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January 6, 2014

Overthinking It

Testing the Predictive Powers of 2013 Teams

by Ben Lindbergh


Hot Stove season is slowing, which means it’s almost time for team executives and players to start telling you how good they’re going to be in 2014. There are many reasons for teams and players to predict success: to sell tickets, to avoid 0.0 Nielsen ratings, to motivate themselves and their teammates. Most of the time, predicting success makes more sense than saying “We suck.”

We know that media members make many regrettable predictions: that the 2013 Red Sox would be boring, that Mike Trout wouldn’t be worth taking early in a fantasy draft, that the Angels and Blue Jays would win the West and the East. But anything a team might tell you is equally suspect. So just like last year, I’ve trawled the internet for predictions that teams and players made about themselves before the start of last season. The only condition was that there weren’t conditions—if we stay healthy, if we play up to our capabilities, etc. Only unqualified forecasts of future events could be counted—the stronger and more specific, the better.

Every team predicted at least one aspect of its own upcoming performance. As I wrote last time, “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.”

Let’s get started.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Predictor:
Kevin Towers
Prediction: Arizona would win at least 90 games.

Most general managers are tough to pin down on a preseason prediction. Ask them how many games they’re going to win, or whether they think they’ve put together a playoff team, and they’ll say something vague about being competitive, or insist that there’s no point in predicting. For instance, here’s Ned Colletti, when asked in late March how the Dodgers were going to do:

I think we're going to have ourselves a good season. I don't predict how you're going to finish, or how many games you're going to win or this or that. That's for people who don't have any skin in the game or don't have a true bearing on it.

But it’s also for baseball’s most talkative GM/oversharer, Kevin Towers, who makes this exercise much too easy:

Like many baseball men, Kevin Towers has his own rituals.

Near the end of every spring, the Diamondbacks’ general manager writes down his predicted victory total for the upcoming season. And then he hides that number in his desk.

Since coming to Arizona, he’s not exactly been an oracle.

“I’ve been wrong both years,” Towers said. “In 2011, I put down 85 and we won 94. Last year, I had 89 (wins) and we won 81. But I’ve been thinking about it. I’ve got a pretty good idea. I guarantee it’s going to start with a nine.”

Result: Towers’ guarantee wasn’t worth the paper the Arizona Republic printed it on. The Diamondbacks won 81 again.

Other predictions: Towers again, addressing the departures of Justin Upton and Chris Young on March 28:

"We're going to score the same amount of runs [with them gone]," Towers says.

The outcome: The Diamondbacks scored 49 fewer runs than they had in 2012.

Towers also predicted that the Diamondbacks would be faster and less reliant on the home run:

"I would say that we're going to be a little different club," general manager Kevin Towers said. "I think we'll still hit home runs, but I think the last couple of years we've relied too much on the long ball. If you look at our record on the days we didn't homer, we usually didn't win. We wanted to have more of an offense where we had that speed dynamic."

The Diamondbacks did score a lower percentage of their runs via the homer (32.0 percent, the sixth-lowest in baseball, compared to 36.7 percent in 2012). But the speed never materialized: the D-Backs stole the fifth-fewest bases and finished with the third-worst team BRR (-9.7). Relying on the home run really isn’t that bad, provided you can hit them, which Towers seemed to accept when he traded for Mark Trumbo. I’ll make a prediction of my own: Arizona’s win total still won’t start with a nine.

Atlanta Braves
Predictor:
Frank Wren
Prediction: Atlanta’s lineup would be much improved.

GM Frank Wren, on January 29:

Wren said the 2013 Braves' lineup will be "much improved from a year ago."

Result: The Braves scored 12 fewer runs than they had in 2012, but that was mostly sequencing. Fundamentally, they were a better offensive team, raising their collective True Average from .250 to .254. Okay, so maybe that’s not much improved. Blame B.J. Upton.

Baltimore Orioles
Predictor:
Chris Davis
Prediction: Davis would hit more home runs.

Much of the preseason Chris Davis discussion concerned whether he could handle full-time first base duty. Davis was confident that he could, but he also predicted additional strides on offense. In a March 26 MASN post titled “Can Chris Davis top the 33 homers he hit last season?”, Davis said:

I was happy with the way I swung the bat last year. I think I made a lot of strides in the right direction. It's a benchmark for me, something to look at and be proud of, but also something to learn from. I think I can go up from there.

When asked whether he had any specific numbers in mind, Davis said, “I do. But I will never tell you guys. It's something personal that I've done since I was in junior college. My coach brought that up to us as a team to sit down individually and write our goals down. It is something I do every year.” The next time Davis left his locker, Kevin Towers found the piece of paper and read it aloud to every reporter in earshot.

Result: Davis hit 53 home runs, over 40 percent of the 2013 Diamondbacks’ total.


Boston Red Sox
Predictor: John Farrell
Prediction: The Red Sox would finish over .500.

Prior to the 2012 season, Red Sox owner John Henry predicted, “We’re going to have a great team this year.” In the wake of the 69-win season that actually ensued, the Sox played it considerably safer when foretelling the future. Asked on last March 31 whether the team would win more games than they’d lose, new manager John Farrell “grinned slightly” and responded, “Yes. I do believe we’ll win more than we lose.”

Result: The Sox won 32 more than they lost (38 more, counting the playoffs).

Other predictions: Team president/CEO Larry Lucchino predicted in February that Boston’s 793-game home sellout streak would end “sometime in April.” It lasted until April 10.

Chicago Cubs
Predictor:
Dale Sveum, Brett Jackson
Prediction: Brett Jackson would benefit significantly from a mechanical overhaul.

After arriving in the majors in August of 2012, Jackson batted .175 for the Cubs, strikeout out 59 times in 120 at-bats. That led to an “intense week of hitting” in November, in which manager Dale Sveum, hitting coach James Rowson, and assistant hitting coach Rob Deer lowered his hands and made his swing “more compact.”

“I think it’s going to benefit him a lot,” said Sveum last February. “I can be a force at the plate instead of battling as I did,” added Jackson.

Result: Jackson started the season at Triple-A Iowa, where he hit .223/.300/.367. He then spent time in the Arizona League and the Southern League, where he hit even worse. He finished the season with a .210/.296/.330 line. On the plus side, he struck out in a mere 33 percent of his plate appearances—more or less like Rob Deer, but without the patience or power.

The moral of the story: don’t be fooled by mechanical flaw fixers. Sometimes, escaping a slump really is as simple as tinkering with a stance or swing. Often, it isn’t.

Chicago White Sox
Predictor:
Robin Ventura
Prediction: The White Sox would be better than they were in 2012.

“I think there’s more in this team than there was last year,” Ventura said on April 1.

Result: The White Sox won 63 games, 22 fewer than they had the year before. To be fair, Ventura simply said "more." He might’ve meant more losses.

Other predictions: On February 23, John Danks (who was recovering from arthroscopic shoulder surgery) said, “I have no doubt I’ll be on the Opening Day roster.” He went on to spend the first several weeks of the season on the disabled list, returning on May 24. Danks wasn’t the only player who regretted an Opening Day comeback prediction last season.

Cincinnati Reds
Predictor:
Walt Jocketty
Prediction: Shin-Soo Choo would be at least an average center fielder.

"He'll certainly spend a lot of time with our outfield coaches," Jocketty said about Choo on January 25. "We think he'll be able to play center field average to above average for us and make him that much more valuable."

Result: Given the uncertainty surrounding single-season defensive stats, perhaps we can’t conclusively rule Jocketty’s prediction wrong (unless we were, you know, watching). Still: Choo rated 17 runs below average in center, according to both DRS and UZR, and FRAA had him as a -5 fielder. Jocketty’s quote evinced a lot of confidence in Cincinnati’s coaching, given that Choo had rated well below average in an outfield corner in 2012.

Other predictions: Bronson Arroyo, who joined the Reds in 2006, said on March 3 that the 2013 Reds were the “best ballclub we’ve had since I’ve been here.” They went on to win 90 games, fewer than the 2010 (91) and 2012 (97) teams. However, the 2013 Reds did have a higher run differential (+109) than any of the 2006-12 teams, so Arroyo wasn’t really wrong.

Cleveland Indians
Predictor:
Chris Antonetti, Terry Francona, Mickey Calloway
Prediction: Ubaldo Jimenez would be much better.

Optimism about Ubaldo abounded after the volatile starter’s winter mechanical work with pitching coach Mickey Calloway. "For him to pitch well is a big part of our team. I think we're going to see it this year,” said Calloway in February. “I’m confident he’ll be a lot better than he was last year,” Antonetti added in March. “I really think he’s going to do a good job for us,” Francona said a few days before the opener.

Result: The excitement was well-placed. Jimenez rebounded from a bad 2012 to post his highest WARP total since 2010.

Other predictions: Every signing is, in a sense, a prediction that Free Agent X will make Baseball Team Y better. One such signing/prediction was the Indians’ addition of Brett Myers in early January, about which Antonneti said:

He’s a big, strong, physical guy who’s made the transition [from the bullpen to the rotation] in the past, and we think he’ll be able to do it again. He’s demonstrated that he’s been able to take the ball and go deep into ballgames. We think he’s going to be a good addition to fortify our rotation.

A UCL sprain ended Myers’ season in April, though he did allow more home runs (10) in his 21 1/3 innings than some full-season starters. The Indians released him in August.

Colorado Rockies
Predictor:
Walt Weiss
Prediction: Rockies pitchers would get a lot of groundballs

"We're really going to try to drive home the fact that we're going to put the ball on the ground as a pitching staff," Weiss said on Valentine’s Day.

Result: The Rockies had the fourth-highest staff groundball percentage (47.8 percent), up from 19th in 2012. Well done, Walt.

Other predictions: Weiss made a less successful prediction on March 25, when he said (twice), “We’re going to be a good offensive club.” The Rockies did score the second-most runs in the National League, but after accounting for Coors, their offense rated below average.

On a happier note, in February Jhoulys Chacin predicted a return to his early 2011 form after struggling with fatigue and injuries in the second half of 2011 and 2012.

"The way I feel now is how I felt two years ago," said Chacin, referring to the start of the 2011 season that nearly resulted in an all-star berth. "I can be that guy again."

He was better than that guy, contributing a career-high 3.0 WARP.


Detroit Tigers
Predictor:
Don Kelly
Prediction: The Tigers would win the World Series

The Tigers became one of three teams to predict a World Series victory last winter, when Kelly (of all people) called his team’s shot in a February 27 interview about his religious faith with a Pittsburgh sports blog. “I think we’ll get back to World Series [sic] and win it this year,” Kelly (of all people) said.

Result: Lost in the ALCS. Kelly went 0-for-6 in the series after spending most of the regular season trying to prove his prediction wrong.

Houston Astros
Predictor:
Jeff Luhnow
Prediction: The Astros would be much better than “people think.”

GM Jeff Luhnow was in good spirits before last season started. On February 6, he told the Houston Chronicle:

I'm optimistic. A lot of national media are saying we're going to lose a lot of games. I think we're going to have a much better team than people think this season.

Result: This one is on the vague side, since it’s hard to say exactly how good the “national media” and “people” thought the Astros would be in 2013. Regardless, they lost 111 games, which definitely qualifies as “a lot.”

Other predictions: Luhnow made a much more specific prediction after a March 28 split-squad game in which the Astros hit four homers. “Of our two goals this offseason, one was the rotation depth and the second was to get more thunder in our lineup, and I think we're seeing the results of that right now,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a fluke. I think we’re going to see more home runs at Minute Maid from our team than we did last year.”

The verdict: Technically true. Houston hit two more homers at home in 2013, and the same number on the road. Thunder!


Kansas City Royals
Predictor:
Ned Yost
Prediction: The Royals would be much improved.

Ned Yost was irrationally exuberant before the 2012 season, calling for a “much better than .500 finish” and a “very solid rotation” and capping off his forecasting tour de force by noting that “Jonathan Sanchez is even better than I dreamed he would be.” The skipper was feeling exuberant again last March, saying, "I think we're going to be much improved over what we were in the past” and adding “We've got pitching, not only in the starting department, but in the bullpen to finish games out. We've got a tremendously athletic defense.”

Result: Exuberant, yes, but this time not irrationally so. The Royals were much improved over what they’d been in the past. However, Yost also said, “I think with this group we're definitely going to win a world championship somewhere down the road, the next couple of years.” We’ll check back in on that one after 2014.

Los Angeles Angels
Predictor:
Jerry Dipoto
Prediction: Tommy Hanson would continue to produce.

“He's done it for four years at the big league level, and we think he'll continue to do it," Dipoto said in December.

Result: He didn’t do it.

Other predictions: “With the guys we have, we’re going to be good,” a soon-to-be-injured Kevin Jepsen said about the soon-to-be-disastrous Angels bullpen in February. Mike Scioscia did a better job by correctly predicting a bounceback from C.J. Wilson in March: "I think we'll see much more of that first-half guy from C.J. than the guy who was a little erratic in the second half,” Scioscia said. "His command will be better; I think he'll definitely be able to put hitters away better.”

Los Angeles Dodgers
Predictor:
Matt Kemp
Prediction: Kemp would be healthy by Opening Day.

Kemp predicted that he’d have baseball’s first 50-50 season in 2012. In January of 2013, he settled for a more modest goal, simply predicting that he’d play:

Outfielder Matt Kemp said his shoulder is getting "better and better every day" and he has no concerns about being ready for opening day.

"That's definitely going to happen," Kemp said Saturday. "I'll be good."

Result: Unlike Danks, he was ready for the opener, though “good” was a stretch. In March, Kemp said:

It's all about rhythm and I have, what, 24 days to find it before Opening Day. And even if I go into the first game and don't have it, I still won't be worried because I'll have 161 more games to find it. It's a long season. Trust me—I'll find it before the season is over with.

Debatable.

Other predictions: In December of 2012, Luis Cruz said “I think next year is going to be our year.” Cruz was right about the Dodgers, but his year was already over.

Miami Marlins
Predictor:
Tino Martinez
Prediction: That Martinez would last at least two years as Miami’s hitting coach.

In November of 2012, the Marlins gave Tino Martinez a three-year hitting coach contract. The following January, Martinez was asked whether he might manage in the future. He answered:

We'll see. I'll do this job this year. Eventually, I think I would, but I want to make sure it's right. I'll take this year and see how it goes—two years, for sure—and then try to go from there.

Result: Martinez made it to July before resigning, after the players whom Mike Redmond had predicted would “respond to him” responded to him by alleging that they’d been abused.


Milwaukee Brewers
Predictor:
Ron Roenicke
Prediction: Alex Gonzalez would be the Brewers’ everyday first baseman.

With Corey Hart injured, Milwaukee’s manager turned to an unlikely substitute: light-hitting, 36-yaer-old career shortstop Alex Gonzalez.

"He's our first baseman," Roenicke said just four days before the Brewers’ first game. "I'm planning on him being our everyday first baseman.

Result: Gonzalez started the Brewers’ first four games at first, went 1-for-13, and lost the regular gig in favor of the next-worst option, Yuniesky Betancourt. The Brewers released him in June. Despite the mid-season arrival of Juan Francisco, Brewers first basemen hit an MLB-worst .206/.259/.370.


Minnesota Twins
Predictor:
Team president Dave St. Peter
Prediction: The Twins would be better than they were in 2012.

“I think we’re going to be better,” St. Peter said when asked about his expectations for the 2013 Twins last March. “I expect that we’ll be much more competitive.”

Result: Nah. Same win total, five fewer Pythag wins, five games further out in the AL Central.

New York Mets
Predictor:
COO Jeff Wilpon
Prediction: The Mets’ payroll would rise.

“The payroll is going to go up this year,” Wilpon said before the 2013 season.

Result: It didn’t. The Mets breaking payroll promises is something of an annual tradition.

Other predictions: “I expect we’ll be better,” GM Sandy Alderson said in early February about a team that went on to repeat with 74 wins (and a lower run differential). And while Terry Collins admitted on March 1 that Johan Santana “may not pitch Opening Day,” he did assure Mets fans that “he’ll be ready for the fourth or fifth game.” (Santana wasn’t as confident.)

New York Yankees
Predictor:
Derek Jeter, Brian Cashman
Prediction: Jeter would be back by Opening Day.

The first and most famous of the back-by-Opening-Day declarants, Jeter set the standard by which all subsequent vows would be measured.

“No question,” Jeter answered on December 3, when Michael Kay asked him whether he’d be ready to play by Opening Day. “We still got a long way to go before the season starts, but I’ll be ready,” he concluded, maybe mouthing a “YEAH JEETS.” “He’ll be ready on Opening Day,” GM Brian Cashman confirmed over a month later.

Result: Jeter made it back, briefly, on July 11. Mariano Rivera, on the other hand, dropped an “I’ll be ready” nine days after Jeter’s, and he was.

Other predictions: “I expect us to win the division,” Andy Pettitte said of the future third-place finishers in late March.

Oakland Athletics
Predictor:
Bob Melvin
Prediction: Hiroyuki Nakajima would be Oakland’s everyday shortstop.

This one comes thirdhand: a prediction made by manager Bob Melvin, relayed through Nakajima and Nakajima’s translator. It’s possible that the wording was changed along the way, but here’s how it appeared in the San Jose Mercury News on February 11:

"Bob Melvin came up to me last week and told me not to worry about that," Nakajima said. "He said 'You will be the primary shortstop' and Jed Lowrie will be the utility guy."

Result: Nakajima didn’t get into a game for the A’s. Lowrie was the primary shortstop.

Other predictions: It’s not about the A’s, but it’s by Billy Beane, from February 19, about Mike Trout:

"Honestly," said A's general manager Billy Beane, "I'm worried he's going to be better. Seriously. And he's going to be up there an extra month. Yeah, I'm concerned he's going to be better, if that's possible."



Philadelphia Phillies
Predictor:
Mike Adams
Prediction: Adams’ 2015 option would vest.

From a story about Adams’ signing in December of 2012:

He told his agent, Josh Yates, he felt great, and he would be comfortable signing a two-year deal with a vesting option because he did not consider it a risk.

"I'm counting that as guaranteed money," Adams said. "I plan on fulfilling my contract for three years."

Result: Adams had surgery to repair two labrum tears and a torn rotator cuff in August. The option won’t vest unless he somehow appears in 92 games next season.

Other predictions: In late January, Ruben Amaro said, “We think we’ve improved [our club].” Honorable mention/frowny face goes to all the spring stories about healthy Roy Halladay.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Predictor:
Clint Hurdle
Prediction: The Pirates would win 95 games.

Here’s Hurdle, sounding sort of crazy (and in retrospect, really smart) way back on February 28:

When asked about how many wins he’s looking for out of the Pirates this season, Hurdle didn’t back down.

“When people ask me a number, 95 is the number I throw out there, and people go, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of-’ and I go, ‘Yeah, you’re right it’s a lot of games!’

Result: Ninety-four wins. Hurdle deserved to win the NL Manager of the Year Award for that prediction alone. A week earlier, owner Bob Nutting had said, "We're going to be playing exciting games throughout the summer as we did last year. We're going to play meaningful games in September. We're going to compete for a championship and put ourselves in position for a sixth World Series in Pittsburgh." Not bad, but “95 wins” wins.

San Diego Padres
Predictor:
Padres hitting coach Phil Plantier
Prediction: Chase Headley would repeat his offensive success

While projections of regression seem entirely fair, Plantier isn't buying it.

"It's fun to watch a guy figure it all out and piece it together," Plantier said. "I don't see any reason why this isn't going to be normal production for the rest of his career.

Result: Three reasons: a fractured thumb, a torn meniscus, and a stiff lower back.

Other predictions: Still smarting from Heath Bell’s pennant prediction in 2010, San Diego stuck to small failed predictions last season. For instance, Cameron Maybin, February 13:

When it was suggested Wednesday that he could possibly be better at the plate this season, he interjects with a smile: “I’m going to say I will be.”

And Bud Black on Edinson Volquez, March 25:

He had a solid year last year and we think he can build off that.


San Francisco Giants
Predictor:
Angel Pagan
Prediction: The Giants would win the World Series.

Pagan wasted little time pronouncing the Giants 2013 champions:

"I think we're going to repeat," he said upon arriving at spring training Friday.

Result: Win the World Series, bring back the same roster, and win it again—why wouldn’t that work? Pagan and Brian Sabean are still wondering.

Seattle Mariners
Predictor:
Felix Hernandez
Prediction: The Mariners would be good (and surprise people).

Coming off his extension high, Felix was feeling pretty positive:

"We're going to be good," Hernandez said. "We're going to surprise people."

"The talent is there, man," he said. "We've got a lot of talent, like I've said before. We've got (Kyle) Seager coming back after an unbelievable year, too. What can I say? We're good."

Result: How’s “We’ve got (Kyle) Seager coming back” for a Mariners motto? Felix wasn’t the only Mariner with delusions of grandeur after the team’s 22-win exhibition season. Here’s Brandon Maurer one day later:

"We've got a great team," said Seattle starter Brandon Maurer, who allowed two runs and four hits in four innings. "You saw how we can hit the ball today. Our fielding is amazing. We've got great pitchers. I think we will have a good season."

And Franklin Gutierrez, beating both of them to being wrong: “I think we’re ready to win right now.”

The Mariners won four fewer games than they had in 2012. Their fielding was anti-amazing.

St. Louis Cardinals
Predictor:
Mike Matheny, John Mozeliak
Prediction: Rafael Furcal would be healthy.

The Cardinals were good enough that they didn't have to say so, so this are the closest anyone affiliated with the Cardinals came to making predictions:

“[Furcal’s] ligament looked completely healed,” Mozeliak told “Inside Pitch” on Sirius XM radio on November 20, 2012. “Right now there’s no reason to think he won’t be ready to go and expect a full year out of him.”

"We watched him really take his time last year,” said Mike Matheny on February 20. “He showed up the first day of the season ready to go. That's what I'm expecting again."

Result: Furcal, who sounded quite confident himself, had Tommy John surgery to replace his healed-looking-ligament on March 15. He should have learned from Jaime Garcia, who evaded all questions about his health with a “We’ll see.”

Tampa Bay Rays
Predictor: Joe Maddon
Prediction: The Rays would be really good.

Like the Cardinals, the Rays didn’t do much talking. I found just one concrete prediction, from Joe Maddon on January 17: “Trust me, we’re going to be really good.”

Result: Maddon was worthy of our trust.

Texas Rangers
Predictor:
Jon Daniels
Prediction: The Rangers’ payroll would rise.

On February 22, Daniels said “Our payroll will be up from where it was last year.”

Result: According to Cot’s, it wasn’t.

Other predictions: When the March scuttlebutt said Nolan Ryan was on his way out of the Rangers front office, Daniels predicted, “I think he’ll be here in his same role at the end of spring training and the end of the season.” And he was, albeit barely: Ryan resigned on October 18.

Toronto Blue Jays
Predictor:
R.A. Dickey
Prediction: The Blue Jays would be great.

The Jays were optimistic last spring, but they were careful to steer clear of guaranteeing victory, taking their cue from Alex Anthopoulos, who said “No one is good enough to predict who is going to do well, and that’s why I cringe a little bit when people try to predict what we’re going to end up doing.” (Mark Buehrle said, “This team I think is better [than the 2005 White Sox,” but added an all-important “on paper.”)

R.A. Dickey came the closest to a definitive statement, saying “I think we’re going to have a great team,” on February 22. And on February 12, Jose Bautista tempted fate by saying, “And this is by far the best team that I’ve played on. I just don’t see where it can go bad for us.”

Result: It went bad for them.

Washington Nationals
Predictor:
Principal owner Mark Lerner
Prediction: That the Nationals would reach the World Series.

With GM Mike Rizzo looking on and probably cringing, Lerner pleased the crowd at a January “State of the Nationals” forum by declaring, “We’re going to the World Series this year.”

Result: No joy. The Nats were doomed from the start, with Pagan-propelled San Francisco and Kelly-led Detroit already destined to meet and beat each other in the Fall Classic.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

Related Content:  Predictions,  2013

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