Monday, February 11, 2008

Numbers

I often wish I could be a famous baseball writer, but there are many benefits to anonymity. For example, I don't have to deal with idiots like those commenting on this USS Mariner post.

There are a lot of comments, so don't bother reading them all. Basically, they each take on one of four forms:

- "The A's will never beat the Angels. Projections are for losers. You are an idiot."
- "The Mariners will be awesome in 2008. Projections are for losers. You are an idiot."
- "Clubhouse chemistry is the most important thing in baseball. You are an idiot."
- "I don't understand numbers. You are an idiot."

In essence, everyone is saying: "These numbers disagree with my intuition, so they have no value." Well, things don't work that way. The White Sox didn't look like a 72-win team entering last year, but by the time September rolled around, they bore a damn good resemblance. It was easy to picture them winning 90 games, so long as you were willing to ignore all the forecasts--which called for declines from the entire offense.

And if you don't believe in numbers, the 2008 Mariners don't look half-bad either. They won 88 games last year, added a legitimate ace pitcher and a $48 million innings eater, and play in an easy division. What's not to like?

Unfortunately, the rules of baseball still require a team to score at least one run to win a game, and that's a level the Mariners may have trouble reaching in 2008. PECOTA forecasts them to have exactly ZERO above-average position players on the roster. They probably have one--Ichiro is notoriously difficult to project, since he is such a unique player. But I can't see any rational fan arguing that starting Richie Sexson or Jose Vidro gives the M's a competitive advantage. Even Raul Ibanez, their de facto cleanup hitter, is 36 and plays defense like the Detroit Lions.

On to pitching. As any intelligent fan can tell you, you want pitchers who strike batters out and induce ground balls. The Mariners are spending $30 million/year on three guys who don't do either of those things particularly well: Carlos Silva, Jarrod Washburn, and Miguel Batista. Sixth starter Horacio Ramirez might be the worst pitcher in the majors. And the bullpen, aside from excellent closer J.J. Putz, isn't looking so hot. These factors are all reflected in the projections, but the subjective fans are ignoring or underrating them.

Numbers aren't perfect, but if they're intelligently applied, they will always beat the purely subjective forecasts in the long run.

Do I agree that the A's will beat the Angels in 2008? No, but they're certainly within striking distance. Because LA cakewalked to a division title last year, we seem to have forgotten that the Angels are not very good. Basically, their whole team revolves around three top starting pitchers--one of whom is already hurt--plus a good bullpen and Vladimir Guerrero. That's enough to win the AL West, but not enough to make you a runaway favorite.

But this opinion is based on my numbers. They have the Angels significantly ahead of the A's. If it were the other way around, I would double-check them, then go bet on the A's without worrying about how stupid I'd look. The only thing better than being right is being right while enjoying a delicious meal paid for with my winnings.

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