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1999 Team Predictions -- Keeping Score
By Tom Tippett
Every spring, numerous experts and baseball magazines come out with predictions for the coming season. Most give you their best guess at the final standings, but some of the more courageous ones go so far as to provide projected win totals for each team.
And then they're forgotten. I've been reading these publications for years, and I don't ever remember seeing an article after the season that looks at how good or bad those predictions turned out to be.
This is the second year that Diamond Mind has developed detailed statistical projections for big-league players and use our Diamond Mind Baseball game to simulate the coming season. With this method, we think we get a pretty good idea of how each team looks on paper coming out of spring training. Since we plan to do this every year, its important for us to measure our progress and see where we can do better in the future.
Back in March, we collected predictions from magazines, web sites, the Boston Globe newspaper, and the Las Vegas over-under line. To this set we added a bunch more that were compiled and graciously contributed by Pete Palmer (co-author of Total Baseball and The Hidden Game of Baseball). Pete's been projecting team standings for more than 20 years, and he routinely collects predictions and ranks them at the end of the year.
Pete's rankings are based on a simple scoring system -- 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.
Here are the final standings, using Pete's method, for 1999:
Forecaster Score Gordon Edes, Boston Globe 28 Rany Jazayerli, Baseball Prospectus 30 Pete Palmer 40 Bob Ryan, Boston Globe 40 David Schoenfield, ESPN.com editor 40 Jim Caple, ESPN.com columnist 40 Diamond Mind 42 Rob Neyer, ESPN.com columnist 44 ESPN.com 46 Matt Szefc, ESPN.com editor 46 Las Vegas over-under line 48 Baseball Weekly 51.5 Steve Mann 54 Sports Illustrated 56 Dan Shaughnessy, Boston Globe 58 Bob Brookover, ESPN.com columnist 58 John Sickels, ESPN.com columnist 58 The Sporting News (weekly) 60 ESPN the magazine 62 Bob Klapisch, ESPN.com columnist 62 Peter Gammons, Boston Globe 66 MLB Yearbook 66 Ultimate Sports 66 Street & Smith 68 Baseball America 70 Sport 70 Athlon 72 Baseball Illustrated 72 Baseball Digest 76 The Sporting News (spring magazine) 78 Larry Whiteside, Boston Globe 80 Mazeroski 84
This isn't the only scoring system one could use to rank these projections, of course, so it's quite possible the standings would change if a different method was used. And it's not a totally fair comparison, either, since some of these predictions were made long before spring training started and others (including ours) just a day or two before the season. Obviously, those who knew that Kerry Wood, Andres Galarraga, Moises Alou and Matt Morris would miss the season have an edge on those who didn't.
Much more interesting than the overall scores, in my opinion, are the specific teams that forecasters were most right or wrong about. For me, anyway, it's always a lot of fun to look at the projections side by side and see how each differed from the others. Here are some of the things that I noticed:
AL East. All thirty-two predictions had the Yankees winning the division and Tampa Bay finishing last. In between, the consensus was for a Baltimore-Toronto-Boston finish. Only Gordon Edes, Pete Palmer, and David Schoenfeld had the division right from top to bottom.
AL Central. You won't be surprised to learn that everyone picked Cleveland to win this weak division for the second year in a row, with the Tigers grabbing second on just about every list. Rob Neyer of ESPN.com was the only one who had the White Sox finishing second, with most everyone else picking them third. A couple of brave souls (perhaps inspired by our pre-season praise) picked the Royals to finish second, and while KC had the second-best run differential in the division, they could do no better than squeeze past the Twins for fourth place in the final days. Minnesota was the consensus pre-season pick for last place, though Baseball America and some of the ESPN guys had them third.
AL West. As everyone knows, the collapse of the Angels was one of the biggest surprises of this campaign. They were ranked first in almost half of the predictions but went into a tailspin and finished last. We were among a handful of forecasters who were not swayed by the pre-season hype and figured them for third in the division. Texas was the favorite on the non-Anaheim crowd, with five others picking Seattle. Rani Jazayerli gets top marks for this division, as he was the only one who pegged Oakland for second and Anaheim for the basement.
NL East. This was a slam dunk for just about everyone. A couple had Montreal finishing ahead of Philly, and a few had Florida sneaking in ahead of Montreal. But most hit this division right on the nose. Jim Caple was the only forecaster who put a team (the Expos) other than the Mets in second place.
NL Central. For the second year in a row, this division baffled most of us. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh finished higher than most expected while St. Louis and the Cubs came up short. Twenty-seven predictions correctly picked Houston to win the division, with three nominating the Cardinals and two (believe it or not) picking the last-place Cubs. Just about everyone had Pittsburgh and Milwaukee in the bottom two positions. Nobody picked this division exactly, but Peter Gammons had the top three positions correct and came closest overall.
NL West. According to this group, Arizona had no chance to win the division. The Dodgers were favored on 26 of these lists and the Giants on the other six. For the second year in a row, the Rockies were over-rated by all but three predictors. Just about everyone had the Padres last.
Looking back over the past two years, here are the rankings for the forecasters who were included in our sample both years:
Forecast 1999 1998 Total Diamond Mind 42 44.5 86.5 Pete Palmer 40 58 98 Steve Mann 54 44 98 Las Vegas over-under line 48 52 100 Sports Illustrated 56 54 110 Baseball Weekly 51.5 60 111.5 ESPN the magazine 62 64 126 Sporting News (spring magazine) 78 54 132 Street & Smith 68 64 132 Sport 70 64 134 Baseball Digest 76 58 134 Athlon 72 72 144 Ultimate Sports 66 78 144 Baseball Illustrated 72 74 146 Mazeroski 84 88 152
I'll be the first to admit that we were a little lucky this year. The Diamond Mind projections were heading for point total in the mid-50s until a few key teams (LA, KC, Detroit) got things going late in the season. And we saved a few ranking points on the final day of the season when five key games went our way. The odds against that happening are pretty long -- 1 in 32 if you treat each game as a coin flip, and with minor-league callups populating so many lineups on the last day, it's hard to argue that these games are anything other than 50:50 propositions.
Based on the past two seasons, our approach to developing projections seems to provide a good way to see through the off-season hype. Both years, our relatively high ranking was primarily due to putting certain over-rated teams (Anaheim, Colorado, Baltimore) in their places.
On the other hand, we've been too optimistic about the ability of a couple of young teams (Cincinnati in 1998 and Kansas City this year) to come out of nowhere. We called the Reds to win the NL Central last year, but they were 16-26 in one-run games and finished in fourth place, 8 games under .500. This year, KC improved their run differential from -185 to -65 but could only manage 64 wins due to bullpen woes that helped produce a horrible record in one-run games (11-32). Normally, that run differential would produce 75 wins, good enough to tie the White Sox for second place.
Before we produce our projections for 2000, we'll be taking another look at how our system handles young players who are expected to play a major role for the first time. It's quite possible that there's something to the notion that these players need time to adjust to the big leagues, or to use a cliche, to "learn how to win".
In conclusion, I'd like to extend congratulations to Gordon Edes and Rani Jazayerli for very strong performances in a year with lots of unexpected results, apologies to other predictors that we couldn't include (because we didn't know about them), and an invitation to let us know of other predictions that we should include in our survey next year.
Copyright © 1999. Diamond Mind, Inc. All rights reserved.