Yep folks, it is about that time in Spring Training to start making projections. Here at Chicken Friars, we start off the season projecting the NL West and how the division will stack out. The method I’m going to employ to make a good-hearted fun prediction is known as the Pythagorean Expectation, as well as other similar phrasings, based on a method coined by data mining and sabermetrics pioneer Bill James.
The Pythagorean Expectation is a formula that uses a team’s Runs Scored (RS) and Runs Allowed (RA) to produce a Win%. It has endured over a decade, and time has shown it to be a fair predictor of the Win-Loss records, and thus acceptance in circles. To me, it helps break the game into smaller pieces of value. How can a team Win more? Well it starts with producing RS and minimizing RA.
Which leads me into the next step in my approach, is to similarly deconstruct RS and RA into smaller pieces to consider. On the Offensive side of things, RS is driven by On Base Percentage + Slugging (OPS). Using MS Excel to perform a linear regression of OPS to RS, shows a statistically significant correlation r^2 factor of >= .95. This implies that adding more OPS to a team, linearly increases your RS. I used the last 4 yrs of data from ESPN on team batting for a 100 data points for the regression and found the equation to be RS = 1894 * OPS – 669. I believe it might be possible to improve the model with additional inputs, but for the purpose of this projection, I think this works well enough.
On the Pitching side of things, my approach was thankfully more direct, in that for pitchers already have Earned Run Average (ERA), a stat that almost completely pours into RA, with a small remainder driven by the unearned runs. Linear regressions of ERA to RA show very high correlation, and thus shows that the impact or significance of unearned runs to be small. After reviewing at the last 4 yrs of data from ESPN on team pitching, I found the average amount of unearned runs to be 53.6. The equation I used to project RA = 162 * ERA + 53.6. ERA is per 9 innings, which I’m simplifying as per game. Thus 162 factor is number of games which multiplied against ERA gives total ER, plus the average unearned runs for total RA.
Ok, so after all that what have I accomplished? Well, I’ve planned out a framework for Win Loss predictions, and divided that problem first into a matter of Runs and split them into a Offensive and Pitching set. On Offense - I’ve focused on OPS as the driver of RS. The next step would be to look at the Offensive Roster of the NL West teams and predict the upcoming team OPS based on changes from last season’s team OPS value. On Pitching – I’ve focused on ERA as the driver of RA. The next step would be to look at the Pitching Roster of the NL West teams and predict the upcoming team ERA based on changes from last season’s team ERA value.
On the Offensive side of the Roster, the Padres return under new ownership most of the roster intact but loses C Yasmani Grandal to a 50 game PED suspension. This hurts a lot, although from a comparison standpoint to 2012, Grandal was a midseason call up so it could be a wash. C Nick Hundley is poised to return from injury and hopes to improve on last year’s start. The biggest addition going into 2013 will be the addition of 2B Jedd Gyorko to the MLB stage. A strong spring and a history of hitting follow him. Hoping for a full season of LF Carlos Quentin and a repeat season for 3B Chase Headley could lead to big things. The infield is settled and no wasted ABs will be given to the hapless SS Jason Bartlett and 2B Orlando Hudson, which should be key. Given those factors, I’d project the Padres to increase their team OPS production by 6%.
On the Pitching side, Padres washed out of the FA pool and mostly stand pat with last year’s end of the season starters. With a 5th rotation spot open for a young starter, could Andrew Cashner, Casey Kelly, or Robbie Erlin slot into this spot? Padres now have depth and should improve over last year’s numbers against the injury plague alone with greater depth. Given those factors, I’d project the Padres to improve their team ERA by 5%.
The 2013 projected W-L for the Padres is 88-74. Remember, although we finished at 76-86, our low water mark for the season came at a loss to Rangers on June 20, and we were a whooping 22 games below 500 at 24-46. From that point the Padres marched along at a respectable 52-40. If the Padres can ignore distractions from other teams and focus and strive to maintain the production they showed near the end of last year, then the Padres could contend for a wild card berth.
On the Offensive side of the Roster, the Giants have not appeared to make major additions and elected to stay pat with the World Series winning team. However, I believe that false sense of security will leave the Giants open to attack. As their 2012 Pythagorean indicates, is that the Giants were several games luckier than their Runs spread indicates. The Giants elected not to sign Melky Cabrera, but don’t come up with a player to replace that missing PED inflated OF production. Their current OF projects to include a Andres Torres / Gregor Blanco platoon, and CF Angel Pagan and RF Hunter Pence. 1B Brandon Belt did not produce the HRs number he showed in the minors - will he continue to grow into his position? C Buster Posey had a MVP year, but from a numbers perspective, will he be consistent and reproduce that amount again, or regress to the average. Given those factors, I’d project the Giants to decrease their team OPS production by 1%.
On the Pitching side of the Roster, the Giants have also stayed pat. The pitching staff is the crown jewel of the current Giant dynasty, with true ace Matt Cain, maturing star Madison Bumgarner, and capable veterans in Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito. And finally wildcard Tim Lincecum who was a Cy Young repeat winner that fell off the table last year with an 5.11 ERA over 180+ innings. What to expect from him? With a solid pen, I’d project the Giants to improve their team ERA by 2%.
The 2013 projected W-L for the Giants is 87-75. Although the Giants won the World Series, it is my belief that their 2012 regular season record exceeded expectations and represented some over achievement. The Giants have a world class staff but their hitters are overall pedestrian. The Giants did not make significant additions to their team and elected to replay their winning hand again, and that may prove to daunting against other NL West teams that improved.
On the Offensive side of the Roster, the Rockies have not appeared to make major additions and elected to stay pat with the NL West cellar dwelling team. Actually, last season’s Rockies lead the division in team OPS, so perhaps staying pat is right move, park factors not withstanding. The Rockies do have a talented squad with a potential breakout star in CF Dexter Fowler, and should also see better production this year from LF Carlos Gonzalez and 3B Jordan Pacheco. 1B Todd Helton is getting older and may produce less. Given those factors, I’d project the Giants to increase their team OPS production by 2%.
On the Pitching side of the Roster, the Rockies also have also not appeared to make major additions, which is definately not a good decision, as their team ERA last season was 5.22 and horrible. Last year, they lost Jorge De La Rosa to tommy john and are questionable on his return. I believe the Rockies are not positioned to compete this year and will be trying out several young pitchers and journey men over the season. Makes it hard to project, but I’ll leave the Rockies at 0% change in ERA here.
The 2013 projected W-L for the Rockies is 73-89. Not much else to say about the Rockies.
On the Offensive side of the Roster, the Diamondbacks pulled one of the headlining trades with Atlanta and parted with OF Justin Upton. The big upgrade for them is plugging a hole they had at 3B with Martin Prado who should hit for good average. RF Cody Ross slots to fill in the OF gap left by Upton and could come close to reproducing the underachieved 2012 RF production. The rest of the lineup should remain the same. Given those factors, I’d project the Diamondbacks to increase their team OPS production by 2%.
On the Pitching side, Joe Saunders was traded away and new addition Brandon McCarthy, whose career was temporarily halted as he recovered from a line drive head injury, should be a solid addition to a young improving staff with Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, and NL Rookie of the Year runner up Wade Miley. The bullpen is anchored by JJ Putz, and Heath Bell is a recent addition. Given those factors, I’d project the Diamondbacks to improve their team ERA by 2%.
The 2013 projected W-L for the Diamondbacks is 93-69. Remember the Diamondbacks won the division in 2011 and were favorites to repeat. What makes the Diamondbacks especially dangerous in my mind, in addition to solid off-season trades and moves, is my belief that they underran expectations last year and played better than their final record indicated. Arizona should prove to be a contender in the NL West for 2013.
On the Offensive side of the Roster, the Dodgers under new ownership made the blockbuster money trade last season, acquiring LF Carl Crawford. 1B Adrian Gonzalez and SS Hanley Ramirez. Full seasons with a change of scenery should help both the players and franchise and there’s no reason not to expect at least two of three players to produce like marquee players, much less get paid that way. Blend that in with existing star players like CF Matt Kemp and RF Andre Ethier and the Dodger offense could be very deep and potent. Given those factors, I’d project the Dodgers to increase their team OPS production by 5%.
On the Pitching side, Dodgers arguably sign the most coveted FA in Zack Greinke who is a former Cy Young that suffers from anxiety and recently made the bold statement of saying he signed in LA for the money. They also signed Korean Pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu for eyebrow raising money, but reported to camp about 40lbs over playing weight. Josh Beckett comes over from last year’s end of season deal, and they all mix with staff ace Clayton Kershaw, leaving a fifth spot open for the likes of Chad Billingsley, Chris Capuano, and Aaron Harang. The Dodgers have pitching depth. Given those factors, I’d project the Diamondbacks to improve their team ERA by 5%.
The 2013 projected W-L for the Dodgers is 97-65. The Dodgers found new ownership that was willing in invest both in the franchise in terms of record breaking purchases as well as payroll as they take the top payroll spot from the Yankees. Spending is no gurantee of a winner, but it can help. Expect a revamped team with marquee stars that have produced in recent history and couple that with key FA signings for the Dodgers to be a strong contender in the NL West.