Projecting 2012 - Part 1

CINCINNATI, OH: Brandon Phillips #4 of the Cincinnati Reds celebrates with teammates after hitting the game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati won 6-5. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Over at Replacement Level Yankees Weblog, they've posted the 2012 standings based on Marcel projections, which are really "dumb" but do a surprisingly good job. Here are the American League postseason teams, assuming Commissioner Bud gets his way and each league has two Wild Cards ...

ALE: Yankees
ALC: Tigers
ALW: Angels / Rangers (tie)
WC1: Red Sox
WC2: Rays

As the author admits, he doesn't attempt to project MLB performance for anyone who hasn't played MLB baseball. Instead he assumes league-average performance. This obviously might be understating the Rangers' chances, as Yu Darvish figures to be better than league-average. The Rangers are paying for a lot more than that, anyway. Who else? Matt Moore, who did pitch in the majors very briefly, and one wonders what his 2012 projection looks like.

Of course, what's notable in those projected standings is that nothing's particularly notable. With the exception of the Angels tying the Rangers out West, this is exactly what would have happened last season if there had been two Wild Cards available. Well, except the Red Sox and Rays would have been flipped, just barely.

It's not like there's anything there to quibble with, though. You probably would have come up with essentially the same answers without running a single number, based purely what happened last summer and what's happened this winter. Of course, we know we'll be surprised somewhere. We just don't know where. It's nice to see the Royals (not pictured here) making the playoffs 17 percent of the time.

Not many surprises in the ol' Senior Circuit, either ...

NLE: Phillies
NLC: Reds
NLW: Rockies / D'backs / Giants
WC1: Braves
WC2: Rockies / D'backs / Giants

No real surprises here, either. But if you dig a little, you'll see that the Reds actually win their division by more games -- five, ahead of the second-place Cardinals -- than any other team in the majors. In no other division does the winner win more by more than two games.*

* That is, when you combine all the seasons in the simulation. We wouldn't actually expect everyone to be so bunched up, but to get reasonably close results you have to regress everything, and when you regress everything you lose most of the highs and lows. Just the nature of the beast.

I honestly don't know why the Reds would finish so far ahead of the Cardinals -- projected to win only 84 games, with the Brewers winning 81. Last season the Cards outscored their opponents by 70 runs, the Reds by only 15. The Reds have added Mat Latos and bolstered their bullpen, but the Cardinals have added Carlos Beltrán and get Adam Wainwright back, which figures to balance the loss of Albert Pujols.

I'm not saying the projection is "wrong"; I'm just saying I don't immediately understand it. But of course projecting a team's performance is about a lot more than three or four players. It's about 50 or 60. So I don't distrust something that says the Reds will be five games better than the Cardinals. Well, no more than I distrust everything else. It just makes me curious.

Anyway, this is just one set of projections. There will be others, just as rationally constructed but some of them significantly different than the above. I'll bet you somebody smart comes up with the Yankees in third place. Which could, of course, actually happen.

Strange things do happen, but of course it's hard to figure what they'll be. That's why they call them strange.

Anyway, this is all good fun in January. We'll check back a few times before Opening Day, I'm sure.

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