Preseason predictions are like noses – everybody has one. And while some preseason prognostications may seem more accurate and believable than others, the bottom line is that baseball isn’t played on paper.
Late Monday evening, Baseball Prospectus – one of the best sabermetric sites on the world wide web – released their much-anticipated annual PECOTA rankings. Much to the delight of Dodger fans everywhere, PECOTA not only projects that the Dodgers to win the National League West for a record-breaking fourth consecutive season, but it projects that they will do so with the best record in all of baseball at 94-68 – a full seven games ahead of the second place Giants. But while this is unquestionably good news for Dodger fans, it absolutely must be taken with a grain of salt.
Last season PECOTA, which is an acronym for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm, projected that the Kansas City Royals would win only 72 games and would finish fourth in the AL Central Division. Not only did the Royals go on to win 95 games – most in the American League – they also ended up winning the 2015 World Series over the New York Mets, who PECOTA projected to win 82 games and finish second in the NL Central Division instead of winning the division with 90 wins.
Although hopeful Dodger fans and even many baseball experts may tend to put more credibility into the PECOTA ranking system than those of others, earlier on Monday USA Today’s Gabe Lacques projected that the Giants would win the NL West with a 90-72 record, two games ahead of the second place Dodgers. And while Lacques is thus far one of very few who has the Giants finishing ahead of the Dodgers, there’s a pretty good chance that he did so because of that emotional “even numbered year” thing than actual sabermetrics – but to each his own.
There is zero doubt that Baseball Prospectus projects the Dodgers to be the best team in baseball in 2016 – even better than the highly rated Chicago Cubs and their 92-70 PECOTA ranking – because of the exceptional pitching depth that Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi have brought to and built into their team. And while they will undoubtedly feel the effects of losing co-ace Zack Greinke to their division rival Arizona Diamondbacks, the two analytics gurus have replaced Greinke with not one but with several guys.
Granted, it is highly unlikely that Scott Kazmir or Kenta Maeda or Hyun-jin Ryu or Brett Anderson or Alex Wood or top pitching prospects Julio Urias and Jose De Leon will win the 19 games that Zack Greinke won for the Dodgers in 2015, but it’s equally unlikely that Greinke will do so again himself. That being said, it is very likely that the combination of Clayton Kershaw, Kazmir, Maeda, Ryu and likely starters Anderson and Wood will collectively win more games this season than the combined 16 Dodgers starters did in 2015. It is because of this Friedman and Zaidi-built starting pitching depth that makes the Dodgers’ PECOTA ranking very believable.
But here again, the game of baseball is not played on paper and every Dodger fan needs to remember this – or they may end up having their noses bloodied.