|Judgment Day (AL)|
Written by Justin Zeth (Contact & Archive) on October 02, 2007
It's that most dreaded day of the year for this particular writer: The day when I get called into the principal's office and handed my grades for the year. If I'm going to go out there and boldly make preseason predictions, well, you'd better believe I'm going to have to answer for them in the end of it, however embarrassing they may be. (But then, if embarrassment is a problem for you, you should not write stuff on the internet.)
Now here are the predictions for the standings:
1. New York Yankees 103-59 (Actual finish: 94-68, 2nd; +9)
No big mistakes here, but then, a big mistake would have been near-impossible in this division. I was seeing the Orioles getting stronger and the Blue Jays getting weaker, but no, status quo carried the day. I get some props for correctly identifying the Devil Rays as a team that sucks when everyone else was predicting this would be the year they finally make noise... but no, they still suck. No matter how sexy their talent looks on paper or even on SportsCenter, they still don't play baseball very well, and no, I won't be predicting anything better than last place for them next year, either.
1. Cleveland Indians 93-69 (Actual finish: 96-66, 1st; -3)
I was hardly alone in predicting good things for the Twins this year, but honestly, we all were asleep at the switch on them. If we'd been paying attention, we'd have seen that it was obvious the Twins didn't have the offense to win 90 games, especially since they got career years from Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau last year to get them to their division title. To make up for the lack of offense, they'd have needed one of their young pitchers to approximate Francisco Liriano's 2006 production, which wasn't going to happen. Maybe their crash to sub-.500 land was a small surprise, but the Twins were never going to get near 90 wins without more than one ungodly career year.
You must remember in the preseason, when Nate Silver's PECOTA computer (located, of course, in his mother's basement) loudly announced to the whole entire internet: “THE CHICAGO WHITE SOX ARE GOING TO SUCK THIS YEAR!” And, oh, the venom that spewed forth in the wake of that fateful incident. The hostility. The rage. How dare that damned bastard computer—a computer! It doesn't watch the games! How can it know anything about baseball!--stand up and denounce the Raccoon Lodge's favoritest team in the whole wide world, that fabled, storied team of bunting and hustling and hit-and-running and Scott Podsednik and they even signed DARIN ERSTAD and Smartball!? The horror! And, oh, yes, every pen-wielding (keyboard-wielding, actually) soldier the Raccoon Lodge could muster marched straight to the front lines and denounced Nate Silver's computer in his mother's basement. Ridiculed it. Tar-and-feathered it. Ridiculed it some more. Made fun of it. Made mother's-basement and slide rule jokes. Demanded Nate Silver, who has never watched a baseball game in his life because he's too busy fiddling with his computer in his mother's basement, never again be permitted to write anything on the internet. Did I mention they ridiculed it?
And it is absolutely delicious that, when the dust settled, the Chicago White Sox had finished the 2007 season with a record of 72-90.
Exactly what PECOTA had projected.
1. Seattle Mariners 85-77 (Actual finish: 88-74, 2nd; -3)
Now that's a nifty trick: I actually managed to be wrong both ways on the Mariners. They won more games than I projected, yet finished in second where I had them in first. That is, of course, because I completely whiffed on predicting the demise of the Angels. They got stronger play than I was projecting from several young players, most notably Reggie Willits and Casey Kotchman, and of course Kelvim Escobar was a revelation with a career year he'll likely never approach again. Nevertheless, the Angels had enough young talent and enough pitchers sitting around that I must confess it was rather foolhardy to project them all the way down to 83 wins.
How about that Mariners prediction, though? I looked at the Mariners before the season and, where other people were for some reason seeing a last-place team, I saw a pretty average team. They had a decent enough lineup, and enough pitchers around to work out an OK staff. Part of the reason I had them at 85 wins, actually, was I was projecting this to be the Year Felix Hernandez Blows Up©, which I now will admit is never going to come, unless you count his elbow blowing up.
The funny thing, the local Athletics fans were able to talk me into backing off a little on my dismal projection for them. In retrospect, it's easy to see I should have stuck to my guns. Without Rich Harden, the Athletics are just not a very good team. They're not terrible at any particular position, but there's no oomph to them at all, anywhere on the field. I don't like the Athletics' long-term outlook, and it pains me to say the end may be in sight for Billy Beane. Maybe he'll go back to writing books about himself.
I actually did a lot better with these projections than I have in previous years (not that that's saying terribly much). But now, for some real scorn and ridicule, let's look at my individual award predictions.
AL MVP: Alex Rodriguez. Bingo! Pay the man! This was money in the bag to me because, it seems, I recognized before it become popular knowledge that 2007 was a contract year for Rodriguez. And if there's one thing Alex Rodriguez really likes, it's having so much money he can replace all the toilet paper in his house with $100 bills. And, oh yes, the Yankees are going to pay.
AL BARRY BONDS AWARD (Best Player): Grady Sizemore. (Hiding in the corner, hoping not to be noticed.) Rodriguez blew away the field for this award as well. I was projecting the Yankees to run down the Red Sox down the stretch—which almost happened, I might add—and Rodriguez grabbing the Raccoon Lodge's award as a result.
AL BATTING TITLE: Ichiro Suzuki. Why project anyone else. Who out there put their money on Magglio Ordonez? Batting titles are near-impossible to predict, so generally you just go with the guy with the best track record of hitting for average. Remember, recent past “batting champions” include such luminaries as Freddy Sanchez (Freddy Sanchez!) and Bill Mueller (remember him?) Ichiro did OK by me, as expected.
AL HOME RUN TITLE: Travis Hafner. What the heck happened to Travis Hafner? He didn't totally suck, but it looked like he aged ten years over the offseason. His will be a very volatile projection for 2008, methinks. Alex Rodriguez, of course, ran away and hid with the home run crown and officially kicked off the March to the Record (career record, that is).
AL CY YOUNG: Daisuke Matsuzaka. That was my favorite little gambit, and it didn't turn out too terribly. Matsuzaka wasn't as good as I was feeling from him, but he was quietly pretty good, and I at least did identify the correct team. Josh Beckett will be winning this award.
AL SATCHEL PAIGE AWARD (Best Pitcher): Johan Santana. Well, duh. Vegas probably takes bets on this award as “Johan Santana” and “The Field.” The Field won this time, thanks to Super Johan leading the league in giving up bombs. We'll revisit this topic sometime after Playoff Mania has cooled off, but the short answer: C.C. Sabathia was the best pitcher in the AL this year.
AL GOOSE GOSSAGE AWARD (Best Relief Pitcher): Joe Nathan. Whoops. J.J. Putz took this one down, which was a surprise to most anyone and a total shock to me. Relief pitchers are, to say the very least, difficult to project.
AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Daisuke Matsuzaka. This one should be safe, and yes, I'm OK with giving the RoY to a Japanese player.
That's not as embarrassing as it could have been. One of the entertaining things about sports, as in life, is the unexpected happens all the time, and making predictions and then seeing how wrong you were—and not just that, but how unpredictably wrong you were—highlights for us, time and again, just how impossible it is to see the future.
Which reminds me: Playoff predictions! I'll write these more fully tomorrow, but here's the short form: Yankees over Diamondbacks in 6.