A prediction is meaningless unless someone can point to it and gloat about how right or wrong they were. With that truth in mind, here’s our review of our Top Nine Predictions for the 2016 Major League Baseball Season.
Prediction #1: Bryce Harper keeps being awesome, posting 7 fWAR, a wRC+ of 175, and better counting stats
Always good to start off on one we clearly got wrong. Harper absolutely did not produce at the levels we expected. The only part of our prediction that came close to happening was a jump in his counting stats – he slugged 200 points lower and only put up 13 fewer RBI. Other than than, we were way off.
The general thought seems to be that Harper’s drop was due to injury, but it was still a big one. His changes in plate approach continued (and increased), posting career lows in swing % and swinging strikes, and career highs in contact %. But he also posted the highest soft hit ball % of his career. Hopefully (for Harper and the Nats, at least), a healthy Harper can reap the benefits of that approach without the loss of power his shoulder injury brought about.
Prediction #2: Yoenis Cespedes will be a 3 WAR player, posting a wRC+ of 110-115 and a slash line around .265/.315/.480, with 25 HR & 100 RBI.
Verdict: Sort of right, but for the wrong reasons.
So, we were wrong about Céspedes at the plate. He put up a great season, on par with his 2015 season. While many (who aren’t us) expected his power numbers to continue, his plate discipline was the biggest surprise. His walk rate nearly doubled, from 4.9% to 9.4%, reversing a four year (i.e., career-long) downward trend to set a new career high 17.5% higher than his previous best (which, again, was four years ago). If you saw that coming, stop reading this site and go play the Power Ball.
However, while he continued his offensive excellence, he was indeed a 3 WAR player (3.2 fWAR, 2.9 bWAR) due to a steep decline in his defensive production. As 2016 went on, the Mets increasingly called upon Cespedes to play CF (where he is decidedly below league average) instead of LF (where he is decidedly above). While they did so in order to maximize their lineup’s offense, it still doesn’t mean he didn’t hurt them with his defense. He also only played in 132 games, but that’s not too unusual for him as he’s only topped 135 games twice in four previous seasons.
Prediction #3: Zack Greinke wilts in the Arizona Sun.
Finally, one where we were unequivocally correct. Greinke’s first year in Arizona was a disaster. The Diamondbacks thought they had signed a Cy Young candidate ace, and what Greinke gave them was a league average starter’s production. Greinke posted career-worst or near-career-worst numbers in basically every category.
A few things that should stand out. One, his BABIP regressed to almost exactly his career average – that was one of the easiest factors in our prediction. Even if he had stayed in Los Angeles, that alone would have brought his stratospheric 2015 back down to Earth. Beyond that, his peripheral stat dropoffs look about what one would expect for a pitcher about to turn 33.
His K and BB rates were basically career averages for him and nearly identical to his first year in LA. Combine that regression with a BABIP fit for mortal men and the shift from a pitcher’s park to a hitter’s park, and we get the season that gives Diamondbacks execs nightmares about the remaining six years on his gigantic contract.
Prediction #4: The Chicago Cubs will be the best team in baseball but still lose the World Series
Confession: We made this prediction as something of a reverse jinx and are quite happy we were wrong. Obviously the Cubs came very close to making us 100% correct, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand-crafted Etsy products…er, that’s not right.
In any case, it seemed a good bet for the very reason we said: the best team usually doesn’t win, and the Cubs were definitely the best team in baseball.
They were top five in every big stat and, as good as their record was, they were actually a bit unlucky. They were that good even with Arrieta regressing from his Cy Young year and without young masher Schwarber.
For 2017, they’ve lost a career-year (read: regression-ripe) Dexter Fowler and domestic violence perpetrator Aroldis Chapman. But for the most part they returned a young and maturing, best-team-in-baseball. Everyone else should continue to watch out.
Prediction #5: The window has closed for the Detroit Tigers.
Verdict: Right (*sigh*)
Here was our list of “If this happens, the Tigers might win the division” statements:
- If Verlander’s apparent return to form at the end to 2015 is genuine – YES (He should have won the Cy Young).
- If Victor Martinez returns from injury to be a top hitter – Mostly.
- If Miguel Cabrera and Anibal Sanchez stay healthy – Yes and Yes.
- If J.D. Martinez continues his upward trend – Mostly.
- If Justin Upton plays to his talent – Not really.
- If Jordan Zimmerman and young Daniel Norris live up to expectations – Nope.
- If Ian Kinsler defies aging one more year – Yes and then some.
- If one young player steps up to contribute (Steven Moya, finally?) – Yes, Fullmer & Maybin (not young, but also not expected).
- If the bullpen isn’t a dumpster fire again – Ehh.
Most of the “if…” statements in our prediction actually happened and the Tigers still weren’t close to the eventual AL Champion Cleveland Indians (who were our divisional pick). The Tigers were eight games back by mid-May and despite surges in both June and July, never closed the gap to even a game.
With the passing of long-time owner, Mike Ilitch, and his win-now emphasis, it feels like the Tigers will be rebuilding within a season or two. Do they still have a chance to compete? Sure. The only major contributor that departed was Cameron Maybin, but no one really expected him to be a centerpiece going forward (we fully expect him to regress to his career averages).
However, that’s also the biggest argument against the Tigers: they’re basically the same team as last season (when they couldn’t get it done) except they’re all a year closer to retirement. Other than a full season of Daniel Norris (i.e., not much), there’s no reason to think they’ll catch a Cleveland club that also returned all of its major contributors.
Prediction #6: The Houston Astros win 100 games while the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers sink to .500.
Probably our boldest prediction and the one we got the most wrong. Not only did the Astros fizzle their way to a 3rd place finish, a two game swing from .500, the Texas Rangers ran away with the division. The Rangers ended May in first and no one got within even two games after June 4th.
Our only saving grace on this prediction is that the Rangers only had a run differential of +8. That’s a number most often seen on .500 teams (makes sense: score as much as you give up, you’ll usually win as much as you lose). In fact, the Rangers had the second-highest Pythagorean Luck in history and the highest in 111 years. The average variance is around 3 wins, only a handful of teams in MLB history have even hit double-digits, the Rangers were +13. Cold comfort for our success rate, but we’ll take whatever silver linings we can.
Prediction #7: Corey Seager will win National League Rookie of the Year
Seager did not disappoint, following up his short 2015 debut with an MVP-caliber performance that easily won him the Rookie of the Year award. His offensive stat line was roughly what we projected:
And he was a well above average defensive shortstop, putting up the 8th most DEF in the majors and the 9th best UZR/150 for shortstops. All of that translated into the 5th most fWAR in MLB and 2nd most in the National League, only behind eventual NL MVP Kris Bryant.
In other words, Seager is a offensive stud who’s an above average SS, isn’t yet 23 years old, and who anchors a World Series contender willing to spend just under eleventy-billion dollars on their payroll. We’re going to be hearing a lot about him going forward.
Prediction #8: Mike Trout would not win the American League MVP, even though he’d deserve it
Verdict: Right on the stat line, wrong on the vote (and perfectly happy about it).
On the one hand, our prediction for Trout’s line was a near-bullseye (including the jump in stolen bases).
On the other hand, Trout is as constant as the Northern Star and this was the fifth straight year he’d put up roughly the same line. Mike Trout being that good is as shocking as green grass, blue sky, and wet water.
Trout, in his first five seasons, had put up 47 fWAR. For reference, here’s all the players who’ve put up a 5-season stretch with 44 or more WAR at any point in their careers:
That’s quite the list. Make note of the ages at which most of those players hit their peaks – well older than Trout. Only five of them overlap with Trout at all and only three overlap for more than one year. In fact, only one other player in MLB history put up a 40+ WAR total as young as Trout: Ty Cobb. Trout’s done something only the best players ever have done at any point in their career, and he’s done it in his first five full seasons.
Also take note that Ted Williams lost three seasons to WWII during his absolute peak. We’ve already discussed how much of his career Williams missed due to war. This is just another example.
The only sort of surprising thing here is that the MVP voters seem to finally be willing to recognize just how great Trout is. Whether it’s a growing acceptance of analytics or the difficult of denying the obvious year after year, Trout has now taken home the MVP in two of the past three years. Who knows if Mookie Betts would have overtaken Trout if the Red Sox had gone deeper in the playoffs, but for now we’ll be happy he’s finally winning the hardware he deserves.
Prediction #9: Clayton Kershaw will win the Cy Young again, Max Scherzer comes up short, and Jake Arrieta regresses.
Verdict: Mostly wrong, primarily due to injury.
There’s little question that when he was pitching, Clayton Kershaw was the best pitcher in MLB last season. His issue (like pretty much every Dodgers pitcher) was he didn’t pitch for the whole season, missing 10-12 starts over more than a month on the DL.
We broke down the NL Cy Young race at the end of last season, but our analysis still remains: Even pitching far fewer innings, Kershaw might still have been the most valuable pitcher in the NL.
It wasn’t clear cut though and it turned out Scherzer didn’t need to “make a jump” as we expected. He just needed to turn in a not quite as good performance over significantly more innings. Injuries are, by definition, unpredictable so we’re not too upset we didn’t call this one. Given how much better Kershaw was than everyone else when he was pitching, it seems a good bet he’d have won the award if he’d had even half of his missing innings back.
He’s still the most dominant pitcher in baseball and if he (and just a few of his teammates) can stay healthy, the Dodgers will make a lot of noise this season.
That’s our 2016 prediction recap. Come back on Monday for our Top Nine predictions for 2017.