Fun With Projected Standings
Several sites have published 2014 projected standings, and Vegas has its over/under lines – can they tell us anything new about the M’s or the division chase? Ok, no, not really, but let’s just go with this anyway. Below is a table of the projected AL West win totals from BP’s PECOTA depth charts, Fangraphs’ Projected Standings, Clay Davenport’s version of same, and the Vegas line from Sportsbook.ag*
|2014 Projected Wins|
A few observations here:
1: Fangraphs has the division incredibly tight, with two games separating first from fourth. The M’s of course are one of the most improved teams in the league, but the real story is how much the top teams in the league come back to the pack. The Rangers’ runs allowed takes a big step back, thanks in part to injuries to Derek Holland and Matt Harrison. The A’s pitching depth helps them work around Jarrod Parker’s TJ surgery, but their offense falls back to earth (losing a half a run *per game*) in the Fangraphs projections. PECOTA is slightly more bullish on the A’s offense, while Davenport projects the A’s to be quite similar to the team they were last year. The Rangers’ projections are remarkably similar – either 84-85 in the projection systems, and slightly higher in the Vegas lines for bettors who might overweight recent win totals. The A’s and Angels – two teams who’ve posted such large variance between actual and projected win totals the past few years – have a bit more variation.
2: It’s great that the division’s so tight, but the M’s remain 4th in every iteration. The relatively small gap supports those who’ve argued that the M’s needed to make at least one more “big” free agent signing, especially after it became clear that the A’s and Rangers were falling back to earth. But the jumble of teams clustered around 81 wins (there are TWELVE teams on Fangraphs’ standings page between 80-84 wins. Stretch that to 80-85, and over HALF of MLB teams show up) shows that it’s not exactly a vote of confidence. Still: that there’s no yawning gap in talent is wonderful, and it’s something M’s fans have been hoping to see since getting blown off the field by Texas or Oakland repeatedly since 2010.
3: I’m struck by how *similar* the projections are on the M’s offense. About one run *per month* separates the pessimistic from the optimistic forecast. Thus, the action’s really on the runs allowed side, which makes sense given how young/unproven so much of the M’s pitching staff is. For the optimists, you see the M’s starters as the team’s secret weapon, and laugh at the projection systems’ misunderstanding of Paxton/Ramirez/Walker. If you’re a pessimist, this is exactly where an Ervin Santana could be really, really helpful. I should point out that nobody’s exactly pessimistic about the M’s pitching staff – the total runs allowed is expected to improve significantly in all projections. But while PECOTA and Fangraphs have it improving by about a half run per game, Davenport’s a bit less enthused. Again, the optimists will say that a half run per game spread over plenty of not-Maurer starts, and not-Carter Capps meltdowns is an eminently achievable goal. Pessimists will point out that the “up” forecast relies on a massive improvement in the M’s staff AND a simultaneous massive regression from the A’s offense. Optimists will argue that the gap isn’t that big a deal, because the M’s true talent was likely better than their actual RA would indicate; they weren’t great, but they were also unlucky – in part due to atrocious defense. Pessimists would say that the OF defense isn’t much better, with minor league corner OF Almonte now looking like the starting CF, with Corey Hart’s duct-taped knees replacing Mike Morse, and a full season of Brad Miller replacing half-Miller/half-Brendan Ryan at SS. All of that debating at least hones in on the importance of OF defense to the M’s runs allowed. The M’s were a terrible, terrible defensive team last year. They haven’t exactly addressed that need, but some regression plus some positioning help, and the RA gap feels a bit more doable.
4: The offensive projections are pretty similar, especially comparing slash lines. The sites just shuffle those same lines around the diamond – some crediting Logan Morrison more, as they see him getting time in RF. Others docking Abe Almonte for playing in a corner. Ultimately though, they end up in the same place. If the M’s are going to surprise, they probably need to score more than 700 runs (the projection systems have them around 690). To that end, the M’s look like a very different team if Mike Zunino hits this year. Not, “hits well enough for a catcher, I guess” and not, “well, he’s still young – give him a few years” or, “he’s better than Miguel Olivo – you gotta give him that,” but hits well in the context of big league hitters. The other key is Brad Miller. Dave and others have pointed out that the projection systems “love” Miller – as Fangraphs, ZiPS, and Davenport have him as a 3 win player. Pretty much every system has a near-identical batting line (his SLG% varies wildly between .401 and .405 in each), but I keep looking at the line and wanting to bet the over. Miller is credited as a well above average player because he can play SS without embarrassing himself, and because he’s capable of a non-Nick Punto/Brendan Ryan batting line. But, I mean, have you SEEN Miller recently? No one’s saying you need to take a 1.000 slugging percentage in Peoria at face value, but…I like his chances of beating that projected batting line.
* I have no idea what this is – it was linked in Grantland’s over/under piece, and I’ve shamelessly stolen it. If you have a go-to site for O/U lines, by all means, post it. I’m curious at how much spread there is. Vegas abhors a big book-to-book spread, and this year, none of the projection systems have much of one either.