The other writers for the Crawfish Boxes think I'm not hard core. They think that because I don't run mock draft scenarios and play out every possible outcome for a season that I'm not a heavy numbers and analytical thinker. That's okay, because I know something they don't know...no one can predict baseball.
Every year just as Spring Training begins to dawn on the horizon the predictions start rolling in, telling us all which club will be the "it" team that year. Who's got the hottest rookie, the best line up of prospects ready to burst through onto the major league field, which team has enough talent to go the distance, and - my favorite - which teams do not.
Some of these projections are warranted. Well, hell, they're all warranted at the time. The problem is that the baseball season isn't frozen in time in late February or early March. The rosters, disabled lists, and staff won't always look the same come October. In fact, they never will. And yet, here are all the Astros fans getting VERY excited about this:
How we see the 2016 MLB season unfolding: https://t.co/czCLqtzB4I pic.twitter.com/UL8YC82mw1— USA TODAY Sports (@USATODAYsports) February 15, 2016
So, someone at the USAToday has decided the Astros are going to top the AL West this year, and with a mighty fine w/l record at that. Will it happen? I suppose it could. I hope it will. I really really really want it to be true. But more often than not these predictions are based on a snapshot in time, a look at what a club has today and forgets about all the moving parts.
Players are people, as much as we often forget that small point, and things happen to people. People have slumps. People get injured. People have attitude problems. People have personal problems. People have breakout seasons. People have regression seasons. People aren't a snapshot in time.
I wondered how accurate the predictions made last season were. So, I went in hunt of 2015 MLB predictions by several outlets. I included sports media, the sabre-minded folks, etc. I compared their predictions to what really happened:
|2015||ESPN||SB Nation||Fox Sports||SI||PECOTA||FanGraphs||ACTUAL|
|AL East||Red Sox||Red Sox||Red Sox||Red Soxs/Blue Jays||Red Sox||Red Sox||Blue Jays|
|AL Central||Indians||Indians||Indians / WS / Tigers||Indians / Tigers||Tigers||Indians||Royals|
|AL WC||Angels*||Angels*||Padres||White Sox||Astros|
With the exception of the Dodgers and the Cardinals winning their division, there's not much here to say, "Look how smart we are at predicting baseball!" Those "expert predictions" aren't really so accurate. This table looks at 2015, but if you look back as far as 2011 you'll see similar trends. There are always a couple of teams that have such dominance and depth of talent that they can pull it out, but more often than not a team's success is fluid and based on more than just the snapshot of late February and early March.
As fans we aren't privy to the inside conversations the baseball operations team has, but I'd bet their aspirations for the 2016 season have less to do with winning a division and more to do with winning a ring. The goals a club sets for itself each year are markedly more important to the outcome of a season that the expectations USA Today throws out.
Mr. Luhnow, can you please fill us in? What's the plan this year? Kthxbai.
I'd also always go with an underdog with a gritty group of scrappy fighters than an elite roster of polished talent. Those years when the Astros were lean and the minor league guys were coming up earlier than expected? There were some great wins that happened in those seasons out of pure determination and grit. Plus, it's always easier when there's no pressure. Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
Thankfully, I think the Houston Astros are still playing with a lot to prove. One good season does not a comeback make. So, I say to hell with the predictions and I hope the players do too. Trust your team. Trust your coaches. Trust your ability. Screw the predictions.
Don't get me wrong, I really really really want that USA Today prediction to be right. I really really really do. But I'm nothing if not practical, so let's all smile at that graphic and then fold it up and tuck it away. We can look at it again in October and see how accurate it is - hopefully moreso about the Astros and less so about those stinky Cubs. Because to be honest, none of these Spring predictions mean jack. Now, "Play ball!"