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Reviewing the Preseason Standings Projections

The FanGraphs staff made its obligatory preseason picks before the season (naturally), and I think it’s safe to say that none of us have psychic powers. My picks of the Angels and Blue Jays to win their divisions — they’re not looking so hot right now. In my defense, I was just blindly going along with what our preseason WAR estimates told me. OK, not the greatest defense, but I figured Steamer + ZiPS + FG-created depth charts could produce better guesses than I could on my own. Especially with the roster changes that have happened lately, I thought it would be a good time to revisit our projections. The Angels came up the series victors against the Blue Jays in their recent four-game Battle of the Disappointments, but both teams are still far below the expectations put on them.  However, let’s examine: could they actually be good teams who have just been unlucky?

Most teams have played somewhere around 110 games this season. That leaves plenty of room for unpredictability. If you flipped a coin 110 times, you’d expect to get about 55 heads, right? Well, the binomial distribution says there’s only about a 49.5% chance of the heads total being within even three of that (somewhere between 52 and 58 times). MLB teams are pretty different from coins — they’re a lot more expensive — but I think you can apply the same principle to them. The above calculation for the coin assumes the “true” rate of heads is 50%. What would we see if we were to presume our projections’ estimated preseason win totals are actually representative of the “true” win rates for each team? The following table will show you:

Team Expected Win Rate Actual Win Rate Chance of Fewer Wins Chance of Exact Wins Chance of More Wins Chance of being w/in 3 of actual wins
Angels 0.556 0.464 2.12% 1.18% 96.70% 9.80%
Astros 0.395 0.327 5.90% 2.74% 91.37% 20.60%
Athletics 0.506 0.577 91.77% 2.53% 5.70% 19.09%
Blue Jays 0.525 0.459 7.07% 2.94% 89.99% 21.78%
Braves 0.543 0.598 85.87% 3.85% 10.28% 27.50%
Brewers 0.494 0.423 5.70% 2.53% 91.77% 19.09%
Cardinals 0.519 0.591 92.31% 2.41% 5.27% 18.34%
Cubs 0.481 0.441 17.39% 5.32% 77.29% 36.41%
Diamondbacks 0.519 0.505 34.78% 7.23% 57.98% 47.52%
Dodgers 0.525 0.555 70.20% 6.27% 23.53% 41.97%
Giants 0.519 0.445 5.16% 2.36% 92.48% 17.95%
Indians 0.463 0.559 97.27% 1.00% 1.73% 8.45%
Mariners 0.457 0.468 56.13% 7.34% 36.52% 48.15%
Marlins 0.420 0.391 23.99% 6.44% 69.58% 42.93%
Mets 0.457 0.450 40.31% 7.58% 52.11% 49.44%
Nationals 0.543 0.486 9.79% 3.69% 86.52% 26.53%
Orioles 0.463 0.545 94.92% 1.69% 3.39% 13.40%
Padres 0.469 0.464 42.25% 7.50% 50.25% 49.03%
Phillies 0.512 0.450 8.08% 3.24% 88.68% 23.67%
Pirates 0.494 0.604 98.69% 0.52% 0.79% 4.81%
Rangers 0.549 0.554 49.64% 7.54% 42.82% 49.22%
Rays 0.525 0.595 91.65% 2.57% 5.78% 19.36%
Red Sox 0.519 0.602 95.37% 1.57% 3.06% 12.57%
Reds 0.531 0.545 57.75% 7.24% 35.01% 47.52%
Rockies 0.494 0.460 20.92% 5.81% 73.27% 39.30%
Royals 0.494 0.519 66.17% 6.72% 27.11% 44.59%
Tigers 0.580 0.587 51.75% 7.66% 40.59% 49.91%
Twins 0.432 0.444 56.59% 7.45% 35.95% 48.79%
White Sox 0.494 0.367 0.29% 0.23% 99.49% 2.32%
Yankees 0.525 0.518 40.77% 7.52% 51.71% 49.17%

Now, I’m not saying the preseason projections are great estimates of the “true” win rates of these teams, but I’m not saying they aren’t, either. The correlation between the projected and actual win rates is 0.570, which is pretty decent, considering the inherent unpredictability.  I don’t think you can rule out the validity of any of these estimates, though.

What we see is that even a colossal disappointment such as the Angels could legitimately be a great team that just hasn’t had things go its way. They’ve only won 51 out of 110 games; a legit 0.556 team would be expected to win somewhere between 48 and 54 games out of 110 somewhere around 9.8% of the time, says the binomial distribution (not getting into complicated things like uneven schedules, of course). It had to happen to some teams, you’d think.

The Angels aren’t even the biggest disappointment in the majors this year — that would be the White Sox, who instead of being mediocre, have been horrendous.

On the flip side, we have Pirates, who are the biggest surprise. Dave Cameron points out they aren’t regressing; however, as you can see, there’s still that small chance that they’re actually an overachieving, average team.  In the AL, the Indians and Orioles have far exceeded expectations.

But back to the losers: pretty much nobody was expecting the White Sox to win the division, so let’s talk about the Angels. What has gone wrong with this assortment of highly-paid ne’er-do-wells? Did I mention I’m actually an Angels fan?

For this anticipatory postmortem, let’s take a look at the WAR by position for the Angels:

Preseason Estimate Current Extrapolated Extrap. – Preseason RoS Current + RoS C+RoS – Preseason
C 3.7 2.0 2.9 -0.8 1.1 3.1 -0.6
1B 4.8 1.4 2.1 -2.7 0.8 2.2 -2.6
2B 3.0 2.4 3.5 0.5 1.1 3.5 0.5
SS 3.1 0.8 1.2 -1.9 0.9 1.7 -1.4
3B 2.6 0.2 0.3 -2.3 0.3 0.5 -2.1
LF 5.4 2.4 3.5 -1.9 1.7 4.1 -1.3
CF 5.0 6.5 9.5 4.5 1.7 8.2 3.2
RF 4.1 0.9 1.3 -2.8 0.9 1.8 -2.3
DH 1.9 0.7 1.1 -0.8 0.2 0.9 -1.0
SP 12.7 6.2 9.1 -3.6 3.1 9.3 -3.4
RP 2.6 1.2 1.8 -0.8 -0.1 1.1 -1.5
WAR 48.9 24.7 36.4 -12.5 11.7 36.4 -12.5

The “extrapolated” WARs are the current WARs multiplied by 162/107, to project them out to a full season. The RoS WARs are rest-of-season projections according to ZiPS and Steamer.

So, what can we say about this? Well, first of all, Mike Trout is a huge bright spot. An 8.2-9.5 WAR out of one position is phenomenal. LF has suffered relative to the preseason projections, however, as Trout has played a lot more CF than we expected, due to Trout covering CF more than expected due to Peter Bourjos‘ extended stays on the DL.

Howie Kendrick has not been a disappointment, being on pace to beat out his expected WAR by 0.3. Congrats on not being a failure, Howard.

Hardly anything else has gone well for the team. C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver and Jason Vargas have gotten good results, but the latter two have missed significant time due to injuries.  Tommy Hanson missed most of the season due to a family tragedy, but hasn’t put up good numbers while active.  Joe Blanton has been a home run-allowing machine.  Offseason acquisition and intended closer Ryan Madson hasn’t pitched at all.  We all know about Albert Pujols‘ and Josh Hamilton‘s underachieving this season, but, really, most of the team performed worse than expected. Is that the result of bad luck or bad expectations? Who can be sure?

I’ll leave you with my spreadsheet. It’s currently outdated by a few days, but you can see how things have changed a little bit since then.  You’ll can change the win range I used (3) in the box on the right, or download the whole thing and mess around with it, update it, etc.