The last stop on the prediction train is a good time to take stock of the forecasting mistakes I’ve tried (probably in vain) not to commit. There’s the Fallacy of Last Season, which is not really where things take up again, let alone where they end. There’s the Pitfall of Lineup Dissection, in which a team’s wins and losses appear etched in the names on the roster but are, in fact, the result of myriad actual events, many of which include people who leave that roster for the DL, trades, or the bench.
Next, there’s the Blindness of the Fan, in which prediction is used an the opportunity to imagine the outcome most desirable to the predictor. Finally, there’s the Myth of the Contrary, a chance to reject consensus largely for the pleasure of being right (if one is, eventually) where others are wrong. Of course, contrarians have a select set of victories they recall while papering over all the routine flubs when prevailing opinion was right after all.
Considering all these potential snares, I wonder if prediction is really about being correct or about having a happy time imagining an outcome. I will have to conscientiously look up these forecasts in September to see how I did, for I won’t spend a day during the season wondering if we’re getting closer to, or further away from, my guesses. The guesses are really just for today.
So, today, I look at the AL West, the division that often earns scorn. For years, the As and the Angels have snuck into the playoffs with the thin little pedigree of beating out the Mariners and Rangers and, of course, each other. Now they haven’t truly snuck; they’ve won fair and square but teams from the East and Central have enough time-zone-induced losses to make even the record suspect. Never mind that the As and Angels have to venture east; somehow when the Red Sox lose in Anaheim there’s an explanation.
The Angels have the biggest losses to free agency, having parted with Mark Teixeira and Francisco Rodriguez, but still appear to pose the best threat in the West. The outfield overflows with talent: Torii Hunter, Vladimir Guerrero, Gary Matthews Jr, and new recruit Bobby Abreu. They play smart baseball, taking advantage of speed, power, and teamwork, and have a rotation that isn’t glamorous but likely to be effective.
Oakland spun the economic downturn on its head, switching from seller to buyer. While dealing away a promising stable of young pitchers over the last two seasons, the team looked like it was nothing more than a conveyor belt of prospects. This time, GM Billy Beane decided to buy Matt Holliday, disconnecting the power hitter from one great source of success, the atmospheric pressure at Coors Field. Never mind, partisans report—Holliday hit a ton on the road too. So Oakland begins the season with another crew of nearly unknown pitchers, an aging infield, and one big slugger. These parts don’t seem to add up, but the As have made odder combos work before.
The formula in Texas hasn’t changed much since the slugger-friendly stadium was built in Arlington: nurture or acquire big hitters at every position, then invite a steady stream of marginal pitchers to take up residence for a season or two. Step two, shell the pitchers. Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla are back for another round, topping a starting rotation with an average ERA over 5.00. Yikes.
One wants the Texas brass to take a look at a little revelation the Boston Red Sox had in the late 70s. Instead of building a team around exploiting the hits to be had off the Green Monster, build a team to deny said hits to the opposition. It actually took the Sox about 25 years to cash in on this insight, but all those Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens years look kinda smart, don’t they? Until the Rangers improve the infield and outfield defense and bring up some great pitching prospects of their own, they are doomed to reward fantasy players more than fans. Meanwhile, the team has some of the most interesting hitters to watch in Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, and Elvis Andrus, not to mention the joys of the aging Michael Young and Hank Blalock. It’s a fantasy roster, all right, but a cool one.
The Mariners may still be sleepwalking after last season’s doomed effort to build a winner from what now appear to be the spare parts Frankenstein would use. Many of these players still have potential, notably King Felix Hernandez. The rumor mongers say Ichiro is a divisive force. Common sense says Ken Griffey Jr is in the Las Vegas engagement stage of his career. And the smart money says you can paste the Mariners at the bottom of the standings. So, here they are: