I'm literally giving a bath to a small fish right now in a Home Depot bucket, so let's allow the computers to do the heavy lifting for me in this piece.
A slate of computer projections for the 2012 season have been released. Not all of them have been released yet, and we're still about two weeks away from much-heralded PECOTA projections being released by Baseball Prospectus, but there's enough to get our feet wet. Wet with White Sox haterade.
Projections are largely about taking past performance, and weighting them for everything we know about regression to the mean, age-related decline, park factors, etc. But they're using performance data, not scouting, and the most recent data is the most significant.
That's not good for the White Sox, since most recently they were bad.
They were bad, and they've added no significant pieces. In fact, they've added no one. The White Sox were the only team not to sign a major-league free agent. This is a fact that doesn't sound good in press releases.
Projections using Tom Tango's self-admittedly simple Marcel system were processed and posted on Replacement Level Yankees Blog the other day. It had the White Sox at 79 wins. That's not very creative, Marcel! 79-win teams don't just sashay off the assembly line!
Of course, a 79 win projection was still good enough for 20.9% playoff odds since Marcel is so conservative on the Tigers. 1 in 5! That's a chance! Someone would bet on that! Not all their money, but some. Whatever they had left after going "All In" on the previous hand and losing...and then re-entering the game after selling their wedding ring.
Also out, are the somewhat more complicated Oliver projections by the Hardball Times. For reasons I am not yet ready to reveal, I highly recommend their forecasts.
They are....interesting. Their 74 win projection for the White Sox reads pretty much like the system saw a ~79 win team jettison many of their valuable assets. However, Oliver is quite forgiving of the Twins' struggles (83 wins), and is extremely harsh to the Royals' unproven youth (62 wins).
Hot damn does Oliver really like the Reds (94 wins, best record in baseball). Hell, even Marcel loves the Reds (89 wins). I knew the Reds would be markedly improved and set to contend this season, but apparently they're going to burn everyone's faces off. These are face-burning projections. The White Sox will only play the Reds if something wonderful happens to them...at which point the computers project that something terrible will happen to them.
Earlier, in December, the initial CAIRO projections were released and spotted the White Sox at 77 wins. Larry of South Side Sox found little reason to disagree with them at the time, and the Sox have not gotten better since December 15th.
You get the idea, the White Sox are considered a below-average to quite below-average team. This isn't unexpected, or even incongruent with the most optimistic views of the 2012 team. Any successful campaign will have to involve Beckham, Dunn and Rios (and go ahead and throw De Aza, Viciedo, Morel, and probably Floyd and Danks) beating their baselines for performance, perhaps by significant margins.
It's stands to reason that any team is going to have to beat its projections for a successful year. All projections, and especially Marcel, regress heavily, and put nearly every team in the 70-90 win range. Yet we've gone two full seasons now without a sub-90 win division winner, and every remotely successful White Sox season of the past decade has involved thumping the PECOTA numbers by multiple wins.
That's also why all Sox fans smirked and scoffed when PECOTA spit out 80-82 for the 2011 White Sox, and were still smirking when PECOTA shot us right between the eyes with that figure. Being listed as a fringe contender by the computer projections isn't a death sentence, but it's not necessarily a quirk of the machine either.
I wrote this almost a year ago on the topic:
"PECOTA has undershot the Sox every year recently except 2007, when it was just flat-out impossible to undershoot the Sox. The Sox beat their PECOTA rankings by 9 games last season, 6 before that, 11 before that, and a whopping 19 when they won it all in 2005.
It makes sense when you think about it. Annually, the Sox bet hard against veteran regression, dumpster dive for reclamation projects with poor track records, and make trades that render pre-season predictions irrelevant anyway. It's as if they were built to defy typical methods of tracking team progression."
Like anything I've written more than a few weeks ago, my initial reaction is to tug my collar nervously, back out of the room from the monstrosity, and never speak of past naivete again. The 2o11 pre-season was all aglow with the excitement of one more year before we'd have to think about a barren farm system and an aging roster, and I wasn't about to let some middling projections spoil the fun.
It was only one season to cast doubt on my defense of White Sox way, but nowadays, it's a lot more apparent that betting against veteran regression and injury in aging vets is a high-stakes coinflip, everyone has to dive for reclamation projects when they don't produce homegrown studs, and trading for help at the deadline is a pretty inefficient means of acquiring prime talent.
The curtain got tugged away a bit last season. Now, the cold, humorless assessment of the projections has an appeal, when previous years I'd scream "What do you know, you old curmudgeon!", then go off with Kenny Williams to dance around and break computers in an empty meadow.
The math says the White Sox will probably be pretty bad next year. It's probably right.
Tags: Adam Dunn, Alejandro De Aza, Alex Rios, baseball, baseball prospectus, Brent Morel, cincinnati reds, Dayan Viciedo, Detroit Tigers, Gavin Floyd, Gordon Beckham, John Danks, Kansas City Royals, Kenny Williams, marcel, oliver, the hardball times, White Sox