An ‘Agreeing Loudly’ Baseball Preview
by Troy M. Olson
No surprise here, for the 112th consecutive year, our nation’s sports pundits clearly have foreseen a Boston Red Sox vs. Chicago Cubs World Series. To ensure they are not left out, professionally wrong sports pundits have joined professionally wrong political and international relations pundits in getting paid six figures to deliver fact-free, professionally wrong guesses disguised as journalism or entertainment. I don’t claim to be a journalist (I’m not), but we here at “Agreeing Loudly” will always promise to be more entertaining and less sanctimonious than Bill Kristol or Joe Buck.
Make no mistake, the Cubs will have a good season, as they did last year. They are a young and talented team and have added an intriguing mix of proven veterans to that young talent the past few years. They have a solid manager, but they also have a curse. So while I think the Cubs will get into the postseason, I would be ignoring a century-plus historical track record if I agreed with the sports punditocracy. The main problem with saying the Cubs will finally break the curse is that at least someone does that nearly every year. Why? Because the Cubs play in a big market and have developed a solid brand as being the tortured “lovable losers.” Clearly they have the same PR person as dogs do (“man’s best friend” – that is really good marketing).
As a Viking fan, my heart goes out to all sincere and passionate baseball fans who root for the Cubs to finally win one. However, the vast majority of Cubs fans are dislikable according to our local Chicago correspondent, Carson Starkey, and the team itself is vastly overrated, over-covered by the Press, and generally insufferable to watch outgross the vastly superior White Sox team across town. Unlike the Cubs, the White Sox have actually won something in our lifetimes. Furthermore, their fan-base is more representative of the vast demographic diversity of the city of Chicago, and America itself, while the Cubs fan-base is more representative of “why we can’t have nice things” and “why the Democratic Party continues to lose incredibly winnable elections.”
In the city of Chicago, despite their status as my beloved Twins rivals, the White Sox are preferable because “good guys wear black” (except for ISIS and non-unionized, Death Star gunners). The White Sox are the team President Barack Obama roots for, which is good enough for me.
In Boston, I can at least see why the Red Sox would be favored in recent years. The American League is wide open this year and the Sox won the AL as recent as 2013 (when they went on to win the World Series). However, the Red Sox are coming off of two underwhelming and disappointing seasons and their so-called young talent has failed to materialize. Like most big market sports teams, they are overrated and made out to seem better than they actually are because of major media coverage. Unfortunately, websites like FanGraphs have advanced saber metrics to the point of impenetrable jargon, and the so-called “alternate” baseball media has used advanced statistics to arrive at largely the same fact-free conclusions and predictions as the mainstream pundits.
Last year, FanGraphs consistently overrated big market teams and said smaller or mid-market teams like the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins were getting by on luck. The Royals ended up winning the American League for the 2nd consecutive year on their way to their first World Series title since 1985, while the Twins surprised everyone by finishing with 83 wins and staying alive in the playoff race until the final weekend. Yes, the Twins had lost 90 plus games for four straight years. But anyone can just make the same predictions as last year’s standings.
Like in politics, adherence to a theory only works if your results continue to back that theory up. The Royals and Twins did not look good according to analytics, but the games played on the field told a different tale. You can only be lucky for so long before your team is just actually what it is. I used to be a big adherent and still am in many ways to the saber metric way of making baseball decisions, but its gone too far, has not dramatically improved predicting outcomes, and is beginning to ruin the majesty and mystery that is the game of baseball for me. After awhile, you have to just go with the Aaron Sorkin line: “if you guys were so good at predicting baseball outcomes and results, you would have predicted outcomes and results.” Just like the abundance of advanced statistics, metrics, and analytics in the information age has done nothing to improve public policy outcomes in American politics because American politics is ran and implemented by people, the abundance of advanced statistics, metrics, and analytics in the information age has done little to improve baseball predictions. If the Royals win the World Series when your model says they should only win 79 games, there is probably something wrong with your model, because the Royals won the World Series and could not care less if someone thinks they were lucky or not. The explanations of the saber metric community to explain away their success end up looking like a classic fandom case of “sore loserdom.”
That being said, without further ado, let’s see how close Agreeing Loudly can get to at least matching some of these pundits through a combination of analytics, gut-feeling, and opinion of the overall talent on the 25 and 40 man rosters of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams. The chief driver of these predictions is my own bias toward preferring young talent that is under team control. The rules of baseball allow for a players prime to often take place while they are also at their cheapest, therefore I naturally prefer teams who are youth-oriented, have smaller payrolls, but have a few proven veterans mixed in to fill the needed talent and position gaps.
American League (predicted order of standings)
*Denotes Wild Card teams
East – 1. Toronto 2. New York 3. Boston 4. Tampa Bay 5. Baltimore
Central – 1. Kansas City 2. Minnesota* 3. Cleveland* 4. Chicago 5. Detroit
West – 1. Houston 2. Texas 3. Seattle 4. Los Angeles 5. Oakland
National League (predicted order of standings)
East – 1. New York 2. Washington* 3. Florida 4. Atlanta 5. Philadelphia
Central – 1. Chicago 2. Pittsburgh 3. St. Louis 4. Milwaukee 5. Cincinnati
West – 1. Arizona 2. San Francisco* 3. Los Angeles 4. San Diego 5. Colorado
American League Playoffs
Minnesota over Cleveland in ALWC Game
Minnesota over Kansas City, and Houston over Toronto in ALDS
Houston over Minnesota in ALCS
National League Playoffs
San Francisco over Washington in NLWC Game
San Francisco over Chicago, and New York over Arizona in NLDS
New York over San Francisco in NLCS
New York (NL) over Houston in 2016 World Series
AL MVP: Carlos Correa (Houston)
AL Cy Young: Dallas Keuchel (Houston)
AL Rookie of the Year: Jose Berrios (Minnesota)
- Correa and Keuchel lead a young and talented Astros team over an aging and slugging-heavy Blue Jays team and a young and talented but slugging-heavy and strikeout-prone Twins team to get to the World Series.
- With a lot of the attention on the young offensive talent of the Twins team (led by Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton), it is actually Jose Berrios that will be the biggest addition and the driving reason behind why I think the Twins make a run ahead of schedule. Berrios has dominated every level of the minor leagues and would be considered the top prospect in baseball if he were 4 inches taller. He will be called up to the Twins in June and never look back on the way toward Rookie of the Year and becoming the Twins ace pitcher by August for the stretch run.
NL MVP: Kris Bryant (Chicago)
NL Cy Young: Jacob deGrom (New York)
NY Rookie of the Year: Steven Matz (New York)
- Like Kansas City last year, I think New York wins the pennant again and overcomes adversity (it’s incredibly hard to get back to the World Series and win it after coming so close the year before) to win the 2016 World Series. They have amassed the best collection of young and talented arms since the Braves teams of the 90’s. There are so many good pitchers in the NL, so the Cy Young is truly a toss up. What is more certain though is that between deGrom, Matz, Matt Harvey, and Noah Syndergaard, the Mets will have the best rotation during the regular season, and the best rotation for a short series in the playoffs, which is ultimately why an admittedly talented Cubs team falls short and fails to break their curse again.
- I agree with Pat Meacham of the Agreeing Loudly podcast team, Kris Bryant will win the NL MVP. Just because I dislike the Cubbies does not mean I yield to facts and talent before my eyes. To ignore the talent of Bryant and company on a Cubs team that looks likely to repeat a 90-plus win season is to make the same fact-free analysis I criticized at the outset. I cannot say the same for the Red Sox however, I see little indication they will rebound from two disappointing seasons based on their offseason. While it would be a nice story to see David Ortiz end his amazing career with one last round of post-season clutch hitting, the Red Sox will be decidedly average this year.
- To sum up: in my opinion, the surprise teams this year will more than likely be the same teams that surprised last year, because once again, few in the sports punditocracy and “alt-nerdery” are giving the Royals, Twins, and Mets (second fiddle in big market New York City to the Yankees) any respect. I would also add Cleveland to the list of teams that will surprise. 2016 will once again be a tremendous season where the young and talented position players, pitchers, and teams alike dominate the narrative.