Over the past month or so, Baseball Prospectus staffers from around the country have had the unique opportunity to host Pizza Feeds in seven different states, celebrating the coming of a new season. At these Feeds, we’ve met some of the most loud, opinionated, knowledgeable, and entertaining baseball fanatics in all the land–(lots of) men and (a few) women who share the same passion and exuberance for the greatest game in the world that we do. I think I speak for the entire BP crew when I say that it’s been a legitimate pleasure to convene on a few random, lonely Wednesdays and talk baseball with a group of people who are as obsessive as I am, and we thank those who attended for their support and participation. BP is nothing without its readers, and we remember that.
With that being said, for Pizza Feeds held in Chicago, Portland, Seattle, and Menlo Park, Baseball Prospectus distributed a number of surveys, asking the attendees–among other things–for their predictions regarding the upcoming season. In these surveys we asked people to predict the results of each divisional race, the subsequent postseason races, and the major awards voting announced in November. The following is a rundown of the attendees’ picks, along with some glib commentary from yours truly.
(Note: For each division, the average rank of each team is listed first, along with the standard deviation for each team, which is a measure of how much variance there was in the voting. The lower the deviation, the more agreement there is about that team’s place in the standings.)
National League East
Standard Team Average Deviation ------------------------------------------ Philadelphia Phillies 1.42 0.61 Atlanta Braves 2.50 1.01 New York Mets 3.09 1.66 Montreal Expos 3.61 0.91 Florida Marlins 4.21 0.35
As you can see, BP authors and attendees are hardly in disagreement over the NL East. With the off-season acquisitions of Kevin Millwood and Jim Thome, the Phillies look poised to take the division, with the Braves following in second, and the Mets finishing in third. Mind you, that third place ranking can be misleading. For those who provided win totals for each of the divisions–something that wasn’t required on the survey–the Mets were consistently picked to finish with a record much closer to fifth place in the division than first.
National League Central
Standard Team Average Deviation ------------------------------------------ Houston Astros 1.46 0.96 St. Louis Cardinals 2.05 1.03 Chicago Cubs 2.71 1.07 Cincinnati Reds 4.00 0.85 Pittsburgh Pirates 4.93 0.89 Milwaukee Brewers 5.88 0.26
“What’s weird,” said one attendee on his survey, “is that almost any of the top four teams have the ability to take the division… The Reds have health issues, but also have huge breakout potential, especially if the GAB is as good a place to hit as they’re reporting. The Cubs are young and full of potential. The Cards are defending champs, and if they get 500 at bats from J.D. Drew, they can score something like 850 runs. And the ‘Stros have maybe the best staff in the league to go along with one of the top offenses as well.”
On an unrelated note, exactly one person at all of the Feeds picked the Milwaukee Brewers to finish anything other than last in their division. Now, I’d normally take this opportunity to broadcast this person’s identity across the Internet, but I’m having trouble making out the name on the survey. “Allan H.”…something. Oh well.
National League West
Standard Team Average Deviation ------------------------------------------ San Francisco Giants 1.82 1.12 Arizona Diamondbacks 2.32 1.20 Los Angeles Dodgers 2.89 1.57 San Diego Padres 4.11 1.18 Colorado Rockies 4.60 0.91
Welcome to the great wide open. While both authors and attendees are in agreement over the top three teams in the division, those surveyed appear less optimistic about the Rockies, while more optimistic about the Padres. (Funny how things change, wouldn’t you say?) This is, of course, despite the loss of outfielder Phil Nevin, who dislocated his shoulder a few weeks ago, thanks to one of Will Carroll’s preliminary experiments with the Dark Arts.
One interesting note about the NL West voting: Take at look at the Dodgers. Close to one-sixth of the Feed attendees marked the Boys in Blue for a divisional crown–something that is probably best explained by the funny smell coming out of the parking lot at one of the locations, coupled with a few of Bob Marley’s greatest hits. And no, I’m not talking about “I Shot the Sheriff.”
American League East
Standard Team Average Deviation ------------------------------------------ New York Yankees 1.16 0.31 Boston Red Sox 2.18 0.64 Toronto Blue Jays 2.87 0.66 Baltimore Orioles 4.42 0.47 Tampa Bay Devil Rays 4.76 0.30
(Yawn.) Next division, please.
OK, fine. Like last season, and the season before, and the season before that, everyone and their mother has picked the AL East to finish: Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, Devil Rays. Will it stay that way for long, though? Possibly. Neither the Orioles nor the Devil Rays are getting any smarter, so it’s unlikely that either organization will take a big step forward this decade. Those other three teams, however? Check back in a year. Given the Red Sox’s new emphasis on progressive, performance analysis-based approaches to the game–as well as the Blue Jays’ equally savvy and open-minded front office–it won’t be long before the AL East becomes both the most exciting and best-run division in all of baseball.
American League Central
Standard Team Average Deviation ------------------------------------------ Minnesota Twins 1.56 0.58 Chicago White Sox 1.66 0.66 Cleveland Indians 3.15 0.24 Kansas City Royals 4.19 0.36 Detroit Tigers 4.43 0.41
About as tight as you can get, up there towards the top. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that either team will be spectacular. For those who provided win totals on their survey, only one person pegged either the White Sox or Twins for more than 91 wins, while seven people marked both teams for less than 85. It’s going to be a toss-up, no doubt, and the winner of this division could very easily finish fourth in…
American League West
Standard Team Average Deviation ------------------------------------------ Oakland Athletics 1.21 0.69 Anaheim Angels 2.20 1.14 Seattle Mariners 3.34 0.72 Texas Rangers 3.45 1.21
…the American League West; also known as the toughest division on the planet.
Unlike last season, when only a handful of attendees marked the Angels for anything other than fourth place, this year’s survey proves that a lot can happen in 12 months. Despite having a number of players perform well above expectation in 2002, the Anaheim Angels are a decisive pick for second place in the minds of attendees–outpacing both the Mariners and the Rangers.
One interesting note about the AL West voting: More people (6) picked the A’s to finish last than did the Rangers to finish first (2). Take from that what you will.
One Last Thing (Long Way Down)
Along with divisional predictions, we asked attendees to weigh in on some other issues as well, including the major awards. Here’s the breakdown of their collective opinions:
- Barry Bonds
- Barry Bonds
- Barry Bonds
- Lance Berkman
- Sammy Sosa
- Alex Rodriguez
- Magglio Ordonez
- Torii Hunter
- Miguel Tejada
- Hideki Matsui
NL Cy Young
- Randy Johnson
- Roy Oswalt
- Curt Schilling
- Kevin Millwood
- Mark Prior
AL Cy Young
- Pedro Martinez
- Barry Zito
- Mark Buerhle
- Tim Hudson
- Derek Lowe
NL Rookie of the Year
- Hee Seop Choi
- Marlon Byrd
- Brandon Larson
AL Rookie of the Year
- Hideki Matsui
- Mark Teixeira
- Travis Hafner
A couple of notes: One, for the second year in a row, Feed attendees are smoking crack. You simply can’t expect the Rangers to finish third or fourth in their own division and Alex Rodriguez to even have a chance at sniffing the MVP. It’s just not going to happen. The difference between what American League voters think defines value and what truly is valuable are two completely separate things. Deal with it.
Secondly, if Kevin Millwood is better than Mark Prior this season, I will personally shave Gary Huckabay’s head. On that you can mark my words.