Will I see you in September? (Predicting baseball outcomes)

September 11, 2013

Weatherpeople and sports pundits. Those seem to be the only professions where you can be so wrong so often and not only still keep your job, but have people rely on your expertise.

Just a quick look at the USA Today‘s Baseball 2013 magazine: five out of eight writers picked the Tampa Bay Rays to win the AL East, two picked the Toronto Blue Jays, one picked the NY Yankees. Who’s in first by a substantial margin? The Boston Red Sox.

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-4DUr-fBktUg/TVr6NraBpeI/AAAAAAAAAhE/do-bL7rmJrA/s320/untitled.bmpIn the NL East, five picked the Washington Nationals for the top spot. They’re struggling to remain above .500 (although now that they’re playing the Mets…). All eight picked the Cincinnati Reds for NL Central. They’re currently in third place, three games out. Granted, there’s still two weeks left to the season so they may yet win the division.

Some publications, like Athlon Sports Baseball 2013 Preview, just offer an overall prediction. Their division winners: Yankees, Tigers, Angels, Nationals, Reds, and Giants. So — as of now — wrong (Yankees), right (Tigers), very wrong (Angels), wrong (Nationals), wrong (Reds), and very wrong(Giants). They also had the Red Sox for last in the AL East).

Similarly, Sporting News Baseball had the same AL teams (including the Red Sox’ position), but the Nats, Cardinals, and Dodgers in the NL.

Tim Kurkjian of ESPN’s Baseball Tonight pokes fun at himself for all his wrong predictions whenever he appears in an interview. He’s good sport about it as you can tell here, here, and here. He was kind enough to put up with me for an interview when his book, Is This a Great Game or What?, came out in 2008.

Picking individual achievements, like MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year awards, etc., are even more problematic. Four writers picked Jurickson Profar of the Texas Rangers for AL ROY, but he’s not had that much of an impact. And Yasiel Puig wasn’t on anyone’s radar.

Problem is, these predictions are based — contrary to all those investment commercials — on past performances, for the most part. The new generation of statistics makes it both easier and more difficult, it seems to me. But all it takes is an injury (two USA Today writers picked Albert Pujols — out for the season since the end of July — for AL MVP) or two to wreck a season. The games are not played on paper.


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