MLB Preseason Predictions Revisited: How Well Do Players and Executives Know Their Own Teams?Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/MCT/Getty Images
On Monday, ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick released his annual poll of anonymous front-office executives. As usual, Crasnick asked the insiders some of the offseason’s most pressing questions: which of the winter’s high-profile free agents will be the best buys, where will they sign, who will get traded, and so on. The answers, as always, were fascinating, right down to the “I don’t know” responses from the exec(s) who don’t understand how to speculate.1
Part of the poll’s appeal stems from the sense that we’re getting relatively honest answers from experts who have little incentive to lie. Even if that’s the case, though, it doesn’t mean the results are any more accurate than the typical rumor. Two years ago, Baseball Prospectus’s Sam Miller examined the results of Crasnick’s executive polls from 2003 to 20112 and found that the collective wisdom of the insiders was barely better than a coin flip. As it turns out, “you can’t predict baseball” applies even when “you” are the people making the moves.
I have an offseason predictions tradition, too (aside from making my own flawed forecasts). Every year, I dig up predictions that executives or players publicly made about themselves or their teams before the previous season. There are two criteria for a qualifying prediction: certainty and specificity. “I hope I’m going to hit 43 homers” is specific, but not certain. “I’m definitely going to hit some homers” is certain, but not specific. We’re looking for predictions that combine both qualities, which are harder to find than the ubiquitous, “If no one gets hurt and everyone plays up to their potential, I think we might surprise some people.”
So, just as I did after the 2013 and 2012 seasons, I’ve scoured the Internet for predictions that players or executives made about their teams before Opening Day 2014. All 30 teams are represented below. While it’s always entertaining to revisit predictions, there are plenty of reasons for team personnel to exaggerate, ranging from raising trade value to inflating fan interest to instilling clubhouse confidence, so we shouldn’t assume that all of these statements reflect the speakers’ actual beliefs. Still, it’s useful to keep these pronouncements in mind when deciding how much stock to put in similar statements this coming spring.
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Predictor: Mike Scioscia
Prediction: Citing “the way he finished up the second half of the season and made some adjustments,” Scioscia said that Josh Hamilton was “going to have a big year for us” in 2014.
Result: Sidelined by April thumb surgery and September shoulder soreness for a combined 66 games, Hamilton played in his fewest contests since 2009 and, when active, hit only slightly better than he had in 2013. By FanGraphs WAR, 2014 was Hamilton’s least-valuable season. However, Scioscia redeemed himself by predicting that the Angels’ other albatross, Albert Pujols, would be “the healthiest he’s been” since before his last season in St. Louis. Pujols played in 159 games, his most since 2010.
Prediction: Undeterred by Luhnow’s premature optimism in 2013, everyone associated with the Astros spent last spring telling anyone with a byline that the team would be the “most improved” in the majors.
Result: The Angels improved by 20 wins, topping the Astros’ 19-win gain. The Astros improved by a much higher percentage of their 2013 win total, though, so we can give them the nod — although Trembley, then the Astros’ bench coach, added that the team “should finish above .500,” which it didn’t come close to doing.
Predictor: First-base coach Tye Waller
Prediction: “This is a team that could steal a lot of bases, I mean a lot of them,” Waller said.
Result: OK, “could” doesn’t equal “will,” but Waller clearly believed, going so far as to tout the latent base-stealing ability of Josh Reddick and slow-footed slugger Brandon Moss. The A’s stole 83 bases (21st in MLB), up slightly from 74 in 2013 (19th). Reddick and Moss swiped one bag apiece.
Predictor: Roberto Alomar
Prediction: Alomar, a Blue Jays special adviser, said presumptive starting second baseman Ryan Goins would do a “great job.” Kevin Seitzer, then the hitting coach, praised Goins’s mechanical adjustments, and Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi wrote that the team expected Goins to be better than he had been in 2013, when he recorded a .609 OPS in 34 games.
Result: Goins was the third-worst hitter in the majors to make more than 155 plate appearances, and spent most of 2014 in Triple-A. Although Toronto whiffed on that one, partial credit for accuracy is awarded to Jose Reyes, who said the Jays would be “way better.”
Predictor: Assistant hitting coach Scott Fletcher
Prediction: “I think [Dan Uggla] is going to come back and have a strong year for us,” Fletcher said.
Result: Uggla had a weak half-year before the Braves decided they’d be better off paying him $19 million not to play for them for the last season and a half remaining on his contract.
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Predictor: Ron Roenicke
Prediction: “[Jonathan Lucroy is] going to learn the strike zone better and increase his on-base percentage,” Roenicke said.
Result: Nailed it. Lucroy significantly lowered his out-of-zone swing rate and finished in the top 20 among qualified hitters with a career-best .373 OBP.
Predictor: Spring training instructor Lou Brock
Prediction: “Finally, we’ll be able to run some more,” Brock said.
Result: Brock’s confidence was inspired by Peter Bourjos’s personal goal of 40 steals, but Bourjos stole just nine bags, and the Cards only upped their total from 45 in 2013 (29th in MLB) to 57 (28th).
Predictor: Chairman Tom Ricketts
Prediction: “I think we have a team right now that can go to the playoffs,” Ricketts said.
Result: Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, and Nate Schierholtz went to the playoffs, but only after being traded to better teams.
Predictor: Kevin Towers
Prediction: “There’s no doubt in our mind he’ll be a solid average defender,” Towers said of left fielder Mark Trumbo.
Result: Trumbo did this on Opening Day, which was a sign of things to come. Trumbo totaled minus-8 DRS and minus-5 UZR in left, albeit with a foot injury and in a small sample before moving to first. Towers has a history of irrational exuberance about his corner guys’ gloves: In 2012, he predicted that Jason Kubel would be an average or above-average defender. He also guaranteed at least 90 Diamondbacks wins in 2013, compared to which two glass-half-full left-field defense forecasts are small beans.
Predictor: President Stan Kasten
Prediction: “We remain optimistic that in short order we’re going to have full [television] coverage throughout the market,” Kasten said in mid-March.
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Predictor: Pablo Sandoval, Bruce Bochy
Prediction: A year after predicting that the Giants would win the World Series, Sandoval set his sights lower and predicted that his winter weight loss would most improve his fielding (bad timing). Bochy echoed that assessment and suggested that as a result, he wouldn’t replace Sandoval on defense as often as he had in 2013.
Result: Sandoval’s advanced defensive stats showed above-average performance for the first time since 2011, and after subbing out Sandoval in 41 of his 137 starts in 2013, Bochy replaced him in only 38 of his 150 starts in 2014.
Predictor: Michael Bourn
Prediction: After swiping only 23 bags in 35 attempts in 2013, his first AL season, Bourn anticipated a “better year this year stealing bases.”
Result: He stole 10 in 16 attempts. On a more positive note, Cleveland reliever John Axford made perfect Oscar picks.
Predictor: Lloyd McClendon
Result: If you have to make a preseason prediction, always bet on any other defenders being better than Raul Ibanez and Mike Morse. With non-DHs in the corners, Seattle’s 2014 OF finished with an even 0 DRS.
Predictor: President David Samson
Prediction: “I promise you this: We’re not going to lose 100 games next year. Not close,” Samson said.
Result: Before the Marlins’ 69-win season in 2012, Samson said, “For anyone who is OK with mediocrity, we’re going to blow them out of the water,” while Greg Dobbs predicted a playoff appearance and Jeffrey Loria compared the club favorably to the 2003 title team. Maybe that was when Samson learned not to go very far out on a limb. As promised, the 2014 Marlins lost only 85 games.
Predictor: Sandy Alderson
Prediction: Alderson didn’t really predict that the Mets would win 90 games, but he did tell Joel Sherman that the Mets’ payroll would be between $90 million and $100 million, which he later amended to “above $87 million.”
Result: The payroll wound up at $84 million, according to USA Today, although Alderson did follow through on his intention to spend more than $5 million on free agents. The Mets have made a habit of revising payroll projections, which might explain why Mets chief revenue officer Lou DePaoli’s prediction that attendance would rise failed to come true, too.
Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images
Predictor: Defensive coordinator Mark Weidemaier
Prediction: The Nationals would employ more defensive shifts.
Result: Weidemaier was hired to help the Nats shift more often, and according to data from Baseball Info Solutions, he did, propelling them from 39 shifts in 2013 (30th in MLB) to 201 in 2014 (29th).
Predictor: Adam Jones
Prediction: “But that was last year, and now he has to do it again,” Jones said of Chris Davis’s 53-homer 2013. “And the crazy part is, I think he can.”
Result: That was the crazy part! Davis hit 26 dingers. Jones’s prediction of a repeat was only slightly less accurate than Davis’s deadpan prediction that he’d double his 2013 total.
Predictor: Nick Vincent
Prediction: The Padres reliever adorably predicted that his team would “be second in the NL West and have a chance to make the playoffs.”
Result: They finished third, 11 games behind second-place San Francisco. The Padres also signed Josh Johnson, implicitly predicting that he would pitch. That prediction didn’t work out well, either.
Predictor: Ruben Amaro, Jonathan Papelbon
Prediction: “I do believe we have the talent to make a run at the National League East this year,” Amaro said. Papelbon upped the ante, saying, “I honestly believe we have more talent than any other roster out there.”
Predictor: Russell Martin
Prediction: “I don’t know what all the ‘experts’ are saying, but I consider myself an expert and I think we’re going to do better than we did last year,” Martin said.
Result: The Pirates won six fewer games, but their run differential slipped by only six runs. Unless Martin switched to the royal “we” mid-sentence, he was wrong. But only barely.
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Predictor: Adrian Beltre
Prediction: “He’s going to get the MVP,” Beltre said of Prince Fielder. “It’s his time to win it. My job is to protect him so that he gets there.”
Result: Beltre failed to protect Fielder from the herniated disk that ended Fielder’s season after 42 games, but he excelled at his actual job: playing baseball. Beltre posted the third-highest Baseball-Reference WAR among AL position players, giving him the 15th-highest WAR total of any position player in his age 31–35 seasons. Of the top 18, only Barry Bonds, Beltre, and Pete Rose aren’t in the Hall of Fame.
Predictor: Bench coach Dave Martinez
Prediction: “I think this is the year you see Desmond Jennings shine,” Martinez said. “… I think you’re going to see Desmond this year put up some really big numbers.”
Result: A foul ball to the knee cost Jennings 28 games, but he wasn’t en route to big numbers before that.
Predictor: Will Middlebrooks
Prediction: “We’re always good,” Middlebrooks said after an Opening Day loss.3 “And we will be good. I’m not worried. It’s one game. We’ve got 161 left. More than that, because we’re going to make the playoffs.”
Predictor: Bryan Price
Prediction: The Reds would be more willing to shift.
Result: Unlike Weidemaier, Price didn’t deliver. The Reds’ shift total declined from 298 (13th in MLB) under Dusty Baker in 2013 to 212 (25th) under Price.
Predictor: Owner Dick Monfort
Prediction: “If we stay healthy I think we’ll win 90 games,” Monfort said.
Result: The Rockies were among the teams hardest hit by injuries, but even if Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Michael Cuddyer, and Brett Anderson had miraculously played full seasons, it’s hard to see where the missing 24 wins would’ve come from. Colorado governor John Hickenlooper got in on the conditional prediction game, saying, “If Carlos Gonzalez doesn’t stay healthy, I’d give up my reelection bid.” CarGo got hurt, but Hickenlooper ran4 anyway, further eroding the nation’s faith in the political process.
Harry How/Getty Images
Predictor: Ned Yost, Billy Butler
Prediction: “We’re a lot better than we’ve been in quite some time,” Yost said. Billy Butler concurred, calling the 2014 club “the best team I’ve been a part of.”
Result: The Royals were so confident from the second they reported to spring training that they expected Mike Moustakas to hit. In fact, before the 2013 season, Yost had said, “I think with this group we’re definitely going to win a world championship … the next couple years.” That prediction might have come true if he’d just told Omar Infante to have a higher OBP.
Predictor: Dave Dombrowski
Prediction: Dombrowski called Alex Gonzalez, whom he traded for after Jose Iglesias’s season-ending injury, “a guy we can play in the majority of our games at shortstop.”
Result: Last year, the Brewers appeared on my list after Roenicke, reeling from the loss of Corey Hart, anointed Gonzalez his “everyday first baseman” before demoting him four games after Opening Day. It’s hard to say which plan was worse, but the Tigers stuck to theirs longer: Gonzalez made eight starts at short before being released April 20.
Predictor: Assistant GM Rob Antony
Prediction: “We should have an improved rotation,” Antony said.
Result: The Twins rotation was terrible in 2013, pitching the fewest innings (871) with the highest ERA (5.26) in baseball. Over the offseason, Minnesota signed Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco to address that weakness. The payoff: Twins starters in 2014 pitched the second-fewest innings (913.1) with the highest ERA (5.06), albeit with significantly better peripherals. Improvement!
Predictor: Special assistant Jim Thome
Prediction: “I think [Paul Konerko] comes out and has a great year,” Thome said, recalling his own years as a productive part-timer.
Result: Konerko was worse than Derek Jeter.
Predictor: Joe Girardi
Prediction: “We think [Jacoby Ellsbury’s] home run total will probably rise a little bit playing in this park compared to Fenway,” Girardi said.
Result: Ellsbury’s count rose from nine to 16, with seven homers hit at home (compared to four in 2013).
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