Over the last several weeks, it's been our collective pleasure to meet with a few hundred readers at Pizza Feeds around the country. I want to express my thanks to everyone who's taken the time and effort to come out and talk baseball, and to those special guests who gave generously of their time to make sure everyone enjoyed themselves (and particularly to Round Table Pizza and Castle Management for their assistance). I hope it's been as much fun for all of you as it has been for us. If you haven't had a chance to attend one of the Pizza Feeds yet, we hope you'll be able to attend one during the season.

I know that the San Francisco Feed had a very large number of no-shows, although most of them hung out together and talked baseball at another Round Table in San Francisco. Cool. Next time, we won't remove the links to the address page after the Feed fills up. We did that because we didn't want to overrun the establishments, but we'll deal with the crowds next time. Sorry, guys. (I say "guys" because at the NorCal Pizza Feeds, we had a gender split of 114 to 0. Those of you planning to attend a future event to pick up women may want to consider other options.)

For a couple of the NorCal Pizza Feeds and the Seattle Pizza Feed, we passed out surveys, asking the attendees for their predictions for the upcoming season. We asked people to predict the results of the divisional races this year, along with the World Series winner, major award winners, managerial firings, etc.

This week, let's take a look at the divisional races in the National League. For each division, the average rank of each team is listed, along with the standard deviation for each team, which is a measure of how much variability there was for each team. The lower the deviation, the more agreement there is about that team's place in the standings.

NL East

Team     Average    Std. Dev.

Atlanta Braves 1.32 0.61

New York Mets 2.50 1.01 

Florida Marlins 3.04 0.95

Philadelphia Phillies 3.23 0.93

Montreal Expos            4.91 0.35

West Coast readers clearly aren't as sanguine about the Mets' prospects for winning the division as Steve Phillips is. The analogy used to describe the offseason moves of the Mets and Braves, respectively, was that of one child meticulously building an increasingly impressive Lego tower (by acquiring Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar, Jeromy Burnitz, etc.), and then having another kid show up and stomp on it (by acquiring Gary Sheffield).

One thing that was consistent among attendees: most are rooting for the Marlins, and everyone thinks they have far and away the best pitching in the division, but few actually think they have enough to overcome Atlanta. The support for the Mets is pretty shallow; people seem to think that there's just no there there, particularly in the rotation. Apparently, no amount of frothy beer is enough to convince attendees that Jeff D'Amico will be healthy.

Some yelled-out ideas about what's going to decide the division:

NL Central

Team           Average    Std. Dev.

St. Louis Cardinals 1.73 0.96

Houston Astros 2.05 1.03

Chicago Cubs 2.61 0.87

Cincinnati Reds 4.00 0.85

Milwaukee Brewers 4.93 0.76

Pittsburgh Pirates 5.68 0.69

This division breaks down into two separate tiers. More than one attendee was appalled by the decision by Walt Jocketty and Tony LaRussa to put Andy Benes in the rotation in Bud Smith's spot. The three names most commonly mentioned as "breakout candidates" all come from this division: J.D. Drew, Lance Berkman, and Adam Dunn.

Considering that the people who attended the Pizza Feeds are among the most fervent baseball fans anywhere, it's something of an indictment that almost no one could name the starting rotation for the Cincinnati Reds. It was more of an indictment that they could name the lineup for the Pittsburgh Pirates–but not without breaking into peals of childish laughter.

There were few fans of Tony LaRussa or Don Baylor at the Pizza Feeds. "How come LaRussa has such a fetish for crappy utility guys with huge holes in their game? He couldn't get enough of Craig Paquette, or old versions of Scott Hemond and Mike Gallego. Now it's Placido Polanco instead of someone like Robin Jennings or Billy McMillon. What's up with that? Why?" Cub advocates worried about the absence of Oscar Acosta, but not as much as they worried about the presence of Don Baylor. "I actually like Jimy Williams in Houston," offered one attendee, "but I also liked Larry Dierker, who made the mistake of actually saying what was on his mind too much."

Some yelled-out ideas about what's going to decide the division:

  • "Health of the Astro pitching staff."
  • "LaRussa's obsession with gritty, versatile veterans."
  • "The left side of the Cub infield."
  • "Mark Prior and Don Baylor."
  • "Kerry Wood's control."
  • "Corey Patterson and Bill Mueller."
  • "Lloyd McClendon choosing when to use Mike Benjamin as a defensive replacement!"

    I'm not sure the last guy was treating the situation with the gravity it deserved.

NL West 

Team       Average    Std. Dev.

San Francisco Giants 1.95 1.12

Arizona Diamondbacks 2.41 1.20

San Diego Padres 2.82 1.38

Los Angeles Dodgers 3.89 1.12

Colorado Rockies 3.93 1.06 

Wide open. This is where there was the most variance of opinion on where teams will end up, and why they'll end up there. There were also lots of horrendous jokes about Jeff Kent, clean trucks, and the creation of a chamois fund for other Giants and second basemen around the league who clearly long to sport a mullet.

We had an even split among attendees in terms of what (if any) ill effects will strike Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling after they carried the Diamondbacks through the postseason, to the tune of nearly 600 innings between them for the season. There was surprising unanimity on Barry Bonds's likely 2002 performance. Pizza Feeders thought the performance level was largely legit, and that Bonds would duplicate his 2002 numbers, but with far more intentional walks, and about ten fewer home runs.

A lot of people wanted to predict the Padres to win the West, but couldn't get around the fact that their rotation currently contains only one guy that can dent bread, and two starters who have been let go by pitching-starved teams in the past. Many unkind things were said about the decision of the Rockies to sign Denny Neagle. "Why does Brian Sabean think that Reggie Sanders is going to be able to take the field for more than 100 games?" "Because Ellis Burks did." How many runs will the Dodgers score? "700!" "720!" "680!" "640!" Pizza Feeders are a cruel bunch, and many are Giants fans, at least in NorCal.

Some yelled-out ideas about what's going to decide the division:

Next week, we'll revisit the AL comments, and some of the thoughts on individual performances. We are planning more Pizza Feeds throughout the year, so if you want us to schedule a Feed in your area, e-mail us.

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