Welcome to the seventh edition of Banished to the Pen’s annual win prediction and projection extravaganza. The goal, as always, is to keep track of a range of estimated win totals in order to hold everyone (human or machine) accountable at the end of the year, whether they wanted to be or not.
Once again, I will state the fundamental projection caveat: using a single number to represent thousands of projection runs is a gross oversimplification of a very complex process, which projects a vast range of outcomes. Projection systems do not hate your team, or care about them at all. Somewhere out there, there is probably a simulated projection universe in which your team is first, and another where your hated, annoyingly good divisional rival is last (unless you’re a Dodgers or Rockies fan, as my Baseball Prospectus colleague Rob Mains recently outlined). The point is, the projections are much better at seeing all the possible outcomes than we are. Simple projected standings just have to be reductive to fit into a neat standings table, as do I for this exercise.
Before the breakdown, here’s the annual reminder of what this feature is about for the new reader. I compile the win total predictions and projections from a number of sources, compare the range of different outcomes they provide, and return at the end of the season to find out which was the best set of win totals, or perhaps more accurately, the least wrong.
This is done using the mean absolute error (MAE) and root mean squared error (RMSE). MAE is the average difference between the predicted total and the actual, while RMSE is the square root of the average of the squares of all the differences. RMSE gives greater weight to large errors because they are squared, so if you think bigger misses should be punished more heavily, this is the more relevant number. Below is a recap of the contenders and the abbreviations I’ll use in the various tables. You can find out how they fared last season in detail here.
PECOTA (PEC): The Baseball Prospectus projected win totals based on their in-house projection system.
FanGraphs (FG): The FanGraphs Depth Charts projected totals, which are a combination of the Steamer and ZiPS projection systems, with an additional playing time adjustment applied by FanGraphs staff.
Davenport (Dav): Totals based on Clay Davenport’s projection system, with Clay’s own playing time estimates.
FiveThirtyEight (538): Site projections from FiveThirtyEight.com, based on their Elo rating system.
Banished to the Pen writers (BttP): Predictions from each of our writers from our season preview series.
Effectively Wild guests (EW): Predictions from each of Effectively Wild‘s team preview podcast guests. All of these were very helpfully compiled by Paul McCord (@BravesStats on Twitter) on this spreadsheet, thus saving me the job.
Composite (Comp): The average of the four projection systems plus the BttP/EW predictions, with the latter sets adjusted down to add up to 2430 wins so they are not given extra weight.
Public (Pub): The average of all responses to a preseason poll in which I asked people to predict win totals for every team.
Level of Optimism
Before we delve into the specific predictions, I always take a look at how far the humans were from the actual possible total of 2430 wins (projection systems care not for your concepts of optimism or pessimism, and are always at or very close to 2430). This is appropriately titled ‘Level of Optimism’ because we are, collectively, always more optimistic than that.
The Effectively Wild guests topped the optimism charts once again. While not quite so enthusiastic as some previous years, they still came in at a collective 2489 wins, 59 over the possible total. That could have been even higher were it not for the very final prediction of the series also being the lowest win total of any set included, Joe Trezza’s 51-win Orioles prediction.
BttP’s writers were fairly restrained this year, essentially averaging one win per team on the optimism front by clocking in at 2457. The Public set is a little skewed in this light because I gave them the opportunity to ensure their wins added up to 2430, should they so choose. Not everyone took this opportunity, but many did, keeping them much closer to the 2430 mark at just 2432 wins on average. Among those who did not endeavour to stick to the amount of possible wins, there was still a very wide range, from 2341 on the low end to the peak of optimism at 2497.
On a team basis, the highest prediction was 110 for the Dodgers, from two separate people. I thought that a 45-win season for the Pirates would be as low as we got, until someone turned in 33 wins for the Rockies. A mistake, surely? No, Alex Dorman, the predictor in question, had a total of 2430 wins, so that appears to be a genuine prediction that the Rockies will lose 129 games. I was going to avoid bashing Colorado too much today but it seems that the predictions are doing it for me.
Time to move on to the definitive version(s) of the divisional standings. Tables are sortable; choose your own adventure.
The New York-Atlanta showdown is tipped in the Mets’ favour by PECOTA, which resolutely refuses to believe in Atlanta’s pitching. That hands the Mets a narrow edge overall, an assessment all of the other projections agree with. There is strong agreement from all concerned that the Mets are around a 90-win team, which is probably a red flag. The human prognosticators do not agree that it’s New York’s to lose, with three of four preferring the reigning divisional champs. The Nationals have the edge in the battle for third place over Philadelphia but aren’t given much of a chance to reach the top two. The Public are in on the Marlins, to the extent that 77 wins is “in”. In this case, it’s a distinct outlier.
Something for the Cubs’ bulletin board: nowhere are they first, whether projection or human prediction. That even extended to the individual Public submissions, where not a single respondent put Chicago in first place, although they missed by a win on several occasions. Nonetheless, they’re well within touching distance because the only 90-win prediction in this entire division came from Will Leitch on the Cardinals Effectively Wild preview. The Brewers are given the edge by all the projection systems and Bat Flips & Nerds, it’s a tie here at BttP, and the Public prefer the Arenado-fuelled Cardinals. The Reds are the most boring team this year as far as disagreement goes, with a standard deviation of 1.5 wins. The Pirates are bad, but EW guest Jason Mackey provides the optimism at 72 wins.
No bold Padres-over-Dodgers predictions here. It’s tough when everyone pegs the Dodgers for a triple-digit win season. The closest the Padres get is within four wins, but they look an absolute lock for the first wild card spot if they can live up to these expectations and Los Angeles cannot afford a stumble. The projections slightly favour Arizona for third place, with FanGraphs the dissenting opinion, but the humans are unanimously on board with Farhan Zaidi’s Giants squad. The Rockies are a bad baseball team in a division with two elite teams. If they’re lucky, they might not lose 100 games.
It might be a competitive division but there’s also not much disagreement over the top four teams in terms of range. The Yankees are comfortably first in every set, while the Blue Jays and Rays are set for an exciting race for second, if these are anything to go by. Four sets favour the Rays, three take Toronto, and Davenport suggests a dead heat. FanGraphs has arguably the wildest take here, putting Boston over Tampa Bay. Much like the Pirates, the Orioles are a source of ‘disagreement’ over whether they’ll be bad or horrifyingly bad. There’s a range of 17 wins, from Joe Trezza’s miserable 51-win prediction on EW to PECOTA’s comparatively sunny 68-win season. Last place is last place.
Minnesota pips the White Sox to the division overall, but there are some dissenting opinions from Davenport and BttP’s James Cardis, who put the Pale Hose first. Chicago have the widest range here overall, while Cleveland and the Tigers tie for the narrowest. PECOTA is out on an island with Cleveland in a clear second place. FanGraphs is much more convinced by this division’s competitiveness than PECOTA, with the former rating both the Royals and Tigers higher than any other set.
The Astros might not be the formidable juggernaut of two or three seasons ago but they’re still the divisional favourites. It’s not a clean sweep, though: Alex Coffey put the A’s over the top with 92 wins on EW, while some idiots over at Bat Flips & Nerds handed the division to the Angels. The Public are also very split on this one, with just four wins separating Houston in first from Los Angeles in third. Everyone essentially agrees that the Mariners are a mid-70s win team, and all but Levi Weaver placed the Rangers firmly in the basement.
Finally, here’s a visual representation of the spread of the predictions and projections for all 30 teams, a colour-coded table of the win totals, and a sortable full standings table that also features the standard deviations and the Composite set. I’ll be back at the end of the regular season to crown this year’s prediction and projection champion. Enjoy the season, everyone!
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