After months of ill-advised attempts to predict the future, the 2017 season is already here. We can soon get on with the business of actual baseball, and all those reluctant predictions by prognosticators – such as the Effectively Wild season preview guests, or our own writers – will be quickly forgotten.
Except they won’t, because for the third year running, I’m back to make sure that every single one is chronicled in this post, so that we can return at the end of the year to marvel at just how wrong we were about almost everything, and continue to baffle the likes of Andy McCullough and Meg Rowley as to why this particular corner of the internet exists at all (please feel free to leave your own speculation in the comments). I’ll be following exactly the same methodology from last season, so if you want further clarification on anything in this post, refer back to the 2016 version. All projection system totals were taken from the relevant sources on the morning of March 29th, all EW predictions were given on the podcast, and all BttP predictions are from our terrific team of preview writers.
Level of Optimism
One thing I’ve learned from this exercise is that a collection of human predictions is essentially guaranteed to over-predict the possible number of wins. While there will be estimates on an individual team basis that are more pessimistic than the projections, over all 30 teams the total sum of wins will average out to be much higher than technically possible. It seems we simply can’t help but be optimistic. Although BttP writers have tempered their optimism slightly this year, their predictions still came out at 2482 total wins, 52 over the total there will actually be at the end of the season (assuming all the games get played).
EW guests have also become less optimistic, although they’re still slightly more so than BttP writers, coming in at 2485 wins. Preseason is the time for optimism, after all, and it’s probably hard to cover a team without taking that opportunity to look for the positives. The projections, of course, have no such issue, although they do always come out at a few wins above 2430.
For two-thirds of teams, the highest prediction came from a human prediction, and most of the rest were from PECOTA, particularly in terms of the worst teams.
Of course, this is all an attempt to make any future predictors feel very conscious of the community’s collective tendency to be too optimistic. I’ll know if anyone read this by how the predictions come out next year.
It’s too close to call between the Nationals and Mets for the division title. The projections do collectively favour the Nats, but the EW guests went the other way, while BttP’s Mick Reinhard and Alex Roche put it at a dead heat. The Marlins end up stuck in no man’s land as a near-.500 team, and there’s not much disagreement on the Phillies and Braves being mid-to-low 70-win teams.
The Cubs winning the division would perhaps be about as surprising as Mike Trout being good at baseball in 2017, but the Cardinals liven the Central up a bit more on the prediction front, ranging from PECOTA’s paltry 77 wins to the incurable 91-win optimism of BttP and Viva El Birdos writer Alex Crisafulli (no points for guessing that Alex is a Cards fan). The Pirates are a consensus .500 team, while PECOTA balances out the low Cards total by being the highest on both the Brewers and Reds.
PECOTA’s 99-win optimism that left everyone incredulous (including the listeners, but we’ll get to that) has been tempered, but there’s no disagreement that once again, the Dodgers will win the division. Similarly, the Giants will be right in the thick of the wild card hunt. Nick Piecoro provided the sole total over .500 for the rest of the division, with the Padres considered pretty likely to be the worst team in the league by all concerned.
As ever, the AL East is tight, although the Red Sox are considered division favourites by all but the Davenport system, which incredibly predicts that just 5 wins will separate first from last. David Roth, perhaps jaded from years of covering terrible teams for the BP Annual, was comfortably the outlier on the Rays, while PECOTA once again doesn’t believe in the Orioles.
Some significant optimism towards the top of the Central from EW guests here, as they have the highest total for Cleveland, Detroit and Kansas City. Notorious Royals fanatic Rany Jazayerli led the way with his 86-win outlier. The White Sox are contending with the Padres for worst team in baseball by the estimation of most systems, except PECOTA, which naturally thinks they’ll be better than the Royals.
Another pretty competitive division on the whole, but the Astros are still favoured by all. Susan Slusser’s sunny outlook on the A’s meant that EW guests predicted the entire division to go .500 or better, while the Mariners and Rangers look set to be locked in battle for a wild card spot – assuming they don’t both get one.
Listeners vs PECOTA
209 Effectively Wild listeners responded to the annual PECOTA over/under poll this year, the results of which are below. Listeners were given the win totals as projected in the initial version of PECOTA on February 9th and asked whether they’d take the over, under, or agreed with each one.
Jeff Sullivan will be unsurprised to hear that the most vehement objection was to the original Dodgers total of 99, which left Jeff flabbergasted on the podcast. Almost 93 per cent of listeners thought the Dodgers would win fewer games, putting their Adjusted PECOTA total (one win per ten per cent net over or under) down to just 90, only one win ahead of the Giants’ APEC total. Other strong unders were the Rays, again, and the Twins.
On the other side, the listeners weren’t having any of the pessimism on the Cards or Royals, with the Cubs also moving up 9 wins to reach triple digits once again. Over a quarter of respondents thought PECOTA was spot on for the Mariners, Indians, Giants and Rangers. The Angels proved most confounding, with around 40% on each side, and the rest agreeing.
Listeners were also asked to pick the team most likely to over- and underperform their PECOTA totals, to which the Cardinals and Dodgers respectively were the most popular choices. Jerry Dipoto’s trade extravaganza helped the Mariners to 35% of the vote for the first AL wild card, with the Jays, Rangers and Yankees the most popular picks to join them. A Mets-Giants repeat in the NL wild card game was considered the most likely outcome by far.
As for division winners, only the AL West and NL East came out as real competitions, with the other four favourites – Boston, Cleveland, Chicago and Los Angeles – getting over 90% of votes. The Astros and Nationals were still comfortably the top picks, but the Mets were chosen by a fifth of listeners, with a similar total taking the collective field in the West (yes, including one vote for the A’s).
Finally, I asked for a predicted World Baseball Classic winner. The Dominican Republic claimed nearly half the votes, while finalists Puerto Rico were barely named. The eventual winners, the USA, did take second place with just over a quarter of the votes.
Composite & Overall Standings
All of the predicted and projected totals are in the final table below, as are the composite standings: the average of the three projection systems and the two writer prediction sets.
I’ll return at the end of the season to review all these totals and crown a champion, or if it’s like 2016, anticlimactically identify three or four sets that were too hard to separate. What I mean to say is: BttP won last year, and will definitely do so again.Next post: The Greatest Opening Day Performance
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