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Why were everyone's American League predictions so horrible?

I made dumb predictions about the Astros, Rangers, Twins, and Royals, but at least I wasn't alone. Let's explore what went wrong.

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Back in March, I made predictions for the 2015 MLB season because I was told to. They were bad predictions, and I tried to warn you. Here's how my AL predictions stacked up:

AL West

1. Rangers

2. Astros

3. Mariners

4. A's

5. Angels

AL Central

1. Twins

2. Royals

3. White Sox

4. Tigers

5. Indians

AL East

1. Yankees

2. Rays

3. Blue Jays

4. Orioles

5. Red Sox

Say ... that's not bad! Totally whiffed on the Angels, and I underrated the Blue Jays quite a bit, but I got some of the key surprises. Those might be the best predictions I've ever made.

Except that up there is the exact opposite of what I actually predicted. Those are the reverse orders of the predictions, in an attempt to obfuscate and trick you. The actual predictions might have been the worst predictions I've ever made. Red Sox in first. Rangers and Yankees in last. Good gravy.

The good news is that lots of people missed on the American League. No one saw the Rangers coming. No one saw the Astros coming, at least in a way that would force them into a bold prediction. ESPN, FanGraphs, and Baseball Prospectus combined to make 89 separate staff predictions. The Royals, Twins, Rangers, or Astros made the postseason in exactly zero of those predictions. At least two of them are going to the postseason, and it's possible that all four will at least play a game past the 162nd game of the season.

How did everyone screw up these teams so badly? There's usually one, maybe two, of these teams every season, but four of them? We have some explaining to do.

Royals

What their problem was supposed to be:

The Royals were literally in the World Series last year. Looked it up, watched some video evidence, it all checks out. They lost a coin flip of a game in Game 7, too. They could have easily won the danged thing.

Yet there wasn't a single prognosticator who picked them to be one of the five postseason teams. Did we all get together and talk about this before making the predictions? Feels like we must have. There's no way we all could have taken the Royals for granted that much individually.

My reasoning for ignoring them before the season was twofold:

  1. The Royals hit 95 home runs last year, yet their postseason run owed a lot to well-timed dingers. It was a lot of fun, but it didn't seem sustainable.

  2. James Shields, reliable top-o'-the-rotation horse, was replaced by Edinson Volquez, one of the more erratic pitchers of his generation.

The pitching was worse, the lineup was suspect, and we were talking about a team that juuuuuust squeaked into the postseason in the first place.

Why they were actually good

Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer followed the Alex Gordon development curve, becoming breakout hitters in the middle of the lineup, right as people were starting to dismiss their chances. The Royals took a shot on two bargain-priced sluggers, hoping that one would work out, and Kendrys Morales absolutely did. Volquez was solid, and Lorenzo Cain emerged as one of the better players in the American League.

With the benefit of hindsight, the biggest problem with the preseason predictions had to do with ignoring everything that was excellent with the 2014 Royals to focus on the red flags. The Royals had the best bullpen in the league, and they had the best defense in the league. Both of those things were still around in 2015. Considering the addition of Ryan Madson and the loss of Norichika Aoki, both of those things might have even been likely to improve.

Lesson for next season: Think about what the postseason teams did well, see if it's still around. It would have helped with the Royals predictions, especially in an uncertain AL Central.

Twins

What their problem was supposed to be:

Bad players. A sketchy-as-heck rotation. Did we mention the bad players? Mostly the bad players. Everyone thought they were going to be bad, right?

Before the season, I had an article idea floating around. It was about how only three teams didn't have a shot at the postseason this year. There were 27 teams with a glimmer of hope because of their lineup, rotation, or combination of the two. And then there were the Phillies, Braves, and Twins.

From the season preview:

They can’t possibly have enough pitching around Hughes and Santana. Kyle Gibson and Mike Pelfrey are very, very, very Twins, in all the wrong ways, and Ricky Nolasco is morphing into a pure Twins pitcher by the light of a full moon. It would take some serious breakouts from the young hitters in the lineup, possibly around a resurgent Joe Mauer, to contend. Could happen. Might happen. Probably won’t happen.

Santana was suspended. Hughes regressed. Nolasco was hurt and awful. Gibson and Pelfrey were peak-Twins, solid and unspectacular. Mauer was a disappointment. Of the four 25-and-under breakout players from last season (Escobar/Arcia/Santana/Vargas), only Escobar remained valuable.

They were supposed to be lousy because of an uncertain roster, and look at all that uncertainty. The fears were justified.

Why they were actually good

I can't stop reading that last part. I have no idea.

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Part of it is good timing and fortune, as you've read and will continue to read if the Twins make the postseason. Based on raw or adjusted numbers, the Twins have a below-average lineup and an average pitching staff. That shouldn't lead to an over-.500 record.

But the biggest lesson here is that when a team has one of the two or three best prospects in the game, they should automatically be taken more seriously. Take any roster in baseball, slap a dinger deity in the middle of the lineup, and step back. Your reaction will be something like, "Say, that team sure looks better!" The Twins had Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. One of them was going to help this year. It was just a matter of which one, when, and how much. Coupled with some solid, underrated hitters in the infield and general good fortune, and it shouldn't have been impossible for them to jump from a projected 78 wins to 88.

Just unexpected. And improbable. Baseball! Remember the 2015 Twins when the Phillies are 50-34 at the All-Star break next year.

Rangers

What their problem was supposed to be:

Limbs. Piles of broken limbs. Then an intern came up and said he had more limbs. The limbs were in a wheelbarrow. The trainer told him to dump the limbs on the piles of limbs, making a bigger pile of limbs. Then the trainer sighed, wiped his brow, and said, "Now, how am I supposed to fix all these limbs? Oh me, oh my."

The 2014 Rangers were one of the most snakebitten teams I've ever seen, and whatever hope for the 2015 season we might have had vanished in a puff of Yu Darvish's UCL. Then Jurickson Profar was lost for the year. Then Derek Holland went down. It was unfair. Ghastly and unfair.

It looked so bad, that when I wrote a (now hilarious) article about how the super-sad Rangers made me appreciate the urgency of the super-awesome Nationals, Rangers fans hopped in the comments and were sad instead of angry. Everyone knew they were broken beyond repair.

Why they were actually good

Like the Twins, there was a smattering of good fortune involved, with the Rangers performing better than their expected record for a while. But that overestimates things. The biggest boost to the Rangers was that they cobbled a decent pitching staff together until reinforcements could arrive. Colby Lewis and Nick Martinez did an excellent job of not being awful while Wandy Rodriguez managed the same for most of his time in Texas, then Derek Holland and Martin Perez came back, and Cole Hamels came over. Meanwhile, the bullpen ascended into the heavens while the Astros' bullpen collapsed.

Rougned Odor broke out. Prince Fielder contributed. Mitch Moreland finally justified the organization's faith. Shin-Soo Choo did exactly what he was supposed to when he signed, climbing out of the worst-contract-in-baseball death pit with his bare hands. If you guarantee those things before the season, more than a couple of people would have been intrigued enough to put them as a wild card contender, at least. For a team that's suffered through a lot of lousy luck, they've sure had a lot of positive developments.

Imagine this team with Darvish. That was the point when they acquired Hamels, most likely. This team + Darvish = a contender in 2016. A possible AL West crown this season is an unexpected fringe benefit. The greatest unexpected fringe benefit in the world, give or take.

If this year's Rangers win the World Series where the super-Rangers of 2011 or 2012 could not, I'm predicting the Phillies to win next year, screw it.

Astros

What their problem was supposed to be:

The more I think about it, the more I think the problem with the Astros was that we just weren't ready for them. We weren't ready to give up the 111-loss team that was so awful, so dreadful, so lovably incompetent. Last season's team showed that trope was already dead, and they had a frenetic offseason filled with smart moves.

It took a brave person to be the first to say they weren't just decent, but possible favorites. I was not that person.

Why they were actually good

Dingers. Dingers and the continued emergence of Dallas Keuchel, whose only value before 2014 had to do with "Maybe the Rangers should trade for Huston Street" jokes. The Astros made a very conscious decision to seek out raw power, and they spent a lot of time putting together a cleverly sourced rotation. It was a winning combination.

LIke the Twins, too, the Astros had one of the very best prospects in baseball, possibly the closest thing to Alex Rodriguez we've seen. The 20-year-old Carlos Correa instantly became one of the best players in baseball, and he was complemented by Lance McCullers becoming one of the better pitchers in baseball. If the Astros added Troy Tulowitzki and Jon Lester before the season, everyone would have been goofy for them and the team's chances. The Astros did, in a way, just with their own prospects.

Lesson for next season: Pay more attention to the robo-prospects at the very top of the preseason lists. They tend to make a difference.

The National League? The Nationals disappointed, and the Padres flopped, but everyone pretty much had them pegged. The American League made a mess of our preseason predictions, though, a glorious, glorious mess. Even though I think I know why, that doesn't mean I won't be right back here next year, explaining exactly how we all screwed up again. Looking forward to it.