First in a series
As you may know, we love projections here at YFSF, and even though the offseason is only half over, that seems like the perfect time to look at what our teams have wrought. Of course, this is slightly silly because neither the Sox nor Yanks have actually finished compiling their rosters — and other teams whom they will face throughout the season are even less along in their roster construction. That said, SG at Replacement Yankee Level Weblog has begun what is an offseason ritual we love to parse: the Running of the Simulators.
You can click through for the full league summary, and there are always a number of caveats that go with projections, not least is that they can be hilariously inaccurate (as we will see shortly), even when considering complete expected rosters during spring training. As he notes, "these projections will favor the teams that have essentially completed their 2011 rosters." Further, this is just one system, SG's own CAIRO. Previously, he has mixed as many as six systems together (ZiPS, PECOTA, CHONE and the like) and those systems have varied widely at times (as we will also see shortly). But they're fun, so without further ado, here are the early returns for the AL East:
The abbreviations should be fairly self-explanatory: average wins, losses, runs scored and runs allowed. Percentage of the time each team won the division and wild card, added together to create a percentage of overall playoff appearances. The +/- stats reflect the difference between last year's actual results and these projections.
SG runs 1,000 Diamond Mind Baseball simulations of each club's 2011 schedule based on the projections of each player, along with a rough estimate of playing time, injuries, etc. Obviously, it's an inexact science. Still, the gap between the Sox and Yanks here was surprising: nine games. For the first time since I can remember, the Yankees aren't even given a 50/50 shot at the playoffs (though they are still in line for the wild card in these projections).
I'll let SG tell the Yankee tale, rather than filtering it through a Red Sox fan:
As for our Yankees, they’re still a good team. They’re just not as good as Boston on paper right now. That doesn’t mean they can’t win the division, it just means that they need some players to exceed their projections (A.J.?) and/or some players from Boston/Tampa Bay to underperform some of their’s. If they can add Andy Pettitte or some league average starter who can give them 180 innings or so that’s probably worth another two wins over Ivan Nova/Sergio Mitre.
Let's give the Yankees those two wins. I fully expect that if Pettitte does retire this week, the Yanks will find a way to get another starter in there who will provide similar value (if he's not a lefty there's the whole matter of facing the Sox' lefty-heavy lineup, but the Sox have killed Pettitte in recent years, so perhaps that's all a wash anyway).
The Red Sox, meanwhile, project to be much better on offense in 2011 than last year, which shouldn't be surprising. Even if Youkilis/Gonzalez is something of a wash compared to the 2010 production of Beltre/Youkilis, adding Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury to positions where the Sox fielded Darnell McDonald, Bill Hall and Daniel Nava for most of 2010 is a huge increase. It's also a big plus defensively, as are expected positive regressions to the mean from Beckett, Lackey and Papelbon, which makes the Sox' runs allowed number an impressive five wins better (you may recall that 10 runs roughly equals one win).
So … how accurate are these things anyway? And have they ever shown a gap between our teams as wide as the one that appears at the turn of the calendar? Even giving the Yankees two more wins, they would be seven games behind Boston in these projections.
I want to answer those questions simultaneously and chronologically, looking in depth at each team's previous projections — the links to which, dating back to 2005, SG has graciously provided. My hope is we can have some fun rehashing some old offseasons, as well as gain some insight as to what unexpected occurrences can wipe out a projection's seemingly airtight logic.
First, let's discuss these. What needs to happen — both in the rest of the offseason and during the regular season — for the Yankees to make up this (tenuously conjectured) seven-game gap? Or is there even a gap? Are these teams much more even than the conventional wisdom argues?