Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Final Predictions

OK, so it's a bit late to send these in, but the season is only one week old. I know a lot has been made over Detroit's 5-1 start and Philly's 1-5 start, but let's all just remember that these are just 6 games. There's 156 to go. Nothing will stop commentators and (especially) fans from making far too much from the first week (or month) of the season.
I'll start with my final predictions, division by division, for the 2006 season. I used Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA predictions to help me make my decision. BP estimates a player's VORP for the coming season (an all-inclusive estimation of the player's value, similar to Win Shares). I simply added up the VORP for each team's hitters and pitchers and saw who ranked highest.
VORP stands for Value Over Replacement Player. It estimates how many runs the player added to the team's totals over what a replacement-level player would produce. Replacement-level is similar to the Mendoza Line; a lifelong AAA player or cheap replacement making a small salary. Replacement level is considered to be a more accurate dividing line than average, for reasons that are much to complex to explain right here.
Suffice to say, the team with the most VORP will get the most wins. There's a lot I couldn't take into account, but I think I got pretty close. In sabermetric terms, 10 runs produced equals about 1 win. Pitching-wise, it would be 10 runs prevented that equals one win. Pitching Runs and Batting Runs are all the same runs. So a team that produces 200 VORP is producing 20 wins over the replacement level. I couldn't find anything in the literature that said otherwise, so I just assumed that a replacement-level team would win 50 games, going 50-112. That means that the 200-VORP team went 70-92. I just assumed the 50 wins as replacement level, so the final number of wins may not be exact, but the relative ranking of teams is correct.
Instead of just showing you the VORP, however, I decided to use the information that the VORP standings gave me, along with all the other studies I've done, to produce (for the first time here) MY rankings. Instead of telling you what one statistic is predicting, I'll go ahead and make my own predictions. Where it's instructive, though, I'll give you the VORP. As a reminder, PECOTA is the BP system of predictions. VORP is a stat; PECOTA is the system used to predict it. PECOTA predicts a player's HR, AVG, OBP, etc., as well as VORP. But VORP is most closely related to wins, so I used it.
I'll list the number of wins I predict first, then give you the 5-win range.
1. New York Yankees: 95-67 (93-97 wins)
2. Boston Red Sox*: 94-68 (92-96 wins)
3. Toronto Blue Jays: 86-76 (84-88 wins)
4. Baltimore Orioles: 76-86 (74-78 wins)
5. Tampa Bay Devil Rays: 70-92 (68-72 wins)
* -- denotes Wild Card
I think the Yankees will be the best team in the East, simply because of their powerhouse offense. Their defense still sucks, yes. But I think their pitching will be a bit better than it was last year. PECOTA actually predicts that Randy Johnson will be the 2nd-best pitcher in the AL next year. I respect that the PECOTA predictions developed by Baseball Prospectus are very complex and eerily accurate, but I think that's a load of bull hockey. PECOTA predicts the Yankees will win 100 games this year. PECOTA is amazingly skeptical, with most teams moving much closer to the average from last year. I think that's optimism to the point of lunacy. They also predict a fine season from Mike Mussina. I'd be surprised if either pitcher is much better than average.
The Red Sox are, as I've said before, a volatile team. There are a lot of unknown qualities there. The two reasons I placed them so high are 1) the Sox have the young talent, especially pitching, to compensate for injuries or slumps -- much moreso than the Yankees, and 2) Theo Epstein has proven better at improving the team during the season, through trades, etc.
PECOTA agrees with me that the Blue Jays aren't quite ready to contend. PECOTA predicts the Jays will win 87 games, and they were assuming a huge season from A.J. Burnett, who is currently on the DL.
The Orioles will be better than they were last year, as will the Devil Rays. I may not be giving enough credit to the Rays' good young players. But the Rays have been traditionally hesitant to bring anyone up to the majors.
1. Cleveland Indians: 95-67 (93-97 wins)
2. Chicago White Sox: 90-72 (88-92 wins)
3. Minnesota Twins: 88-74 (86-90 wins)
4. Detroit Tigers: 78-84 (76-80 wins)
5. Kansas City Royals: 65-97 (63-67 wins)
The Indians are a bit better than I may have foreseen. But I have them in 1st because I realized how much I'd overrated the White Sox. I mentioned in an earlier entry how hard it is to separate luck from a team's performance. PECOTA does that. They see the Sox as having a terrible offense (I don't think they're that bad), and they see their pitching staff as a couple notches worse than last year, mainly due to how lucky they were last year. The pitching staff info helped convince me, but I still don't think the Sox are that bad; they're contenders. PECOTA's VORP numbers have them winning just 86 games! I think the Twins are easily contenders, although I don't have as much faith in their offense, nor do I think their pitching staff will be quite as excellent as it was a year ago.
I knew the Tigers were a step better than last year, but I don't think I gave them enough credit. Their offense will be better for a variety of reasons. And, unlike some other teams, the Tigers have their hot young pitching prospects (Verlander, Zumaya) in the majors already.
The Royals are bad. That's something less than a revelation.
1. Oakland Athletics: 97-65 (95-99 wins)
2. Los Angeles Angels: 90-72 (88-92 wins)
3. Texas Rangers: 79-83 (77-81 wins)
4. Seattle Mariners: 76-86 (74-78 wins)
There's a general consensus that the A's are the best team in baseball going into the season, and I can't find any solid reason to disagree. PECOTA notwithstanding, I think the A's are tops. They've got probably the best pitching staff in the AL, an excellent defese, and an adequate offense with plenty of depth.
The Angels aren't as good as they were last year, although PECOTA rates them much earlier than I would have. They have them coming in at 83 wins (!), and I just can't say how they lost 12 wins in the offseason, even taking into account a bit of luck and an aging offense. I think the biggest consideration is that the Angels have a lot of young prospects who could easily push their way to the majors in mid-season. The sooner the prospects reach the majors, the more likely they are to beat out my prediction.
The Rangers are pretty sad nowadays. They're just not significantly better or worse than they were last year. The Wilkerson-for-Soriano trade was a good one, and the Millwood signing will help in the short run, but they've got a dreadful pitching staff and a lack of good depth in the lineup.
The Mariners are notably better, I think. A full season of King Felix and some depth from Washburn should help the pitching staff, so long as everyone is healthy. The offense is the same dreary bunch, with the exception of catcher Kenji Johjima, who projects to be a much better player than I thought.
1. New York Mets: 92-70 (90-94 wins)
2. Atlanta Braves*: 89-73 (87-91 wins)
3. Philadelphia Phillies: 86-76 (84-88 wins)
4. Washington Nationals: 77-85 (75-79 wins)
5. Florida Marlins: 67-95 (65-69 wins)
* -- denotes Wild Card
The same general consensus has the Mets as the best team in the NL. I'm certainly inclined to agree. PECOTA has Pedro Martinez as the NL CY Young this year, a fairly preposterous suggestion, but still I think the Mets are good. I had questions about their pitching staff, but I should have rememberd that the Mets finished 3rd in the NL in ERA last year with the same bunch of questionable guys. Their pitching isn't as bad as I thought it was, and they're a good bet to dethrone the Braves.
Those Braves are still going to be good (although the recent injury to Chipper Jones is troubling -- MOVE HIM TO FIRST BASE!!). But the trouble isn't the offense, which is solid (Renteria notwithstanding); it's the pitching. The bullpen is a fair mess, as many have noted, but I'm not too sure about the rotation either. Smoltz is still good, but the soon-to-be-39-year-old really wore down towards the end of last year. Hudson's fair 2005 could be a troubling sign as well. The good news is that the injury to Horacio Ramirez means that John Thomson will take his place in the rotation -- something that should have happened in spring training.
The Phillies are much like last year's team: just almost nearly good enough. Their pitching staff is suffering, although GM Pat Gillick has convinced himself (for some godforsaken reason) that his pitchers are going to be okay. Yes, if okay means 80-some wins and another near-miss in the Wild Card race.
The Nationals got really lucky last year, and I don't think they're really much better than they were then. They've got some positives (Zimmerman) but also some negatives (Soriano). The Marlins will be bad, but not as bad as people think. They may not even be the worst team in the NL. That's a relative victory.
1. St. Louis Cardinals: 90-72 (88-92 wins)
2. Milwaukee Brewers: 84-78 (82-86 wins)
3. Chicago Cubs: 82-80 (80-84 wins)
4. Houston Astros: 79-83 (77-81 wins)
5. Cincinnati Reds: 75-87 (73-77 wins)
6. Pittsburgh Pirates: 71-91 (69-73 wins)
Using PECOTA's predictions for VORP was an ego-boosting experience: we agree completely on the projected finish in 3 divisions, and in 2 of the others, we disagree a little bit, enough that I can easily accept it. There's only one division where PECOTA and I are wildly divergent.
That division is the NL Central.
PECOTA predicts that Mark Prior will pitch throw nearly 200 innings, rank as the 7th-best pitcher in the NL, and lead the Cubs to 88 wins, 1st in the NL Central. Even before we knew that Prior would start the season on the DL, that was a pretty preposterous prediction. Prior is still too shortly removed from injury to reproduce his 2003 season, and it's just too likely that he'll get reinjured to predict that. PECOTA is usually pretty conservative, but I think they went out on a limb on Mark Prior. To be fair, though, (as someone pointed out) the Cubs had everything go wrong last year (except for Derrek Lee), and they can't have all that happen again this year. But I don't think, realistically, that they're contenders. The only bright spot is their payroll and ability to trade for help.
PECOTA is hard on the Cardinals; too hard, I think. They won't win near 100 games again, and the back end of their pitching staff will run out of luck sometime soon, but they're still (I think) the best team in the division.
The Brewers are the "trendy pick," as someone called them. This is because they have a lot of young talent; unknown quantities who could either struggle or excel in their first full major league season. I was a bit optimistic here, but the Brewers could exceed even my numbers.
4 months of Roger Clemens won't make the Astros contenders; not with that offense.
It will be an exciting race in the 2006 NL Central to see who will finish last: Pittsburgh or Cincinnati. I can see it both ways. But Cincinnati was 6 games better than Pittsburgh last year, and I don't think the Pirates have made it up. They've made some good short-term free agent signings and have some promising young pitchers, but I don't think it's enough. The Reds have added Bronson Arroyo and have a less-awful Eric Milton. But it will still be close. Although a "race for last" isn't such a good marketing slogan.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers: 84-78 (82-86 wins)
2. San Francisco Giants: 80-82 (78-82 wins)
3. San Diego Padres: 78-84 (76-80 wins)
4. Arizona Diamondbacks: 71-91 (69-73 wins)
5. Colorado Rockies: 67-95 (65-69 wins)
The Dodgers aren't any kind of brilliant, but I really think they're the strongest team in the West. I won't go into my "Barry Bonds is no longer a superstar" rant again, but even with him, the Giants are still a geriatric center. The Padres aren't bad, but they're simply the 2005 team v.2. The Diamondbacks were amazingly lucky last year, and they're still rebuilding from their 111-loss 2004. The Rockies are the Rockies and will be until further notice.
Here's how I see the postseason (although predicting the postseason this early is more luck than anything:
ALDS: Yankees over Indians; A's over Red Sox
NLDS: Mets over Dodgers; Braves over Cardinals
ALCS: A's over Yankees
NLCS: Mets over Braves
WS: A's over Mets
To sum up, here are my individual predictions
AL MVP: Travis Hafner
NL MVP: David Wright
AL CY: Johan Santana
NL CY: Jake Peavy
AL ROY: Kenji Johjima
NL ROY: Jeremy Hermida
Hasta Luego.

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