After three games, have the statheads won?
By Christopher Heun
The statheads have done their voodoo math tricks and predicted the future that is the 2007 baseball season, including the mean height that the grass in foul territory in every ballpark will grow, normalized to the respective league average, of course.
We here at RF34 have also crunched some numbers. Whatever numbers we could find lying around: we picked up a 10 and carried a two and that was pretty much it.
The statheads at Baseball Prospectus and elsewhere have shared their predictions (basically, that the Orioles will finish last in the A.L. East), and we’re prepared to do the same. (Basically, we disagree, but not by a whole heckuva lot.) In fact, we’ll be so bold as to throw down the gauntlet: let this season be the battle royal, the final test of good old-fashioned love of the game that our fathers taught us versus newfangled progressive attitudes open to understanding baseball in new ways, reportedly involving statistics and other such figures.
If, at the end of the season, Pecota is right, we’ll stop taking cheap shots at statheads. (For the purposes of this exercise Pecota shall represent all forecasting formulas. We’ve heard of others out there – Chone, Marcel and ZiPS, but really, we can’t be bothered, except to ask, who names this stuff?) If, however, our prophecy turns out to be closer to the final standings, then we’ll sign a sponsorship deal for the new Texas Instruments scientific calculator.
Since we are an amiable sort and wish to make all of our guests comfortable, regardless of who wins this final test of wits, any reader of this blog who professes an affinity for the world of statistics shall retain the right to get his hackles up after encountering harmless commentary posted here. (As one anonymous poster did recently, referring to us collectively a “judgemental prick.”)
Now that we have that out of the way, on to the magic number . . . 79.
That’s how many wins we believe the Orioles will manage this season. We were going to say the O’s will finish 80-82, a sort of poetic near-miss at mediocrity in a Bad News Bears sort of way, but then we read two different baseball writers for The Sun, Peter Schmuck and Roch Kubatko, both predict the team would win 78 games, so we took that into consideration. We like to think of ourselves as one better than those guys.
For the record, Pecota predicts last place for the Birds, with a 74-88 record, four games behind Tampa. We say the Orioles will actually be five games better than the Devils Rays.
Why do we think this, and how can we state this with any certainty? Because it’s what we want to happen. We admit it. Pecota’s forecasting system runs on pure numbers and unbiased algorithms. Our prediction engine is fueled by a careful balance of hope, faith, and blind intuition.
Admittedly, we’re not taking much of a risk, given that the O’s (as we all know) have finished in fourth place eight of the last nine seasons.
This is a club that has a chance to be average. It could very well end up at exactly .500 – neither winners nor losers. Imagine that. We should be so lucky.
But just as a .500 season is within reach, it is equally as possible that the Birds will finish in the cellar. I’m tired of listing the reasons why; we all know them by now. One additional reason, given frequently this spring, is all of the Devil Rays’ potential – and this time the sportswriters, and the scouts, and everybody else really mean it.
True, the Rays are loaded with young talent. But the one thing that Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford, Elijah Dukes, and Delmon Young can’t do is pitch.
With a starting rotation of Jae Seo, James Shields, Casey Fossum, and Edwin Jackson following Scott Kazmir, how can anyone realistically expect Tampa Bay to win 17 games more than they did a year ago? Tampa Bay has never lost fewer than 91 games in a season; last year their record was 61-101.
Even if Tampa doesn’t finish ahead of the Birds this season, it will probably happen soon enough. There simply isn’t enough talent in the upper tiers of the Orioles farm system to match what clubs like Tampa are producing. Last month the O’s traded their 2006 minor league player of the year, Cory Keylor, for a 37-year-old journeyman catcher with 11 career home runs. Enough said.
All is not lost, though. The Blue Jays haven’t got it all figured out, either. Their three starters who will follow Roy Halladay and A. J. Burnett – Gustavo Chacin, Tomo Ohka and Josh Towers, according to mlb.com – combined last season for a 5.81 E.R.A. in 246 innings, allowing 281 hits and 48 home runs. Where’s Russ Ortiz when you need him?
So here’s the final verdict: the Birds will win more games than last year but still finish below .500 and still finish in fourth place. That’s the karma of a bad ball club. They’ll be marginally better (though not for the long haul), but still be bad. Still a loser. Still a joke.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t take a whole lot of numbers to see that.