My name is Nate, and I am a forecaster. I forecast how baseball players are going to perform. And I pretty much get the worst of it. Tell somebody that their childhood hero is going to hit .220 next year, or that the dude they just traded away from their fantasy team is due for a breakout, and you’re liable to get called all kinds of names. A bad prediction will inevitably be thrown in your face, (see also: Pena, Wily Mo) while a good one will be taken as self-evident, or worse still, lucky. The truth is, though, that those of us who make it our business to forecast the performance of baseball players have it pretty easy. For one thing, we’ve got an awesome set of data to work with; baseball statistics are almost as old as the game itself, and the records, for the most part, are remarkably accurate and complete. For another, it’s easy to test our predictions against real, tangible results. If we tell you that Adam Dunn is going to have a huge season, and instead he’s been demoted to Chattanooga after starting the year 2-for-53, the prediction is right there for everyone to see in all its manifest idiocy. Not so in many other fields, where the outcomes themselves are more subject to interpretation.
Talk of a World Cup of baseball, potentially starting as early as 2005, has inspired early speculation about what the lineups might look like. The team from the Dominican Republic promises to be a monster. Vlad, Manny, Pujols, Sosa, Pedro–yeah, that’s going to be tough. Tough enough to threaten the U.S.A.? I caught the Errol Morris documentary “Fog of War” recently, which offers 11 lessons from the life of Robert S. McNamara, seven-year Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson. McNamara, one of the celebrated “Whiz Kids” who brought the science of modern management to a struggling postwar Ford Motor Company, was an early adopter of quantitative analysis. McNamara’s Lesson Six: “Get the data.” A World Cup of baseball is hardly the Cold War, but the McNamara in me relishes any opportunity to take the 2004 PECOTA Weighted Mean Projections out for a spin. Data? We’ve got data.
Welcome to the Bronx, Gary–or should we say, welcome to Gary’s World, Yankees? Gary Sheffield has torn–not ruptured–ligaments in his thumb. It’s a very similar injury to that suffered by Derek Jeter last season and extremely similar to that of NBA star Ron Artest recently. Jeter skipped surgery, while Artest had surgery and missed only five games. While the thumb is certainly a concern, I side with Sheffield on this one. The injury seems to have been blown out of proportion. It could have been much worse for Jim Thome. His fracture nearly required the insertion of pins. That would have put him out well into April. Instead he should be back near Opening Day. Thome’s power stroke might be a bit rusty, but he’s already working on non-contact drills while in a soft cast. The rust might cost him a few hits and homers, but he remains an elite hitter. Remember that fluke fractures tend to not be long-term problems.
I’ve been looking for a gap in the Yankees armor this year, hoping to see where they might stumble and miss the playoffs. And, uh, it’s not looking really good for me.
It’s pretty easy for most teams. Despite the efforts of new GM Bill Bavasi, the Mariners can be taken apart pretty quickly: Edgar Martinez out for the season? Quinton McCracken subs at DH, and the offense dies. Bret Boone blows out his knee why playing weekend roller-hockey? Hello, Willie Bloomquist! An injury to Randy Winn or Ichiro Suzuki? Mmm, McCracken…we just can’t get enough.
The Yankees have problems, but there’s not much that causes a collapse. Last year we could look at the middle infield and see the lack of depth as a spike-filled pit, and when Derek Jeter got a knee dropped on his shoulder, in they fell. This year, a Jeter injury means the best shortstop ever goes back to his natural position. Sure, someone has to play third, but it’s not that hard to scrape together a stop-gap solution. Heck, they were about to do it before they decided to blow the doors off and bring in Alex. Aaron Boone the Honest could be back in time to bring adequacy to the position.
Does the addition of Richie Sexson balance the loss of Curt Schilling for the Diamondbacks? Phillies’ prospect Cole Hamels continues to mow hitters down like it ain’t no thing. And the Royals offense should be better in 2004, when all is said and done. All this and much more news from Arizona, Phildelphia, and Kansas City in your Thursday edition of Prospectus Triple Play.