Clap Clap ClapClapClap: Baseball Prospectus 2008 Predictions, ~3/8 Through Season
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 4, 2008
2008 Detroit Tigers: Only 714 runs to go
My Dad officially indoctrinated me into the world of baseball geekdom by buying me a copy of Baseball Prospectus 2008. For those of you unfamiliar with the series, as I was until then, Baseball Prospectus is a Sabremetric mixture of Encyclopedia and Prophecy–in other words, it’s a breakdown of every potential statistic you could want to know about a particular player or team (and plenty you probably don’t want to know), organized in order to predict what that player or team’s performance will most likely be like in the upcoming season. Breakdowns of the players’ last three seasons are included, as well as projections for the player’s 2008 stat lines, and a paragraph’s worth of explanation. It’s not for the faint of heart, certainly, but it never got too dry, and it provided me about a month’s worth of quality subway reading material, which is always appreciated.
However, with all this statistical analysis comes an accountability the likes of which most sports prognosticators will never quite be held to. The criticism of Baseball Prospectus, and often of Sabremetrics in general, is that it attempts to reduce baseball to a statistical science, when professional baseball is far too human a system to be treated or analyzed so clinically. So to counter this argument, the Prospectus pretty much has to be right, if not 100% of the time, at least with a healthy majority of its predictions–since if not even the think tank of baseball geeks behind this tome can accurately predict baseball, clearly the doubters are right. And indeed, the book’s back cover brags about a number of predictions it got correct in the 2007 edition, including the ascendance of Fausto Carmona into the SP elite, the breakout rookie seasons of Troy Tulowitzki and Tim Lincecum, and even the Phillies’ NL East title, which they must’ve been sweating down the stretch almost as much as Jimmy Rollins.
But what of this year’s predictions? Well, there are far too many in the book–thousands, literally–to break down conclusively. So instead we’ll work with the sample size of the six predictions/statements made on the book’s front cover, and see how they’ve held up over the first 60 or so games of the season.
- Clay Buchholz: Better Than Joba [Chamberlain]. Perhaps I took this one a little too much to heart, drafting Buchholz as essentially my #2 starter on the Ottawa Obfuscators, but I probably would have anyway (how many SPs can you name that pitched a no-hitter before they even technically qualified for ROTY status?) In any event, Clay’s 2008 has been a disappointing one thusfar, going 2-3 with a 5.53 ERA before going on the DL, and now that he’s been sent back down to Triple A, it doesn’t look like it’s going to rebound anytime soon. Meanwhile, Joba hasn’t been quite as electric as he was last year, his first-ever start for the Yankees was kind of a bust, and he drew a lot of crap for some disproportionate celebrating, but he’s still got a 2.42 ERA and a .185 Batting Average Against, which barring a titanic downaward slump, still puts him in kinder standing than the Sox wunderkind.
Prediction Correct?: Almost definitely not.
- Dontrelle Willis: Detroit Defense Will Help. Meaning that the D-Train would most likely see a downturn in his ERA, which was a dangerously high 5.17 last year, due to the superior defense of his new team, the veteran-stuffed Detroit Tigers, over his old team, the young and leaky Florida Marlins. This may or may not be true, however, since apparently no one warned the former 20-game winner about the slippery mounds at Tiger Stadium, we’ve yet to find out–Willis went on the DL in his second start for the Tigers after slipping and hyperextending his knee, and has only pitched five innings since. I can’t say for certain how good Detroit’s D has been in his absence, but with even Placido Polanco breaking his errorless streak a few weeks into the season, I’d imagine it’s been going about as well as the rest of their season.
Prediction Correct?: Inconclusive, but unlikely.
- Geovany Soto: One of NL’s Best Backstops: Amidst stiff competition from Paul Bako, Brian Schneider and two of the Molina brothers, this one has held up pretty well. In what looks to be his first full season with the Chicago Cubs, Soto is hitting .293 with 10 home runs and a .944 OPS, with only Atlanta’s Brian McCann posting superior numbers among regular starting catchers. Soto even currently his a staggering lead over the second-place McCann in NL All-Star Voting, although with Ryan Theriot managing a fourth-place standing in a stacked NL Shortstop field, I think it’s safe to say that Cubs fans have lost objectivity a little. By the way, this seems like as good a place as any to start the IITS grass roots “Vote Chris ‘The 32 Year Old Rookie’ Coste as a Write-In NL Catcher!” campagin. C’mon, .327 average, 6 homers and 17 RBIs as a middle-aged backup? Who’s with me?
Prediction Correct?: Yeah, probably.
- Travis Hafner: Will He Bounce Back?: OK, this might not really be a prediction, but it’s an obscenely easy-to-answer question. So far at least, the answer would have to be a resounding “no”–after hitting 42 HRs with a .308 BA only two seasons ago, Pronk is hitting .217 with a paltry four dingers, and is currently on the 15-day DL for a right shoulder strain. Compared to this season, even his ’07 (.266, 24 longballs) is practically MVP-worthy. ESPN’s Buster Olney seems to think Travis’s problems can be traced back to when he got pronked himself by a Ron Mahay pitch last April, but in any event, his bounce-back has been somewhat underwhelming.
Prediction Correct?: Hard to say from the front cover, although his write-up (“Concerned about Hafner’s huge drop in production last year? You should be”) makes it clear that they saw this coming. so yes.
- Yovani Gallardo: Brew Crew’s New Ace: Once again, hard to say, since after three excellent starts (all no decisions, but a combined 13 Ks with only six walks and a 1.80 ERA), Gallardo tore his ACL and is most likely out for the season. The only explanation, of course, is some sort of karmic curse brought on by Ben “Mr. Glass” Sheets, who has been more or less the picture of health this year, and is putting up ace-like numbers himself (6-1, 2.73 ERA, an almost 5-1 K/BB ratio). Ironically, the Prospectus‘s one concern about Gallardo’s 2008 was that manager Ned Yost would overwork his arm, so at least he doged that bullet I suppose.
Prediction Correct?: Tell you next year. Maybe.
- David Wright: The Best is Yet to Come: Possibly, but unlike peer (in steady growth if not age) Chase Utley, his ’08 numbers aren’t quite reflecting it yet the way fans would probably hope. Wright is hitting .294 with 11 HRs and eight stolen bases–above average numbers to be certain, especially on this year’s underachieving Mets, but none of which are on pace to match his ’07, where he hit .324 and joined the 30/30 club. However, there is reason to be optimistic, as Wright performed far better in May than he did in April, and has a fairly promising start to his June (.417 BA, handful of RBIs). So this one might be the most interesting to come back to later in the season.
Prediction Correct?: Not yet, but I wouldn’t bet on it staying wrong for too much longer.