With the 2006 standings nearly in the books, we thought it might be infotaining to compare what really happened to what we thought would happen, "we" being ESPN.com's staff of writers and editors. What to use for "final standings"? I used Baseball Prospectus' Postseason Odds page, which lists projected final standings.
One problem, though: There's a lot of "play" in the standings, due solely to luck. You might predict a team is going to win 85 games, and with just average luck it would have won 85 games. But the team got stuck with lousy luck, and won only 80 games. Were you wrong? Yes. And no. What we really want to know is how accurate our predictions were, fundamentally. And one thing we can check is another Baseball Prospectus tool, "third-order wins," or in this case third-order winning percentage; both are based on the underlying events that typically lead to runs.
But here's something that shocks me. It doesn't make any difference which standings you look at (this year, at least). We were off by 193 games in the real (projected) standings ... and by 193 games in the third-order standings. This doesn't make sense to me. If you believe the collective wisdom of a dozen-some baseball writers is a powerful thing (I do), and if you believe the third-order wins are a somewhat more accurate barometer of a team's quality (I do), there should be some positive difference between those two numbers. But there's not, and I don't know why there's not. Anyway, faced with the decision of which projected standings to use, I used both (or rather, the average of both).
There are six teams on which we missed by more than 10 wins, and nine more on which we missed by more than five but fewer than 10. Let's go through the latter group first, and we'll dispense with them fairly quickly because, believe it or not, nine games really isn't so many:
Devil Rays (-6)Simple. We thought their young hitters would be better than they've been. Jonny Gomes, who looked like a budding star in 2005, batted .216 in 2006. Jorge Cantu, same story. B.J. Upton finally got the call, and he's been absolutely terrible. Delmon Young's path to superstardom took a midseason detour. Also, the Devil Rays, sensibly enough, traded two of their better players (Julio Lugo and Aubrey Huff) to contenders. And finally, management insisted on wasting more than 700 plate appearances on Travis Lee and Damon Hollins. The result? The Devil Rays probably are going to wind up as the only American League team without 700 runs.
Red Sox (-7)It's easy to criticize the (second) Doug Mirabelli trade, and Coco Crisp hasn't exactly been the second coming of Johnny Damon (or even Rick Miller). The biggest problem, though, has been injuries, particularly to the starting pitchers. Only Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling are going to finish the season with more than 25 starts, and it's awfully hard to win that way.
Padres (+7)Clay Hensley, and Hensley's battery mates. Hensley, nothing but an afterthought before the season, has used his sinker to post the 10th-best ERA in the league and win 11 games. San Diego's catchers -- Mike Piazza and Josh Bard, mostly -- have totaled 30 homers and 103 RBI. Oh, and Adrian Gonzalez's impressive season has balanced Brian Giles' disappointing season.
Indians (-7)One of the few cases in which the actual record (77-85) deviates wildly from the third-order record (89-73). And our predicted record (90-72) is practically the same as the Indians' third-order record. So I'm going to chalk this one up to lousy luck. The Indians are 16-25 in one-run games, and that's just the most pronounced example of their misfortune. Just watch: Next season they'll play better than we expect.
Rockies (+7)Garrett Atkins and Matt Holliday have done better than anybody could have reasonably expected, and the Rockies generally have been blessed with excellent health; six hitters have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, and five pitchers have accounted for all but seven starts this season.
Reds (+8)No mystery here, as Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang have combined for 68 starts, 459 innings and 29 wins. In fact, if management had come up with just one more decent starting pitcher this season, the Reds might still be gunning for October.
Mariners (+8)If I didn't have any stats in front of me and could go only on what I've heard about the Mariners this season, I would guess they've underperformed. After all, Ichiro has been down a bit (well, except for the steals), Richie Sexson has struggled some (well, except for the grand slams) and Felix Hernandez hasn't been the Cy Young candidate some of us (OK, me and my shadow) were expecting. Also, none of Hernandez's rotation mates was better than decent this season. You know what? I still can't figure out why they did as well as they did. Except they didn't have any absolute zeroes in the lineup (once Carl Everett was gone) and, with the exception of Joel Pineiro, none of the pitchers was awful. Essentially the M's had a few good players and fewer bad ones.
Brewers (-9)Ben Sheets and Tomo Ohka have combined for 10 wins this season. There were supposed to have 25-30.
Pirates (-9)I think we expected one of the Pirates' talented young starters -- Zach Duke, Ian Snell, Paul Maholm -- to develop, but only Snell looks like a good bet to be making a big pile of dough in five or six years. And he's got a 4.74 ERA. Bigger problem: a serious lack of good hitting once you get past Freddy Sanchez and Jason Bay. And the biggest problem: Free agents Jeromy Burnitz and Joe Randa were disasters.
Next, the teams we really missed ...
Twins (+11)I'd like to depart from the script for a moment and discuss not the players, but instead the writers. Us. I believe "we" paid too much attention to what the Twins did in 2005, and not enough to what they did in 2004 and 2003. You know, the Twins probably should have been even better this season than they were. If they hadn't messed around with Tony Batista and Juan Castro in the spring, right now they'd sport the best record in the American League.
Braves (-12)Same idea, different direction. I think we gave the Braves a bit too much credit for what they'd done since 1991 and didn't notice that they weren't great in 2005 and didn't get any better before 2006. Specifically, the culprits this season were Jeff Francoeur's silly on-base percentage, Marcus Giles' odd lack of power and Tim Hudson's transition from future Hall of Famer to future Royal. The Braves also have suffered some tough luck with their pitchers, healthwise, which might or might not be related to the departure of Leo Mazzone. All this has left us to mostly miss fine performances from Edgar Renteria, Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones, Adam LaRoche and (especially) Brian McCann. The pieces are there, and the Braves are good candidates to become next season's this season's Twins.
Cubs (-12)Two things, one of which you know and one of which you might not know. Know: Kerry Wood and Mark Prior have combined for two wins and eight losses. And a whole lot of heartbreak. Might not know: The Cubs have been outwalked by nearly 300 walks, or two per game. Only Aramis Ramirez will draw 50 walks, and only he and Matt Murton will draw more than 40. Hard to win that way, guys. Might be something to discuss this winter, once the manager who thinks "walks are overrated" is officially not the manager anymore.
Cardinals (-13)"We" didn't see this coming, nor did "I". I had the Cards down for 89 wins before the season, which is fewer than "we" did but significantly more than they're actually going to win. So where'd we go wrong? Well, the Cardinals' new second basemen haven't equaled Mark Grudzielanek's 2005 contributions. Yadier Molina is a zero at the plate (though not behind it). But I blame Mark Mulder and his 7.14 ERA, and Jason Marquis and his 5.80 ERA, and whoever thought signing Sidney Ponson was a good idea.
Marlins (+17)We got caught up in the ill hype. The Marlins are going to win roughly 78 games, which couldn't have been predicted. But considering the talent they had when the season began, 65-70 wins was a reasonable expectation.
Tigers (+18)Like the Marlins, the Tigers have a bunch of overachievers and few or no underachievers, which is essentially the recipe for a big surprise team. But special credit goes to Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones. Rogers turns 42 in a month, and he has won 17 games. Jones is 38, and he has saved 37 games. The Tigers don't have a Cy Young candidate on the roster, but they've got four starters in the top 14 in the league ERA. Another pretty good recipe. Last year Detroit ranked ninth in the league in ERA, and this year they're first. That's what we missed, and we missed because we didn't know the old guys (Rogers, Jones) and the young guys (Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya) would be as good as they've been.