Before every baseball season I like to make a bunch of predictions and fake prop bets about the upcoming year, and after each year ends, I like to circle back around and check on how I did.
This is a somewhat excruciating exercise for at least two reasons. First, I’m not very good at gambling, and these follow-up posts serve as evidence to be used against me anytime my wife and I find ourselves in Vegas and I ask for permission to sit at a table for an hour. Second, I’m reminded of how silly predictions are at all. Below, you’re going to read about a bunch of things that I thought would be keys to the 2013 season. And somehow, you’re not going to read a whole lot about Yan Gomes and Ryan Raburn, two of the team’s four most valuable players. That’s the nature of prognostication, I suppose. Not just that we’ll be wrong about the answers, but that we’ll have been so wrong about the questions.
None of this, by the way, will prevent me from doing this all again, ad infinitum, until the warm earth receives me. Below are the bets and how we did.
OVER 169.5 HRs – You might not remember how execrable the 2012 Indians were at hitting home runs, so let me refresh you. That squad hit 136 taters—only five ahead of the last place Royals—and was losing nearly 30 long balls with the departures of Choo and Hafner. I predicted that the club would more than offset those losses, and increase their total by 35 home runs or so. Here was the reasoning:
Of course, there is some reason for optimism. The team has added Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, and a full year of Lonnie Who Loved Baseball in lieu of Jack Hannahan, Casey Kotchman, and Vinzequiel Damuncan; all of these replacements have the ability to hit more than the team-leading 18 home runs that Carlos Santana swatted last year. Add that to some power development from Jason Kipnis, reasonable pop from Drew Stubbs, a motivated Asdrubal, and some clutchety-bench bombs from Jason Giambi and you can see a legitimate case that this team will have some real power.
Do I know how to set these lines or what? The Indians hit 171 home runs in 2013. Thanks for the breathing room, Matt Carson!
What is interesting, of course, is that 10 players had double digit home runs for the team, while no one player was truly a “deep threat” (Ryan Raburn led the team in slugging percentage). I think I take this well-roundedness as a good sign, though I’m still nervous to think that the Indians haven’t had a player hit 30 home runs since Grady Sizemore’s 2008 campaign. Perhaps we’ll make this into a prediction for next season…
Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Brett Myers will combine to win fewer than 32.5 games – A great example of how poorly we go about setting these questions up sometimes. Did you remember that Brett Myers opened the season as the ostensible third starter? Sometimes, the best laid plans are pretty horribly laid. Anyway, here was the reasoning:
The question here then is really twofold: (1) Do I think the Indians will be a decent-to-above-.500 team; and (2) Do I think that the top three arms in the rotation will have much to do with it? As you’ll see below, I think the answer to the first question is a mild “yes”, but I’m not so sure about the second. I’m taking the under; I just don’t see all three of these guys pitching effectively for the whole year. At some point, I think either Ubaldo or Myers “gets hurt” in order to infuse some new blood into the rotation. I sure hope I’m wrong, but if these guys manage to average more than 10 pitcher wins, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
I win again, but throw pretty much any other starter in there and I lose this bet handily. Masterson and Ubaldo combined for 27 wins. Kluber had 11; Kaz had 10; McAllister 9. Which means that even though I won the bet, I lost the larger argument. I thought we’d have a mediocre rotation, a good bullpen, and a good lineup. But that wasn’t the case at all. We had an average lineup, a really good rotation, and an average-ish bullpen. The reason we played in October wasn’t a soft schedule or Giambi’s walkoffs or Ryan Raburn’s resurgence as much as it was a steady group of young starters who had, collectively, career years. The Indians rotation ranked sixth in the league in ERA, second in FIP and xFIP, sixth in GB-rate, and second in HR-rate. And that’s including seven combined starts from Trevor Bauer and the flaming corpse of Brett Myers. Speaking of which….
Trevor Bauer makes fewer than 9.5 starts – I’m on a roll, as he started only four times in 2013. Although again, my reasoning was flawed. I figured that Bauer would be behind both Carrasco and Kluber coming out of Spring Training, but that wasn’t the case at all (though perhaps it should have been):
Call this a hunch, but I’m betting that Carrasco is first in line, and after him I wouldn’t be surprised if they turn to Corey Kluber before Bauer. Remember that Bauer just turned 22 this winter, and is only a few months into re-jiggering his mechanics. I think I have to take the under. This isn’t to say I’m rooting for it—I really can’t wait to see him live—but I’m not going to be surprised if we don’t see Trevor Bauer until September.
Bauer made his first start just one week into the season, on April 6. So again, I win, but I feel like I was way off on this. But I should have been right, as Kluber was clearly the better pitcher. Screw it, I’m keeping my fake money from this bet.
OVER 1300.5 team strikeouts for Indians batters – A few points of reference, before diving in. In 2012 the Indians struck out 1,087 times. The 2012 League average was 1,187. The Indians have never struck out more than 1,300 times in a season.
So I was predicting some major whiffs. Here was the takeaway:
To strikeout 1,300 times, you have to have some windmills in the lineup, and boy do the Indians have that. For his career, Mark Reynolds has struck out in an astonishing 32.6% of his plate appearances. For perspective, Carlos Santana—no stranger to the strikeout—has averaged a K-rate of 18%. On top of Reynolds will be Drew Stubbs (29.3%), Nick Swisher (21.3%), and Lonnie Chisenhall (20.3%). We’ve got the horsepower to set some strikeout records, and for that reason, I’m taking the over here.
The Indians struck out 1,283 times in 2013, just 17 away from the “goal”. I would say that I still feel pretty good about this bet, despite losing it, for a couple of reasons. First, I didn’t think they’d DFA Mark Reynolds, who’s continued employment would surely have pushed the group over the finish line. Second, I made a few assumptions about playing time that just didn’t pan out. I didn’t factor in that Mike Aviles (and his 10.4% K-rate) would get nearly 400 plate appearances. I didn’t assume that Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley would strikeout less frequently than their career averages would suggest.
We came close on this one, but not quite. The first loser on the slate.
UNDER 84.5 team wins – Here’s where you can really beat me up. I pegged the Indians at 83-79—they outplayed my prediction by nearly ten games. There was certainly some kismet here: the team’s Pythagorean record—what you’d expect their record to be based on how many runs they scored and allowed—was 90-72. In other words, they may have “lucked” into a few more wins than losses due to sequencing and better outcomes in close games than would be expected.
But there’s really no doubt about it: this team played much better than I thought they would, and almost all of that excess was attributable to the team’s ability to prevent opposing runs. Consider this: the Indians scored 745 runs in 2013, good for fourth in the AL, but that’s a little deceiving. Look at this chart and you’ll that they were really just a tick above average (click to enlarge):
But their run prevention skills (which of course includes pitching and defense), was phenomenal. Same scale here, and look how much better they look:
Say it with me now: starting pitching wins championships. Masterson and Ubaldo had terrific years, but let’s not forget that Kluber was huge in the middle of the season, and Kazmir was better than even I could’ve hoped (and I hoped pretty high). Even Zach McAllister pitched better than most teams’ number five starter. Oh yeah, and that Salazar kid was pretty ok too.
I’m not sure if the Indians will be able to have another year next year like they did in 2013. But the more I think about it, it’s going to come down to the contributions they get from guys like Kluber, McAllister, Salazar, Bauer, Carrasco, etc. If a few of those guys step up the way a few did in 2013, the playoffs are a completely reasonable outcome to expect. If we end up giving starts to the Brett Myerses of the worlds? We’ve seen how that story ends.