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Projecting the 1999 Season -- An Update
By Tom Tippett
Three weeks ago, we completed the process of developing projected 1999 statistics and ratings for over 1400 players and running a series of computer simulations of the upcoming season. At that time, we published an article that presented our predicted 1999 standings and talked about the outlook for all thirty teams.
But much has happened since then. We've learned that Kerry Wood, Matt Morris, and Kerry Ligtenberg will miss the season with injuries. That Gary Disarcina's broken arm isn't healing as quickly as first hoped. That some veteran players have been released and a few others have retired. That Orel Hershiser exercised his option to join another team (the Mets) when it became clear he wouldn't be in the Indians rotation. And so on.
So we thought it would be fun to run another 20 simulations of the 1999 season using the latest rosters and injury information. This article presents the updated standings and throws in a few observations about the post-season and the MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year awards as well.
If you're interested in learning more about how we developed the player projections, check out the page titled The Diamond Mind Projection System. And if you'd like to read our detailed comments on the outlook for each team in 1999, you can find them in Projecting the 1999 Season, which we first posted on March 15.
The Updated Standings
Here are the projected final standings, based on the twenty seasons we simulated:
AL East AvgW Diff #DIV #WC New York 105 +1 19.5 .5 Boston 83 +3 .5 3.25 Baltimore 81 -2 3.5 Toronto 78 -1 1.0 Tampa Bay 74 -1 AL Central AvgW Diff #DIV #WC Cleveland 93 -1 18.5 .25 Detroit 79 +3 1.5 .25 Kansas City 75 -3 .5 Chicago 66 0 Minnesota 61 -2 AL West AvgW Diff #DIV #WC Seattle 88 +2 8.0 4.5 Texas 87 -2 8.5 3.25 Anaheim 84 +3 2.5 3.0 Oakland 76 -1 1.0 NL East AvgW Diff #DIV #WC Atlanta 96 -6 12.5 2.0 New York 90 -3 7.5 3.5 Philadelphia 78 +2 1.0 Montreal 71 +3 1.0 Florida 67 +3 NL Central AvgW Diff #DIV #WC Houston 93 +1 9.0 4.0 St. Louis 88 -2 7.0 1.0 Cincinnati 85 +1 2.0 2.5 Chicago 81 +1 2.0 1.0 Pittsburgh 74 +2 Milwaukee 70 -3 NL West AvgW Diff #DIV #WC Los Angeles 92 0 14.5 1.0 San Francisco 85 +4 3.5 2.0 Arizona 83 0 2.0 1.0 Colorado 79 -1 San Diego 71 +2
As you can see from the Diff column in the standings table, the outlook for most teams hasn't changed much. But let's take a moment to look at the teams that have made a move in our projected standings in the last three weeks.
AL East. Even though Baltimore and Boston haven't made any major moves or suffered any significant injuries in the past three weeks, they traded places in the standings. How come? Partly because Baltimore was a little lucky the first time around, as they averaged 83 wins despite being outscored by 18 runs per season. Partly because Boston's offense was a little better this time around as a result of using Brian Daubach instead of Bob Hamelin to fill in while Reggie Jefferson recovers from his back problems.
AL Central. I still believe that Kansas City can be a surprise team this year. I say can be, not will be, because it's not at all clear that the team's front office is going to make any effort to win. They insist that they'll trade Kevin Appier, presumably for prospects. And they talk openly about how it's impossible to win with a $30m payroll so they might as well just play the kids and forget about contending. The Royals dropped three games in our projections since the last time around, mainly because we replaced Glendon Rusch with Brian Barber in the rotation, and we've projected Rusch to be better than Barber this year. But Rusch was sent down to AAA two days ago, so we had to make the move too. Detroit is the team best positioned to pick up the wins that KC dropped, and that's exactly what they did, despite the lack of any major changes in their status.
AL West. Seattle improved a little this time around as a result of improved pitching. I must admit that we don't really know what Piniella's going to do with his pitching staff, so we had to make a few guesses. We added Freddy Garcia and Brett Hinchliffe to the starting rotation and moved John Halama to the bullpen. All three have been terrific this spring, and even though spring stats don't affect our projections, the Mariners allowed 28 fewer runs per season after these changes were made, mainly as a result of getting Ken Cloude out of the rotation. The biggest remaining question mark is Butch Henry, who says he won't go to the bullpen but hasn't pitched well enough this spring to prove that he's ready for the starting rotation.
Anaheim picked up three games, but it's not at all clear that they're three games better. They only outscored their opponents by 14 runs per season, and that run margin normally produces 82 wins, not 84. They traded Dave Hollins for a AAA infielder (Tomas Perez) and acquired Andy Sheets to play SS while Disarcina recovers. Neither move makes them a better club in 1999. Their improvement derives mostly from giving Todd Greene more playing time at catcher, thereby getting one more bat into their lineup.
The outlook for Texas hasn't really changed. They were projected to outscore their opponents by 87 runs during our first round of simulations, and that margin dropped to 78 runs this time. But in a tough division where two of their opponents appear to have gotten a little better, it cost them two wins.
NL East. Atlanta dropped by 6 wins, but it remains to be seen whether they're that much worse. The loss of Kerry Ligtenberg hurts their bullpen, but we won't know by how much until we see whether Mark Wohlers can come all the way back to his peak form. The loss of Wes Helms removes one potentially potent bat from a bench that has been a weakness for this team in recent years. And we'd projected Bruce Chen to be a better pitcher than Odalis Perez, so when Chen was sent down after a bad spring and Perez was named #5 starter, the team allowed more runs in our second round of simulations. Twenty-four per season more, to be specific, thanks to the combined effect of the Chen demotion and the Ligtenberg injury. But Chen could come back after a month, Wohlers could be as good as ever, and the Braves could easily win 100 games again.
The Mets should have been in a position to gain from Atlanta's slippage, but when Nomo was released and Hershiser was added to replace him, their pitching was hurt as well, at least as far as our projections are concerned. We use stats from the past three years, so Nomo was projected to be better than he was last year, thanks to his strong 1996 season and the fact that he held opponents to a low batting average in 1998 despite his overall ineffectiveness. On the other hand, given the rate at which Nomo has been declining since 1996, a bounce-back season was/is no sure thing, and one could easily argue that the previous projection of 93 wins was a little optimistic as a result.
NL Central. If Chris Holt is healthy, and he appears to be, it can only help the Astros. The Cardinals lost Matt Morris but gained some offense when Joe McEwing beat out Carlos Baerga for the 2B job, with the net result being a two-game drop in the standings. The Cubs lost Kerry Wood, but we had projected him to slip a little from his 1998 performance anyway, so the loss didn't hurt the team as much as it would have had we predicted a Clemens or Maddux or even Schilling kind of year for him in the first place. They picked up a game in the standings mainly because their offense was a little more efficient and some of their division rivals were a little weaker this time around. Milwaukee, for example, suffers from the loss or potential loss of Cal Eldred. It's far from clear how much or how well he will pitch this year, and our latest batch of simulations were on the pessimistic side. (That's just an assumption, not a prediction, by the way.) Pittsburgh gains by giving Warren Morris a little more playing time at 2B at Mike Benjamin's expense.
NL West. The Dodgers projection didn't move at all, but Arizona and San Francisco traded places. I don't consider this to be a significant indicator of their 1999 chances, however. Arizona improved their team by picking up Holmes and Frascatore for their bullpen in the past week. But the Giants were a little unlucky in our first batch of seasons, winning an average of 81 games despite outscoring their opponents by 21 runs per season. This time around, they were a little lucky, as their run margin increased only to 33 (mainly due to Chris Brock winning the job as #5 starter) but they won 85 games per season. In my view, these two teams are just about even.
We didn't simulate the post-season, mainly because it would take a lot more than 20 simulations to prove anything. In a short playoff series, the chance for an upset are much greater than they are for a full season, so it wouldn't mean much to tell you how often the Yankees won the World Series in our simulations. A better way to think about the post-season odds is to look at the projected number of post-season appearances and the projected win totals for each team in the standings above. That will tell you that the Yankees and Braves remain the favorites to meet for the championship and Cleveland, by virtue of its weak division, has the next best chance to appear in the Fall Classic.
Just for fun, we selected MVPs, Cy Young winners, and Rookies of the Year for each of the 20 seasons. Here's who picked up the honors in each category:
Lg Most Valuable Player Cy Young Award Rookie of the Year AL Juan Gonzalez 4 Roger Clemens 9 Eric Chavez 9 Ken Griffey 4 Pedro Martinez 7 Jeremy Giambi 7 N. Garciaparra 3 Mike Mussina 1 Carlos Febles 3 Jim Thome 3 Andy Pettitte 1 Carlos Beltran 1 Alex Rodriguez 3 Chuck Finley 1 Manny Ramirez 1 Kenny Rogers 1 Roberto Alomar 1 Tino Martinez 1 NL Mark McGwire 7 Greg Maddux 12 JD Drew 19 Sammy Sosa 4 Randy Johnson 2 Mitch Meluskey 1 Larry Walker 3 Kevin Brown 1 Barry Bonds 2 Denny Neagle 1 Mike Piazza 1 Tom Glavine 1 Jeff Bagwell 1 John Smoltz 1 Gary Sheffield 1 Al Leiter 1 Ken Caminiti 1 Jose Lima 1
By the way, all of these winners were unanimous, because I had the only vote. And I cast my vote largely on the basis of how the writers tend to vote -- giving a lot of weight to the best player, but placing extra emphasis on where the team finished and certain high-profile stats (RBI and HR for hitters, Wins and ERA for the Cy). There are plenty of other players -- Derek Jeter and Vladimir Guerrero come to mind -- who had great seasons but fell a little short of winning the top prize.
By the time you read this, the baseball world may well have changed. Kevin Appier may have been traded. A slugger may have been sidelined for a couple of months after getting hit by a pitch. Yet another pitcher might be making an unscheduled visit to Dr. Jobe or Dr. Andrews. But this is how the future looked to us based on roster moves and injury news that had been reported through March 31st.
Now the real fun begins. The first pitch is only two days away. It's time to stop running computer simulations and start watching some games that count.
Copyright © 1999. Diamond Mind, Inc. All rights reserved.