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About Last Month . . .


About Last Month . . .

The most absurd discussion I heard this baseball season occurred on Monday, April 16 the day after the Dodgers had won its sixth straight game to improve its record to 9-1.  On the show Around the Horn, a discussion commenced among the four panelists as to whether they would “buy or sell” the idea that the Dodgers were the best team in the National League.  Not the NL West, but the entire National League.  All four “bought the idea” that LA was for real, if not the best team in the league.  Although one or two acknowledged the Dodgers opponents to date, it was more of a “yeah but still” caveat.  Here’s what I would have said:  “In its first ten games, the Dodgers exclusively played fifth-place teams from last season – one of which is missing its best slugger – they played six of the ten games at home, and the reigning Cy Young Award pitcher, Clayton Kershaw has started 30% of the games.  So if you’re asking me how the Dodgers will fare this year if they play 60% of their games at home with Clayton Kershaw making nearly 50 starts against nothing but 2011’s last place teams, I’d say they are all but guaranteed to win 100 games and be the best team in the league.  But absent those conditions, it’s an insane proposition.”

Nine wins out of ten is always impressive but the Dodgers had been favored in eight of those first ten games!  This discussion may have been the most ridiculous but over the last month, I also shook my head at the different Power Rankings and analysis, especially in print, that were trotted out during the first month of the season.  (Sports Illustrated’s on-line rankings which featured the Royals at #7 in all of baseball, while in the throes of a 12-game losing streak, was particularly egregious.)  I vowed not to write an update of my team outlooks until the season was one-quarter completed

I understand that if I were predicting how many guesses a participant would get correct in a 162-event coin flipping contest, I’d, obviously, make an prediction of 81.  If  the contestant got the first two flips correct, and I were called on to update my forecast, it’s true, I’d have to change my prediction to 82.  (1/2 of the 160 flips remaining plus 2 already correct.)  However, there are three primary reasons that logic isn’t applicable to my full-season baseball projections. Most importantly is the need to make opponent adjustments which don’t even out until the season is at half completed.  A lesser scheduling factor, but still notable for some teams, is the imbalance between home and away games played in the first month.  Finally, my projections, unlike a coin-flipping contest, shouldn’t necessarily be assumed to call for linear results.  For an example of that, let’s take a look at the Phillies. 

My final projection had the Phillies winning 91 games, or just over 55% of their games played.  However, that projection assumed the Phillies will get about 400 plate appearances apiece from Ryan Howard and Chase Utley in 2012.  That amounts to a little more than half a season of playing time for the Phillies’ two biggest power threats.  More or less, my projection sees a .500 Phillies team for half the year and a .600 team for the other half.  So the fact that the Phillies finished April with 11 wins and 12 losses, in no way alters my final outlook for the team.  (This doesn’t change the fact that this offensively-challenged team is incredibly difficult to watch.  For one game the batting order featured Juan Pierre, Brian Schneider, Pete Orr, and Freddy Galvis; that’s a line up built to attract more singles than eHarmony.)  Given its current line up and missed starts from Cliff Lee due to injury, the five-time defending NL East champs are in a very acceptable position one month into the season.  I stand by my division-winning outlook for the Phillies.

There is one team that may make me look very silly though and that’s the San Diego Padres, who I predicted would win the NL West without a winning record.  San Diego has started the year with an abundance of home games, against a softer set of opponents than they will face on balance over the year, and they had the fewest wins in the National League at the end of April.  If San Diego loses 100 games this year, it’s going to cast a pall over any prescient calls I made.

Somewhere around the end of May, I’ll give a complete rundown of each team’s first-quarter start versus projection and how that will alter my expectations going forward.  Think of it as a quarterly earnings report that will be written after each team has played 40 games.

I’ll have a new piece out tomorrow that will be all narrative and will have nothing to do with baseball.  Next week I’ll write a Game Theory piece which will look at whether or not the Rockies should have walked Matt Kemp with the bases loaded during Monday night’s game against the Dodgers.  (They didn’t.)  In the mean time, here is some hard data, for all games played through April 30. 

Strength of Schedule Effect:  If a perfectly average team played nothing but other perfectly average teams there would be zero effect on either team’s expected wins.  20 games, 10 expected wins.  If that same average team had to play nothing but .600 teams for 20 games, it would be expected to win just 40% of those games or a total of 8.  In this case, the effect of the schedule would have taken 2-games off of the neutral-schedule win expectancy of 10 games.

Next to each team is the cost (negative) or benefit (positive) to a .500 team playing the same schedule during the first month of the 2012 season:







Chic Cubs


Kansas City




St. Louis












SF Giants




NY Yankees












Chic W Sox


NY Mets






LA Dodgers


LA Angels




San Diego






Take note of any team at the end of either spectrum, particularly the Tampa Bay Rays.  Tampa’s schedule has been, by a wide margin, harder than any other team’s in the entire league.  There isn’t even a corresponding team on the other side of the leader with a schedule within 10% as easy as Tampa’s has been difficult.  To appreciate just how impressive the Rays start has been consider this: Roughly one-seventh of the season has been played so far.  If Tampa were to play its first 23 games six more times, the final strength of schedule cost to a .500 team playing that same schedule would be just less than 7 ½ games.  That means Tampa Bay has been playing the equivalent of nothing but 88 and 89 win teams so far.  The Rays went 15-8 against that schedule and are second in the AL, behind Texas, in wins.  This is the one projection that I wish I had back.  There was no “gut feeling” element to my work; the analysis was all data-based.  But after watching the Rays employ its innovative defensive shifts with success time and again last month, I believe my call for regression by both its defense and at least a couple of its starting pitchers is misguided.  Tampa is truly the best managed team in the majors and I don’t think there’s even a close second.


Mop Up Duty:

Joe Peta is the author of Trading Bases, the Newsletter, a companion piece to Trading Bases, A Story about Wall Street, Gambling, and Baseball*  (*) Not necessarily in that order, a Dutton Books/Penguin (U.S.A.) February, 2013 release.

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Reader Comments (1)

Thanks so much to both of you.

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered Commentersuits tall men

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