Recapping my Predictions for the 2011 MLB Season

October 24, 2011

October 24, 2011, 6:15 PM CST, Minneapolis, Minnesota. The sun has set and the streetlights are on.

That can only mean one thing: it’s time to start blogging again.

What better way to start than to check how I did with my 2011 MLB season predictions. Presumably you care far less about this than you do about actual expert predictions. Don’t worry – I’ll get to those in a couple days. In the meantime, it’s only fair for me to critique my own ten preseason predictions.

1. The Yankees will win the AL East.

Spot on. Too bad I made nine other predictions. In the preseason, I was astounded that all 45 of ESPN’s baseball experts picked the Red Sox to win the division. This made little sense at the time and makes even less sense now. I argued that Adrian Gonzalez, while immensely talented, would not make the Red Sox appreciably better (correct) even if Carl Crawford would make the Red Sox better (good god).* My bigger issue was with the lackluster Red Sox pitching staff. Fried chicken and beer aside, it was the awful, awful pitching down the stretch that doomed the Sox.

* There isn’t much to say about Carl Crawford that has not been said already, so I’ll take this asterisk to brag about my immense fantasy baseball skills. My first three picks this season were Crawford, Buster Posey, and Josh Johnson. Posey and Johnson were done for the season by May. I only wish Crawford was done by May so I could have given up on him three months before I actually pulled the trigger. Despite all that, I finished third and in the money. Well done, me.

Meanwhile, here are the Yankees win totals for each season since 2001: 95, 103, 101, 101, 95, 97, 94, 89, 103, 95, 97. None of the ESPN experts picked the Yankees. Another fascinating wrinkle on the expert groupthink I love to make fun of: even when the pundits think outside of the box, they can’t help but think outside the box together. Before the season I took my chances with the Yankees, figuring that Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson were due for big seasons (75% true for Teixeira; 125% true for Granderson) and that Russell Martin would help the team out (he did until mid-summer).

2. The Rays will be better than people think…or not.

So close. I was ready to pull the trigger on the Rays over the Red Sox for the AL Wild Card before the Rays were swept by the Orioles in the first week of the season. I also had a write-up ready to go that described the Rays’ record-setting comeback for the Wild Card, but decided not to publish it. Alas.

3. The AL Central will again be the worst division in the majors.

I think I got this one right, although not for the reasons I expected. The Tigers were a pleasant surprise, finishing 95-67 and reaching the ALCS. But man was the rest of that division bad. The remaining four teams finished with a losing record. Cleveland finished 80-82 – the only runner-up with less than 86 wins.* And I’ve chronicled before how bad the Twins were. I don’t even have the heart to link to the articles. Let’s just put it this way: the Twins finished 63-99 and that was three wins BETTER than they were expected to based on runs scored and runs allowed.

* In fairness, the Indians performed way better than expected. I picked them to finish with the worst record in the majors. See number five below.

4. The Rangers will be really, really good.

I did pick the Rangers to earn the #1 seed in the AL. I was off by a game and four games on my 100 win prediction. Still, this was pretty close to true. The Rangers were exactly as good as I thought they would be – I was more surprised that the Angels performed as well as they did.

The Angels finished 86-76, 10 games behind the Rangers. Even that’s a little deceptive, as the Rangers finished 16-2 down the stretch while the Angels limped to a 6-10 finish. I thought the Angels would struggle to finish .500 and the A’s and Mariners would be the A’s and Mariners. Two out of three ain’t bad.

5. Indians and Pirates battle for the worst record in the majors; the Rust Belt weeps.

A swing and a miss. Even if the Rust Belt cried for different reasons.

July 18.

The Pirates lead the NL Central by a half game. The Indians lead the AL Central by one game. The first time since 1921 that had happened this late in the season.

They finished a staggering 39 combined games back.

6. The Phillies will be the best team in the majors.

Done and done. Sometimes these things are too easy. The Phils brought in the best rotation since the 1990s Braves teams and cruised to a 102-60 finish…and they were probably even better than that. They were 98-52 before they stopped caring in baseball’s equivalent to the 13-0 NFL team that gives up on the perfect season after clinching the #1 seed.

Of course my fault came later, when I picked the Phillies to win the World Series. Only twice in the last twelve years has the team with the best regular season record won the World Series.*

* And we wonder why Game 4 of the World Series can barely beat a 62-7 NFL blowout in the ratings.

7. Five teams will be within eight games of the NL Central title. Nobody will care.

A miss. Flashback to the aforementioned July 18 day: the Pirates, Cardinals, Brewers, and Reds were all within four games of the division lead.

That worked out well for two of those teams.

Records after July 18 for the four teams: Milwaukee 45-20; St. Louis 40-27; Cincinnati 32-34; Pittsburgh 22-46. I give myself one-third of a point for having the right idea through July.

8. The Giants won’t make the playoffs.

I’m much smarter than I look apparently…although it’s much easier to predict a team won’t make the playoffs than they will make the playoffs.

Prior to the season, pretty much everyone was on board either the Colorado or San Francisco bandwagon for the West crown. 43 of 45 ESPN experts pick one of those two teams to win the division. I went with the Dodgers on a hunch.

Whoops. McCourts one, me zero. They need a win more than I do though.

9. The Phillies and the Rangers meet in the World Series.

One out of two ain’t bad.

Of my playoff teams, I picked the Rangers, Yankees, Phillies, and Cardinals (good), the Red Sox (meh), the Rockies and Dodgers (not even close), and the Twins (only off by a measly 33 games).

On an unrelated note, two records I didn’t realize until I looked up the standings now: the Nationals finished 80-81 and the Rockies finished 73-89. Two thoughts on those records: first, how in the world did the Rockies only win 73 games? And second, it’s probably not a good sign for your organization if you spent a bajillion  dollars in the offseason and I am surprised at the end of the season that you actually won 80 games.

10. The Phillies win the World Series.

I was bummed when I read this back – I could have sworn I picked the Rangers. Alas.

Bonus: Award winners.

Just for kicks, here are my picks for award winners. I suspect none of these will be anywhere close to correct at the end of the season; I will consider it a victory if any of these players picks up votes for their respective awards.

AL MVP: Mark Teixeira, Yankees
NL MVP: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
AL Cy Young: CC Sabathia, Yankees
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
AL Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon, Rays
NL Manager of the Year: Don Mattingly, Dodgers
AL Rookie of the Year: Kyle Drabek, Blue Jays
NL Rookie of the Year: Brandon Belt, Giants

These were mostly for fun: award winners are pretty much a shot in the dark. A couple comments:

I picked the wrong Yankee to bounce back, although it’s unclear if Granderson will win anyway.

If it weren’t for Verlander turning into a demigod during the season, I would have nailed Sabathia. I did nail Kershaw – I think he wins the Cy Young. Also, allow me to be the 568,321st person to point out that the Dodgers are in the second biggest media market, have the NL MVP shoo-in (Kemp) and likely Cy Young winner (Kershaw) and virtually no one cared. Well done again McCourts.

Maddon has to win the AL Manager of the Year, right? As for Mattingly’s chances, see the previous paragraph.