Postseason awards

It’s postseason awards time again. I was going to do another version of the All-Jerk Team this year, but the jerks haven’t really shifted much from last year. I then turned my attention to creating an All-Scrappy team, but with David Eckstein and Willie Bloomquist on the team, who else do you need? Those two could pretty much singlehandedly tear apart any team in the league, so there’s really no need to flesh that concept out further.

Instead, what I decided to do was to take a look at the pre-season predictions of various “experts” (their words, not mine), to see how they did in relation to what really happened. I do this not as a gotcha, not to point out that the experts suck, but merely to demonstrate the relative folly of preseason predictions – most of these things, even with the most sophisticated analysis tools and numbers available, are a complete guess. 162 games is a long season, and anything can happen – so don’t get all upset when your favorite site picks the Yankees to win the Series. It’s not a foregone conclusion; in fact, picking the Yankees to win the Series is like being a weather forecaster in the PNW. If you say “Partly cloudy, chance of rain” in the winter and “Partly sunny, chance of rain” in the summer, you’ll be right about 30% of the time, so why bother doing, you know, actual work?

Anyway, on to the predictions.

First up, the Worldwide Leader. They put up a page which collects all their various preseason articles and analysis here, and quite handily compiled all their staff predictions here. What do we find there? That of the 16 prognosticators surveyed, not a single one had the Tigers even making the postseason, much less the World Series, and of the ten guys that picked the Cardinals to be in the World Series, only two (Alan Schwarz and John Shea) picked the Cards to win the whole thing. The Cards were, though, a near-unanimous pick to win the Centra, with only Mark Simon picking differently (the Astros).

On a rather astounding, if not world-altering, note, there was one guy that is employed by ESPN that got it right. Using what no doubt was a toolbox full of the most sophisticated analysis methodology available, numbers that would make Billy Beane salivate like a starving man at a buffet, this guy nailed it. He got the AL team wrong, but he flat out nailed the Cardinals. Ladies and gentlemen, Dick Vitale’s preseason picks. Yeah, I’m weirded out by it too.

Now, moving on to the good folks at the Hardball Times. First and foremost, I have to say this: David Gassko is a stud. The only division champ he missed was in the AL East (he had Boston over NY) and with a few exceptions, his order of finish was pretty damned accurate all the way across (at least compared to most of the other people I’ve taken a look at here…). As for postseason picks, again, nobody got the Tigers into October, and of the five guys that picked the Cards, none had them winning the Series. Honorable mention here goes to Dave Studeman, who picked the Cubs to win the Series this year. He must be that guy in the tree in the Lasorda commercial.

And, last but not least, it’s Baseball Prospectus turn. Their NL predictions are here, and the AL’s are here, here, and here. As for accuracy, at least in the NL BP (and when I say “BP”, I mean Joe Sheehan, who did all these…) did pretty good, getting all the division winners but missing the Padres, who BP had finishing third behind the Dodgers and D’Backs in the West. The AL West was pretty straightforward, but BP was off on the number of wins for the A’s by eight. the ALW preview did contain an interesting tidbit about the Mariners, though:

The Ms are an interesting team, but in the AL West , interesting isn’t enough. They could end up over .500–there’s a fairly wide range of possible outcomes for guys like Betancourt, Johjima, Jeremy Reed and Jose Lopez that makes prediction difficult–but there’s only a small chance that they’ll contend for a playoff spot.

Firefox’s new spell checker wanted me to replace Betancourt with “courtesan”, but whatever. That would be a great title for the Mariners’ season review DVD – “. Interesting just isn’t enough.”

In the Central, BP did OK – they got the Twins and the Royals right, but pegged the Tigers at 78-84. This line about the Tigers jumped out at me:

Still, the core talent here falls shy of impressive, and the surrounding parts aren’t difference makers.

While nobody predicted the Tigers’ run to the Series, this line comes as close as anyone to nailing why they didn’t actually win the thing once they got there.

Over there in the AL East, BP got the Yankees right, but missed the Jays’ second-place finish. See the above analogy re: weather forecasting for why everybody always picks Boston to finish second or first, interchangeably with the Yankees. This division rarely surprises anybody, at least at the top, and I don’t think anybody can be punished for missing the Blue Jay rise up the table.

As for October, BP doesn’t really do postseason predictions in March – Sheehan said it himself:

Picking the results of the postseason is hard enough, and silly enough, in October. Trying to guess them in March and April is six months’ moreso.

He then goes on to pick the A’s and Braves, but without much conviction, and has the A’s winning in six.

So what does this little exercise prove? Nothing, really, except what I stated earlier – the “experts” aren’t a whole lot better at the predictions game than, say, a three year old. When you read preseason predictions, remember that – season previews are interesting reading, sure, and if you read the individual team previews you can get some valuable information, but using that information to forecast what happens six months down the road is kinda nuts.

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