April 18, 2014

Revisiting My Preseason Predictions (Or: Why Jon Shouldn’t Gamble)

Back in February, long before the season began, I tried to set the lines on a few items of Indians’ minutiae for the 2012 season.  I tried to isolate some juicy bits that could serve as a sort of a bell-weather for the upcoming season as a whole—items that might point to how individual players would contribute and how those contributions might fit into the larger picture.  Of course, I made my own little predictions.  And of course, I was mostly wrong.  Let’s see what we can learn here.

The first line I proposed was 6.5 position players would appear in more than 100 games.  I took the over. Here was my reasoning back then:

That sounds ridiculously low, right?  I mean, we’d only need 7 players to appear in—at any position including DH—at least 100 games.  That shouldn’t be so hard.  Except that last year the Indians had only five such players, and two of them (Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta) might have lost some playing time this offseason.  Couple that with a few more issues the team might run into: (1) potential platoons at both 3B and LF; (2) Grady Sizemore, starting CF; (3) Pronk.  And that’s not even counting those injuries we don’t see coming.  I’ll take the over here, but only because February is cruel and unrelenting, and we need some optimism.

Perhaps February optimism is good for something.  The Indians ended up sneaking in the win for me with seven 100+ game position players: Choo (155), Kipnis (152), Brantley (149), Santana (143), Cabrera (143), Kotchman (142), and Hannahan (105).  I was, frankly, shocked by the eighth name on the list, one David Shelley Duncan.

I guess the fact that they hit the over here is supposed to make me feel good about my prescience, but really, I find it a bit distressing.  This team managed to get outscored by a bigger margin than any other team in the AL without suffering the sorts of major injuries that typically derail our teams.  Sure, there’s the bit about Grady, and the Hafner injury that we set our July watches to, but really, this was a healthy team.

A healthy, terrible team.

The next line was 7.00 strikeouts-per-nine-innings pitched by Chris Perez.  I took the under.  Take it away, former self:

Again, it sounds silly until you look at the numbers.  Through his 2009 season, Chris Perez had never struck out fewer than nine batters per nine innings at any point in his professional career.  In 2010, he saw a slight dip to 8.71, but nothing to worry about, right?  But last season came the cliff, and he fell right off it, all the way down to 5.88.  No closer in the American League had a lower K-rate than Pure Rage in 2011.  And it’s not just the strikeouts: his fastball averaged barely over 93 mph in 2011, down more than 2 mph from his career high.  I’m going under, and praying I’m wrong.

Well, of course I was way wrong.  Perez had a huge bounce back season.  He posted a nifty 9.21 K/9, blowing away my paltry prediction.  Even more impressive, he seriously limited his walks in 2012.  Check out these BB/9 figures for Perez’s career:

YEAR

BB/9

2009           4.26
2010           4.00
2011           3.92
2012           2.50

Entering the 2012 season, Perez had never walked fewer than 10% of opposing batters, then he comes out and walks only 6.6%?  To me, the control evidenced above is what made Perez’s 2012 season something to remember.

Well, that and his total disregard for his fans, ownership, manager, teammates and league.  I literally cannot wait to root against him after the impending off-season trade.  Fingers double crossed that it’s to the Red Sox, just for the added Soxenfreude of his eventual regression.

Next up I tackled Fauberto Carnandez, who was embroiled in quite the imbroglio due to duplicitous dealings in the Dominican.  I put the line on his 2012 starts at 0.5 and boldly took the under.  Turns out the government was totes onboard with the name change, and Hernandez managed to throw 14.1 innings across three August starts before being shut down for the year with a case of ennui.

I would like to record here, just for posterity, that the Indians would have been better served by not starting Roberto at all.  Over his three starts he struck out only two batters (1.26 K/9 !!) and allowed four HR.  His ERA was a ghastly 7.53, and his WAR was actually negative.  So in my defense, the rational move would have been zero starts, so I’m tempted to call this one a push.

I liked this next one quite a bit, and while I ended up being correct, it didn’t really feel all that great.  I put the line on Carlos Santana’s OBP at .360 and took the over.  Santana managed a .365 OBP year, and so I won my little bet.  What I didn’t see coming at all was the huge regression in his power numbers.  From the beginning of the season through September 1st, Santana had .399 slugging percentage, which would have put him behind Michael Brantley (.402).  Santana had never slugged below .450 in his professional career, and his complete power outage for the first five months of the season was exasperating to say the least.  I even wrote a whole post about it.

Luckily, Santana caught fire in September once nobody was watching.  From September 2nd through the end of the season (exactly one month), Santana put up a slash line of .282/.372/.505 with five home runs, four doubles, two triples and more walks (16) than strikeouts (15).  This is the sort of player he HAS to be if this team is ever going to have a shot to compete in the next five years.  The talent is there, but to be honest, I’m getting tired of waiting to see if he’ll ever unlock it for more than a month at a time.

Boldy, I took the under on Raffy Perez tweets at 0.5I WIN.

Next up was a huge miss, and was just downright optimism on my part that I had no cause for.  I took the over on the team hitting 160.5 home runs.  Here was my reasoning:

Last season [2011] the team ranked 10th in the AL in home runs with 154.  I would think (and hope) that number goes up, and Choo’s return to normalcy along with Kipnis replacing Orlando Cabrera should take care of most of the bump.  On the other hand, do you think we’re getting 25 home runs from Asdrubal again?  Or 11 (!) from Matt LaPorta?  As a reminder, Casey Kotchman had 10 HR last season, despite amassing nearly 200 more plate appearances than LaPorta.  I’m taking the over, but see the note about February Optimism above.

As we now know, they ended up hitting only 136 home runs and completely killed my prediction.  Let’s go through my reasoning above.  First, Choo did have a nice bounce back year offensively and led the team in slugging percentage (.441).  Unfortunately for my purposes, he only hit 16 home runs opting instead for doubles; Choo’s 43 two-baggers was good for fifth in the AL behind Nelson Cruz, Robbie Cano, Albert Pujols and…Alex Gordon?

More damning was the bit about Kipnis.  Before I get into this, let’s be clear: I really like Jason Kipnis, and believe he can be a good player in this league.  But last season’s production just isn’t going to cut it.  He put up a slash line of .257/.335/.379 (.714 OPS) with 14 home runs in nearly 700 plate appearances.  Is that better than Orlando Cabrera?  Absolutely.  But it’s not what we need from a core offensive player going forward.  In fact, where Kipnis excelled most was on the basepaths, stealing 31 bases while being caught only seven times (82%).  That’s valuable.  But 30 home runs would be more valuable.  Work on that Jason.

And while Kotchman and LaPorta were essentially a wash in the power department (LaPorta 11 HR in 2011; Kotchman 12 in 2012), the bit on Asdrubal proved true, and ultimately helped to torpedo my over pick.  Asdrubal followed up his 25 home run season with only 16 dingers in 2012.  With Pronk missing nearly 100 games and Jack Hannahan manning the hot corner for most of the year, this bet never had a shot.

Finally, I set the 2012 win total at 81.5 and, like the dumb homer that I am, took the over.  Here I am, dumbly:

I wrote earlier this off-season that the Indians scored and allowed runs last season like a 75-win team, not the 80-win team that they ended up as.  The hot start last season, coupled with the years of mediocrity since 2007 might have left us thinking more highly of the Indians than an objective observer should .  I think that’s probably still true.  On the other hand, lots of things went wrong last season to contribute to that bad run differential.  Shin-Soo Choo disappeared.  Grady Sizemore did too.  First base was a black hole.  Carlos Santana’s BABiP was unsustainably low.  Mitch Talbot somehow threw 70 innings with a 6.64 ERA.  Orlando Cabrera existed.  That’s a lot of crummy luck for one team to endure, and if we’re even marginally less decimated in 2012, there’s a decent chance for the team to win 85 games.  You didn’t honestly expect anything else from me, did you?  I’ll take the over.

Does anyone find it amazing that I continue to write really good reasons not to make the bet I’m about to make?  It’s like I lay out exactly why I should make a decision, and then I make the exact opposite decision because NARRATIVES!!  Whatever.

The injuries that I callously disregarded as bad luck of course came back, at least in the form of Grady and Pronk.  Someday I’ll learn that injuries in baseball are the norm—it’s health that’s the exception.

But what really sunk the team, and what I can’t forgive myself for overlooking, was the awful starting pitching.  I mentioned in the piece that Mitch Talbot was allowed to throw 70 crummy innings in 2011, with the implication that such a performance wouldn’t be repeated.

In 2012, the five pitchers in our Opening Day rotation were allowed to throw 680 innings with a combined ERA of 5.43.  Look at this:

Player IP ERA
Justin Masterson 206.1 4.93
Ubaldo Jimenez 176.2 5.40
Derek Lowe 119.0 5.52
Josh Tomlin 91.1 5.72
Jeanmar Gomez 86.2 6.23
TOTAL 680.0 5.43

That table is horrid.  Granted, a lot had to go wrong to make it look that way, but going forward I think we have to keep this season in mind when it comes to our rotation.  We don’t have a pitcher who’s given us any real reason to suspect we are in possession of a top of the rotation arm.  We’ve seen flashes of competence, but more often we’ve seen evidence of mediocrity.

In other words, remind me of that table before I write my next prediction piece.

  • mgbode

    thanks Jon. that’s about the easiest way to read how terrible a season we had as a review. we can point and laugh at how wrong we all thought at the beginning of the season too.