Friday, March 23, 2018

What I Didn't Expect in Baseball in 2017

With less than a week until this year's record-early Opening Day, I'll be sharing my annual predictions for the upcoming baseball season pretty soon. But if last year's predictions are any indication, you should probably ignore them. (I'm really good at marketing, guys.) After looking back at how my political forecasts fared in 2017, I do the same for baseball below, and... it's not pretty. Come, let's all laugh at my terrible prediction skills together:

(You can read my full predictions for the 2017 American League season here; the 2017 National League season is here.)

Prediction: The AL division winners would be the Red Sox, Indians, and Astros; the Blue Jays and Rays would win the Wild Cards. In the NL, the Nationals, Cubs, and Dodgers would win their divisions, with the Mets and Cardinals nabbing Wild Cards.
What Really Happened: I got all the division winners right—although everyone else did, too (those six teams had it in the bag since virtually Opening Day)—but the Yankees, Twins, Diamondbacks, and Rockies won the Wild Cards. I had projected the Twins and D'backs for 68 and 74 wins, respectively, two of my worst predictions on the year. One of my predicted playoff teams, the Mets, instead lost 92 games. (Amazingly, though, I still nailed every other team in the NL East within two wins.) Overall, I got 13 teams within five games of their eventual win totals, and the average error of my predictions was 7.7 wins.

Prediction: Greg Bird and Aaron Judge would be the modern Mantle and Maris, going back and forth all season as the Yankees team home-run leader.
What Really Happened: This line allows me to take credit for calling Judge's breakout season, right? The towering right fielder obviously came close to winning the AL MVP with his 52 home runs. Bird, though, laid an egg: .190/.288/.422 with just nine homers.

Prediction: José Altuve would captivate America with a 50-game hitting streak.
What Really Happened: Altuve's longest hitting streak of the season was 19 games, but I doubt he was disappointed—he won the AL MVP and got to death-stare President Trump.

Prediction: Giancarlo Stanton would be the first Marlin ever to top 50 home runs, leading the National League.
What Really Happened: Stanton hit 59 homers, best in not only the Senior Circuit, but all of baseball.

Prediction: By the end of the season, Jeb Bush would be the proud new owner of the Marlins.
What Really Happened: Poor Jeb can't win anything, can he? The group headed by Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter instead won the bidding and bought the team in August.

Prediction: Keon Broxton and Domingo Santana would strike out a combined 300 times, but both would get on base at .350 clips despite .250 batting averages. Broxton would hit 20 homers with 30 steals, and Santana would produce a mirror-image 30/20 season.
What Really Happened: I was pretty close. Broxton hit exactly 20 homers but stole "only" 21 bases. A bigger problem was his average and OBP: .220 and .299, respectively. Santana hit exactly 30 homers and stole "only" 15 bases. He hit .278 and got on base at a .371 clip.

Prediction: Bryce Harper, Adam Eaton, Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, and Daniel Murphy would each be worth more than 4.0 WAR.
What Really Happened: Three surpassed that threshold, according to FanGraphs: Rendon (6.9), Harper (4.8), and Murphy (4.3). Turner wasn't too far behind at 3.0, but Eaton tore his ACL at the end of April, cutting off his season at 0.5 WAR.

Prediction: The Rockies rotation would be the best in club history.
What Really Happened: They posted 11.8 FanGraphs WAR (fifth in club history) and a 91 ERA− (second in club history). Jon Gray (3.2 WAR and a 73 ERA−) and Germán Márquez (2.4 and 87) led the way.

Prediction: Tigers manager Brad Ausmus would be fired in May. With the team hovering around .500 at the trade deadline, ownership would finally give the OK to blow it all up and rebuild.
What Really Happened: Ausmus held on the whole season, but he was quasi-fired in September when the Tigers announced they wouldn't renew his contract. The Tigers entered the July trade deadline at 47–56 and the August deadline at 58–74; it was at the second one when they finally fire-sold off Justin Upton and Justin Verlander.

Prediction: The San Francisco offense would post its worst offensive season since the 2011 squad's 91 OPS+.
What Really Happened: The 2017 Giants managed just an 83 OPS+, the worst in baseball and the Giants' worst score since 2009.

Prediction: Pablo Sandoval would scream back to relevance with 25 home runs and a positive number of Defensive Runs Saved.
What Really Happened: This is one of those predictions that makes you realize just how long ago March 2017 was. Sandoval hit .212/.269/.354 with the Red Sox, was released in July, returned to the Giants, and basically put up the same slash line for them. He hit nine home runs total with −7 DRS.

Prediction: Every Orioles starting pitcher except Wade Miley would give up more runs in 2017 than in 2016.
What Really Happened: They all did it—including Miley.

Prediction: Robbie Ray would take a huge step forward, shaving more than a run off his ERA and leading the league in strikeouts.
What Really Happened: Ray went from a 4.90 ERA to 2.89. Ray's 218 strikeouts were "only" good for third in the Senior Circuit (Max Scherzer led with 268), but Ray did lead in strikeouts per nine innings (12.11).

Prediction: Every Dodgers starting pitcher would miss at least eight starts as the injury bug plagued Los Angeles.
What Really Happened: Every Dodgers starting pitcher missed at least five starts. Their pitchers lost 1,051 days to the disabled list in total, and the entire roster led MLB with 1,914 days missed.

Prediction: Jean Segura would be a huge bust. Mitch Haniger would turn out to be the more valuable addition from the Taijuan Walker trade, even in the short term.
What Really Happened: Segura went from 5.0 WAR to 2.9 WAR—hardly a bust, and still better than Haniger. However, I was at least right that Haniger would distinguish himself right away: he accumulated 2.5 WAR and wOBA-ed .360.

Prediction: The Mets rotation would be fully healthy and dominant, getting 200 innings out of Noah Syndergaard, a sub-3.00 ERA from Steven Matz, and even a respectable year out of Matt Harvey.
What Really Happened: A wonky elbow held Matz to 13 starts with a 6.08 ERA. A torn lat muscle kept Syndergaard out for five months. And Harvey was lucky not to be non-tendered after his 6.70 ERA performance.

Prediction: Jordan Zimmermann would rue signing with Detroit as he became a pure contact pitcher (setting a career low in strikeout percentage) but the Tigers' league-worst defense failed to convert them into outs.
What Really Happened: Exactly that. Zimmermann's 14.5% strikeout percentage was not only a career low, but it was also fifth-worst among all MLB pitchers with at least 160 innings pitched. As a result of the Tigers' AL-worst −69 DRS, Zimmermann mustered just a 6.08 ERA.

Prediction: Two former Rangers prospects would experience resurgences. Jurickson Profar would win the batting title, and Delino DeShields Jr. would sport a .350 OBP and 30 stolen bases.
What Really Happened: Whoops—Profar hit .172 in only 58 at-bats. But DeShields came eerily close to my projections: his OBP was .347, and he stole 29 bases.

Prediction: Greg Holland wouldn't notch a save all season.
What Really Happened: He led the NL in them with 41.

Prediction: José Berríos and Byron Buxton would finally live up to their potential—which would be good for the Twins, since Brian Dozier would hit just .210 with 10 home runs and nearly 200 strikeouts.
What Really Happened: Berríos went from walking nearly as many as he struck out in 2016 to 14–8 with a 3.89 ERA. Buxton hit a decent .728 OPS but, thanks to stellar defense, amassed 3.5 WAR. Dozier, though, was his usual excellent self, slashing .271/.359/.498 with 141 strikeouts and only mild regression in the homer department (34).

Prediction: Wade Davis would struggle with his control in his recovery from injury, and Kyle Hendricks would regress to league average.
What Really Happened: Davis did indeed walk a career-high 11.6% of batters he faced; I'm nervous for him in 2018. Hendricks regressed from a 2.13 ERA to 3.03, but that was still good for an ERA+ of 144.

Prediction: I called Dansby Swanson winning NL Rookie of the Year "the safest prediction on this page." However, I did expect Cody Bellinger to "force himself into the lineup in mid-siummer."
What Really Happened: Swanson didn't even get Rookie of the Year votes, as he finished with just 0.1 WAR. Bellinger came up on April 25 and didn't look back, collecting 39 home runs and the ROY trophy.

Prediction: The Rangers would have a losing record in one-run games, and they would lead the AL in days spent on the DL.
What Really Happened: Texas did indeed go 13–24 in one-run games, the worst mark in baseball. Their players spent an above-average 1,271 days on the DL, but the Rays led the AL with 1,644.

Prediction: Jason Heyward would bounce back with a .290/.350/.450 slash line, 20 DRS, and a 5.0 WAR. Ben Zobrist, on the other hand, would run into a brick wall. His modest value with the bat would be offset by the worst defensive season of his career.
What Really Happened: Heyward was only marginally better than his disappointing 2016 with the bat (.259/.326/.389), and while he did put up 18 DRS, UZR was much less kind to him. As a result, he had a FanGraphs WAR of just 0.9. Zobrist joined him in the Cubs' trash heap, though not for the reasons I foresaw. He was putrid at the plate (.232/.318/.375) but maintained a (barely) positive defensive value (1 DRS, 1.7 Fielding Runs Above Average).

Prediction: Jorge Soler would lead Royals position players in WAR.
What Really Happened: At −1.0, he was instead dead last.

Prediction: Sonny Gray would continue to be a 75 ERA+ pitcher, Jharel Cotton would pitch 160 innings with a 3.40 ERA, and All-Star Sean Manaea would be the first of the 2017 season to throw a no-hitter.
What Really Happened: Gray returned to form with a 123 ERA+, good enough to be traded to the Yankees. Cotton stunk up the joint to the tune of a 5.58 ERA in 129 innings. Manaea was better (a 4.37 ERA) but no All-Star—although he did throw five no-hit innings in just his third start of the season. (He was removed with the no-hitter intact because he had already thrown 98 pitches.)

Prediction: Jay Bruce would finally win over Mets fans by giving them a .750 OPS, while José Reyes would be banished from Flushing for good by the end of the season.
What Really Happened: Bruce gave Mets fans a .841 OPS, earning a trade to Cleveland, but New York welcomed him back as a free agent in January. Despite being far worse (a .315 OBP), Reyes was allowed to bat 501 times for the Mets, and he too was re-signed in January.

Prediction: The Dodgers would have the NL's stingiest bullpen, followed by the Marlins.
What Really Happened: The Dodgers did rank first in the NL in bullpen ERA (3.38), but the Marlins ranked 10th (4.40).

Prediction: Félix Hernández would post a career-low strikeout rate and flirt with his career-high ERA of 4.52. However, Drew Smyly would make up for it with a 3.20 ERA. James Paxton would finally pitch to his 2.80 FIP.
What Really Happened: Hernández's 21.2% strikeout rate wasn't the lowest of his career, but his ERA did soar to 4.36. Smyly didn't pitch an inning all season, going under the knife in June. Paxton did indeed have that breakout season, posting a 2.98 ERA, but it still didn't catch up to his FIP, which was an outstanding 2.61.

Prediction: David Dahl would surpass outfield-mates Carlos González and Charlie Blackmon in WAR.
What Really Happened: Dahl never played in the majors all year long, so obviously he failed to do so. It would've been easy to beat out González (−0.2 WAR), but Blackmon got MVP votes with his 6.5 score.

Prediction: Steven Souza would finally have that 20/20 breakout season, and Colby Rasmus and Matt Duffy would match their career-high WARs for the Rays.
What Really Happened: Rasmus "stepped away from baseball" halfway through the year, and Duffy never even played in the majors. Souza did break out, but not in quite so balanced a proportion: he hit 30 home runs and stole 16 bases. Both were career highs, and he was traded to the Diamondbacks for his efforts.

Prediction: Jonathan Villar would hit just .240, and his runs scored and stolen bases would both be slashed in half from 2016.
What Really Happened: Villar hit .241. His runs scored went from 92 to 49, and his stolen bases went from 62 to 23.

Prediction: Chris Archer and Blake Snell would be a formidable two-headed monster at the front of the Rays rotation, but the AL Cy Young Award would go to KC's Danny Duffy (a 2.50 ERA and 240 strikeouts).
What Really Happened: Archer actually regressed from 2016 with a 4.07 ERA, and Snell was close behind at 4.04. Duffy was a little better, boasting a 3.81 ERA, but only punched out 130. None of the three received any Cy Young votes.

Prediction: Jameson Taillon's 2.50 ERA would put him squarely in the NL Cy Young conversation. However, Pirates teammate Jung Ho Kang's personal and legal problems would end his major-league career.
What Really Happened: Taillon instead took a huge step back with a 4.44 ERA, although a 3.48 FIP and .352 BABIP suggests he didn't deserve that fate. And so far so bad for Kang.

Prediction: José Bautista would bounce back so convincingly that he would be as valuable as his 2016 self and Edwin Encarnación combined.
What Really Happened: Bautista was awful. His −0.5 WAR was far worse than the 1.4 he accrued in 2016. Encarnación was worth 2.5 WAR in his first season in Cleveland.

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