still remotely in contention at season’s end. In between, their bullpen became known as one of the best places in Cincinnati for women to meet an ever-changing stream of available men.
The Reds have some nice players: a bit of speed here, a bit of power there, a mix of youth and veterans, but we just can’t get that enthused. What were they thinking about this past winter? Was there some inscrutable plan afoot that would actually bring about some improvement? Consider, for example, signing Alex Gonzalez to replace Royce Clayton. That’s about as horizontal as you can get. Or how about bringing Mike Stanton and Dustin Hermansen through the revolving bullpen door? (Actually, signing Hermansen was about the only move they made that we liked.)
There is one thing that could see me getting enthused about the Reds. The first time Ken Griffey Jr is shelved by injury, Josh Hamilton is slotted into the lineup and proceeds to go on a tear that propels him to both the NL Rookie of the Year AND Comeback Player of the Year awards. That, as they say, would be something we ’d pay money to see.
Milwaukee Brewers (5th, 76-86, division title 7.7%, wild card 1.1%)
The Brewers enter this season with the look of an up-and-coming team, so our projected finish for them may be disappointing.
1B Prince Fielder, 2B Rickie Weeks and RF Corey Hart are exciting young players, though defense is not their strong suit. Geoff Jenkins and Kevin Mench should form a productive, if unhappy and expensive, platoon in LF. Some question the move of Bill Hall to CF and insertion of J.J. Hardy at SS; one can’t help wondering whether, in light of the indefinite absence of 3B Cory Koskie, Hall at 3B makes more sense than some combination of Craig Counsell and Tony Graffanino. The lack of production from 3B certainly was a factor in our projection for the Brewers to score just 738 runs in 2007 (next to lowest in the league).
On the mound, Jeff Suppan failed to live up to his four year, $42 million deal, averaging just 9-12 4.88 over our simulated seasons. That may have something to do with the fact that these aren’t the Cardinals defensively. The Brewers were 14th in the league in fielding percentage in 2006, and could be even weaker defensively in 2007 with the loss of Koskie and the shift of Hall to CF.
So, there are at least two obvious ways the Brewers might better our projection for them: if Suppan outperforms his individual projection, and if the team makes some kind of move to address the hole left by Koskie at 3B.
Pittsburgh Pirates (6th, 72-90, division title 0.8%, wild card 1.3%)
Even with the addition of 1B Adam LaRoche, who we project will come pretty close to replicating his big 2006 season, the Pirates still have the weakest offense in the major leagues. The Pirates did win 37 of their final 72 games last season despite scoring the fewest runs in the league during that period, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re on the cusp of winning.
Yes, they have some good young starting pitchers in Zach Duke, Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny and Paul Maholm. Chances are, however, over any stretch of games, good or bad, last season or in 2007, you’ll be able to say that the Pirates scored the fewest runs in the league. When they’re losing, and they’re sure to do plenty of that, it will be because they’re not scoring. If they manage a streak where they’re winning (which for them basically means breaking even), it will be in spite of not scoring.
So, now that they’ve actually lined up some decent pitchers, the Pirates are faced with two tasks, neither of which, based on their track record, one can feel very confident in them pulling off: improving the offense substantially, and doing it without botching up the pitching in the meantime.
The NL West might not be the best division in baseball, but it could have the most interesting assortment of teams. The Padres’ pitching makes them the class of the division; Ned Colletti continues accumulating “name” veterans; there is a buzz in Arizona, where a young, potential-laden lineup has been paired with a solid veteran rotation; the Giants will be looking to set some kind of record for the oldest team to reach the postseason; and the Rockies will be hoping that they’ve finally found a winning formula that works equally well at home and on the road.
San Diego Padres (1st, 88-74, division title 64%, wild card 7.2%)
San Diego allowed just 679 runs in 2006, by far the fewest in the league (Houston’s 719 was next best). We project that number to increase to 729 in 2007 (one more than the league best Cardinals). However, we see their runs scored increasing by an even greater margin, from 731 to 806. Rookie 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff (projected OPS .875) gets a lot of the credit for that, as does Russell Branyan, who we installed in LF in the team’s manager profile, and who justified that decision by belting 30 homers. (The Padres may end up with a platoon of Branyan and Terrmel Sledge, which could be pretty potent too.)
It’s the Padres’ pitching that really shines. While we’ve projected the Padres to slip a bit in runs allowed in 2007, our methodology is inherently conservative, and they could easily do even better in 2007 than they did last year. Jake Peavy, Chris Young and Clay Hensley are back in the rotation, and Chan Ho Park and Woody Williams have been replaced by Greg Maddux and David Wells. Trevor Hoffman is still there, of course, as is Scott Linebrink, constant trade rumors notwithstanding.
No one doubts Peavy’s ability, and he wasn’t at his best for a good part of 2006. Young and Hensley should only get better with another year’s experience. As for Maddux and Wells, what a fascinating addition. We can’t wait to watch these guys in action this season.
Los Angeles Dodgers (2nd, 81-81, division title 15%, wild card 11%)
Imagine, if you will, Colin Clive (the actor who played Dr. Baron Frankenstein in the horror classic) in the role of GM Ned Colletti. He places his roster on a platform that he raises to the heavens, where lightning strikes it, again and again. He lowers it back down, and sees it move, ever so slightly (not much range, but sure hands), and cries, “It’s alive! It’s alive!”
Okay, I know I'm reaching here. Then again, there’s a bit of Karloff about Jason Schmidt, Luis Gonzalez, and DePodesta holdover Brad Penny (though definitely not Juan Pierre). The funny thing is, I actually like this team, even though it has something of a parts-stitched-together quality about it, and even though our projection sees it regressing from last year’s 88 wins to 81, with a drop of 52 in runs scored (from 820 to 769) as well as an increase of 34 in runs allowed (from 751 to 785).
The biggest hit to the offense was replacing the departed J.D. Drew with Luis Gonzalez. Pierre also projects to be a downgrade from what Lofton provided in 2006, and Garciaparra and Kent are at the stage in their careers where some decline can be expected.
On the pitching side, there is at least a reasonable prospect of players outperforming their projections in a way that could recapture those lost wins from 2006, with Jason Schmidt and Brad Penny (really more of a Jekyll and Hyde than a Frankenstein’s monster, now that I think about it) having disappointed in our simulated seasons (though Gonzalez in LF and Pierre in CF won’t be making it any easier for them).
Arizona Diamondbacks (3rd, 79-83, division title 11%, wild card 4.2%)
Gone are Johnny Estrada, Craig Counsell, Luis Gonzalez and Shawn Green, half the Opening Day lineup from 2006. Taking their place are Miguel Montero, Stephen Drew, Chris Young and Carlos Quentin. With holdovers Conor Jackson, Chad Tracy, Orlando Hudson and Eric Byrnes, the Diamondbacks lineup has been transformed from old, slow and boring, to young, fast and exciting seemingly overnight.
All that youth and electricity in the lineup is nicely complemented by a potentially dominant veteran rotation, led by 2006 NL Cy Young winner Brandon Webb. Behind Webb are Livan Hernandez, Doug Davis and, of course, the Big Unit, Randy Johnson.
Jose Valverde is a question mark closing, as are the rest of his supporting cast in the bullpen; Johnson, Hernandez and Davis all have to prove they’ve still got what it takes; and the lineup, while exciting, is largely young and unproven. If there’s a consensus about this team, perhaps it’s that they’re a year away, but if a belief takes hold that this team is good enough to win in 2008, that could well become a self-fulfilling prophecy that propels them to success right now. They definitely will be exciting to watch if they get a sniff of contending.
San Francisco Giants (4th, 78-84, division title 6%, wild card 4.4%)
C Bengie Molina 33 1B Rich Aurilia 36 2B Ray Durham 35 3B Pedro Feliz 31 SS Omar Vizquel 39 LF Barry Bonds 42 CF Dave Roberts 34 RF Randy Winn 32
It’s easy to get too caught up in the age thing. It’s hardly a given that this lineup would be good enough to win the division, even if all the guys were in their primes. On the other hand, perhaps their age translates into the intangible asset, experience.
In the baseball classic of oral history, The Glory of Their Times, Chief Meyers talks about the 1916 pennant winning Brooklyn Robins, “a team of veterans. Nap Rucker, Jake Daubert, Colby Jack Coombs, Rube [Marquard], Zack Wheat, Hi Myers – we’d all been around a long time. . . . We won the pennant that year by just outsmarting the whole National League, that’s all. It was an old crippled-up club, and you might say, figuratively, they had to wrap us up in bandages and carry us out to play the World Series. We were all through.”
So, perhaps there is hope for the Giants in 2007, after all. (Incidentally, in 1916 Rucker was 31, Daubert 32, Coombs 33, Marquard 29, Wheat 28 and Myers 27. The Chief himself was the senior member of the team at age 35.)
Colorado Rockies (5th, 77-85, division title 4.5%, wild card 4.8%)
The Rockies have the distinction, of sorts, of having the highest percentage of division titles and wild cards of any of the six teams we have projected to finish last in their division.
They’ve been patient, sticking with manager Clint Hurdle through five losing seasons, and building from within with players like 3B Garrett Atkins, outfielders Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe, and top prospects SS Troy Tulowitzki and C Chris Ianetta. Stung by trade talks, Todd Helton is desperate to rediscover his offensive prowess. And whether it’s the pitchers, the baseballs, or some combination of the two, they’ve shown signs of finally mastering that strangest of all baseball venues, Coors Field, reducing their runs allowed from 923 in 2004, to 862 in 2005, to 812 in 2006 (their lowest total since 1995, their first season in Coors, in which they won the NL wild card).
They expect, and are expected by the powers that be, to start winning in 2007. Our projections, however, put them right back where they were in 2006, at the bottom of the division with 77 wins.
- Tags: Projected Standings