October 11, 2012
What Teams and Players Predicted About Themselves
The end of the season is the time when writers revisit their pre-season predictions. Some look back hoping to discover that they said something smart, while others look back mostly to marvel at their own inaccuracy. (I picked the Orioles to finish where?) The most anyone aspires to is a bit better than an even split between smart and stupid.
But writers aren't the only knowledgeable people who make bad predictions about baseball. Team executives, coaches, and players do it, too. They do it implicitly every time they sign a player who gets hurt or plays poorly, but they also do it in the press. Sometimes they have a motive—to drum up interest in their teams or themselves, to appease players with fragile egos, to encourage or challenge or smooth over disputes. You'll never hear a general manager of a 60-win team say, "Man, we are going to be bad." Anything a player or team source says about the future is part prediction, part propaganda.
I wanted to see how many of these propagandictions came to pass, so I dug up one prediction each team made about its immediate future between the end of last year's World Series and Opening Day. “I think we have a chance to surprise some people” doesn’t count as a prediction. Every team predicts that it will surprise some people, or that it's better than people think. Those predictions are nebulous enough to be true in all cases, which makes them meaningless.
Instead, I stuck to predictions of specific events. Most of these predictions didn’t come to pass, but not because I cherry-picked the bad ones. I mostly went with the first ones I found. It’s just that most predictions about baseball are bad, no matter who makes them. (Note: Sam Miller and I discussed some of the worst of these predictions with Carson Cistulli on the podcast last week.)
Scioscia assured Abreu that there will be a way to get him 400 plate appearances.
What actually happened: One of the many Angels storylines this spring was where Abreu’s playing time would come from, what with the seeming surplus of corner outfielders and DHs in camp. It took about three weeks to determine that it wouldn’t come from anywhere, despite Scioscia’s assurances. Abreu made seven starts and 27 plate appearances for the Angels before they released him on April 27th.
Honorable mention: Another Angels storyline this spring was where Mark Trumbo would play. The early reviews of his progress at third base were so positive that Scioscia said he expected Trumbo to play a minimum of 40 games there. Instead, he played eight games there, making four errors in 14 opportunities. Mercifully, he didn’t play an inning at third after the first week of May.
What actually happened: The 2011 Astros lost 106 games with a -181 run differential. The 2012 Astros lost 107 games with a -211 run differential. Lee was worse, too, so even if that “we” was the royal we, he was still wrong.
What actually happened: The A’s not only competed with the Angels and the Rangers, they beat both of them. Either this was pure posturing on Beane’s part, or he didn’t see his team’s success coming any more than we did.
What actually happened: The Jays scored 743 runs and ranked eighth in the AL with a .262 TAv in 2011. This season, they scored 716 runs and declined to a 12th-place .255. They also relied as much if not more on one guy, though this time the guy was Edwin Encarnacion, not Jose Bautista, who was hurt. If Bautista hadn’t been hurt, Anthopoulos might have been right, but injuries are tough to see coming, which is one of the many reasons why baseball predictions are so bad.
Honorable mention: Probably the least-exciting items in this article: Anthopoulos’ belief that Brett Cecil would have a “big year” and his revelation that the pitcher who “most excited him” was Dustin McGowan. Cecil pitched 61 1/3 innings with a 5.72 ERA. McGowan didn’t pitch any innings, which wasn’t exciting at all.
What actually happened: Gonzalez basically bet on a BABIP rebound by Uggla, and while he got one, he hadn’t counted on the power outage or the decreased contact that came with it. Overall, Uggla was worse. Not so much worse that it made sense for Gonzalez to bench him, as he did for a few days in early September, but not nearly good enough to make his manager’s prediction sound smart.
Pastornicky walked a bit more often than Gonzalez had a year before, and maybe that’s what “professional” means. But it would be a stretch to call any at-bats that led to a .243/.287/.325 line “professional.”
What actually happened: Ignoring the “[Mat] Gamel’s going to be really good” part of this prediction makes Hart seem more prescient, but for the most part, the Brewers’ batters backed him up. Some thought Milwaukee would struggle to score without Prince Fielder. Instead, the team hit even more homers and scored 55 more runs. Although Hart’s offense at first couldn’t completely replace Fielder’s, Aramis Ramirez was a big enough upgrade over Casey McGehee to make the combined infield corners more productive than they’d been the year before.
What actually happened: The Cubs Hall of Famer/senior advisor’s prediction looked spot-on in April, when LaHair hit .390/.471/.780 with five home runs in 17 starts, but he hit only 11 more the rest of the way, finishing nine homers short of 25. He hit just one home run in July, another one in August, and one more in September/October, as both his production and his playing time dwindled. Williams wasn’t way off: LaHair averaged a homer every 21.3 at-bats, and if you assume he could’ve kept hitting them at that rate, he would’ve reached 25 in just over 530 at-bats. But part of hitting homers is making enough contact to allow the power to play, and LaHair’s bat had too many holes. Whether his luck ran out or the league learned how to beat him, LaHair struck out at a Reynoldsian rate after April—99 times in 281 at-bats—and the Cubs couldn’t afford to keep playing him
What actually happened: Kubel’s -14.1 FRAA was the worst among NL outfielders, despite his league-leading 14 assists. One season with a lousy FRAA isn’t conclusive proof of defensive malpractice, so we can’t say for sure whether Towers was wrong, but a total that low is at least a little suggestive. As far as I can tell, Arizona didn’t make many preseason predictions, which—in light of their third-place finish—was probably for the best.
What actually happened: Like the LaHair prediction, this one looked pretty good in April, when Kemp homered 12 times (though all that driving himself in left time for only two steals). After that, though, Kemp suffered a series of injuries that both kept him off the field and hampered him when he was in the lineup. He hit fewer homers after April then he did that first month, and he finished short of 10-10, let alone 50-50. He would’ve been better off staying on the same level instead of taking it to another one.
What actually happened: Wilson had Tommy John surgery a couple weeks after Opening Day.
"We don't expect Grady to play 150 to 160 games like he has in the past," said Antonetti. "But we expect him to play the vast majority of games next year."
What actually happened: Grady Sizemore played zero games. We almost didn’t need the quote from Antonetti to make the team’s expectations clear—the Indians’ signing of Sizemore was itself a prediction that he would play baseball. Either that, or they just hated having $5 million.
What actually happened: The Mariners won eight more games. No, it’s not exactly going out on a limb to predict improvement for a 67-win team, but then again, Carlos Lee predicted improvement for a 56-win team and turned out to be wrong.
What actually happened: This wasn’t an unreasonable prediction—the 13 other teams that had opened ballparks since 2000 had averaged almost 37,000 fans in their stadiums’ first seasons. However, the Marlins had a steeper hill to climb that most of those teams did, attendance-wise, and they also stopped trying to contend midseason. They ended up averaging 27,000 (with a low of 14,801), which was amazing by Marlins standards but bad by the standards of every other team in a new park.
I could have done a whole article on Marlins predictions. Samson also said, “For anyone who is OK with mediocrity, we’re going to blow them out of the water,” as well as, “We think we’re in the very early stages of a long up cycle.” Jeffrey Loria said the 2012 team was better than the 2003 World Championship team. Greg Dobbs said the Marlins were the NL East’s “team to beat” and predicted, “We’re going to win and we’re going to get to the postseason.” Hanley Ramirez said he would be the best third baseman. Not the best on the Marlins. Just the best.
What actually happened: This is the lone entry on the list that doesn’t contain a prediction, since Sandy Alderson was too smart to make one. I included it anyway, as an example to us all.
What actually happened: The Nationals made the playoffs, finishing with the best record in baseball. Johnson can keep his job. Of course, As Ken Rosenthal noted yesterday, it would have been nice if the Nats had also predicted that they would want to have their best pitcher at their disposal during their playoff run.
What actually happened: The Orioles won many more games than they lost, even if they didn’t score all that many more runs than they allowed.
What actually happened: Luebke very likely would have improved, if not for that pesky UCL going “pop.” He had Tommy John surgery in late May, after throwing 31 innings. When making predictions about pitchers, always add an “if healthy.”
What actually happened: Manuel’s hunch was correct. The Phillies used 93 different lineups (133 including pitchers) in 2011. In 2012, with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley unavailable for much of the season and Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino shipped out midseason, they used 102 (146 including pitchers).
What actually happened: No one went, and the spots the Pirates picked were poor ones. Pittsburgh was the worst basestealing team in the majors, finishing with the fewest steals, the lowest success rate (58 percent!), and the worst Stolen Base Runs total since the expansion 1998 Devil Rays.
What actually happened: The Rangers won three fewer games, had a run differential 77 runs lower, and finished second instead of first. Taking the over on 96 wins is a loser’s bet.
What actually happened: Pena slugged .354, the lowest slugging percentage of any first baseman who made 600 plate appearances. His low batting average had something to do with that, but he also had the fourth-lowest ISO.
Honorable mention: Andrew Friedman said, “We think we have improved our offense and we’re going to maintain our high level of defense.” The 2012 Rays scored 10 fewer runs than the 2011 Rays, and their team TAv slipped from .273 (fifth in the AL) to .265 (seventh in the AL). Their Defensive Efficiency dropped off slightly, from .735 (best in baseball) to .723 (tied for best in baseball). So, instead of getting better in one area and holding steady in the other, the Rays got slightly worse at both. That’s all it takes to miss the playoffs.
What actually happened: Much to the dismay of anyone who likes to laugh at bad baseball predictions, Ben Cherington and the rest of the Red Sox braintrust refrained from predicting great things for their team. Fortunately, their boss delivered some famous last words.
What actually happened: Heisey hit well in limited time in 2011, so when Cincinnati signed Ludwick just before pitchers and catchers reported to camp, it set up the spring’s biggest position battle. Both Heisey and Ludwick bat from the right side and play the same position, so it seemed like one would lose out. Heisey thought the Reds’ roster was big enough for both of them, and he was right. Ludwick played 125 games, and Heisey got into 120, filling in all over the outfield while Ludwick was chained to left.
What actually happened: As Sam Miller put it on the podcast, the Rockies did figure some things out, and one of those things was that they didn’t have a pretty good pitching staff. Colorado finished with an NL-worst 5.22 ERA, 5.08 FRA, and 4.63 FIP. White was right about being part of it, at least. His own ERA/FRA/FIP were worse than the staff’s as a whole: 5.51/6.20/5.27.
What actually happened: The Royals won 72 games, one more than they had in 2011. Their run differential was nearly 40 runs worse. It takes a special sort of overconfidence to pooh-pooh the possibility of finishing .500 after eight consecutive losing seasons.
Honorable mention: In a separate prediction, Yost also said that the Royals’ rotation—which would finish with an ERA over 5.00 in a pretty neutral park—would be “very solid.” Of course, that was probably implicit in the “much better than .500” prediction.
Not exactly a prediction, but too good not to include: “Jonathan Sanchez is even better than I dreamed he would be.”—Ned Yost
Ned Yost was in a really good mood this spring.
What actually happened: It seems like a long time ago now, but Miguel Cabrera’s shift back to third after four seasons as a below-average first baseman was one of the most-criticized moves of the spring. Most pundits didn’t think he could do it, and this play didn’t help. I stopped short of saying it wouldn’t work, but I did say it would be almost unprecedented, which was a nice way of saying it wouldn’t work.
Not only did Cabrera’s conversion stick, he played acceptable defense and was as durable as ever (and the increased defensive demands obviously didn’t hurt his hitting). In the wonderful words of Bob Nightengale, Cabrera “has startled scouts with his adequacy.” Dombrowski was right, and his decision may have made the Tigers’ season.
What actually happened: Injuries took a lot of the blame for Minnesota’s struggles in 2011, as the team’s core of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Denard Span combined for just 928 plate appearances and 0.6 WARP. Span said that if all three of them finished with somewhere between 400 and 600 plate appearances, the Twins would be “all right.” As it turned out, each of them finished with between 500 and 700 plate appearances, and the three together totaled 1779 PA and 5.4 WARP. The Twins went from 63 wins to 66 wins, which is still closer to all wrong than all right.
What actually happened: Reinsdorf nailed it. Dunn, Rios, and Peavy rebounded, and the White Sox were in first with just over a week left in the season. In the same article, Peavy made his own prediction: “We are not losing 95 games, let me tell you that.” Nothing says confidence like vowing not to lose 95 games.
What actually happened: Feliciano helped the Yankees—the Gulf Coast League, Tampa, and Staten Island Yankees. (Misdirection!) He threw 9 1/3 innings across four minor-league levels and didn’t make it back to the majors, closing the book (or leaving the book unopened) on his Yankees career.
Honorable mentions aside, the team sources went 9-for-20, with Alderson abstaining. The lesson learned: don't trust teams that come bearing predictions.