Fuzzy Crystal Ball: Current Standings Don't Measure Up to Experts' Pre-season Picks
The baseball season is already a little more than a fourth gone in 2017, and although there’s still a long way to go, the way the standings looked on Thursday morning, May 25, was not quite how the baseball experts had envisioned them.
I checked into some pre-season predictions and found that the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs were overwhelming favorites to run away with their divisions. As of Thursday morning, none of them were in first place – they were close, but hardly enjoying the runaway seasons predicted.
No one had an inkling in March that first place in the Central Divisions of the two leagues would belong to Minnesota and Milwaukee. Bleacher Report had predicted them each for last in their divisions, both winning fewer than 70 games.
Four Divisions Not Going as Expected
ESPN gathered 35 experts to make predictions and Sports Illustrated had eight. Of those 43, 35 picked Boston to win the AL East. Seven tabbed Toronto. Only one lone ESPN expert put the Yankees, the current leader, in first place, and no one selected Baltimore. Bleacher Report had Boston finishing ahead of Toronto by 11 games and by 16 over New York. Boston may still win that division, but they’re going to have a very hard time living up to that hype.
Cleveland was the unanimous choice for the American League Central and the Cubs unanimous in the NL Central. Bleacher Report predicted the Indians to win by 16 games and the Cubs to win 101 games and finish 11 ahead of St. Louis. To live up to that, the Cubs will have to play .675 ball the rest of the way – not impossible with their team, but certainly a vast improvement over their first 48 games.
The experts were split about who they favored in the NL West – 30 of them went with the Dodgers, the other 13 went with San Francisco. Bleacher Report thought the Giants would win by five over the Dodgers.
Colorado, currently with the best record in the National League, won very little respect. Two out of 43 gave them one of the Wild Card spots. Bleacher Report had them finishing barely over .500. Los Angeles is playing well, currently 3.5 games out of first, but San Francisco is eight games under .500 and with Madison Bumgarner shelved, shows little hope of coming close to a playoff berth.
A Little Closer to Being Right
The two divisions that have had things go somewhat according the expert picks are the AL West and NL East. Washington was a favorite among the ESPN/SI crowd, with 29 thinking they would win the division. But the other 14 chose the Mets, who are a lackluster six games under .500. Bleacher Report had the Nationals winning by seven games over the Mets.
In the AL West, Houston – currently with the best record in baseball – was tabbed by 25 of the ESPN/SI experts. Ten thought it would be Texas, currently seven games behind the Astros, and eight thought it would be Seattle, currently resting comfortably at the bottom of the division.
A Repeat in the World Series?
The Wild Card picks had more diversity, but the consensus in the AL was Toronto and Houston/Texas/Seattle. In the NL, it was the Mets and LA/SF.
About 40 percent of the experts predicted that Indians and/or the Cubs would appear in the World Series – a number predicted a rematch from last year, even though two teams facing each other in back-to-back years hasn’t happened in almost 40 years, when the Yankees and Dodgers played each other in 1977 and ’78. A number of the experts had the Cubs facing the Red Sox, while the Indians vs. LA, Washington or the Mets were other popular choices.
As I mentioned, it’s a long season and some of these teams could come through and prove the prognostication skills of these experts. But some won’t, and other teams will emerge as surprises, as the Twins and Brewers already have.
So Many Variables in Baseball
What does it all mean? It means that making pre-season picks is as much about wishful thinking and luck as it is about any real expert opinion. Baseball has so many variables that it’s hard to predict the outcome of one season series or even one game. The difference of half-an-inch on the bat is the difference between an infield pop-up and a booming homer; an inch can be the difference between an inning-saving catch and a bases-clearing double. Even when you do everything right, it can all go wrong. A pitcher makes a great pitch, splinters the bat and watches the ball bloop in no-man’s land between fielders and the winning run scores; a batter barrels up the ball and hits a screaming line drive with the winning run on second, but right at the third baseman.
That is what makes baseball a great game. And that is what makes it so hard to predict the final results six months in advance. Which is why it’s so much fun to watch every game unfold as the season moves along.