2014 Post Mortem

October 31, 2014



          The hardest part about making predictions – unless you’re an economist or a politician – is that ultimately you have to face the music. Most of the time predicting the future is a venture that doesn’t work out as well as envisioned; just ask any weatherman. But since this was just for fun and I don’t have any reputation on the line or money in the game this will be a good exercise to better understand the nature of predicting things and where perhaps I can do better next spring.


OK, so here is a list of my pre-season predictions with a grade (of sorts) on how accurate they were. The scale will be like a batter at the plate, and instead of three outs I have ten to score as many runs as possible, kinda like a home run derby.



1) Neither of the two teams that faced off in the World Series in 2013 will make the playoffs.


Predicting that two teams will fall off who previously enjoyed unusually good luck or made dramatic changes to its team composition does not take a genius or gazing at flames to be proved correct. So the fact that the Boston Red Sox fell on hard times was not really a surprise given they changed the left half of their infield and pretty much their entire outfield.


What was a surprise was how well the Cardinals fared given the extraordinary good fortune they enjoyed in 2013 with runners in scoring position. But then again, they fell off from a 97-win team in 2013 to a 90-win team in 2014 that had a Pythagorean projection of 83-79. So there was a substantial drop-off, with even greater room to fall that was camouflaged by more good fortune. Perhaps good fortune is a skill. Who knows. Regardless, the drop wasn’t enough to knock them out of the playoffs and the huge amount they overachieved was enough to get them a post-season pass.


Verdict: Half right so we’ll call this one a double.



2) Chris Heisey and George Springer will be equally valuable in 2014.


Obviously if one is looking at the raw numbers, Springer wins big on the strength of his home run, run and RBI totals. So from a fantasy perspective I got this one wrong (although Heisey did steal more bases in fewer plate appearances so I guess it depends on what your team needed). But taken as a whole, the players’ value to their team’s success was not dramatically different depending on who you ask. For example, according to Fangraphs, George Springer was worth 1.4 wins above replacement. So was Chris Heisey. Exactly. Baseball Reference valued Springer as a 2.1 WAR player while Heisey was merely 1.0. I take their numbers more seriously than Fangraphs’ so if I’m honest, I got this one wrong. But not by much.


Verdict: sorta half-right depending on whose stats you believe. So is this a single on a hard hit grounder or is it reaching on an error? Either way it’s reaching base.



3) Stephen Strasburg will be the most valuable pitcher in baseball.


This one was probably the most frustrating predictions to watch play out because for the first four months of the season it looked to me like Strasburg had completely forgotten how to throw any pitch but his fastball. It was incredibly annoying to watch. During the first game of the season I noted over social media that he had thrown first pitch fastballs to 15 of the first 17 Mets he faced. And of course, he got rocked. Fortunately, the Nats recovered from that nonsense and won the game anyway. But that was his season in microcosm through June, pouring fastball after fastball over the plate and watching batters tee off on it. For whatever reason, at the beginning of July he started mixing in his other pitches and using his fastball more judiciously. In 12 of his next 17 starts he gave up 2 runs or less and pitched into the 8th inning 10 times. That was the Strasburg I had predicted. It just came four months too late. Well, that and Clayton Kershaw had another season for the ages.


Verdict: Oh so very wrong, but next year… maybe. Strikeout on a foul tip.



4) Mike Moustakas in the AL and Pedro Alvarez in the NL will be the most valuable third basemen.


What can I say… sometimes you just whiff so completely that you screw yourself into the ground. At least the ball didn’t bonk me on the head. Injuries to Alvarez killed his season, which honestly wasn’t too different from his 2013 campaign, just with fewer opportunities. Moustakas, on the hand, was a disaster. However, after his demotion and recall there was some improvement to both his walk and strikeout rates so there is a chance, albeit slight, that this prediction comes true one day. And if his post-season performance was any indicator, I may have simply spoken one season too early on both of these players.


Verdict: more wrong than the last one, for sure. Huge whiff.



5) Billy Hamilton will steal 100 bases but will not top 500 at bats.


Well, so he’s not yet the second coming of Vince Coleman, but he’s not too far from it.  He finished with 56 steals in 563 at bats. That didn’t lead the majors or the NL but if you had him on your fantasy team you were pretty well set for steals. Better still if you traded him before July, when his offensive output completely collapsed. However, going into next year there are some signs of hope in the shape of an improved eye at the plate over the last two months – improved walk and strikeout rate. Again, this one might have been one season too early.


Verdict: wrong. This one was a hard grounder to the shortstop. Out 6-3.



6) Jered Weaver will be the 4th most valuable pitcher on the Angels staff.


This is another Fangraphs victory, meaning it might not be a victory at all. According to their measurements, Weaver was the 4th most valuable pitcher on the Angels’ staff, behind Garret Richards, Matt Shoemaker and Tyler Skaggs.  According to Baseball Reference, he was 2nd most valuable behind Richards but only slightly ahead of Joe Smith and Shoemaker. However, his fall-off was palpable and has been on a 4-year steep decline. Next year, this won’t be a bold prediction at all.


Verdict: Not quite there but next year it will be completely right. Long fly out that was caught at the wall.



7) Eight players will finish the season with 40 or more homers:


Did I say “eight”? I meant “one”. Actually, had Giancarlo Stanton not been hit in the face with a Mike Fiers fastball, the total in all likelihood would have been two. However, I’m not optimistic this prediction will come true any time in the near future. Joe Abreu, who looked over the first three months like he was going to hit 50 or more, only hit 11 over the final three months. True, he did miss some time and his plate discipline improved over the final three months but it came at a huge cost in slugging percentage. Goldschmidt was another one I predicted would top 40, but he was lost for the final two months due to a broken hand. Prince Fielder just never got going in Texas before he was sidelined with injury and guys with his body type don’t tend to maintain their production into their 30s. Chris Davis looked lost at the plate for much of the year and then got busted for amphetamines so who knows what his production will look like next year. Bautista and Encarnacion looked solid but 34-35 is not 40. I think we’ve seen the last of the great seasons from Miguel Cabrera so that leaves only Nelson Cruz (assuming he finds a home in another hitter’s park next year), Stanton and Goldschmidt as the only ones who look like they have a decent shot at 40 next year. Of course, there are a few others who are young enough to grow into that kind of power: Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rizzo, and maybe Joey Gallo if he makes the Rangers out of spring training or has a hot start and gets called up by May. I still have hope that Jay Bruce might make himself into a big-time power hitter. But even with all the talent listed above, there’s just too much “if” to feel any confidence in making a prediction for a new wave of 40-homer power hitters.


Verdict: wrong, and for the foreseeable future, too. Another whiff.



8) Mark Trumbo will not top 30 homers.


Woohoo! I finally got one absolutely right and it’s not just because he got injured. Well, maybe a little. Still, 14 homers is not close to 30. Even with the missed time it was a strange year for him. True, in April and September he looked like the same old swing-for-the-fences Mark Trumbo we saw in Anaheim. But in August, some guy wearing his uniform showed tremendous plate discipline walking 17 times while striking out only 23. During that month, Trumbo hit .302 and got on base at a .392 clip. Of course he only hit one home run and he couldn’t have that for very long. Still, he makes for a very interesting study next spring.


Verdict: Right (booyah!). I think we have to put this one over the wall.



9) The Washington Nationals will score 800+ runs and lead the NL.


For much of the last two years, the Washington Nationals have looked much better on paper than they have played. For whatever reason, the sum of their parts was less than their total. Injuries were often cited as the primary culprit, and there’s some truth to that. But ultimately they became the team most people thought they’d become and won 36 of their final 51 games of the regular season. True, they got nowhere close to the 800 runs I predicted (although 686 in a down year for scoring isn’t too shabby) and they only finished 3rd overall in the NL in runs and 5th in OPS+.  But in August they scored 135 runs (which prorated over a full season would give then 810) and ten of the games they played that month were against playoff teams (Baltimore, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and the LA Dodgers) and another one (Seattle) that almost made it. So the prediction wasn’t completely far-fetched. That said, I won’t make it again next year. Run scoring has just been decimated by too many talented starting pitchers and deep bullpens. 


Verdict: wrong. Fly out to center.



10) Derek Jeter will win the AL MVP


Haha, no.



OK, seriously… 10) The Rockies will win the NL West


The Rockies led the NL in run scoring by a wide margin and it wasn’t just because they play their home games on the moon. Their OPS+ was good for 3rd in the NL, so they can score runs anywhere. But their pitching, particularly their bullpen was just atrocious. It was the worst in the major leagues with an ERA of 4.78. Consider that the major’s best bullpen ERA was 2.59 (Seattle). Their starters were only slightly better, ranking 29th out of 30. Even park adjusted, the Rockies pitching was ranked 28th out of 30. They allowed more baserunners and home runs than any other team, and allowed the second most walks and recorded the second fewest strikeouts. Those last two are the killers, especially in that ballpark. Because it is so spacious and the ball carries so well, it is imperative that their pitchers miss bats and not give free passes. If any team needs to overspend on a free agent like Max Scherzer, it is the Rockies. They have proven that just about anyone can hit there (see: Stubbs, Drew); they need to acquire or develop the guys who can pitch there. Eddie Butler and Jon Gray might eventually develop into the type of starters that can pitch effectively in Colorado, but I certainly didn’t see any signs of that happening this year. Rockies’ fans will have to patient a little longer it seems.



Verdict: wrong, wrong, wrong. I should have adhered to the old fantasy baseball mantra of never depending on Rockies pitching. Lesson learned. Strikeout swinging to end the game.



OK, so totaling up my score, I get… well, not much. Three runs. However, each of these was an epic swing for the fences. I wasn’t just trying to hit it out of the ballpark; I was going for the next state. Yet still some of these came dangerously close to being completely right. Hopefully my offseason preparation will serve me better next year and my predictions will be a little less “bold”. After all, being bold doesn’t necessarily show up on the scoreboard at the end of the game; being right, however, often does.