Bat Flips and Nerds Versus the Projections, 2019 Edition

Everyone loves making predictions, right? Sure, most people complain about making them, or issue multiple caveats before doing so, or act like you have not asked them to make a prediction but instead asked them to choose which of their limbs they’d like to have removed.

I’ll rephrase. People love other people making predictions. Sometimes they validate something they already wanted to believe, sometimes they provide material to argue with – ‘bulletin board material’ for their fandom, and sometimes it’s entertaining to look back at how wrong they were.

After the success of last season’s prediction show and subsequent comparison to the projections (spoiler: we weren’t quite last), we did it all over again. It’s possible I was the only one interested in this exercise. As I insisted that we get it done, here we are. I have trained the guys to find Matt Chapman highlights independently, so it’s possible I won’t even have to suggest the prediction show next year.

This is also the fifth year I have been tracking predictions and projections over at Banished to the Pen, which provides a handy comparison resource. As I did last year, I have compiled a table comparing the prediction pod totals to those from Baseball Prospectus (based on PECOTA) and the FanGraphs Depth Charts (based on Steamer and ZiPS combined with a playing time adjustment) projections for each team as of March 28th. Positive values mean that we were more optimistic than the systems, negative more pessimistic. I’ve then offered a few thoughts on the biggest disagreements.

MIL 87 83 92 5 9 14
LAA 79 82 85 6 3 9
COL 84 81 87 3 6 9
HOU 98 96 101 3 5 8
STL 86 86 90 4 4 8
OAK 77 82 83 6 1 7
SEA 72 76 77 5 1 6
LAD 93 93 96 3 3 6
ARI 80 77 81 1 4 5
TBR 86 84 87 1 3 4
CHC 80 88 86 6 -2 4
PHI 89 86 89 0 3 3
CHW 70 70 71 1 1 2
BOS 90 94 93 3 -1 2
TOR 74 76 76 2 0 2
NYY 96 97 97 1 0 1
WAS 89 90 90 1 0 1
ATL 85 84 85 0 1 1
TEX 70 71 70 0 -1 -1
DET 66 68 66 0 -2 -2
PIT 80 79 78 -2 -1 -3
BAL 58 62 58 0 -4 -4
CIN 81 81 79 -2 -2 -4
MIN 82 82 79 -3 -3 -6
NYM 87 85 82 -5 -3 -8
SFG 73 75 69 -4 -6 -10
MIA 67 65 60 -7 -5 -12
CLE 97 92 88 -9 -4 -13
KCR 73 70 64 -9 -6 -15
SDP 81 79 71 -10 -8 -18

Teams We’re High On

Milwaukee Brewers, 92 wins

No surprise that noted Brewers homer John McGee has led us here. The NL Central was the division which caused most consternation on the podcast, with us ultimately predicting the Cardinals at 90 and the Cubs at 86, not to mention the Reds and Pirates still just barely below .500. The tight division is something all the predictions and projections agree on, so really we’re the outlier here by predicting it to be slightly less close.

It’s FanGraphs that makes the big difference here, as they were more negative than any other prediction or projection except the Davenport system. The main issue is the run prevention: while BP’s Deserved Run Average (DRA) is a relative fan of Brewers pitching, predicting that they’ll allow fewer runs than all but the Cards in this division, FanGraphs has them tied for worst in the division with the Reds. They’re also not as infatuated with Eric “Neptune” Thames as we are. Given that Christian Yelich has started 2019 right where he left off with his MVP-winning 2018 to lead the Brewers to a 5-1 start, we must have nailed this one. Don’t check the standings again.

Colorado Rockies, 87 wins

Surprise, surprise, here are the Rockies again. I can’t speak for the others, but at least part of this for me is down to the fact that I desperately moved the show along after being thankful that Ben had not predicted 90-plus.

The projections don’t really believe that German Marquez and Kyle Freeland can match what they did last year, which is entirely reasonable given just how good they were last year and that #Coors is still a thing. Ian Desmond is also not only playing, he’s playing centre field. 81 wins or 87, it’s the Dodgers’ division.

Los Angeles Angels, 85 wins

A second repeat team at the high end. I think Mike Trout‘s greatness pervades my brain to such an extent that when I think about the Angels, I can’t actually bring myself to predict that they’re going to be below-average. It’s also down to Andrelton Simmons, who brings Troutian levels of brilliance to shortstop defence.

Despite all that brilliance, it’s still hard to hide the fact that most of this roster is decidedly mediocre, injured, and sometimes both. That’s especially true now that Justin Upton will miss at least a couple of months with a toe issue, which we did not know about at the time. If Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney and Trevor Cahill can make the majority of their starts, I still think we might have the projections here. If not, 80 wins for a third straight year is the more likely outcome.

Teams We’re Low On

San Diego Padres, 71 wins

Those who have been listening to the podcast for a while will have noticed a pattern of Tom hedging his bets by being pessimistic about his teams (as an aside, Tom really should hedge most of his bets given how terrible they usually are). Now that he’s a fully-fledged Padres fan, this is the result. This makes us lower than any prediction or projection from the BttP post, with the next-most pessimistic projection being 74 wins.

To be fair to Tom, he cited how bad the rotation was. The Padres have so little in their rotation that over the weekend, they genuinely started a player with an 88 mph fastball who had never previously pitched above High-A. He was quite good, but it was against the Giants, so it doesn’t count.  The projection systems love rookie Chris Paddack, think Joey Lucchesi is pretty handy, and, most importantly, consider the Diamondbacks and Giants to be quite terrible. Padres fans should hope that Tom’s predictions are as bad as they usually are, except that time he predicted that Steve Pearce would be the World Series MVP.

Kansas City Royals, 64 wins

John started the Royals off at 45, so what more do you want from us? We talked him up 19 wins by pointing out how spectacularly bad this division is. Their phenomenal baserunning and exceptional defensive projection, particularly on FanGraphs’ side, goes a long way towards covering their other deficiencies up. By no means all the way, of course, as they’re still a low-70 win team.

In fact, it’s a little hard to figure out just why the Royals are favoured over the Tigers and White Sox by the projections. FanGraphs in particular thinks the Royals have the worst pitching staff in baseball (PECOTA gives that honour to the Orioles), so it’s simply the fact that they can run and field, and that the Tigers and White Sox are projected to be just as bad, if not worse, on both sides of the ball. Have fun, AL Central fans. At least they should steal bases. So far, they haven’t done an unusually large amount of that either.

Cleveland Indians, 88 wins

Oh, so we’re not done with that? Cleveland have been daring us to make this prediction all offseason. Their starting lineup currently features a 35-year-old DH-only player who barely played in 2018 and Eric Stamets, who had a .596 OPS last season – at Triple-A. It’s not Cleveland’s fault that Francisco Lindor is on the DL (we assume) but it sure does feel like it would serve them right to get beaten to the division title by the Twins.

The projection systems have no such bias. FanGraphs isn’t too far off from us, but PECOTA looks at their stupendous rotation, in which this guy is a fourth starter, glances over at those moribund lineups of the bottom three teams, and decrees that Cleveland will allow over 100 runs less than any other team in the division. That’s not the kind of performance that produces just 88 wins, unless your lineup is not simply average but as bad as those basement-dwellers. The jury – and Lindor – is still out in that regard.

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