I hope you enjoyed the 2013 season preview over the last six weeks. I thank every one for reading and their comments – even those from fans of the Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves who have given me flak for my relatively downbeat previews. The summaries are data-driven, quantitative-based previews and I certainly understand the passion of fans – channeling Charlie Brown – who are more or less ordering me to “tell your statistics to shut up.”
On this, the morning of Houston's inaugural game as an American League team and on the eve of Opening Day, I give you a finalized look at the projected standings for MLB's 2013 season. Thanks to my friends at BeyondTheBets.com and Dave Tuley, a long-time chronicler of the sports betting scene in Las Vegas, the over/under column (below) reflects the current (and presumably final) market as posted at the LVH, the epicenter of baseball betting in Las Vegas. Those with a calculator might note that the sum of the LVH wins totals 2,435. That’s notable because there are only 2,430 games played in an MLB season. The difference is smaller than last year but still, as in the stock market, people are predisposed to be optimistic and they've collectively bid up certain teams.
All of this leads to the following conclusion: Bullpens that post terrible results usually aren’t as bad as the results might indicate. In other words, it’s hard to expect a bullpen to be awful. If a rule is strengthened by the presence of an exception, well then I guess this is the only time anyone is going to refer to the 2012 Chicago Cubs as exceptional.
The Pirates fooled me last year and maybe it’s because I wanted to get fooled. Outside of the Phillies somehow managing to wrest control of the NL East back from the Nationals, this is the outlook I hope is the most inaccurate to the downside. For the second consecutive year, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the team with the unfathomable twenty-year run of under .500 finishes, had themselves in the thick of a pennant race well into August. After beating St. Louis 6-3 in a thrilling Sunday afternoon-into-late-night 19-inning game, exactly three-fourths of the 2012 season was over and the Pirates were 13 games over .500 and leading the pack for the second Wild Card berth.
Last year had to be both pleasing and depressing for Brewers fans. Pleasing because the team that lost Prince Fielder to free agency still finished as the highest-scoring team in the National League. Depressing because while the average bullpen in the major leagues had an ERA of 3.77, the relievers for the Brewers had a 4.66 ERA – the worst in baseball. If Milwaukee had simply had an average bullpen, over the 512 innings pitched, they would have given up 51 less runs. 51 runs equate to something between five and six wins and the Brewers finished five games out of the final wild card spot. It does seem a shame that they wasted a second straight MVP-caliber season from Ryan Braun and traded away Zack Greinke with two months left in the season all because the bullpen was horrendous.