It’s prediction season. Everyone has their Magic 8-Ball working double-time. The projections of players’ performance and team records alike are all over the web. The major sports syndicates provide them, the blog sites practically mandate them and individual bloggers hope someone will take theirs to heart. I’m sure we’ll have our fair share on this site too (mine will come on Friday). It’s fun to speculate and next to impossible to do so correctly for a league that sports 30 teams which play 162 games each and then must win a playoff system that now has 10 teams and three rounds.
Since I’ve written some previews and read a ton more, I’d like to remind everyone that we just don’t know for certain how a team will perform. We can make assumptions based on the past, on the competition and using multiple statistical formulas. Some try to stipulate in their writing the reasons why their predictions are sure to come true. They know it all. Avoid those at all costs.
How many people saw the Arizona Diamondbacks reaching the postseason in 2011? Did anyone see the Boston Red Sox or Chicago White Sox NOT reaching the playoffs? The St. Louis Cardinals dropped off many lists once Adam Wainwright was lost for the season due to injury, though I give credit to some that stuck with the Redbirds. Prediction writers were happy it happened in February so they didn’t have to create an update post. Check out this link to an ESPN.com compilation of “expert” predictions from 2011. Not one had the Cardinals in the World Series, let alone winning it.
The Red Sox were a sure thing according to a majority of the experts. Out of 45 people, only 3 had them NOT reaching the World Series. All 45 had them in the playoffs. A few buckets of chicken and tubs of beers later and the prediction is wrong. Not one person from the compilation selected the Diamondbacks to make the playoffs. There was at least one selection for each of the other teams in the NL WEST, except the San Diego Padres. Well they were right about them.
What’s the point of all this? It’s a simple warning to not allow expert predictions to cloud your own judgment. “Experts” are created by us. The more views we give their columns, the more comments we leave on their sites, the more they come to be represented as experts. Do you think there isn’t someone out there who selected a majority if not all of the teams who reached the playoffs last season and maybe even completed the bracket correctly? But, if they don’t work for a major sports outlet it won’t be noticed by the masses.
Fans flock to ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo! Sports and other top sports sites and get giddy when they see their team listed on almost every ballot. They discuss it with their friends at the bar, “We’re going all the way this year; Mr. Baseball said so.” Mr. Baseball may know a lot about the game and may well be connected to others who know a lot about the game, but they are not able to guarantee anything with their predictions. Take them with a grain of salt, just like you’ll take mine with a full shaker of salt at the end of the week.
How does this relate to the Cardinals? Well, many experts are picking them to get to the playoffs despite the loss of Chris Carpenter for an indefinite amount of time. Some of the reasoning seems simple and rational enough, “They did it last year without Wainwright and he is probably better than Carpenter, so they’ll make it this year.” Fans certainly think this team can repeat as World Champions. I’ve said it is possible and no, I’m not divulging my picks yet. Can we rightly predict they’ll pull it off? Of course we can predict it. The team is well built on each side of the field, on the bench and in the minor league system. They have the financial resources to get better at mid-season if they need to. But, is it more likely than not?
Then there is the flip side of the coin, the prognosticators who say there is no way the Cardinals can do it twice in a row with or without Chris Carpenter. FOXSports.com columnist Ken Rosenthal pumped his picks out today and said about as much. But, he also prefaced his entire article by saying he was awful at picking last season. Bravo Mr. Rosenthal!
Further, people immediately started to write off the Cincinnati Reds when word got out that Ryan Madson would need surgery and miss the season. Do you know Sean Marshall was one of the better relievers in baseball last season? Have you seen Aroldis Chapman throw? Sure, it’s a tough break, but predicting their demise because of one player is foolish.
Predictions do not promise certainty, that’s inherent in the definition. We can head over to any of the major sports mediums and see the Cardinals listed on 90% of the ballots and say of course they’ll make the playoffs. But should we take it as definite? Again, look at the Red Sox from last season. This isn’t Strat-O-Matic Baseball. The players need to stay healthy and they need to perform. Predictions are fun, but don’t lean on them when making your own judgments; even if the experts guarantee their choices using some brilliant formula. There is no way to know for sure. The only certainty is the winner of the this year’s World Series will have successfully navigated 162 regular season games and two or three rounds of playoffs better than the other 29 teams, regardless of whether they were picked by the experts or not.