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Projected Standings for the 2000 Season
By Tom Tippett
Copyright © 2000. Diamond Mind, Inc. All rights reserved.
Is Cincinnati a lock for the NL Central with Griffey on board? How will the Braves fare without John Smoltz? Can the Rangers hold off a young Oakland team without Juan Gonzalez? How likely are the Yankees to make it three in a row?
Each spring since 1998, we've been projecting statistics and ratings for over 1500 players and running computer simulations of the coming season to answer questions like this. It's one of the most interesting projects we do each year, and there are always a few surprises. This article presents our projected team standings for the 2000 season with comments about the outlook for each team. Before I get started on that, however, I think it's worth taking some time to explain our methodology and talk about what you can and cannot expect to learn from an exercise such as this one.
Anyone in the business of forecasting the weather, the economy or anything else will agree that nobody can predict the future with certainty. Baseball is no different. Every day, things happen that affect the future performance of players and teams. Players change their workout programs, develop new pitches, decide whether to sit out or play through injuries, and so on. Owners and GMs alter the competitive balance with trades and salary-driven personnel decisions. Guys get hurt. Some injured players come back early and others suffer relapses that cost them the entire season.
To give just one example, we all learned last week that John Smoltz will miss the entire 2000 season after doctors found a torn ligament in his pitching elbow. Had we run our simulations before learning of this injury, the Braves' fortunes would have looked even better than they look today. Chances are, sometime in the next week or two, we'll learn of other injuries or trades that will once again alter the outlook to some degree.
So I don't presume to be able to tell you what's going to happen. But I think we can provide a pretty good picture of how the teams looked on paper as of March 10th, the day we ran the simulations.
For over twenty years, Pete Palmer (co-author of Total Baseball and The Hidden Game of Baseball) has been tracking and ranking published predictions of team standings. His scoring method is a simple one -- subtract each team's actual placement from their projected placement, square this difference, and add them up for all the teams. For example, if you predict a team will finish fourth, and they finish second, that's a difference of two places. Square the result, and you get four points. Do this for every team and you get a total score. The lower the score, the more accurate your predictions.
In 1998, using Pete's method, we compared the Diamond Mind projections to those of fourteen national publications (including Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, and Baseball Weekly) and found that ours were closest to the real thing. Last year, the Diamond Mind projections finished seventh in an expanded survey of 32 predictions, finishing behind Gordon Edes (Boston Globe), Rany Jazayerli (Baseball Prospectus), Pete Palmer, Bob Ryan (Boston Globe), David Schoenfield (ESPN.com), and Jim Caple (ESPN.com), and just ahead of ESPN.com columnist Rob Neyer. For the rankings of all the predictions in our surveys, see 1999 Team Predictions -- Keeping Score and 1998 Team Predictions -- Keeping Score.
It's important to point out that such rankings aren't entirely fair. Some of the spring baseball magazines are written in November and December, before key free agents have chosen their new homes, and before anyone knows which of the many players who have had off-season surgery are going to be ready to play. Obviously, the more current the prediction, the more accurate it should be.
We started with team rosters that reflect all off-season player moves and include top prospects, even if they have never played in the majors. This added up to 45-55 players per team, for a total of about 1500 players.
Using major-league and minor-league statistics (from STATS Inc., Total Sports, and Howe Sportsdata), we evaluated the performance of these players over the past three years. Each stat line was adjusted for the level of offense in the league (deflating Pacific Coast League stats, for example), the home park (for both major-league and minor-league stats), the effect of facing the DH (for minor-league and AL pitchers), and the competitive level (majors, AAA, AA). For each player, these adjusted stat lines were averaged (with more weight on recent seasons, performances at higher levels, and seasons with lots of playing time), adjusted for age, and then projected into the league and park where he will compete this year. We also projected each player's left/right splits and assigned ratings for skills such as baserunning, throwing, defensive range, and bunting. (For a more detailed description, see The Diamond Mind Projection System).
For each team, we put together a manager profile consisting of the starting rotation, bullpen assignments (closer, setup, long relief, mopup), starting lineups versus left- and right-handed pitching, platoons, defensive replacements, and utility roles. Among other things, these profiles enable us to reduce the projected playing time for players (such as Curt Schilling) who are currently injured and expected to miss part of the season.
Using the 2000 schedule, we played out the season using our Diamond Mind Baseball computer game. This program simulates every pitch, with a computer manager making all decisions about starting pitchers and lineups, game tactics (e.g. bunt, steal, hit and run, swing away, pickoff throws, pitchouts, baserunner advancements) and substitutions (pinch hitting, pinch running, relief pitching, defensive subs, injury replacements) using the information in the manager profiles. Anyone can be injured during the simulated season.
Because the outcome of any one season can be significantly influenced by luck -- which teams suffer fewer injuries, get the breaks in the close games, have a few guys with career years, and so on -- we simulated the season fifty times and averaged the results.
We've done our best to factor in all of the information that was available as of March 10th, but there are things that simply cannot be known until some future date. How healthy and effective will Kerry Wood be this year? Will Anaheim trade Jim Edmonds before the season starts, wait until the trading deadline, or keep him all year? Which of the young prospects will fulfill their promise in their rookie seasons and which will stumble the first time around? Which managers will play their prospects and which will go with supposedly more reliable veterans?
Because these things are unknowable, we have no choice but to make assumptions. And because some of these assumptions can significantly affect the results, I'll mention the most important ones in the team comments below.
Here are the projected final standings, based on the fifty seasons we simulated:
AL East W L Pct GB RF RA #DIV #WC New York 98 64 .605 - 966 790 35.0 10.2 Boston 94 68 .580 4 960 805 14.0 28.2 Baltimore 81 81 .500 17 831 839 2.3 Toronto 80 82 .494 18 829 853 1.0 3.7 Tampa Bay 71 91 .438 27 791 909 AL Central W L Pct GB RF RA #DIV #WC Cleveland 94 68 .580 - 934 794 47.5 Detroit 79 83 .488 15 844 873 1.5 1.3 Kansas City 73 89 .451 21 835 920 1.0 Chicago 72 90 .444 22 789 898 Minnesota 62 100 .383 32 701 900 AL West W L Pct GB RF RA #DIV #WC Texas 90 72 .556 - 936 841 31.0 1.7 Seattle 85 77 .525 5 821 753 15.0 1.7 Oakland 80 82 .494 10 938 927 2.0 1.0 Anaheim 75 87 .463 15 784 842 2.0 NL East W L Pct GB RF RA #DIV #WC Atlanta 101 61 .623 - 916 703 48.0 1.0 New York 86 76 .531 15 777 724 2.0 10.8 Philadelphia 83 79 .512 18 800 778 6.5 Montreal 76 86 .469 25 739 805 Florida 61 91 .377 40 700 891 NL Central W L Pct GB RF RA #DIV #WC Houston 93 69 .574 - 845 741 29.0 7.3 Cincinnati 90 72 .556 3 825 725 18.0 11.8 St. Louis 84 78 .519 9 860 816 3.0 7.5 Pittsburgh 79 83 .488 14 804 811 2.5 Chicago 77 85 .475 16 820 865 Milwaukee 64 98 .395 29 736 927 NL West W L Pct GB RF RA #DIV #WC Arizona 92 70 .568 - 915 789 36.5 1.0 Los Angeles 82 80 .506 10 765 769 8.0 1.5 San Francisco 81 81 .500 11 859 858 4.0 Colorado 78 84 .481 14 1009 1041 1.5 San Diego 70 92 .432 22 725 867
In the American League, eleven of the fourteen teams qualified for the playoffs in at least one of the simulated seasons, with only Tampa Bay, Chicago and Minnesota being shut out. Once again, the talented Cleveland squad was the surest bet thanks to a weak division. The only way they can lose is if everything goes wrong for them and everything goes right for one of their rivals, and that happened only 5% of the time. Interestingly, the Yankees and Red Sox project to finish with the same records as last year, making this the division most likely to produce the AL wildcard team. In the West, no team is dominant, so the chance for a weak team to steal the division is greatest, though still remote.
The AL wild card race appears to be a little less wide open than in the past couple of years, as the loser of the Yankees-Red Sox battle grabbed the wildcard about three quarters of the time. Outside of these two teams, there are six others projected to win 75-85 games, and any one of them could be playing in October if things fall their way.
The National League seems more balanced than it appeared last spring, with eleven of the sixteen teams making the playoffs at least once, nine via a division title. I'll discuss this in more depth in the team comments below, but one factor is the projected decline of the Mets, who a year ago were expected to challenge the Braves, but now appear to be just another wildcard contender.
The only teams that seem to have no chance are Florida, Milwaukee and San Diego. Even though Montreal and Chicago failed to make the post-season in any of the fifty simulations (Montreal because the Braves are too strong and Chicago because there are too many teams to climb over in their division), both are projected for 75+ wins, and that puts them on the fringe of the wildcard race if the stars are aligned in their favor.
In these comments, I'll discuss anything that I thought was surprising and mention any key assumptions that we made in setting up the rotations and lineups for the simulations.
The headings recap the team's average win-loss record and the percentage of time each team won their division or the wildcard. Unless otherwise noted, player statistics represent his average performance in these fifty simulated seasons. And any time I say that someone 'created' so many runs, I'm referring to the Runs Created formula developed by Bill James.
Nobody really knows how the three new ballparks (Detroit, Houston, and San Francisco) will affect things, so we assumed that all three will be neutral. If a particular park turns out to inflate offense by 10%, say, it will affect the projected stats of the hitters and pitchers on that team, but it shouldn't change the team's overall standing.
New York Yankees (98-64, division title 70%, wildcard 20%)
A year ago, the Red Sox gave the Yankees a real fight, creeping as close as three games in September before New York turned it on and crushed three very good teams in the playoffs to win their second straight World Series. In our simulations, they matched last year's record of 98-64 and again won the division by a narrow margin over the Red Sox. But this team is more vulnerable than either of the last two.
Age is a factor. Their starters at first, second, third, center and right are over 30, as are their top three starting pitchers (Hernandez, Clemens, and Cone). In light of this and the lack of any major off-season moves to improve the team, I would not have been surprised to see their projected win total drop into the low 90s.
But they won 98 games in 1999 despite down years from Tino Martinez, Paul O'Neill, Scott Brosius and the catching tandem of Jorge Posada and Joe Girardi. The team shouldn't be any worse at those positions this year, and some (especially Posada) could bounce back in 2000. More importantly, they won 98 games without getting much from Roger Clemens. In our simulations, Clemens averaged a 16-8 record with a 3.85 ERA, posting three seasons worthy of serious Cy Young consideration. This is still a very good team, with plenty of front-line talent and a deep bench, and I'll be surprised if they're not in the top three in scoring and team ERA.
We set things up with Ledee and Spencer platooning in left field, and with Jim Leyritz and Roberto Kelly getting most of the atbats at DH. If they choose to go with Nick Johnson at DH, and Johnson produces at the projected rate -- .276 average, .440 on-base percentage, league-average power -- the offense could be even better.
Boston Red Sox (94-68, division title 28%, wildcard 56%)
Last year, the Red Sox won 94 games with a middle-of-the-pack offense because their pitchers and defense combined to lead the league in ERA. This edition of the Bosox is projected to win the same number of games but to get there in a different fashion, with a much stronger offense and pitching that doesn't figure to be as good.
Pedro Martinez never ceases to amaze me, so it's possible that he'll be able to match or improve upon a 1999 season that was one of the best in history. Five years ago, for example, Greg Maddux put together back-to-back seasons in which he went 35-8 with a 1.60 ERA. But that's the exception, and it wouldn't be reasonable to count on a repeat. Nevertheless, even with a projected ERA of 2.68 (it was 2.07 last year), he averaged 19 wins (with twenty-one 20-win seasons in fifty tries, including a peak of 26-6).
The rest of the starting rotation projects to be quite ordinary. Ramon Martinez could be a terrific #2 starter, and Bret Saberhagen might be close to full strength for the second half, but both are coming off injuries. With Tim Wakefield, Jeff Fassero and one of the kids (Juan Pena or Brian Rose) filling in for Sabes in the first half, the two through five slots are nothing special, as is most of the bullpen. But Pedro is so good that if everyone else can match the league average, the staff will be in the top third of the league.
You might have noticed that the Red Sox scored only 836 runs last year but vied for the league lead with an average of 960 runs in our simulations. Could they really be 124 runs better?
Well, last year Darren Lewis created 48 runs in 470 atbats, and new CF Carl Everett created 112 in his 464 atbats. That's an increase of 64 runs, and it's likely that Everett will get more atbats this year. Further, Damon Buford created only 33 runs in 297 atbats, mostly while platooning with Trot Nixon in right, and anyone else (except Lewis) should be good for 10-15 more runs in that role. The Sox offense was a little inefficient last year -- given their stats, a team normally scores 27 more runs than they actually did. Finally, in keeping with the trend toward more offense, our simulations produced 17 more runs per team than were scored in real life last year. That's 64 + 15 + 27 + 17 = 123.
Even though the numbers add up, it still feels optimistic to me. But if they can do it, this Red Sox team will be a serious force in 2000. In several of our simulations, when Pedro was on, Ramon and Saberhagen were strong, and the offense was clicking, this was the best team in baseball.
Baltimore Orioles (81-81, wildcard 5%)
I didn't expect the Orioles to do this well. But I guess I was thinking of the chaos-ridden Baltimore team that got off to an awful start last year, not the one that allowed fewer runs than everyone but the Red Sox and Yankees, outscored its opponents by 36 runs, and built a 42-33 record in the second half.
Despite the return of Delino DeShields to full-time duty, the O's offense projects to be down a little, with Cal Ripken unable to duplicate his amazing .340/18-homer performance and an already old team getting a little longer in the tooth. One concern is a batting order that is very left-handed. With only one good right-handed hitter (Jeff Conine) available, they could be vulnerable to lefty starters and late-inning situational matchups.
Staff ace Mike Mussina averaged a 15-10 record to lead a mediocre rotation that also includes Scott Erickson, Sidney Ponson (whose 11-12 record and 4.92 ERA were near his career averages), Jason Johnson, Pat Rapp, and Jose Mercedes. The bullpen was respectable, with Mike Timlin closing effectively and the tandem of BJ Ryan and Mike Trombley setting him up. The elbow injury to Scott Erickson was a factor. I've read reports ranging from "he'll be back in late April" to "he hopes to start sometime in May". We leaned toward the conservative side and held him out for a couple of months.
If Erickson comes back healthy, Ponson has a breakout season, Mercedes builds on a strong winter showing, and the aging offense keeps it together for one more year, new manager Mike Hargrove might find himself in the playoffs once again. But there are too many question marks to consider this Orioles team a strong contender, and time is running out on this group.
Toronto Blue Jays (80-82, division title 2%, wildcard 7%)
The Blue Jays have a solid #1 starter in David Wells (51 wins in the last three years), several very promising young arms, and some good young hitters who produced the fifth-best offense in the league last year. The team won 88 and 84 games in 1998-99 and was in the wildcard race both years. So why aren't they projected to be more of a factor? And why did they finish behind the Orioles in these simulations?
Primarily because they're projected to slip offensively, dropping to ninth in scoring and shedding about 50 runs. The largest factor is the trade of Shawn Green to the Dodgers for Raul Mondesi -- in 1999, Green created 140 runs to Mondesi's 104 in similar playing time. In addition, several things went right last year -- they got a boost from a half-season of .400 hitting from Tony Fernandez, Tony Batista and David Segui produced more in Toronto than they did prior to their trades, and Darrin Fletcher had one of his best years. This time around, they're not likely to get quite as much production from the left side of the infield, with Batista at third and Alex Gonzalez at short, or from the catcher position.
The pitching is projected to be about the same as last year. It could be a lot better if Joey Hamilton bounces back and youngsters Chris Carpenter, Ray Halladay, Kelvim Escobar and Bill Koch continue to develop. But Hamilton (rotator cuff) and Carpenter (elbow) are coming off surgery, Halladay put 235 runners on base in 149 innings last year, and Escobar's 1999 ERA was 5.69, so a bounce is no certainty.
In our simulations, we assumed that both Hamilton and Carpenter would be healthy enough to take a regular turn from day one. And we gave Fletcher 70% of the playing time at catcher. If the club uses Alberto Castillo more often, the offense will suffer. On the other hand, if there's anything to the idea that catchers can make pitchers better, and if Castillo deserves his reputation as a good handler of pitchers, they could gain that back (or more) in a decrease in staff ERA.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays (71-91, no post-season appearances)
Hmmm. The Devil Rays added two big bats in Greg Vaughn and Vinny Castilla, yet their projected run total is only 19 higher than their 772 total from last year. I was expecting to see more of bounce. So what's going on?
Jose Canseco averaged 135 games and produced 41 homers and 107 RBI in an average simulated season. If he can somehow play 150 games or more, that could be worth another win or two, but he's reached the 135 mark only once in nine years. Vaughn was a plus, averaging 43 homers and 109 RBI. But Fred McGriff isn't projected to match the surprising 32-homer season he had a year ago. Castilla contributed only a .257 average with 23 homers and 76 RBI. And even if these guys rack up a lot of dingers, the club doesn't have enough guys to get on base ahead of them.
Regarding Castilla, some say that Andres Galarraga proved in 1998 that output doesn't necessarily drop from levels established in Colorado. But a homerun counts the same whether you hit it one foot or fifty feet over the wall. Taking 20 feet off a 400-foot blast doesn't change the outcome, and that's why guys like McGwire, Sosa, Galarraga, and Griffey don't have large home-road power splits. But if you take 20 feet away from a mid-range power guy like Castilla, quite a few of his shots become playable. And Castilla's record over the past five years speaks for itself -- on a per-600-atbat basis, he's batted .338 with 45 homers in Denver, .264 with 30 homers everywhere else. Add in his age and an off year in 1999, and he's not projected to do all that much in Tampa Bay.
Even though there has been quite a bit of turnover in the pitching staff -- Rolando Arrojo is gone, while Juan Guzman, Steve Trachsel and John Burkett are new -- the Devil Rays are projected for similar results to those that landed them 11th in staff ERA last year. Guzman should help, but even if the others rebound from their bad years, it doesn't look like it'll be enough to make a big difference.
Many are high on the potential of 22-year-old Dan Wheeler, but our projections suggest he's not ready yet. The main culprit is the long ball -- last year he allowed 7 homers in 31 major league innings and 16 more in 82 AAA innings. If he learns how to keep the ball in the yard, he could advance very quickly.
Cleveland Indians (94-68, division title 95%)
Once again, the Indians are prohibitive favorites to run away with the division. The offense wasn't able to match its huge 1999 output, producing 75 fewer runs and dropping to third in the league behind the Yankees and Red Sox. But the pitching was better, rising from the middle of the pack to the top three in the league.
The loss of Kenny Lofton for the first half of the season is one of the factors, but it's not the only reason. The 1999 Indians were the first team in 49 years to score 1000 runs, and it's hard to repeat such an outstanding performance. A few players, notably Omar Vizquel, had great years and can be expected to drop back a bit. And age is starting to become a factor. Still, it's a terrific offense that will strike fear into the hearts of many a pitcher.
The improvement in the pitching comes from three sources. Chuck Finley (14-10, 4.50) replaces Dwight Gooden (6.26 ERA in 1999). Several others -- Jaret Wright, Steve Reed, Ricardo Rincon -- are projected to improve over their subpar 1999 results. And youngster David Riske should strengthen an already deep bullpen.
The primary risk factors are age -- starters Dave Burba, Charles Nagy and Finley are well over 30 -- and David Riske. Riske is projected to be a very useful long reliever on the strength of some unbelievable 1999 minor-league stats (1.23 ERA, 19 hits allowed in 51 innings in AA and AAA) that are only partially offset by an ugly 8.36 ERA in fourteen big-league innings.
Detroit Tigers (79-83, division title 3%, wildcard 3%)
This represents a 10-game jump from their disappointing 69-93 finish in 1999, and it's entirely due to a projected increase in scoring of almost 100 runs. The pitching remained entrenched in the bottom half of the league.
The attack was led by Juan Gonzalez, who averaged 50 homers and 133 RBI. Juan has never reached the 50 mark in his career, but he benefits by getting away from The Ballpark in Arlington, a tough place for righties to hit it out. He and his mates will be getting their first taste of Comerica Park, and we have no idea how this park will affect hitters, so our simulations assumed the park is neutral in all respects. The offense should also get some help from a rebound by Bobby Higginson and a major decrease in playing time for Gregg Jefferies, who were subpar and awful, respectively, in 1999.
In the Gonzalez trade, the Tigers gave up promising but injury-plagued lefty starter Justin Thompson. That move may haunt them in the long run, but it's no reason to expect their pitching to be worse than it was last year. Thompson was only 9-11 with a 5.11 ERA in 1999, and newcomer Hideo Nomo is projected to be about the same this year. That trade also saw the Tigers swap reliever Francisco Cordero for John Patterson. It's another move Detroit might regret in the long run, but it shouldn't make much of a difference immediately.
Kansas City Royals (73-89, division title 2%)
The Royals won 64 games last year, avoiding by only one game the dubious distinction of having the worst record in the league. No team allowed more runs, no team had a poorer record in one-run games (11-32), and no team blew more saves (30 in 59 chances). There is a bit of a silver lining: Kansas City was outscored by only 65 runs because its offense came alive in a big way, and a scoring deficit of that size normally produces 74 wins, not 64.
Even if the talent level of this team hasn't changed from a year, they're likely to pick up a few more wins in the close games. And that's exactly what happened in our simulations. The offense held steady at 7th in the league, the pitching was again in the cellar, the run margin was only a little worse (-85), and they came up with the 73 wins that is customary for this type of performance.
If the Royals are to surprise this year, three things must happen. Jose Rosado and Jeff Suppan must provide a solid 1-2 punch at the head of the rotation. A few of their younger pitchers -- guys like Orber Moreno, Dan Reichert, and Brett Laxton -- must blossom in a hurry. And newcomers Jerry Spradlin and Ricky Bottalico must stabilize a bullpen that was in disarray a year ago.
Chicago White Sox (72-90)
A quick look at the 1999 White Sox provides a study in contrast. On the plus side, a few young players (Chris Singleton, Magglio Ordonez, Paul Konerko, Keith Foulke) took a big step forward, helping them stay within a game of .500 through the All-Star break and a second-place finish in their division. On the other hand, the cold facts are that Chicago was 10th in scoring, 10th in runs allowed, and last in fielding percentage.
In our fifty seasons, the White Sox deviated little from their 1999 performance. The offense scored 12 more runs, the pitchers allowed 28 more, and the won-loss record dropped by three games.
We assumed that Frank Thomas would be the DH, mainly because our defensive analysis showed that his 1999 fielding performance was truly awful, the worst we'd seen in a decade. Thomas produced a .294 average with 23 homers and 95 RBI. It's hard to believe how far he's fallen. Until two years ago, Thomas was building a career that drew comparisons with Ted Williams.
I won't be too surprised if this offense is better than we've projected it to be. Thomas could return to form, Paul Konerko could bust out with a big year, and Jose Valentin might give them a lot more offense at short if he can hit like he did at his peak in 1996-97. Then again, Chris Singleton's 1999 season was the best of his career, better than his best minor-league seasons, and he might not be able to repeat it.
The pitching depends on how quickly the kids develop and whether Cal Eldred is healthy enough to take a regular turn and keep his ERA under 5.00. Kip Wells, age 22, is projected to be a solid rotation starter this year. But Aaron Myette, 22, has thrown only 16 innings above AA, and Jon Garland, 20, only 39 innings above A ball, so neither is projected to make an impact this year. If these two are more involved, and if they don't get beat up like most rookie hurlers, they could help carry this team into wildcard contention. But don't count on it.
Minnesota Twins (62-100)
It looks as if Minnesota will repeat as the worst offensive team in the league. Last year, amid the offensive explosion, they barely made the century mark in homeruns. They have a few guys who can hit for average and get on base, and the addition of DH Butch Huskey should help bring some of these runners around to score. But even their best power hitters are projected for only 25-30 homers, totals that might have been impressive at one time but look less so in an era when the entire league averages is 20 homers per 600 atbats.
The pitching, led by Brad Radke and Eric Milton, surprised a lot of people by finishing 5th in the league in runs allowed a year ago, but is projected to slip quite a bit. They'll miss Mike Trombley (to Baltimore via free agency) and Rick Aguilera (traded to the Cubs last year). In 1999, Radke had a 3.75 ERA despite yielding 239 hits and 28 homers in 219 innings, and he's likely to give up a few more runs this year if he's not able to reduce these rates. Joe Mays, Bob Wells, and Travis Miller are projected to give back a little ground in 2000 after having unexpected success a year ago.
Texas Rangers (90-72, division title 62%, wildcard 3%)
Before running these simulations, I had no preconceived notions about what to expect from the AL West. The Rangers made the big trade with Detroit, then lost Todd Zeile and Aaron Sele before adding Kenny Rogers and Darren Oliver as free agents. Seattle traded away Ken Griffey but signed John Olerud and Sele as free agents. And Oakland was in the thick of the wildcard race a year ago and continues to develop and acquire young hitting talent. Only Anaheim seemed out of the running.
Even though the gap between top and bottom was smaller in this division than in any other, with a mere 15 wins separating Texas from Anaheim, the Rangers won the division in almost two-thirds of the simulated seasons. They did it with a strong offense that was fourth in the league in scoring and a pitching staff that finished in the middle of the pack. In other words, despite the turnover, they looked a lot like the 1999 Rangers.
Although the loss of Juan Gonzalez will most definitely be felt, there are reasons for optimism. Ruben Mateo (.285 with 28 homers and 93 RBI) replaces Tom Goodwin in center field. Prospect Mike Lamb (.281, 14 homers, 81 RBI) is projected to replace most of Todd Zeile's offense at third, and if Lamb isn't ready, Tom Evans is a good alternative. And Mike Simms, who missed all of 1999 after blasting 16 homers in 186 atbats the year before, is available to platoon at DH.
The defense should be better at three positions -- third, where Zeile's range was well below average; right, with Gabe Kapler taking over from Gonzalez; and short, where slick-fielding Royce Clayton will no longer be hindered by the shoulder injury that plagued him for much of last season. Those defensive improvements, along with the acquisitions of Rogers and Oliver to replace Sele and John Burkett, are projected to lift the Rangers pitching from 7th to 5th in the league.
Seattle Mariners (85-77, division title 30%, wildcard 3%)
Aaaah...you're not going to believe this. I sure didn't when I first saw it. But the Mariners, who a year ago finished 12th in runs allowed with 905, are projected to slash a full 152 off that total and lead the league in that category. Seems impossible, doesn't it? After all, haven't we all come to regard the Mariners pitching, particularly the bullpen, as the epitome of ineptitude in recent years?
There are three reasons why things could be very different this year. First, the ballpark. It's awfully early to draw solid conclusions about Safeco Field, since it has been in use for less than half a season, but it depressed batting averages by 25 points and scoring by 8%, and our simulations used those figures.
Second, the defense is better at three positions. Even though Carlos Guillen is being converted from SS to 3B, he'll be a lot better than Russ Davis, who has been at or near the bottom in our defensive rankings for years. John Olerud is one of the best defensive 1Bs in the game. And, at this stage in their respective careers, Mike Cameron covers more ground in center than Ken Griffey.
Finally, the pitchers. Gone is Jeff Fassero, who allowed -- get this -- 123 runs in 139 innings. He'll be replaced by Aaron Sele, who allowed 45 fewer runs per 139 innings last year. Also gone are Mac Suzuki, Bret Hinchliffe, and Ken Cloude, who combined to allow 145 runs in 145 innings. Replace them with pitchers like Brett Tomko, Arthur Rhodes and Kasuhiro Sasaki, and you save another 70+ runs. Throw in the effect of the park and the improved defense, and you can make a case for a 150-run reduction if Freddy Garcia, Jamie Moyer, and John Halama can match what they did last year.
Of course, the park may turn out to be less pitcher-friendly that it looked. And Lou Piniella might trade defense for offense by finding someone other than Brian Hunter to play left field. If these things happen, they'll allow more runs. But they'll score more, too, and the overall result will be the same -- a serious run at the division title. I was very happy to hear that Seattle management has decided to keep Alex Rodriguez so they can try to win this year. They may do it.
Oakland Athletics (80-82, division title 4%, wildcard 2%)
Last year, Oakland finished fourth in the AL with 893 runs scored, and they added 45 runs and rose one spot in the rankings in these simulations. That's the good news. The bad news is that the pitching staff didn't perform nearly as well, partly because their defense has some serious holes in left (Ben Grieve), right (Matt Stairs), and first base (Jason Giambi).
I'll be the first to admit that the pitching could be a LOT better than it looked in our simulations. Kevin Appier is projected for an ERA around 5.00 because his last good season was in 1997. Tim Hudson's projection is dragged down somewhat by a mediocre 1998 performance in AA (4.54 ERA, 220 baserunners allowed in 135 innings). Jason Isringhausen was much better as a closer than as a starter, but all those innings as a starting pitcher are still factored into our projections. If all three of these guys are at their best this year, you can add 6-10 wins to their forecast, and that's enough to put them right in the thick of things.
Anaheim Angels (75-87, division title 4%)
In each of the past two springs, my task was to explain why this team wasn't as good as some were suggesting. Last year, for example, many predictions had the Angels winning their division, but they were only a .500 team in our simulations. Even that was optimistic, as Anaheim won only 70 games thanks to a rash of injuries, a mysterious slump from Darin Erstad, and a manager (Terry Collins) who lost control of the team.
This year, my task is to explain why this team could be better than you think. They still have a group of good hitters in Mo Vaughn, Jim Edmonds, Tim Salmon, Troy Glaus, and Garret Anderson. If healthy, they are projected to add about 70 runs to last year's total, even if they cannot replace the offense that Randy Velarde gave them in 1999.
Surprisingly, Anaheim was 4th in the AL in runs allowed last year, thanks mainly to a very good showing from their bullpen. They lost Mike Magnante to the A's as a free agent, but the rest of the pen is intact, and if their rotation starters can come close to their career averages, they'll be respectable enough to get the team into the mid-70s in wins.
Atlanta Braves (101-61, division title 96%, wildcard 2%)
It's amazing how deep and resourceful this team has been over the years. Two years ago, they won 106 games without closer Mark Wohlers. Last year, they lost Andres Galarraga and Kerry Ligtenberg for the year and Javy Lopez for three months, and they still won 103 games. This year, they'll have to get by without John Smoltz, and it looks as if they'll run away with the division once again.
The offense, 7th in the NL in scoring in 1999, should be much better this year. Galarraga and Lopez are back and hitting well in spring training. The trade with San Diego was a steal, with Atlanta getting two good on-base guys (Quilvio Veras and Reggie Sanders) to fix the problem at the top of the order. Andruw Jones keeps getting better and could explode into superstardom at any time.
What other team could absorb the loss of John Smoltz and still be favored to lead the league in pitching? Just as Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine begin showing signs of age (both are projected for ERAs above 3.50), Kevin Millwood emerges as the new ace of the staff. As with any team, things could go wrong -- John Rocker might struggle, Rudy Seanez and Ligtenberg might not come all the way back from their injuries, and so on -- but there's a big gap between the Braves and the second-best team in the NL, and a lot of things would have to go wrong to keep them out of playoffs.
New York Mets (86-76, division title 4%, wildcard 22%)
This is my pick for the NL team most likely to disappoint. Mike Hampton (15-9, 3.54) improves a solid but unspectacular starting rotation, and together with a strong bullpen, the Mets should finish near the top in pitching. But the offense isn't what it was a year ago.
Todd Zeile (.265, 20 homers, 81 RBI) can match the departed John Olerud in homers but doesn't get on base nearly as much. Rickey Henderson cannot be expected to hit .315 again. Derek Bell (.267, 16 homers, 71 RBI) adds a little power, but the Mets will really miss Roger Cedeno's .380 on-base-percentage. Even though Rey Ordonez got his batting average up to .258 last year, he remains one of the weakest hitters in the game. Darryl Hamilton batted .339 for the Mets down the stretch, 45 points above his career average, and Robin Ventura is coming off a career year. Neither is likely to repeat. Add it all up and you get a projected slide of 75 runs, unless Jay Payton or Jon Nunnally is given a shot and comes through with a big season.
Philadelphia Phillies (83-73, wildcard 13%)
From 1997 to 1999, the Phillies improved steadily from 68 to 75 to 77 wins, and they seem poised to continue this advance in 2000. A surge in scoring did the trick a year ago; this time, it the pitching staff's turn to lead the way.
The primary sources of improvement in the pitching are the expected 200+ innings from Andy Ashby (replacing Chad Ogea, who struggled a year ago) and the addition of closer Mike Jackson. With the return of erstwhile closer Jeff Brantley as a setup man and the continued development of 23-year-old Randy Wolf, this should be a solid staff . . . if Curt Schilling is 100% and able to make 25+ starts.
But the Phillies may not score as much as they did a year ago. Three players -- Doug Glanville, Bobby Abreu, and Mike Lieberthal -- had very big years in 1999, and they are projected to pull back a little from these highs. (By the way, the Bill James projections from the STATS 2000 Major League Handbook are a little more pessimistic than ours for these three.)
We have Scott Rolen penciled in as the everyday 3B with no extra time off for the back problems that kept him out for the last couple of months of 1999, and he responded with a .294 average, 32 homers, and 117 RBI, all of which would be career highs. But that won't happen if his back acts up.
Finally, the Phillies need to make a decision about Pat Burrell. We assumed that the club would start the year with Ron Gant in left and Rico Brogna at first, so Burrell would only get to the plate about 200 times. But Burrell is outhitting both of them in spring training and is projected to do the same when the games count, so he may force his way into the lineup.
Montreal Expos (75-87, no post-season appearances)
I'm pleased to see that the new owner, Jeff Loria, has committed to keeping the team in Montreal and building a winner. I wonder whether signing a 32-year-old middle reliever (Graeme Lloyd) was the best way to spend his first $9 million, but it looks as if Loria will be rewarded with a more competitive club this year. The 1999 Expos were 14th in scoring, 13th in runs allowed, and last in fielding percentage, so there's almost nowhere to go but up. In our simulations, they did just that.
We assumed that Peter Bergeron would win the starting CF job and bat leadoff. He's battling another young prospect, Milton Bradley, for that spot, but we went with Bergeron because his projected on-base percentage is about 25 points higher and they appear about equal in other respects. We also gave the starting 2B job to Jose Vidro over Mickey Morandini, figuring that the team would be better off with Vidro's bat than Morandini's defense. We weren't able to find much playing time for former 2B Wilton Guerrero, who was relegated to a utility role.
The continued development of young pitchers like Dustin Hermanson, Carl Pavano and Javier Vazquez accounts for some of the improvement in the pitching. Hideki Irabu should add some decent innings -- no longer required to face the DH, he's projected for an ERA in the mid-4s. The bullpen, anchored by closer Ugueth Urbina, looks pretty solid.
Florida Marlins (61-101, no post-season appearances)
The Marlins were last in scoring and seem likely to stay there despite full seasons from Cliff Floyd and Mike Lowell. One ray of hope: if Luis Castillo is 100% after dislocating his shoulder for the third time, he could significantly exceed his projections, which are being dragged down by his anemic 1997-98 performance. But the Marlins have a long way to go before they start scoring runs at a decent rate.
The weakness in the pitching staff is underscored by the fact that their stats are actually helped a bit by playing in the fourth-best pitchers park in the league. A lot of people are very high on kids like AJ Burnett, Brad Penny, and Vladimir Nunez. For our purposes, the question isn't whether they will go on to be stars, but whether they are ready right now. Most young pitchers struggle in their first full seasons, and this group is projected to be no different.
The Florida system is loaded with young talent, and the Marlins should begin climbing in the standings in the not-too-distant future. But it doesn't look like they're ready this year.
Houston Astros (93-69, division title 58%, wildcard 15%)
The Astros are moving into Enron Field this year, and that's an unknown that could affect our projected run totals in either direction. Lacking anything else to go on, we projected the park as neutral, meaning that scoring was higher than in the pitcher-friendly Astrodome.
The return of Moises Alou should give the offense a boost, as should the acquisition of Roger Cedeno (.296 average, .380 on-base percentage) to replace Derek Bell. Small age-related declines from Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, and Ken Caminiti are likely to offset those gains, leaving the Astros attack about even with 1999 (after allowing for the park effect).
The pitching staff must make do without ace Mike Hampton, traded to the Mets in a deal that brought Octavio Dotel, a 24-year-old who held opposing hitters to a .226 average last year but struggled with his control and the longball at times. Dotel was very respectable (10-10, 4.45 ERA) in the simulations, but cannot be expected to replace a Cy Young contender right away. The result is a projected drop from 2nd to 4th in runs allowed, even though we assumed (perhaps a little optimistically) that Scott Elarton's return from off-season rotator cuff surgery would occur soon enough for him to get 27-30 starts.
Cincinnati Reds (90-72, division title 36%, wildcard 24%)
I'm sure there are a lot of Reds fans who think they are a lock to win the division now that native son Ken Griffey Jr. has come home. There's no doubt that Griffey makes them better, but no one player can carry a baseball team, and Junior will need plenty of help.
Interestingly, our simulations show the Reds scoring fewer runs than they did a year ago. Let's start by looking at their output from two positions:
Year Players AVG HR RBI R BB 1999 Greg Vaughn/Mike Cameron .251 66 184 197 165 2000 Ken Griffey/Dante Bichette .272 63 215 185 124
Not as big a difference as you might have expected? Griffey isn't the problem, of course. The problem is that Bichette is 36 years old and has averaged only 18 homers per 600 atbats away from Denver over the past five years. The Reds offense also suffered from the loss of Jeffrey Hammonds (17 HR in a half-season last year) and small declines from several players who had career years in 1999. (By the way, Deion Sanders did not play a meaningful role in our simulations, as Vaughn, Griffey, Dmitri Young and Michael Tucker are ahead of him on our depth charts.)
Even though there are questions about the Reds pitching staff (Is the rotation deep enough? Was the bullpen overworked last year?), their results were right in line with their 1999 finish. Assuming, as we did, that Pete Harnisch and Denny Neagle will be healthy, the rotation should be strong, at least 1-through-4, and the bullpen quite deep, putting the Reds mound corps on track for their second-straight top-four finish in staff ERA.
I have a hunch that the pitching might be a little worse and the offense a little better than these results suggest. The questions about the pitching are legitimate, and I don't think the outfield defense will be as good -- they'll miss Cameron's range in center, and Bichette is a liability in left. Offensively, Sean Casey and Dmitri Young could get even better, and Junior might put on a big show in his first year in a Reds uniform, so even if the pitching slips a little, they should be in the thick of things all year.
St. Louis Cardinals (84-78, division title 6%, wildcard 15%)
With a genuine leadoff hitter in Fernando Vina and a comeback from JD Drew, the Cardinals look to add about 50 runs. The pitching looks better, too, with a re-tooled rotation featuring phenom Rick Ankiel, newcomers Darryl Kile, Pat Hentgen, and Andy Benes, and a second-half return by Matt Morris. The result is a Cardinals team that should be a serious contender.
The starting rotation is more deep than dominant -- Kile, Hentgen and Benes are all projected to be league-average pitchers based on their recent performances. But it could be a lot better than it looks. Ankiel's potential seems unlimited, and every other member of the rotation has performed at a very high level in the past.
Offensively, we assumed that Eric Davis would be able to play 140+ games in right field and bounce back to have a strong season. That might be optimistic on both counts. We also have Eli Marrero and Drew penciled in as starters even though their 1999 slumps led to mediocre projections. There's a good chance that one or both could bounce back. As always, Mark McGwire's health is the key to his season. In our simulations, he averaged 150 games, 61 homers, and 137 RBI. If he can top that, it won't be by much, so there's a lot more downside risk than upside potential in his outlook.
Pittsburgh Pirates (79-83, wildcard 5%)
The Pirates should get more production at short (if Pat Meares plays the whole year) and right (where prospect Chad Hermanson averaged .240 and 25 homers in our simulations), but 3B Aramis Ramirez and LF Wil Cordero are projected to fall a little short of their 1999 counterparts, Ed Sprague and Al Martin. Jason Kendall seems healthy, and a full year from him will be a big boost. All things considered, they should score a few more runs than last year.
The pitchers were 7th in runs allowed last year and had the same ranking in our tests. That's not too surprising, since it's basically the same crew. It's a fairly young group, so continued growth and development can be expected, but there are no obvious reasons to expect a major leap forward. And there are some health concerns, with Rich Loiselle, Chris Peters, and Jose Silva currently at less than full strength.
Chicago Cubs (77-85, no post-season appearances)
Well, things could hardly get any worse than they were last year, when the pitching staff fell apart and some veterans (now departed) stopped hitting altogether. But the 2000 edition looks a little more respectable, with our simulations showing improvements of about 60 runs on both sides of the ball.
Let's start with the offense. Sammy Sosa averaged .304 with 59 homers and 145 RBI in our simulations. That's a pretty good foundation for any lineup. We made Shane Andrews the starter at third because he's a good fielder who has averaged 29 homers per 600 atbats in his career. Former Dodger Eric Young is a major upgrade at second. And we gave most of the playing time in center to prospect Roosevelt Brown (over light-hitting defensive specialist Damon Buford), and Brown came through with a .282 average and 21 homers.
Even though Ismael Valdes is projected for a mediocre 4.72 ERA (as a result of his move from a pitcher's park to a hitter's park), that's an improvement over Steve Trachsel's 1999 season. Our projections for Kerry Wood may turn out to be optimistic on playing time (we have him taking a regular turn from day one) and pessimistic on performance (he's not projected to make it all the way back to his 1998 form). If he's healthy and in peak form, he would add 3-5 wins to our forecast.
Milwaukee Brewers (64-98, no post-season appearances)
The Brewers won 74 games last year, and while I wasn't expecting them to be any better in 2000, I was surprised to see them drop ten games in our simulations. The deterioration is mainly on offense -- they're projected to score about 80 fewer runs -- but the pitchers have a role in it as well.
A gaping hole in the lineup was created when Dave Nilsson decided to play in Japan as a prelude to representing his native Australia in the Olympics. Nilsson batted .309 with a .400 on-base percentage and 21 homers, and there's no catcher on the roster who can come anywhere near that level. They have one great hitter (Jeromy Burnitz) and several good ones, but not enough to keep them out of the bottom quarter of the league in scoring.
The pitching staff has a few too many post-surgical comeback candidates and guys who were discarded by other teams. It's hard to find any evidence of potential greatness in this group, and most are projected to be a little worse than the league average. In our simulations, only Colorado allowed more runs, and if you take away the Coors effect, the Brewers had the worst staff in the league.
Arizona Diamondbacks (92-70, division title 73%, wildcard 2%)
The defending NL West champs figure to come back to the pack a little in 2000, but they remain the clear favorites in a division that is suddenly devoid of serious challengers.
Arizona unexpectedly led the league in scoring last year thanks to a host of career years that are unlikely to be repeated. But even if these veterans retreat a little toward their career norms, the Diamondbacks should continue to put runs on the board. Erubiel Durazo came out of nowhere to tear up the minor leagues and hit .329 with 11 homers in only 155 major-league atbats, and he's penciled in for a full season at first base. That move shunts former phenom Travis Lee into a right field platoon with Bernard Gilkey and pushes Tony Womack to short, creating more offense at both positions. The batting order is heavily tilted toward left-handed hitters, but that probably won't hurt them (in the regular season, at least) because of the scarcity of good lefty starters and the fact that two of them (Randy Johnson and Omar Daal) play for Arizona.
Last year's Arizona pitching staff battled Atlanta and Houston for the league lead in ERA all season long, finishing a close third in the end. But this year's crew will be hard-pressed to do as well. At age 36, Randy Johnson is projected for a season more in line with his career averages (3.24 ERA) than his Cy Young campaign of a year ago. Several others are well past 30 and subject to age-related declines. And I believe the pitching will be hurt by a defense whose range is declining due to age -- Steve Finley, Luis Gonzalez, Bernard Gilkey, Jay Bell and Matt Williams average about 34 years -- and position shifts -- moving Lee to right and Womack to short decreases the range at both positions.
Los Angeles Dodgers (82-80, division title 16%, wildcard 3%)
What a difference a year makes. Last spring, the Dodgers were clear favorites to win the West and seemed poised to give the Braves a serious run for the NL pennant. Three months later, the clubhouse was in disarray and the team in freefall. They needed a strong finish just to get back to third place and 77 wins.
Then they dumped salary -- sending Ismael Valdes and Eric Young to the Cubs for reliever Terry Adams -- creating holes in the middle of the infield and the rotation. Mark Grudzielanek is being moved to second, leaving no good candidate to play short -- Juan Castro and Alex Diaz are projected to fall below the Rey Ordonez line offensively, so we gave the job to Jose Vizcaino. Despite his erratic 1999 season, we gave Carlos Perez the #5 spot in the rotation, but with Perez having just been arrested for allegedly driving under the influence, it looks like Orel Hershiser will get the nod instead.
In our simulations, the offense dropped to 12th in the league despite the acquisition of Shawn Green. The pitching improved a little, as Chan Ho Park and Darren Dreifort rebounded and stalwarts Kevin Brown and Jeff Shaw continued to perform at a high level. The bottom line is that the 2000 edition looks like a .500 team that could just as easily fall into fourth as challenge for the lead.
San Francisco Giants (81-81, division title 8%)
This was one of the results that surprised me. The 1999 Giants won 86 games on the strength of an offense that ranked third in the league and a ninth-place pitching staff. The 2000 edition looks to have a similar profile, but small declines on the both sides of the ball cost them five games in our simulations.
Barry Bonds was able to play only 102 games last year, and his everyday presence will be a big plus this year. On the other hand, there are several others in the lineup who are projected to pull back a little from the unusually high levels they achieved a year ago. The catcher position is a question, with newcomers Bobby Estalella and Doug Mirabelli unlikely to match the production the Giants received last year from Brent Mayne and Scott Servais. (Estalella has some power and a good eye, but he also has a .218 career average and batted only .231 at AAA last year.) Russ Davis brings a decent bat, but we expect his defensive shortcomings to limit him to a platoon role with Bill Mueller at third.
The pitching is a question mark but could be better than these results suggest. Livan Hernandez has put an awful lot of runners on base the past two years, but he's still only 25 and might turn the corner soon. Joe Nathan's projection is dragged down by his mediocre AAA numbers, but he might continue to pitch better in the big leagues than in the minors. Robb Nen could rediscover his dominance after a merely good 1999 season. Russ Ortiz is coming off a very impressive 18-9 record, but he walked a league-leading 125 batters in 208 innings, and if he's unable to get those walks under control, they will come back to haunt him at some point.
Colorado Rockies (78-84, division title 3%)
This is a very interesting team. Two years ago, we projected the Rockies to win 77 games, they won 77 games, and a highly-respected manager (Don Baylor) was fired for failing to live up to expectations. Last spring, we projected them to win 79 games, they won 72, and another highly-respected manager (Jim Leyland) resigned in frustration. This winter, ownership decided the problem was higher in the organization and brought in a new GM (Dan O'Dowd) who promptly turned over half the roster.
I really like the changes I see in this lineup. New 3B Jeff Cirillo is my pick to win the NL batting title, with teammate and two-time defending champ Larry Walker his main competition. Getting Jeffrey Hammonds for Dante Bichette was a steal, upgrading the defense and bringing a bat that produced 17 homers in 262 atbats last year. (Bichette did that, too, but only with the ample assistance of Coors Field.)
New CF Tom Goodwin may have the best raw speed in all of baseball, but his on-base averages haven't been good enough for a leadoff hitter and he doesn't make nearly as many plays in the field as you'd expect from someone that fast. Moving to Colorado might be the best thing that ever happened to him, though. Over the past three years, Coors Field has increased batting averages by 58 points, meaning that Goodwin can be expected to get on base -- and use his blazing speed -- that much more often.
A lot of new faces -- Rolando Arrojo, Scott Karl, Julian Tavarez, Billy Taylor, Masato Yoshii, Manny Aybar -- will take the hill for the Rockies, but none of them was all that good with his former teams, and there's no reason to believe this staff will improve much on last year's 6.01 ERA. (And it's not only the park -- their road ERA of 4.84 was still only good enough for 12th in the league in 1999.) By the way, we assumed that Pedro Astacio would survive his domestic abuse trial and deportation proceedings and thereby be able to take a regular turn in the rotation.
San Diego Padres (70-92, no post-season appearances)
Unfortunately, there's not a lot of good news to report from San Diego. The offense, which was 15th in scoring in 1999, isn't likely to improve by much, if at all -- Al Martin, Ryan Klesko and Bret Boone are unlikely to exceed the production of their 1999 counterparts, and Tony Gwynn is another year older. Without a major breakthrough from Ruben Rivera, a big sophomore season from Ben Davis, or some other surprise, they seem destined to outscore only the Marlins for the second straight year.
Even if Brian Boehringer is 100% (we assumed he will be), Matt Clement continues to develop, and Trevor Hoffman remains one of the league's best closers, it's hard to see how this pitching staff can do anything but regress after losing Andy Ashby via the trade with Philadelphia.
What if Ken Griffey hadn't been traded? To find out, we ran eight more season simulations with the Seattle and Cincinnati lineups in their pre-trade form. Eight seasons aren't really enough to prove anything, but it was interesting to see Seattle gain an average of four wins, enough to take the division twice. Without Griffey, Cincinnati won the division only once and was out of the running most of the time.
What if . . . well, I'm sure you can come up with lots of questions of your own. The point is that we (and our customers) can update rosters, adjust the projected stats for individual players, and change the manager profiles in order to answer other questions. And this is a big part of the fun. We can't tell you how the season will really come out, but we can provide a pretty good laboratory for playing out a variety of scenarios.
Naturally, I hope these projected standings turn out to be among the more accurate ones you'll see this spring, but in a way, it's the differences that are more interesting, and it's time to turn our attention from computer simulations to the real thing. There will be trades before opening day and any number of unexpected developments after the first pitch is thrown on March 29th. That's what makes it so much fun to follow baseball, a sport that is unrivaled in its ability to surprise us and give us new things to think about every day.