Fine. I’ll bite. FanGraphs updated their team projections page. You’ve most likely heard by now. And if you’re reading this, consider yourself lucky. You resisted the urge to smash your fist through your monitor. (Keyboards. Less expensive. And never with your throwing hand.)
Sorry, but I just don’t understand the bile these projections generate. Because they’re projections.
The funny thing to me is how fans frame the projections to prop up their own bias. A 95 win projection? “Hell, yeah! We’re going to the World Series!” A 79 win projection? “What the hell? Computers don’t know a damn thingIn the unfortunate case of the !”
What I glean from these projections is, for starters, they’re incomplete. There are still a handful of the top free agents on the market. Wherever they land, the balance will certainly be affected. To grab at a projection in January while the market is still extremely fluid is only going to frustrate. Second, while they do get specific, I like to look at them in more general terms. For example, the spread of projected wins in the AL Central is just seven games. The highest win total is assigned to the Indians at 85 wins while the lowest win total is the Twins at 78. Ignoring the raw numbers for a moment, the projections suggest a tight race in the Central where no team – as currently constructed – stands head and shoulders above the rest. What tends to happen in this scenario is one club leaps to the front of the line through circumstances that weren’t accounted for at the time the projections were posted.
Think about the Royals last year. The projection systems have traditionally had a difficult time handling defense and relief pitching, two areas of acknowledged strength of the World Champs. Plus, at least the FanGraphs projections, had the Central a tight race. What happened last year was the Royals ran away with the division for a couple of reasons. One, their additions (including, but not limited to Kendrys Morales and Edinson Volquez) outperformed expectations. Two, their bullpen was even better than anyone imagined. And three, there wasn’t a strong team that could give them a challenge.
Could it happen again? Absolutely. Should you use part of your January to get angry? That’s up to you. Myself, I’m fine whatever road you decide to travel.
The projections are fodder for a January usually devoid of baseball news. It’s an opportunity for that bias I mentioned above to manifest itself in articles and blog posts. Hey! This team is supposed to face off against that team in the Wild Card Game! Oh! This club is going to pick first in the 2017 draft! Look! Mediocrity! In the unfortunate case of the Kansas City Star, they mistakenly published a post thinking both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus had released projections. BP has not made PECOTA for 2016 available. Oops.
I look at projections like I would look at a win or a loss from a random game in April. Yeah, it happened, but there’s still a long way to go.
Which leads to my final point: All team projections are generally laughable. Seriously, look at the entire list. Three teams are projected at this point to win more than 90 games. That’s a low number of teams to reach that plateau. By comparison, seven clubs won at least 90 with one winning 100. Two teams are projected to win fewer than 70 games. Again, that’s not close to how reality will shake out. Last year, six teams fell short of 70 victories. There’s simply no way the MLB regular season will finish with that many teams bunched together in such a fashion.
I don’t think people understand how bad *all* team projections are. The standard deviation is five wins. Ten win swings are in the norm.
— Eno Sarris (@enosarris) January 12, 2016
Then what’s the takeaway? How about the FanGraphs model says Cubs, Red Sox and Dodgers will be good. The Braves and Phillies will be bad. The other 25 teams have a chance to make some noise. The Royals are in that group. In January, that’s a good place to be.
If I had to guess, the projections are discounting the Royals starting pitching. There are still plenty of questions surrounding the rotation and those questions are fair. It’s Yordano Ventura and the realm of the unknown. Questions also exist in right and at second base. That’s why the two-time defending AL champs are in with the masses. Not because some computer hates Kansas City.
Bookmark this post so we can meet back here when Baseball Prospectus actually releases their 2016 PECOTA standings.